This morning, I am thinking of Richard Helms — on account of this news story:
The U.S. government concluded within the past two years that Israel was most likely behind the placement of cellphone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington, according to three former senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter.
(Full article here.) Israel has strenuously denied this. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fine.
Richard Helms was a CIA man, appointed director by Johnson and held over by Nixon. I have a vivid memory of him on the David Brinkley show at the time of the Pollard affair. This was many years after his retirement from the CIA. Fortunately, there is a transcript, here. The year was 1985.
George Will says, “Mr. Helms, how exercised should Americans be over the fact that Israel, which unquestionably is a friend, is doing something that doesn’t look very friendly? That is, does everyone do it? Are we doing it to France and Britain and Germany and Italy?”
Helms says, “Espionage is not played by the Marquis of Queensbury rules. And the only sin in espionage is getting caught. And that friends spy on the United States surprises me not at all.”
Will says, “In other words, we are indeed spying on, say, our NATO allies.”
Helms says (with wonderful matter-of-factness), “I hope so.”
I once had a correspondence with Helms — brief but very gratifying. Later, I saw him at an event in Washington. He was in a wheelchair by that point. Charles Krauthammer said to me, “You must talk to Richard Helms. He interviewed Hitler, you know.”
He did indeed, in 1936, when Helms was 23. He was a European correspondent for UPI. During the war, he joined the OSS. At the end, he sneaked into the Chancellery and swiped some of Hitler’s stationery — swastika and all.
He wrote a letter to his three-year-old son, Dennis. It was addressed to “Master Dennis J. Helms,” care of Mrs. Richard Helms in Orange, N.J.
The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe — three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins. He had a thirst for power, a low opinion of man as an individual, and a fear of intellectual honesty. He was a force for evil in the world. His passing, his defeat — a boon to mankind. But thousands died that it might be so. The price for ridding society of bad is always high.
Helms wrote this same Dennis 46 years later, on Christmas Day 1991:
My life has spanned an historic period, and I am rather awed by that fact. As I recalled other events, I realized that . . . Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and how many others bit the dust during this century. Now I am afraid that we are entering a troubled time, but of a different kind. . . . So-called “terrorism” may get a new lease on life. . . . But why be pessimistic?
I have Helms and his like on my mind for more than one reason. In the new issue of National Review, I have a piece about espionage, and in particular the new International Spy Museum in Washington. I will expand this piece online at some point. At any rate, I am grateful for men such as Richard Helms, and I hope and trust that our country and other democracies will keep producing them.