THE MAN WHO KEPT THE SECRETS: Richard Helms and the CIA by Thomas Powers
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THE MAN WHO KEPT THE SECRETS: Richard Helms and the CIA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

When ex-CIA head Richard Helms was convicted of giving false testimony to a Senate committee by denying CIA involvement in overthrowing the Allende government in Chile, he was merely doing what he had always done; keeping secrets. Since Helms decided against writing his memoirs, Powers set out to tell his story; but Helms was so much a product of the CIA that his story becomes merely an appendix to the Agency's. We have, then, the CIA's history of covert activities from the subversion of the Italian Communists in the 1940s and '50s to the Bay of Pigs, Chile, Angola and beyond, virtually all of which is now well known. Powers concentrates on the Agency's obsession with secrecy and its methods of telling both lies and half-truths. Assassinations are a sub-theme, as Powers documents both the Agency's efforts to murder Castro and Lumumba, and its denial of such plots. Helms, in fact, became enraged at the mere suggestion that the CIA was into such things! Powers attributes such behavior to the fact that CIA chiefs are directly under the President's authority, and in denying assassination plans, defend the public image of the President. (Helms resented the outrage of journalists and congressmen feigning ignorance of this relationship.) Though Powers shows Helms to be indecisive as an administrator and fanatical in guarding secrets, he remains ambivalent about both Helms and the Agency--he seems to think Helms' attitude is a sign of strength (instead of what Hannah Arendt called the ""banality of evil"") and harbors some admiration for the CIA's clubbiness. Fine as a picture of the CIA at loose and under siege, though built around a contrived theme.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1979
Publisher: Knopf