Magazine article Insight on the News

The Strange Death of John Millis

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Strange Death of John Millis

Article excerpt

The staff director of the House Intelligence Committee killed himself in a seedy Fairfax, Va., motel. But there seems to be more to the story, and those in the know just aren't talking.

No one expected it. But, then, no one ever does. A suicide almost always is baffling, and the self-inflicted death of 47-year-old John Millis, the staff director of the House Intelligence Committee, was no exception. As Republican Rep. Porter Goss of Florida, the panel's chairman, said just hours after his aide shot himself on June 4 in a rundown Fairfax, Va., motel: "There are always more `whys' than there are answers when a tragedy like this occurs."

But in Millis' case the mystery surrounding his death has deepened -- partly as a result of the reluctance on the part of Goss and others in Congress and at the Central Intelligence Agency to respond to questions about the suicide that easily could be answered.

So far, no one in authority has been prepared even to explain why earlier this summer Millis was suspended with pay while under investigation by his own committee. Even that fact was not made public in the initial statements announcing the suicide and had to be wrested from Goss, who says he will not detail the reasons for the suspension.

Both as staff director of the House Intelligence Committee and as a former CIA operations officer, Millis was a key figure in the U.S. intelligence community, one who had access to the country's most sensitive secrets, including knowledge of ongoing covert actions. So when his death hit the news, the Washington rumor mill kicked into overdrive and speculation inside the Washington Beltway mounted as reporters and intelligence officers wondered if U.S. national security had been compromised.

Goss and CIA Director George Tenet moved quickly to assure their subordinates and the press that no damage had been done to U.S interests. No classified documents, for example, had been found in the motel room where Millis took his life with the blast of a shotgun (see sidebar, p. 15). And Goss insisted that the committee probe he had ordered into Millis in no way involved any breach of national security. The suicide was a private tragedy and should stay off-limits to the press, they maintained.

Reassured that there was no big story involved in the Millis death, few newspapers have shown much curiosity. The resultant lack of coverage contrasts with the flurry of reporting that came in the wake of the 1993 death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, Washington's last high-profile suicide.

Speaking to Insight, Goss insists there is no important public-interest story behind the Millis death and speaks of the pain that would be caused to Millis' wife, Linda, and his three children and two stepchildren by commenting publicly. "The tragedy is very obviously recent and traumatic and very hurtful to the family and I see no point in talking about a personal tragedy publicly when it causes that kind of harm and grief to the family," he says.

But some congressional and CIA sources say Goss has personal reasons to want the circumstances surrounding the suicide to be kept under wraps. While acknowledging there was no harm done to national security, they argue that Millis' death is deserving of public analysis if for no other reason than it might have been avoided. They contend that the congressman mishandled Millis before the suicide and that Goss, who has ambitions to succeed Tenet at the CIA in a George W. Bush administration, has no wish for his poor management to be advertised. Tenet also appears to have failed to act with alacrity when the first signs came of a problem with Millis.

In a bid to understand why the 47-year-old chose a lonely and horrifying end in a rundown motel on the outskirts of Washington, Insight has learned that Millis was beset by serious personal and professional problems. Despite the brave face he was putting on his difficulties, he was led almost inexorably to suicide, say friends and colleagues. …

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