Gardner R. Hathaway, a former CIA chief of counterintelligence whose nearly four-decade career with the agency took him to Cold War focal points ranging from Berlin to Moscow and placed him at the center of many espionage episodes, died Nov. 20 at the Vitas hospice in Vienna, Va. He was 88.

The cause was complications from cancer, said his wife, Karin Hathaway.

Taciturn but courtly, "Gus" Hathaway was an undercover officer known for his mastery of espionage tradecraft and his aggressive efforts to best the Soviet KGB.

Hathaway convinced skittish superiors at agency headquarters in Langley to approve an operation in 1978 involving a Russian engineer named Adolf Tolkachev. The episode provided the CIA with a huge amount of sensitive intelligence on the Soviet military for a nearly a decade.

One celebrated incident in Hathaway's career took place soon after he arrived in Moscow as the CIA station chief in 1977. When a fire broke out on the U.S. Embassy's eighth floor, Hathaway barred arriving firefighters from entering the CIA station -- located the floor below the blaze.

He suspected some of the firemen were KGB agents, and he refused to evacuate until the fire was contained.

Hathaway was awarded the prestigious Intelligence Star for his actions, with a citation noting that he had protected sensitive areas from penetration "at great personal risk."

Hathaway served in the Army in Europe during World War II and was wounded in the leg by mortar shrapnel. After his discharge, he enrolled at the University of Virginia and joined the CIA a year after graduation in 1950.

He worked in Frankfurt, Germany, and then Berlin as a case officer. He later served in South America before arriving in Moscow as chief of station in 1977.

In 1985, after a stint as chief of the CIA station in Bonn, Germany, Hathaway was appointed chief of counterintelligence.

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At Hathaway's retirement ceremony in 1990, CIA Director William Webster called him "a consummate operations officer." He was presented with the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, which noted in part his "willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom, inspiring leadership . . . penetrating intellect and profound compassion."