2020-05-15 14:43:52 UTC
Ralph W. McGehee, agent who exposed C.I.A., dies at 92
By Matilda Coleman-
May 14, 2020
This obituary is part of a series on people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others
Ralph W. McGehee, veteran of the Clandestine Crusades of the Central Intelligence Agency in Vietnam who went to war against C.I.A. himself died on May 2 at an assistance center in Falmouth, Maine. He was 92 years old.
The cause was Covid-19, said his son, Dan McGehee.
McGehee's 1983 memoir, "Deadly Deceits," was a scathing critique, a chronicle of the CIA's Cold War covert operations in Southeast Asia and his understanding that the American cause in Vietnam was doomed. He recalled his epiphany: in late 1968, he was sitting drinking alone in a sparsely furnished villa on the outskirts of Saigon, listening to a tragic pop song, "The End of the World," as combat helicopters circled and B-52s they threw bombs the distance.
"My idealism, my patriotism, my ambition, my plans to be a good intelligence officer to help my country combat the Communist scourge, what the hell had happened?" he wrote. "Why did we have to bombard the people we were trying to save? Why were we napalming little kids? Why did C.I.A., my employer for 16 years, report lies instead of the truth? He struggled to answer those questions for the rest of his life.
After growing up on the south side of Chicago, starring in the undefeated college football teams of Notre Dame from 1946 to 1949, failing a test with the Green Bay Packers, and working as an administrative apprentice in Montgomery Ward, he received a telegram in blue in January 1952. He asked: Would you like to serve your country in an unusual way? Soccer players, given their strength and affinity for teamwork, were the main candidates for paramilitary missions, in the eyes of the C.I.A.
The Korean War was at its peak and the CIA, founded in 1947, was expanding exponentially, from 200 officers at first to approximately 15,000 in 1952, with some 50 stations abroad and a budget exceeding $ 5 billion in money today. The agency frantically searched for Americans capable of undercover operations abroad.
Mr. McGehee made the qualification. After training and indoctrination, the agency sent him to the world. Serving over the years in Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and South Vietnam, he faced problems of confusion: for example, a richly compensated foreign agent from Taiwan whose highly touted secret reports on Communist China were based on cuts of newspapers. In northern Thailand, he worked in counterinsurgency operations with men from the mountain tribes who smoke opium, to no avail. He tried, with some success, to train the Thai National Police to gather intelligence.
Mr. McGehee came to the center of the CIA ranks, and in 1968 landed in Saigon to work in contact with the chief of the secret police. Then he faced a spiritual crisis. The war was going badly for the United States, and when things got worse, they wrecked it. He questioned the role of the United States in the world, the role of the CIA in Vietnam, its role in the CIA, and its own existence. He wrote that he had contemplated unfurling a banner reading "THE C.I.A. Lies,quot; and then committing suicide to protest the war.
In 1973, after he returned to headquarters, labeled discontent and relegated to a backward desk, the agency faced its own existential crisis. The Watergate wars would break the walls of its secret. Cold War skeletons fell out of the closet: murder plots, covert support for autocrats, spying on Americans. The presidents had secretly approved such feats, but the C.I.A. was blamed and embarrassed. When he retired in 1977, Mr. McGehee was convinced that the agency was a malicious force.
"Deadly Deception: My 25 Years in the C.I.A." It appeared six years later, after the agency had sought out and won significant eliminations. Although C.I.A. Veterans had published memoirs since the 1960s, few accused the agency of distorting intelligence to mislead American presidents and the American public to protect its power.
"The American people are the primary target audience for their lies," wrote McGehee.
The now declassified records of the Cold War tell a more complicated story. The main audience of the C.I.A. it was presidents, not the public. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon rejected the CIA's pessimistic reports on Vietnam, telling the American people that victory, or peace with honor, was at hand when it was not. The presidents, their national security advisers, and the Pentagon had put pressure on the C.I.A. to confirm his political preconceptions. Sometimes the agency bowed to her will, but not often.
Those records confirm Mr. McGehee's criticism that C.I.A. he had neglected intelligence gathering and analysis, his founding mission, in favor of bold undercover operations that changed the world, often for the worse, especially in the years leading up to the disastrous invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, approved by the president. John F. Kennedy, in 1961.
Ralph Walter McGehee Jr. was born in Moline, Illinois, on April 9, 1928. His parents managed an apartment complex, his mother as an accountant and his father as a maintenance man.
His wife of 63 years, Norma (Galbreath) McGehee, he died in 2012. In addition to his son Dan (who is also known as Keenan Dakota), his survivors include another son, Scott; two daughters, Jean Marteski and Peggy McGehee Horton; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
In later years, Mr. McGehee developed and maintained CIABASE, an online collection of open source information, and gave lectures, occasionally mixed with conspiracy theories. He once told a reporter for The New York Times that he realized his book would not change the C.I.A. But, he said, "I think I justify myself by thinking that I fought for what I thought was right."