Philip Agee, a former undercover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency whose disillusionment with U.S. policy in support of dictatorial regimes prompted him to name names and reveal CIA secrets, died Monday in Cuba. He was 72.
His wife, Giselle Roberge Agee, told the Associated Press that Agee was hospitalized in Havana on Dec. 16 and underwent surgery for perforated ulcers. His death, she said, was the result of a related infection. He had lived primarily in Hamburg, Germany, but kept an apartment in Havana, she said.
In his controversial 1975 book, “Inside the Company: CIA Diary,” Agee detailed the inner workings of U.S. intelligence operations around the world, but primarily in Latin America, where he had been stationed for eight years during the 1960s.
The CIA, he contended, was interested only in propping up decaying dictatorships and thwarting radical reform efforts. The book included a 22-page list of purported agency operatives.
“That was right in the middle of a political crisis in the United States connected to the war in Vietnam, and the history of the CIA was very much on people’s minds,” said Thomas Powers, author of “Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to al-Qaeda” (2002). “The elementary-school version of American history had always been that the U.S. is always on the side of the good guys, and here comes Philip Agee to tell us it ain’t so.”
Agee insisted that publishing the names of fellow case officers was a political act in the “long and honorable tradition of dissidence in the United States” and not an act of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union or any other foreign power.
Former colleagues and government officials termed it treason. In 1979, then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance stripped Agee of his passport.
Prompted in large part by Agee’s book, Congress in 1982 passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, making it illegal to knowingly divulge the identities of covert CIA officers.
Former President George H.W. Bush, who directed the CIA in 1976-77, accused Agee of identifying Richard Welch, the CIA chief in Athens who was assassinated by Greek terrorists in 1975. Bush maintained in 1989 that by publicly identifying Welch, Agee was responsible for his death. Barbara Bush, the former first lady, repeated the claim in her 1994 autobiography, and Agee sued her for libel. As part of a legal settlement, she agreed to remove the allegation from the paperback edition of her book.
In a 2003 Los Angeles Times opinion piece, Agee described as “dirty politics” the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose husband had called into question the current Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq war.
His own exposure of CIA operatives was something different, he maintained, saying: “We were right in exposing the CIA in the 1970s, because the agency was being used to impose a criminal U.S. policy.”
Agee was born in Tacoma, Fla., in 1935, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1956 then studied law at the University of Florida.
He served as an Air Force officer from 1957 to 1960 and then began his CIA career, first in Ecuador and then in Mexico and Uruguay. At the time, he considered himself a “patriot dedicated to the preservation of my country and our way of life,” he wrote in “Inside the Company.”
Agee resigned in 1969 and began working on his book. After receiving death threats after the book was published, he moved to London but was expelled after nearly five years. He also was expelled after brief stays throughout Western Europe. He blamed U.S. pressure for making him persona non grata.
He lived in Grenada and Nicaragua before moving back to Hamburg. He was again denied a passport in 1987.
Agee also wrote “Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe” (1978) and “On the Run” (1987).
In 2000, he founded Cubalinda, an online travel agency, and encouraged Americans to ignore the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and vacation on the island.
Survivors include his wife of 17 years and two sons from a previous marriage.