During the late William J. Casey's six controversial years as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, no one who was at all knowledgeable about intelligence matters ever confused the institution with the man who was its titular boss. Casey and the CIA worked together only when they had the same goal in mind -- and agreed on the best method to achieve it.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward has come under fire for saying approximately the same thing in his book, "VEIL: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987." Casey's widow, Sophia, has contradicted quotations and events ascribed to her husband, which Woodward says were based on "more than four dozen interviews or substantive discussions" with the then-director of central intelligence.
We don't wish to offend Sophia Casey; she has acknowledged that her husband didn't tell her everything. We have reason to believe Woodward.
Why? For one thing, we came to the same conclusion that Woodward did. Furthermore, we also had private conversations with Casey in which he revealed himself to be generally the kind of man Woodward has described in his new book.
Dale Van Atta had a secret meeting with the CIA chief on Dec. 19, 1984. To explain how astonishing it was that Casey had agreed to an interview -- as an anonymous source -- we need to provide a little background:
Casey was furious over our critical 1983 profile of him. We were also on his blacklist for our frequent publication of CIA secrets. In fact, we had been told that when CIA personnel were to brief someone on "compartmented" or "code word" information, Casey ordered them to give this explicit warning: None of the information must be leaked to "Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta," or to our rival columnists, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak.
Yet Casey agreed to meet Van Atta, as long as the meeting was not at CIA headquarters in Langley. He chose a hideaway office on F Street NW downtown, complete with CIA security and a false front. Casey was waiting in the otherwise empty office, a few blocks from the White House. The office gave every indication of being unused except for Casey's clandestine meetings.
Casey was testy. "I can't always trust those boys at Langley," he said. He tried to pump Van Atta for information about the CIA, explaining that he didn't always know what his agency was up to. Nor, he added with a smile, did they always know what he was up to.
Casey said that it scared him to realize that the CIA might be doing things without his knowledge, just as years earlier the agency had tried to assassinate Fidel Castro without informing then-director John McCone. So, Casey said, he hoped that reporters like us would give him "early warning" of any CIA rogue operations we learned about. In exchange, he hinted, he might confirm or deny other leads we got on CIA activities.
In sum, the Casey on display that day and in other private meetings was exactly the same as the man portrayed in Woodward's new book, despite well-meant revisionist views put forward by his widow and others.