CIA whistle-blower Philip Agee dies in Cuba

HAVANA Wed Jan 9, 2008 3:40pm EST

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Philip Agee, a former CIA agent who exposed its undercover operations in Latin America in a 1975 book, died in Havana, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma said on Wednesday.

Agee, 72, died on Monday night, the newspaper said, calling him a "loyal friend of Cuba and staunch defender of the peoples' struggle for a better world."

His widow, German ballet dancer Giselle Roberge, told friends he had been in hospital since December 15 and did not survive surgery for perforated ulcers.

Agee worked for the CIA for 12 years in Washington, Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico. He resigned in 1968 in disagreement with U.S. support for military dictatorships in Latin America and became one of the first to blow the whistle on the CIA's activities around the world.

His expose "Inside the Company: CIA Diary" revealed the names of dozens of agents working undercover in Latin America and elsewhere in the world. It was published in 27 languages.

The CIA declined to comment on his death.

Florida-born Agee said working as a case officer in South America opened his eyes to the CIA's Cold War goal in the region: to prop up traditional elites against perceived leftist threats through political repression and torture.

"It was a time in the 70s when the worst imaginable horrors were going on in Latin America -- Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador -- they were military dictatorships with death squads, all with the backing of the CIA and the U.S. government," he told the British newspaper The Guardian in an interview published last year.

"That was what motivated me to name all the names and work with journalists who were interested in knowing just who the CIA were in their countries," he said.

U.S. CALLED HIM TRAITOR

The U.S. government called Agee a traitor and said some of the agents he exposed were murdered, an allegation he rejected.

Agee went to live in London but was deported by Britain in 1976 at the request of then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The U.S. government revoked his passport three years later, saying he was a threat to national security.

Barbara Bush, the wife of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who was CIA director in 1976, blamed Agee in her memoirs for the murder of the Athens station chief, Richard Welsh, in 1975. Agee denied any connection and sued her for $4 million, forcing her to revise the book to settle the libel case.

In his autobiography "On the Run," Agee detailed how he was hounded from five NATO countries, including the Netherlands, France and West Germany, after incurring the CIA's wrath. He said the agency sought to discredit him with accusations that he was a drunkard and a womanizer.

In 1980 he went to live in Grenada where the leftist government of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop granted him a passport and a haven until its fall in 1983.

Agee sought refuge in Fidel Castro's Cuba and lived between Havana and Hamburg after gaining German citizenship through marriage in 1990.

In 2000, Agee set up an online travel agency in Cuba catering to Americans willing to defy a U.S. travel ban and visit the Communist-run island. The business folded due to tighter enforcement of sanctions by President George W. Bush.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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