Jack O'Connell, 88

Jack O'Connell, 88, dies; diplomatic adviser to Jordan's King Hussein

In the 1970s, Jack O'Connell retired from the CIA and joined a Washington law firm. He remained King Hussein's personal lawyer and political adviser in Washington until the Jordanian monarch's death in 1999.
In the 1970s, Jack O'Connell retired from the CIA and joined a Washington law firm. He remained King Hussein's personal lawyer and political adviser in Washington until the Jordanian monarch's death in 1999. (Photo By Mark Vohwinkel)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jack O'Connell, 88, who as a CIA station chief in Amman, Jordan, became King Hussein's diplomatic adviser and closest American confidant, strengthening U.S. ties with the crucial Middle East ally, died of congestive heart failure July 12 at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County. He was a Rosslyn resident.

Dr. O'Connell, who was trained as a lawyer, joined the CIA in the late 1940s and served in Beirut before becoming station chief in Jordan from 1963 to 1971. Bordered by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is considered one of America's most important allies in the Middle East, in part because of its savvy intelligence service.

Dr. O'Connell, whose time in Jordan coincided with the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War in June 1967 and the brutal expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1970, fostered a fraternal bond with the king and was considered an adopted member of the royal family, said Richard Viets, a former U.S. ambassador to Jordan.

A burly, blue-eyed Midwesterner of Irish descent, Dr. O'Connell had a quiet, self-effacing demeanor but was, nonetheless, among the best-known Americans in Jordan.

In 1967, he played a key role in negotiating U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which sought to establish peace in the Middle East after Syria, Egypt and Jordan had combined forces in the six-day conflict with Israel. Although Resolution 242 was never fully adopted, it remains the blueprint for Middle East peace agreements today.

Jordan lost control of the West Bank to Israel in the war, and about 300,000 Palestinians from that region fled to Jordan. Many joined guerrilla groups that aligned themselves with the PLO.

In 1970, Hussein sought to dissolve the growing power of the PLO, leading to the month-long civil war known as "Black September."

Within two years, Dr. O'Connell had left Jordan, retired from the CIA and joined a Washington law firm that became O'Connell and Glock. He remained Hussein's personal lawyer and political adviser in Washington until the monarch's death in 1999.

"Jack O'Connell had a closer relationship with King Hussein than any other American official before or after, one that was based on mutual respect and absolute trust," Avi Shlaim wrote in his 2007 book "Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace."

John William O'Connell was born Aug. 18, 1921, in Flandreau, S.D. He played defensive end at the University of Notre Dame on a football scholarship but transferred to Georgetown University after a car accident left him unable to play.

His education was interrupted by Navy service in World War II aboard a minesweeper patrolling the smoldering remains of Nagasaki's harbor shortly after the Japanese surrender.

In 1946, he graduated from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, where he received a law degree in 1948. He joined the CIA the same year and was sent to the University of the Punjab in Pakistan on a Fulbright scholarship, receiving a master's degree in Islamic law in 1952. He returned to Georgetown and received a doctorate in international law in 1958.


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