Desmond Fitzgerald (CIA officer)

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For other people with similar names, see Desmond FitzGerald (disambiguation)

Desmond FitzGerald (June 16, 1910 – July 23, 1967) was an American intelligence officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he rose to the position of Deputy Director for Plans. He served in the CIA from 1950 until his death. Posthumously he was awarded the National Security Medal. An attorney, he had worked in New York City both before and after World War II. During the war, he was an Army officer, serving as liaison and adviser to the Chinese Army.

Early life[edit]

Desmond Fitzgerald was born in New York City in 1910, to a family in the upper class. He was educated at St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts. He completed both his undergraduate and law degrees at Harvard University, gaining the latter in 1935. He worked for six years at a New York law firm.[citation needed]

Lawyer, Army Officer[edit]

At the outbreak of World War II Fitzgerald was "a 31-year-old attorney with a wife and a child" yet he enlisted as a private in the Army. He soon transferred to Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as an officer. His assignment was as liaison to the Chinese army operating in the China-Burma-India theater, where he was promoted to the rank of major and awarded the Bronze Star.[1] He was linked with the Chinese 6th army which operated in Burma.[citation needed]

After the war, Fitzgerald returned to New York City, where he worked at a Wall Street law firm. He enjoyed connections with the city's elite social circles.[citation needed]

Career in intelligence[edit]

Fitzgerald was recruited for the CIA by Frank Wisner in 1950.[1] According to Prados, Fitzgerald worked in the CIA's Far East Division on a diverse array of projects, dealing with Tibet, China, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea. He became friends with William Colby, also in the Far East Division (Colby became DCI in 1973). Fitzgerald was especially interested in the Tibetan Task Force, which supported the continuing Tibetan resistance against the Maoist Chinese takeover and, particularly, the 1959 Tibetan uprising. He told officers to work with Tibetan leader Gyalo Dhondup.[citation needed]

Smith writes that in 1951, Fitzgerald was working in the CIA's Office of Policy Coordination. He rose to work in the Directorate of Plans. He warned other officials against the agency becoming involved in a failed 1958 rebellion in Indonesia.[1]

Ralph McGehee's CIA memoir mentions FitzGerald, describing him as Chief of Station in the Philippines in 1955 or 1956.[2]

In January 1961, Fitzgerald approved James William Lair's proposal for arming Hmong guerrillas to fight in the Laotian Civil War.[3]

In 1966 Fitzgerald became Deputy Director for Plans.[1] As such, he asked Edgar Applewhite to attack Ramparts magazine as part of the CIA's cold war strategy. Applewhite claimed he used "dirty tricks" and blackmail to harm the magazine's business[citation needed]

Later, Fitzgerald worked on the CIA's accurate prediction of the outbreak of the Six-Day War in the Middle East between Egypt and Israel.[1]

He was regarded highly by many, including Allen Dulles, who became director of the agency. Dulles describe Fitzgerald as "an officer of imagination and sense of daring, backed by his credentials as a fellow Wall Street lawyer and his impeccable social connections, coupled with his ability to get things done."[1] John Kenneth Galbraith, a historian who was influential in the Kennedy administration, also admired him, although also describing Fitzgerald as reckless.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Fitzgerald was the first husband of Marietta Peabody; they were married September 2, 1939. Following World War II, Desmond and Marietta divorced. Their daughter Frances FitzGerald later became a journalist. She is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Vietnam War, which was critical of US involvement. Her Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam was published by Atlantic-Little, Brown in 1972.[citation needed]

Fitzgerald died in 1967 at the age of 51; he suffered a heart attack while playing tennis in Virginia.[citation needed]

Legacy and honors[edit]

He was posthumously awarded the National Security Medal.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Smith, Jr., W. Thomas (2003). "Fitzgerald, Desmond (Dizzy Fits)". Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 99–100. ISBN 9781438130187. Retrieved November 27, 2015. 
  2. ^ McGehee, Deadly Deceits (1983), pp. 32-33.
  3. ^ Conboy, Morrison, p. 61.


  • Conboy, Kenneth and James Morrison (1995). Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos. Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-825-0.
  • McGehee, Ralph (2002).Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA. Ocean Press. ISBN 978-1876175191.
  • Smith, W. Thomas Jr. Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency (2003). Facts on File, Inc. ISBN 978-1438130187.