Richard M. Helms (1913-2002) was born on March 30, 1913 in Saint Davids, Pennsylvania to Herman H. Helms and Marion McGarrah Helms. At an early age, Helms studied in Switzerland at Le Rosey. Returning to America, he graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1935.
Helms' early work was in the field of journalism. He worked as a United Press staff correspondent from 1935 to 1937. As a correspondent in Germany, he attended a lunch given by Adolph Hitler in 1936, and he also covered the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. From 1937 to 1942, he was a writer for the Indianapolis Times Publishing Company.
In 1942, Helms entered the U.S. Navy. Then, he was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Helms had a long and distinguished career at the CIA, spanning from 1947 to 1973 during the dangerous era of the Cold War. He specialized in covert operations. In 1955, he participated in the effort to construct a tunnel from West Berlin to East Berlin to listen in on East German communications. Helms became involved in intelligence work in Cuba and Vietnam, too. He served as Deputy Director of the CIA from 1965 to 1966. In time, he rose to the rank of Director of the CIA, serving in that capacity from June 30, 1966 to February 2, 1973. Helms was the first career intelligence officer to assume that post. Helms served under two presidents as head of the CIA: Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, and Richard M. Nixon, a Republican. In 1973, Helms did not bend to Nixon's suggestion that the CIA become involved with the Watergate investigation.
Nixon appointed Helms as U.S. Ambassador to Iran in 1973. Helms began that position on February 8, 1973 and departed from that post on December 27, 1976. Iran before 1979 was witness to the pro-Western and pro-industrial policies of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and Helms carried on a diplomatic relationship with the Shah and often met with him in one-on-one meetings. During her stay in Iran, Helms' wife Cynthia Helms wrote a book about her experiences there: "An Ambassador's Wife in Iran" (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1981).
In the mid-to-late 1970s, Congress held hearings to investigate the involvement of the CIA in controversial policies at home and abroad. In 1977, Helms pleaded no contest to charges that he had not fully disclosed to Congress the agency's plans to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro and to fund to opponents of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who, in 1973, was overthrown by a military coup.
After his ambassadorship to Iran, Helms did consulting work. From 1977 to 1997, he was the president of the Safeer Company in Washington, D.C. Helms received the Career Service Award of the National Civil Service League in 1965, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal in 1973, and the National Security Medal in 1983.
Richard M. Helms married Julia Bretzman Shields on September 8, 1939, and the couple had one son, Dennis J. Helms. After a divorce, Helms married Cynthia McKelvie in 1968. Richard M. Helms died on October 22, 2002. His memoirs, entitled, "A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency," were published posthumously in 2003.
- Helms, Cynthia. "An Ambassador's Wife in Iran" (New York: Dodd Mead & Company, 1981).
- Helms, Richard M. "A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency" (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003).
- Powers, Thomas. "The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms & the CIA" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979).
- "Who's Who in America." 57th edition (New Providence, New Jersey: Marquis Who's Who, 2002).