WASHINGTON — CIA Director William J. Casey found President Reagan to be a passive, indecisive loner who would never have become a politician if he had been a better actor, excerpts from a new book about the CIA said Sunday.
As the excerpts from Bob Woodward's "Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987" appeared in the Washington Post, Casey's widow and Saudi officials denied statements from the book reported in the last two days.
The official Saudi Press Agency quoted an official source as denying that Saudi Arabia was involved in a 1985 attempt to assassinate a Lebanese Muslim cleric suspected of involvement in bombings against American targets. The book says that was one of several covert actions taken with Saudi assistance.
It also says that Casey circumvented CIA channels and arranged for Saudi intelligence agents to attempt assassination of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, but a car bombing in Beirut later killed 80 bystanders without hurting Fadlallah.
Report of Bribe Denied
The Saudis paid a $2-million bribe in food, scholarships and goods to prevent Fadlallah from making further attacks, the book says. In Beirut, Fadlallah's office called the report of the payoff "cheap disinformation."
Casey's wife, Sophia, disputed Woodward's claim that Casey admitted on his deathbed that he knew of diversion to the Nicaraguan contra forces of funds from U.S. arms sales to Iran.
"He's lying about that," Sophia Casey said of Woodward, who is an assistant managing editor at the Post. She said that Woodward never got to her husband in the hospital, that CIA security officials told her that "on Jan. 22, Bob Woodward got in and was caught by security and was thrown out" before he reached Casey's room.
"On top of that, he (Casey) could not speak," she said. "His voice was paralyzed." In a later interview with AP Radio, however, Sophia Casey said that her husband had been barely able to speak. "He didn't speak well . . . . " she said.
Woodward said in a statement that he stands by the account "and everything in the book."
Claims 4-Minute Interview
"CBS Evening News" quoted him as saying that a contact he would not identify arranged for him to visit Casey a few days after the Jan. 22 incident. The meeting lasted only four minutes, Woodward said.
Sophia Casey also challenged Woodward's depiction of her husband, who died May 6 of pneumonia after surgery for brain cancer, as a man who "found Reagan strange" and felt that the President seemed "lazy and distracted."
"It's absolute blasphemy. My husband loved the President," she said. She said she was outraged because Woodward wrote that her husband was "struck by the overall passivity of the President."
Woodward said that he conducted more than four dozen interviews with Casey, and reports in the book that Reagan told Casey "he would have stayed in movies if he had been more successful at it."
Casey also believed, Woodward writes, that Reagan "probably had no real friend other than Nancy."
Yet Casey was impressed with Reagan's "semi-photographic memory," Woodward says, and Casey found that the President "was able to study a page of script or a speech for several minutes and then do it perfectly."
Casey told Woodward that he always knew what Reagan believed but rarely could predict what he would do, and he described some of Reagan's decisions as going "Yes . . . well . . . no."