WASHINGTON -- Clair George, a widely respected veteran of the CIA's clandestine service who oversaw all global espionage activities for the agency in the mid-1980s and was later convicted of lying to Congress during investigations into the Iran-Contra scandal, died Thursday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 81.

He died of cardiac arrest, said his daughter Leslie George.

George was the highest-ranking CIA official to stand trial over the biggest White House scandal since Watergate: a White House-led operation to covertly sell weapons to Iran and divert the profits to right-wing Nicaraguan rebels known as the contras.

Despite his professed reservations, George said he did not push hard enough to stop it outright. He was convicted in December 1992 of two felony charges of perjury and misleading Congress, but was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Christmas Eve along with several other former administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Ultimately, no one went to jail.

Following his CIA career, George worked as a security consultant for the secretive Feld family that runs Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Latest videos