|David H. Blee, 83, C.I.A. Spy Who Revised Defector
By JAMES RISEN
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 -- David Henry Blee, a legendary American spymaster
who played a critical role in dispelling the climate of paranoia that paralyzed
the Central Intelligence Agency's espionage operations against the Soviet
Union in the 1960's, died on Aug. 4 at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was
Placed in charge of the C.I.A.'s Soviet Division in 1971, Mr. Blee made
a historic break with the agency's eccentric chief of counterintelligence,
James Jesus Angleton, effectively ending Mr. Angleton's broad and destructive
influence over the agency's operations against Moscow.
Because of Mr. Angleton's belief that virtually every Soviet citizen
who tried to defect was actually a double agent sent to dupe the Americans,
the agency's operations against Moscow had been tied in knots for years.
Mr. Angleton's theories had prompted the intelligence agency to rebuff
many Soviets who tried to offer their spy services, and ultimately led
to the secret imprisonment under brutal conditions of one K.G.B. officer
who defected to the United States.
Although as chief of counterintelligence Mr. Angleton was not in the
agency's Soviet Division, his long tenure as chief spy hunter gave him
Mr. Angleton's belief that the C.I.A. was falling prey to a K.G.B. "monster
plot" of deception led to a witch hunt for Soviet moles within the agency.
Careers were destroyed as one longtime agency officer after another came
But Mr. Blee, a longtime Middle East hand, rejected Mr. Angleton's theories
and threw open the doors to defectors and potential Soviet spies, an approach
that younger intelligence officers eagerly embraced.
Mr. Blee, a Harvard-eeucated lawyer, avoided an open confrontation with
Mr. Angleton as he ordered the 180-degree shift.
With the backing of agency's director, William E. Colby, Mr. Blee brought
in lieutenants he had worked with in the Middle East and South Asia who
had not been tainted by the Angletonian mole hunt. They reinvestigated
long-neglected espionage leads.
"He was the architect of the program that turned the clandestine service
back on target against the Soviets after all the years of Angleton," said
Haviland Smith, a former C.I.A. officer.
Mr. Blee's policy shift quickly bore fruit; in the 1970's the number
of well-placed spies working behind the Iron Curtain increased sharply.
Mr. Blee's success can be indirectly measured by the number of Soviet
spies working for the United States who were betrayed by Aldrich Ames,
a C.I.A. officer in the Soviet Division. In 1985, when Mr. Ames began to
spy for the K.G.B., he turned over the names of at least 10 Soviet intelligence
officers working for the agency. The K.G.B. was shocked by how deeply it
had been penetrated.
"He had a greater intellectual command of overseas operational activity
than any officer I ever knew," said Clair George, a former agency deputy
director of operations.
David Henry Blee was born in San Francisco on Nov. 20, 1916, and graduated
from Stanford University in 1938. After graduating from Harvard Law School
in 1942, he enlisted in the Army in 1943. After a brief assignment with
the Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Blee was transferred to the Office of
Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor to the C.I.A. He joined a small
team that was landed by submarine on the islands off the coast of Thailand
to monitor the Japanese fleet.
The excitement of wartime clandestine operations got into his blood,
and he joined the nation's new peacetime spy service when it was founded
soon after World War II. He stayed until his retirement in 1985.
One of Mr. Blee's biggest early triumphs came in 1965, when he was the
C.I.A. station chief in India. Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of the Soviet
dictator, showed up at the American Embassy and asked for political asylum.
In an interview this year, Mr. Blee recalled that while Washington dithered
about how to respond, he put her on an airplane and spirited her out of
the country to safety.
He soon became chief of the agency's Near East Division, which handled
espionage in the Middle East, before taking over the Soviet Division in
Mr. Blee ended his career in the same job that Mr. Angleton had occupied
for so many years, running the agency's counterintelligence operations.
He retired just as the C.I.A. was coming to grips with the most serious
betrayal by one of its own officers up to that time, the defection of Edward
Lee Howard, a C.I.A. case officer who had been fired just before his scheduled
assignment to Moscow.
Before his dismissal, Mr. Howard had already been briefed on many of
the agency's most sensitive operations in the Soviet Union, including the
case of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet aviation design expert who had given
the C.I.A. a trove of secret information on Soviet military aircraft. What
was not known at the time of Mr. Blee's retirement, however, was that another
intelligence officer, Mr. Ames, had volunteered to the Soviets just as
Mr. Howard was being exposed. Mr. Blee is survived by his wife, Margaret
Gauer Blee; four sons, John David and Robert Henry, both of Bethesda, David
Cooper, of Alexandria, Va., and Richard Earl, of Washington; a daughter,
Elizabeth Blee Fritsch of Washington; and four grandchildren.