Dr. Lansing H. Bennett, a 13-year CIA employee, was frequently lauded by supervisors and colleagues throughout the Agency and Intelligence Community for his dedication, passion, and incredible perseverance in the medical field. Lansing often served in extremely difficult locations around the globe, and he was known as a consummate clinician. In addition to his military and Agency service, Lansing made outstanding contributions toward land conservation as well as public health in underserved communities.
Dr. Bennett was killed in January 1993 while on his way to work at CIA Headquarters. As Lansing and other Agency employees sat in their cars waiting for a traffic light to change so that they could enter through the main gate of the Agency compound, a gunman opened fire on the stopped cars. In the car adjacent to Lansing’s, Frank Darling, an Agency communications officer, was also shot and killed. Three other people were wounded.
Lansing Bennett was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and moved with his family to Merchantville, New Jersey, where he attended his first 10 years of public school. He then attended the Mercersburg Pennsylvania Academy, where he participated in sports, literary clubs, and the school newspaper. He graduated cum laude from Mercersburg in 1944. While in high school he had summer jobs at ranches in Idaho and Utah.
Lansing entered Princeton University in June 1944, in the pre-med program. That December he volunteered for the US Marine Corps and took basic training at Parris Island. As a Marine he served at Camps Lejeune and Pendleton and spent 13 months in Guam. After his discharge, he became a Marine Corps reservist.
Lansing returned to Princeton in September 1946, graduating in June 1949, cum laude, with a BA in Biology. He was recalled by the Marine Corps to serve during the Korean War, but instead joined the Navy, accepting a commission as a Navy ensign.
Lansing entered Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in September 1950 and graduated in 1953 with a degree in medicine.
From Military to Medicine:
Armed with his newly minted medical degree and Naval reserve status as an ensign, Dr. Bennett served on active duty as an intern in 1953-1954 at the US Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He finished first in his class and was promoted to Lieutenant in the Naval Medical Corps reserve.
Starting in November 1954, Lansing ran a general medical practice, for two years in Topsfield, then he did the same for 23 years in Duxbury, Massachusetts. His practice included general medicine with substantial cardiopulmonary emphasis, surgical assistance, pediatrics, gynecology, and for a relatively brief time, obstetrics.
Dr. Bennett also developed skills in emergency medicine and underwater medicine. He was a member of the Undersea Medical Society for several years, and he had a strong interest in diving medicine both as a certified diver and physician.
He also enjoyed sailing his frostbite dinghy for winter sailing and his 38-foot yawl along the coast of Maine. In addition, Lansing was an excellent skier, swimmer, amateur archeologist and numismatist (collector of coin and paper currency).
Dr. Bennett’s strong interest in patient care was reflected in his volunteer stints at St. Jude’s Hospital in St. Lucia, West Indies, the US Public Health Indian Hospital in Winslow, Arizona, and the Darbonne Mission in Haiti, where he taught himself the basics of Creole language.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Dr. Bennett served as Chairman of the Duxbury Conservation Commission and secured more than 1,200 acres of conservation land and the passage of the Duxbury Wetlands Protection Bylaw. In honor of his outstanding achievement, 344 acres were dedicated as the Lansing Bennett Forest.
Life at CIA:
After responding to an ad placed by the Agency in a medical journal, Dr. Bennett joined the Central Intelligence Agency in January 1980 as a Medical Officer in the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS).
At the time that his application with the Agency was pending, the US Air Force was also pursuing him, offering him a commission as a Lt. Colonel in the medical corps with a possible first assignment to the United Kingdom. This arrangement was attractive to Dr. Bennett, especially when considering the positive effect of his previous military service on his Air Force salary.
It was nip-and-tuck as to which organization he would select.
He chose to join the Agency’s Office of Medical Services. Friends said he based his decision on the wide variety of overseas assignment opportunities he envisioned in the Agency and the intrigue of providing medical support to operations.
After a brief period of training and orientation, Dr. Bennett’s first assignment with OMS was in 1980 as the Regional Medical Officer (RMO) for Asia. His first wife traveled with him.
In this position he was responsible for providing medical care to CIA, some military, and some state department employees and their dependents throughout the region.
During his tour, the White House officially commended Dr. Bennett for his planning and medical support for a visit to the region by then-President Reagan. Upon completion of his tour of duty, Lansing served a two-year tour as regional medical officer in Europe.
Back at Headquarters:
In the fall of 1986, following his overseas tours, Dr. Bennett returned to CIA Headquarters. This was a busy period for both OMS and Dr. Bennett.
During his first year back at HQs, Lansing was frequently away on temporary duty assignments overseas, including two stays in Africa: hardship posts where he filled in for Agency doctors who were away for extended periods.
During his time as a staff physician, Dr. Bennett handled a large patient load with a taxing array of complicated clinical problems. These challenges included dealing with emergency situations, medical evacuations from overseas posts, and assessing employees’ fitness for duty and medical disability retirement assessments. He also participated in special studies and projects. For example, he researched and wrote an extensive medical newsletter on mammography, as well as one on AIDS that drew praise from the DCI. The AIDS newsletter was considered by many who read it, including top medical professionals, to be one of the most comprehensive and effective documents on the subject of HIV infection and AIDS.
With the Agency’s core management courses under his belt, Dr. Bennett assumed the responsibilities of a branch chief starting in 1988. Among his notable accomplishments during this period was his leadership role in an ongoing examination of how best to deliver and integrate medical and psychological services to the Agency population. Lansing also developed comprehensive proposals for revamping the Agency’s periodic health examination system and the Agency’s policies for granting overseas medical clearances.
Dr. Bennett began a two-year tour in September 1989 as the regional medical officer in South America. He spent more than one-third of his time “medical-circuit-traveling.” Also noteworthy during this assignment was a trip to the heart of the Amazon jungle—an area of worldwide environmental attention and concern—where he assessed several medical facilities in anticipation of visits by high-level US Government personnel.
During his many overseas assignments, Lansing was repeatedly lauded by chiefs of station for his exceptional medical support, which was oftentimes extremely complicated and dangerous. Dr. Bennett’s OMS colleagues characterized him as a consummate clinician and praised his tireless research and writing on—and advocacy of—health promotion policies.
His Final Mission:
Lansing returned to the United States from South America in the fall of 1991. He was assigned to the VIP Medical Division in the Directorate of Intelligence (now the Directorate of Analysis), where, as a medical officer-analyst, he applied his extensive medical experience to writing assessments on key international leaders.
On Monday, January 25, 1993, at about 8:00am, a number of cars had stopped temporarily because of morning rush-hour traffic in the northbound, left-turn lanes on Route 123 at the main entrance to the Headquarters compound of the CIA. The cars had stopped at the red light and were waiting to turn onto the Agency compound.
With traffic unable to move, a lone gunman emerged from another vehicle, which he had stopped behind the other cars. The gunman, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, proceeded to move among the stopped vehicles, firing into them. Within seconds, Dr. Lansing Bennett and Frank Darling were killed and three others were wounded, one gravely. The gunman, a Pakistani national later identified as Aimal Kasi, fled the scene. In 1997, he was captured in Pakistan and returned to the US, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Kasi was executed on November 14, 2002.
Honoring His Service:
Dr. Lansing H. Bennett was 66 years old when he was killed. He was survived by his second wife, his first wife, and four children. Lansing was posthumously awarded the Agency’s Intelligence Commendation Medal in recognition of his distinguished service to the Central Intelligence Agency.
On May 24, 2002, Agency officers dedicated the Route 123 Memorial to our two fallen colleagues. The Memorial is located on the west side of the Virginia Route 123 entrance (alongside the outbound right lane). It includes a walkway leading to a 9-foot by 3-foot granite wall. Benches dedicated to Lansing Bennett and Frank Darling face each other in front of the granite wall.