High finance gives way to espionage Change: In what he RTC calls his final interview,'Buzzy' Krongard explains why moving from Alex. Brown to the CIA isn't such a long step.

February 01, 1998|By Bill Atkinson and Greg Schneider | Bill Atkinson and Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

Tomorrow morning, Buzzy Krongard disappears.

"Take good notes, 'cause this is the last interview I'm ever gonna give," the 61-year-old investment banker said last week, reclining in an easy chair, Cuban cigar pointed straight at the ceiling.

The Baltimore native has walked away from a lucrative job as vice chairman of Bankers Trust New York Corp., the parent of BT Alex. Brown Inc. and the seventh-largest bank in the country.

At an age when most executives contemplate retirement, Krongard is headed into the darkness, trading the cordial world of high finance for the intrigue of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Wait until the CIA gets a load of Buzzy Krongard.

The son of a middle-class suit-maker, Krongard once punched a great white shark in the jaw. He teased a moray eel with his fingers and has a cruel scar to prove it.

He is an accomplished martial artist who could kill a man as easily as he can break boards with his hands. He has dangerous fish in his basement, a meat carving set made from the shin bones of a boar, a shooting range on his 90-acre estate.

He collects only guns that he can use, and he has a small arsenal. He spends the occasional weekend training with a police SWAT team.

"The joke around here," said Alex. Brown colleague Richard Franyo, "is that he never really worked here all along. It was just a front."

Few at the company were all that surprised when Krongard announced Jan. 21 that he was leaving to take a newly created position as counselor to George Tenet, the director of the CIA.

Colleagues said Krongard has skills well-suited for the unique demands of the agency -- leadership, decisiveness, a sharp analytical mind, a bedrock sense of loyalty.

"If you were in trouble and you only had one phone call to make, Buzzy is the guy who you'd want to call," said Marc E. Lackritz, president of the Securities Industry Association in Washington.

What's more, Krongard has an unabashed patriotic fervor.

"He will do one heck of a job for the CIA," said Robert I. H. Hammerman, chief judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, who grew up with Krongard.

"He is a brilliant person, a brilliant organizer. It is the kind of thing Buzzy has been interested in all of his life."

As part of that interest, Krongard has cultivated a circle of friends in the upper reaches of the military and intelligence communities -- including, he says, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Tenet.

Krongard is guarded about how he met Tenet and how long he has known him: For "centuries," he deadpanned. He said it is not unusual for them to have lunch together, either at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., or in Washington.

It was about three months ago at a Washington restaurant, he said, that Tenet broached the subject of Krongard's coming aboard.

"We were talking," Krongard said. "It started as a lark, almost: 'Well, why don't you come down here and fix it?' "

Joining the agency was something Krongard had fantasized about, but never seriously thought he should bring up. He drew an analogy: "It's like high school, you want to ask the girl to the prom but you're afraid to ask."

But then it turns out, he said, she wanted you to ask all along.

Middle-class upbringing

There wasn't much in Krongard's family background to predict that he would travel this path.

Alvin Bernard Krongard was born on Oct. 25, 1936, and raised in a rowhouse in the middle-class neighborhood of Ashburton.

From his bedroom window, he watched the big steam engines rumble past, and he could hear the screams from the roller coaster at Carlin's Park.

He was the middle of three children, though his older sister died of kidney disease at 14 when Krongard was 10. Their father, Raphael Harris Krongard, operated a small tailoring shop that made men's suits, and their mother, Rita, was a homemaker.

Hammerman, whose family lived several doors down, remembered the Krongards as quiet, pleasant and hard-working. But Buzzy was a lightning rod. From an early age, he always seemed out to prove himself.

"I don't think I can attribute it to anything at all," Hammerman said. "I don't think his father had that type of personality. His mother didn't. I just think it was inborn in him."

Day after day, the 10-year-old Krongard and the 17-year-old future judge would practice lacrosse at Carlin's Park. With Hammerman standing in the goal, Krongard would fire shots at him for hours.

He was an "extraordinary competitor," Hammerman said. "At the age of 10 he had the relentless pursuit of perfection."

It wasn't just a raw urge to compete; Krongard already had the instinct to organize and lead. In 1946, he and two friends enlisted Hammerman to help them form the Corsairs boys club, which still exists as the Lancers.

Krongard went to public high school, and his father put him and his younger brother, Howard, through Princeton University, where both played lacrosse. After graduating with honors in 1958, Krongard was commissioned in the Marine Corps.

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