David Atlee Phillips – Sergeant, United States Army Central Intelligence Agency Operative

October 31, 1922 – July 7, 1988

From a contemporary news report:

“David Atlee Phillips, who spent 25 years undercover for the CIA and resigned as Chief of Latin American and Caribban Operations to plead the Agency's case in print and on the lecture circuit, died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He had been suffering from cancer and was 65.

“When he retired early in 1975, morale was at a low in the CIA over charges that it had engaged in illegal domestic spying. He made himself a public defender of the CIA, rebutting what he termed the “snowballing inneundo.” To support that effort, he formed the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, recruiting members from the various intelligence agencies to explain to the public what the work was all about. He had been involved in clandestine operations in Guatemala, Cuba and Chile from the 1950s to the early 1970s. He became the founding president of the organization and made its headquarters in Northern Virginia, not far from that of the CIA. At Fort Langley, he strongly denied insinuations that his new group was just a covert ploy financed by his former employer, saying that his income was derived from lectures and from his writings.

“In 1970, he was called to Washington to lead a special task force assigned to prevent the election of Salvadore Allende as President of Chile. Allende was killed in a military takeover in 1973, but he said when he resigned that the CIA played no role in the coup. He said that his decision to retire was influenced by personal concern. He and his second wife were raising seven children, and the time had come to tell another 15-year-old that her father was not really a businessman or in the Foreign Service. It was the fifth time around, and his admission to a cloak-and-dagger existence, he reported, drew the response, “But that's dirty.” He said that four older children had seemed pleased to have an intelligence agent for a father and the reaction of the fifth seemed “part of the current misconception about the CIA, period.”

“He was born at Fort Worth, Texas and attended William and Mary College and Texas Christian University. He was tall and ruggedly handsome and became an actor in New York City, but World War II intervened. He served as a nose gunner in the Army Air Forces, was shot down over Austria but made it back to Allied lines after escaping from a German prison camp. After the war, he resumed his studies in Chile and was recruited by the CIA during a brief stint as an editor of an English-language newspaper. By 1950, he later confirmed, he was working full time for the aency. He was present when the CIA, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's blessing, toppled the government of Jacono Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala in 1954. He was a lecturer in Havana and a businessman in Lebanon before going to Washington in 1960 when the CIA planned to duplicate the Guatemalan feat in Cuba – an effort that floundered at the Bay of Pigs. He served as Station Chief in the Dominican Republic and in Rio de Janeiro. His last assignment was as head of the Western Hemisphere Division, during which, he said, he ordered agents from Chile to distance themselves from the people thenplotting to overthrow Allende, a Marxist. He wrote a breezy, anecdotal account of his career in “The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service,” which appeared in 1977.”

He is buried in Section 7-A of Arlington National Cemetery, a short distance from the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Memorial Amphitehater.


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