December 13, 2002

CIA spy master Ted Shackley dies at 75

By Carol Rosenberg. Posted on Fri, Dec. 13, 2002 in The Miami Herald.

Theodore ''Ted'' Shackley, a legendary spy master and Cold War figure who ran the CIA's huge Miami operation during the height of U.S. tensions with Cuba during the 1960s, has died of cancer in Maryland. He was 75.

Nicknamed ''The Blond Ghost'' because he hated to be photographed, Shackley was an exacting, intense, elusive covert operator. As Miami station chief during Operation Mongoose, an interagency U.S. effort to topple Fidel Castro, he ran about 400 agents and operatives during a period that included the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

The Miami assignment was only one of the many powerful posts he held during a 28-year counterinsurgency career that spanned the globe.

The places where he worked as a senior CIA officer -- Berlin, Saigon, Laos -- served as signposts in the global struggle between the United States and Soviet-backed communism.

In Miami, he directed an ambitious anti-Castro propaganda and paramilitary campaign, and as a sign of its significance, Shackley would later say that he commanded the third-largest navy in the Caribbean -- only the United States and Cuba had more vessels than the CIA station chief's flotilla.

Thirty-year friend Tom Spencer, a Miami attorney, described Shackley Thursday as "the master spy chief, a strategist, tactician, a brilliant man, a chess player -- a person who could read tea leaves and watch things which ordinary people could not see or pick up.''

Added fellow CIA retiree E. Peter Earnest, now director of Washington, D.C.'s International Spy Museum: "He had a keen sense of discipline, and was very goal-oriented. He found himself periodically in situations where there was chaos, and he could pull some order out of that.''


Shackley retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 1979 and set up a D.C.-area consulting firm that offered security strategy to corporate executives.

But for nearly three decades before that, including 17 years overseas, he served as a CIA officer who recruited and handled agents, hatched plots and gathered intelligence in Cold War settings.

From May 1976 to December 1977, he served as associate deputy director of operations, the No. 2 position in the clandestine operations branch. He held the job first under CIA Director George H.W. Bush, then under Adm. Stansfield Turner, who relieved him of his title in a late 1977 shake-up.

At issue: a Carter administration decision to fire thousands of secret agents and informants, notably in the Middle East, and dismantle Cold War spy networks.

Shackley, said Spencer, soon ''left in disgust,'' retiring from the agency he had joined straight from Army duty in 1945 in Europe. Besides consulting, he also wrote a primer on counterinsurgency in 1981 called The Third Option.

Shackley was Miami station chief from 1962 to 1965, running his vast spy network out of the University of Miami South Campus, now the Metrozoo. It was the largest CIA hub outside of headquarters in Langley, Va.

''When I got there, the mission was to implement an intelligence collection program and clean up the residuals of the Bay of Pigs,'' he told retired Herald journalist Don Bohning in April 1998 in Washington. "As we got into the intelligence program and restructuring, we started detecting Soviet buildup in the context of all that, how to bring about change in Cuba.''


Some of his Miami activities, he told Bohning, included ''psychological warfare pressure on Cuba,'' including infiltrations, radio propaganda and ties with a paramilitary, anti-Castro movement.

The only full-fledged CIA station in the continental United States, its code name was JM-Wave.

After Miami, he moved on to another Cold War hot zone, Southeast Asia, where he was a top CIA officer in Laos and Saigon in the late 1960s and early '70s.


''In Laos, Shackley helped run a secret war using local tribes people, and at the end of that campaign the tribe was decimated,'' said David Corn, author of the 1994 book, Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusade.

''Shackley was in some ways the archetype of the Cold War covert bureaucrat. He took orders from above . . . running secret wars, undermining democratically elected governments, compromising journalists and political opponents overseas . . . and made them a reality,'' Corn said.

Shackley also ran Latin American operations out of CIA headquarters in 1973 when Gen. Augusto Pincohet led a coup in Chile that toppled the elected government of President Salvador Allende.

''He was not the mastermind of the clandestine operations of presidents and CIA directors. He was the implementer,'' Corn said. 'And in doing so, he avoided the moral questions that accompanied such actions and embodied the 'ends justify the means' mentality of America's national security establishment.''

Fellow former CIA agent Mo Sovern, who said they were colleagues for 45 years, summed up Shackley's management philosophy this way: "Screw up and you'd hear about it. Screw up twice for the same problem, and you're gone.''

He could be a controversial figure, said Sovern, chairman of the Central Intelligence Retirees Association. "A lot of people absolutely hated him. A lot of people thought he was marvelous. But he got the work done.''


He cited this example of Shackley's micromanagement style:

After receiving last rites on Sunday, he had his wife summoned a funeral director to their suburban Washington home and he picked out a casket, negotiated the fee and asked to be buried in West Palm Beach, where he was raised and educated before going to the University of Maryland. He died Monday.

Burial will be next week in West Palm Beach. Visitation is scheduled for today in Washington. Mass will be said Saturday in Bethesda, Md.


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