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Obituaries

Henry L. Giordano, 89; Head of Narcotics Bureau, Colorful Undercover Officer

October 11, 2003|Patricia Sullivan | The Washington Post

Henry L. Giordano, 89, an undercover agent who became the head of the Treasury Department's narcotics bureau in the 1960s, died of cancer Sept. 19 at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, Md. He lived in Silver Spring, Md.

Giordano was commissioner of the federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1962 to 1968, and for a year was associate director of the succeeding agency in the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Upon his retirement in 1969, he worked as a security consultant for pharmaceutical firms.

Born in San Francisco, Giordano earned a pharmacy degree from UC San Francisco and was a pharmacist for seven years. After taking a Civil Service exam, he was accepted into the Bureau of Narcotics in 1941 and assigned to Seattle.

He enlisted with the Coast Guard's intelligence unit in 1943 and rejoined the Bureau of Narcotics in 1946. Working undercover with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Giordano posed as a heroin buyer in 1949 in Vancouver, British Columbia, making a purchase that allowed the Mounties to arrest the notorious Mallock brothers, whose narcotics ring was beginning to expand into the Pacific Northwest. The brothers later escaped, but one was caught when he sneaked into New York to visit a girlfriend, and the other was killed in a car chase in Mexico.

Giordano went undercover for 10 months in Portland, Ore., to investigate a tong, a secret Chinese fraternal society. He was described at the time as compact, with pleasantly rugged features that allowed him to pose as a down-at-the-heels narcotics peddler, a flashily prosperous racketeer, a small-time gambler, an escaped convict or a sailor.

He became supervisor of the regional office in Minneapolis in 1950 and later in Kansas City, Mo. He was considered instrumental in opening foreign offices of the bureau in Rome; Paris; Marseilles, France; Istanbul, Turkey; Beirut; Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore; Mexico City; and Monterrey, Mexico. He worked in the 1950s as chief investigator for the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Traffic in Narcotics, Barbiturates and Amphetamines and served on the delegation for several U.N. commissions on drugs.

He became deputy commissioner of the bureau in 1958 and was appointed commissioner in 1962 by President Kennedy.

Survivors include his wife of 64 years, E. Elaine Watson Giordano of Silver Spring; two daughters; three grandsons; and two great-grandchildren.

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