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The People of the CIA ... Walter Pforzheimer

The mission of the Central Intelligence Agency has always attracted Americans of extraordinary talent and dedication. One such officer was Walter Pforzheimer.

Considered a founding father of CIA, he served as its first legislative counsel and first curator of its Historical Intelligence Collection.

A legendary figure in the study and teaching of intelligence, his legacy—books, papers, artifacts, and, most important of all, an unsurpassed devotion to the profession—lives on at the Agency.

Becoming an Intelligence Officer

Walter Pforzheimer was born in Port Chester, N.Y., on August 15, 1914.

Pforzheimer went to Yale in 1931, and upon graduation, received from his father—who was known as a collector of French and English literature—his own personal library.

Pforzheimer’s love of history and books proved formative later in his life.

After graduating from Yale Law School, he briefly entered into business and then, like so many other Americans, answered his country's call to service in World War II by joining the Army Air Forces.

While finishing Officer Candidate School, he was approached by a young officer he had never seen before. The man asked Pforzheimer if he'd like to go into the intelligence business. As Profzheimer recalled, "Beats digging ditches, I supposed, and so I did."

Pforzheimer would be involved with the operations of a new intelligence organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

He was asked to get money to a professor traveling abroad, and used his alma mater and the Yale Library Project—a program to buy publications—as a cover.

In addition to his work for the OSS, Pforzheimer served with Army Air Force Intelligence.

In Germany, he helped airmen decipher documents captured from the Luftwaffe. He earned a Bronze Star for his efforts.

Working with Congress

After the war, President Harry S. Truman dissolved the OSS, creating the Central Intelligence Group in its stead. Pforzheimer was asked to be the new unit's first liaison officer with Congress.

He went on to play a major part in drafting and securing passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which established, among many other things, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Pforzheimer then became the CIA's first Legislative Counsel. During his decade in that role, he helped build a strong, productive relationship with Congress.

Creating the Historical Intelligence Collection

In 1956, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles asked Pforzheimer to establish a Historical Intelligence Collection and act as its curator. With his love for intelligence and literature, he was the perfect choice for the job.

The purpose of the Collection was to educate intelligence professionals about the development of their tradecraft.

Working until his retirement in 1974, Pforzheimer assembled the world's largest body of intelligence literature—over 22,000 volumes.

Walter Pforzheimer and DCI George Tenet at CIA's 50th anniversary celebration, 2007.

Honoring a Legend

After retiring, Pforzheimer taught courses in intelligence literature at the Defense Intelligence College.

In September 1997—during a celebration of the 50th anniversary of CIA—he was recognized as a “CIA Trailblazer.”

A handful of Agency officers or units are awarded as Trailblazers each year, acknowledging their lasting contribution to the CIA and role in helping move the Agency in important new directions.

Pforzheimer died on February 10, 2003, at his home in Washington.

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Posted: Aug 26, 2011 09:07 AM
Last Updated: Jun 06, 2017 07:30 PM