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Harry Howe Ransom, CIA expert, has died

by Jan. 31, 2014, 3:51 PM

Harry Howe Ransom and Nancy Ransom (Vanderbilt University)

Harry Howe Ransom, a leading authority on the intelligence community in the United States, died Jan. 28 at home. He was 91.

Ransom wrote often about the balancing act between the need for security and the importance of liberty and was a leading critic of the politicization of intelligence. His books included Central Intelligence and National Security, Can American Democracy Survive Cold War? and The Intelligence Establishment.

“He was one of the reasons I came to Vanderbilt,” said Donald Hancock, Vanderbilt professor of political science, emeritus. “I knew him by reputation before I moved to Vanderbilt. He was the proverbial gentleman and scholar.”

Ransom was a native of Nashville who earned his bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt in 1943. Receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1954, he held teaching and research positions at Princeton, Vassar, Michigan State and Harvard before returning to Vanderbilt as an associate professor in 1961. He was chair of the political science department from 1969 to 1974.

“When he was department chair in the 1970s, he made a real effort to hire women,” said Erwin Hargrove, Vanderbilt professor of political science, emeritus. “He was a good friend to lots of people.”

During his 26 years as a faculty member, Ransom spent time as chair of the Faculty Senate and directed the Vanderbilt-in-England program. He served as a consultant to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1975 to 1976.

In addition to intelligence, Ransom studied American foreign policy, American government and defense policy-making. During his retirement, he remained engaged in public life, writing and publishing opinion pieces and letters to the editor in local and national publications on occasion, mostly on issues involving the intelligence community.

Survivors include his wife, Nancy A. Ransom, former director of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center at Vanderbilt; daughter Katherine Marie Ransom; daughter Jenny Alderman Ransom; and son William Henry Howe Ransom. Plans for a memorial service were pending.