A LOCAL LIFE: Angus Thuermer, 92

Angus Thuermer dies at 92; former journalist, CIA official

Angus Thuermer wields a makeshift baseball bat used by him and others interned in Germany after the U.S. entry into World War II.
Angus Thuermer wields a makeshift baseball bat used by him and others interned in Germany after the U.S. entry into World War II. (James A. Parcell/the Washington Post)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Sunday, May 9, 2010

As a top CIA public affairs official, Angus Thuermer described himself as the agency's "spooksman" who officially gave "no comment" to inquiring reporters.

But that didn't mean Mr. Thuermer, 92, who died of pneumonia April 14 at Inova Loudoun Hospital, lacked for stories to tell. Just out of college in the late 1930s, he reported on the eve of World War II from Berlin before being interned by the Germans.

In the mid-1940s, Mr. Thuermer served in the U.S. Navy interrogating German U-boat engineers. He then joined the CIA for a 26-year career that included postings as station chief in New Delhi and Berlin during the Cold War.

Part of his expertise as a clandestine agent, his family said, was helping sources get out of tight spaces, or occasionally into them.

In one instance, Mr. Thuermer smuggled a source out of India by putting him and a bottle of oxygen in a box, which was boarded onto the cargo bay of a Pan Am flight out of New Delhi.

For another mission, he arranged to have Chinese dissidents carried over the mountains of Nepal into India on the back of an elephant.

Then, there was Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, whom he helped spirit out of New Delhi to the United States, in part by hiding her in a luggage cart at an airport.

Before retiring in 1978, Mr. Thuermer served as the CIA station chief in Berlin for two years. Because of his high position, the East German Stasi secret police covertly recorded many of Mr. Thuermer's moves around the city.

After the end of the Cold War, Mr. Thuermer requested his Stasi file and noted, in a 1998 essay for the Christian Science Monitor, that he felt somewhat let down about how much of the material was mundane. It stated, for example, the time he drove his Volkswagen bus the wrong direction on a one-way street.

Angus MacLean Thuermer was born in Quincy, Ill., on July 17, 1917. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1938, he moved to Berlin to study German.

Through a family friend, Mr. Thuermer secured a job with the Associated Press as a reporter to make extra spending money during his time abroad. He quickly made a name for himself as a witness to some of the most traumatic events leading up to the war that engulfed Europe and later the world.

He filed firsthand reports on the anti-Semitic riots of Kristallnacht, when he watched a synagogue burn to the ground and saw a piano crash through a second-story window. He was one of the first to cover Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939.

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