Doctor Looked After the Sick, And Looked Around for the CIA
Sunday, August 31, 2008
There can't have been many cultural and geographical changes as dramatic as the one Alan S. Cameron undertook in 1958. After working as a general practitioner and surgeon in Muskogee, Okla., he moved with his family to Thailand as a doctor with the State Department. For seven years, he provided medical care to U.S. embassy employees in Southeast Asia and, on occasion, to regional leaders and royalty.
He helped build a medical clinic in Bangkok and often traveled to remote villages to treat people who had no other access to modern medicine. Every now and then, he would go to Saigon, Rangoon, Vientiane or Manila for a week because, as it turned out, the stethoscope wasn't his only way of listening to the heartbeat of Asia.
His family didn't realize it at the time, but during his seven years in Bangkok, Dr. Cameron was secretly on the payroll of the CIA. After returning to the United States in 1965, he went through a three-year residency in psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, then settled in Vienna and took a new job with the CIA.
He was part of the Center for Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, which was bringing a fresh scientific rigor to the art of intelligence gathering. The center's most innovative advance came in the "psychobiographies" it prepared of international leaders. Using psychiatry, biographical analysis, field reporting and the occasional hunch, Dr. Cameron helped compile profiles of the Shah of Iran, Moammar Gaddafi and Margaret Thatcher. He had a central role in preparing the CIA's psychological studies of Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat before their peace talks at Camp David in 1978.
When the Camp David Accords were announced, they were more than a diplomatic breakthrough. They also represented a triumph of negotiation, achieved in part by understanding the minds and motives of the two nations' leaders.
Sadat was a "big-picture" thinker with no patience for small details, whereas Begin wanted to know the smallest particulars. Dr. Cameron's assignment was to understand how two people with such different ways of thinking could work toward a common goal.
"It was a remarkable intellectual adventure," said the center's founder, Jerrold M. Post, "because we were crafting a new kind of intelligence that focused on the persona of world leaders and focused on the man behind the mask."
Dr. Cameron officially retired from the CIA more than 20 years ago, yet he kept working on contract for the agency until the day he died -- June 29, of a stroke, at 90. In recent years, he often debriefed Soviet defectors and evaluated U.S. agents about to undertake dangerous missions.
"He was a remarkably wise and compassionate man," Post said. "Part of what made him so was his ability to sympathize with his subjects."
Dr. Cameron grew up the only son of an itinerant Methodist minister in Oklahoma. He had five older sisters who doted on him and an intellectual father who introduced him to golf. Dr. Cameron became a 2-handicap player and, even in remote parts of the globe, always knew where to find a game. Once, when he heard about a tournament in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he had a military helicopter drop him and his clubs at the first tee.
"He was always a real adventurer," said Alan S. Cameron III, the oldest of his three children.
As a college student in 1939, Dr. Cameron hitchhiked to the New York World's Fair and ended up posing for a sculptor working on a statue of his fellow Oklahoman, Will Rogers, on horseback.