Theodore Shackley

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Thomas Polgar (far right) takes command of the CIA station in Saigon, January 1972. At left is former Station Chief Ted Shackley, heading back to a new assignment in Washington. In the middle is General Creighton Abrams, head of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV)

Theodore George "Ted" Shackley, Jr. (July 16, 1927—December 9, 2002) was an American CIA officer involved in many important and controversial CIA operations during the 1960s and 1970s. He is one of the most decorated CIA officers. Due to his "light hair and mysterious ways", Shackley was known to his colleagues as "the Blond Ghost".[1]

In the early 1960s, Shackley's work included being station chief in Miami, during the period of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the Cuban Project (also known as Operation Mongoose), which he directed. He was also said to be the director of the "Phoenix Program" during the Vietnam War, as well as the CIA station chief in Laos between 1966–1968, and Saigon station chief from 1968 through February 1972. In 1976, he was appointed Associate Deputy Director for Operations, and was in charge of the CIA's worldwide covert operations. In 1986 Shackley was named in a lawsuit by attorney Daniel Sheehan and the Christic Institute for his alleged orchestration of the Iran Contra scandal.[2][3] Shackley is perhaps best known for his involvement in CIA "black ops".


Early years[edit]

Shackley was born on July 16, 1927, and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 23, 1945 at Springfield, Massachusetts as a private, eventually becoming part of the Allied Occupation Force in Germany on completion of basic training. Due to his knowledge of the Polish language (his mother was a Polish immigrant), he became a recruit of U.S. Army Counter Intelligence. As an Army recruit he studied at the University of Maryland, and returned to Germany as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1951. Again he served as a member of Army Counter Intelligence, where his linguistic skills were used in the recruitment of Polish agents. It was at this time that he was recruited by the CIA, and in 1953 he was assigned to work under William King Harvey at the CIA's Berlin Base. In 1961, Shackley married Hazel Tindol Shackley of Bethesda.

Miami and the Cuban crisis[edit]

During the period (1962–1965), Shackley was station chief in Miami, Florida. While heading the CIA office (known as "JMWAVE") shortly after the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, Shackley dealt with operations in Cuba (alongside Edward Lansdale). JMWAVE employed more than 200 CIA officers, who handled approximately 2,000 Cuban agents. These included the famous "Operation Mongoose" (aka "The Cuban Project"). The aim of this was to "help Cubans (exiles) overthrow the Communist regime" (of Fidel Castro Ruz). During this period as Miami Station Chief, Shackley was in charge of about 400 agents and general operatives (as well as a huge flotilla of boats), and his tenure there encompassed the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Vietnam, Laos and the "Phoenix Program"[edit]

In 1966, Shackley moved on to the Vietnam War, becoming the CIA station chief in Laos between 1966–1968, where he directed the CIA's secret war of pitting the Hmong people villagers against Viet Cong who used the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He also helped coordinate local army efforts against the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army in the northern regions of Laos.[4][5] In 1968, he then moved on to become station chief for Vietnam (in what was then Saigon). Shackley ran the Phoenix Program.[citation needed] Phoenix was a secret assassination and capture campaign aimed at members of the Viet Cong inurgency's infrastructure.[citation needed] In 1971, the head of the CIA, William Colby, testified that the number killed in this operation was 20,000.

In 1970, after the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics' "Operation Eagle" busted a drug-running scheme, several of the Cuban-Americans involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion came to work for Shackley and Donald Gregg in Vietnam, including Felix Rodriguez. The Phoenix Program was eventually handed over to the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies. Shackley served in Vietnam through February 1972 when he returned to Langley, Virginia.[6]

Western Hemisphere Division and Chile[edit]

From 1972, Shackley ran the CIA's "Western Hemisphere Division". When Shackley took over the division, one mission for him was "regime change" in Chile (United States intervention in Chile / Project FUBELT).[7]

Whilst in charge of the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division, one of Shackley's jobs was to discredit an ex-CIA officer believed to have become under control of the KGB, Philip Agee, who was writing an "expose" on the CIA entitled Inside The Company. After Shackley's best efforts to discredit Agee, the parts of the book that would have caused most damage to the reputation of the CIA were not included.[citation needed]

Deputy Director of Covert Operations[edit]

In May 1976, Shackley was made Deputy Director of Covert Operations, serving under CIA director George H.W. Bush, before officially retiring from the organization in 1979. However, it has been widely reported that in reality he was forced out of the organization by Bush's successor as Director, Stansfield Turner. Turner disapproved of Shackley’s close involvement with agent Edwin P. Wilson and an ex-CIA employee, Frank Terpil, who in 1981 defected to Libya (later to Cuba).

In 1982, Wilson was later convicted for selling 22 tons of "Composition 4" plastic explosive to Muammar al-Gaddafi's Libya, and also on the charge of exporting guns. On October 29, 2003, the conviction on the explosives charge was reversed. However, in the midst of that scandal, in December 1977 Shackley was relieved of his deputy directorship, and when the Jimmy Carter administration announced wide cuts in the CIA's network of officers and informants, Shackley finally left the organization.

October Surprise[edit]

Despite his retirement in 1979, controversy continued to surround Shackley over alleged involvement in the alleged "October Surprise" of 1980, and later the "Iran-Contra" affair of the mid-1980s. He had hoped to return to the agency, and according to Rafael Quintero, during the 1980 presidential campaign, Shackley met Bush almost every week, and his wife, Hazel, also campaigned for Bush.

Iran-Contra Affair[edit]

On 16 March 1984, William Francis Buckley, a diplomat attached to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was kidnapped by the Hezbollah, a Lebanese Islamic fundamentalism Shiite group with strong links to the Khomeini regime in Iran. Buckley was tortured, and it was soon discovered that he was the CIA station chief in Beirut. CIA's William Casey asked Shackley for help in obtaining Buckley's freedom. Shackley was horrified when he discovered that Buckley had been captured as Buckley had been a member of Shackley's Secret Team. Three weeks after Buckley's disappearance, President Ronald Reagan signed the National Security Decision Directive 138. This directive was drafted by Oliver North, and outlined plans on how to get the American hostages released from Iran, and to "neutralize" terrorist threats from countries such as Nicaragua. This new secret counterterrorist task force was to be headed by Shackley’s old friend, General Richard Secord. This was the beginning of the Iran-Contra deal.

In November 1985, Shackley traveled to Hamburg where he met General Manucher Hashemi, the former head of SAVAK's counterintelligence division at the Atlantic Hotel. Also at the meeting on 22 November was Manuchehr Ghorbanifar. According to the report of this meeting that Shackley sent to the CIA, Ghorbanifar had "fantastic" contacts with Iran. At the meeting, Shackley told Hashemi and Ghorbanifar that the United States was willing to discuss arms shipments in exchange for the four Americans kidnapped in Lebanon. The problem with the proposed deal was that William Francis Buckley was already dead (he had died of a heart attack while being tortured).[citation needed]

Shackley recruited some of the former members of his CIA Secret Team to help him with these arm deals. This included Thomas G. Clines, Rafael Quintero, Ricardo Chavez and Edwin Wilson of API Distributors. Also involved was Carl Elmer Jenkins and Gene Wheaton of National Air.[citation needed] The plan was to use National Air to transport weapons. On October 5, 1986, a Sandinista patrol in Nicaragua shot down a C-123K cargo plane, Corporate Air Services HPF821, which was supplying the Contras. Eugene Hasenfus, an Air America veteran, survived the crash and told his captors that he thought the CIA was behind the operation. This resulted in journalists being able to identify Rafael Quintero and Felix Rodriguez as the two Cuban-Americans mentioned by Hasenfus. It gradually emerged that Clines, North, Wilson and Secord were also involved in this conspiracy to provide arms to the Contras.

On December 12, 1986, Daniel Sheehan submitted to the court an affidavit detailing the Irangate scandal. He also claimed that Shackley and Clines were running a private assassination program that had evolved from projects they ran while working for the CIA. Others named as being part of this assassination team included Quintero, Secord, Rodriguez and Albert Hakim. It later emerged that Wheaton and Jenkins were the two main sources for this affidavit.[2][3]


Shackley died from cancer at his home in Bethesda, Maryland.[1]


  1. ^ a b Stout, David (December 14, 2002). "Theodore Shackley, Enigmatic C.I.A. Official, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Senate Report No. 216, Iran Contra Investigation, Appendix B, Volume 25, Depositions
  3. ^ a b Institute, Christic. Inside the Shadow Government. Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1988. Print.
  4. ^ General Bruce Palmer, Jr., US Intelligence and Vietnam. Special Issue: Studies in Intelligence. Central Intelligence Agency: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1984. Also see Harold P. Ford, CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968. Central Intelligence Agency: Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999. For the estimates themselves see John K. Allen, Jr., et. al, eds. Estimative Products on Vietnam, 1948-1975 (NIC 2005-03). Director of National Intelligence: National Intelligence Council, 2005
  5. ^ Victor B. Anthony and Richard P. Sexton, The War in Northern Laos, 1954-1973. Washington: Office of Air Force History, 1993. Posted in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 248, "Fighting the War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973," April 9, 2008.
  6. ^ John Prados, Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 105-131. A paperback edition of this book will be published in the fall of 2009 by University Press of Kansas under the title William Colby and the CIA. For the role of President Kennedy see National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book no. 101, "JFK and the Diem Coup," November 5, 2003 (Archive website). For a different view see Howard Jones, Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  7. ^ The legacy of Ted Shackley


  • Ted Shackley and Richard A. Finney (1992). Spymaster: my life in the CIA. Potomac Books ISBN 1-57488-915-X.
  • Theodore Shackley: The Third Option: An American View of Counter-insurgency Operations McGraw-Hill, (1981) ISBN 0-07-056382-9
  • David Corn: Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades (1994). ISBN 0-671-69525-8

External links[edit]

The Edwin Wilson Affair

United States intervention in Chile