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FBI cites local agent who died on '43 mission

Harold Haberfeld's story is one of secrecy and service -- and an all-too-common ignorance of his sacrifice.

Even now, 69 years after he died, little is known about the FBI agent from Buffalo who was hand-picked by J. Edgar Hoover for a covert mission in North Africa.

All the public knows for sure is that it was January 1943, and Haberfeld, a relatively new agent, was headed for Algiers to interview an American suspected of collaborating with the Nazis.

The public also knows that he never made it. Haberfeld's plane crashed in a jungle in the South American country of Surinam, and few remains were ever found.

"Because of the covert nature of his mission, we still do not know what his final objective was," Christopher M. Piehota, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo, said Thursday.

The FBI, as part of National Police Week, took a step in setting the record straight by dedicating a conference room in its downtown headquarters to Haberfeld.

The goal is to raise awareness about fallen agents such as Haberfeld, who for decades got misplaced among the FBI's forgotten heroes.

"One of our own, a 33-year-old agent, stood up to the plate, did what he was asked to do and made the ultimate sacrifice," James Robertson, former special agent in charge of the Buffalo office, said during the dedication ceremony.

It turns out Haberfeld's story is all too brief but nevertheless filled with intrigue and mystery.

The FBI file on his mission, which was ordered by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, remains classified, although the local FBI office is seeking to declassify it in hopes of learning more about Haberfeld.

"It's a story we should know and honor," said Thomas Stein, director of alumni relations at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., where Haberfeld went to school.

What we do know about Haberfeld is that he was assigned to the Buffalo office shortly before his secret overseas assignment and that he was active in the local Jewish community.

Before joining the bureau, he spent several years working as an accountant for a French company in Algiers and had traveled extensively in North Africa.

While no one is certain, local FBI agents suspect that Haberfeld was picked for the mission because the FBI needed a translator and someone familiar with Algeria.

At his funeral in Beaver Falls, dozens of FBI agents, including Hoover, turned out to mourn their loss. "May his sacrifice never be forgotten," Piehota said, "and may his story be an inspiration for all."