30 years after his abduction, CIA remembers Agency hero William Buckley

William F. Buckley
William F. Buckley

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is commemorating the life of William Buckley, a legendary Agency officer who died after enduring 14 months in terrorist custody, explains a news article posted on the CIA’s Web site on March 14.

Sunday, March 16, marks the 30th anniversary of Buckley’s abduction in Beirut, Lebanon, which set off one of the most grueling periods in CIA history.

“His legacy of bravery and resolve has inspired Agency officers who have followed in his footsteps,” says the article.

“We remember Bill not for the manner in which he died but for the legacy he left behind,” said CIA Director John Brennan. “From his time as an Army Lieutenant Colonel to his tenure with the Agency, Bill inspired those around him to do great things despite often dangerous conditions.”

Buckley joined the CIA after distinguishing himself during the Korean War as Company Commander with the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division. His heroism was on full display when he captured a North Korean machine gun nest, an act of valor that earned him a Silver Star. His military valor also earned him two Purple Hearts, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and a Combat Infantry Badge, among other awards.

Elements of Buckley’s CIA tenure remain classified, but he was one of the first Agency officers to grasp the growing threat from international terrorism. In the late 1970s, for example, Buckley helped develop the Incident Response Team and the Counterterrorism Group, the forerunner to today’s Counterterrorism Center. His assignments took him around the globe, as there was no mission that Buckley would turn down.

It came as no surprise to Buckley’s colleagues that he volunteered to serve as the CIA Station Chief in Lebanon following the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing, the deadliest attack in CIA history. Underscoring his bravery, Buckley did so acutely aware of Beirut’s high threat environment, which had included credible threats against other U.S. officials posted there.

Buckley immediately brought energy and focus to the primary mission: countering the terrorists that had taken the lives of several CIA colleagues as well as their State Department and military counterparts, the CIA article recalled.

It was in the service of this mission on a clear morning 30 years ago that Islamic Jihad operatives kidnapped Buckley while he was en route to work. Despite a government-wide rescue effort, Buckley died in captivity in June 1985.

The CIA that year held a memorial service and honored him with a star on the Memorial Wall and with the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, the highest CIA honor. In 1988, Buckley was symbolically laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, and his remains were returned to the U.S. in 1991.

“Despite the passage of time, Bill’s spirit lives on in our workforce,” Brennan continued. “Those of us who knew Bill were fortunate enough to witness his courage firsthand, but his legend is one that continues to captivate and inspire a younger generation of officers.”