Former Central Intelligence Agency director Richard M. Helms was fined $2,000 and given a suspended sentence of two years in jail yesterday by a federal judge who said Helms considered himself above the law when he failed to tell a congressional committee about CIA operations in Chile.
"You now stand before this court in disgrace and shame," District Judge Barrington D. Parker told Helms at one point during a severe tongue-lashing he delivered to the former CIA chief before freeing him.
Helms' attorney, Edward Bennett Williams, had just asked the judge for leniency, saying that the ex-CIA chief would bear "the scar of a conviction for the rest of his days."
However, minutes after the sentence was imposed, Helms and Williams described the conviction to the media as "a badge of honor."
Helms could have received up to two years in prison for his plea of "no contest" to charges that he failed to testify fully and accurately to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
However, the Justice Department joined Williams in urging that Helms be kept out of jail as part of its plea-bargaining arrangement.
Assistant Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti said he was making the request on behalf of Helms "with all the strength and conviction which I can muster on behalf of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice."
Civiletti repeated the government's position that a conviction was enough to "uphold the principle of the rule of law and the paramount duty compelled by oath-taking," and that a jail term would serve no useful purpose.
The Justice Department had maintained, from the moment that it filed secret criminal charges against Helms on Monday, that he should be spared any jailed term, saying [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] had been approved by the Attorney General and the President of the United States.
Parker had rejected that arrangement, a point which he made clear again to Helms later Monday at the open court proceedings in which the former CIA head pleaded "no contest."
Even after the plea, Williams had sought immediate imposition of a suspended sentence to end Helms' "mental anguish." Parker, however, said just as forcefully that he was not going to sentence Helms on the same day he pleaded, and instead set yesterday's sentencing date.
Helms and Williams smiled and chatted as they waited for Parker to take the bench yesterday, but became increasingly grim as the sentencing procedure wore on.
Williams praised Helms' government service and his personal attributes and said he was proud "to stand beside a man who has made these virtues the hallmarks of manhood and who has lived his whole life accordingly."
His client, Williams said, "found himself impaled on the horns of a moral and legal dilemma" when he testified under oath before the Senate committee on two occasions and was questioned about CIA operations in Chile.
Helms was aware that covert ac-by the oaths he had taken when he was CIA director and when he left the agency never to divulge classified information, Williams said.
"Is that paramount to the oath that he took before the Foreign Relations Committee?" Parker interjected.
"I think it is not paramount, your honor," Williams replied, adding that he was mentioning it only to show the "dilemma."
"Were there not other alternatives open to him, Mrs. Williams? Parker asked. When Williams replied that there were, Parker said, "He could have very easily stood back and considered very carefully the other alternatives . . . and I am sure that he is experienced in meeting situations such as these."
Williams suggested that the consideration of alternatives such as claiming executive privilege amounted to hindsight, and that he and Helms did not contest that alternatives might have been available. Instead, said Williams, Helms did what he thought was in the best interest of the country and kept the Chile operation secret despite the fact he was under oath to tell the truth.
In the days only Watergate reference, the judge interrupted again to say. "There have been a number of defendants before this court within the last five years who have weighed this question as to what is the best interests of the United States and you have seen what has happened."
Williams responded that Helms was different, because "self-interests were at work in those cases. There was no self-interest at work in this case. There was no self-gain."
Instead, Willaims added, there was only the "scar of a conviction" that Helms will bear for the rest of his life, "a scar incurred in the service of his country for doing what by his lights and conscience was the right thing to do."
Helms' only statement in court was a quiet, calm, "I don't believe that I have anything to add to what Mr. Williams has said." He issued a statement later, however, again explaining the dilemma in which he felt caught before Congress.
The statement said he hoped his conviction would lead to new guidelines for taking testimony from CIA directors before congressional panels.
Parker's tongue-lashing of Helms began after Civiletti urged on behalf of the government that he go free. The judge told Helms.
"You considered yourself bound to protect the agency whose affairs you had administered and to dishonor your solemn oath to tell the truth before the committee."
Helms whose arms had been at his side began gripping the lectern stiffly as the judge continued.
"If public officials embark deliberately on a course to disobey and ignore the laws of our land because of some misguided and ill-conceived notion and belief that there are earlier commitments and considerations which they must first observe, the future of our country is in jeopardy.
"There are those employed in the intelligence security community of this country . . . who feel that they have a license to operate freely outside the dictates of the law and otherwise to orchestrate as they see fit. Public officials at every level, whatever their position, like any other person must respect and honor the Constitution and the laws of the United States," Parker added. CAPTION: Picture 1, Former CIA chief Richard Helms leaves courthouse after sentencing for failure to testify fully and accurately at Senate hearings on CIA involvement in Chile. By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Richard Helms hears Judge Barrington Parker say, "You now stand before this court in disgrace and shame. By Betty [WORD ILLEGIBLE] - WRC NBC-TV