John L. Helgerson, the CIA's controversial inspector general, may be finally leaving the spy agency after three decades, but he will not be fading back into the shadows.
Helgerson, who has been at the center of some of the agency's most difficult moments related to terrorism and pre-war intelligence about Iraq, is leaving the CIA in 30 days, according a CIA announcement made quietly over the weekend.
Among other investigations, Helgerson has conducted inquiries into agency officials' destruction of interrogation videos. He also bumped heads with recently departed CIA chief Michael V. Hayden over his investigation of "erroneous renditions," or the seizures of persons who were wrongly identified as terrorists.
But Helgerson will not be free of controversy when he concludes his 37-year long CIA career, most of which was spent on the analytical side of the spy agency.
According to Washington, D.C., attorney Mark S. Zaid, who specializes in representing intelligence personnel, "a senior CIA career official" is set to sue Helgerson and the CIA over what amounts to abuse of office.
"I will be filing a lawsuit, the specific details of which I can not yet divulge, for how he and his office recently treated a senior CIA official. I intend to file the lawsuit prior to his retirement," Zaid told me.
"Helgerson has allowed personal bias to cloud the integrity of his investigations of senior officials, and has cultivated an atmosphere of questionable investigative tactics that objectively border on unprofessionalism," Zaid charged.
"Under his tenure, in my experience, the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] has done little to nothing to protect the individual CIA employee, particularly whistleblowers, who have come to him for assistance."
Zaid alleges that Helgerson disparaged his client's reputation in leaks to congressional committees and CIA contractors.
"He violated the standards of his office and acted outside the scope of his employment," Zaid further said of the inspector general.
"This case is so egregious that we will make an effort to hold him personally liable."
An agency spokesman said the CIA had not been notified of Zaid's suit and therefore would have no comment on it.
Leon E. Panetta, the CIA's new director, praised Helgerson in his brief announcement on Sunday, Jan. 18, saying the inspector general had "served CIA, the Intelligence Community, and the country with skill and great dedication."
"I appreciate John's many contributions, and wish him and his family the best for the future," Panetta added.
"He literally wrote the book on briefing presidential candidates, and our Community drew on his work during the recent transition," Panetta said.
Helgerson held a variety of other senior leadership posts, Panetta pointed out, including Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Deputy Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and Deputy Director for Intelligence at the CIA.
"I am fortunate to have served in the US Intelligence Community for more than 37 years, under seven Presidents and 13 Agency Directors," Helgerson said in his resignation statement, circulated to CIA employees.
He also indicated he would have liked to stay longer.
"Had the opportunity come at an earlier time, I would have been most eager and proud to continue my work as IG during the administration of President Obama, under the leadership of our new director. However, after a full career, including seven years in my current position, it is time for a change."
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