AFTER-ACTION REPORTSpying used to mean stealing another government's secrets, but what can spies achieve in a country with no government?
By Vernon Loeb
Sunday, February 27, 2000
One night in October 1993, Garrett Jones saw his life pass before his eyes on the evening news.
On his television screen, a wounded Army helicopter pilot named Michael Durant was being carried on a stretcher to a waiting airplane after 11 days' captivity in Mogadishu, the war-racked capital of Somalia. Jones, watching in his living room in Silver Spring, could feel his breathing accelerate and his heart begin to pound. In the seconds it takes to air a foreign report on television news, he began to feel that he, too, was standing on the sun-blasted tarmac. He could hear the turbines whining. He could smell the jet fuel burning in the salty ocean air.
Just four days before, Jones had been on that tarmac. He was the CIA's chief of station, Mogadishu, an old Africa hand who had spent most of his spy career on the continent. But nothing had prepared him for what happened in the Somali capital. In 14 years with the agency, he'd never seen his deputy shot, or taken mortar fire night after night, or watched a firefight engulf a city, or seen his buddies in the U.S. military maimed and killed. But all of that, and more, happened in only eight weeks in Mogadishu. Somalia was something entirely new.
It is hard to play the classic espionage game -- stealing another government's secrets -- in places that have no government. But more and more, this is where the CIA finds itself, chasing terrorists and drug kingpins, weapons merchants and warlords. George J. Tenet, the current director of central intelligence, says the CIA's operational agenda is "running hotter than ever -- hotter than anyone expected in the aftermath of the Cold War -- from Somalia to Haiti to Bosnia to Rwanda to Burundi, Iraq, Kosovo and East Timor."
During the Cold War, the CIA strove for "presence" around the globe, dueling with its archenemy, the KGB, from Moscow to Malaysia. But now, with the KGB gone and the Berlin Wall dismantled and a proliferation of rogue nations and regional wars demanding the agency's attention, the watchword is "coverage" and the capability required, "surge" -- putting spies and high-tech eavesdroppers on the ground anywhere in the world, in a hurry.
The Persian Gulf War, in 1991, was something of a turning point for the CIA. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf complained that battlefield analyses from intelligence agencies were "caveated, disagreed with, footnoted and watered down" and said the CIA and other intelligence agencies "should be asked to come up with a system that will, in fact, be capable of delivering a real-time product to a theater commander when he requests that." In response, senior CIA officials decided that supporting military missions would become a priority. In the summer of 1993, Somalia became a painful test case.
Very few people know much about what the CIA is doing in places like Kosovo and East Timor today, because secrecy is an operational imperative. But in this regard, too, Somalia is something new: Jones and his deputy, John Spinelli, have chosen to talk in some detail about what they did there and why. Their decision was prompted both by anger at the Clinton administration and the CIA, which is now their former employer, and by pride in their commitment to their mission. Their accounts are limited by their desire not to disclose information that would identify CIA agents or divulge classified information. The agency declined to comment on their account, but key parts of it were corroborated in interviews with officials familiar with the operation. Together, Jones and Spinelli provide one of the fullest descriptions yet of a CIA operation in the post-Cold War world -- a narrative that illuminates the hazards of "mission creep," when peacekeeping operations become heavily armed exercises in "nation building," and the limitations of on-the-fly intelligence in a spy paradigm that mixes special operations and law enforcement.
The Somalia they came to know was surely a nation in need of building. A revolt against the country's sitting dictator in 1991 had left the capital in anarchy; the ensuing civil war ravaged southern Somalia and triggered a famine as farmers fled into the bush. Then another war broke out in Mogadishu, between forces loyal to the two principal leaders of the revolt. Along the way, the U.S. Embassy and the CIA's Mogadishu station were evacuated by helicopter. The United Nations suspended its efforts at famine relief because of thievery and fighting. In late 1992, President George Bush sent 25,000 U.S. troops to Somalia for the express purpose of assuring the delivery of U.N. food, medicine and other supplies.
As soon as Operation Restore Hope was unveiled, the CIA sent advance teams to Somalia to assess conditions on the ground before the troops arrived. The first American killed in Somalia, in fact, was a CIA operative whose vehicle hit a mine outside Bardera on December 23, 1992. "The U.S. military was going into Somalia knowing nothing about Somalia," William R. Piekney, then chief of the CIA's Africa division, said in a recent interview. "We were their eyes and ears on the ground."
By May 1993, with relief supplies flowing, famine on the wane and the country relatively peaceful, the United States withdrew most of its troops and turned Somalia over to a U.N. peacekeeping force. With almost no planning, the U.N. Security Council broadened the peacekeepers' mandate from securing relief operations to "the rehabilitation of the political institutions and economy of Somalia."
The Clinton administration strongly supported this more aggressive stance. Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the goal was "nothing less than the restoration of an entire country." Eager to maintain the Americans' enthusiasm, the United Nations named retired U.S. Navy Adm. Jonathan Howe, who had been President Bush's deputy national security adviser, as its senior representative in Somalia.
All of this infuriated Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, the warlord whose Somali National Alliance had emerged as the dominant force in Mogadishu. Realizing that the United Nations' peacekeepers would be a far weaker adversary than the U.S. Marines, Aideed immediately began increasing his armed presence in Mogadishu. He also began broadcasting a stream of anti-U.N. invective on Radio Mogadishu, his fury fueled by his antipathy for Egypt, the homeland of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and a steadfast supporter of Mohamed Siad Barre, the dictator Aideed had helped depose two years earlier.
In early June, 24 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed in an ambush just after they had inspected Aideed's radio transmission center. Soon, Howe himself issued an arrest warrant for Aideed and offered a $25,000 reward, turning U.N. peacekeepers into a posse. Aideed denied involvement in the ambush and asked for a commission of inquiry.
Howe reported to U.N. headquarters in New York but also had direct access to senior officials in the Clinton White House. He quickly emerged as a hawkish force who saw Aideed as the root of Somalia's problems. He began lobbying U.S. officials to send in the Delta Force, America's most secretive and potent fighting unit, to apprehend the warlord.
Any chance the peacekeepers had of negotiating with Aideed disappeared in mid-July, when a unit of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division -- the American component of the U.N. peacekeeping force -- launched a ferocious missile attack on the Somali National Alliance's command center, killing at least 20, and perhaps as many as 50, Aideed lieutenants and operatives. The attack, approved at the highest levels of both the United Nations and the Clinton administration, was supposed to remove Aideed and the SNA as an obstacle to nation building in Somalia.
It had the opposite effect: The SNA declared war. And the United States was the enemy. In August 1993, Jones and Spinelli arrived to support the American side.
An ancient dc-3 crossed the desert from Nairobi until it reached Somalia's turquoise coastline and banked sharply over the Indian Ocean. Jones looked down at the coral heads and thought of Key West, knowing that when he landed in Mogadishu there would be little beauty.
Jones was 43, a former Miami police detective with a stocky build, round face and bushy mustache. He had just finished a year's study at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., where he'd written a paper on U.N. peacekeeping missions' need for a dedicated structure for analyzing intelligence. Three other temporary station chiefs had already rotated in and out of Somalia, and Jones was the only candidate left back at Langley who wanted to go and knew anything about Africa. The CIA, strapped for funds, was closing stations all over the continent.
After Jones's plane touched down in Mogadishu, the cabin door opened to a rush of hot air, the smell of burning garbage and the sight of piles of airplane wreckage along the tarmac, remnants of Somalia's air force. There was vodka on the breath of the pilot of the Russian helicopter that ferried Jones to the former U.S. compound on the other side of town, which had been taken over by the United Nations.
There to meet him was his deputy, Spinelli, 46, a former New York City police detective. He was a solid man with dark hair and a long, thin nose, a native Roman who had immigrated to Brooklyn with his family when he was 12. Only a week before, Spinelli had been torn from a plum assignment in the CIA's Rome station and sent to Somalia. He knew nothing about Africa, but he spoke Italian, and the Italians in the U.N. peacekeeping force weren't getting along with their American counterparts.
When Spinelli took Jones to the CIA station, the new chief's jaw dropped: It consisted of two windblown rooms in the vandalized former residence of the U.S. ambassador. Only one room had a door. Spinelli told him they had no business being in the middle of this war zone, trying to meet secretly with agents in a city where they couldn't drive down the street without getting shot at.
Beyond providing intelligence support to the military, Jones's marching orders were simple: Finish moving the CIA's base of operations from the airstrip to the station inside the U.N. compound, and patch up the CIA's relations with U.S. special envoy Robert Gosende, which had basically ceased after Gosende and Jones's predecessor clashed.
If this were a movie, Jones remembers thinking, Francis Ford Coppola would have to direct. Beyond the walls of the U.N. compound, there was no controlling authority other than clansmen cruising the streets in jeeps with mounted machine guns. Buildings had no roofs, windows had no panes, roads had no pavement and everything was full of bullet holes. The CIA's electronic snoops tried to monitor Aideed's radio traffic from a tent on the sand dune overlooking the airstrip, but all the high-tech wizardry was of little value; Mogadishu had sunk to what might be called a pre-electronic state. If Jones's band of spies were going to help the military arrest Aideed, they would have to do it by working those streets.
The agency's primary "asset," as paid informants are known in CIA parlance, was a minor subclan leader from north Mogadishu left over from before the U.S. government pulled out in 1991. As warlords went, he controlled maybe 400 men, which was laughable in the face of Aideed's thousands. But the Warlord had his connections, and the CIA's ability to rent an army -- however small -- was not insignificant. The Warlord and his men knew the lay of the land and had some chance of actually finding Aideed.
The Warlord was so valuable, given the paucity of alternatives, that the CIA brought in a veteran operations officer who had worked with him in the past to run him again. The officer, code-named Condor, had distinguished himself as a military officer in Vietnam and become a stellar CIA operator. Condor had another critical attribute: He was African American, which allowed him to blend into the scenery in a way that Jones and Spinelli, white men both, never could.
With Condor on the scene, the CIA's Office of Technical Services back in Langley implanted a homing beacon into an ivory-handled walking stick and hatched a plan straight out of Hollywood: The Warlord would give Aideed the walking stick as a token of friendship. After that, tracking Aideed would be a simple matter of following the beacon's signal.
The chaos in the city kept building. In early August, just four days after Spinelli had arrived, four U.S. soldiers were killed when their Humvee hit a land mine just a mile from the U.N. compound. On August 22, six more Americans were wounded by a land mine.
Soon afterward, Jones drove out to the beachfront airstrip to meet a cigar-chomping man dressed in the uniform of an Army private. The fact that this putative private had arrived in his own C-141 Starlifter, accompanied by an advance team of security guards, communications technicians and logistics officers, told Jones all he needed to know: The Delta Force was being sent in to take down Aideed.
"With you in town, I work for you," Jones told the man with the cigar. He was Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison, Delta's commander, traveling under cover.
"Okay," Jones remembers Garrison replying, "I need intelligence."
A CIA case officer, code-named Buffalo, arrived with the Delta Force advance team and worked out of its operations center at the airstrip, ensuring close communications between Delta and the agency's Mogadishu station. (To blend in with the soldiers, Buffalo, a burly 250-pounder with curly hair, had shaved his head back at Fort Bragg.) Garrison, meanwhile, assigned a military officer code-named Gringo II to work with Jones inside the CIA station. Operation Gothic Serpent -- the code name for the pursuit of Aideed -- was rapidly taking shape.
The Warlord, however, would not be taking part. The CIA's prize asset shot himself in the head playing Russian roulette the night before the full Delta task force was due to arrive.
As soon as Jones heard, he sent Spinelli to the American military hospital inside the U.N. compound to make sure the Warlord would be admitted, but the chief military doctor said no -- this was a U.S. military hospital, and the man with the bullet in his head was a Somali civilian. Spinelli and a Marine major from military intelligence tried to explain. A heated argument ensued, which Spinelli won after he threatened to have the doctor put on the next flight out.
Then he received an informed medical opinion on the Warlord's condition, which he relayed to Jones by phone: "Garrett, this guy is a goner. He's alive, but he's not going to make it until morning."
Plan A was expiring on the operating table, and Jones had no Plan B.
That night, August 26, Task Force Ranger -- 130 Delta Force commandos, a company of U.S. Rangers and 16 helicopters -- touched down aboard six giant C-5A Galaxy cargo jets.
Aideed greeted America's best special forces with a massive mortar barrage at the airstrip.
Garrison decided to strike back hard and fast. The Delta Force's intelligence chief asked Jones about a known hangout for leaders of the Somali National Alliance, a place called the Lig-Ligato house off Via Lenin. "Yeah, that's a good target," Jones said, knowing that sometimes Aideed himself visited.
Delta Force commandos launched at 3 a.m. on August 30 in a dozen helicopters, roping down onto the roof and handcuffing Lig-Ligato's occupants in a matter of minutes. The only problem was that their captives turned out to be a handful of U.N. aid officials and their Somali assistants. Aideed's men were nowhere to be found. U.S. military officials defended the raid as a precision operation, and Jones contends that it sent the right message to Aideed's forces, but the raid caused a stir back in Washington and showed just how difficult arresting Aideed was going to be.
Frustrated by a lack of useful intelligence about Aideed's whereabouts, Garrison quickly moved to the next phase of Operation Gothic Serpent: going after Aideed's six top lieutenants, known as Tier One personalities. If you can't find the head, attack the body. The cigar-chomping general asked Jones about a Tier One list.
Jones had never been told of such a list. "Do you think you could find out?," Jones remembers him barking. "There's supposed to be a list of targets." Garrison, now retired, declined to comment for this article.
Jones scrambled over to the military intelligence unit at the 10th Mountain Division's quick reaction force, which he'd consulted with regularly from the moment he arrived. Much to his surprise, the officers there had a list. No one had thought it was important -- until now. Jones got a copy, reviewed it with Gosende and Howe, and then forwarded it to his people and to Garrison. While dozens of CIA communications technicians and logistics officers began arriving to support the mission, Jones's cadre of operations officers -- actual spies who ran the CIA's paid Somali assets -- never numbered more than half a dozen (and ended up working round the clock). They immediately spotted problems with the list. One of the men on it was actually an Italian citizen. Another was a former Somali military official who was by then working against Aideed, not with him.
Jones grew more and more apprehensive: Plan A had died with the Warlord, leaving few assets on the ground and 400 elite commandos sitting in a hangar itching to kick ass and leave. And all he had was this half-baked list. "They were sitting there looking at me saying, we can't move until you give us something," Jones remembers.
Condor came to the rescue. His plan was both simple and daring: He would take over the Warlord's men and deploy them as a surveillance team to find Aideed. Spinelli had known Condor for 10 years, and cared about him. He didn't think Condor would last more than 20 minutes if Aideed's forces uncovered his location.
But Jones, desperate to get something going for the Delta Force, told Condor to write up his proposal. Langley approved it, and Garrison assigned four Navy SEAL snipers to protect Condor and a CIA communications officer. He also vowed to go in and get them out within 15 minutes if their cover was ever compromised.
Late one inky night, a Blackhawk helicopter took Condor's team to a deserted soccer stadium in north Mogadishu, where a truck was waiting to ferry them to a safehouse. Soon, encrypted radio communications began emanating from Condor's base deep within the city.
Now it was Spinelli's turn to be daring. Another CIA asset, an aide to one of Aideed's political rivals, told Spinelli that two Aideed bodyguards were ready to give up their boss's location in exchange for the $25,000 reward. He wanted to meet the bodyguards at his asset's compound in north Mogadishu to test their credibility and, possibly, plan an ambush, but traveling in the city had become hazardous enough to make any such meeting problematic.
The only way to map out a route was from the air. Spinelli, Gringo II and the head of the CIA's security team went up in a Blackhawk helicopter and plotted a land route that went around the city, through a U.N. checkpoint near an old pasta factory and then into north Mogadishu.
Jones had urged Spinelli to meet the bodyguards and evaluate their offer, but when the reconnaissance team returned from its overflight, the chief left it up to his deputy to decide whether to attempt a meeting. "John, it's your call," Jones said.
"We'll do it tomorrow morning, early, before anybody gets up," Spinelli replied.
The following morning, a Sunday, Spinelli and four CIA bodyguards climbed into two Isuzu Troopers and left the U.N. compound a little after 8 o'clock. Spinelli started noticing debris and burned tires on the road that he hadn't seen from the air the previous day, but the route was still clear -- until they made a 45-degree turn at Checkpoint Pasta.
As soon as they turned, their Trooper was engulfed by a crowd along the road. Looking ahead 200 yards, Spinelli could see burning tires, huge chunks of concrete obstructing the way, and a Blackhawk helicopter hovering overhead, looking as though it were preparing to fire.
Italian peacekeepers had turned Pasta over to a Nigerian contingent that morning -- without telling Spinelli, their official liaison to the CIA and the U.S. military. Aideed's forces had immediately attacked the Nigerians. Spinelli was heading straight into somebody else's ambush.
Sitting in the back seat of one of the Troopers, Spinelli told the driver to stop. "Let's get the hell out of here," he said. "We can't make it."
The driver kept going.
Within seconds, bullets ripped into the vehicle. Kevlar shields protected the two bodyguards in the front seat, but not Spinelli, in the back. A shot tore into his neck through a gap in his flak jacket.
Lying face down on the back seat, he started drifting into and out of consciousness as he watched his blood pooling on the floor. With that, the driver turned around, drove out of the mob and pulled over near an Italian armored personnel carrier. The bodyguards hadn't gotten off a shot.
Jones was shaving in his trailer in the U.N. compound, his two-way radio by the sink. He heard muffled cries, followed by a frantic message from one of the bodyguards.
"Leopard's shot," he said, using Spinelli's code name.
When Jones got to the hospital after a short drive within the U.N. compound, Spinelli's bloodied flak jacket was lying on the ground next to the Trooper. The vehicle had been hit 49 times. Gringo II was trying to break up a fight between the two frightened bodyguards and two U.S. military guards who had been manning a security gate outside the hospital. The CIA's men had flattened it in their panic to get Spinelli inside.
Two vascular surgeons in the Army Reserve happened to be passing through on a busman's holiday when medics burst through the doors carrying the wounded CIA officer. Spinelli was on the operating table, still conscious, when Jones came in minutes later. "Don't tell my wife!" he cried out to Jones. "Don't tell my wife!"
It took the doctors 25 pints of blood, an artery graft and 100 stitches to get him out of danger. Bundles of nerves in his left shoulder had been severed. He couldn't feel his left arm. He needed more surgery.
Spinelli's doctors wanted him flown out of Mogadishu's filthy environment as quickly as possible, to cut the risk of infection, but the CIA had trouble providing a medevac plane. Jones appealed to Garrison, and Garrison got Spinelli out on a military flight to Germany the following day, pinning a Purple Heart on his hospital gown on the tarmac. It had been a month since Spinelli had arrived from Rome.
He flew to Germany. Then he flew a total of 20 more hours to the United States. It was 1 a.m. when he arrived in an ambulance at Fairfax Hospital -- and 6 a.m. when the other patient in his room started watching cartoons on the TV. With a stream of senior CIA officials stopping by his bed, Spinelli asked if he could have a private room. But a CIA doctor told him that his health insurance wouldn't cover it.
He got a private room after convincing top CIA officials that the situation compromised agency security. At one point, the agency's deputy director of operations, Thomas Twetten, came by for a visit. "This is your time to ask for anything you want," he told the wounded spy. Spinelli remembers thinking that a promotion from GS-14 to GS-15 might be in order, but before he could say anything, his wife, Darlene, still disoriented from her trip from Rome, said she could use a map of Fairfax County. Twetten went out to get one.
When he came back, he asked Spinelli what the agency should be doing in Mogadishu.
"Declare victory and leave," Spinelli said.
"I agree," Twetten said. "But we aren't likely to have that happen soon."
Condor survived in north Mogadishu for 21/2 weeks before Aideed's men got wise to him. Once his cover was compromised, Jones called Garrison, who made good on his promise: Condor's team came out 20 minutes later in a Blackhawk that had swooped down and picked them up in the soccer stadium. They left behind two surveillance groups, Team One and Team Two.
At the same time, CIA officials back in Langley were complaining to Jones that they didn't know what Garrison and the Delta Force were up to. They blamed Jones for not keeping them informed, which rankled him. He thought he was there to spy on foreigners, not the U.S. military. He also felt he had a good working relationship with Garrison, who didn't want Jones telling the CIA what he was doing before he told his own boss, Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, head of the U.S. Central Command back in Tampa. They had compromised: As soon as Garrison told Centcom about any operation, he told Jones and the agency.
And that's the way it would remain. If anybody at headquarters ever asked the Mogadishu station to spy on the U.S. military, Jones told his bosses back at Langley, he would take the matter to the CIA's inspector general. Jones's relations with headquarters were strained even before he left for Mogadishu -- he had made it clear from the start that he wasn't wild about having to finish moving the station. This latest confrontation made matters worse. But there were no more requests to spy on Garrison.
By the third week of September, pressure mounted to produce something that the Clinton administration could tout as a success. Just then, Team One lookouts told Condor that they had a contact who met regularly with Osman Ato, a wealthy businessman, arms importer and Aideed money man whose name was right below Aideed's on the Tier One list. The contact was willing to help set Ato up -- for money, of course.
Condor asked Jones whatever happened to the magic cane that the Warlord was supposed to have given Aideed. Jones quickly retrieved it from one of his communications technicians trained to monitor its beacon. Team One's contact had it in hand when he climbed into a car near Mogadishu's Bakara market. The car was supposed to take him to Ato, but after a winding ride through north Mogadishu -- tracked by helicopters monitoring the cane's beacon -- the car stopped for gas. A Team One member on the ground just happened to spot it -- and immediately radioed Condor with the startling news that Ato was in the car.
Minutes later, a Little Bird helicopter dropped out of the sky and a sniper leaned out and fired three shots into the car's engine block. The car ground to a halt as commandos roped down from hovering Blackhawks, surrounded the car and handcuffed Ato. It was the first known helicopter takedown of suspects in a moving car.
The next time Jones saw the magic cane, an hour later, Garrison had it in his hand. "I like this cane," Jones remembers the general exclaiming, a big grin on his face. "Let's use this again."
Finally, a Tier One personality was in custody. The arrest came the same day that Aideed's men ambushed a column of Pakistani tanks and armored personnel carriers not far from the U.N. compound, killing three peacekeepers and wounding seven. It was the bloodiest day in Mogadishu since Spinelli had been shot, a little over two weeks before.
An intelligence report produced by CIA analysts back at Langley reflected a growing sense of doom shared by Jones, Gosende and just about everyone else on the ground in Mogadishu except Howe. Jones still remembers its title: "Looming Foreign Policy Disaster." The manhunt for Aideed was only making the political situation more unstable, according to the report, which circulated among top CIA officials and Clinton administration policymakers.
Pressure was growing in Congress to withdraw U.S. forces from Somalia. The administration had begun to pursue a diplomatic solution aimed at producing a cease-fire and renewed talks on nation building among the clan leaders. But nobody told Task Force Ranger -- or anyone in the CIA's Mogadishu station -- to call off the manhunt.
In late September, a wing of Aideed's Habr Gidr subclan known as the Suleimans showed up at the embassy compound. They were tired of having their neighborhood shot to pieces. And they wanted one of their leaders, a former Somali National Alliance politician now opposed to Aideed, removed from the Tier One list.
Gosende and Jones ultimately agreed, convincing the Suleimans that they had just been handed a huge favor. Jones seized the moment, gave them a radio and started organizing surveillance Team Three. He assigned a case officer from Langley, a bookish young man in his mid-twenties code-named Cheetah who refused to carry a gun in Mogadishu because he was afraid he would shoot himself, to handle the CIA's newest surveillance unit. Jones decided to run the ex-SNA politician as an asset himself, now that the man was off the list and willing to cooperate.
As committed as he and the CIA were to supporting the military, Jones had misgivings over this kind of quick and dirty intelligence work. There was no time for the vetting process that CIA case officers normally used. In another time and place, they would have polygraphed prospective sources and put them through a series of tests designed to prove their loyalty and build a sense of trust. But with the Delta Force in a hangar at the airstrip and Aideed at large, Jones and his men felt that they had to dispense with the basics of espionage tradecraft.
He already felt partly responsible for Spinelli getting shot, the way any commander does when one of his men is wounded. And conditions in the city had only gotten worse since then, with mortar rounds now coming into the U.N. compound every night. As October began, Jones couldn't hold back his sense that something bad was going to happen. He decided it was time to let Langley know how he felt and wrote a report known in agency circles as an "ardwolf" -- a frank assessment by the CIA's senior officer on the ground.
He marked the document "eyes only" for his boss, Africa division chief Piekney. He noted in a preface that he knew he was going over the top, but felt Piekney needed a candid assessment. "Things are bad and they're getting worse," Jones began. Howe didn't know what he was doing, Jones wrote, and the Delta Force was being misused -- capturing Aideed would do little to solve Somalia's problems as a nation.
Jones says that Piekney cabled him back the following day, told him to stop criticizing policy and senior officials, and directed him to redraft the cable. Piekney says he criticized Jones only because he thought the ardwolf was "badly done," full of "poor choices of excessive language," not because it criticized policy.
"U.S. policy was badly flawed at the time," Piekney says now. "And our analysts were saying so in weekly teleconferences we were having with the White House and the Department of State."
Still, it only took a day for Jones to look like the most prophetic man in Mogadishu.
On October 3, he was at the airstrip meeting with Garrison when Cheetah radioed in a tip from the CIA station across town. Jones's newest asset, the ex-SNA leader, had just arrived with word that a cadre of top Aideed lieutenants, including two from the Tier One list -- Omar Salad Elmi and Mohamed Hassan Awale -- would be meeting that afternoon inside a compound 50 yards down Hawlwadig Road from the Olympic Hotel near the Bakara market, the heart of Aideed country. Aideed might be there, too, the asset advised.
The Delta Force intelligence chief told his CIA liaison, a case officer code-named Wart Hog who already had three tours in Africa under his belt, to radio the following instructions back to Cheetah: The asset should tell his driver to drive to the target building, pull up out front and open the hood of his car.
The driver set out and returned to the station, only to admit that he'd chickened out and stopped short of the target house. Cheetah relayed another demand from Delta: Do it again. This time the driver stopped in front of the right house. An Orion spy plane and surveillance helicopters recorded the exact location. Video streaming back into the Delta Force command center showed a distinctive yellow Volkswagen Thing, known to be the vehicle driven by Omar Salad Elmi, sitting inside the compound walls.
Jones was standing next to Garrison inside the command center when the general gave the order to launch an assault.
Jones went outside and watched a line of heavily armed helicopters hover a few feet off the ground like a long iron snake before launching into the sky and heading for their target. He went back inside the command center and watched the assault unfold in real time across a bank of video screens. Dust swirled everywhere. Delta Force commandos roped down from helicopters and blew open the doors of the target house. Rangers roped down from helicopters and secured the perimeter. Within minutes, Jones heard a radio call from a commando inside the target building: "Precious cargo." The commandos had 24 Somali prisoners in cuffs. All they lacked was a ride back to their base at the airstrip. A 12-vehicle convoy was on its way to pick them up.
Jones headed back to the station, knowing he'd soon have to send Langley an urgent cable describing the operation. He arrived 15 minutes later.
"How's it going?" he asked Gringo II, his Delta Force liaison.
"Perfect," he said.
Five minutes later, at 4:20 p.m., Wart Hog came over the radio from the Delta Force command center and told Gringo II that a Blackhawk helicopter had been shot down and the convoy bearing the "precious cargo" had been redirected to the crash site.
"What's happened?" Jones asked.
"A chopper went down, but it's okay," Gringo II said nervously. "They have a contingency."
But the radio soon crackled again. It was Condor calling in from his tent on a dune near the airstrip. "There's another Blackhawk going down right now," he cried. "I'm watching it go."
Gringo II buried his head in his hands. "It's a disaster now."
It was worse than he knew. On its way to the first crash site, the convoy got lost in Mogadishu's labyrinthine streets, blasted at every intersection with machine guns and grenade launchers. About 90 minutes after the first Blackhawk went down, the convoy made its way back to the airstrip -- without ever reaching the crash site. Nearly half of those on board -- 50 U.S. soldiers and their 24 Somali prisoners -- had been shot or hit by shrapnel.
Meanwhile, another convoy had set out to relieve 90 soldiers who were then clustered around the first crash site. But this convoy, too, had to turn back under heavy fire. Jones walked out the back door of the CIA station and watched tracer rounds fill the air above the firefight -- soldiers from this second convoy fired 60,000 rounds just getting back to the airstrip as the battle of Mogadishu raged on into the night.
Jones heard a call on Armed Forces Radio for A-positive blood and went over to donate some at a field hospital where wounded soldiers from the lost convoy had arrived in ambulances from the airstrip. The fear that had been playing with Jones's mind off and on all afternoon surged inside him again: Had he been betrayed by a double agent and duped into sending these men into an ambush?
Jones kept waiting for the battle to end before filing a cable to Langley, but no relief column had made it to the soldiers clustered at the first crash site -- and two Delta Force commandos inserted by helicopter to secure the second crash had been overrun and killed.
Around 10 p.m., he called Wart Hog inside the Delta Force command center for one more read on what had taken place. Then he wrote a cable and marked it "NIACT IMMEDIATE," short for "night action" required. The heading meant only one thing to desk officers back at Langley: Wake people up, because something really bad is happening. The cable summed up the night's grim developments in a few terse paragraphs: two helicopters down, six deaths confirmed, and 90 soldiers trapped near the Bakara market, fighting for their lives. The battle was still raging.
At 11:15 p.m., a third convoy -- 70 vehicles, headed by the 10th Mountain's quick reaction force and including four Pakistani tanks and 28 Malaysian APCs -- left the airstrip, only to get caught in another ambush. At 1:55 a.m. on October 4, a unit from the 10th Mountain shot its way to the first crash site and linked up with the besieged troops. Another 10th Mountain unit reached the second crash site, but found only blood trails.
With the rescue convoy still consolidating at the first crash site, Jones got on the radio and ordered all his men to go to bed for an hour or two and be ready to go at first light to look for missing troops with all of their Somali assets on the street. The rescue convoy blasted its way back to a makeshift aid station inside a stadium on 21 October Road at 7 a.m. By then, 18 Americans had been killed and 84 wounded. It was the most intense ground combat involving U.S. infantry since the Vietnam War.
As the smoke cleared over Mogadishu, Jones could no longer contain the anguish and fear he'd been wrestling with all night.
"Did I take these guys into an ambush?" he asked a Navy SEAL commander.
"No," the commander replied. "It wasn't an ambush. It was just a shootout."
Jones was exhausted, enraged, desperate to find the bodies of missing U.S. servicemen and, in the midst of the devastation, relieved.
A week later, Jones's tour was up. He left Mogadishu on a C-5A bound for Cairo and, ultimately, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. A casket bearing one of the Americans killed in the firefight was aboard the plane.
Jones was replaced by a higher-ranking station chief from the Latin America division. Given the magnitude of the fiasco, and a CIA deployment that had swelled to nearly 40 since the Delta Force arrived, the agency wanted a more senior officer on the ground, even though the action was over. By then, all U.S. troops in Somalia had been ordered to halt offensive operations while U.S. diplomats worked to find a political solution.
When Jones showed up at CIA headquarters, he says, Piekney, his boss, refused to talk to him at first. Piekney denies this, but both men agree that when they did meet, Piekney lectured Jones about all the complaints he'd received about him. "I told him I received reports from his bodyguards out there who had come to me in a large group and said they felt they had been asked to take unnecessary risks," Piekney says, adding that some of Jones's operations officers had expressed a similar concern.
Jones didn't buy it. Though there was no denying that Mogadishu was a dangerous place, he believed that the risks he had taken -- and asked others to take -- were measured. With his anger turning to rage, Jones took Piekney's criticism to mean only one thing: He was being set up to take a fall. He took a month off and returned to work in late 1993 as a deputy branch chief in the Africa division.
By that time, senior CIA officials say, they too were concerned about whispers emanating from the White House that the Somalia debacle might have been a case of "intelligence failure." Spies are always good fall guys, given the inherent limits secrecy places on their ability to explain themselves. The officials' fears were first aroused by the National Security Council, which asked the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to review the agency's performance immediately after the disastrous battle of October 3.
In January 1994, Osman Ato and Mohamed Hassan Awale and all the other Somalis captured by the Delta Force were released in Mogadishu -- there was simply no point to keeping them locked up. Around the same time, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, showed up at Langley to conduct an investigation of his own.
Summoned to the seventh floor, the seat of power at CIA headquarters, Jones sat down in a waiting room outside the director's office with two of his operations officers from Mogadishu and two analysts from the agency's Directorate of Intelligence. One of the analysts was holding his report, "Looming Foreign Policy Disaster." He called it his "insurance policy."
When Jones's turn came, he took a seat on Warner's right at the end of a long conference table. "Okay," the silver-haired senator said, "tell us what happened."
Jones walked him through the entire battle, and all the intelligence operations that had preceded it, before resuming his place in the waiting room.
An hour later, Warner called Jones back into the room. He seemed even more perplexed than he'd been at the start. "Garrett," Warner said, "why did they send these people over there -- to do what?"
"You'll have to ask the president," Jones replied. "I don't know what we were doing."
Warner wasn't satisfied. He promised to return as soon as CIA officials gathered all the documents he had asked to see.
Warner returned a month later for another meeting. When it was over, Warner called Jones into the room and shook his hand.
"I want to congratulate you for having vision and dedication," said Warner, who confirms Jones's account of their meetings. "You and your people did such a marvelous job. Thanks very much."
A long memorandum Warner and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan produced for the Armed Services Committee on the overall military engagement concluded that intelligence resources "appear to have been effectively integrated" and quoted Garrison as saying, "I was totally satisfied with the intelligence effort -- never saw anything better from the intelligence community."
The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board reached similar conclusions in an after-action report that is still classified, according to Piekney and R. James Woolsey, who was director of central intelligence at the time.
The powers that be moved on to other matters. Jones and Spinelli, however, could not.
After he got out of Fairfax Hospital in the fall of 1993, Spinelli started having nightmares that always ended the same way: with him dead. He recalls crying as he described his nightmares to a CIA psychologist, and being told not to worry: " 'You're doing better than anyone else in your situation I've ever met before.' "
After returning to the CIA station in Rome, he received treatment for his nightmares and mood swings, but found little relief. His work life did not improve that spring, when he had to fight to receive an invitation to an awards ceremony for CIA officers who had served in Mogadishu.
During the ceremony, Jones received the Intelligence Medal of Merit for "especially meritorious service." The bodyguards who drove Spinelli into the ambush received Intelligence Stars for courageous acts under hazardous conditions. Spinelli, the only agency operative to be wounded in Operation Gothic Serpent, was formally presented with the Exceptional Service Medallion, the CIA's version of the Purple Heart, which the agency had awarded him the previous October. But unlike most of the other officers in the room, he received no after-action commendation. Months later, after he complained, he was called back to Langley to receive the Intelligence Star and promotion to GS-15.
By then, he had regained full movement in his left arm, though he still has no feeling in his hand and cannot tie his shoes. At work, he showed none of his old aggressiveness in pursuing potential intelligence assets. At home, he was irritable and easily angered. Overall, he was prone to anxiety attacks. He tries, his supervisor in Rome wrote in his annual evaluation, but just can't cut it anymore. Spinelli couldn't disagree.
When it came time for his family to rotate back to Washington in the summer of 1996, Spinelli filled out his "dream sheet" -- a form on which he listed his preferences for assignment -- but he got no offers. A friend from the Secret Service created a job for him as the service's CIA liaison. He liked the job, but his anxiety attacks were so severe that he thought his heart was failing. More than once, he asked to be driven to the emergency room.
Jones had become chief of station in Namibia, but he, too, was having nightmares, and fits of rage. He developed fibromyalgia, a mysterious disease that causes acute soreness all over the body. On some days, he couldn't get out of bed. He had trouble remembering his name. He thought he was losing his mind.
When he went to the hospital for treatment of bronchitis, doctors took one look at his liver functions and told him he had to stop drinking. In the summer of 1996, the agency shipped him home a month early and sent him to a residential treatment facility. Doctors there determined that Jones was abusing alcohol to deal with post-traumatic stress -- meaning stress from his service in Mogadishu. The CIA sent him for second and third opinions from a psychiatrist and psychologist of its own, and when both concurred, the agency granted Jones's request for early retirement on the basis of a work-related medical disability.
As luck would have it, Jones bumped into Spinelli that fall outside the cafeteria on the ground floor of CIA headquarters. They hadn't seen each other for months. Jones asked his former deputy how he was doing, and Spinelli held up the middle finger of his injured left hand and said, "I can do this now." Jones, walking with a cane because of his fibromyalgia, could see the same angry look on Spinelli's face that he saw most mornings when he looked in the mirror. They sat down for coffee. Jones had just started seeing, with the CIA's approval, a psychologist with expertise in post-traumatic stress. When he gave his former deputy the psychologist's name, Spinelli went straight to the agency's office of medical services and asked for an appointment. Now, as looks back on that meeting with Jones, Spinelli says: "Thank God I met the real screwed-up guy."
He retired in March 1998, after trying, without success, to persuade the CIA to restructure its disability program so that officers wounded in action and disabled would receive the same benefits as FBI agents or military officers. He has filed an administrative claim against the agency, the first step toward suing his former employer, contending that it refused to provide adequate medical care. He travels widely as a corporate security consultant and is looking for a publisher for his first novel, an espionage thriller set in Rome and Mogadishu.
Jones retired from the CIA in June 1997. He lives in Oregon, where he tends a garden, slowly renovates an old house on a four-acre lot and sees a counselor for post-traumatic stress. He still doesn't know why his brief tour as chief of station, Mogadishu, has left him with so many scars, but he has a theory. "If you run on adrenaline for long enough," he says, "maybe something breaks in your head."