Reviews by Alec Chambers

Review of Clarridge, A Spy for All Seasons

Clarridge, Duane R. ("Dewey"), with Digby Diehl. A Spy for All Seasons: My Life in the CIA. New York: Scribner's, 1997.

The dust jacket of this book presents us with a photograph of Duane ("Dewey") Clarridge that is looking straight at the reader in a distinguished, even patrician manner. It is also artfully composed in a complex of browns and blacks from which a human shape smoothly emerges. This seems to capture the essence of the career Clandestine Services officer of the CIA whose memoirs these are.

Until the Iran-Contra scandal brought Clarridge and a number of other senior Clandestine Services officers to the attention of the general public, he had moved steadily through the ranks of the Directorate of Operations, eventually rising to head the Latin American and European Divisions and to be the founding director of the Counterterrorism Center before the aftershocks of the Iran-Contra affair prompted him to retire in 1988.

Starting with a first overseas posting in Nepal in 1958, he progressed steadily, by a series of postings in Washington, D.C, India, Turkey, and Italy, through the ranks of the Clandestine Service (the Directorate of Operations) until he became Chief of Operations for the Near East Division, Deputy Chief of the Near East for Arab Operations, Chief of Latin American Operations, Chief of European Division, and founding chief of the Counterterrorism Center. As he progresses from a [entry-level] case officer to a [super-grade] Division Chief, Clarridge chronicles the changes in the relationships between himself and his colleagues and looks at things that worked and didn't work and explains why things would go wrong.

The changes are those that many of us have experienced in large organizations: the new and comparatively low-level officers hang together with a degree of camaraderie and irreverent respect for superiors who earn it. The earlier chapters are filled with incidents and war stories, including a chapter on the recruitment of a Polish source that succeeded through an extremely unusual sequence of events. Giving the lie to the idea of the impatient American, Clarridge pursued the source over two tours and several years in Turkey. As he moves up the organizational ladder, relationships become more distant and formal and Clarridge himself becomes removed from the action. The major dynamic moves from the need to hang together for the good of the country to avoiding being out-maneuvered in office politics.

Clarridge's involvement in Central America is the most controversial aspect of his career. Paramilitary operations in Nicaragua dominated his tour as Chief of Latin American operations. Although they were to be left behind when he moved to European operations, they were to resurface like one of Wagner's less welcome leitmotifs after he had presided over the founding of the Counterterrorism Center and was to pad behind him even after his retirement from the CIA.

The reshuffling of upper management at the CIA when Casey became DCI took Clarridge to Latin America after a career in the Old World. Although the Reagan administration's vigorous anti-communism caused it to focus on Cuba and Nicaragua, covert actions against Nicaragua had begun when the Carter administration had acted to prevent the destabilization of El Salvador. The Reagan administration wanted to use a two-track approach of diplomacy and paramilitary actions to force the Nicaraguans to stop exporting their revolution and to back free elections. Clarridge was Casey's man for the job and he came up with a very aggressive plan for the Contras that became one of the major planks of the Reagan finding on Nicaragua. This was the plan that was to be confounded when the Boland amendment barred the US from funding the Contras.

Contra operations harrying the Ortega regime were not intended to overthrow it, and Clarridge states that he did not believe that the Contras were capable of doing so, but were intended to force it onto the defensive. The composition of the Contras was an inherent weakness. They were a disparate collection of discontented groups, including former members of the National Guard of the Somoza regime, the more reform-minded Chamoros, to the de facto independent Mestizo Indians. The degree of compatibility between these groups was limited and the force was liberally sprinkled with prima donnas, such as Eden Pastora (Comandante Zero - a major liability by this account) and this made the job even more difficult than it already was. Clarridge had planned the operation on a fairly tight budget and the clashes of egos, politics, and philosophies had led to a number of noisy but strategically pointless operations that wasted these limited resources.

There should be no confusion about the nature of the operations. They were genuine paramilitary actions intended to hurt the regime one way or another. Even so, Clarridge evicted a number of the more thuggish members of the Contras to try to make sure that they held the moral high ground. To his credit, Clarridge does not dissemble on these operations. In particular, he goes into detail on the seaborne operations intended to damage maritime commerce. Ships and harbors were shot up by fast boats and helicopters, a radio intercept station was rocketed, oil terminals were attacked by demolition teams, and harbors were mined.

The mining of harbors was his idea, and he claims that the mines used were not typical anti-shipping mines, but more along the lines of scare charges. Furthermore, he is at odds with the generally accepted story. Although it goes that the only information Congress received about the mining operation was a dissembling mumble from DCI Casey, Clarridge states that the House and Senate Intelligence committees were briefed more than once and Lloyd's of London was informed every time mines were laid. Even committee members later admitted that they had been briefed.

While this was going on, the Sandinistas managed to alienate every segment of the country and the Contras became bloated with volunteers that took their size well beyond the limits originally planned. An oversized Contra army and the mining of harbors proved to be more effective in Congress than they were in Nicaragua. The Reagan administration had never convinced the US public or its representatives of their views on the Sandinista government and the uproar over the mining led to the passing of the first Boland amendment and the cutting off of Contra funding.

Clarridge began to run down operations and prepared to transfer them to his successor as he looked to move to a lower profile position as director of European operations. The transition period was not without incident. He was able to obtain evidence of high-level Sandinista complicity in drug smuggling in the Barry Seals episode (an episode that also confirmed him in his dislike for the DEA) and saw the beginning of a Sandinista counterattack that included two bomb attacks on Contra leaders.

The inequitable distribution of reprimands after the "murder manual" incident (Clarridge was not reprimanded although he was prepared to accept one because of his own role) was to cause immediate problems in Latin American operations and for Clarridge during the Walsh investigation. His version of the story, similar to one that others have told elsewhere, is that an early, unapproved, version of the manual was leaked as part of an internal Contra dispute and the far less inflammatory version that was available to the Contras and anyone who asked was ignored by the press.

The pace of operations in Europe was slower and the emphasis was on intelligence collection rather than on covert operations, although there is no mention of covert support of Solidarity in Poland. Clarridge still had to deal occasionally with his successor in support of the Contras (Alan Fiers), primarily to help him in keeping Oliver North from treading too heavily. It was an "open secret" in Washington that North was raising money for the Contras and he seems to have tried to get himself more involved in operational details than the CIA wanted. Contra operations were still a CIA matter, and as Clarridge points out, it is not obvious or even sensible to consider involving an organization that had neither the resources nor infrastructure to support it in a major CIA covert action, never mind handing over control.

Clarridge has at this point risen to become a member of an inner circle in Washington where members run into one another all the time because the circles they move in have become so limited. Oliver North was a member of Clarridge's circle and their paths crossed more than once. At least one of these occasions, when North needed help flying a shipment (that turned out to be HAWK missiles) from Israel to Iran via Portugal almost entangled Clarridge in the arms-to-Iran case. The story as told by Clarridge is that this was a case of the NSC turning to the CIA in an emergency rather than a routine transaction. He eventually backed the CIA out when it became unclear who was paying for the air charters involved. It seems that this is a case where the bureaucratic properties of the CIA were more of a help to Clarridge than a hindrance.

The major concern for European operations at this time was terrorism, with Middle Eastern terrorism a greater concern to the US than the European variety. Clarridge ultimately authored a revolutionary recommendation: the creation of the Counterterrorism Center. His idea was to treat terrorism as a problem that transcended the geographical and organizational boundaries of the CIA and to create an organization that was not bound by such constraints to deal with it. Despite strong support from DCI Casey and his deputy Bob Gates, creating such a trailblazing organization annoyed the traditional branches of the agency and led to turf battles and sniping. When the CTC did get off the ground, it decided to take on its most immediate problem, and the meanest guy in the house, the Abu Nidal organization with a success that may even have exceeded Clarridge's expectations.

Even at this high point, the Iran-Contra affair was to lay Clarridge low. The near-simultaneous shooting down of a C-123 with US crew members over Nicaragua and the disclosure of US arms supplies to Iran by a Lebanese magazine caused people to put "Iran" and "Contra" together. Under Casey and Gates, Clarridge and other DO officers were urged to respond to inquiries (to the Tower Commission at this point) in as complete a manner as possible. The death of Casey led to his replacement by William Webster, which proved to be an uninspired and unfortunate choice. Clarridge excoriates Webster in a manner that is in direct apposition to the glowing testimonial that Ronald Kessler gives in Inside the CIA. The complexion of the CIA response changed with Webster's appointment, and it seems that he was looking for places to lay the blame, even if he had to choose volunteers. Some officers and ex-officers with axes to grind began to play the sort of politics that would make the choosing easier.

Clarridge was not impressed by the Tower or Walsh inquiries. Although he was questioned by the House and Senate Committees and the Tower Commission, he never met Walsh and was only questioned once by one staffer with a fondness for conspiracy theories. Clarridge saw Iran-Contra becoming a circus with grandstanding committee members, superficial questioning and poor staff work. Far too much of the time is spent plying him with elaborate conspiracy theories and too little in genuine investigation. This point of view is supported by the fact that none of the senior CIA officers questioned was ever tried for anything directly related to the malfeasances of the Iran-Contra affair. Clarridge was denied his day in court and so feels aggrieved that he was denied the chance to clear his name.

The real problem for him was that he was put in a position that was essentially non-falsifiable, in essence he feels that he was being railroaded. His inquisitors had decided that he must have known what was going on, so even as he proclaimed his innocence or ignorance, he added to his problems because he must have been covering something up. For his own part, Clarridge erred grievously in not getting himself a competent attorney. Furthermore, the rules governing House and Senate investigations actually made it difficult to be given a fair hearing - there is no presumption of innocence in such inquisitions.

The burning question that remains after these chapters is: has Clarridge told us the truth about his role? One thing that comes through quite clearly, even in the earliest stages of his career is his self-confidence and a belief in his own judgment. He stands behind controversial ideas like the mining of Nicaraguan harbors because he believed it was the sort of action needed. He also backs out of actions that seem improper. If Clarridge had been actively involved in Iran-Contra, would he have denied himself the chance to state his case? In this case, there is a distinct absence of evidence of his involvement, and his descriptions of events bring about more than reasonable doubt of any ideas of his direct involvement.

Throughout his career, Clarridge does not seem to have had any doubts about whether or not he was doing the right thing. Even as staunch a supporter of the CIA as David Attlee Phillips spent a few paragraphs mulling the propriety of the US covertly interfering in the affairs of other countries. Clarridge nails his colors to the mast more than once: he is a patriotic American and monumentally firm in his opposition to Communism, and his personal politics are made quite clear to the reader. Even so, his indulgences get the better of him and he is not above relishing Cuban cigars.

Where Clarridge does express doubts, it is more about the CIA itself than anything else. This begins in the first chapters where the inability of Americanocentric analysis to allow for outcomes illogical to Americans, e.g. Pakistan going to war with India against all military common sense (Clarridge calls it the "Wog factor"), leads to a number of intelligence failures. The newer generations of case officers also fail to pass muster. One of his junior officers in Turkey was Aldrich Ames, and he recommended in a fitness report that he be shunted off somewhere where he can't do too much harm, like counterintelligence. He confesses that this was one of his biggest mistakes. Later on, he was to find that case officers in Europe lacked the "intellectual horsepower" and were too blandly American to develop worthwhile contacts in the higher echelons of European society. Most CIA case officers, he argues, would not know how to develop a source whose main weakness was an interest in Sartre. He complains that case officers are more often clock-watchers, time-servers and yuppies more concerned with their benefits than the fate of the nation.

The greatest opprobrium is reserved for the institution of the CIA itself. This is not to say that the book is anti-CIA, or that Clarridge is just another disgruntled ex-employee. Far from it, he really feels that the CIA is essential to US security, but it is more that history has given the US a CIA that is not suited to the modern world. With the exception of Casey, whose activism was in tune with Clarridge's, all the other DCIs he mentions have shortcomings. Helms failed to rein in Angleton; Colby's handing over of the "Family Jewels" is condemned; neither Turner nor Webster had a clue about intelligence and so on. The CIA, it seems, is not the organization of his youth and not the organization the US needs. It has become another Federal bureaucracy. Clarridge is not the first person inside or outside of the CIA to say this, but his seniority and experience add weight to the observation.

There is much in this book that makes it well worth reading. Without giving away too much about operational detail, Clarridge gives us a clear look at the ways the Clandestine Service has operated at several levels, including the interaction with the NSC. There are insights into the inner circles of Washington decision making, the clandestine campaigns in Central America and against terrorism. In many ways, it forms another axis to a framework formed by Robert Gates' From the Shadows as it covers largely the same period and many of the same events. A wide cast of characters also weaves through the pages. Apart from the younger Ames, a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan also appears on a visit to Turkey, Harry Rositzke was his chief of station at one point and there are some interesting appearances of a Manuel Noriega. Finally, there is Clarridge himself: a man of action, strong beliefs and opinions. One may not agree with him all the time, or even all that often, but that makes him all the more interesting.

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