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Adm. Daniel J. Murphy, 79; Planned Anti-Drug Effort, Aide to V.P. Bush

September 27, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Retired Adm. Daniel J. Murphy, chief of staff to Vice President George Bush from 1981 to 1985 and an architect of the Ronald Reagan administration's effort to halt drug traffic from Central America, has died. He was 79.

Murphy, a former commander of the Navy's Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean who also was Bush's chief deputy when he was director of the CIA, died Friday in Rockville, Md., of a stomach aneurysm.

The career Navy officer was the first to become a four-star admiral without graduating from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

Sometimes described by detractors as "a political admiral, not a combat admiral," Murphy worked for both Republican and Democrat secretaries of defense--Melvin R. Laird, Elliot L. Richardson and Harold Brown--as well as Bush, and when he was named to head the vice president's staff soon after the 1980 election, he described himself as "purely apolitical" and said Bush's staff would have to "look for political wisdom someplace else."

In 1984, Murphy served Reagan as well as Bush as director of the White House Drug Policy Task Force. It launched an all-out interdiction effort against boats and planes ferrying illicit drugs into the United States. He later was criticized for meeting with Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noriega.

Murphy left the Bush camp in 1985, as Bush began gearing for his presidential run, and became an international business consultant.

He was without official portfolio in 1987 when he made two controversial visits to Noriega, later fingered for a drug conspiracy. Murphy was accompanied on one trip by South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park, a central figure in a congressional bribery scandal in the late 1970s. Murphy said they were representing businesses interested in stabilizing the Panamanian economy.

In 1992, Murphy testified in Noriega's trial on narcotics and money-laundering charges linked to the shipment of marijuana and cocaine into the United States--asserting that Noriega and Panama had "cooperated in all of our requests to board Panamanian vessels on the high seas" during the U.S. effort to block drug shipments.

Murphy did not testify about his meetings with Noriega or his believed offer to allow Noriega to avoid indictment by withdrawing from leadership of the Panamanian military and guaranteeing free elections.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Murphy attended St. John's University in New York and graduated from the University of Maryland. As a naval aviator, he rose quickly in the ranks, and saw combat in the Vietnam War as commander of the aircraft carrier Bennington and the oiler Guadalupe in the Tonkin Gulf.

His Washington stature developed after 1971 when he became administrative assistant to Laird, a job that led to his promotion as commander of the Sixth Fleet in 1973. On his watch, the Navy was placed on its highest alert because of the Yom Kippur War between Arabs and Israelis, followed by a crisis in Cyprus. Murphy quickly impressed Donald H. Rumsfeld, then ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

It was Rumsfeld who suggested that Bush hire Murphy for the CIA deputy post in 1975. Again, Murphy earned praise for his management and organizational skills, producing the first consolidated intelligence budget the country had ever had.

After working for Democratic Defense chief Brown during the Jimmy Carter administration, Murphy rejoined Bush in 1981, again demonstrating complete loyalty and protecting Bush from any slights by the Reagan staff.

Murphy is survived by his wife of 57 years, Elaine; two sons, retired Vice Adm. Daniel Murphy Jr. and Thomas Murphy; two daughters, Shaun Murphy and Pamela Murphy; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services are planned in Fort Myer, Va., on Oct. 10, with burial to follow at Arlington National Cemetery. Memorial donations may be sent to http://www.libertyunites.org.

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