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Former CIA General Counsel, Environmentalist Anthony Abbot Lapham, 70

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Anthony Abbot Lapham, 70, a former general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency and a dedicated environmentalist, died of a heart attack Nov. 11 while trout fishing with his son on the Cane River near Asheville, N.C.

Mr. Lapham was the third general counsel in the agency's history and the first brought in from outside.

"All of us in the CIA family are saddened to learn of the passing of Anthony Lapham," Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the CIA, said in a statement. "Tony was CIA's chief legal officer during a period of momentous change and challenges for the agency, and he carried out his responsibilities with extraordinary skill and integrity."

That period came in the mid-1970s in the wake of congressional hearings chaired by U.S. Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). The Church committee investigated the alleged involvement of the nation's intelligence agencies in assassination attempts against foreign leaders, spying on U.S. citizens and other illegal activities.

Appointed general counsel in 1976 during the tenure of Director George H.W. Bush, Mr. Lapham served until 1979 under Bush's successor, Adm. Stansfield Turner.

According to John Rizzo, the CIA's acting general counsel, Mr. Lapham was the first agency general counsel to actually sit in on meetings of CIA agents. "He insisted that there be an operational presence," Rizzo said. "To establish that beachhead was critical. He was responsible for that."

Mr. Lapham was "unbelievably apolitical," said his son, Nicholas Lapham, in striking contrast to his elder brother, Lewis Lapham, the essayist and recently retired editor of Harper's Magazine.

"He served under both Republicans and Democrats at the CIA, and he had friends who were Republicans and friends who were Democrats," his son said, noting that shortly after he left the CIA, he represented Geraldine Ferraro, the New York congresswoman and 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, in a high-profile case involving her husband's business dealings.

"Partisanship wasn't in his nature," Nicholas Lapham said.

His abiding love was the outdoors, an affection that only deepened when he bought rural property on the Jordan River in Rappahannock County, Va. A voracious reader of books about water and rivers, the use and misuse of natural resources and other environmental issues, he enjoyed fishing with his sons on the Snake, the Yampa, the Missouri and other waterways in the American West. He also made numerous trips to Africa.

At the time of his death, he was chairman of American Rivers, an organization dedicated to conserving U.S. river systems. He served on the board of the Krebser Fund for Rappahannock County Conservation and was a past trustee of Ocean Conservancy, American Farmland Trust, the National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense and the Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States.

According to U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Mr. Lapham's involvement with environmental concerns went deeper than politics and policy debates. Rockefeller said he believed his longtime friend felt "a philosophical need to put America right."

Mr. Lapham was born in San Francisco and received a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1958. He moved to the District that same year and attended law school at night while working on Capitol Hill. He got his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1961 and served stateside in the Army with the 226th Military Intelligence Detachment.

From 1962 to 1965, he worked in the U.S. Justice Department as assistant U.S. attorney for the District. From 1965 to 1967, he was at the Treasury Department, where he was executive assistant to the special assistant to the secretary of the Treasury.

In 1967, he joined the Washington law firm of Shea and Gardner (now Goodwin Procter), first as an associate and then as a partner. He returned to the firm in 1980, after his tenure at the CIA, becoming "of counsel" in 2000. He also served on the board of trustees of the public broadcasting station WETA.

In addition to his son, of Washington, and his brother, survivors include his wife of 42 years, Burks Bingham Lapham of Washington; another son, David Anthony Lapham of New York; and two grandsons.

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