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Lyman B. Kirkpatrick Jr. was born in Rochester, New York, on July 15, 1916. He attended Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts, and graduated from Princeton University's School of Public and International Affairs in 1938. After leaving Princeton, Kirkpatrick worked on the editorial staff of U.S. News & World Report until enlisting in the Office of the Coordinator of Information, which later evolved into the Office of Strategic Services, in 1942. Based in London, Kirkpatrick served as a liaison with British, French, Norwegian, Czech, and Polish intelligence services. In 1943, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he served as the intelligence briefing officer for General Omar Bradley, a post he retained until the end of the war.
After a brief return to U.S. News & World Report, Kirkpatrick joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) when the agency was created in 1947. He served as a division chief, deputy assistant director of operations, and executive assistant to Director of Central Intelligence Walter Bedell Smith, and appeared to be well positioned for a leadership role in the organization when he contracted polio during a 1952 trip to Asia on agency business. He was left paralyzed from the waist down in 1953 and spent the rest of his career in a wheelchair.
After Kirkpatrick returned from hospitalization, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles named him inspector general of the CIA, a post he held until 1961. Richard Helms, another intelligence officer, had been appointed director of covert operations, a job that Kirkpatrick had been expected to assume. As inspector general he traveled overseas on inspection tours, despite his wheelchair, and performed liaison work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. He also served as chairman of a joint study group examining all of the United States' foreign intelligence efforts, a group whose report resulted in the creation of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1961.
At the request of Dulles, Kirkpatrick also compiled an internal report on the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. The controversial report, which remained classified until 1998, was critical of the planning and execution of the operation and was rumored to have caused resentment among staff at the CIA, particularly Dulles. Kirkpatrick would later write that he believed the report cost him “a fighting chance at the directorship.”
In December 1961, John McCone, the new director of the CIA, asked Kirkpatrick to chair a working group to study the organizational structure of the agency, which resulted in a major reorganization. In April 1962, Kirkpatrick was named executive director of the CIA, a new position created in order to help ease the administrative demands on McCone and future directors.
In 1965, Kirkpatrick left the CIA to become a professor of political science at Brown University. In addition to lecturing and teaching, he served as president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, and was a member of the board of directors of the Naval War College and the Defense Intelligence College. Kirkpatrick also contributed to Encyclopædia Britannica (as well as other encyclopedias) and wrote three books for the general public, as well as textbooks used in the intelligence community and articles for journals dealing with military and intelligence matters. He retired from Brown in 1982 and moved to Middleburg, Virginia, one year later.
Here is an excerpt from the introduction to his book "The Real CIA", written in 1968:
When I resigned from the Central Intelligence Agency, thus concluding a career of nearly twenty-three years in intelligence, the furthest thing from my mind was to write a book about the CIA or the United States intelligence system. But then, I had led a cloistered life for more than two decades.
What I did not realize was how little is actually known about the CIA and the American system for keeping our policy makers advised of the threats to the nation's security. Nor did I understand the depth of suspicion, if not hostility, that exists toward the CIA in some sectors of our society, particularly in academic life. I had been aware that some of the American press had been hostile, but perhaps erroneously had attributed this to a natural aversion to anything secret.
My contact with the American public during the years with the agency had been primarily in the area of personnel recruitment, and here there seemed to be not only understanding, but enthusiasm as well. The CIA, over the years, has always been able to recruit outstanding men and women, and perhaps I interpreted this as representing a general understanding on the part of the American people of what the Central Intelligence Agency is and what it does. I have learned since leaving the government that the success in CIA recruitment represents an interest on the part of young men and women in serving the government and not any real understanding of CIA.
The CIA, the White House, and Congress must all share the blame for this lack of accurate information on the agency and the United States intelligence system. For many years the CIA has had a myopic view of its public image and has assumed that the American people would accept it solely on the basis that it had been created by Congress, reported directly to the President, and that the top two officials, the director and the deputy directory -- the only two appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and therefore known to the public -- were men of stature with international reputations. Even in this the agency has been in error, because not many people even know these basic facts about the CIA.
The American people have a deep concern, indeed fear, over the concentration of too much power in any area of our society. When this power is in the government and cloaked in secrecy, then their concern is even greater...It is not a concern about secrecy as such, which the people will accept as a necessity for national security. Nor is it a concern about intelligence activity, which the public recognizes as a necessary government function during a period of international tension and strife. It is a concern about secret power and the possibilities of its abuse.
Communist psychological warfare units never fail to take advantage of the discovery of any American intelligence activity. They invariably advertise it to the world in the worst possible light. Not content in just dealing with facts, the Communists have also proved to be adept in fabrication and forgeries designed to discredit the American intelligence and security services and have found willing audiences in this country, but even more so in the uncommitted areas of the world.
The James Bond syndrome, with its emphasis on cloak and dagger adventures, fast cars, and faster women, hasn't helped the CIA image. Most people now look in intelligence as all espionage and action, and fail to realize that the bulk of the work is the painstaking assembly of information.
The Central Intelligence Agency has been hurt by the fact that it combines intelligence and operations, action and information. The advantages of combining these responsibilities in one central organization have been lessened, if not negated, by the emphasis in the public mind on clandestine operations and the failure on the part of the government to describe the organization in perspective.
On one of his first assignments, he wrote:
My initial assignment was to be a sort of general handyman to Maddox, who at that point was pretty much trying to do everything himself. This involved liaison with the British Intelligence Service, certainly the most important part of our work.
The liaison work was interesting and those magnificent men working for the liberation of their countries were fascinating, each in his own way, but, after six months or so, I didn't give up the work with too much regret because it was tiring and a strain on the liver. Successful liaison in intelligence is achieved only through the development of close personal relations in which there is complete and absolute confidence on both sides. Almost immediately on my arrival in London I found myself plunged into a series of lunches that would last from 1 P.M. through a good part of the afternoon, and dinners that lasted well past midnight. Our European friends were formidable consumers of alcoholic beverages, with apparently little effect, and I always wondered whether they also put in the same long office hours that we did.
Kirkpatrick died at his home on March 3, 1995. He was survived by his wife, Rita Kirkpatrick, two sons and two daughters from his first marriage to Jeanne Courtney, and five grandchildren.
- Lyman Kirkpatrick Papers at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
- Lyman B. Kirkpatrick Papers
- B. Kirkpatrick Papers, circa 1933-2000 (bulk 1942-1982)
- "The Real CIA" by Lyman Kirkpatrick, MacMillan & Co, 1968.