The Man Who Kept the Secrets – Thomas Powers (1979)

The Man Who Kept the Secrets is a story of the history of the CIA, tracking the career of Richard Helms, Director of the CIA from 1966-1973, the first insider to act as director. At the time the book was written, the CIA had recently been through an a public scouring as the public learned of assassination attempts on foreign leaders and other nastiness. I thought the book did a very good job of explaining the CIA perspective while not excusing the excesses. As Powers describes it, the CIA essentially worked for the President, and did not have its own agenda for the most part. If the Kennedy brothers wanted Castro out of the picture, then that was what the CIA would try to do. But things got ugly when Nixon wanted more help from Helms in covering up the Watergate burglary, while Helms was trying to keep the CIA record clean (it seems pretty definitive that the White House ordered the burglary).

Helms was always careful to keep the written record clean of damaging orders, and while he was known for being truthful with the Senate, he was also very careful to say just as much as he needed to. When the tide turned in the seventies, and the questions got more direct, Helms was put in what he felt was an unfair position; if he told the whole truth he’d be implicating Presidents and others, which no one really wanted.

It seems like little has changed since then. With the new Iraq war it appears that Cheney was leaning on the CIA to provide what he wanted.

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