Walter L. Pforzheimer ’35 LAW ’38, a World War II veteran who helped found the Central Intelligence Agency, died Monday after a lengthy illness. He was 88.
During World War II, Pforzheimer organized several operations for the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA, and worked in Air Force Intelligence. After the war, Pforzheimer helped write the National Security Act of 1947, which formed the CIA. CIA director George Tenet called him on Tuesday “one of CIA’s founding fathers and enduring legends.”
“He promoted the cooperation between intelligence professionals and legislators that has sustained and strengthened the agency and the intelligence community,” Tenet said in a statement.
Pforzheimer began his intelligence work on a mission called the Yale Library Project, and remained involved with the University as a Yale Library Trustee. In 2000, he donated a large collection of works to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Pforzheimer’s earliest work in intelligence was linked to Yale through a secret OSS operation called the Yale Library Project.
According to a book by Yale professor Robin Winks, in 1942 Pforzheimer delivered $25,000 to a Yale professor who was working on a covert mission for the OSS. The professor, Joe Curtiss, was sent to gather information for American intelligence offices. As a cover, Curtiss claimed to be traveling to Europe to buy war literature for the Yale library’s prodigious military collection.
In his role as the CIA’s first legislative counsel, Pforzheimer served as a liaison between Congress and the CIA. Later, Pforzheimer founded the Historical Intelligence Collection, which is considered one of the best sources for intelligence information in the world. It includes original documents from the Dreyfus Affair and a letter from George Washington on the importance of intelligence in warfare.
Outside of his work for the CIA, Pforzheimer had a keen interest in book collecting, said Vincent Giroud, curator of modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke library. Pforzheimer’s father passed down to his son a large collection of Moliere and French armorial bindings — books bound specially for kings, churchmen and nobles.
In the fall of 2000, Pforzheimer donated the Moliere works and the bindings to Yale’s Beinecke library. He also gave his collection of works by the short-story writer and novelist Frank Stockton. The most celebrated pieces of the Pforzheimer collection are bindings from the sixteenth-century bibliophile Jean Grolier, Giroud said.
Giroud said the Pforzheimer donation was one of the largest and most important gifts ever given to the Yale library. He said the Moliere collection was the finest outside of France. Giroud said Pforzheimer, who he knew personally, remained devoted to Yale throughout his life.
“Pforzheimer was marvelous,” Giroud said. “He had a strong personality and was full of energy.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.