Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Black Ops CIA Shadow Warrior: My Q&A With Legendary CIA Counterterrorism Officer Ric Prado

Counterterrorism magazine published my Q&A with CIA legend Ric Prado. 

You can read the interview via the below pages or the below text:

My Q&A with CIA Legend Ric Prado


Enrique “Ric” Prado is a paramilitary, counterterrorism, and special/clandestine operations specialist, with a focus on international training operations and programs. He is a 24-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he served as an Operations Officer in six overseas posts. He was Deputy Chief of Station and “Plank Owner” of the original Bin Ladin Task Force/Issues Station under Senior Analyst Michael Scheuer, as well as Chief of Station in a hostile Muslim country. He also served as Chief of Operations in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) during the September 11th attacks, where he helped coordinate CIA/CTC’s special operations (SPECOPS) activities with the National Security Council and FBI, as well as with elite U.S. military representatives from Delta Force and SEAL-Team Six, then detailed to CTC/CIA. He retired as Senior Intel Service-2 (SIS-2, Major General equivalent at CIA).


Ric Prado spent his first ten years at CIA as a paramilitary officer in Special Operations Group/Special Activities Division (SOG/SAD, Ground Branch) which is CIA’s “special operations force.” His service included 36 months in Central America jungles as the first CIA officer living in the anti-Sandinista “Contra” camps. Subsequently running counterterrorism/insurgency operations in Peru and in the Philippines. Other key positions included head of the CIA’s Korean Operations and Chief of CIA Liaison in Seoul, ROK. He is fluent in his native Spanish and once held a 2+ level in Japanese.


His military training and qualifications include Airborne, SCUBA, Advance Combat Medical Rescue, S.E.R.E., Mountain Climbing, and Jungle Survival under the auspices of the US Air Force elite Pararescue Teams (1971-1976). CIA training included: Ops/Case Officer certification training (The Farm), Counterterrorist Operations, Advanced Tradecraft Course, Free-Fall parachuting, Draeger close-circuit (Combat Diver’s 1984 and SEALS 2003), Korean Ops, and numerous CT driving and weapons-related courses. Ric Prado is also a graduate of the elite Henk Iverson’s Lone Operator course (2018).


Ric Prado retired from the CIA in 2004. He is now co-owner of Camp X, Special Operations Lone Operator Training Group and continues his service training and supporting the “SPECOPS” Community as Subject Matter Expert (SME) at the SWCS’ ASOT (Advanced Special Operations and Techniques) and ASOT Managers Course, Dragon Warrior, Emerald Warrior, among others.


Ric Prado is the author of “Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior.”


He was interviewed by Paul Davis.


IACSP: I enjoyed reading “Black Ops.” I found it most interesting. Why did you write the book?

Prado: I never thought of being an author, much less a best-selling author. As you know, the book made the New York Times Best Seller list at number seven. I kind of grew weary of the reputation that my agency has, mostly in Hollywood and in most novels. The CIA is the most maligned and misunderstood federal agency in the U.S. Government. My colleagues are always described as immoral and corrupt, and as maniacal assassins like the fictional character Jason Borne. We have 137 stars (representing the death of CIA personnel in the line of duty) on the Wall of Honor at the agency, and we are a small organization compared to the Army the Navy and the Air Force. Some of these people I personally knew. It kind of bothered me that their grandchildren will learn about the agency and their grandpas, not to mention my own grandson, primarily from Hollywood. That was the primary reason I wrote the book. To try to put a realistic spin not only on the kind of operations that we do, but on the kind of people that we have in our ranks. Patriots. People who have dedicated their lives, mostly anonymous, to this country. The second part is communism. I am Cuban born. I lived under communism and my wife lived under communism. We saw what communism did to our first country. So I wanted to write a book about my efforts to counter and fight communism in my different incarnations.

IACSP: For many Americans, the CIA appears to be unapproachable and unknowing. This can lead to misconceptions. As you noted, most people only know about the CIA from spy thrillers. When I was in the Navy and later as a Defense Department civilian employee doing security work, I received CIA training and regular briefings, and as a writer, I’ve interviewed a good number of CIA officers here for the Journal. The CIA officers I’ve known are dedicated government employees serving America. Books like yours, it seems to me, can go a long way to counter misconceptions.

Prado: When I do public speaking, one of the questions I always ask is to name me two movies that represents the CIA in a positive way. There is always one person who will say Jason Borne, and then I’ll say, a maniacal assassin with 17 personalities who is being hunted down by the CIA is a good movie about the CIA?

IACSP: There are terrorist organizations, transnational criminal organizations, and rogue nations, and the Jason Borne movies choose to make the CIA the bad guy. Silly. I thought Tom Clancy’s novels were fairly realistic, would you agree?

Prado: Tom Clancy’s books were always very realistic. I have several of his books and “Without Remorse” is one of my favorite novels.

IACSP: One of my favorites as well. Did you see the poor film adaptation?”

Prado: It was awful.

IACSP: Do you think Cuba will ever be free of communism now that Fidel Castro, the bastard, is dead?

Prado: We have one more bastard Castro, which is Raul. He is retired, but he is still the power. I honestly believe if we play our cards right in this country, we can entice change in Cuba. Stick and carrot. Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions. If you do this, we’ll do that. I want to go back to Cuba and visit my grandfather’s grave, their house. That is one of my dreams.

IACSP: Many people, even today, view the Contras as gun and drug traffickers and brutal thugs. You offer a different view in your book, although you encountered some bad apples. How would you describe the Contras?

Prado: Of all my assignments, I would put my Contra experience as number one for three reasons. The first reason is as a Cuban kid, fresh off the banana boat, working for CIA and now I’m the only man allowed to be at the camps training these folks. Striking back at the very same animal that destroyed my family in my first country. There was a visceral satisfaction of the operations we did. It became politized at home, but the greater majority of the Contras had personal reasons for joining, as they explained to me at campfires – they burned my church down, they kicked out my priest, they raped my daughter, they conscripted my underage son. It was all personal. When I was in front of Congress later on, I was able to voice those opinions and observations. The Contras were a class act of people and I’m still in touch with two or three of them.

IACSP: You also write about your time in the Philippines from 1990 to 1992. I was a frequent visitor to the Philippine during the Vietnam War when I served on an aircraft carrier. The Philippines has a dual threat in the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the Islamic terrorist organizations, yet one does not read or hear much those threats.

Prado: They are two different animals, but similar in their destructive capabilities. When I was there, the NPA was in Manila and all the major cities, and we were providing incredible training to the Filipinos. I worked with the Philippine Constabulary, the Navy and the Army. I love the Philippines. They are warm, loving people until it is time to fight, and they are pretty good at it. I respect that. When I was there, they were on the brink of losing to the NPA. The Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf down south was just coming up and they have gotten more radical. They are really just a bunch of bandits. We did a lot of damage to the NPA and also to Abu Sayyaf, because we had all kinds of maritime platforms that we gave the Navy to cover 7,000 islands. I was the liaison guy. Going to all these places once a week, I was meeting with commanders, offering training, getting the intelligence, and noting what they needed. It was very rewarding.

IACSP: You later worked in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC). Can you give us an overview of the CTC prior to and after 9/11?

Prado: The Counterterrorist Center was started by Dewey Claridge, one of my mentors, in 1986. He was bigger than life. I loved him until the day he died. My first CT assignment was to a Latin American country that I cannot mention, in 1998, two years after the center started. I recruited a terrorist, and I did all kind of stuff. The CTC was small back then, 50-60 people. It kept growing as the need kept growing. I came back in 1995 when they asked me to open up the bin Laden task force, “Alec Station.” I was the deputy chief of station working the bin Laden account and the chief was Michael Scheuer, an analyst. I went back as the chief of operations in May of 2001. The 9/11 attack happened was shortly thereafter.

IACSP: Your account in the book of the CIA officers working around the clock during the attack and post-attack was very interesting. I was stationed at a naval base in Philadelphia on 9/11, and we didn’t know if and where there would be another attack after the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I recall that it was a harrowing time. Certainly, the CIA was a possible target.

Prado: The CIA was evacuated, but most of the folks at the CTC stayed behind. I slept in my office for the first three days. So did dozens and dozens of my colleagues. After being the chief of operations, I came back with a very robust program, and I briefed Vice President Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. It was approved, but we were never allowed to deploy. We were hearing all this chatter going on before 9/11. We knew it was al Qaeda and we were seeing their communications diminish and we were seeing people that we had under surveillance disappear. These were all clues that they were planning something big. I told CIA Director Tenet that if I had this program a year before 9/11, I would have gone out and neutralized three different al Qaeda senior support guys. That would be put the brakes on everything because they would have thought they were penetrated. That was the whole concept of the program. When I saw the program wasn’t going to ever really sail, I decided to retire on an operational high note. I spent the last three years in the CIA leading some of the best people I ever worked with, snooping and pooping all over the world, which not too many SIS-2 level guys get to do. Operationally, that was my high. If they weren’t willing to let me do what I do best, which was even approved by the White House, then to hell with it. Maybe it’s time for me to do something else, and I did.

IACSP: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is dominating the news now. You’ve said that the U.S. could do more to help the Ukrainians. What more can be done?

Prado: I think the world needs to do more to help the Ukrainians, not just the United States. Global security should be a team sport. The UN is pretty feckless. What amazes me is that we were “surprised,” quote unquote, that Putin invaded Ukraine. As soon as he took power, he said I am going to reconstitute the Soviet Union. He did two invasions before this one. I was really shocked that no one saw this coming. That’s what communism is. That’s what they did in Cuba, Vietnam and Venezuela. As far as helping the Ukrainians, my belief is that we were helping them for several years before this crisis. We were preparing them militarily, preparing them for stay-behind operations, preparing them for guerilla operations, and training them on the conventional use of missiles and other weapons. The Ukrainians have proven to be incredible fighters, but we should have opened up every warehouse we have with tanks, planes and missiles and ask our allies to do the same. The other thing is to shut down every nickel that goes to Russia. Instead of gradually choking, choking and choking, break their neck, without having to fight them directly.

IACSP: I like to think that our support of Ukraine is a bit of payback for the Soviet support of the Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

Prado: I hope that people read my book, because I honestly believe it will help people understand what the most secretive but capable agency does, how well it does it, and the patriotic ethos of the people that we have in our ranks.

IACSP: Thank you for speaking to us and thank you for your service.

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