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Casey and Woodward: Who Used Whom?

Bob Woodward’s Veil* is redolent with details of the adventures to which the late William Casey’s enthusiasms inspired him over the six years when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Few of these essays at the ruin or seduction of his country’s enemies had much effect on history, and the one or two that did made their mark more as disaster than as triumph. Daniel Ortega, Mua’mmar Al-Qaddhafi, and like perceived mischief-makers have unanimously outlived Casey, and we could account his stewardship an utter failure were it not for a single but signal success that Woodward lets pass without mention.

In all the multitude of Casey’s endeavors, the only covert operation that splendidly worked was his penetration and capture of Bob Woodward and The Washington Post, a proud tower until then and the despair of aggressors more formidable than even Casey.

In 1984, Woodward was well along in his CIA researches and sharing some of their fruits with the Post, and the work he published there adhered to the standards of intense inquiry and scrupulous skepticism that made his reputation. His sources in those days seem to have been upper-level CIA officials who liked Casey but who were at least faintly appalled by his inclination for riding off in all directions. There aren’t many informants more useful than subordinates stimulated to some degree by discontent, and the image of Casey passed through their hands to Woodward was all else but gentle.

On April 13, 1984, Woodward summarized his findings on the CIA’s mining of the Nicaraguan harbors in this wise: ” ‘Casey cooked this whole thing up,’ an informed source said.”

Woodward was not often that flat but, for the next year, his portrait of the director of the CIA sustained a key less than flattering. Then, in April of 1985, he traveled to Cambridge for a Casey speech, unconscious that here was the road to Damascus. After the speech, Casey came over to surprise him with an invitation to fly back to Washington together.

It would be unfair to say that Woodward had come to scoff, but he inarguably remained to pray. On the flight back, Casey talked to him about great affairs with the guileless candor refined through years of peddling new and not unvaryingly secure stock issues. They met again two weeks later and, when they parted, Casey could count Woodward as the solitary solid conquest among all his assaults upon hostile entities.

The tone of Woodward’s CIA stories was thereafter transformed from the doubting to the celebratory. The CIA had penetrated the Polish general staff by recruiting a senior officer as its agent. Qaddhafi could not conceive an infamy without its being detected in advance by a CIA fortified with “a vastly improved intelligence collection system.”

Now and then, something might go wrong too clamorously to escape notice. Early in 1985, Casey raised $3 million to groom and curry a band of antiterrorist terrorists in Lebanon. Their target was Sheik Fadlallah, leader of Hezbollah, the hostage-taking agency. They struck in March, missed Fadlallah, and killed eighty bystanders, all as innocent as the vicissitudes of life permit anyone to be in. Beirut.

It would take Casey just a month to sedate Woodward sufficiently to fit him to carry the approved explanation. On May 12, 1985, Woodward reported in the Post that these errant bombers had acted “without CIA authorization” and that the whole scheme had been pushed by the “assertiveness” of Secretary of State George Shultz and by National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane’s “anger at terrorism.”

Artists learn how to escape the blame but only great artists have the cunning to shift it to an enemy. The Post would no longer disturb Casey’s and Washington’s breakfast with some unexpected revelation to his and the CIA’s detriment. Casey’s friends complain that Woodward exploited him. They can cease to trouble. He knew quite well who was user and who was used.

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    Simon and Schuster, 543 pp., $21.95

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