The CIA in Somalia
AFTER-ACTION REPORT: Spying used to mean stealing another government's secrets, but
what can spies achieve in a country with no government? In Somalia with the CIA, Garrett
Jones and John Spinelli found out.
Sunday, February 27, 2000
One night in October 1993, Garrett Jones saw his life pass before his eyes on the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company
Tuesday, June 13, 2000
CIA tries to muzzle former Mogadishu Station Chief
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Central Intelligence Agency has forbidden two former operatives from
appearing on a History Channel television documentary to discuss the
agency's chaotic role in supporting U.S. troops in Somalia unless all
questions and answers are submitted in advance to CIA officials for
Garrett Jones, the CIA's former station chief in Mogadishu, and his former
deputy, John Spinelli, agreed to appear on the History Channel series
"True Adventures of the CIA" shortly after describing the agency's Somalia
operation in a February cover story in The Washington Post Magazine.
In the article, Jones told how his case officers worked round-the-clock
producing intelligence leads that fueled a futile search by Delta Force
commandos for Somali clan leader Mohamed Farah Aideed. Spinelli almost
died when he drove into an ambush and was shot in the neck and chest.
Both Jones and Spinelli were critical of the way they were treated at CIA
headquarters upon their return from Somalia.
But shortly before they were to be interviewed last week by History
Channel producers, the CIA's Publication Review Board warned them against
appearing without submitting all questions and answers in advance, saying
they discussed information in the Post article "that was and remains
inappropriate for disclosure in the public domain."
The Publication Review Board is responsible for making sure all current
and former CIA employees abide by the terms of lifetime secrecy
agreements. Those agreements require them to submit for prepublication
review anything related to intelligence that they intend to publish or
In a May 23 letter to Jones, the review board's chairman, Scott A. Koch,
wrote that any appearance on the History Channel would require
prepublication review. Koch noted that failure to abide by the review
process could make Jones and Spinelli "subject to criminal or civil
Jones responded in a letter to Koch last week that he was "surprised and
puzzled" by the CIA's response, because its Office of Public Affairs had
already granted "informal" approval to the TV segment on Somalia. Jones
said he also "took great care in my discussions with The Washington Post
to ensure that nothing I discussed in the article was sensitive or
Jones said yesterday that senior officials, angered by his criticisms, are
now trying to muzzle him. "This is the old boy network at work again,"
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the Office of Public Affairs had
discussed the Somalia segment with producers from the History Channel but
had made no commitment to cooperate with them.
As for Jones' claim that CIA officials are attempting to muzzle him,
Mansfield said: "That's simply not the case."