The Life of a Private Spy
Duane R. (Dewey) Clarridge parted company with the Central Intelligence Agency more than two decades ago, but from poolside at his home near San Diego, he still runs a network of spies.
Over the past two years, he has fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class.
Mr. Clarridge, 78, who was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal and later pardoned, is described by those who have worked with him as driven by the conviction that Washington is bloated with bureaucrats and lawyers who impede American troops in fighting adversaries and that leaders are overly reliant on mercurial allies.
His dispatches – an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports – have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck.
For all of the can-you-top-this qualities to Mr. Clarridge’s operation, it is a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.
It also shows how the outsourcing of military and intelligence operations has spawned legally murky clandestine operations that can be at cross-purposes with America’s foreign policy goals. Despite Mr. Clarridge’s keen interest in undermining Afghanistan’s ruling family, President Obama’s administration appears resigned to working with President Karzai and his half brother, who is widely suspected of having ties to drug traffickers.
Charles E. Allen, a former top intelligence official at the Department of Homeland Security who worked with Mr. Clarridge at the C.I.A., termed him an “extraordinary” case officer who had operated on “the edge of his skis” in missions abroad years ago.
But he warned against Mr. Clarridge’s recent activities, saying that private spies operating in war zones “can get both nations in trouble and themselves in trouble.” He added, “We don’t need privateers.”
The private spying operation, which The New York Times disclosed last year, was tapped by a military desperate for information about its enemies and frustrated with the quality of intelligence from the C.I.A., an agency that colleagues say Mr. Clarridge now views largely with contempt. The effort was among a number of secret activities undertaken by the American government in a shadow war around the globe to combat militants and root out terrorists.
Mr. Clarridge issued a statement that likened his operation, called the Eclipse Group, to the Office of Strategic Services, the C.I.A.’s World War II precursor. “O.S.S. was a success of the past,” he wrote. “Eclipse may possibly be an effective model for the future, providing information to officers and officials of the United States government who have the sole responsibility of acting on it or not.”
Mr. Clarridge – known to virtually everyone by his childhood nickname, Dewey – was born into a staunchly Republican family in New Hampshire, attended Brown University and joined the spy agency during its freewheeling early years. He eventually became head of the agency’s Latin America division in 1981 and helped found the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center five years later.
In postings in India, Turkey, Italy and elsewhere, Mr. Clarridge, using pseudonyms that included Dewey Marone and Dax Preston LeBaron, made a career of testing boundaries in the dark space of American foreign policy. In his 1997 memoir, he wrote about trying to engineer pro-American governments in Italy in the late 1970s (the former American ambassador to Rome, Richard N. Gardner, called him “shallow and devious”), and helping run the Reagan administration’s covert wars against Marxist guerrillas in Central America during the 1980s.
He was indicted in 1991 on charges of lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-contra scandal; he had testified that he was unaware of arms shipments to Iran. But he was pardoned the next year by the first President George Bush.
Now, more than two decades after Mr. Clarridge was forced to resign from the intelligence agency, he tries to run his group of spies as a C.I.A. in miniature. Working from his house in a San Diego suburb, he uses e-mail to stay in contact with his “agents” – their code names include Willi and Waco – in Afghanistan and Pakistan, writing up intelligence summaries based on their reports, according to associates. [Mazzetti/NYTimes/23January2011]