Eric H. Biddle Jr., former CIA employee, dies

October 31, 2012

Eric H. Biddle Jr., who served in the CIA during the early Cold War period and became an outspoken critic of the discrimination he said he faced in later employment because of his espionage career, died Oct. 21 at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. He was 84.

He had pneumonia and dementia, said his son, Michael C. Biddle Sr.

Mr. Biddle was a Harvard graduate from a Philadelphia Main Line family. He served in the CIA from 1952 to 1960, stationed in Europe and specializing in Soviet intelligence.

“I wanted to serve my country,” he told the Washington Star in 1975. “The CIA was considered to be the most exciting place in Washington. . . . I was asked, for example, when I was interviewed whether or not I was willing to jump — parachute — into the Soviet Union. I didn’t know whether that was a realistic possibility or not. I had no idea. I sort of gulped and said yes.”

Mr. Biddle said he became disillusioned with the spy service because of a romantic entanglement. He had fallen in love with a Greek woman while working in Greece, but CIA employees are prohibited from marrying foreign nationals. The policy was a factor in his 1960 resignation, though he did not marry the woman.


Eric H. Biddle Jr., a former CIA officer whose government career imploded in a lawsuit over his previous espionage service, died Oct. 21. He was 84. (Family photo)

He held several private-sector jobs and pursued graduate work in religious studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He contemplated joining the Peace Corps but was turned down because of his CIA past. The service group does not hire former intelligence agency employees in an effort to protect its overseas volunteers from accusations of being U.S. spies.

In 1965, Mr. Biddle became an inspector with the new U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, an anti-poverty agency. A few years later, he joined the federal Office of Voluntary Action and helped draw up plans for a new umbrella agency called Action that would include the Vista and Peace Corps volunteer service groups.

At that point, when his work became directly linked with the Peace Corps, Mr. Biddle said he began to endure a pattern of workplace discrimination because of his CIA career. He said superiors relieved him of certain responsibilities, isolated him from daily operations and encouraged him to find another job. In 1974, he was demoted in rank.

Mr. Biddle pursued legal action against the government. In 1979, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Mr. Biddle’s civil rights had not been violated and that the procedures followed had been legal.

By that time, Mr. Biddle had earned a law degree. He began a new career as an Arlington immigration lawyer, often working with Eastern bloc defectors.

In 1987, he was selected to serve on the bipartisan and congressionally mandated Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development, which urged an overhaul of immigration policy.

Eric Harbeson Biddle Jr. was born Feb. 10, 1928, in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and raised in Ardmore, Pa. His father worked for the U.S. government in international economic development.

The younger Biddle served in the Navy at the end of World War II and, on the GI Bill, graduated from Harvard University in 1950. He graduated from George Washington University law school in 1977.

A former Arlington resident, Mr. Biddle lived most recently at the Arden Courts of Fair Oaks nursing center in Fairfax County.

His first marriage, to Mary Churchill, ended in divorce. His second wife, the former Rosina Bullington, whom he married in 1992, died in 2000.

Besides a son, of Chantilly, from his first marriage, survivors include three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.”
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