Halvorssen, of Norwegian origin, is one of the four sons of a Norwegian war hero, Øystein Halvorssen. His father became the president of General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Venezuela before he began his own business operations. He was also the former Norwegian Ambassador in Venezuela. According to the journalist Gaeton Fonzi, who wrote an investigative story about Halvorssen's life, he led the "jet-setting life style" of a "happy-go-lucky" son of a wealthy businessman. With his twin brother Olaf, he befriended Jerry Wolman, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. The three became partners in real estate transactions and night clubs. Halvorssen graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) in 1966 and completed a Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania MBA in 1969.
After graduating, Halvorssen returned to Caracas to help run the family businesses. The businesses required little attention; Halvorssen became involved in community service, working at Venezuela's largest charity, the Dividendo Voluntario Para La Comunidad for six years and serving as its President from 1976–1979. He started a program to build sports facilities in the poorest barrios and eventually met future President Carlos Andrés Pérez.
Pérez was elected in 1974 and in 1977 appointed Halvorssen acting president of the Venezuelan state-owned telephone company CANTV; Halvorssen then served as president of CANTV from 1978 until Pérez completed his term. As president of CANTV, he was given a military-intelligence identification card, and worked with Venezuela's secret police and intelligence force. When Pérez was elected President again in 1989, he named Halvorssen Venezuela's Special Commissioner for anti-Narcotic Affairs with the rank of Ambassador.
In the ten years between the two Presidential terms of Carlos Andrés Pérez, Halvorssen traveled extensively, spending time in the Middle East, El Salvador and Nicaragua during the US counter-insurgency in Central America; he would later be defended by Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and by former Contra leader and Nicaraguan Senator Adolfo Calero. He admitted to have been closely associated with Duane Clarridge, the former head of the CIA's Latin American division, involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and clandestine mining operations in Nicaragua's harbors during the 1980s. He developed contacts with anti-narcotics police in Japan, the UK, and the US; friends commented that he seemed to have developed "a bit of a James Bond complex" during these years, and was "bitten by the James Bond bug".
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