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