F. Mark Wyatt; CIA Agent and Sometimes Critic
Monday, July 10, 2006
F. Mark Wyatt, 86, a former CIA agent who spent three decades on the twilit front lines of Cold War espionage and who in retirement worked to improve the lives of Soviet-bloc defectors, died June 29 at the Methodist Home of complications after a stroke. He was a longtime resident of the District.
After years of helping woo potential defectors, Mr. Wyatt believed the CIA could do a better job of helping erstwhile spies adjust to their new lives in this country.
His criticisms and recommendations occasionally found their way into print. "There's a tendency to bring [intelligence sources] out to suburban Virginia and squeeze them like a lemon," he told the Christian Science Monitor in 1986.
He was particularly critical of the agency's resettlement system for defectors. In one case, a talented Soviet diplomat and Middle East expert was outfitted with a German identity -- even though he couldn't speak the language -- and was encouraged to enroll in a motel management school.
Several top officials redefected because of the shabby treatment they received, and Mr. Wyatt urged Congress to investigate. "In the field of human intelligence, defectors constitute the single most important source of information about the Soviet Union and Soviet intentions," he told the New York Times in 1987.
Mr. Wyatt's former colleagues didn't always appreciate his critiques. According to a 1986 U.S. News & World Report story, then-CIA Director William J. Casey told him to his face that he was selfish and a "publicity seeker." The antagonism was mutual, recalled Mr. Wyatt's daughter, Susan A. Wyatt.
A third-generation Californian, Mr. Wyatt was born in Woodland, Calif., and worked in fruit and vegetable fields to earn money for a trip to Europe after graduating from high school in 1938.
While staying at a youth hostel in London, the 18-year-old American was approached by a British intelligence representative, who asked if he would be willing to deliver a packet while bicycling through Germany. The packet, which he delivered to a home in Munich, contained material -- possibly money -- that allowed a number of German Jews to escape certain death by the Nazis. After the war, his daughter recalled, he learned that he had been working on behalf of Dame Myra Hess, the concert pianist who lived in London.
That adventure nurtured Mr. Wyatt's interest in foreign affairs and espionage, and in the early 1940s, he signed up for an accelerated program to join the Navy. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1942 and attended Midshipmen's School at Columbia University and the Naval Postgraduate School at Annapolis. He was a communications officer for two years on the USS Conner, a destroyer that saw heavy action in the Pacific.
In 1948, he received a master's degree in foreign affairs from George Washington University and began his long career with the CIA.
In the early years of that career, he helped organize a top-secret program, created by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to prepare for the possibility of a Soviet attack on Western Europe. Dubbed Stay-Behind, the program called for organizing local resistance forces in advance. Because the European nations lacked the ground forces to stop the Red Army, the covert network-in-waiting of trained personnel would have access to buried caches of arms and communications equipment.
Stay-Behind was in place throughout Western Europe by the late 1950s. By about 1976, Mr. Wyatt told U.S. News & World Report, "it was all over."
He also worked with Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, considered a major CIA asset when he defected in 1961, and a number of other defectors.
In 1964 and 1965, he was acting chief of station in Rome.
In retirement, Mr. Wyatt lectured, taught and advocated for improved communication among intelligence services internationally. His efforts to improve the treatment and handling of defectors resulted in numerous media appearances and service as an adviser to a Senate committee chaired by Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).
In the late 1980s, he was called out of retirement to review the defection of Vitaly Yurchenko, a high-ranking KGB officer who had been Moscow's man in charge of North American spying operations. Three months after arriving in Washington, Yurchenko got up from his table at a Georgetown restaurant and told his CIA escort that he'd be right back. He turned up the next day at the Soviet Embassy in downtown Washington, claiming that the CIA had kidnapped and drugged him and brought him to the United States against his will.
Mr. Wyatt concluded that Yurchenko tricked the CIA with his "defection" as part of a scheme to protect Aldrich Ames, a high-ranking CIA officer who spent nine years working in secret for Moscow. Yurchenko, Mr. Wyatt told Playboy magazine in 1994, "played the game the way he was supposed to. He did his job and did it well."
A Redskins season-ticket holder since 1948, Mr. Wyatt was known for generously sharing his tickets. He lived in Georgetown for many years and spent his summers at Lake Tahoe in California. He was a member of the Cosmos Club, the Jamestown Foundation and a number of other organizations.
In addition to his daughter, of New York City, survivors include his wife of 55 years, Ann Appleton Wyatt of the District; two sons, Alan S. Wyatt of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Thomas S. Wyatt of Warwick, Mass.; and four grandchildren.