- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

Richard M. Helms, the spymaster who led the CIA through some of its most difficult years and was later fired by President Nixon when he refused to block an FBI probe into the Watergate scandal, is dead. He was 89.
Mr. Helms, the quintessential CIA man who was an efficient bureaucrat and faded easily into the background, died Tuesday night at his home in Washington, the CIA said. No immediate cause of death was given.
Tall and lean, Mr. Helms, a tennis enthusiast, was no dashing, swashbuckling spook. Rather, he was an elusive, laconic and reserved man who willingly took marching orders from whomever occupied the Oval Office.
"The United States has lost a great patriot," CIA Director George J. Tenet in a statement yesterday. "The men and women of American intelligence have lost a great teacher and a true friend."
"To the very end of his life, Ambassador Helms shared his time and wisdom with those who followed him in the calling of intelligence in defense of liberty," Mr. Tenet said. "His enthusiasm for this vital work, and his concern for those who conducted it, never faltered."
After a brief stint in journalism his early ambition had been to one day own a newspaper Mr. Helms began his spying career during World War II with the Office of Strategic Services. He was well entrenched in America's nascent spy establishment when the OSS became the Central Intelligence Agency and he served in the agency's highest ranks from the start.
He had a remarkable career in spying's murky underworld, believed deeply in the CIA's mission and was one of its biggest boosters.
"Let's face it," he once said, "the American people want an effective, strong intelligence operation. They just don't want to hear too much about it."
Mr. Helms rose steadily through the ranks and in 1965 became deputy director. In June 1966, President Johnson nominated him to become CIA director. He was the first career spy to head the agency.
Mr. Helms had played a critical role in many CIA operations, from plotting the assassinations of foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro to overthrowing the Marxist government of Chilean President Salvador Allende.
Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Helms headed Operation Chaos, which investigated whether the anti-Vietnam War movement had links to foreign countries.
Mr. Nixon sought to use the CIA to "anticipate, harass, frustrate, and discredit" his domestic opponents, wrote Thomas Powers in a 1979 biography of Mr. Helms. The bumbling burglars who broke into the Democratic Party's offices at the Watergate had worked for the CIA.
Then Mr. Nixon tried to enlist Mr. Helms' help in blocking the FBI's investigation. When he refused to cooperate, Mr. Nixon gave the veteran spy the boot and sent Mr. Helms packing to Tehran where he served as ambassador to Iran.
He quit the ambassadorship in 1976, after he was accused of misleading Senate committees investigating his tenure as CIA chief. Federal prosecutors threatened to indict Mr. Helms for perjury, but the Justice Department backed down after he said he was prepared to go to trial and reveal government secrets.
In the end, prosecutors offered Mr. Helms a plea bargain in which he pleaded no contest to charges he had failed to answer the Senate's questions "fully, completely and accurately." He paid a $2,000 fine and received a suspended two-year prison sentence.
Mr. Helms considered the criminal conviction a "badge of honor."
"I don't feel disgraced at all," he told reporters gathered on the courthouse steps after his plea. "I think if I had done anything else I would have been disgraced."
Richard McGarrah Helms was born March 30, 1913, in St. Davids, Pa., into an affluent family. He grew up in South Orange, N.J.
He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College in 1935, where he was voted "most likely to succeed" and "most respected."
Mr. Helms went to Europe as a cub reporter for United Press and gained some notice for his exclusive interview with Adolf Hitler. He returned to the United States in 1937, working as advertising manager for an Indianapolis newspaper.
During the World War II, his knowledge of foreign languages earned him an assignment to the OSS, which became the CIA in 1947.
Mr. Helms' first marriage ended in divorce and he later married the former Cynthia McKelvie.

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