Charles W. Thayer
Charles W. Thayer was an American diplomat and author. He was an expert on Soviet-American relations and headed the Voice of America.

Early years

Charles Wheeler Thayer was born in Villanova, Pennsylvania
Villanova, Pennsylvania
Villanova is a community in the United States Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It straddles Lower Merion Township of Montgomery County and Radnor Township of Delaware County. It is located at the center of the Pennsylvania Main Line, a series of highly affluent Philadelphia suburban towns located...

,, the son of George Chapman Thayer, a shipbuilding engineer, and Getrude May Wheleer Thayer. He attended St. Paul's School
St. Paul's School (Concord, New Hampshire)
St. Paul's School is a highly selective college-preparatory, coeducational boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The school is one of only six remaining 100% residential boarding schools in the U.S. The New Hampshire campus currently serves 533 students,...

 and the U.S. Military Academy
United States Military Academy
The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located at West Point, New York. The academy sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, north of New York City...

, where he played polo, and graduated in 1933. He served for a few months as a cavalry lieutenant.

Foreign Service career

Thayer went to the Soviet Union to study Russian and then won a position at the newly opened American embassy in Moscow, first as personal secretary to Ambassador William Bullitt, a friend of Thayer's father,and then as Embassy Secretary. He taught a group of Russian cavalrymen to play polo so the Americans and Soviets could play "a hard-fought, clean, friendly match." Another embassy official recalled his "youthful exuberance" and "ready wit."

His sister Avis Howard Thayer visited him during his Moscow posting and met Charles E. Bohlen
Charles E. Bohlen
Charles Eustis “Chip” Bohlen was a United States diplomat from 1929 to 1969 and Soviet expert, serving in Moscow before and during World War II, succeeding George F. Kennan as United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union , then ambassador to the Philippines , and to France...

, with whom Thayer was sharing an apartment. She later married Bohlen, who served as American Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1957.

Thayer became a Foreign Service office in 1937 after passing his exams.

Thayer was appointed chargé d'affaires in Kabul
Kabul , spelt Caubul in some classic literatures, is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. It is also the capital of the Kabul Province, located in the eastern section of Afghanistan...

, Afghanistan in 1942. He was assigned for a time to the Office of Strategic Services
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

 (OSS), forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in Belgrade.

He served in London on the European Advisors Committee that drafted the German terms of surrender at the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


Thayer attended the Naval War College for a year at the end of the war.

Following the war, he headed the OSS in Austria. He also served in 1946 on the Joint United States-Soviet Commission on Korea. Thayer played a key role in developing the secret Office of Policy Coordination
Office of Policy Coordination
The Office of Policy Coordination was a United States covert psychological operations and paramilitary action organization. Created as an independent office in 1948, it was merged with the Central Intelligence Agency in 1951....

, later merged the CIA, to counter and destabilize the Soviets, including its clandestine recruitment of former Nazis and collaborators for paramilitary operations.

Returning to the State Department, he served briefly as consul general in Munich before returning to the United States to direct the Department's International Broadcasting Division, later known as the Voice of America
Voice of America
Voice of America is the official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government. It is one of five civilian U.S. international broadcasters working under the umbrella of the Broadcasting Board of Governors . VOA provides a wide range of programming for broadcast on radio...

, in 1948-49. He developed an antagonistic relationship with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover when he complained publicly that the FBI's slow processing of security clearances was hampering the Division's staffing. Hoover's investigation of Thayer's secretary revealed that she had borne his child. The FBI pursued an investigation of Thayer, though he did not require a security clearance from the FBI, and found he was had "communist sympathy" and was "undoubtedly a homosexual." Hoover failed in two attempts in 1949 and 1950 to persuade other government agencies that Thayer posed a security risk.

Thayer married Cynthia Dunn Cochrane, a divorcée and the daughter of James Clement Dunn
James Clement Dunn
James Clement Dunn was an American diplomat and a career employee of the United States Department of State. He served as the Ambassador of the United States to Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil.-References:**...

, U.S. Ambassador to Italy, on March 28, 1950.

Thayer became fluent in Russian, French, German, Spanish, Serbian, Italian, Bulgarian, Slovene, and Persian.


Thayer held consular positions in Germany from 1949 to 1953. Beginning in 1950, when Thayer was serving as political liaison officer in the Bonn embassy, several anonymous letters denounced him to Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Senate allies as a Communist sympathizer with a history of financial profiteering and sexual immorality both homosexual and heterosexual. He was being protected, according to one of the anonymous sources, by allies in the State Department, especially his brother-in-law Charles Bohlen. Senate investigators used these letters and other documents obtained from a variety of government security investigations to target a series of government officials, starting with the forced resignation of Carmel Offie
Carmel Offie
Carmel Offie worked for the U.S. State Department from the mid 1930s until he joined the Central Intelligence Agency CIA in 1947...

 from the CIA in May 1950.

The evidence against Thayer collected by Senate investigators was based on "hostile gossip and speculation by Thayer's enemies, and premised on guilt by association." They learned, for example, that during his OSS service "Thayer was waited on regularly by a native Yugoslav waiter. named Marko, who was a known homosexual." Thayer's marriage to Maria Petrucci, the daughter of an Italian diplomat, lasted less than two years, which one informant attributed to homosexuality, though she later denied this. Thayer was a friend of Alexander Kirk
Alexander Comstock Kirk
Alexander Comstock Kirk was a United States diplomat.-Early years:Alexander Comstock Kirk was born in Chicago, Illinois, on November 26, 1888, the son of James Alexander Kirk and Clara Comstock . His family lived in Hartland, Wisconsin...

, a Foreign Service officer with a homosexual reputation who had retired in 1945, and others. Much of the impulse behind the investigations of political and sexual irregularities reflected resentment of the foreign policy establishment, their elite backgrounds, cosmopolitanism, and association with bohemians and the politically unorthodox.

Senate pressure forced the State Department to review Thayer's status. He returned from Germany to testify that "he had never performed a homosexual act." Though cleared, he remained under surveillance by the State Department's security division. When Thayer was moved to a new post in Munich and Senator Pat McCarran
Pat McCarran
Patrick Anthony McCarran was a Democratic United States Senator from Nevada from 1933 until 1954, and was noted for his strong anti-Communist stance.-Early life and career:...

 demanded a full report on his "experience, qualifications, moral character, and loyalty," the State Department waited a month to respond with a glowing report that included no qualifications. McCarthy renewed and expanded his attacks following Republican gains in the 1952 elections when the new Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
John Foster Dulles
John Foster Dulles served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959. He was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against communism throughout the world...

 decided to cooperate with Senate investigators.

Finally, at the end of March 1953, after much bureaucratic infighting, Thayer was forced to resign in order to win Senate confirmation of his brother-in-law Charles Bohlen as Ambassador to Russia. The Suddeutsche Zeitung regretted his departure and expressed concern that the effect on government operations of a "wave of McCarthyism...must be devastating."

Later years

Thayer moved to Majorca to live inexpensively beyond the reach of Senate subpoenas. He found some employment opportunities blocked and blamed State Department security officials, though the FBI was responsible. He joked in his diary that "under Stalin you went to Siberia, under Hitler to Dachau or Buchenwald but under McCarthy to Majorca, which counts as progress." He tried without success to have his State Department file amended to make it clear that he resigned because he had a heterosexual affair while married. To support Thayer, his father-in-law, James Dunn
James Clement Dunn
James Clement Dunn was an American diplomat and a career employee of the United States Department of State. He served as the Ambassador of the United States to Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil.-References:**...

, refused an appointment as Ambassador to Brazil. Thayer wrote but did not publish an autobiographical novel based on his experiences as a victim of McCarthyism
McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

 and the purge of homosexuals from government service
Lavender scare
The Lavender Scare refers to the fear and persecution of homosexuals in the 1950s in the United States, which paralleled the anti-communist campaign known as McCarthyism....


In 1959, he accompanied W. Averell Harriman, who was reporting for a newspaper syndicate, on a 6-week tour of the Soviet Union,

Thayer wrote several works reflecting his experiences in government service:
    • Bears in the Caviar (1951)
    • Hands Across the Caviar (1953)
    • Unquiet Germans (1957)
    • Diplomat (1959)
    • Moscow Interlude (1962)
    • Guerilla (1963)
    • Checkpoint (1964)

He also wrote a book about his mother, Muzzy (1966).

Thayer and his wife Cynthia had a son James.

In retirement Thayer and his wife lived half the year in Villanova and half the year outside of Munich. He later divided his time between homes in Philadelphia and Salzburg
-Population development:In 1935, the population significantly increased when Salzburg absorbed adjacent municipalities. After World War II, numerous refugees found a new home in the city. New residential space was created for American soldiers of the postwar Occupation, and could be used for...

, Austria.

Thayer died during a heart operation in Salzburg, Austria, on August 27, 1969.


  • Political Graveyard: U.S. Vice Consul in Moscow 1937 1940; U.S. Vice Consul in Berlin 1937-1938; U.S. Vice Consul in Hamburg 1939-1940; U.S. Vice Consul in Kabul 1943; U.S. Consul General in Munich 1952-1953
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