Entry dated :: November 22, 1976
Teheran  
Richard M. Helms:
Exiled


I had been introduced to Richard M. Helms, the former head of the CIA, on December 1, 1973, when he was U.S. ambassador to the Shah of Iran. Cyrus Ghani, a well-connected Iranian lawyer, had wanted to take me, and (especially) Amanda Burden, with whom I had come to Iran on an archeological vacation, to a reception at the American Embassy. When he asked Helms if he could bring us, Helms' put a single condition on my invitation: whatever else I discussed, I could not bring up the subject of the Warren Report or the Kennedy Assassination. I agreed and we went with Cyrus to the reception and a dinner at the residence where it turned out I knew another guest, Sam Stern, one of the authors of the Warren Report. Nevertheless, the taboo subject never came up., and whom I had interviewed. I found Helms, and his wife, Cynthia, immensely charming. Helms, who had gone to the same prep school as the Shah (La Rosie), seemed very comfortable as a diplomatic go-between with the Shah. He seemed far less comfortable in his respect for the now tottering Nixon government. Towards the end of the evening, when I and Amanda lingered on in the doorway with other departing guests; he said, "Please feel free to either stay and have a brandy, or leave -- but don't ooze in the doorway." We choose the brandy. For the next hour, I was riveted by Helm's brutally shrewd analysis of the political situation of Iran. When I left, he suggested if I ever came back to Iran, I should call him.

Now I had come back to Teheran to see him on the very subject he did not want to discuss thenó The Kennedy Assassination (and, by coincidence, it was its 13th anniversary today). At the time of the assassination, he had been chief of the CIA's Directorate of Operationsó the clandestinf part of the CIA that had managed the defection and debriefing of the Soviet intelligence officer who claimed to be the assassin's case officer: Yuri Nosenko. And after my dizzying conversations with Nosenko and Angleton, I needed somewone to cut through ehat Angleton called the "wilderness of mirrors."

Helms kindly invited me to stay at his embassy residence. He and Cynthia had just returned from the oasis of Bam, and brought back delicious dates. At dinner, Helms talked about his own journalistic career in Germany in the late 1930s. When he was a stringer for United Press he got a luncheon interview with Hitler in Nuremburg. He left for journalism for intelligence service, having been in on the creation of the CIA. As we got to the dessertó the Bam datesó he asked me, finally, why I had come to see him in Iran. "I have been interviewing Yuri Nosenko..."

"Nosenko is giving interviews?" he said, with a look of disbelief.

I told him that the CIA had arranged his interview with me.

Helms shook his head, visibly distressed. He said that the CIA "had no business giving you Nosenko in this way." He assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that Nosenko had been given a carefully-rehearsed brief by the CIA to pass on to me. He said using Nosenko was sure to re-open "old wounds."

When I then began telling him about my meetings with Angleton, he cut in, wearily, as if to save time "Angleton thinks Nosenko was sent by Moscow to mislead us but "it goes much deeper." In June 1964, he said "Nosenko's reliability was key to determining what the KGB had to do with Oswald." Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy knew this fact, as did Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was considering calling him as a witness before the Commission he headed on President Kennedy's assassination. This added tremendous urgency to the situation. Finally, Helms went to see the chief justice in his chambers. It was a private meeting with no notes taken. He warned Warren then that there were two schools of thought on Nosenko within the CIA. The first held that he was a legitimate defector and could be believed about Oswald. The second held that he was still a KGB agent, under instructions to misinform the commission about Oswald. Until the matter was resolved, he advised the Chief Justice not to see Nosenko-- or base any of his conclusions on his information. Warren nodded his assent.

The Nosenko case then hung, as Helms put it, "like an incubus" over the CIA. Even 12 years later, it had not been settled. He had just months before had a visit from a CIA officer named John Hart was said he was re-investigating the matter.

"What did you tell him?" I asked.

Helms smiled. "What I'm going to tell you. I have no memory of the details of the case." He paused, then added,"You'll have to speak to officers who actually handled it." He jotted down a number of names on piece of paper. "See them: If you can make sense of what they say, it's more than we did." At the top of the list was Tennant Peter Bagley, Jr.

Pete Bagley, whose name I had not come even heard before, had been Nosenko's case officer. Helms explained that he was the one that had befriended Nosenko in Geneva, arranged his defection to the United States, debriefed him about Oswald and then, when he came under suspicion, became his chief interrogator. "He had tough questions for him, as I recall.." and then added cryptically, "Perhaps too tough. I'm not sure he was allowed to ask them all."

Angleton also had questions for Nosenko. Were they the same questions?

Helms laughed "Nothing about Bagley and Angleton were the same." He explained that Bagley came from a prominent families in North Carolina. Both his older brothers had become fleet admirals in the U.S. Navy, and a cousin served as a Presidential press secretary. After getting a Ph.D in political science at the University of Geneva, and serving in the Marines, he had chosen the CIA as the place to make his mark in the world. He joined in 1950 at the age of 25. He was assigned to the key Soviet Russia Division, which, with its responsibility for recruiting Soviet sources, was at the forefront of the cold war. Stationed in Europe, he rapidly rose up in the ranks. By the time he met Nosenko, he was second in command of the whole division. Rugged and good-looking, he was the "golden boy," who could do not wrong. Helms considered him as the likely to head clandestine operations, and possibly even a future Director. "That was before Nosenko defected," Helms explained.

"And now?" I asked.

"Pete's living on a pension in Brussels. If you are ever in Belgium, you might look him up."


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