Open Season for Prosecutions
THE LINED leaf of notebook paper bears an almost illegible scribbling, the kind of hurried writing you associate with a nervous undergraduate attending a review section for a long neglected course. But a closer look at the terse phrases scratched out on the page belies the first impression: the hand of a man in power has penned these notes, judging from their contents. "One in 10 chance perhaps, but save Chile!" reads the first line, setting the tenor for the next eight phrases. The author's adrenalin flowing fast now, the notes cease to even resemble coherent sentences: "not concerned risks involved," "$10,000,000 available, more if necessary," "full-time job--best men we have." And then suddenly, out of the blue, four chilling words shoot out of the page: "make the economy scream."
An unassuming piece of paper at first glance, the 81/2" x 11" leaf is the only written record of one of the most critical sessions held in the Oval Office during the Nixon Administration. The hermit of San Clemente uttered these words on September 15, 1970, in the presence of three people who swung a lot of weight around in those days, Nixon's trusted crony and then Attorney General John Mitchell, his national security affairs adviser Henry Kissinger '50, and a comparatively unfamiliar face around the West Wing of the White House, then CIA director Richard Helms. The notes belong to Helms, and that one page and the memory of the seven-year-old meeting today hold an all too special significance for the one-time Nixon henchman.
Richard Helms stands on the brink of making history as the first CIA director to be indicted and tried on criminal charges, and his current troubles can be traced back to that fateful meeting in the waning days of the summer of '70. Helms left the White House in the late afternoon with very precise orders from the President: to take any measure short of assassination to stop Chilean president-elect Salvador Allende from taking office later that year, a plot that took on the code name of "Track II." A team player in the best Nixonesque sense of the word, Helms instructed CIA operatives to contact the most powerful elements in the Chilean Right that fall, hoping to pressure Allende's opponents into staging a military coup that would abort the Popular Unity government's planned experiment in democratic socialism. In the course of carrying out Nixon's orders, the CIA developed a very special relationship with an American multinational worried about the fate of its massive Chilean investments--the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT).
That relationship has been on the minds of the people at the Justice Department for some time now. A federal grand jury last summer recommended multiple-count perjury indictments against Helms, ITT chief executive Harold S. Geneen and ITT senior vice president Edward J. Gerrity for allegedly lying to two Senate committees in 1973 about an ITT-CIA conspiracy to bribe members of the Chilean Congress to withhold confirmation of Allende's victory in the September, 1970 popular presidential election. The grand off-again investigation of possible perjury charges against Helms and the two ITT executives that spanned some four years. Yet two months have elapsed since the grand jury passed on its findings to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, and the prospect of a Helms indictment remains very much in doubt today.
The Helms factor largely accounts for the unusual delay in the resolution of an otherwise routine perjury investigation. Attorney General Griffin Bell has taken the extraordinary step of consulting President Carter on the case, reasoning that an unprecedented trial of a former intelligence chief might expose details of the CIA's operations in Chile and other national security materials relating to the Allende years. To complicate the decision facing Bell and the Carter administration, Helms reportedly told Justice Department investigators in 1974 that he would name Kissinger as the Nixon administration official who ordered Helms to perjure himself before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during its February, 1973 confirmation hearings on Helms's appointment as ambassador to Iran. Kissinger just happened to be paying a visit to the White House--ostensibly to advise Carter on the upcoming battle on Capitol Hill over the Panama Canal treaty--when Bell met with Carter earlier this month.
Helms's ultimate fate in the investigation has also eclipsed the involvement of Geneen and Gerrity in the press during the past few weeks. A Rowland Evans and Robert Novak column in late August urged President Carter to order the Justice Department to drop its case against Helms, never once mentioning the ITT angle or the details of how the multinational funnelled $350,000 to Allende's opponents in 1970 with the advice and assistance of the CIA. The Evans and Novak apologia drew rebuttals from columnists Anthony Lewis of the New York Times and Mary McGrory of the Washington Star, who again chose to concentrate on the pros and cons of a Helms indictment (their thumbs predictably turned downward on the former superspook).
Having refused to talk to reporters for the last several months about the Justice Department probe, Helms has scrambled in other directions, enlisting the aid of old friends from within government as well as without. Former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford and others have made private appeals to the Carter administration to spare Helm's neck, and the Justice Department's continued reluctance to arrive at a final verdict on whether to indict him testifies to the influence wielded by the "Helms lobby." Bell has also granted special audiences to Helms's counsel, the renowned trial attorney Edward Bennet Williams.
But regardless of what the Justice Department finally decides to do on the Helms-ITT investigation, the mere fact of the probe has adversely affected the involved principals. Helms resigned as ambassador to Iran last November upon being formally notified that he had become a major target in the investigation. And ITT headquarters in New York announced in May that Geneen would officer at the end of this year, thus ending Geneen's 18-year autocratic rule of the corporation, whose phenomenal expansion during the 1960s he personally planned and closely supervised.
A clue to the Justice Department's willingness to bring Helms to trial may have been supplied last month in an equally controversial but unrelated investigation. The Los Angeles Times reported in August that Justice had decided to drop its prosecution of John Morley, a former high-level official in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who directed the FBI's alleged mail-opening and wire-tapping campaign against the Weather Underground terrorist organization in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bell has frequently second-guessed his department's decision last April to indict John J. Kearney, a Morley underling who headed the FBI office in New York that allegedly carried out the illegal operations against the Weathermen. The Kearney indictment provoked an outcry from within the FBI as agents took to the streets of Manhattan to protest the unprecedented action, and the spectre of similar demonstrations by disgruntled CIA operatives will undoubtedly weigh heavily on Bell when he prepares to hand down the final word on the Helms case.
IN THE MEANTIME, it is the wise man who hedges his bets on the likelihood of a Helms indictment. Marvin Liebman, director of the Ad Hoc Citizen's Legal Fund for the defense of indicted FBI agents, told the Associated Press last week that he had learned from the "highest sources" in government that the indictments were imminent. The week passed without any further developments on the case, and a Justice Department spokesman said earlier this week that no announcements on the matter would be forthcoming for yet another seven days. But before Richard Helms begins to think he may never breathe the open air of a U.S. District courtroom, he might consider one of Griffin Bell's more cryptic comments. A Washington reporter took Bell aside after the attorney general announced the 32-count indictment against South Korean businessman Tongsun Park and asked him if Justice planned to prosecute Helms. Bell replied, "It seems to be the season for it."