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Former U.S. Defense Chief Harold Brown Dies At 91

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown in 1977

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who ordered the doomed mission to rescue hostages held by Iran in 1980 and negotiated arms control with the Soviets, has died at 91 years of age.

The Rand Corp., a California-based think tank where Brown served as a trustee for 35 years, said on January 5 that he had died in California the previous day.

Brown, a nuclear physicist, led the Pentagon to modernize its defense systems with weapons that included precision-guided cruise missiles, stealth aircraft, and advanced satellite surveillance.

Brown was defense secretary from 1977 to 1981 under Democratic President Jimmy Carter.

He was the Pentagon chief during a period that included the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis.

A disappointment, he said, was the failure to persuade the U.S. Senate to back the nuclear arms limitation treaty reached with the Soviet Union in 1979, called SALT II.

Still, he said the negotiations with the Soviets did have benefits.

"Though never formally ratified,” he said, “the agreement was adhered to by both parties and limited Soviet threats that our other conventional and nuclear weapons programs were designed to counter.”

However, he said his biggest regret was the April 1980 effort to rescue hostages in Iran. The effort ended in tragedy when one of the mission helicopters struck a tanker aircraft in eastern Iran and crashed, killing eight U.S. servicemen.

"I considered the failed rescue attempt my greatest regret and most painful lesson learned," Brown wrote in his book, Star Spangled Security.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters