Amazing Investigation: How a Real Life James Bond Got Whacked by a Bag Lady Assassin
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Kuhlmann has chronicled everything he knows about Deak’s murder in a file cabinet full of notes for a book with the working title “The Betrayal of Nicholas Deak.” He says that he’s sitting on some of his material until certain implicated individuals have died. But the evidence Kuhlmann is willing to discuss — as well as information newly uncovered by Salon — provides ballast for the doubts of Kuhlmann and others that chance led a crazy woman to whack Nick Deak, once a towering figure on Wall Street and at the CIA.
So if the gods of chance and the demons of the mad did not send a mentally ill homeless woman to murder a giant of Cold War covert ops, who did?
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If Nicholas Deak had never existed, Graham Greene would have tried — and failed — to invent him. Born and raised in Transylvania during the last decade of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Deak received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Neuchâtel in 1929 and held posts with the Hungarian Trade Institute and London’s Overseas Bank before taking a post in the economics department of the League of Nations shortly before World War II. He fled Europe for the United States in 1939, enlisted as a paratrooper in 1942, and was quickly recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime precursor to the CIA. Among his first assignments was developing a plan to parachute oil executives disguised as Romanian firefighters into the Balkans to sabotage Axis energy supply lines. (Sadly, it was never implemented.) He spent the final year of the war in Burma, where he recruited locals into guerrilla units to fight the Japanese occupation. Japan’s Burmese commander would surrender his samurai sword to Deak at the end of the war, a memento Deak later kept in his Scarsdale, N.Y., attic.
Following V-Day, Deak was stationed in Hanoi and headed U.S. intelligence operations in French Indochina. He assisted with the supply of weapons to French colonial forces and in dispatches to Washington recommended sending unofficial U.S. “advisers” into combat missions, helping set the course for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. His close colleagues at the OSS included future CIA directors William Casey and William Colby, as well as CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton.
Deak was a unique talent at a unique time in American history. With Europe in ruins, the country emerged from the war as a true global power in need of imperial know-how. Within the ranks of the OSS, Deak stood out. The blue-blood Yalies that dominated the agency had little experience in global affairs and even less in global finance. And so they turned to the cosmopolitan half-Jewish foreigner to help move the nascent empire’s money around the strategic chessboard. Soon after the war ended, the American government provided the funds to found Deak and Co., a front that began as a global flower-distribution business in Hilo, Hawaii. It soon evolved into a proper bank with growing legitimate business as a broker of foreign currencies with branch offices all over the world, from Beirut to Buenos Aires. In the days of strict global capital controls, when banking was duller and more predictable, Deak’s firm attracted top talent and ambitious finance mavericks with its reputation as one of the most exciting white shoe firms on Wall Street.
But the company’s most important client was always the CIA. From its founding until the late 1970s, Deak’s firm was a key financial arm of the U.S. intelligence complex. Because it carried out the foreign-currency transactions of private entities, Deak and Co. could keep track of who was spiriting money into and out of which countries.