CIA Director William Casey: His Analysis And Plain Speech Help Him Lead The Agency to the Top
By Daniel J. Murphy
Investor’s Business Daily
10 April 2001
William Casey loved a conflict and threw himself wholeheartedly into each one that came his way.
What he wanted to do was to find some solutions. And he did – the most powerful director in the Central Intelligence Agency’s history wrapped up his life having had a history-changing role in the demise of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. With gusto, he played his role in the shadowy spy world with an eternal itch to be at or near the front lines of action.
He long sought action, both physical and mental.
A native of Elmhurst, Queens, in New York City, Casey (1913-87) and his friends formed their own boxing club as youths. Eager to prove himself, Casey jumped into the makeshift ring they had built.
But Boxing didn’t turn out to be his forte. As gawky then as he was later as an adult, Casey lacked the physical coordination to spar well. In a bout with one especially merciless friend, a punch to the throat put young Casey out of commission. The blow, according to Joseph Persico’s biography, "Casey", would trigger his lifelong speech problems.
Still, Casey wouldn’t quit. A day later, he returned to the ring, pronouncing himself ready to rumble.
Only after an unsuccessful stint as a boxing manager did Casey begin to look for another career. His attitude remained the same, however: Go after and eliminate the enemy.
He wasn’t always in someone’s face, though. In fact, his disarming generosity won him lifelong friends.
Casey made his fortune spotting talent as a venture capitalist. Once, Casey met a promising inventor who had recently won a contract with the Army. But the man didn’t have enough of his own capital to complete the project.
Casey had heard about the project and liked it. He requested that the two meet in front of the bank the following morning. The meeting was simple: A $100,00 check passed from Casey to the struggling inventor with no questions asked, no interest demanded.
He worked hard at everything he did. His private sector career as lawyer, publisher and venture capitalist earned Casey a fortune that allowed him to do what he wanted – go into public service.
At first he tried for elected office, but he lost a bid for Congress in 1966.
Then President Nixon tapped Casey to head the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1971. Casey’s business ventures aroused enough questions, however, that the Senate committee that once cleared him unanimously despite raising questions chose to call him back to go through the hearing process a second time. Casey was approved, however.
Later, Casey was brought in as campaign manager to salvage Ronald Reagan’s bad start in his 1980 quest for the White House. Casey shared his boss’ utter distrust of the Soviets.
He literally made sure Reagan heard him. The former California governor had become somewhat hard of hearing, so Casey made it a point to seat himself next to the future president.
In 1981, Reagan appointed Casey as Central Intelligence Agency chief, and he became the first CIA director to be granted Cabinet-level status, unfettered access to the president and a huge say in the actual conduct of foreign policy.
Casey got his cloak-and-dagger start during World War II. William Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services, tapped him to recruit and oversee agents in a bid to penetrate Germany.
Casey studied maps and reports far into the night. Soon, based in London, he had an operation with more than 200 agents behind enemy lines.
Casey wanted to do his job well – and quickly. Knowing the importance of secrecy in his business, Casey was a whirlwind and secretive traveler.
As CIA director, Casey understood it was crucial to maintain strong relationships with U.S. allies. He made it his practice to furnish those allies with the world’s best technical intelligence money could buy. It went to the Israelis. To the Saudis. Even to the pope.
Casey lobbied constantly for support for the agency. It paid off – covert actions received a shot in the arm following his arrival. Through most of the Reagan years, Casey’s energy was felt all over operations that helped sustain Poland’s Solidarity, Nicaragua’s Contras and Afghanistan’s rebels.
Unlike many bureaucrats and career politicians, Casey was straightforward.
At an early meeting dealing with the resistance in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, Casey bluntly told a deputy the arms the CIA was furnishing were worthless. "We need to get them real weapons," he said. "You tell your people in Cairo to correct the problem, or when I’m there in April I’ll raise it with (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat. I want the Soviets to pay a price."
Casey believed that people should follow their instincts. For that reason, he felt that the first choice a person makes is probably the right one.
To get quick decisions in the top-secret meetings with other Reagan administration foreign-policy principals, Casey would pass around a piece of paper on a proposed covert action at the end of the meeting, writes author Peter Schweizer in "Victory." The catch, though, was that discussion and decisions on the suggested course of action had to take place then and there.
The arrangement let Casey conduct his most secret work largely free from the risk that details would leak.
As the Iran-Contra scandal threatened to boil over in late 1986, Casey, in typical fashion, stayed focused on the job he’d been given. Amid criticism of the operation, he went down to the front lines. He flew into the Honduran jungle to get a firsthand look at how forces seeking to topple Nicaragua’s Sandinista government were faring.
Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Casey died at his home in May 1987