Pforzheimer, Walter Lionel

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Pforzheimer, Walter Lionel

(b. August 1914 in Purchase, New York; d. 10 February 2003 in Washington, D.C.), lawyer, World War II veteran, and bibliophile, best known as one of the founders and greatest supporters of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Very little is known about Pforzheimer’s early life, including the exact day of his birth. But just like his father, Walter Pforzheimer, Sr., and his father’s brother, Carl, Pforzheimer had a penchant for collecting rare manuscripts and books. This became evident at a very young age, when he seriously began collecting first editions of the American writer and humorist Frank R. Stockton’s works by the time he was in secondary school. In addition, he inherited his ancestors’ discerning eye for being able to determine what would or what would not become valuable.

Pforzheimer began attending Yale College in 1932, graduating in 1935. During this time he organized the first undergraduate book club in his junior year and became the first undergraduate member of the Yale Library Associates. About two years later, while a student at the Yale Law School, Pforzheimer was elected to the Yale Library Associates’ governing board, becoming its youngest trustee. In 1938 Pforzheimer received his law degree.

After graduating from the Yale Law School and before enlisting in what was then known as the United States Army Air Corps (a precursor of the United States Air Force) and working under the chief of operational intelligence, Colonel Lewis W. Powell (later a Supreme Court justice), Pforzheimer helped organize a number of Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operations. He was assigned to a mission known as the “Yale Library Project,” for which he was to deliver $25,000 to a Yale professor working undercover for the OSS. After successfully completing this undertaking, he went overseas under the sponsorship of Colonel Huntington “Ting” Sheldon in 1942. It was at this time that Pforzheimer realized he had a flair for briefing senior officers. As a result, he was asked to help them understand their jobs more fully. In addition to this service, and also as a result of his extraordinary judgment in determining the significance of certain documents that were retrieved from the defeated Luftwaffe in Germany, Pforzheimer was awarded a Bronze Star.

In 1946 Pforzheimer was recruited by a friend into the Central Intelligence Group (CIG). The CIG was a successor to the OSS and a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and became part of the CIA in 1947. As a World War II veteran and as the junior member of the law firm of Houston, Warner, and Pforzheimer, he became the agency’s first legislative counsel, serving as the liaison between Congress and the CIA until 1956. He also assisted in crafting the National Security Act of 1947, which essentially permitted the development of the CIA. In addition, he helped to create the legislative charter of 1949 that provided both the legal authority for the CIA to conduct international covert operations and its budget, which should have been provided several years earlier.

In 1950 Pforzheimer acquired an item for his rare manuscript collection that would forever change his life. It was a letter written on 26 July 1777 by then General George Washington, revealing his thoughts about the significance of intelligence during the American Revolution. Pforzheimer took Washington’s words to heart, “The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urged.” After about a decade of service to the agency, at the request of the director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, Pforzheimer founded the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection and was named its first curator. For approximately the next eighteen years, he continued to be its guiding force, dedicating his life to the preservation of the available literature in the field of intelligence.

Although Pforzheimer never married, he was known as of 1966 to have a long-term partner, Alice D’Angelo, who also served as his attendant. The origin of his nickname, “OGO,” an acronym for “Oh Great One,” has been attributed to her. Although Pforzheimer lived alone, he kept two apartments at the Watergate in Washington. One was for himself and the other was for his vast collection of books, intelligence artifacts, and legal documents.

In 1972 Pforzheimer compiled the “Bibliography of Intelligence Literature.” By the time of his retirement two years later, the Historical Intelligence Collection of the CIA had developed into the largest professional intelligence collection in the world, with over 22,000 volumes. Although Pforzheimer formally retired in 1974, he remained a presence in the CIA until the end of the century. During that time he continued to make additions to the Historical Intelligence Collection, to use his expertise to help young intelligence officers, and to spend time with other retired officers. He was especially pleased in the 1980s by the increasing interest in the professional aspects of intelligence—with many individuals becoming involved in academic and journal writing in the field. In September 1997, in ceremonies marking the fiftieth anniversary of the CIA, Pforzheimer was one of fifty individuals honored with a CIA Trailblazer Award.

Throughout his life Pforzheimer held a special place in his heart for his alma mater, Yale. In 2000, to show his appreciation, he donated a large collection of works (both from his own extensive assortment of first editions of Frank R. Stockton, among others, as well as from his father’s Molière collection—considered one of the finest outside France) to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale. According to Vincent Giroud, the curator of modern books and manuscripts, who knew Pforzheimer personally, this gift was “one of the largest and most important” in the library’s history. Not surprisingly, Pforzheimer became the Yale Library Associates longest-serving trustee as well. Pforzheimer died at the age of eighty-eight at his home in Washington, D.C., after a lengthy illness. He had no immediate relatives.

Pforzheimer will always be remembered as “one of the CIA’s founding fathers and enduring legends,” according to his friend, the CIA director George J. Tenet. He was an energetic and vibrant man; a fine and loyal friend; a sometimes “tough taskmaster” with a kind and generous heart; and a “trailblazer” in more ways than one.

For further information about Pforzheimer’s life and career, see Hayden B. Peake and Samuel Halpern, eds., In the Name of Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Walter Pforzheimer (1994); William Nolte, “Interviewing an Intelligence Icon: Walter Pforzheimer Reminisces,” Studies in Intelligence 10 (Winter–Spring 2001): 39–47; and “Alumnus’ Donation of Books to Library Includes Extensive Collection of Molière,” Yale Bulletin and Calendar 29, no. 26 (13 Apr. 2001). Dr. Timothy Naftali’s tribute to Pforzheimer at a memorial service on 11 March 2003 was published as “In Memoriam: Celebrating the Life of Walter Pforzheimer” in Studies in Intelligence 47, no. 3 (2003). Obituaries are in the Washington Post (12 Feb. 2003), Yale Daily News (14 Feb. 2003), and New York Times (16 Feb. 2003).

Adriana C. Tomasino