The Short Version
Born and raised in the Bronx. Graduated Boston College. Played football. Studied martial arts under Grandmaster Bong Soo Han, the the artist that was the “real” Billy Jack. Learned how to kill from the old-school USMC Force Recon. Fluent in Spanish. Successful International Banker. Recruited by the CIA. Twice. Ran operations throughout South America and Western Africa. Recruited by the Mossad. Once. Imprisoned, twice.
The Longer Story
During the late 70’s, while still in my junior year at Boston College, I was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. The letter came in a plain, white business envelope, with a nondescript, downtown Boston return address printed on it. It inquired as to whether I might be interested in a very exciting and challenging international career, defending America’s interests abroad. It suggested that I call the phone number provided. At the time I was not very interested, as my true desire was to become a Marine Corps fighter pilot. I wanted to fly the Harrier. I was curious, though, as to how I wound up on the CIA “list.” I came to find out later on that BC was a hotbed of recruiting by the Clandestine Services of the various U.S. intelligence agencies, and my background fit one of their profiles. I tossed the letter into a big brown box with all of my other career information and job applications.
That summer, as it turns out, my 20-20 vision slipped a little bit to 20-25 minus, and as a result I wasn’t going to be able to fly Harriers for the Marines. I was devastated. My dream had crashed and burned in the blink of an eye, literally. I was lost. For the first time since my eighth birthday, I cried. I had no idea what to do next. Now terribly depressed, I couldn’t see myself graduating BC and working a desk job, even though that’s what my business school education had trained me for. A job in banking and finance. I couldn’t think of anything more boring.
Maybe it was Fate, though more likely Desperation, that drove me to search for that envelope I had received months before. The female voice on the other end of the telephone answering machine politely but firmly asked that I leave my name, date and time of call. That was how it began. A year later I was accepted by the CIA as a “Pre-Career Trainee”, basically a glorified gopher. It was a new program for young, inexperienced (idiotic but impressionable) college grads. If you made a good impression on somebody, then maybe after two or three years you would be placed in the “Career Training Program,” and were sent to the “Farm,” the CIA spy and tradecraft school at Camp Peary, Virginia. Everyone in the CIA’s Clandestine Service goes through this program. It is ridiculously selective. Some of the smartest and most patriotic Americans on this planet have been through this program. If you did not make an impression, you went home.
On my first day at the Agency I took a battery of medical and psychological tests, followed by the lie detector, which I promptly and unceremoniously, flunked. I lied about smoking pot at BC, having been told by other recruits that I had met during the yearlong interview process that ANY drug use was a no-go and would prevent my employment at the agency. So, when my 22 year-old idiot brain told me to lie, I lied. I thought that if I never, ever caved in that they might believe me, they might think they were making a mistake, the lie detector was giving a false positive, etc. They kept me in the chair for four hours, trying to “break” me. At least that’s what I stupidly thought. They actually just wanted me to admit the truth, and stay clean for 6 months. I found that out four years later. I was promptly terminated before I really started. I had crashed and burned again. Again!
Fast-forward four years and I’m a successful young International Banker, working and travelling frequently between and around the U.S., Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. I had a very hot Colombian girlfriend. I spoke fluent Spanish and had no problem wandering around down there. Flying to Miami from Bogota’ after a business trip late one night, my first-class seatmate struck up a casual conversation with me. His questions got a little personal, and at first I thought he was gay, and might be hitting on me. I kept an eye on my cocktail. Quickly, though I figured it out and started laughing to myself as I connected the dots and realized that I was being recruited again! This time the CIA was looking for a true “agent,” not an employee. This is somebody who has information, relationships or access that the Intelligence community pays cash for. Apparently the Agency didn’t have a lot of access into the Colombian government at the time, whereas I had made some significant contacts in the Colombian government and industry. I debated their offer, and after a few weeks of negotiating I agreed, as long as they would put me through their Paramilitary Program at Harvey Point in North Carolina. I always thought that would be a blast (no pun, really). They said they would, but to do that I needed to get a commission.
I quit my day job, and attended USMC Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. Upon completion I received a Lieutenant’s commission in the U.S. Marine Corps, and drove down to Harvey Point. Six months later I was back working again in a high-paying corporate job, as Vice President in charge of Latin America for one of the world’s largest banks.
By day I was successfully arranging legitimate financing for energy and development projects throughout the region, and by night I was funding guerilla activity throughout Latin America, and posing as a banker to drug lords, including soldiers in the army of Pablo Escobar. I was having a blast, making truckloads of money and living a large life in the fastest of fast lanes. I lived by my own rules, dictated my own terms. And I was winning. I had no fear. That would come later-
I was extremely successful in both my banking career and my Agency relationship. So much so that I was asked by the Agency to get to know some people in West Africa. In particular, someone whom I had met a few times while I was living in Boston, a former Bentley College student named Charles Taylor-
As most of you now know, Charles Taylor is one of the most vile mass murderers and war criminals History has ever seen. He tried real hard to rank with Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan and Mao. He is currently imprisoned in Holland, awaiting the outcome of an appeal following his trial and conviction by the International Criminal Court of The Hague for Crimes Against Humanity. These occurred during his presidency in Liberia and the ensuing civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The whole Blood Diamond conflict. That said, at one time Charles Taylor was a valued informant for the CIA and the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), particularly regarding the now-deceased Moammar Gadhafi’s activity in Libya, and Al Qaeda’s activities in Africa. I was asked to go to Liberia on my own and pretend to offer financing for his regime.
What happened there could fill the pages of another book. Maybe I’ll write about that one day. For now, all I’ll say is that what I experienced there was Hell. Sierra Leone and Liberia were and still are, Hell. But that’s where I really learned how to survive the true, total breakdown of civilized society. Part training, part Bronx and partly because of some guys at the Hotel Boulevard in Monrovia I made it out alive. Not all bad, though, as we all took a bunch of “souvenirs” home with us. “Souvenirs” are an important theme throughout my book. My ex-wife will be shocked to read here that the giant, emerald-cut rock she still wears on her right hand originally came from Sierra Leone. So did our Picasso. Indirectly. For the rest of you, don’t kid yourself that what went on over there was all Taylor’s fault. We helped put Taylor in the position to wreak the havoc he did. And De Beers had a whole lot to do with it. Yeah, the Diamond people. Scumbags. That’s what really made me quit that whole life (and the fact that I had stolen enough of their money to actually do it!).