Paul B. Henze, a former CIA and National Security Council specialist in psychological operations who wrote a compelling and provocative book arguing that the Soviet Union had engineered an attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, died May 19 at a rehabilitation center in Culpeper, Va.
He was 86 and died of complications after a series of strokes.
Mr. Henze was a CIA station chief in Turkey and Ethiopia during the 1960s and ’70s and served in the Carter administration as a deputy to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
After retiring from government service near the end of President Jimmy Carter’s term, Mr. Henze became a consultant for the Rand Corp., a think tank. He wrote widely about the history and politics of Ethiopia and Central Asia in mainstream publications and several books.
Perhaps his best-known book was his first, “The Plot to Kill the Pope” (1983), an investigation into the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, who was shot four times while addressing a crowd at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
A Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca, was convicted of the shooting and spent 19 years in an Italian prison. Mr. Henze argued that Agca, who offered several contradicting explanations for his actions, had been part of a conspiracy involving the Bulgarian and Soviet secret police.
His conclusion was the result of an exhaustive examination into Agca’s connections with suspected terrorist organizations. Using a wide range of sources across Europe, Mr. Henze, who spoke fluent Turkish, reconstructed the would-be assassin’s journey to St. Peter’s via Iran, Bulgaria and Germany.
According to Mr. Henze’s book, Soviet officials saw the Polish-born pope — and his support for Poland’s Solidarity movement and human rights in general — as a threat to the communist empire’s stability.
Another book published soon after Mr. Henze’s — “The Time of the Assassins” by American journalist Claire Sterling — made the same argument, though Mr. Henze’s probed deeper into geopolitical analysis. The two volumes played a key role in opening debate about the attempted slaying.
Writing in the New York Times in 1984, author Edward Jay Epstein declared that Mr. Henze’s volume “provides a brilliant and completely original analysis of sponsored terrorism in Turkey — a subject that, unless new evidence comes to light about the shooting of Pope John Paul, will probably prove to be of more enduring interest than the papal assassination plot.’’
The plot has remained a subject of debate for decades and inspired several books, including the Tom Clancy novel “Red Rabbit” (2002).
The so-called “Bulgarian connection” was endorsed by the CIA. But in 1991, former agency analyst Melvin A. Goodman told the Senate Intelligence Committee that high-ranking CIA officials had pressured staff to conclude that the Soviet KGB had ordered the pope’s assassination.
“The CIA had no evidence linking the KGB to the plot,” Goodman said.
More recently, in 2006, an Italian commission reexamined the assassination attempt and concluded that it had indeed been masterminded by Soviet military intelligence. Russian and Bulgarian officials condemned the finding.
Paul Bernard Henze was born Aug. 29, 1924, in Redwood Falls, Minn. He served in the Army in Europe during World War II.
He graduated in 1948 from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and received a master’s degree in Soviet studies from Harvard University in 1950. He spent many years with Radio Free Europe in Munich, where he first worked alongside Brzezinski.
Among Mr. Henze’s other books were “The Horn of Africa: From War to Peace,” a 1991 analysis of the region’s political and economic troubles, and “Layers of Time” (2000), which traces Ethiopia’s history from 2,000 years ago to the present.
“Henze’s familiarity with the country is encyclopedic, and over the years he must have traveled more widely in Ethiopia than any other foreigner,” wrote reviewer Christopher Clapham in the London Times Literary Supplement.
Mr. Henze moved from Bethesda to Virginia’s Rappahannock County in 2001. His wife of 59 years, Martha Heck Henze, died in 2009.
Survivors include six children, John Henze of Fredericksburg, Mary Henze of Fairfax County, Sam Henze of Brussels, and Libet Henze, Martin Henze and Alex Henze, all of Rock Mills, Va.; a sister, Lois Henze Martin of Bethesda; a brother, Richard Henze of St. Paul, Minn.; and nine grandchildren.