Theodore G. Shackley, 75, a retired associate deputy director for clandestine operations of the CIA whose career took him from the streets of Berlin to the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, died of cancer Dec. 9 at his home in Bethesda.

In the context of an agency and a profession whose watchwords are secrecy and deception, Mr. Shackley was a legendary figure. He was known as "the godfather of secret warriors." He was a three-time recipient of the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the agency's highest honor.

Mr. Shackley spent his career on the front lines of the Cold War and he was involved in some of the agency's most important -- and controversial -- operations. His rise in the shadowy world of espionage was swift and sure. Colleagues described him as "coldly efficient and dependable," "businesslike," and "cold, calm, deliberate."

In 1951, he was recruited into the CIA from the Army. His first foreign assignment was West Berlin, then the espionage capital of the world. In 1962, he was named CIA station chief in Miami with responsibility for assisting Cuban exiles bent on overthrowing Fidel Castro. He held that post during the Cuban missile crisis, when the Kennedy administration forced the Soviet Union to withdraw missiles from the island nation.

He also ran Operation Mongoose, an anti-Castro intelligence campaign that had been ordered by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy's brother.

Mr. Shackley's next assignment was Vientiane, Laos. There he supervised a "secret" CIA war in which 20,000 Hmong tribesmen were pitted against the North Vietnamese-backed Pathet Lao. Among other things, he ran agents into Communist China.

In 1968, Mr. Shackley moved to Saigon as station chief, the CIA's top field post during the war in Southeast Asia.

In 1976, Mr. Shockley was named associate deputy director for clandestine operations at headquarters. The job involved worldwide counterintelligence operations and covert action.

By then the CIA was no longer the freewheeling organization that he had joined 25 years earlier. In the early 1970s, a committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) published voluminous reports on some of the seamier aspects of CIA operations, including plans to assassinate foreign leaders. The agency came under close and unaccustomed scrutiny by Congress.

Navy Adm. Stansfield Turner, a director of central intelligence during the Carter administration, drastically reduced the clandestine service. New technology, including spy satellites, came into use. The role of agents on the ground was cut back.

By the end of the decade, Mr. Shockley's career appeared to have hit a dead end, in part because of dealings he had with Edwin P. Wilson, a former CIA agent who illegally sold explosives to Libya.

In 1979, Mr. Shackley retired.

In private life, he founded Research Associates International Ltd., a consulting firm that specialized in risk analysis, threat assessment and executive protection. It did not take him far from centers of clandestine activity: He had a minor and tangential role in the Iran-contra scandal that rocked the Reagan administration.

Mr. Shackley also wrote three books on intelligence and security, "The Third Option," "You're the Target," with co-author Robert Oatland, and "Still the Target: Coping with Terror and Crime." He was the subject of a fourth book, "Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades," by David Corn.

In "The Third Option," published in 1981, Mr. Shackley argued that counterinsurgency is the most effective way to advance American goals abroad. The war in Vietnam could have been won, he wrote, if the United States had employed modern techniques of warfare to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. In his view, counterinsurgency offers a third option between total war and diplomacy.

Mr. Shockley was born in Springfield, Mass., and grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla. During World War II, he served in the Army and took part in the occupation of Germany. After the war, he attended the University of Maryland, where he majored in government and politics, graduating in 1951.

Called to active Army duty during the Korean War, he was on his way to Korea when he was ordered to Washington and assigned to the CIA.

Mr. Shackley attended Catholic Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda.

Survivors include his wife, Hazel Tindol Shackley of Bethesda, whom he married in 1961; a daughter, Suzanne Shackley of Pensacola, Fla.; and two grandsons.