The CIA in Somalia,
night in October 1993, Garrett Jones saw his life
pass before his eyes on the evening news.
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.
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 pre- pared 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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jones remembers Garrison replying, “I need intelligence.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
do it tomorrow morning, early, before anybody gets
up,” Spinelli replied.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
driver kept going.
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.
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.
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.
shot,” he said, using Spinelli’s code name.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
he came back, he asked Spinelli what the agency should
be doing in Mogadishu.
victory and leave,” Spinelli said.
agree,” Twetten said. “But we aren’t likely to have
that happen soon.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
it only took a day for Jones to look like the most
prophetic man in Mogadishu.
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.
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.
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.
was standing next to Garrison inside the command center
when the general gave the order to launch an assault.
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.
headed back to the station, knowing he’d soon have
to send Langley an urgent cable describing the operation.
He arrived 15 minutes later.
it going?” he asked Gringo II, his Delta Force liaison.
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.
happened?” Jones asked.
chopper went down, but it’s okay,” Gringo II said
nervously. “They have a contingency.”
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.”
II buried his head in his hands. “It’s a disaster
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
the smoke cleared over Mogadishu, Jones could no longer
contain the anguish and fear he’d been wrestling with
I take these guys into an ambush?” he asked a Navy
the commander replied. “It wasn’t an ambush. It was
just a shootout.”
was exhausted, enraged, desperate to find the bodies
of missing U.S. servicemen and, in the midst of the
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
walked him through the entire battle, and all the
intelligence operations that had preceded it, before
resuming his place in the waiting room.
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?”
have to ask the president,” Jones replied. “I don’t
know what we were doing.”
wasn’t satisfied. He promised to return as soon as
officials gathered all the documents he had asked
returned a month later for another meeting. When it
was over, Warner called Jones into the room and shook
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.”
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.”
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.
powers that be moved on to other matters. Jones and
Spinelli, however, could not.
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.’
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.”