A Loyal CIA Operative’s Mind Is Not a Pretty Place

Longtime CIA operative Ric Prado just published a memoir. From training murderous right-wing paramilitaries to complaining about “hellholes” the world over, it’s shockingly candid — but the content is hardly surprising to anyone familiar with US foreign policy.

Ric Prado's memoir, Black Ops, gives insight into CIA strategies and operations at the turn of the 21st century. (Charles Ommanney / Getty Images)

Ric Prado fled Cuba after the 1959 revolution when he was ten years old. He went on to work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for twenty-four years — an experience he recounts in his recent memoir, Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior — and then to work in private military operations, including a stint with Erik Prince and Blackwater.

Like other former CIA memoirists, Prado is unable to publish all the details of his work, and the book features several redactions. Still, his memoir offers valuable insight into the mentality of a prominent member within CIA operations at the turn of the twenty-first century, as well as CIA strategies and activities from Nicaragua to North Korea to North Africa and beyond.

The truth that emerges in Black Ops is that CIA operatives often possess a neocolonial and paternalistic mentality, and a steadfast belief that the United States is rightfully positioned to dominate the world. They feel it’s their duty to intervene to shape global politics, even if that involves undermining or overthrowing democratically elected governments. And they believe that violence and murder are fair means to achieve these objectives.

Prado’s Revenge

In recent months, Prado has garnered attention for his assertion that Russian oligarchs should assassinate Russian president Vladimir Putin. Shocking though it is, Prado’s suggestion is in total keeping with his hyperviolent mentality, as glimpsed in both his memoir and other episodes from his life.

Prado once became the subject of an investigation in Miami, where police suspected him of assisting in the murders of opponents of the convicted drug trafficker Alberto San Pedro, who was his childhood friend. Prado worked as San Pedro’s bodyguard for a time and, under protection, spoke with investigators, but the investigation against him was eventually squashed, much to the dismay of some law enforcement officers.

Speaking to journalist Evan Wright, one of the detectives on the case said, “It was a miscarriage of justice that Prado never faced charges. . . . The CIA fought us tooth and nail, and basically told us to go fuck ourselves.”

Prado relocated to the United States after his family lost their farm in Cuba under the new Castro government. After spending some time in an orphanage awaiting the arrival of his parents, he joined them in south Florida, a longtime stronghold for anti-Castro Cuban immigrants.

Prado admits that he was a wayward teenager, often landing himself in trouble. But rebellious though he was, he was never countercultural: he detested those who protested against the United States, which he viewed as a bastion of freedom for those fleeing from Cuba, and its involvement in Vietnam. In keeping with this sentiment, he joined the Air Force, but his sights were set elsewhere: he dreamed of fighting back against Latin American communists. When the Sandinistas overthrew Nicaragua’s Somoza government in 1979, the CIA contacted him after initially rejecting him, as they desperately needed Spanish speakers to assist in their activities in neighboring Honduras.

Having fled one Latin American left-wing revolution, Prado found himself working for the US government to reverse another one. In Black Ops, he recounts how much this delighted him, holding as it did the possibility of enacting a form of vicarious revenge against the Communists who expropriated his family’s farm and drove them out of Cuba. Although Prado would travel all over the world performing similar duties for the CIA, these early episodes of undermining the Sandinistas remain the most detailed and most revealing in his new memoir.

Training the Contras

In 1979, after years of civil war and guerrilla fighting, the Sandinistas overthrew the anti-communist dictatorship headed by the Somoza family. The Somozas had remained a familial dictatorship in Nicaragua since the early twentieth century following a US occupation of the country, and became infamous for their harsh tactics toward their opponents, including throwing some of them out of helicopters and into volcanoes. Amid the Cold War, several successive US governments aligned with them.

The Sandinistas, by contrast, were a leftist revolutionary outfit, influenced by liberation theology, Marxism, and the nationalist hero Augusto Sandino. The latter had led a guerrilla war against occupying US Marine forces in the early twentieth century and, following their departure, was murdered by the initial Somoza government in 1934.

After the Sandinistas successfully overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, his security forces joined with other anti-Sandinista factions and regrouped across the northern border in Honduras. They became collectively known as the Contras, and they were intent on overthrowing the newfound Sandinista government. They were underfunded, lacking weaponry and training, and in desperate need of logistical support to coordinate cross-border attacks. As the CIA and the US government more broadly had assisted the Somoza government in earlier years, they now supported the Contras’ efforts to destabilize and overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The problem, however, was that while the Somozas spoke English and even received training and schooling in the United States, the CIA needed Spanish speakers to help assist with the Contra forces who had regrouped in Honduras, as well as Costa Rica. Enter Ric Prado.

As he describes it, Prado’s job was to unify and help coordinate the activities of all the Contra groups located across the border. The terrain was often rugged, and Prado had to visit paramilitary camps by helicopter.

Prado trained the paramilitary groups to use the weapons that were flooding into the country. He personally delivered rocket launchers and trained individuals in their usage. In one instance, he trained several individuals in the use of underwater explosives, which they then weaponized to destroy a pier in nearby Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Indeed, Prado was along for the ride when the paramilitaries blew up the pier.

Whether he truly believes it or relies on it to sooth his soul, Prado presents a distorted and oftentimes downright false view of the situation in 1980s Nicaragua under the Sandinista government. For one, he never mentions the 1984 presidential election, which the Sandinistas won. Instead, he depicts the Sandinistas as a dictatorial regime that remained unpopular in the country.

But his crimes don’t stop at omission. He claims that the Sandinistas oversaw a “Nazi-like pogrom” that resulted in thousands of “religious refugees,” and that the Sandinistas were actively murdering priests. He studiously avoids mentioning the influence of liberation theology on the Sandinistas or, more importantly, the inclusion of Catholic priests in high-ranking government positions, including education minister Reverend Fernando Cardenal, among others.

In one shocking passage, Prado even likens his training of paramilitary forces in Honduras to the training of the French resistance to the Nazis in World War II. In doing so, he downplays the atrocities committed by the Contras and praises them for their efforts, maintaining that they were freedom fighters intent on bringing democracy to their country.

The Contras, however, were anything but admirable.

One Human Rights Watch report described the Contras as “major and systematic violators of the most basic standards of the laws of armed conflict, including by launching indiscriminate attacks on civilians, selectively murdering non-combatants, and mistreating prisoners.” But though the evidence of Contra savagery and war crimes has stacked up over the last several decades, none of it has altered Prado’s distorted vision.

Sissies and Hellholes

Elsewhere in the book, Prado describes his involvement in the “war on terror” and in CIA activities across the world. Given the recency of some of these events though, he is unable to divulge much information. To be honest, there is little to learn in these passages beyond Prado’s contempt for “hellholes” the world over, the “sour humans” who live in them, and the “sissies” who object to CIA intervention.

Prado claims that the primary intent behind his book is to bring honor and respect to the CIA, an attitude which US citizens presumably lack. As the CIA publicly embraces intersectionality, it’s surprising that seemingly no one told him that his hypermasculine and ethnocentric rhetoric might not close this alleged admiration gap.

Or perhaps it’s not so surprising — at least to anyone familiar with the realities of US foreign policy. It’s just not every day that we see it laid bare, as it is in Black Ops, for all of us to behold.