Profile: David Blee
David Blee was a participant or observer in the following events:
Svetlana Stalin, daughter of deceased Soviet leader Josef Stalin, defects to the West. The defection is arranged by the CIA’s station chief in India, David Blee, after Svetlana asks for asylum at the US embassy in Delhi. While officials in Washington are undecided about what to do about her request, Blee puts her on a plane and spirits her out of India to the West. The New York Times will later call this episode “one of Mr. Blee’s biggest early triumphs.” [New York Times, 8/17/2000; Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2000; Guardian, 8/22/2000]
David Blee, previously head of the CIA’s station in India, is appointed chief of its Near East division. One of his major responsibilities is tracking the emergence of Palestinian guerrilla groups, in the hope of anticipating their actions against Western targets. [New York Times, 8/17/2000; Guardian, 8/22/2000]
Edward Petty, an officer in the CIA’s counterintelligence section, produces a report saying that his boss, the controversial James Angleton, is probably a Soviet mole. The report cites 25 examples of suspicious behavior by Angleton, arguing that his disastrous impact on the CIA’s Soviet division demonstrates that he is under Kremlin control. Petty shows the report to several CIA managers, including Near East chief David Blee, and a full investigation is ordered. Angleton is cleared, but the investigation draws attention to his strange conduct and he will soon be replaced. [Guardian, 8/22/2000]
David Blee, a former Office of Strategic Services agent (see (1943-1944)) who joined the CIA in 1947 (see 1947), is appointed head of the agency’s Soviet Division. Thanks to his appointment, Blee replaces James Angleton as the biggest influence on Soviet policy. Angleton is an extremely controversial figure at the agency who has run counterintelligence for over two decades and views every Soviet defector as a plant. Therefore, the CIA has rebuffed many potential defectors and even imprisoned one defector under what the New York Times will call “brutal conditions.” Angleton’s theory of a “monster plot” by the Soviets against the US has also led to a witch hunt for Soviet moles at the agency, harming morale and effectiveness. For example, the agency was so blind that in 1968 it was unable to predict the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Blee rejects the “monster plot” theory and reverses Angleton’s policy. The CIA’s doors are thrown open to defectors and this greatly increases the number of spies the agency has in the Soviet bloc. This posting is the high point of Blee’s career and he will subsequently be regarded as one of the agency’s finest ever officers for it (see September 18, 1997). Former CIA officer Haviland Smith will comment, “He was the architect of the program that turned the clandestine service back on target against the Soviets after all the years of Angleton.” Former agency Deputy Director of Operations Clair George will add, “He had a greater intellectual command of overseas operational activity than any officer I ever knew.” [New York Times, 8/17/2000; Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2000; Guardian, 8/22/2000]
Testifying before the Rockefeller Commission on the CIA’s activities in the US, the CIA’s Assistant Deputy Director for Operations David Blee indicates the agency does not spy on Americans. “We have always said that we did not operate that way [spying on the US’s own citizens], but that we went about it much more inefficiently, which is by penetrating the foreign government or foreign subversive operation and finding if that led us to an American, rather than trying to see what Americans were doing, and seeing if they were in touch with those groups,” he tells the commission. “In this, we operate very differently from practically all of the other security and intelligence services, which typically watch their own citizens to see what they are doing.” [US Congress, 4/13/1976]
CIA manager David Blee files a report warning others at the agency about the situation in Iran. Blee, who has some experience in Middle Eastern affairs (see (1967)), cautions that the US knows little about Iranian leader Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in particular his stockpiling of military equipment. [Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2000]
David Blee, head of counterintelligence at the CIA, asks the NSA, FBI, and allied representatives to form a committee to evaluate the potential for a signals intelligence project codenamed VENONA and directed against the Soviet Union over the next two years. Howard W. Kulp and Mildred Hayes, who will go on to head the VENONA unit in later years, represent the NSA on the committee. [Center for Cryptologic History, 1/1/2001 ]
The CIA celebrates its 50th anniversary with a ceremony at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Director George Tenet awards special medallions to 50 past and present staff for their outstanding contributions to postwar American intelligence. One of the 50 is David Blee, a former head of the agency’s Soviet division (see 1971) and counterintelligence (see 1978), whose citation says the award is for “creating a professional counterintelligence discipline.” [Guardian, 8/22/2000] In total, Blee earns two CIA Distinguished Intelligence Medals, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal for his work at the agency. [Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2000]
Former CIA manager David Blee dies at the age of 83 at his home in Bethseda, Maryland. In recognition of the significance of his career (see 1971), the New York Times’s obituary calls him “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 1960s.” [New York Times, 8/17/2000; Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2000; Guardian, 8/22/2000]
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