Warren Magnusson, CIA finance specialist
WASHINGTON - Warren D. Magnusson - whose CIA career as a finance specialist involved the covert payment of foreign agents, the recovery of buried gold in postwar Germany, and handling top-secret ledgers for stealth-plane development - died July 15 at a retirement community in Springfield, Va. He was 89 and had congestive heart failure.
Mr. Magnusson retired in 1979 as deputy director of finance, where he held the agency’s purse strings.
As comptroller, Mr. Magnusson took part in funding the development of the U2 spy plane and its supersonic successors, Lockheed’s A-12 and the SR-71 Blackbird.
Mr. Magnusson frequently met with Clarence “Kelly’’ Johnson, a top engineer in Lockheed’s experimental “Skunk Works’’ group. Mr. Magnusson traveled on several occasions to the government’s Nevada air test facility known as Area 51.
Built under the code name Project Oxcart, the A-12 and SR-71 spy planes were engineered to fly at extreme altitude at twice the speed of sound while collecting data. The SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft holds numerous speed records, including a New York-to-London flight of 1 hour and 54 minutes.
Retired CIA finance specialist Wheeler said that Mr. Magnusson had a leading role in the funding of Project Azorian, the agency’s secret mission to lift a sunken Russian submarine from the bottom of the ocean.
The ambitious endeavor to lift the 1,750-ton submarine and its four nuclear ballistic missiles called for the use of the Hughes Glomar Explorer salvage ship. In 1974, the CIA was able to recover parts of the Russian submarine at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. The mission failed, however, to bring up the Russian nuclear missiles.
Warren Douglas Magnusson was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He served aboard a Navy antisubmarine ship in the Atlantic during World War II.
Through a military colleague, he secured a spot in the Navy’s V-12 officer training program and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in finance in 1947.
He joined the CIA in 1951 and was sent to Japan during the Korean War. He was a finance officer in Frankfurt and helped acquire contracts to build a tunnel between East and West Berlin.
Wheeler said CIA headquarters tapped Mr. Magnusson to lead the operation to dig up hundreds of gold coins buried across Germany. They had been placed there by US intelligence personnel during World War II to aid downed pilots and allied troops evading capture.
Using tattered Army maps, Mr. Magnusson tracked down the metal boxes filled with gold.
Mr. Magnusson often ensured that clandestine CIA operations could not be traced back to the US government. He became an expert at camouflaging the agency’s paper trail to pay foreign spies and finance paramilitary operations overseas.
His family said that Mr. Magnusson’s work included exchanging currencies and precious metals on the black market and through Swiss banks.
Mr. Magnusson’s wife of 60 years, the former Flora “Betty’’ Mesheau, died in 2005. He leaves two children, Paul of Chevy Chase, Md., and Lori of McLean, Va., and two granddaughters.