Wes Pedersen, expert prognosticator for Foreign Service, dies at 91

WASHINGTON — Wes Pedersen, a former Foreign Service officer and US Information Agency writer who prided himself on forecasting world events with an acumen that eluded his higher-ups, died Dec. 4 at the Carriage Hill Bethesda (Md.) nursing home. He was 91.

The cause was a heart ailment, said his son, Eric.

As part of State Department propaganda operations during the Cold War, Mr. Pedersen covered the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China, penning pseudonymous columns planted in newspapers around the world. He boasted of beating intelligence analysts in discerning Kremlin developments, for example, just by analyzing Communist statements and Soviet broadcasts.

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Mr. Pedersen’s reportage — under such phony bylines as ‘‘Benjamin West’’ and ‘‘Paul Ford’’ — had wide reach. Some CIA competitors in the propaganda game grew envious.

‘‘In the mid-’50s, the CIA in Paris approached Lowell Bennett, the US Embassy’s press attache, requesting that he prevail on the USIA to stop distributing Ford. Why? Because French editors weren’t publishing the CIA’s similar column, but it might have a chance with Ford’s out of the way,’’ Mr. Pedersen wrote to The Washington Post in 2008. ‘‘Bennett, of course, said no.’’

After 30 years in government, Mr. Pedersen became communications director at the Public Affairs Council, a group of corporate and trade association public affairs executives. He worked there for 26 years.

At heart he was a writer — a witty wordsmith who never lacked for robust opinions. He peppered The Washington Post’s letters pages with missives on political history, martinis, and the misuse of words (never write ‘‘from whence,’’ he instructed, just ‘‘whence”).

Wesley Niels Munkholm Pedersen was born in South Sioux City, Neb. In the 1940s, he reported for the Sioux City Journal and served in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

After joining the federal government’s information apparatus in 1950, Mr. Pedersen covered major national and world events. He was on the site of the nuclear test at Yucca Flat, Nevada, and filed columns emphasizing ‘‘the openness of the test in contrast to the secret explosions conducted by the USSR,’’ he said in an autobiographical account he later wrote for the Public Affairs Council.

In 1963, he became head of a USIA publications program that churned out magazines and books. He wrote and edited ‘‘Legacy of a President,’’ which was published a year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the compilation of speeches and photos became an international bestseller.

Mr. Pedersen also oversaw photo-heavy biographies of Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, which required yielding to the subjects’ peculiar vanities.