Following the war, Casey became a successful tax lawyer in the firm of Hall, Casey, Dickler, and Howler. He then became active in venture capitalism, becoming quite wealthy. A conservative Republican, Casey served in President Richard Nixon's administration as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (1973–1974). Casey then headed the Export-Import Bank (1975–1976) before returning to private law practice, this time with the firm of Rogers and Wells.
A longtime acquaintance of Republican Governor Ronald Reagan, Casey directed Reagan's successful 1980 presidential campaign and was rewarded with appointment in 1981 as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he succeeded Admiral Stansfield Turner. One of Reagan's most trusted advisors, Casey played a key role in the president's foreign policy, especially regarding the Soviet Union. Casey also worked to improve morale and benefits at the CIA but at the same time tried to reduce congressional oversight.
Casey had a singular passion for covert operations, and many of his undertakings were highly controversial, even illegal. In 1985 he authorized the assassination of Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a prominent anti-American Hezbollah cleric. President Reagan signed off on the operation. The ayatollah escaped unharmed from the car bomb designed to kill him that, however, killed 85 people and wounded another 175.
Casey also supervised covert assistance to the mujahadeen resistance in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation, and he was the principal architect of the arms-for-hostages deal, which became known as the Iran-Contra Affair and had been approved by both President Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush. It involved the sale of U.S. arms to Iran in return for money that was used to support the Contra rebels fighting to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. This action was undertaken in contravention of U.S. law. Subsequent congressional investigations concluded that Casey had also manipulated intelligence data to fit certain decisions.
Casey suffered a serious stroke in December 1986 shortly after the Iran-Contra Affair became public. He resigned in January 1987 and died of brain cancer in Glen Cove, New York, on 7 May 1987 without revealing details of the Iran-Contra Affair.
Spencer C. Tucker
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Persico, J. E. Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey: From the OSS to the CIA. New York: Viking, 1990.; Woodward, Bob. Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981–1987. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.