Duane Clarridge

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Duane Clarridge
Duane Ramsdell Clarridge

(1932-04-16)April 16, 1932
DiedApril 9, 2016(2016-04-09) (aged 83)
Alma materBrown University
OccupationIntelligence officer
Parent(s)Duane Herbert Clarridge
Alice Scott Ramsdale
Espionage activity
Service branchCentral Intelligence Agency
Service years1955–1991
RankSenior operations officer

Duane Ramsdell "Dewey" Clarridge (April 16, 1932 – April 9, 2016) was an American senior operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and supervisor for more than 30 years. Clarridge was the chief of the Latin American division from 1981 to 1987 and a key figure in the Iran-Contra Affair.[1][2]

CIA career[edit]

Clarridge was born into a "staunchly Republican family"[3] in Nashua, New Hampshire. His father was Duane Herbert Clarridge, and his mother was Alice Scott Ramsdale. Duane Herbert Clarridge worked as a dentist and he remained a staunch conservative the rest of his life.[4][5]

Duane Ramsdell Clarridge went to the private college preparatory Peddie School for high school,[6] and then went to the Ivy League Brown University. For graduate school he went to Columbia University's Graduate School of International Affairs and joined the CIA in 1955. He then rose through the ranks of the CIA in "a normal career pattern up to the late 70s", (as quoted in an interview he gave to CNN's Cold War Episodes program), being chief of the CIA station in Istanbul, where he maintained close contacts with the Counter-Guerrilla, the Turkish stay-behind anti-communist organization. He transferred to Rome before becoming chief of the Latin America division in 1981. According to The New York Times, "[f]rom his days running secret wars for the C.I.A. in Central America to his consulting work in the 1990s on a plan to insert Special Operations troops in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, Mr. Clarridge has been an unflinching cheerleader for American intervention overseas."[3]

During his three-year tenure, he directed several of the CIA's more notorious operations in Latin America, including the 1984 mining of Nicaraguan harbors, an act for which the United States was convicted in a 1986 World Court case at the Hague (Nicaragua v. United States). When asked about his role in the mining, Clarridge was open about his involvement but downplayed the severity of the covert operation: "So we decided to go big time for the economics alright... So I was sitting at home one night, frankly having a glass of gin, and I said you know the mines has gotta be the solution. I knew we had 'em, we'd made 'em outta sewer pipe and we had the good fusing system on them and we were ready. And you know they wouldn't really hurt anybody because they just weren't that big a mine, alright? Yeah, with luck, bad luck we might hurt somebody, but pretty hard you know?"[7]

Clarridge was also instrumental in organizing and recruiting Contra forces to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government. Clarridge used aliases such as "Dewey Maroni" during these operations. He described the early Contra force as "about 500... some of them were former members of the Nicaraguan National Guard (whose leader Anastasio Somoza Debayle had been overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979), 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." But, Clarridge maintained, by the end of the conflict, the Contras numbered more than 20,000 peasants due less to the CIA's efforts than to the Sandinistas' attempts at reeducation and land redistribution.[8]

He admitted to the House Intelligence Committee staff in a secret briefing in 1984 that the Contras were routinely murdering "civilians and Sandinista officials in the provinces as; well as heads of cooperatives, nurses, doctors and judges". But he claimed that this did not violate President Reagan's executive order prohibiting assassinations because the agency defined it as just 'killing'. "After all, this is war—a paramilitary operation," Clarridge said in conclusion.[9]

In 1984 he became chief of the European Division of the CIA, where he ran a successful "counterterrorist" operation. Later, with the support of CIA director William Casey, he set up a Counterterrorist Center that operated out of Langley, Virginia.


Clarridge has said that he had no involvement in the later illegal diversion of funds to the Contras.[10] Clarridge was indicted in November 1991 on seven counts of perjury and false statements. On Christmas Eve 1992 in the waning hours of his presidency, George H. W. Bush pardoned Clarridge before his trial could finish. At the same time, Bush pardoned five of Clarridge's associates in the Iran-Contra Affair including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs; former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane; and former CIA employees Alan Fiers and Clair George. The final version of the Walsh Report concluded that "there was strong evidence that Clarridge’s testimony was false."[10]

Post-CIA career[edit]

Clarridge operated a "private spying operation ... from poolside at his home near San Diego."[3] Colleagues said that Clarridge viewed the CIA "largely with contempt."[3] He has "likened his operation, called the Eclipse Group, to the Office of Strategic Services, the C.I.A.’s World War II precursor."[3]

In November 2015, Trip Gabriel of The New York Times reported that Clarridge was a top adviser to the Ben Carson presidential campaign on terrorism and national security.[11] Clarridge was quoted as indicating that Carson struggled to grasp foreign policy, and could not grasp “one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East.”[11] The Carson campaign released a statement charging the Times with taking advantage of "an elderly gentleman."[11] Carson subsequently replied: "He's not my adviser. He is not my adviser. He is a person who has come in on a couple of our sessions to offer his opinions about what was going on... To call himself my adviser would be a great stretch, and he has no idea who else I'm sitting down and talking to."[12]

Clarridge died at the age of 83, a week short of his 84th birthday in Leesburg, Virginia on April 9, 2016 from complications of esophageal cancer.[2][10] In his last interview, Clarridge hinted that Reagan's October Surprise may have been real.[13]

See also[edit]

  • Gladio, NATO's paramilitary anticommunist organizations during the Cold War, active in most European countries.
  • Operation Charly


  1. ^ Greenberg, Gerald S., ed. (2000). Historical Encyclopedia of U.S. Independent Counsel Investigations. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 57–58. ISBN 0313307350. LCCN 00-024522. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Weil, Martin (2016-04-11). "Duane 'Dewey' Clarridge, CIA official enmeshed in Iran-contra affair, dies at 83". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-04-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e Mazzetti, Mark (2011-01-22) Former Spy With Agenda Operates a Private C.I.A., The New York Times
  4. ^ Mazzetti, Mark, Duane R. Clarridge, Brash Spy Who Fought Terror Networks, Dies at 83, The New York Times, 10 April 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  5. ^ Mazzetti, Mark (2016-04-10). "Duane R. Clarridge, Brash Spy Who Fought Terror Networks, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Staff. "EX-CIA OPERATIVE PLEADS NOT GUILTY A FOUNDING FATHER OF THE CONTRAS, HE WAS REVERED BY YOUNGER CIA OFFICERS.", The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 7, 1991. Accessed February 5, 2011. "Born in Nashua, NH, in 1932, the son of a prosperous dentist and a homemaker, Duane Ramsdell Clarridge graduated from the Peddie School."
  7. ^ "Interview with Duane Clarridge Part Two". nsarchive.gwu.edu. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  8. ^ "Interview with Duane Clarridge Part One". nsarchive.gwu.edu. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  9. ^ "CIA-assisted 'contras' murdered Sandinistas, official reportedly says" Knight-Ridder, October 20, 1984
  10. ^ a b c Mazzetti, Mark (2016-04-10). "Duane R. Clarridge, Brash Spy Who Fought Terror Networks, Dies at 83". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  11. ^ a b c Gabriel, Trip (November 17, 2015). "Ben Carson Is Struggling to Grasp Foreign Policy, Advisers Say". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Carson campaign unhappy with New York Times report". CNN. Retrieved 2016-04-11.

Further reading[edit]

  • Baer, Robert. See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002.
  • Clarridge, Duane. A Spy for All Seasons (1997 memoirs)
  • Fuller, Christopher J. (2014). "The Eagle Comes Home to Roost: The Historical Origins of the CIA's Lethal Drone Program". Intelligence and National Security. Informa UK Limited. 30 (6): 769–792. doi:10.1080/02684527.2014.895569.
  • Fuller, Christopher J. (2017). See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA's Lethal Drone Program. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-22767-3. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  • Kornbluh, Peter and Malcolm Byrne, eds. The Iran-Contra Affair: The Making of a Scandal, 1983-1988 (Document collection). Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey; Washington, D.C.: National Security Archive, 1990.
  • Kornbluh, Peter and Malcolm Byrne, eds. The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History. New York: New Press, Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1993.
  • Walsh, Lawrence E. Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up. New York: Norton, 1997.

External links[edit]