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CIA agent Stephen Barrett Tanner

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Stephen Barrett Tanner died peacefully on June 20, 2016, in St. Johnsbury.

He was born on November 4, 1922, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to parents William Maddox Tanner and Daisy Barrett Tanner, both from Texas.

While he was a student at Yale University, majoring in German literature, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in March of 1943. He served in the Army Signal Intelligence Corps and participated in the Italian campaign of World War II. His fluency in both German and Italian were instrumental in decoding and translating radio transmissions intercepted by his unit from German forces.

At the end of the war he hunted for, arrested, and interrogated German officers and Nazi collaborators. He then returned to Yale to complete his degree and, while there, he taught two courses in Italian. Upon graduation, he was recruited by, and joined, the CIA. He was an able and successful Cold War warrior, focusing his many talents on gaining intelligence about the Soviet Union. When living overseas his cover was the U.S. Department of State, which meant that he had to do two jobs at the same time, the regular work of a Foreign Service employee plus his job for the CIA.

After retiring from the government, he worked as a consultant for various American and European companies doing business abroad. He also briefly became a professional tennis teacher and wrote and published several books of humor.

The time he spent as a high school student at the Putney School in Putney was a very important, formative time of his life. His love for the school and devotion to fund-raising never wavered throughout his adult life. He also attended the Middlebury College Summer Language School, where he met a student whose family owned a summer place on the shores of Willoughby Lake in Westmore — it was love at first sight!

On June 7, 1947, he and Anne Wallis Swift were married in Princeton, New Jersey.

In later life his favorite sport was tennis, but as a young man it was figure skating. He was a member of both the Cambridge and Boston skating clubs, and in 1940 he won the U.S. Junior Pairs Championship with skating partner Dorothy Glazier.

His favorite hobby was opera, particularly Italian opera, and he took singing lessons whenever he could. In his retirement years he became an avid impresario and was always organizing concerts, soirees, and other entertainments. He frequently used those events to raise money for various local causes — to help buy the North Beach of Willoughby Lake for the town of Westmore; to refurbish the kitchen of the Westmore Community Church Friendship Hall after it was damaged by fire; to establish the Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund; to provide scholarships for local children, and more. He felt that raising money to help others was his most important activity in his later years.

He is survived by his wife, Anne (Nancy) Tanner; his son Bruce Tanner; his daughter Kersten Tanner; his grandson William Tanner; and his granddaughter Kelly Tanner.

A memorial service, followed by interment of his ashes in the Lake View Cemetery in Westmore will begin at 2 p.m on Wednesday, July 27, at the Westmore Community Church, Westmore. Instead of flowers, a donation may be made in his memory to the Westmore Community Church, or the Putney School, in Putney.


The administrator of worldhistory.biz no longer accepts registration so I'm unclear who authored this work but much of the information comports with other sources.  https://www.worldhistory.biz/sundries/35355-a-rich-blind-man.html

A Rich Blind Man . . . 

. . . But in July 1949, under relentless pressure from the army, the CIA took over the Gehlen group. Housed in a former Nazi headquarters outside Munich, Gehlen welcomed dozens of prominent war criminals into his circle. As Helms and Sichel feared, the East German and Soviet intelligence services penetrated the Gehlen group at the highest levels. The worst of the moles surfaced long after the Gehlen group had transformed itself into the national intelligence service of West Germany. Gehlen's longtime chief of counterintelligence had been working for Moscow all along.

Steve Tanner, a young CIA officer based in Munich, said Gehlen had convinced American intelligence officers that he could run missions aimed at the heart of Soviet power. "And, given how hard it was for us," Tanner reflected, "it seemed idiotic not to try it."


Tanner was an army intelligence veteran fresh out of Yale, hired by Richard Helms in 1947, one of the first two hundred CIA officers sworn into service. In Munich, his assignment was to recruit agents to gather intelligence for the United States from behind the iron curtain.

Almost every major nationality from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had at least one self-important emigre group seeking help from the CIA in Munich and Frankfurt. Some of the men Tanner vetted as potential spies were Eastern Europeans who had sided with Germany against Russia. They included "people with fascist backgrounds trying to save their careers by becoming useful to the Americans," Tanner said, and he was wary of them. The non-Russians "hated the Russians violently," Tanner said, "and they were automatically on our side." Others who had fled the outlying republics of the Soviet Union exaggerated their power and influence. "These emigre groups, their main goal was to convince the U. S. government of their importance, and their ability to help the U. S. government, so that they would get support in one form or another," he said.

Lacking guidelines from Washington, Tanner wrote his own: to receive the CIA's support, the emigre groups had to be founded on native soil, not in a Munich coffeehouse. They had to have contact with antiSoviet groups in their home country. They should not be compromised by close collaboration with the Nazis. In December 1948, after a long and careful assessment. Tanner believed he had found a band of Ukrainians who deserved the CIA's backing. The group called itself the Supreme Council for the Liberation of the Ukraine. Its members in Munich served as political representatives of the fighters back home. The Supreme Council, Tanner reported to headquarters, was morally and politically sound.

Tanner spent the spring and summer of 1949 preparing to infiltrate his Ukrainians behind the iron curtain. The men had come out of the Carpathian Mountains as couriers months before, carrying messages from the Ukrainian underground written on thin sheets of paper folded into wads and sewn together. These scraps were seen as signs of a stalwart resistance movement that could provide intelligence on events in Ukraine and warning of a Soviet attack on Western Europe. Hopes were even higher at headquarters. The CIA believed that "the existence of this movement could have bearing on the course of an open conflict between the United States and the USSR."

Tanner hired a daredevil Hungarian air crew who had hijacked a Hungarian commercial airliner and flown it to Munich a few months earlier. General Wyman, the CIA's special-operations chief, formally approved the mission on July 26. Tanner supervised their training in Morse code and weaponry, planning to drop two of them back into their homeland so that the CIA could communicate with the partisans. But the CIA had no one in Munich with experience in parachuting agents behind enemy lines. Tanner finally found someone. "A Serbo-American colleague who had parachuted into Yugoslavia in World War Two taught my guys how to jump and land. And it was crazy! How can you do a backward somersault on impact with a carbine strapped to your side?" But that was the kind of operation that had made the OSS famous.

Tanner cautioned against great expectations. "We realized that in the woods of western Ukraine, they weren't liable to know what was on Stalin's mind, the big political issues," he said. "At least they could get documents, they could get pocket litter, clothing, shoes." To create a real network of spies inside the Soviet Union, the CIA would have to provide them with elements of disguise—the daily detritus of Soviet life. Even if the missions never produced much important intelligence. Tanner said, they would have strong symbolic value: "They showed Stalin that we weren't going to sit still. And that was important, because up 'til then we had done zilch as far as operations into his country."

On September 5, 1949, Tanner's men took off in a C-47 flown by the Hungarians who had hijacked their way into Munich. Singing a martial strain, they jumped into the darkness of the Carpathian night, landing near the city of Lvov. American intelligence had penetrated the Soviet Union.

The CIA history declassified in 2005 offers a terse summary of what happened next: "The Soviets quickly eliminated the agents."


The operation nevertheless set off a huge wave of enthusiasm at CIA headquarters. Wisner began drawing up plans to send more men to recruit networks of dissidents, create American-backed resistance forces, and send the White House early warning of a Soviet military attack. The CIA dispatched dozens of Ukrainian agents by air and by land. Almost every one was captured. Soviet intelligence officers used the prisoners to feed back disinformation—all's well, send more guns, more money, more men. Then they killed them. After five years of "abortive missions," the agency's history states, "CIA discontinued this approach."

"In the long run," it concludes, "the Agency's effort to penetrate the Iron Curtain using Ukrainian agents was ill-fated and tragic."

Wisner was undaunted. He started new paramilitary adventures all over Europe.

Edited by Leslie Sharp
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