Vernon A. Walters, 85, a retired Army lieutenant general, intelligence officer and diplomat who was a deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and ambassador to the United Nations, died Feb. 10 at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. The cause of death was not reported.

Gen. Walters spent his career in the shadowy world of political and strategic secrets. He was variously described as the quintessential quiet American and as the U.S. version of James Bond, an idea he dismissed as absurd. He believed the United States must be able to project its military power in credible ways, but he also believed that the purpose of diplomacy is making friends. He told an interviewer that people who doubted that serious diplomatic business was conducted at cocktail parties had never been to one.

A linguist, he spoke French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian. He translated for President Dwight D. Eisenhower and French President Charles de Gaulle as the two sat in their bathrobes in front of a fire at Rambouillet Palace outside Paris and for Vice President Richard M. Nixon when his limousine was attacked by a mob in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1958.

In the 1960s, Gen. Walters had successive assignments as U.S. military attache{acute} to Italy, Brazil and France. He also served in Vietnam and regarded the U.S. effort there a "battlefield of freedom" and "one of our noblest fights."

He was deputy director of the CIA from 1972 to 1976. For a period in 1973, he was acting director of the agency. During that time, he successfully resisted efforts by John Dean, the White House counsel, to involve the CIA in efforts to cover up the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation.

From 1981 to 1985, Gen. Walters was ambassador at large in the Reagan administration, a job in which he visited more than 100 countries. He was ambassador to the United Nations from 1985 to 1988 and then ambassador to Germany until 1991.

In a statement on Gen. Walters's death, CIA Director George J. Tenet described him as "an honest patriot of enormous talent" who led "an exceptionally rich life of service to country and humanity."

"A natural leader, Gen. Walters rose to excellence in every profession he entered," Tenet said. "With his remarkable knowledge of the world, and his passion to see it change for the better, he will remain for us an example of what the very best in our field must always be."

Gen. Walters was born in New York. When he was 6, his family moved to Europe, and he grew up in Paris. He attended Stonyhurst College, a secondary school in England, but left at age 16 to work for his father. He never attended college.

His military career began when he was drafted into the Army in 1941. He was soon commissioned. During World War II, he served in North Africa and Europe.

In the immediate postwar years, he was an aide to Gen. Mark Clark, the U.S. commander in Austria. At Clark's recommendation, Gen. George Marshall, the Army chief of staff, moved him onto his personal staff. This led to his going to White House under President Harry S. Truman and, later, under Eisenhower.

Gen. Walters had an uncanny ability to be present at large events. As an aide to Truman, he was the note-taker when the president fired Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. He was in Tehran in 1953 when the CIA staged a coup in support of the shah of Iran and in Brazil when a group of generals staged a coup in 1964.

He also was involved in secret negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam. He once had the task of smuggling Henry A. Kissinger, then Nixon's national security adviser, into Paris. He did it by borrowing the plane of French President George Pompidou, an old friend.

In 1973, when the Palestine Liberation Organization killed two U.S. diplomats in Sudan, Gen. Walters was ordered to make it clear to the PLO that the United States would not stand for such behavior. A meeting with PLO representatives was arranged at the palace of King Hassan of Morocco. Walters had known the king since World War II, when he gave him a ride in a U.S. tank.

During the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, Gen. Walters was a private consultant to Environmental Energy Systems Inc., an Alexandria firm. In 1981, he was paid $300,000 for putting the company in contact with the right people in the Moroccan government for a $190 million tank-modernization deal. The deal eventually fell through.

Gen. Walters also worked as a $1,000-a-day consultant for Basic Resources Services Inc., a Luxembourg-based consortium, on an oil deal in Guatemala.

Gen. Walters wrote two books, "The Mighty and the Meek," a series of profiles of famous people with whom he worked, and "Silent Missions," an autobiography. In private, he was known as a gifted storyteller and mimic. Since retiring from the government he had lived in Palm Beach, Fla. He never married.

Staff writer Graeme Zielinski contributed to this report.