John L. Helgerson

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John L. Helgerson
Chair of the National Intelligence Council
In office
August 3, 2001 – April 26, 2002
President George W. Bush
Preceded by John C. Gannon
Succeeded by Robert Hutchings
Personal details
Education St. Olaf College (BA)
Duke University (MA, PhD)

John L. Helgerson was a career CIA officer, and served as CIA Inspector General from 2002 until his retirement in 2009. He was responsible for a critical report, investigating CIA interrogations of terror suspects, delivered in 2005 and released in 2009 by the Obama administration.


Helgerson graduated from Saint Olaf College. His Masters and PhD are from Duke University in Political Science. Helgerson was a research associate at the University of Zambia and a Professor at the University of Cincinnati, before joining the CIA.

CIA career[edit]

Helgerson joined the CIA in 1971. He began as an "intelligence analyst and later headed units responsible for coverage of Russia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. He held senior management posts like serving four years as the Agency’s Deputy Director for Intelligence. He served as CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs and as Deputy Inspector General. His tenure was on the research-analytical side, rather than the operational side; From 2000-2001 he was Deputy Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). In August 2001 Director of the CIA George Tenet named him the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) [1]

CIA Inspector General[edit]

In February 2002 President George W. Bush nominated Helgerson to be CIA Inspector General[2]

As soon as he was in office Helgerson started an investigation into the then new program of CIA interrogations,following 9/11/2001. He said he acted in response to concerns by agency employees who were uneasy "about various aspects of this program", who "had the feeling that what the agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with past US government policy and American values" and because "a critical legal opinion was missing".[3] A 12-man team worked for over a year, interviewed more than 100 persons, visited all black sites, watched every minute of any existing videotape and reviewed more than 38,000 documents.[3] Helgerson said, "the review was difficult because of the disorganization of the whole interrogation program. So much was being improvised in those early years in so many locations. There were no guidelines, no oversight, no training."[3] It took 6 months to write the report until the end of 2003. This was followed by redaction and publication in May 2004. It was reviewed at the White House, at the Department of Justice and within the CIA. Helgerson personally briefed it to senior members of Congress and the vice president. When asked if he thought the methods were effective he said:

I can say that up to this day I do not know whether the particular interrogation techniques used were effective and necessary, or whether such information could be acquired using more traditional methods.

In September 2005, Helgerson's critical review of George Tenet's tenure that recommended "punitive sanctions" was delivered to the United States Congress.[4][5]

After the Obama administration began an investigation of the CIA procedures, Helgerson predicted that Eric Holder "will find it is not feasible to prosecute anyone who participated in the approved program".[3]

In December 2005, press reports quoting unnamed CIA sources stated that Helgerson was investigating "erroneous extraordinary renditions" - that is the extrajudicial kidnapping, for the purpose of extreme interrogation, of suspected enemies, like Maher Arar and Khalid El-Masri, who turned out to be completely innocent.[6][7][8]

In October 2007, CIA director Michael Hayden launched an inquiry into Helgerson's conduct as Inspector General of the CIA.[9]

In 2009, the report on CIA interrogations was ordered released by a US judge. The report described, and strongly criticized the use of harsh interrogation techniques against detainees.[10]

Helgerson retired in 2009.[11]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tenet Names Chairman of the National Intelligence Council; Other Senior Intelligence Posts Announced". CIA. 2001-08-03. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  2. ^ Tenet, George (2002-02-28). "Statement By Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet on the Nomination of John L. Helgerson as CIA Inspector General". CIA. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  3. ^ a b c d Britta Sandberg (31 August 2009). "Ex-CIA Inspector General on Interrogation Report: 'The Agency Went over Bounds and Outside the Rules'". Der Spiegel. Spiegelgruppe. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Fickling, David (2005-08-26). "Tenet could face 9/11 reprimand". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  5. ^ "CIA panel: 9/11 failure warrants action". China Daily. 2005-08-26. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  6. ^ Dana Priest (December 4, 2005). "Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake: German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'". Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  7. ^ "CIA probes renditions of terror suspects". China Daily. December 20, 2005. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  8. ^ Brendan Coyne (December 28, 2005). "CIA Self-investigation Only Known Renditions Inquiry". The NewStandard. Retrieved 2007-04-27. 
  9. ^ Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane (October 12, 2007). "C.I.A. Internal Inquiry Troubling, Lawmakers Say". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  10. ^ Tom Reid (August 26, 2009). "Ex-CIA official John Helgerson says agents lost control after torture go-ahead". The Times. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  11. ^ Panetta, Leon (2009-02-18). "Message from the Director: Inspector General's Retirement". Retrieved 2009-08-25. [dead link]
Government offices
Preceded by
John C. Gannon
Chair of the National Intelligence Council
Succeeded by
Robert Hutchings