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Obituaries

David Henry Blee; CIA Officer Improved Spying on Soviet Union

August 18, 2000

David Henry Blee, 83, top CIA officer who greatly improved effectiveness of spy activities against the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Blee, a native of San Francisco educated at Stanford and Harvard Law School, worked for the CIA's forerunner, the military Office of Strategic Services, during World War II. Intrigued by that experience with clandestine operations, he joined the civilian equivalent, the CIA, when it was established shortly after the war. The lawyer spent his entire career with the agency, retiring in 1985 after seven years as chief of counterintelligence. In 1971, Blee was named chief of the CIA's Soviet Division, and immediately turned around previous policies, which viewed every Soviet defector as a KGB plant. Instead, Blee recruited many of them, and greatly increased the number of spies working behind the Iron Curtain. He was also one of the first to open channels of communication with the KGB in the waning years of the Soviet Union, which fell in 1989. An old Middle East hand, Blee also warned in a report three years before Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was ousted in Iran's revolution that the U.S. knew too little about the Iranian leader, particularly his penchant for military stockpiling. Blee demonstrated insight and fast action early in his career, flying Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's daughter Svetlana to safety after she asked for asylum at his embassy in India, without waiting for dithering Washington officials to approve his action. Blee earned two CIA Distinguished Intelligence Medals, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal and the National Security Medal. On Aug. 4 in Bethesda, Md.

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