The late Richard Helms headed up the CIA for six crucial years, 1966-73, in the course of a 30-year career at The Agency. During the six years when he was director, the CIA, following the orders of the U.S. presidents in office, carried out the overthrow of the democratically elected governments of Guatemala, Congo, Iran, and Chile, and tried but failed to do the same with Cuba and Vietnam.

Helms died last year, but his autobiography, A Look Over My Shoulder, which he co-wrote with a ranking CIA official, William Hood, has just been published, and it makes for interesting reading.

The book was reviewed in the Book Section of the May 4 New York Times by Joseph Persico, who lists some of the many crimes of the CIA in a very casual, offhanded way as though he was reading off a grocery shopping list.

Yet the fact is that millions of people around the world have died or suffered horribly from the machinations of the CIA.

Among the items on the “shopping list,” Persico refers to the CIA’s prominent role in the Cold War against the Soviet Union launched by the administration of Harry Truman and promoted by every U.S. president thereafter.

Persico writes, “During the Cold War debate over the Soviet Union’s capacity to deliver a first strike knock out punch to the United States, the CIA found that the Kremlin had neither the intention nor the weaponry to do so. The Nixon administration told Helms, in effect, to get on the team or shut up.”

Helms, a firm believer in the policy of asserting U.S supremacy in the post World War II world, chose to “get with the team,” and never went public with the CIA’s finding until he put it into his autobiography a year before his death.

But the pursuit of the Cold War, based on the false premise that the Soviet Union was a threat to world peace, meant not only the deaths of millions of people, but also a colossal waste of resources.

Had the funds, research and energy that went into building hydrogen bombs and numerous other weapons of mass destruction been devoted to finding cures for cancer and other diseases that afflict mankind, into building livable cities with free education up to the college level, with universal health care, into wiping out pollution, and thousands of other uses, that would have created a world without hunger, disease or poverty.

Today’s Bush administration is hell-bent on continuing the Cold War policies of its predecessors despite the fact that there is no Soviet Union. It targets nations like Cuba and Vietnam where it can apply powerful pressures to try to undermine and even overthrow the governments of these small countries. But its drive for world supremacy extends also to established capitalist governments like France, Germany and any country that attempts to assert policies that are not in line with those of the U.S.

The details of how the CIA, acting as the agent of U.S. imperialism, carried out its illegal and deadly operations are not often revealed for public scrutiny. This makes Helms’ book of interest. The book refutes the defenders of the status quo who accuse the Left of paranoia and exaggeration for questioning the role of the CIA.

Herb Kaye is a contributor from Oakland, Calif. He can be reached at pww@pww.org