William J. Casey

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William J. Casey
William J. Casey, Director of Central Intelligence.jpg
13th Director of Central Intelligence
In office
January 28, 1981 – January 29, 1987
PresidentRonald Reagan
DeputyFrank Carlucci
Bobby Ray Inman
John N. McMahon
Robert Gates
Preceded byStansfield Turner
Succeeded byWilliam H. Webster
Chairman and President of the Export–Import Bank of the United States
In office
March 14, 1974 – January 2, 1976
PresidentRichard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Preceded byHenry Kearns
Succeeded byStephen M. DuBrul Jr.
Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs
In office
February 2, 1973 – March 14, 1974
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byThomas C. Mann
Succeeded byCharles W. Robinson
Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission
In office
April 14, 1971 – February 2, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byHamer H. Budge
Succeeded byG. Bradford Cook
Personal details
William Joseph Casey

(1913-03-13)March 13, 1913
New York City, U.S.
DiedMay 6, 1987(1987-05-06) (aged 74)
Roslyn Harbor, New York, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseSophia Kurz
Military career
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1943–1946
UnitUnited States Naval Reserve, Office of Strategic Services
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsBronze Star Medal

William Joseph Casey (March 13, 1913 – May 6, 1987) was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1981 to 1987. In this capacity he oversaw the entire United States Intelligence Community and personally directed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[1][2][3][4]


A native of the Elmhurst section of Queens, New York, Casey was raised as a devout Roman Catholic in Bellmore, New York and graduated from the Jesuit-affiliated Fordham University in 1934. He continued his education at other Catholic institutions, completing graduate work at the Catholic University of America before earning an LL.B. from St. John's University School of Law in 1937.


Early career[edit]

Following his admission to the bar, he was a partner in the New York–based Buckner, Casey, Doran and Siegel from 1938 to 1942. Concurrently, as chairman of the board of editors of the Research Institute of America (1938–1949),[5] Casey initially conceptualized the tax shelter and "explained to businessmen how little they need[ed] to do in order to stay on the right side of New Deal regulatory legislation."[6]

World War II & OSS[edit]

During World War II, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services, where he became head of its Secret Intelligence Branch in Europe.[4][7] He served in the United States Naval Reserve until December 1944 before remaining in his OSS position as a civilian until his resignation in September 1945; as an officer, he attained the rank of lieutenant and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement.

Postwar business and government career[edit]

Following the dissolution of the OSS in September 1945, Casey returned to his legal and business ventures. After serving as a special counsel to the United States Senate (1947–1948) and associate general counsel to the Point Four Program (1948),[5] Casey founded the Institute for Business Planning in 1950; there, he amassed much of his early wealth (compounded by investments) by writing early data-driven publications on business law.[8] He was a lecturer in tax law at the New York University School of Law from 1948 to 1962.[5] From 1957 to 1971, he was a partner at Hall, Casey, Dickler & Howley, a New York corporate law firm, under the auspices of founding partner and prominent Republican politician Leonard W. Hall.[5] He ran as a Republican for New York's 3rd congressional district in 1966, but was defeated in the primary by former Congressman Steven Derounian.[9]

Nixon & Ford administrations[edit]

He served in the Nixon administration as the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission from 1971 to 1973;[4][10] this position led to his being called as a prosecution witness against former Attorney General John N. Mitchell and former Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans in an influence-peddling case stemming from international financier Robert Vesco's $200,000 contribution to the Nixon reelection campaign.[11]

He then served as Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (1973–1974)[4] and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (1974–1976). During this era, he was also a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1975–1976) and of counsel to Rogers & Wells (1976–1981).

Return to private work[edit]

With Antony Fisher, he co-founded the Manhattan Institute in 1978. He is the father-in-law of Owen Smith, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of World Politics and Professor Emeritus at Long Island University.[12]

Reagan campaign & transition[edit]

As campaign manager of Ronald Reagan's successful presidential campaign in 1980, Casey helped to broker Reagan's unlikely alliance with vice presidential nominee George H. W. Bush.[13] He then served on the transition team following the election.

According to Ben Barnes, Casey met with Barnes and former Texas Governor John Connally in September of 1980 to discuss Connally's trip to the Middle East. During the trip, Connally asked Arab leaders to convey to the Iranian government that Iran should wait to release American hostages until after the election of 1980 was concluded. Barnes claimed that Casey discussed with Connally if the Iranians "were going to hold the hostages," possibly corroborating the October Surprise conspiracy theory. The hostages were released minutes after Reagan was inaugurated as President.[14]

Director of Central Intelligence[edit]

After Reagan took office, Reagan named Casey to the post of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).[15] Outgoing Director Stansfield Turner characterized the appointment as the "Resurrection of Wild Bill," referring to Bill Donovan, the brilliant and eccentric head of Office of Strategic Services in World War II, whom Casey had known and greatly admired.[16]

Despite Casey's background in intelligence, the position was not his first choice; according to Rhoda Koenig, he only agreed to take the appointment after being assured that "he could have a hand in shaping foreign policy rather than simply reporting the data on which it was based."[6] Breaking precedent, Reagan elevated the role to a Cabinet-level position for the duration of Casey's appointment.[17]

Ronald Reagan used prominent Catholics in his government to brief Pope John Paul II of developments in the Cold War. Casey would fly secretly to Rome in a windowless C-141 black jet and "be taken undercover to the Vatican.[18]

Casey oversaw the re-expansion of the Intelligence Community to funding and human resource levels greater than those existing before the preceding Carter Administration; in particular, he increased levels within the CIA. During his tenure, post-Watergate and Church Committee restrictions were controversially lifted on the use of the CIA to directly and covertly influence the internal and foreign affairs of countries relevant to American policy.

This period of the Cold War saw an increase in the Agency's global, anti-Soviet activities, which started under the Carter Doctrine in late 1980.

Iran–Contra affair[edit]

Plaque honoring Casey located in the CIA New Headquarters Building lobby.

Casey was suspected, by some, of involvement with the controversial Iran-Contra affair, in which Reagan administration personnel secretly traded arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and secretly diverted some of the resulting income to aid the rebel Contras in Nicaragua, in violation of U.S. law. Casey was called to testify before Congress about his knowledge of the affair. On 15 December 1986, one day before Casey was scheduled to testify before Congress, Casey suffered two seizures and was hospitalized. Three days later, Casey underwent surgery for a previously undiagnosed brain tumor.[1][2][3][4][7][19] While hospitalized, Casey died less than 24 hours after former colleague Richard Secord testified that Casey supported the illegal aiding of the Contras.[1][2][3][19]

In his November 1987 book, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981–1987, Washington Post reporter and biographer Bob Woodward, who had interviewed Casey on a number of occasions for the biography, said that he had gained entry into Casey's hospital room for a final, four-minute encounter—a claim which was met with disbelief in many quarters as well as an adamant denial from Casey's wife, Sofia. According to Woodward, when Casey was asked if he knew about the diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras, "His head jerked up hard. He stared, and finally nodded yes."[20]

In his final report (submitted in August 1993), Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh indicated evidence of Casey's involvement:

There is evidence that Casey played a role as a Cabinet-level advocate both in setting up the covert network to resupply the contras during the Boland funding cut-off, and in promoting the secret arms sales to Iran in 1985 and 1986. In both instances, Casey was acting in furtherance of broad policies established by President Reagan.

There is evidence that Casey, working with two national security advisers to President Reagan during the period 1984 through 1986—Robert C. McFarlane and Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter—approved having these operations conducted out of the National Security Council staff with Lt. Col. Oliver L. North as the action officer, assisted by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord. And although Casey tried to insulate himself and the CIA from any illegal activities relating to the two secret operations ... there is evidence that he was involved in at least some of those activities and may have attempted to keep them concealed from Congress.[4]

However, Walsh also wrote: "Independent Counsel obtained no documentary evidence showing Casey knew about or approved the diversion. The only direct testimony linking Casey to early knowledge of the diversion came from [Oliver] North."[4] Posthumously, the House October Surprise Task Force eventually exonerated Casey after first holding hearings to establish a need for investigation,[21] the outcome of the investigation,[22] the response of Casey's family to the task force's closure of the investigation,[23] and Walsh's final Independent Counsel report.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Casey was a member of the Knights of Malta.[25]

In 1948, he purchased Locust Knoll, an 8.2 acres (3.3 ha) North Shore estate centered around a main 1854 Jacobethan house in Roslyn Harbor, New York, for $50,000. After renaming the estate Mayknoll, it remained his principal residence until his death.[26][27]


Casey died of a brain tumor on May 6, 1987, at the age of 74. His Requiem Mass was said by Fr. Daniel Fagan, then pastor of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Roslyn, New York, and his funeral was led by Bishop John R. McGann, who used his pulpit to castigate Casey for his ethics and actions in Nicaragua.[28] It was attended by President Reagan and the First Lady. Casey is buried in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York.

He was survived by his wife, the former Sophia Kurz (d. 2000), and his daughter, Bernadette Casey Smith.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Pace, Eric, "William Casey, Ex-C.I.A. Head, Is Dead At 74,", May 7, 1987, New York Times, retrieved February 20, 2019
  2. ^ a b c Smith, J.Y., "Former CIA Director William J. Casey Dies,", May 7, 1987, Washington Post, retrieved February 20, 2019
  3. ^ a b c Michael Kilian, "Former CIA Director William J. Casey Dies at 74,", May 7, 1987, Chicago Tribune, retrieved February 20, 2019
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Walsh, Lawrence E., Independent Counsel, "Chapter 15: William J. Casey" in Part VI: "Investigations and Cases: Officers of the Central Intelligence Agency," (page 199 et.seq.) in Vol. I: "Investigations and Prosecutions," of the Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, August 4, 1993, Division for the Purpose of Appointing Independent Counsel, Division No. 86-6, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Distrocit of Columbia Circuit, Washington, D.C., as transcribed on the site of the Federation of American Scientists, retrieved Feb. 21, 2019
  5. ^ a b c d "Marquis Biographies Online".
  6. ^ a b "Basket Casey". New York Magazine. October 15, 1990 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ a b Pace, Eric (May 7, 1987). "Obituary of Mr William Casey". New York Times. Mr. Casey, after serving as chief of secret intelligence in Europe for the Office of Strategic Services in World War II,
  8. ^ "Casey (William J.) papers".
  9. ^ Wolfgang Saxon (April 20, 2007). "Steven B. Derounian, 89, Judge and Nassau Ex-Congressman, Dies". New York Times.
  10. ^ Nomination of William J. Casey: Hearings, Ninety-second Congress, first session, on the nomination of William J. Casey to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission. February 10 and March 9, 1971.
  11. ^ Woodward, Bob (1987). VEIL: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 51. ISBN 9780671601171.
  12. ^ "Board of Trustees & Board of Advisors".
  13. ^ Pace, Eric (May 7, 1987). "William Casey, Ex-C.I.A. Head, Is Dead At 74". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Baker, Peter (March 18, 2023). "A Four-Decade Secret: One Man's Story of Sabotaging Carter's Re-election". The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  15. ^ Nomination of William J. Casey: Hearing Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, of the United States Senate, Ninety-seventh Congress, First Session, on Nomination of William J. Casey, to be Director of Central Intelligence, Tuesday, January 13, 1981, Volume 4.
  16. ^ Burn Before Reading, Stansfield Turner, Hyperion, 2005, first page of chapter on Ronald Reagan
  17. ^ Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin Group. pp. 92, 95. ISBN 9781594200076.
  18. ^ Officials say pope, Reagan shared Cold War data, but lacked alliance, Catholic News Service, Nov-17-2004
  19. ^ a b McCullough, James "Coping With Iran-Contra" in Personal Reflections on Bill Casey's Last Month at CIA, Central Intelligence Agency, retrieved February 20, 2019
  20. ^ "Did A Dead Man Tell No Tales?" by Richard Zoglin, Time, October 12, 1987
  21. ^ Terry Sanford, Chair, Sen. Foreign Relations Subcmte, Jim Jeffords, COL Charles W. Scott, Barry M. Rosen, Chuck Robb, Mitch McConnell, Paul Sarbanes (November 21, 1991). October Surprise Investigation (video). C-SPAN.
  22. ^ Task Force to Investigate Certain Allegations Concerning the Holding of American Hostages by Iran in 1980 (January 3, 1993). Joint report of the Task Force to Investigate Certain Allegations Concerning the Holding of American Hostages by Iran in 1980 ("October Surprise Task Force"). October Surprise Task Force. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. p. 244. hdl:2027/mdp.39015060776773. OCLC 27492534. H. Rept. No. 102-1102.
  23. ^ Bernadette Casey Smith, Sophia Kurz Casey, Larry Casey (January 13, 1993). October Surprise Task Force Report Response (video). Washington, DC: C-SPAN.
  24. ^ Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993
  25. ^ Phelan, Matthew (2011-02-28) Seymour Hersh and the men who want him committed Archived 2011-03-02 at the Wayback Machine, Salon.com
  26. ^ "Take a 360 tour of a former CIA director's Long Island mansion". New York Real Estate News. 28 October 2018.
  27. ^ "Mayknoll (Locust Knoll) | Profiles". Roslyn Landmark Society.
  28. ^ "Bishops Attacks U.S. policy at Casey's Funeral". Chicago Tribune. May 10, 1987.
  29. ^ "On October 5, 2000, of Roslyn Harbor. Beloved wife of the late William J. Casey, former Director of Central Intelligence. Loving mother of Bernadette Casey Smith". The New York Times. October 9, 2000.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission
Succeeded by
Preceded by Director of Central Intelligence
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Succeeded by