I just finished reading Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior by Ric Prado.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a feature on Prado on CBS Sunday Morning. I was interested enough to find a copy of his new book.
As a Boomer, I grew up during the Cold War, which seems like million years ago. Cold War gave way to Détente. Then the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded. China learned to be capitalist, becoming out biggest opponent, while the Middle East hate for America would soon boil over and export religious fanaticism to points around the globe. [Not all Middle Easterners or Muslims obviously hate America.] Instead of the Cold War, we are engaged in War on Terror and Cyber Warfare.
The CIA grew from World War II origins and it’s prime focus was Communism. Today, the agency’s focus is significantly broader as the threat types are more diverse and more challenging.
Ric Prado climbed the intelligence ladder, starting as a rescue medic in the military, he joined the CIA and went to train freedom fighters in Central America in the early 1980s. Prado was born in Cuba and his family emigrated to America after Castro took power. That’s how he ended up in the jungles of Honduras. Prado was part of the effort that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
Prado would hold a number of jobs and assignments in his 24-year CIA career, but the culmination of his career was tracking Osama bin Laden and fighting the rise of terrorism around the world. The man served in some hostile parts of the world and dealt with dangerous people. Guys like Prado run to emergencies and live off adrenaline. I’m thankful men and women like him protect our country.
Now, what I did not enjoy about the book. Prado’s politics. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. Prado worked under numerous administrations and it’s apparent that he worked best under Republican administrations. From Reagan’s doctrine in Central America to enhanced interrogation practices under the Bush/Cheney presidency. Prado recites a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that did not go well when she pushed for information on American hostages in the Philippines, criticizing her demeanor and perceived lack of respect. Conversely, he goes overboard complementing the intelligence and professionalism of Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice when he provided a them briefing. Furthermore, he makes numerous references to President Bill Clinton’s lack of interest in the CIA, and President Barack Obama leaned on the drone program as a substitute for boots on the ground intelligence gathering. It is clear the CIA enjoyed greater freedom to operate and resources under Republican presidents, and Prado appreciated that.
Prado also mentions the Church Committee and the Pike Committee that investigated illegal activities of the intelligence agencies in 1975. This led to reforms, executive orders prohibiting political assassinations and eliminating certain activities. Prado’s assertion is these investigative efforts weakened U.S. intelligence gathering. These Committees were appointed as a result of illegal activities with faulty oversight.
Personally, I believe that unleashing the powers of the CIA, NSA, FBI and other alphabet agencies is a slippery slope. Yes, the world is a very dangerous place and the bad guys play by no rules. Unfortunately, we see and hear of abuses by those who are sworn to protect us. The Patriot Act is a powerful and dangerous tool if not monitored with diligence. Water boarding and other enhancements interrogation techniques are criticized by many (including John McCain) as ineffective and inhumane. Where do we draw the line?
The other thing that gave me pause was that Prado’s support for Erik Prince, the founder and owner of Blackwater. Prince is also the sister of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Blackwater is a private security firm that operates in hostile areas under contract for the military. Blackwater rakes in the dough through contracts with the military and Homeland Security as they provide security, transportation and logistics. Members of Blackwater were convicted of killing Iraqi civilians and later pardoned by Donald Trump. Prince sold his interest in Blackwater and it has changed hands and names a few times, but still provides a variety of services for the federal government. Curiously, Prince is an admitted Libertarian, who is for limited government, although one with a fat checkbook.
My comments aside, this an interesting read and glimpse into the dark world of the CIA.