Authors: Evan Wright
Tags: #General, #Criminology, #Social Science, #Law
I still don’t know who Prado is. After repeated attempts to reach him, I receive this e-mail in the summer of 2011:
Thanks for your interest in talking to me. I’m typically disinclined to talk to the press for a variety of reasons. If you would like to send me a synopsis of the main points you want to discuss and the focus of the article I’ll give it additional consideration.
When I write back, he does not reply.
In 2010, I worked on a project with Robert Nieves, who in the 1990s had served as the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief of international operations. When Nieves mentioned that he had spent the early 1980s in Central America and sometimes coordinated counter-narcotics efforts with the CIA, I asked if he’d heard of Prado. “Heard of Ric?” Nieves lit up. “We played golf together not three months ago.”
The two had been friends for almost thirty years, having become close while working for their respective agencies in Central America. They bonded over golf. Nieves attended Prado’s wedding to his second wife. When I asked what Prado was like, Nieves smiled and said, “He’s very military. His posture is correct. Every hair is in place. He knows the martial arts. He makes an impression of being a strong person.”
When I told Nieves about the OCS reports on Prado—his relationship with Albert, the alleged murders and drug deals—he appeared ashen. Despite Nieves’s unblemished record at the DEA, from which he retired in 1995, the implications of a DEA chief’s long association with the Prado of those reports were potentially awkward. “I would think the reports are not true,” he said. Then he added, “But a person can be anyone.”
Prado comes off as a sort of no one.
The most insightful—and obvious—thing anyone has said about him was something his ex-wife, Maria, told OCS investigators some twenty years ago: “Enrique respected Albert San Pedro, because San Pedro had the reputation of being a bully.”
The earliest reports about Prado detail his interest in things that bestow power—guns, explosives, martial arts, badges, strongmen. Then there are his many dualities. He was the boy who befriended police, and he ran with Albert. He was a fireman who allegedly set fires. He was a paramedic who allegedly killed people. El Oso said they talked about being
as they assaulted Albert’s enemies across Miami. “Ricky and I had good times,” he said. Maybe that’s all there is to know about Prado. Maybe he’s simply an intelligent, high-functioning sociopath who has arranged his life to pursue the things that give him satisfaction.
The CIA is famous for employing or working with notoriously sketchy characters—Noriega, bin Laden, the mobbed-up Cuban refugees recruited for the Bay of Pigs. But the dictators, war criminals, and other undesirables the agency hired—a policy it called “dining with devils”—were supposed to be kept outside its officer ranks. Inside, the CIA is notoriously risk averse. As the retired ex-Mormon officer told me, “The agency’s run by Dilberts, not James Bonds.” There was no scenario in which he could imagine the former bodyguard to a convicted cocaine trafficker being knowingly promoted into its SIS ranks—a move that requires agency-wide review and the director’s approval. That could happen, he said, only if everyone involved “drank a gallon of Kool-Aid and signed a career-suicide pact.”
Did the CIA ever know who Prado was? The legal department’s push to keep him away from a grand jury probably stemmed from a reflexive impulse to defend the institution. But the OCS did send its reports to the CIA lawyers. They knew that Prado was the target of a RICO investigation, a murder suspect, and that he stayed in contact with Albert San Pedro. Did the legal department never share its files with the rest of the agency? Did some Dilbert misfile them? It wouldn’t have been the agency’s first massive intelligence failure.
Prado is the devil who got inside. He represented the United States at embassies, commanded operations, oversaw Navy SEALs, supervised FBI agents attached to the CTC, became friends with a senior DEA official like Robert Nieves, played some golf. He was one of them, a good officer granted some of the nation’s highest security clearances.
But former OCS investigators I interviewed about Prado often referred to him as a “doper,” their generic term for anyone connected to the drug trade. When I informed Mike Fisten and Al Morciego of Ricky’s SIS-2 rank, they dubbed him “Major General Doper.”
As the investigators see it, when the CIA hired Prado, the agency was penetrated by a mole—a spy of divided, secret allegiances. Prado’s allegiances weren’t to another country but rather to the criminal underworld. If, as evidence suggests, he participated in murders after he joined the CIA, it wasn’t simply to show loyalty to Albert. It was perhaps because he had to. He was still at risk for the old crimes he’d allegedly committed with Albert and Bobby Erra. They all had to hang together. If they went down, he went down. The investigators believe Prado was blackmailed by his past, and so he had to continue serving his old boss.
In the OCS’s interview with him at Langley, Prado admitted to making secret, unauthorized contacts with Albert. That he led some kind of double life is certain. Whether he breached national security is not known, but the question hangs over everything he did at the CIA. That’s the problem with a mole: Once exposed, he retroactively taints everyone with whom he came into contact.
A decade ago, Prado’s friend Robert Nieves appeared on PBS’s
to deny accusations that under his watch the DEA had allowed the CIA to smuggle cocaine into the United States in order to fund its contra efforts. Those allegations were discredited, and Nieves’s own record appeared spotless. But the fact that the former DEA agent turns out to have been close friends with a suspected drug trafficker and CIA officer involved in the contra program—a man he met while the DEA may or may not have been facilitating CIA drug smuggling—will no doubt revive old conspiracy theories. Nieves will probably not be the only official facing questions about his interactions with Prado.
His current employer, Jefferson Waterman International, where Prado is a principal in its “security and intelligence” subsidiary, Crosshatch International, may also wish to examine its relationship with him. JWI, run by a former co-chairman of the National Intelligence Council, is dedicated to assisting businesses and government entities in counterterrorist and counternarcotics efforts. Prado is reportedly on assignment for JWI in Mexico, though a company spokesman refused to confirm or deny this. He did confirm that Prado held a senior position at Crosshatch. Major General Doper is still on the job.
In March, another source confirms to me the FBI investigation into Prado’s activities at Blackwater and the OCS-file murders, especially those allegedly involving Albert and Bobby Erra. When I ask Mike Fisten how likely it is that one of those old murder cases could be revived, he sketches a scenario that seems only slightly less optimistic than Cofer Black’s plan to invade Afghanistan. It involves the CIA releasing the evidence that it previously refused to, but mostly it centers on flipping Albert or Prado. Fisten’s bet is on Prado. “You go back to his interview at Langley,” Fisten says. “One hour into it and he was asking about witness protection. Ricky’s always been the weak link, because he’s an intelligent opportunist. If the feds figure this out, they’ll turn him. When that happens, Albert and Bobby Erra are done. Anything they want on Blackwater is theirs. I would be sad that Ricky would get a nice retirement in witness protection, but cases would be closed. People would go to prison. Justice would be done.”
I’m not sure I share his optimism. But perhaps Fisten’s hope in American justice is a necessary kind of faith. Without it, what’s left? As Albert once said, “If this goes under, where will people go? That’s it. The day the United States disappears, the world’s fucked.”
Some of the documents used in my research were provided by the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Records Bureau, with assistance from Detective Robert Williams.
Many other documents, as indicated in this story, were provided by other sources. Most of the investigation reports, in paper and electronic form, were signed by investigators who wrote and reviewed them. I confirmed the authenticity of these reports by interviewing their authors or, in some cases, the supervisors who approved them.
Other legal documents and transcripts were provided by Jenny Cartaia.
The investigation reports sometimes refer to a subject using variations on his or her name: “Ricky Prado” in some reports, for example, and “Enrique Prado” in others. After confirming that these referred to the same person, in citing them I’ve standardized the names and occasionally substituted personal pronouns to avoid repetitions. Where some quoted materials used acronyms, I have spelled them out for clarity.
I interviewed well over fifty subjects for this story, conducting most interviews in person. When sources asked me to refer to them by nicknames they supplied, I have used those nicknames, as I’ve indicated in the story when first introducing them. Some sources requested anonymity.
My access to Blackwater and its employees began in late 2004, when I spent a week at the company’s training center in Moyock, North Carolina, researching an article that was published in
magazine. The Blackwater contractors I met then, as well as colleagues they introduced me to in the years since, continue to work in the same field. To protect the anonymity of the contractor quoted in my story, I altered one detail about his ethnicity.
Albert San Pedro’s attendance at President Reagan’s speech at the Omni Hotel is referred to in MDPD files, but in his recorded conversations with Detective Rosario Kennedy it is not clear whether they were referring to that event. I checked with an archivist at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library to see if there was a record of Albert San Pedro having attended the event, but the library was unable to find a list of attendees. Veteran reporter Pete Hamill, in a profile of San Pedro published in his book
writes that San Pedro “was cleared for an audience with Ronald Reagan in Tampa in 1985.”
I contacted the CIA Department of Public Affairs and offered to share all details of this article pertaining to Enrique Prado, J. Cofer Black, E. Page Moffett, and the CIA itself in order to obtain corrections or denials. I offered the agency up to a week to collaborate on such an effort, but agency spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood declined to hear any part of my reporting, stating, “Given your short turnaround time and the vague nature of your query, I’d ask you to please note that the CIA declined to comment.”
is the recipient of two National Magazine Awards and the author of the bestselling
, which he co-wrote with Jon Roberts. His reporting has also been included in
The Best American Crime Writing
. He co-wrote the HBO series
based on his book.
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