Wednesday, June 01, 2005


On William Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency between 1981 and 1987, from Steve Coll’s “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001” (Penguin Books, 2004):

This was Casey, [CIA official Robert] Gates reflected. “He would demand something be done immediately which the agency no longer had the capability to do. He would fire instructions at the nearest person regardless of whether that person had anything to do with the matter at hand. And he would not wait around even for confirmation that anyone heard him.”

Perhaps that was because he was difficult to hear. Casey mumbled. In business his secretaries refused to take dictation because they couldn’t understand what he was saying. He had taken a blow to the throat while boxing as a boy and he had a thick palate; between these two impediments the words refused to flow. Ahmed Badeeb,
[Saudi Arabian Prince] Turki’s chief of staff, called him “The Mumbling Guy.” Attempting to translate during meetings with Crown Prince Fahd, Badeeb could only shrug. Even President Reagan couldn’t understand him. During an early briefing Casey delivered to the national security cabinet, Reagan slipped Vice President Bush a note: “Did you understand a word he said?” Reagan later told William F. Buckley, “My problem with Bill was that I didn’t understand him at meetings. Now, you can ask a person to repeat himself once. You can ask him twice. But you can’t ask him a third time. You start to sound rude. So I’d just nod my head, but I didn’t know what he was actually saying.” Such was the dialogue for six years between the president and his intelligence chief in a nuclear-armed nation running secret wars on four continents.

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