Philip Agee, 72; Agent Who Turned Against CIA

Philip Agee, a former CIA agent who lost his passport after publishing outspoken criticisms of U.S. intelligence actions, lived in Germany and Cuba.
Philip Agee, a former CIA agent who lost his passport after publishing outspoken criticisms of U.S. intelligence actions, lived in Germany and Cuba. (1981 File Photo By Thomas Grimm -- Associated Press)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2008

Philip Agee, 72, a former undercover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency whose disillusionment with U.S. policy in support of dictatorial regimes prompted him to name names and reveal CIA secrets, died Jan. 7 in Havana.

His wife, Giselle Roberge Agee, told the Associated Press that Mr. Agee was hospitalized in Havana on Dec. 16 and underwent surgery for perforated ulcers. His death, she said, was the result of a related infection. He had lived primarily in Hamburg but kept an apartment in Havana, she said.

In his controversial 1975 book, "Inside the Company: CIA Diary," Mr. Agee detailed the inner workings of U.S. intelligence operations around the world, but primarily in Latin America, where he had been stationed for eight years during the 1960s. The CIA, he said, was interested only in propping up decaying dictatorships and thwarting radical reform efforts. Published in 20 languages, the book also included a 22-page list of purported agency operatives.

"That was right in the middle of a political crisis in the United States connected to the war in Vietnam, and the history of the CIA was very much on people's minds," said Thomas Powers, author of "Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to al-Qaeda" (2002). "The elementary school version of American history had always been that the U.S. is always on the side of the good guys, and here comes Philip Agee to tell us it ain't so, and especially in Latin America."

Mr. Agee insisted that publishing the names of fellow case officers was a political act in the "long and honorable tradition of dissidence in the United States" and not an act of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union or any other foreign power. Former colleagues and government officials considered it treason.

The book "caused serious damage to the national security," the State Department said shortly after its publication, and in 1979, then-Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance stripped Mr. Agee of his passport.

Prompted in large part by Mr. Agee's book, Congress passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 1982, making it illegal to knowingly divulge the identity of covert CIA officers.

Former president George H.W. Bush, who directed the CIA in 1976-77, accused Mr. Agee of identifying Richard Welch, the CIA chief in Athens who had been assassinated by Greek terrorists in December 1975. Bush maintained in 1989 that by publicly identifying Welch, Mr. Agee was responsible for his death. Former first lady Barbara Bush repeated the accusation in her 1994 autobiography, and Mr. Agee sued her for libel. As part of a legal settlement, she agreed to remove the allegation from the paperback edition of her book.

Mr. Agee also wrote "Dirty Work: the CIA in Western Europe" (1978). In "On the Run" (1987), he detailed what he alleged was a CIA campaign to silence him while he was working on his first book. A 1987 review in the New York Times described the book as "a highly readable account of his life and hard times during the years when the CIA did everything in its considerable power to make his life miserable."

Mr. Agee was born in Tacoma, Fla., attended Jesuit schools and graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1956.

He told the New York Times in 1974 that the CIA attempted to recruit him while he was at Notre Dame, offering a package plan that included Air Force duty. He said no but reconsidered while studying law at the University of Florida.

He served as an Air Force officer from 1957 to 1960 and then began his CIA career. At the time, he considered himself a "patriot dedicated to the preservation of my country and our way of life," he wrote in "Inside the Company."

His first overseas assignment was in Quito, Ecuador. He also worked as an attache during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and as a case officer in Montevideo, Uruguay.

"My eyes began to open little by little down there," he wrote, "as I began to realize more and more that all of the things that I and my colleagues were doing in the CIA had one goal, that was that we were supporting the traditional power structures in Latin America. . . . Eventually I decided I didn't want anything to do with that."

Mr. Agee resigned in 1969 and began working on his book while living in a small Paris hotel. A wealthy young American woman befriended him, he recounted in 1974, without naming her, and gave him a typewriter that began to make peculiar sounds. Taking it apart, he found a complicated assemblage of miniature electronic devices.

"I did not write the book for the KGB," he told the New York Times in 1974. "I wrote it for revolutionary organizations in the United States, in Latin America and everywhere else."

He received death threats after the book's publication and moved to London but was expelled after nearly five years. He also was expelled after brief stays in France, the Netherlands, West Germany and Italy. He blamed U.S. pressure for making him persona non grata.

"I never could determine what the government wanted from him," Powers said, "but whatever it was they considered him sufficiently important that they chased him around the world for the rest of his life."

In 1980, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of Grenada granted him citizenship, and he lived on the island until Bishop was deposed by U.S. forces in 1983. He lived in Nicaragua under the Sandinista government before moving back to Hamburg.

He was again denied a passport in 1987. Then-Secretary of State George Shultz cited CIA reports that Mr. Agee was a paid adviser to Cuban intelligence, had trained Nicaraguan security officials and had tried to thwart the U.S. invasion of Grenada. Mr. Agee's attorney, Melvin Wulf, called the charges "a tissue of lies."

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2003, Mr. Agee described as "dirty politics" the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose husband had called into question the current Bush administration's rationale for the Iraq war. His exposure of CIA operatives was different, he maintained, saying, "We were right in exposing the CIA in the 1970s, because the agency was being used to impose a criminal U.S. policy."

In 2000, he founded Cubalinda ("pretty Cuba"), an online travel agency. He encouraged Americans to ignore the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and vacation on the island. He compared breaking the law to ignoring Prohibition laws in the 1920s.

Survivors include his wife of 17 years, of Hamburg and Havana; and two sons from a previous marriage.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company