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FBI Veteran Sam Papich Was At Cold War's Center

By Mike Gallagher
Journal Investigative Reporter
    Sam Papich walked the halls of power in Washington, D.C., knew great secrets and operated among the spymasters of the Cold War. But at heart, he remained a humble miner's son from Butte, Mont.
    Sam Papich died Wednesday at his Albuquerque home while taking a nap after his morning walk. He was 90.
    Papich was best known in New Mexico as former director of the Governor's Organized Crime Prevention Commission.
    The 29-year FBI veteran whose name is footnoted in every major history of United States intelligence operations during the Cold War drove a Volkswagen Bug.
    "He drove that Volkswagen between FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., every day," his son Bill Papich recalled. "No one knows what secrets he carried in that car."
    "He died peacefully," Bill Papich said. "He loved to garden. He grew great tomatoes." He was also an avid fly fisherman who loved good barbecue, and a former professional football player.
    "He was a man of honor, integrity and humility," said retired UNM professor Peter Lupsha. "He moved with all the movers and shakers of the Cold War."
    Forrest Putman, retired special agent in charge of the Albuquerque FBI office, said Papich was a "legend" in the agency.
    He countered Japanese and Nazi spies in South America during World War II, operating undercover, running spy networks and learning Portuguese. After the war, he served as the legal attache at the U.S. Embassy in Brazil and supervised undercover agents in the pre-CIA days.
Building bridges
    But 20 of his 29 years with the FBI were spent as the bureau's liaison with various divisions within the CIA, an agency Papich's boss didn't like.
    Papich sat at the table with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and CIA directors Allen Dulles and Richard Helms.
    In recent years, Papich would recall that coordinating operations between a law enforcement agency and an agency responsible for foreign intelligence was as controversial during those years as it is in the post-9/11 era.
    Putman said Papich would "often have to carry difficult news to Mr. Hoover."
    In the early 1960s, the FBI was making a case against Chicago organized crime leader Sam Giancana. Papich was approached by CIA representatives who were working with Giancana in hopes of assassinating Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
    Papich was assigned by Hoover to keep an eye on the CIA operation, which became public in the mid-1970s when the U.S. Senate investigated the CIA.
    In 1963, he was involved in the investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, coordinating CIA information for FBI agents investigating Lee Harvey Oswald.
    Years later, he remained convinced that Oswald killed Kennedy on his own.
    As liaison to the CIA, Papich was often the referee in the secret battles between the agencies over which defectors from the Soviet Union were real and which were double agents.
No rest in retirement
    Upon retiring from the FBI in 1970, Papich served on the staff of the President's Foreign Advisory Board and later as a consultant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a worldwide assessment of Soviet intelligence deception.
    In 1973, Papich became the director of the Governor's Organized Crime Prevention Council, later renamed as a commission.
    Former Attorney General and Gov. Toney Anaya said Papich "certainly brought a new level of cooperation and coordination to fighting organized crime encroachment into the state."
    Anaya recalled that Papich brought to his attention the efforts of two brothers from Las Vegas with organized crime connections to buy horse racetracks in New Mexico.
    "We made it known publicly that we wouldn't let that happen and it didn't," Anaya said.
    John "Pete" Donohue, who worked for Papich at the crime commission, said Papich "always looked for new ways to get law enforcement agencies to cooperate. There were joint narcotics investigations, gambling investigations and sting operations that he was the driving force behind."
    The Legislature attempted to take away the commission's law enforcement powers during Papich's tenure. It led to a fight that Papich ultimately won with the help of then-Gov. Bruce King.
    "They attempted to make us a toothless organization," Donohue said. "Sam wouldn't stand for that."
Eye on domestic spying
    The commission went on to investigate drug trafficking, the liquor industry and other areas where organized criminals were active.
    Papich remained active in retirement.
    "He never lost interest in intelligence matters," Bill Papich said. "He communicated with hundreds of former agents."
    His major concern in the last few years was that terrorist threats would lead to domestic spying on Americans.
    "He was concerned with preserving constitutional rights in this new age," Bill Papich said.
    Papich is survived by his wife, Midge, son Bill and daughter Louise.
    No services are planned in Albuquerque. A private family service will be held later in Butte, Mont., at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church.
    Memorial contributions can be made to Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, Former Agents of the FBI Foundation, PO Box 1027, MCA Bldg., 715 Broadway Quantico, Va. 22134.