Former USIA Chief, Lyndon Johnson Confidant Leonard Marks Dies

Leonard H. Marks, 90, a communications lawyer who headed the U.S. Information Agency during the Vietnam war and promoted freedom of the press issues, died Aug. 11. He had Parkinson's disease.

Marks was a trusted figure in President Lyndon B. Johnson's inner circle and a top fundraiser during his bids for the White House, said The Washington Post, which reported Marks' death.

During his three years at USIA Marks oversaw a $178 million operation that published magazines in dozens of languages , distributed hundreds of films and documentaries and beamed pro-American news abroad through the Voice of America.

He also became a member of the National Security Council during the Vietnam war and sat in on discussions involving top-level generals and policy-makers. The Post said he implemented an unusual plan to explain U.S. policy to the Vietnamese.

Marks wrote in his 2004 memoir "The President Is Calling" that "the Vietnamese household was well served with with gossip and information when the women gathered each morning at the fish market and swapped stories about local events.

"At the suggestion of one of our employees, I retained the services of talented storytellers, who, each day would compose stories describing the issues in the Vietnamese conflict and report on the progress being made in repulsing the communist invaders."

An advocate of public diplomacy, Marks said one of the highlights of his career at USIA was starting a cross-cultural exchange program with Egypt to challenge the pan-Arab nationalism of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Under the program, six prominent Egyptians came to the United States, traveled freely and met with whomever they chose. The visit ended in Washington with meetings with Johnson and other top officials.

One of the visitors was Anwar Sadat, a future Egyptian president, who led his country away from Soviet economic and military ties and allied himself with the West.

After his USIA years, he was a member of several international communications advisory panels.

He was also president of the International Rescue Committee, which helped thousands of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s.

As treasurer of the Word Press Freedom Committee, Marks helped combat efforts at UNESCO in the 1980s to license journalists and fought "insult laws" that brought jail terms for journalists who insulted national leaders.