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Richard Helms

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Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence, 1966-1973.

Richard McGarrah Helms (March 30, 1913October 23, 2002) was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1966 to 1973. He was the only director to have been convicted of lying to Congress over Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) undercover activities. In 1977 he was sentenced to the maximum fine and received a suspended two-year prison sentence.

Helms was born in Philadelphia in 1913. In 1936, a year after he graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, he was sent by United Press to help cover the Berlin Olympic Games; he had spent two of his high school years at the prestigious Institute Le Rosey in Switzerland where he learned to speak German and French.

He joined the advertising department of the Indianapolis Times; within two years he was national advertising manager.

During World War II he served in the United States Navy. In 1943 he was posted to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) because of his ability to speak German. In the aftermath of the war he was transferred to the newly formed Office of Special Operations (OSO), where at the age of 33 he was put in charge of intelligence and counter-intelligence operations in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

The OSO became a division of the CIA when that organisation was created by the National Security Act of July 1947. Helms became Director of the OSO after the CIA's disastrous role in the attempted invasion of Cuba in 1961. After falling out with the Kennedys, he was sent off to Vietnam where he oversaw the coup to overthrow President Ngo Dinh Diem. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Helms was made Deputy Director of the CIA under Admiral William Raborn. A year later, in 1966, he was appointed Director.

The ease of Helm's role under Johnson changed with the arrival of President Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger. After the debacle of Watergate, from which Helms succeeded in distancing the CIA as far as possible, the Agency came under much tighter Congressional control.

In 1972, Helms ordered the destruction of most records from the huge MKULTRA project, over 150 CIA-funded research projects designed to explore any possibilities of mind control. The project became public knowledge two years later, after a New York Times report. Its full extent may never be known.

Nixon thought Helms disloyal and fired him as DCI in 1973. Helms then served from 1973 to 1976 as US ambassador to Iran in Tehran.

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Richard Helms, in the White House Cabinet Room, March 27, 1968.

Helms' ultimate undoing was the CIA role in the subversion of Chilean democracy and the overthrow, under Nixon's orders, of that country's president Salvador Allende in 1973. Helms had reportedly opposed this operation.

Helms' answers to Congress on the CIA's role in the Chilean affair were proved to be false and he was prosecuted and convicted in 1977. He received a two-year suspended sentence and a $2000 fine. He wore the conviction as a badge of honor; his fine was paid by friends from the CIA.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan awarded Helms the National Security Medal.

Following his passing in 2002, Richard Helms was interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

See also: Operation Mockingbird.


Preceded by:
Vice Adm. William Raborn
Director of Central Intelligence
1966–1973
Succeeded by:
James R. Schlesinger

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