A LOCAL LIFE: E. Henry Knoche, 85

E. Henry Knoche, 85; a key player in the intelligence game

By T. Rees Shapiro
Sunday, August 29, 2010

One of the leading scorers on the University of Colorado's basketball team in the 1940s was E. Henry Knoche, a limber, 6-foot-4 center, who averaged 18 points a game for the Buffaloes. In 1947, he was among the first players picked in the inaugural draft of the league that would become the NBA.

He was selected by the Pittsburgh Ironmen, but the team, about to go out of business, sold his contract to the New York Knicks. Spying a financial opportunity, Mr. Knoche attempted to negotiate his salary with the Knicks.

The star player demanded $2,500. The Knicks said no deal.

So ended Mr. Knoche's basketball career. He went to work instead as a Navy intelligence officer, a position he parlayed into a job with the CIA. By the end of his career, Mr. Knoche had risen to acting director -- a position he held for about seven weeks under President Jimmy Carter -- and was party to the country's deepest secrets.

Mr. Knoche kept those secrets safe until he died of congestive heart failure July 9 at a hospital in Denver, where he lived in retirement. He was 85.

After Navy service in World War II and Korea, Mr. Knoche (pronounced KNOCK-ee) joined the CIA in 1953 as an analyst fluent in Russian and the Fuzhou dialect of Chinese.

Mr. Knoche never served in an operational capacity and lacked clandestine experience. But his colleagues respected him for his efficiency and work ethic, and he received steady promotions within the agency.

On July 7, 1976, Mr. Knoche became the deputy director of the CIA under George H.W. Bush, responsible for day-to-day operations. When Carter took office in 1977, Bush resigned, and Mr. Knoche became acting director.

One of the first things Carter did as president was ask Mr. Knoche to brief him on the 10 most sensitive operations the CIA had underway.

A few days later, at a meeting with the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, a member asked Mr. Knoche, under oath, to repeat everything that he had told the president.

Mr. Knoche agreed, but on the conditions that the senators expel their staff members and let the room be swept for wiretaps three times.

Then, against the advice of his lieutenants, Mr. Knoche laid out in detail the 10 covert operations.

According to Knoche family lore, a shaken Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a junior committee member, approached Mr. Knoche after the briefing and told him a story.

"When I first became a senator, an old friend told me there would be things I would learn in this job that I wish I never knew," Biden, a first-term Democrat from Delaware, told Mr. Knoche. "I never understood what my old friend meant, but now I know."

Enno Henry Knoche was born Jan. 14, 1925 in Charleston, W.Va. He attended the University of Colorado as part of the Navy's V-12 program, an accelerated college curriculum to develop officers during the war, and he graduated, after the war, from Washington and Jefferson College near Pittsburgh.

During his CIA career, Mr. Knoche became accustomed to meeting with presidents at the White House. But according to Mr. Knoche's family, meeting John F. Kennedy for the first time was a nerve-rattling experience for the seasoned intelligence officer.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mr. Knoche was dispatched to the president's home in Massachusetts to brief the commander in chief on the latest developments.

The morning of their introduction, Mr. Knoche stood in front of the mirror in his hotel room, practicing how he would greet the president, who was one of his idols.

"Good MOR-ning, Mr. President." He said out loud to himself. "Mr. President, GOOD morning."

When he arrived at the Kennedy home, Mr. Knoche was stunned to find the president, who behind the scenes suffered from chronic back pain, with his mouth clenched in agony, his body tightly wrapped in a brace.

Mr. Knoche greeted his hero by saying, "What the hell happened to you?"

He married the former Angie Papoulas in 1947. One of their sons, Pete Knoche, died in 1992. Besides his wife, of Denver, survivors include four sons, John Knoche and Randy Knoche, both of Craig, Colo., Chris Knoche of Annandale and Jeff Knoche of Denver; and nine grandchildren.

Mr. Knoche served as acting director until Adm. Stansfield M. Turner was confirmed to lead the agency. Mr. Knoche retired from the CIA on Aug. 1, 1977. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, one of the country's highest honors.

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