How to Get Away with Murder in America: Drug Lords and the Quiet Man Who Became the CIA's Master Killer

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Description from Amazon.com, excerpts from the Kindle edition.

Unfortunately, while this book contains many tantalizing seeds it doesn't provide context for many events. Further muddying the book's account is the fact that it follows the investigation chronologically, and not the events being investigated. Additional research is needed to build on what this book began.

"In 2008, Jon Roberts, a convicted cocaine trafficker, made a startling claim to me: that more than three decades earlier he had participated in a murder with a man named Ricky Prado, who later entered the Central Intelligence Agency and became a top American spy. The murder to which Roberts referred was one of Miami’s most infamous, that of Richard Schwartz, stepson of the legendary mobster Meyer Lansky." Location 162

"Roberts claimed that Prado was the shooter, provided by a local Cuban drug kingpin named Alberto 'Albert' San Pedro, for whom Prado worked as an enforcer and occasional hit man. Roberts confessed to planning the murder with two mafiosi, Gary Teriaca and Robert 'Bobby' Erra." Location 167

"What made Roberts’s story unbelievable was his claim that four years after the shooting, Prado joined the CIA. In Miami, thugs often claim ties to the CIA. The agency recruited hundreds of Cuban immigrants for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and many of them later became drug traffickers. But Roberts’s story was different. He claimed Prado had been a criminal first and then become a career CIA officer." Location 173

"The investigators had obtained evidence implicating Prado in the murder of Schwartz and several others, as well as in numerous acts of extortion and arson undertaken in support of San Pedro’s drug-trafficking enterprise. Prado was interviewed by federal investigators at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and served with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury. But somehow the subpoena was quashed. No charges were ever filed against him. Within a few years, the CIA promoted Prado into the highest reaches of its Clandestine Services and made him a supervisor in the unit tasked with hunting Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, he was the chief of counterterrorist operations." Location 178

"The CIA promoted Prado into the highest reaches of its Clandestine Services and made him a supervisor in the unit tasked with hunting Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, he was the chief of counterterrorist operations. With the rank of SIS-2—the CIA equivalent of a two-star or major general—he was among a small circle of officers who helped implement the CIA-led invasion of Afghanistan and directed SEAL Team Six on missions there. Throughout his later years at the agency and then at Blackwater, the private military contracting firm where Prado held a senior position, he worked closely with J. Cofer Black. Location 182

"The evidence against Prado was so compelling that one investigator from the case described him as 'technically, a serial killer.'" Location 192

"Jon Roberts first told his tale of Prado’s role in the murder of Richard Schwartz while he and I were working on American Desperado, a book about Roberts’s life as a cocaine smuggler. In 1986, the U.S. government indicted Roberts for helping the Medellín cartel import billions of dollars’ worth of coke." Location 207

"Some of Roberts’s stories seemed fraudulent—tales of serving in the Army Special Forces in Vietnam; his assertion that he once rescued Jimi Hendrix from a kidnapping; his claims about Prado. He also seemed slightly crazy at times. One morning, I found him firing his pistol—a felony for him to possess—off a balcony at a flock of birds, explaining that they had been sent as omens by 'Satan, or God maybe.' Research confirmed some of his wilder stories. A Hendrix biography did cite Roberts as having played a role in his kidnapping—though as Hendrix’s abductor, not rescuer. Some stories did not hold up so well. The National Archives found no records of his alleged military service." Location 220

"Roberts added that Prado also worked steadily as a drug and money courier for San Pedro, and that he had seen him regularly until a few years later, when Prado entered the CIA. 'Ricky was involved with Oliver North and the contras. He was their all-American hero.' Yet Roberts wasn’t even exactly sure of Prado’s name. Location 234

"Enrique “Ric” Prado, Chief Operating Officer Mr. Prado joins Total Intel as Chief Operating Officer. Previously, he was a twenty-four-year veteran and former senior executive officer (SIS-2) in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Prado’s last overt job in the CIA was as Chief of Operations for the Counterterrorist Center under J. Cofer Black. Mr. Prado has been awarded the George H. W. Bush Medal for Excellence in Counterterrorism, the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal and the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal." Location 253

"CIA director Leon Panetta triggered a brief media storm by revealing that after 9/11 the CIA had created a 'targeted assassination unit' to hunt terrorists. The agency had breached its trust with Congress by keeping the unit a secret. Quickly dubbed the “death squad” by reporters, the unit, CIA officials promised, had never been activated. Prado’s name emerged in subsequent reports that the CIA had outsourced the assassination unit to Blackwater. Pamela Hess and Adam Goldman reported for the Associated Press that first at the CIA, and then at Blackwater, 'Prado ran the death squad program.'" Location 261

"'Ricky wanted to go back to Cuba and kick ass against the communists,” El Oso says. 'He thought Vietnam would be good practice.' He sought to enter a branch of service that offered a pathway into special operations, but a recruiter talked him into entering the Air Force and trying out for its pararescue jumper program. PJs were originally trained to rescue downed pilots, but in Vietnam their mission grew to include infiltrating enemy territory to help target bombs dropped by Air Force planes. PJs had evolved into the Air Force’s special operations branch, and they trained alongside Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs." Location 383

"Gary, on the other hand, had a motive for befriending Albert. Albert bragged that he had a source for coke: a Bay of Pigs vet running a smuggling operation. The CIA had trained its Bay of Pigs fighters well. After the agency cut them loose, quite a few put their military skills to use penetrating coastal defenses and moving contraband. They pioneered large-scale smuggling into Florida, and by the late seventies the state had displaced California and Texas as North America’s drug gateway." Location 430

"Gary groomed Albert for criminal success by introducing him to an attorney named Danny Mones. Like Gary, Mones was a second-generation gangster, the son of a top associate of Meyer Lansky’s. It’s said that Lansky paid for Mones’s law-school education at the University of Miami—and made the payoffs necessary for him to pass the bar. Mones, as his former law partner Frank Marks put it, 'couldn’t argue a ticket in traffic court,' but he was a ninja in the dark arts of money laundering and political influence." Location 441

"In military terms, his PJ certification was like a Harvard MBA, but in the civilian job market, skills in knife fighting and improvised bomb making weren’t much in demand." Location 455

"With the help of the ingeniously crooked Danny Mones, Albert found a way for Ricky and other toughs who worked for him to legally carry weapons. He founded a detective agency, which issued them gun permits. As a convicted felon, Albert could not legally own a detective firm, but he found a stooge to serve as his front, a self-professed alcoholic limousine driver and licensed private investigator named Ron Reed. Albert paid Reed to incorporate the firm, which he named the Transworld Detective Agency. The company’s corporate filings listed Albert’s house as its headquarters." Location 486

"After Albert’s original partner, Gary Teriaca, disappeared in 1981, Erra (despite his antidrug views) took over Teriaca’s partnership with Albert. He and Albert didn’t just distribute coke together; they also joined in extortion and offshore money-laundering operations. When their partnership was exposed, federal investigators believed it represented a historic first: a criminal alliance in which a Cuban American attained equal footing with a senior member of the Italian Mafia." Location 580

"In Maryland he had entered a CIA training program to become a paramilitary officer. (The CIA calls its full-time employees officers, not agents, as they’re known in movies; an “agent” refers to an outside asset recruited for a specific job.) Since the 1950s, CIA paramilitaries had served as advisers to foreign armies or resistance groups and had led covert military operations, such as the capture and execution of Che Guevara." Location 598

"Becoming a CIA officer required passing rigorous checks, similar to those performed on prospective FBI agents. The CIA routinely rejected applicants who had no criminal record but had dubious personal associations. Ricky had likely destroyed photographs of him and Albert to try to erase evidence of their relationship. But the CIA normally interviewed an applicant’s spouse, employers, and friends. Had it done so with Ricky, his ties with Albert would have come to light. Albert’s felony convictions and police intelligence reports identifying him as a major drug dealer would have been enough to scuttle Ricky’s chances. Ricky’s ties with El Oso also would have been problematic. In 1980, after having become an enforcer for the Tabraue smuggling clan, El Oso was convicted on federal weapons charges and was a suspect, later convicted, in the murder and beheading of an ATF informant. That Ricky had worked with him at Transworld and had become godparent to his son in a public ceremony would have raised red flags. But Ricky had withdrawn his application from the CIA, perhaps before a background check had been completed. When he did so in late 1980, the CIA was on the verge of a transformation. In January 1981, after President Reagan was sworn in, he named a pugnacious new CIA director, William Casey, who began ramping up covert anticommunist operations in Latin America. The agency began to rapidly expand its paramilitary forces. As Ricky later told OCS investigators, in September 1981—nine months after he had withdrawn his application—someone from CIA headquarters invited him to reapply for a “paramilitary assignment in South America.” Ricky resubmitted his application on November 23, 1981. OCS investigators who later reviewed Ricky’s second application saw that it elided many details about his life. There was no mention of his employment at Transworld. For personal references, Ricky listed five people, such as the owner of the clothing store where he’d worked during high school, who had had very little contact with him after graduation. Mike Fisten, who reviewed the application and had undergone similar FBI checks to join CENTAC, says, “From a security-clearance standpoint, Ricky’s application was a joke.” Nevertheless, the CIA hired Ricky in January 1982 as a paramilitary officer in the Special Activities Division, its most secretive section." Location 603

"Mike Fisten, who reviewed the application and had undergone similar FBI checks to join CENTAC, says, “From a security-clearance standpoint, Ricky’s application was a joke.” Nevertheless, the CIA hired Ricky in January 1982 as a paramilitary officer in the Special Activities Division, its most secretive section." Location 618

"Ricky’s job included training contras and assisting them in hostile operations—runs across the border into Nicaragua to blow up pipelines, torch grain stores, and kill Nicaraguan soldiers or civilians who tried to stop them." Location 628

"Whether it was or not, OCS detectives would learn that Ricky was a stellar CIA employee. After the contra program, he was posted to Peru to help fight the CIA’s covert war against leftist guerrillas and then, in the late 1980s, to the Philippines. Along the way he earned a diploma from George Mason University, enabling his promotion to staff officer. The leap from paramilitary to a managerial position was not typical, but Bill Casey’s reinvigorated CIA valued men of action." Location 638

"His effort to clear his record would prove to be his undoing. Albert began paying crooked cops in the Hialeah and Miami-Dade police departments to destroy files pertaining to his past crimes, believing that if the records no longer existed, his lawyers might find it easier to have his records legally expunged. When an MDPD intelligence unit got wind of his activities, the department set up a sting." Location 664

"The process does transfer control to federal prosecutors, but cops on the case are sworn in as federal agents, investing them with significant powers. Notably, they fall under section 1001 of the U.S. Code, which makes it a felony to lie to a federal agent. 'There’s no law against lying to a cop,' says Mike Fisten. 'But once you take that federal oath, it’s like magic. You tell us any lie, we can seriously fuck you up. That’s leverage.'" Location 716

"Even before Lehtinen took office, federal prosecutors had Martinez on a list of targets for corruption investigation, and in this Albert saw his opportunity. He contacted Lehtinen through his attorney and offered to testify against Martinez in exchange for federal immunity for all his past crimes. Lehtinen jumped at the offer. That’s right: The top law enforcement official in Miami launched his campaign against corruption by going after his wife’s political opponent." Location 775

"After they informed the agency that he was a subject in a RICO investigation, a CIA associate general counsel named E. Page Moffett began handling the matter. Through the 1980s, Moffett had defended the agency in legal actions related to its covert wars in Central America. Moffett arranged for Ricky to fly in from the Philippines and sit for an interview with OCS investigators at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia." Location 958

"Moffett warned federal prosecutors that pursuing Ricky risked exposing national-security secrets. Fisten says, 'We were told Ricky was involved with the contras and Ollie North, and those wounds had just closed. The CIA didn’t want us to reopen them.' While there are records that confirm Ricky was served with a subpoena, I could find no record that it was quashed—a judicial action that normally leaves a paper trail. Two former federal prosecutors familiar with the case declined to speak to me about it." Location 984

"One day, Revuelta says, some 'white guys' came into the Fontainebleau, told him they were CIA, and 'recruited me.' They got him and a bellhop involved in the scheme to steal bombs from Homestead, which were supposed to be dropped on a power plant near Havana by private pilots flying a rented plane. Revuelta was told that Air Force guards would look the other way when he and his cohort drove off with the bombs. But when a guard who wasn’t clued in to the scheme arrested them, the CIA disavowed Revuelta and left him to rot in jail. When he was released—by that order from Robert F. Kennedy—his CIA handlers sent him to Guatemala to take flight lessons so he could fly in the Bay of Pigs. The CIA subsequently employed him through the 1960s in a variety of oddball destabilization operations." Location 1318

"Black, who today serves as a national-security senior adviser to Mitt Romney, is a perplexing figure. To his critics, he is one of the most dangerous incompetents ever handed the levers of power in Washington. Others see him as a bold thinker who was ahead of his time in recognizing the threat of Al Qaeda and in advocating doctrines, once considered radical, that are now central to American national security. In 1999, CIA director George Tenet named Black head of the Counter Terrorist Center (CTC), the agency’s primary unit dedicated to fighting terrorism. After Al Qaeda’s twin bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Tenet had declared a CIA 'war' on Osama bin Laden. When Black took the reins of the CTC, he became in effect the CIA’s top general in that war." Location 1410

"Their most aggressive, though seldom-used, tool was the “rendition”—kidnapping wanted suspects on foreign soil. But since the CIA had no prisons, it quickly delivered captured suspects to other agencies. The darkest form of rendition involved handing captives over to secret police in places like Egypt for torture. In some instances, renditions simply resulted in captives, who were wanted by the FBI, being handed to allied police agencies that in turn delivered them to U.S. authorities for extradition." Location 1423

"Black’s vision of the CTC harked back to Bill Casey’s CIA of the early 1980s, with its aggressive embrace of paramilitary operations in Central America. Black had little actual authority to mount the sorts of operations he proposed at the CTC. Assassinations required presidential approval." Location 1428

"Prado’s background as a paramilitary and a veteran of Casey’s covert wars in Central America no doubt added to his qualifications to serve as Black’s chief of operations. As the title implied, the job made Prado responsible for all the moving pieces at the CTC—supervising field officers on surveillance, rendition, or other missions, and making sure that logistics were in order, that personnel were in place. The job required Prado to be both super spy and super office administrator." Location 1440

"It began as a classic surveillance operation. A few months after Black took his post, the CTC received intelligence that two known Al Qaeda militants were traveling to Malaysia in early 2000 to meet with a top bin Laden supporter. The CTC dispatched a surveillance team, which tracked the militants to their meeting and photographed them. Somehow, the CTC officers lost them, but a few weeks later, Thai intelligence authorities informed the CTC that the two had boarded a flight for Los Angeles." Location 1469

"CTC never notified the FBI or the Federal Aviation Administration that the two Al Qaeda militants were in the United States. Using their real names, the militants moved to San Diego, rented an apartment, purchased a car, and enrolled in flight school. For the next eighteen months they trained, traveled around the country, met with other Al Qaeda members, and, on the morning of September 11, 2001, boarded American Airlines flight 67 and helped hijack it and fly it into the Pentagon. Later, White House national security adviser Richard Clarke accused Black of covering up the failed operation before the 9/11 attacks in order to protect his reputation. Black denied the allegations and testified before the 9/11 Commission that the CTC had notified the FBI. The members of the commission rejected this claim, writing in The 9/11 Commission Report, 'We conclude this was not the case.'" Location 1474

"It would be an understatement to say Black failed up. Hours after the 9/11 attacks, Black was able to announce that the CTC, using passenger lists from the hijacked planes, had determined that Al Qaeda was behind the attacks. The fact that two of the passengers on the jet that struck the Pentagon were the same militants the CTC had tracked to the Al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia made the identification fairly simple. Word of that bungled operation hadn’t gotten out yet, so when Black presented his superiors with proof of the Al Qaeda connection so quickly, he appeared to be a counterterrorist whiz. He soon got the president’s ear as well. Two days after 9/11, Black took center stage in a briefing with President Bush at the White House. Bush was eager to strike bin Laden in Afghanistan, but the military wasn’t ready, and George Tenet warned that any effort would take months to succeed. Black then pitched a wildly optimistic scheme: Send in CIA paramilitaries immediately and, with the help of Northern Alliance rebel forces and massive amounts of air power, they could topple the Taliban and wipe out Al Qaeda in a matter of weeks." Location 1488

"Black’s Afghanistan operation, however, was hardly his most lasting achievement. In the hours after 9/11, he also authored a memo that President Bush used as a template to rewrite national policies regarding assassination and the powers of the CIA. Written in consultation with White House attorneys, Black’s memo called for authorization for the CIA to arm drones for attacks on militants. It also called for altering the rendition program by permitting the CIA to incarcerate captives (in what later became known as “black site” prisons); to interrogate them using enhanced techniques (later to include waterboarding); and to conduct assassinations using human operators on the ground. Perhaps the most significant change Black’s memo called for was removing Justice Department oversight for renditions and eliminating the need for presidential authorization to carry out specific assassinations." Location 1505

"The most surprising revelation about the unit was that, in 2004, the CIA handed over its operation to Blackwater, the private military contracting firm. Prado reportedly negotiated the deal to transfer the unit, and then retired from the CIA and was hired by Blackwater, where he ran the assassination unit as a private citizen. The move was historic: It seems to have marked the first time the U.S. government outsourced a covert assassination service to private enterprise." Location 1527

"Prado and Black each spent about four years at Blackwater. Theirs was a rocky road. Blackwater had been founded in 1997 to provide support to the military. Under international law, countries are permitted to send only national military personnel into combat. Use of mercenaries is a war crime, and Americans have taken a dim view of them ever since the British hired the Hessians to put down the Revolution. But since the 1990s the United States has interpreted international law to permit it to field armed contractors. Although the legal justifications aren’t entirely coherent, they have coalesced around the idea that armed contractors are permissible as long as they serve defensive roles. The rationale behind Blackwater was that the company would take on drudge work—guarding bases, convoys, or diplomats—and free up soldiers for dangerous offensive operations. Shortly after Prado and Black arrived at Blackwater, a series of scandals rocked the company. Most of them stemmed from offenses the company’s guards committed in Iraq, culminating in the massacre of seventeen unarmed civilians in 2007. That same year, several Blackwater executives, including its president, faced indictments for their alleged role in a gun-trafficking scheme. Neither Black nor Prado was implicated." Location 1543

"After its existence was disclosed, administration officials later admitted to the New York Times that it had conducted surveillance and training missions preparatory to carrying out assassinations, and an official suggested that the Blackwater unit may have been involved in some renditions. After Prado created the unit at Blackwater, the CIA appears to have awarded the firm contracts worth about $600 million—though it’s not clear what portion of this went to Prado’s assassination unit. In 2007, Prado and Black launched Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), the Blackwater subsidiary on whose website I first found Prado’s résumé. They billed it as a corporate security firm, and in 2007 Black and Prado permitted reporters to tour TIS’s Global Fusion Center, a high-tech command post modeled after one at the CTC." Location 1555

"Two Blackwater contractors told me that their firm began conducting assassinations in Afghanistan as early as 2008. They claimed to have participated in such operations—one in a support role, the other as a 'trigger puller.' The contractors, to whom I spoke in 2009 and 2010, were both ex–Special Forces soldiers who were not particularly bothered by assassination work, although they did question the legality of Blackwater’s involvement in it. According to the 'trigger puller,' he and a partner were selected for one such operation because they were Mexican Americans, whose darker skin enabled them to blend in as Afghan civilians. The first mission he described took place in 2008. He and his partner spent three weeks training outside Kabul, becoming accustomed to walking barefoot like Afghans while toting weapons underneath their jackets." Location 1597

"According to several sources, Obama’s administration has surpassed Bush’s in the covert use of contractors in the Middle East. They serve in offensive roles and operate from bases they run jointly with the CIA. To maintain his principled vows to end two wars, the president has executed a strategy based on replacing American soldiers with American-led mercenaries. Apparently, the temptations offered by deniable, covert, private killers are too much for any president to resist." Location 1619

"A decade ago, Prado’s friend Robert Nieves appeared on PBS’s Frontline 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." Location 1674