Directed Clandestine Operations in Africa for the CIA

Sunday, January 11, 2009

James M. Potts, 87, the former director of the CIA's clandestine operations in Africa, died Dec. 22 at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville of complications from a stroke.

Mr. Potts joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1951 and commanded stations in Western Europe, including Paris and Athens, and led the agency's work in Africa. He was twice awarded the agency's Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

After he retired in 1982, he was one of four high-ranking CIA retirees who in 1991 formed the Legal Defense Fund for CIA Employees to help colleagues in the final stages of an investigation of the arms-for-hostages scandal known as the Iran-contra affair.

"We feel that people who have served their country all these years should at this point be given an opportunity to defend themselves," Mr. Potts said at the time.

The agency did not pay for the legal expenses of employees who had been charged with wrongdoing or retained lawyers to represent them in preliminary proceedings.

Until 1996, Mr. Potts worked as a consultant on international business matters and president and chief operating officer for the Parvus Co., a Silver Spring-based international consulting firm. He co-authored the book "Russian Diplomacy and Eastern Europe, 1914-1917" (1963) and wrote "French Covert Action in the American Revolution" (2005).

James Murray Potts was born in New Orleans and grew up in Pennsylvania, in Williamsport and Mount Lebanon. He graduated from Yale University in 1942.

During World War II, he served in the Navy aboard minesweepers in the Atlantic Ocean and the Aleutian Islands. After he was discharged, he started food-relief operations in Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria for the nonprofit organization CARE.

In 1949, he became director of overseas operations for CARE, based in New York.

After he joined the CIA, he contracted polio and spent a year recovering in Warm Springs, Ga., before returning to work overseas.

He received a master's degree in international relations from Columbia University in 1951.

Mr. Potts was a member of the vestry at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Bethesda and the Society of the Preservation of the Greek Heritage.

A son, Andrew Potts, died in 2005.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Mary Potts of Mitchellville; two sons, James Potts of Oakland, Calif., and Brian Potts of Chestnut Hill, Mass.; and four grandchildren.

-- Patricia Sullivan

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