He was a shambling, enigmatic figure with what one close friend called “a taste for the clandestine.” And when he collapsed last December on the eve of giving congressional testimony on the Irancontra affair, so powerful was his reputation for manipulation and secrecy that some congressmen privately said that he might be feigning an illness. Indeed, five months after his death, the behavior of former Central Intelligence Agency director William Casey continues to startle and intrigue Washington and other world capitals. Casey—a spy master who appeared to be obsessed by the fear of intelligence leaks to the mediamet regularly with Washington Post investigative superstar Bob Woodward to tell the secrets of a vast global network of covert operations. That is one of the many issues raised by Woodward’s 511-page blockbuster, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 19811987, published in a storm of controversy last week.
Woodward first established his reputation when, with reporter Carl Bernstein, he exposed the 1973 Watergate coverup for The Washington Post, leading to the resignation of thenpresident Richard Nixon. But Casey’s widow, Sophia, his doctors and friends have disputed Woodward’s claim that he met the director 50 times over the past three years. Woodward says that those meetings ended with a final interview in Casey’s closely guarded hospital room shortly after he underwent surgery for a brain tumor. There, according to Woodward, Casey nodded assent and said “I believed” when asked if he knew about the diversion of profits from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan rebels. Last week Sophia Casey claimed that Woodward could not have entered the room undetected, and she added that her husband was unable to speak at the time. Declared President Ronald Reagan: “I think there’s an awful lot of fiction about a
man who was unable to communicate.” Some critics said that the book could have serious consequences for both the CIA and the United States’ long-term security. Members of the Senate and House intelligence committees expressed alarm that Casey had given a reporter information that he would not give them. And Woodward’s chronicle of
what he calls “off-the-books” covert operations—including an abortive 1985 assassination attempt that killed 80 innocent people—fuelled demands for a new crackdown on the agency. Said retired Admiral Stanfield Turner, Casey’s predecessor as CIA director: “One of Casey’s legacies is going to be tighter control of the CIA by Congress.”
Turner and other experts also said they are concerned that Woodward’s disclosure of sensitive foreign operations could compromise the country’s intelligencegathering capabilities— and even cost lives.
Woodward reveals cases of the CIA eavesdropping on a wide range of friendly governments from Chad to Pakistan, and he reports that Casey personally planted a listening device in one Middle Eastern senior official’s office.
Even more startling are charges that Lebanese leader Bashir Gemayel, killed in 1982, and Salvadoran President José Napoleón Duarte were once on the CIA payroll; and that Dominican Prime Minister Eugenia Charles received $100,000 for her support for the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada. Said another former CIA director, William Colby: “Other nations
are going to say, ‘There the Americans go, they can’t keep secrets.’
They’re not going to want to carry out operations with us.”
Most politically harmful to Ronald Reagan is Woodward’s depiction of Casey’s reported frustration with him as a passive president—“uninterested, lazy and distracted.” Woodward also reveals devastating gossip that CIA spying picked up on other leaders: alleged marijuana use by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat before he was murdered in 1981, Saudi King Fahd’s heavy drinking and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s purported inclination to wear women’s clothes.
But the book’s most valuable contribution may be its portrait of Casey as a man whose anti-Soviet obsession and impatience with inaction appears ultimately to have led the administration into the Iran-contra arms scandal. Woodward writes that Casey’s ColdWar view of world affairs made him determined to “win one [country] back” from the Soviets and, after man-
aging Reagan’s 1980 landslide election victory, he got his chance. He had hoped to become secretary of state or defence, Woodward reports, but given command of the CIA —and a seat in the cabinet—he set out to accomplish his aims. Woodward says that he told a top agency official: “We have a chance to establish our own foreign
policy. We are the action agency of the government.”
Casey, according to the book, set out to rebuild the CIA’s covert operations branch, which Congress had largely disarmed after scandals in the 1970s. Casey restored morale with large infusions of funds as the CIA’s budget grew by 25 per cent a year, to $3 billion in 1986. He brought back onto the payroll many paramilitary experts whom Turner had fired, some of whose names reappeared in the Iran-contra scandal. Casey launched an estimated total of 100 covert actions around the globe, including operations in Chad, Angola, Ethiopia, Kampuchea and Afghanistan. But his pet project was the creation of the Nicaraguan rebel army known as the contras in 1981.
The impatient Casey put so much pressure on field officers to show progress in the contra war that CIA agents staged a 1983 bombing raid on Managua’s airport, which almost killed two visiting U.S. senators, Democrat Gary Hart and Republican William Cohen.
Two of Casey’s deputies resigned over his covert actions. And Casey also alienated many of the CIA’s allies on Capitol Hill with his secret 1983 mining of Nicaraguan harbors and his suspected authorship of a guerrilla manual advocating assassination.
But whenever either the bureaucracy or Congress put up an obstacle to his plans, Casey, a millionaire, made a private-sector approach to the problem. After the agency refused to train Lebanese units in antiterrorist pre-emptive strikes, he made a private or “off-the-books” arrangement with King Fahd. The result: Saudi intelligence organized an attempt to assassinate Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, spiritual leader of the Shiite Hizbollah, or Party of God, believed responsible for the death of 241 U.S. Marines when their Beirut barracks was blown up in 1983.
After the hit squad’s car bomb went off outside Fadlallah’s Beirut apartment in March, 1985, leaving the sheik unharmed but killing 80 innocent bystanders, the Saudis tried a different method of neutralizing him, Woodward reports. They bought his
good behavior with a $2-million bribe. Both the Saudis and Fadlallah last week denied the charges.
Woodward gives a persuasive description of how Casey’s preoccupation with terrorism and Communist expansionism led to the Iran-contra scandal. He claims that Casey “almost drew up the plan” for Lt.-Col. Oliver North’s secret wheeling and dealing in which U.S. arms were sold to Iran and the profits diverted to the contras. And, indeed, the book seems to corroborate most of North’s testimony to congressional investigators last July.
In an interview with Woodward, Casey rated his performance during his CIA tenure as seven out of 10. But some critics give him much lower marks. During his term, they say, U.S. intelligence suffered a record number of blows.
0 talked to him because
Critics also say that Casey’s preoccupation with covert actions led him to color the agency’s intelligence to support his own objectives. Said Turner: “Mr. Casey politicized intelligence. He created an atmosphere in which the consumers do not trust his product.” Woodward also charged that Casey’s ato. tempt to circumvent 2 congressional controls ° on the CIA may now lead to far closer scrutiny. In fact a new bill introI duced last week would M require the President to report covert actions to Congress within 48 hours. Said Woodward: “The trauma of the ’70s has been revisited on the agency by Casey.” But Woodward acknowledges that Casey remains a mystery to him. And he can only guess that the director
1 “he wanted to shape I the story.” Indeed, I some analysts specuis late that Casey may I even have used the re5 porter for political leverage or disinformation. Said Colby: “If you hear the top investigative journalist in the country is doing a book on the CIA, it makes a lot of sense to make sure he gets the agency’s side of the story. If you just sit in the hole, you’re not participating in the making of public opinion in this country.”
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