E. Howard





INTERVIEWER: This is 10843 giving an interview with Duane Clarridge. Mr. Clarridge could you please tell me your full name and something of your career record in the late 70s to the end of your career.

DUANE CLARRIDGE : my name is Duane, middle name Ramsdell Clarridge, born 1932 in New Hampshire. I joined CIA in 1955 after graduate school. I spent a normal career pattern up to the late 70s I suppose and then reached senior position and in 1981 became chief of a Latin America division and I was there until I suppose it was about October in 1984. So it was about 3 years that I was chief of Latin America Division.

INTERVIEWER: Fine how do you perceive the Monroe Doctrine, how did that affect your life, and how did you, how did that?

DUANE CLARRIDGE Well I mean we learned about the Munroe Doctrine sort of at every stage in our education when you were involved with American history. I mean basically we were we were taught that Munroe came forward with this Declaration, it wasn't a Doctrine at the time, it was just a declaration which had no power at all, that wanted to limit or ensure that further European colonialization of the Western hemisphere would not happen. The only reason it had any significance at that time, I think it was about 1823 in the year when he promulgated it or made the statement, is that the British navy backed it up. I mean Canning Foreign Minister was all for it, in fact I think he had probably been behind the scenes pushing the Americans towards it, because what the British didn't want was any attempt by European powers and particularly Spain to try and destroy the independence of the former Spanish colonies in the world because of Trade issues. For the Americans it was slightly different, they just didn't want any more European colonialization. So that's what we were basically learned in school. But we also learned that the US couldn't, there was no way that they could have enforced it, and it was really the British navy that enforced it.

INTERVIEWER: So, how did the arrival of the Cold War and lets just talk about that from the point of view that presumes its we'll take the 1945/46 date rather than the earlier one. The Cold War arrived in Latin America combined with the Munroe Doctrine and the escalation of what you call Soviet/Cuban influence throughout the region. How did you and your colleagues approach Latin America and the Caribbean?

DUANE CLARRIDGE Well you see I only picked up on it in 81 alright so, yeah but I think you need to look at what happened to the Munroe Doctrine between lets say 1840 and say 1903. In that period the Munroe Doctrine received different interpretations which led the Americans to take the stance that they could intervene in Latin American countries where the behavior of the particular country either internally to its own people, or externally was unacceptable to the United States. Now this is pretty sporty, and that was known as the Teddy Roosevelt corollary. And you take that plus Munroe saying "We aren't gonna have any monarchies in Latin America" which was part of his declaration which became the Munroe dogma. You see right there now we're into the interference in what's going on in these countries. Now to me what happened with the Cold War was, it wasn't so much you were gonna have somebody come over and invade a country, the Soviets weren't gonna come over and invade a Latin American country, what you were gonna have is their covert action apparatus create a situation where you have a government come to power in x, y and z country which is favorable to them to one degree or another, and then they will begin to either exert influence in that country and you get a domino effect where we have other countries begin to follow that, or they set up bases. And you can look at Cuba and Cuba is a model for that. They used the Cubans to advance their interest in various places in Latin America and later in Africa. But they also used it as a major base. A base for surveillance of you know for their ASW activity with submarines and also major listening posts for the communications in the US. So that was what was worrying people as they began to look at the problems down there, let us say certainly by 81. Now what most people don't understand also is a couple of things about geography. During World War 2, the majority of the reinforcement munitions and all of that, that were needed for the war in Europe came out of East Coast ports, because the majority of the defense industry was sort of East of the Mississippi. In the next war, and you know a lot of people thought it was quite possible that we were gonna have a war in Europe, even during the 80s, it changed. All the shipping of, the majority of the shipping would come out of the Gulf ports. Now that meant that Cuba had to be taken out of the act immediately, and that would require a fairly major effort, it was easily enough done but I think, but still it would require a commitment of forces that could have been used elsewhere to clear that lane. Now what was very clear to the US government was that they didn't need another problem, or another Soviet base in Nicaragua, or anywhere in that area. You would have just another thing they would have to contend with, if we went to general war. Now that is a real strategic question, which most people, you don't see it talked about much, but it was a fact. The other thing is, if you look at the other problems bedeviling the US or at least they thought they were. You had Grenada and you had Surinam, now you might ask you know why would any you know Grenada, Surinam. Well a couple of reasons. Grenada, one way being you know doing this very long runway for what purpose? Obviously for only one purpose. The Soviets were gonna land some of their affairs, they had for undersea collection in mid South Atlantic, well mid and South Atlantic happens to be where we put a lot of our nuclear submarines, hid them, you know for strike on the Soviet Union if we came to that. We didn't need that full width, I'll give the Soviets that full weight ability to get into the South Atlantic and the mid-Atlantic by using Grenada and as what appeared to be happening, the same thing as far as Surinam was concerned. The Soviets were using Cubans to push forwards in Surinam, to take over in that area, so as the again, you basically would have that wh

INTERVIEWER: It is amazing to hear all of that, because reading all of the books, looking at all of the cleared documents, talking to people like yourselves and your ex opposition from the other side, people seemed to, to stick to the ideologies, that there was this little country, whether it was Nicaragua or one of the other ones that was going another way, whether by the electoral process or by the topping of a dictator, and apparent good will of the people and you don't hear too much about what the strategic necessities were. Do you think the Americans made a mistake in not sort of concentrating in announcing to the world that, or was it the world's fault for not taking notice?

DUANE CLARRIDGE: Well I think, they certainly talked about it, but I think it was, it was maybe not done too cleverly, I mean I'm not using the word clever in that sense, but it wasn't done in a in a good way. So it tended to get dismissed as, as "Oh that's the excuse being offered for all of this.", rather than taking it seriously. That, that's what I mean by it wasn't, I didn't think it was well done. But twere some real strategic concerns.

INTERVIEWER: Ye, when you took over as head of the Latin American Division at the Agency, what was the situation in Nicaragua? I know that, that, what I would like to know about is the beginning of the contras and the fact that the Argentineans were involved from the word go.

DUANE CLARRIDGE Well I think you perhaps gotta start with what I was asked to do, alright. When I returned from Rome Casey saw me a few days after I got back and said, "You know take a look at the Central American thing and figure out you know how we can do some things better." Now it wasn't that we weren't doing anything and to give Carter his due, a lot of what we were doing, was based on presidential findings for covert action that he had signed. He came late in the game to the fact that covert action was really a terribly important weapon or you know arrow in the presidential quiver, and he really took to it, real well, because he signed more presidential findings for covert action, than anybody before or since. So there were things going on but they were largely defensive in nature and you know it didn't take rocket science, scientist to figure out what we needed to do, was to build a backfire or if you will take the war to Nicaragua to force them to do a couple of things, one to become preoccupied with an internal problem so they can spend less time trying to overthrow the government in El Salvador, or help the terrorists there to overthrow the government in El Salvador, and to perhaps encourage them to come to the negotiating table and reach some sort of an agreement on a pluralistic society with real elections and so on and so forth, and to help block the arms shipments. So that was what the real motivation was in putting this thing together and we knew we had something to start with, okay? And we had about 500, we knew there were about 500, some of them were former members of the National Guard of Nicaragua, or a lot of them were just you know peasants from the mountainous areas between Honduras and Nicaragua who had been at war with somebody, forever. And in many respects they were like a bunch of cattle rustlers. Bandits. Not bandits, they weren't robbing people but they were doing the things they do in that area. About 500 of them. The Argentines in 1980 had gone there to Honduras to support this effort. They wanted to, they wanted to overthrow the Sandinistas. This sounds a little bizarre that they would wanna undertake that, but I learned when I went to Argentina to cut the deal with General Galtieri, later president, that they really had a, an almost a messianic drive to take on communists and communism wherever they could get at it, okay and getting at it along the Honduran and Nicaraguan borders pretty far away. But it was an outgrowth of their efforts against the montaneros and those other groups terrorist groups there. Second, I think the second reason was, where the Sandinistas were harboring a number of montaneros, leaders and padres and they wanted to get at those people too. So that's why they were there. How, why did they have it in with the Hondurans? That was largely through Colonel, later General Arreres who was a I believe graduated from their commanding General Staff college at some point. And so there was, there was a connection, he was the head of FUSEF at that time. FUSEF being the Honduran police.

INTERVIEWER: How difficult was it for you to get the funding organized at the time?

DUANE CLARRIDGE: Initially the funding was not a problem, I mean we, we wrote a finding first of all had to go down talk to the Argentines get them on board, get the Hondurans on board, so we had this tripartite kind of relationship, got the Nicaraguans on board, of course that wasn't hard, and so, and we got funding. We simply asked for x amount of funding, now that, that amount is classified, but it's as I wrote in my book its about the price of an F16, and so, in those dollars of that year. And so with that money we, we pushed on with it. Now almost immediately the thing got to be too good. We had more recruits than we ever expected to have. The thing took off like wildfire. Not because we were doing anything particularly smart, the Sandinistas were doing everything that was done. I mean first of all they were manifestly anti-church and very catholic country their treatment of the pope when he came there etc. etc. etc. they were moving towards collectivization they were confiscating, not confiscate, they were taking the produce of the fields and at very low prices and you know the peasants were very upset and that's where the manpower came from. And it came in greater numbers than we had ever anticipated over the period, lets say 82, 83 , 84 and certainly right on to the end. Because in the end you ended up with a peasant army of 20,000 and it was a peasant army I don't care what anybody says, very few people from the National Guard were ever there and they were just sergeants and you know sort of that kind of people for the most part, 20,000 people is the largest peasant army you could ever assemble in Latin America, anywhere. So that's how it sort of all got going.