The war on terror is, thankfully, an abstract to many of us. We owe that to persons like Thomas Pecora.
He spent 25 years with the Central Intelligence Agency – most of it as a member of their Protective Operations Cadre. The POC was formed in response to the 1989 assassination of military advisor James “Nick” Rowe by terrorists in the Philippines.
His new book “Guardian; Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA’s War on Terror” recounts his experiences in some of the most dangerous places on the planet. As one can imagine, the manuscript had to pass muster with the CIA before publication. Thomas estimates that over 1,000 redactions were made before he received approval.
Thomas’ first deployment as a member of the POC was to Mogadishu. He calls it his introduction to a “Mad Max” world. It also became his baptism of fire when a “protectee” insisted on taking a route through Mogadishu against the POC team’s recommendations. They drove right into an ambush. Thanks to the training and reaction of the POC team the protectee was wounded but survived. Since 1990 the CIA’s POC teams have NEVER lost a protectee and only one operator has been killed.
Thomas returned home 10 days before the Blackhawk Down incident and was horrified because he knew the forces had asked for tanks but the request was denied. A common theme that emerges from his book is how often there is a disconnection between personnel in theatre/on the ground and the higher bureaucracy. Disregarded threat warnings often had tragic consequences like in the case of Nick Rowe, the “Blackhawk Down” battle and Benghazi.
Thomas cites one case in Baghdad where the US Ambassador DID listen to a warning delivered literally at the last minute. His willingness to listen to his POC team (despite threatening to fire them if they were wrong) avoided what would have been a potentially disastrous attack on himself and a US General.
TAKEAWAY: Our conversation with Thomas highlights how grateful we should be that Americans enjoy a level of safety almost incomprehensible for most people on the planet. It is because there ARE brave men & women willing to stand the watch.
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