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Richard M. Helms Papers 3

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS424

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The Richard M. Helms Papers: Part 3 document the career of Richard M. Helms, who served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1966 to 1973 and the U.S. Ambassador to Iran from 1973 to 1976. The collection includes carbons of some of Helms' outgoing correspondence, mostly dated to 1976, with various individuals, such as George H.W. Bush. Helms' personal papers (Part 3) contain letters from notable people, such as Assadollah Alam, Arthur Ashe, Michael Beschloss, George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, Gerald Ford, Hubert H. Humphrey, Lady Bird Johnson, Lyndon B. Johnson, Edmund Morris, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, among others. Ample correspondence to Helms' wife Cynthia Helms is preserved, including letters from Clark M. Clifford, Lady Bird Johnson, Henry A. Kissinger, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Nancy Reagan. In addition to correspondence, Part 3 of the Helms Papers contains rough drafts of his memoirs "A Look Over My Shoulder," appointment books dating from 1965 to 1973, printed clippings, awards, and numerous photographs. The collection includes a set of china dishware possibly owned by Adolph Hitler.

The Richard M. Helms Papers: Part 3 supplement the Richard M. Helms Papers: Part 1 and Part 2, which are also housed in the Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections.


  • 1930 - 2004
  • Majority of material found within 1970 - 1989


Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Biographical note

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).


9.5 Linear Feet (10 boxes)

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations



SERIES 1 - Correspondence from Richard M. Helms.

SERIES 2 - Correspondence to Richard M. Helms.

SERIES 3 - Correspondence to Cynthia Helms.

SERIES 4 - Drafts of Helms' Memoirs.

SERIES 5 - Hitler's Dishware.

SERIES 6 - Manuscripts.

SERIES 7 - Appointment Books.

SERIES 8 - Subject Files.

SERIES 9 - ID Cards.

SERIES 10 - Printed Materials.

SERIES 11 - Awards.

SERIES 12 - Photographs.

SERIES 13 - Oversized Materials.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. Cynthia Helms, 2007.

Separated Materials

Some documents that were included with this donation have been returned to the CIA.

Richard M. Helms Papers 3
Scott S. Taylor
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023-10: Edited for DACS compliance by John Zarrillo

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057