For pure theatrical value, it is hard to beat the hypocritical farce of Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) and other liberals who currently are attacking the Bush Administration for alleged intelligence leaks that supposedly endanger national security. Year in and year out for at least three decades, liberal Democrats have fought tooth-and-nail to gut federal spending for defense and intelligence.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been a favorite punching bag of the left, with politicians making outrageous charges about fictitious clandestine abuse which agency officials can never controvert because of their occupational vow of secrecy. Or at least not very often.
In A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency, the late CIA Director Richard Helms settles plenty of old scores. More than a few of the requitals are directed at congressional liberals who leaked top-secret intelligence information in sordid attempts to put the kibosh on anticommunist policies the politicians opposed.
Standing out for his willingness to break the law to defend leftist causes was the late Sen. William J. Fulbright (D.-Ark.), who in 1969 warned Helms, “If I catch you trying to upset the Chilean election, I will get up on the Senate floor and blow the operation.” Never mind that in doing so Fulbright would have uncovered countless U.S. covert operatives to save a Castro-backed Salvador Allende, who was planning Soviet-style policies to confiscate property and businesses while evangelizing Communism throughout Latin America.
Sen. Frank Church (D.-Idaho), who tarred the CIA as a “rogue elephant,” had a similar disrespect for secret intelligence and its indispensability during the Cold War. He chaired the Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, which was used solely to thwart CIA efforts to combat Communism through covert operations abroad.
After 10 months of hearings and testimony on America’s most sensitive activities, many of which involved political intrigue and sabotage in foreign countries with the assistance of foreign agents, Church published the committee’s complete findings in November 1975. This move compromised virtually all of the Agency’s recent activities.
In an exercise to dwarf the damage being done by Church Committee leaks, Rep. Otis Pike (D.-N.Y.) formed the Select Committee on Intelligence Operations. Over the course of the Pike Committee’s investigations, hundreds of classified documents were released, many of which listed names and addresses of spies living in dangerous places. Tragically, if not surprisingly, this idiot congressman’s irresponsible disclosure of confidential matter proved fatal. In December 1975, Dick Welch, CIA station chief in Athens, was murdered as a result of his cover being blown by Otis Pike.
The cumulative result of these systematic leaks was the eventual emasculation of the nation’s intelligence services. As Helms observes: “The fact that the Soviet and other foreign intelligence services were surely studying the disclosures with microscopic attention was also apparently ignored.” In other words, because of liberal U.S. officials, the enemy had access to the CIA’s most protected methods of operation.
The costs of this suicidal policy have been high. The erratic exposure of sources and publication of intelligence dossiers cause potential assets to think twice before sharing information with or becoming a spy for the United States. The history of leaks and exposures is a major reason why the CIA for years has had difficulties developing its own network of informants and has had to rely on information provided by foreign intelligence agencies.
Helms’ memoirs show that the CIA and the FBI are not wholly to blame for the heart-stopping intelligence incompetence that failed to protect America from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For decades, a series of congressional leaders made sure the agencies could not operate effectively.
Richard Helms’ memoirs recount many old cloak-and-dagger tales and his extensive personal role in history. From lunching with Adolf Hitler as a cub reporter to sitting with the Shah of Iran on the exiled leader’s deathbed, Helms walked in lockstep with the most dramatic events of the second half of the 20th century.
Yet, after 479 pages, the reader is left wanting more information on mysterious CIA projects such as Air America, the Congo war, the attempted coup against Indonesia’s Sukarno, the anticommunist Chinese army in Burma and guerillas in Tibet-to name only a few. Alas, Helms, who died last year before publication of his book, took countless secrets to the grave. This is the frustrating liability of an autobiography by a faithful intelligence man: In death as in life-and as in his memoirs-he never stops giving the company line.