Former CIA Colleague On George H.W. Bush: 'History Will Remember Him Well'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We are continuing our reflections on the long career of George H.W. Bush. He is fondly remembered at the CIA for the year he served as director there. In fact, the agency headquarters in Langley, Va., is named after him. The CIA put out a statement today noting that Mr. Bush joined the agency at a, quote, "tumultuous time, when morale was at an all-time low," unquote. It went on to say he restored its reputation. When Mr. Bush took over the CIA in 1976, it had been battered by allegations that it had abused its power under President Nixon and plotted to assassinate foreign leaders and overturn governments.
Our next guest also served as director of Central Intelligence - in fact, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. He is William Webster, and I asked him to remind us of Mr. Bush's role.
WILLIAM WEBSTER: I don't want to be too particular because I'm not to be judging - and what was going wrong at the time. But the restoration came about as a matter of character, as far as I'm concerned. I like to summarize my experience with President Bush in this way - he was the most decent man in public life that was ever my privilege to know, totally decent.
MARTIN: I understand that you can't talk about all the specifics even now, but I am assuming that you must have briefed President Bush on intelligence matters. And I was wondering if you can share anything about his style.
WEBSTER: Well, yes. He was a normal human being with a brilliant educational experience, a fine reputation as a war hero - a young war hero in World War II, an appreciation for the roles and responsibilities that other men in government life had. And that made it a lot easier for him in dealing with them candidly and openly. And the kind of reputation that he had carried his words of advice and guidance a good deal further than might otherwise have been the case.
MARTIN: The agency statement that they put out today goes on to say that Mr. Bush is remembered as one of the CIA's most impactful and significant directors and that he protected the objectivity and independence of the agency. Can you tell us any more about what they're talking about?
WEBSTER: Well, let me just say, that's better said than I can tell you now (laughter) But it is absolutely true. And this was not someone trying to impress anybody. He was trying to get at the truth. He was trying to look for solutions that made sense. He was not looking for any avenues of retaliation or undercutting or character assassination. He was just himself. He was George Herbert Walker Bush, doing his job and enlisting the best in character, conduct that one could ask of anybody.
MARTIN: So finally, you are contemporaries. And I know this must be a hard - it's a hard pill to swallow in any case. But what would you like us to remember about him? And what are you personally going to remember about him?
WEBSTER: We played a lot of tennis. We got to know each other as friends. We worked on issues together. I'm three months older than he was, and I never let him forget it. It's a sad time. But I look back on it, and I say history will remember him well. But I just wish other men in public life would you try to emulate his decency, get at the facts, get after solutions, take advantage of the wisdom of others and to serve as an absolutely superb example of what a president ought to be.
MARTIN: That's William Webster, who served as director of the CIA from 1987 to 1991. Before that, he was director of the FBI. And he's also served as a former federal judge. Mr. Webster, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
WEBSTER: Privileged to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.