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Helms, Richard McGarrah

American intelligence official and diplomat (b. March 30, 1913, Saint Davids, Pa.-d. Oct. 22, 2002, Washington, D.C.), headed the Central Intelligence Agency from 1966 to 1973. To supporters he was a patriot who upheld the security of the country above all else, while to critics he typified the worst faults of the CIA. Helms graduated from Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., in 1935 and for several years worked in journalism. Called to military duty in 1942, he was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (which was later reorganized into the CIA). Although he tried journalism again after the war, he soon returned to the CIA, where he undertook espionage work. In 1955 he supervised the digging of a tunnel from West to East Berlin that allowed the U.S. to listen to Soviet telephone conversations for nearly a year. In the early 1960s he was involved in intelligence on Cuba, and he was in Vietnam at the time a CIA-engineered coup against Ngo Dinh Diem resulted in the death of the Vietnamese president in 1963. Helms was appointed head of the CIA in 1966, the first career officer to gain the position. In 1973 he refused Pres. Richard M. Nixon's request that he intervene in the investigation of the Watergate scandal. Forced to resign, Helms was appointed ambassador to Iran, where he remained until 1977. In that year he pleaded no contest to charges that he had failed to disclose to Congress the CIA's involvement in attempts to assassinate Cuban Pres. Fidel Castro and in funneling money to opponents of Chilean Pres. Salvador Allende, who was deposed in a 1973 military coup. Other revelations-among them CIA surveillance of journalists and of anti-Vietnam War protesters, even though domestic spying was against the law, and drug experiments on unsuspecting subjects-further damaged Helms's reputation.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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