BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Felix Rodriguez, the author of "Shadow Warrior: The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles,” let me read you one sentence from page 65 and get your reaction:"I volunteered to assassinate Fidel Castro and the Americans took me up on it.”
FELIX RODRIGUEZ, AUTHOR, "SHADOW WARRIOR: THE CIA HERO OF A HUNDRED UNKNOWN BATTLES": Well, it was in 1960, when we were in the training camps, actually were in Panama then for final training for the Bay of Pigs and a friend of mine and I thought that it would shorten the war in Cuba if Fidel were taken out, so we called our Case Officer at that time in the area of Panama where we were, and we volunteered to kill Fidel. We were, at that time, about 19 years old then.
LAMB: How close did you get?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, we were given a rifle with a telescopic sight and we were -- three times we attempted to infiltrate Cuba, with a boat that had a Ukrainian crew on it, plus an American captain, and we went twice close to the coast line and the boat who were supposed to meet us never arrived. And so, on the third attempt -- after the third attempt, we returned and they told us that the plan had been changed, had been cancelled, so they took the rifle away. They added two more members, Cubans, to my team and making us a member of the infiltration team for ...
LAMB: Didn't give it any second thought to kill another human being?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, if you had seen how many people Fidel has killed, how many of our friends he has assassinated, it is a different perspective, it is a different situation. We don't believe that a government should be involved in that, but at the same time, like that same people, like the Israelis -- I know that in Israel, the Jewish people, you tell them that Hitler were alive, I think that there would be a lot of people trying to get him -- I guess, the same similar situation with the Cubans.
LAMB: Have you known a lot of people in your life that have said the same thing, that they would be glad to kill Fidel Castro?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh yes, many.
LAMB: How come no one has ever gotten the job done?
RODRIGUEZ: Some have tried, and Fidel has a very, very good security system. In the past he had a Czechoslovakian who ran his security force and he moved from one place to the other. For example, when he was in Havana, I saw him moving near the Molicome [?] area with five bullet-proof Mercedes, all exactly the same, with the same paint so you could not tell one from the other, and he, I believe, rode either in number two up to number four, in between, so you never knew which one of the five cars he was going to be in. It was very hard to get him.
LAMB: What will happen when he no longer is in power?
RODRIGUEZ: I think there is going to be a tremendous power struggle inside Cuba. I still believe that it will happen pretty soon. There is a lot of problems right now between him and his brother -- Raul is trying to seize power or be in a position to seize power if anything happens to Fidel, and there is a lot of problems, in my opinion, between Raul's group and all the groups in the Cuban military. We have seen, for example, the execution of General Eschowa which was from a different group, the group of Cuban generals who were in Africa, the Cuban generals that were in Angola, in Ethiopia, in Nicaragua, and the other group that are just friends to Raul Castro, which is not part of that elite corps. There is a lot of problems among both groups or between both groups in there.
LAMB: Today, tell us your status. Are you an American citizen?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I am.
LAMB: How long have you been one?
RODRIGUEZ: Since 1969.
LAMB: How long did you serve in the U.S. military?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, after the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy gave a commission to the officers in the brigade, to be member of the armed forces of the United States. I was given a Presidential commission as a second lieutenant in the Army in Fort Benning, Georgia. I only resigned because Manuel Arteme who was the civilian leader of the brigade, came to me at that time in Fort Benning, Georgia, and told me that the President had personally authorized an operation to overthrow Fidel, and thus, I believe, also go closely with the fact that President Kennedy was assassinated. I believe very strongly that Fidel's hand was behind that.
After President Kennedy's failure with the Bay of Pigs, he got all the Cubans out of prison who were captured during the Bay of Pigs, and in the Orange Bowl in Miami, he gathered with all of them after they were put out of Cuba and promised to return the brigade flag in a free Havana, and after that, he took definitely measures to that effect. He gave us commissions in the armed forces, and then he started organizing a special operation out of Nicaragua, where I was a participant. As a matter of fact, at that point in time I specifically asked proof that the U.S. government was involved in that operation against Fidel, and they said, "What do you need?" and I said, "Well, if you want me to take special communication training, I would like to have a uniform, even though we have nothing to do with the Army,” and they said, "Okay, no problem,” and sure enough, a few weeks later, a Mr. Moose and Mr. Flannen showed up in Fort Benning, Georgia and I was given special training for communications for that project that was sponsored by the President of the United States. Three of us resigned our commissions to participate there.
LAMB: So, how long -- where do you live now?
LAMB: How big is your family?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I have a son and a daughter and my wife and my father is still alive.
LAMB: And where do you work now?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I am retired from the Agency since 1976, but I have continued to support it, like when I went to El Salvador back in 1985 -- I went there as a volunteer, to help the Salvadoran government with the helicopter concept that I knew was going to be a valid operation and proved to be so. We were able to capture in our first operation, on the 18th of April, 1985, Diaz, the commander, who happens to be also the commander from the P.R.D.C., that was the unit who assassinated the marines later on. We captured her and she was later exchanged for President Duarte's daughter and Diaz now lives in Havana, so it was a very valid belief concept, which proved to be very effective in El Salvador.
LAMB: You said that you retired from the Agency. What Agency?
RODRIGUEZ: The CIA, in 1976.
LAMB: How long did you work for it?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, I worked since 1960, let’s say, on and off a few times, like when I went into the Army, I left it, and then back again.
LAMB: Can you afford to live now without -- I mean, do you have a means of income, besides?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I have my retirement that I receive, and also my wife works at the University in Miami.
LAMB: Let’s show the audience what this book looks like, and it is brand new, it is called "Shadow Warrior: The CIA." You can see, here is another name down here, and it is John Weisman. Who is he?
RODRIGUEZ: He is the co-author of the book, and actually, he is the man responsible to a great extent for the book, because he was the one who convinced me to write my autobiography.
LAMB: Why did he care?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, he saw me testify in Congress, and at the beginning he told me that he thought it was a great novel, and then he went back and he thought that it was a very good story to tell, and he finally got through, by a common friend that we had, to be able to convince me -- it took him about six months to convince me to write the book. I think one of the factors that contributed most to that was what I had to go through, and my family had to go through, with Senator Kerry’s committee, and I thought it was a good idea then to write the book and set the record straight on that account.
LAMB: When was the first time you ever told anybody that you worked for the CIA, outside of your family, in other words, publically?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, after I retired, I retired openly, so when I retired, I could tell people that I worked for the CIA. I requested when I retired, which I was proud to work for the CIA, and I requested an open retirement, which means I didn't need any cover. Since all my participation with the Agency and operations were known to the host government, where I was, they saw no reason in it and I got an open retirement, so I legally can tell people that I retired from the Agency from 1976 and at this point tell people about it.
LAMB: Are there things that you did for the Agency that you can't tell?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I think that there are things that should not be told, and for the same reason, there are operations that are still going on or still giving fruits and if it would be revealed, it will completely destroy the value.
LAMB: Did you have to have this book cleared by the CIA?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I did.
LAMB: Were there things that you had written that they took out?
RODRIGUEZ: There was very little that they took out because I made sure that I didn't put anything that would compromise people or operations. There were some technical words that we had no problem with -- we worked very closely together in reviewing the book, and there are a few things that we found there was a very valid request and we took it out, and all that we requested to keep in and they saw there was no need to take it out, and we worked it out and we had a clearance for the book.
LAMB: John Weisman, how did the two of you work together, did you talk this through to him, did you do it in a tape recorder, did you write, or did ...?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, no, we got together and I used to talk to him about the different experiences and he would tape it and then he would come back with manuscript and we would discuss it and he would write it and I'd -- there were scenes that I didn't feel were accurate, because it is hard to predict it that way, until we finally got it that I like very much what came out in the book.
LAMB: Who is John Weisman, what is his background?
RODRIGUEZ: He used to be working for TV Guide before -- he had written several novels, and I like him very much personally, and I think he is a fantastic writer, and to be interested in the book. I think came out a very good book, in my opinion.
LAMB: Did the two of you agree politically, was that necessary?
RODRIGUEZ: I don't think that it would be necessary. It was just a matter of putting my story in the book, as truthfully as possible and as accurate as possible, and I think he has done that.
LAMB: Where were you born?
RODRIGUEZ: I was born in Cuba.
RODRIGUEZ: I was born actually in Havana, but I claimed my home town to be San DeSpiritas, which I was just taken by -- I want to say by mistake, but I was taken to Havana because I came in a position that needed a more specialized doctor, so I was born in Havana, but I consider myself a Spiritiano from San DeSpiritas, where I was raised.
LAMB: You were born in 1941?
LAMB: What were your parents like?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, we had a great life. We had a very close family in Cuba and my father used to have a store that my grandfather gave him and working there along with my mother in San DeSpiritas, in Las Vegas, and we were one of these families that we used to go and have, for example, on New Year’s Eve, we used to meet at my grandmother's and all the sons and daughters would get together there. It was a very, very close family.
LAMB: What is this picture, the top one?
RODRIGUEZ: That is from my home town -- that is my home in San DeSpiritas where I was raised, and on the bottom is where my parents, when they got married.
LAMB: And are your parents alive?
RODRIGUEZ: My mother died, my father is still alive.
LAMB: Where does he live?
RODRIGUEZ: He lives in Miami with us. We have a big house, sort of a condominium-type, and my father lives with me on the other side.
LAMB: What did he do for a living?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, he had a store in Cuba, and he used to have all kinds of stuff to buy -- what he called a general store. There were special presents and things like that that he is selling there.
LAMB: How did you, as a family, leave Cuba?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I came to school back in 1953, 54, to Pennsylvania, to go to high school. I went to procurement preparatory school until I finally graduated in 1960, and we used to live in San DeSpiritas, and I used to commute back and forth and go back to Cuba just about two or three times a year to visit them.
LAMB: Why did you go to school in Pennsylvania?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, my uncle offered me to go to school, and I had another uncle who convinced me how important it was to have an education outside, to be able to speak another language, and it would help me through my life in the future. I wanted actually to be an architect and an engineer like my uncles were, but because of the Cuba -- instead of going to the University of Miami, which I was accepted, I decided to go and fight for my country.
LAMB: What did you learn in Pennsylvania about what your own interests were, in Pennsylvania, when you went to school there? Did you -- what did you begin to think were going to be your interests, and where did you go after school?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, my interest when I went to high school first there was engineering and architecture, but as things turned different in Cuba, back in 1959, when Fidel took over, I concentrated my thoughts on being able to return to my county, and that is the thing that prevailed then and now. I think it is my main objective in life. That is why I went to the training camps in -- first, the one in the Dominican Republic, that was the first action that we had, and it was not with the Agency at the time, it was back in 1959, and then later when the opportunity arose to go to Guatemala, but later became the Bay of Pig invasion, then I went there and tried my best to go back to Cuba.
LAMB: Where did you get your dislike, and I am sure that is a mild word, for Fidel Castro? Can you remember?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, when he started the firing squads and assassinations, plus before my family have told me that he was a communist, and he had the background that was not widely publicized -- for dissipating the ….in Columbia many years before -- there was a communist-inspired situation, and as he progressed in his regime and assassinated people and indiscriminately put people in jail, that continued to create my desire to create a democratic government in Cuba, which it still is.
LAMB: Can you remember when you had a sense, though, that you could assassinate him -- when did you first feel strongly enough about this that you could kill him?
RODRIGUEZ: We were in the training camps when we saw that there was -- we were all preparing to go for an invasion force in there, and we thought that this would be, as I said before, an opportunity to shorten the war in there instead of having a long-term war. It would eliminate Fidel, which was the head of the revolution, would probably be easier for all the rest of the forces to come in as his power.
LAMB: Who is Che Guevara?
RODRIGUEZ: Che Guevara was one of the members who landed with Fidel in Cuba when he first went to Sierra Maestro to fight against Batista. He was a well-known revolutionary, who then left Cuba and went to Africa in 1965 and then went to Bolivia in 1966, at the end of 1966.
LAMB: Where was he from originally?
LAMB: Argentina? And it is something that you take great pleasure in here, in this book, telling the story about Che Guevara, why?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, it is not that I take great pleasure, it is part of history, part of ...
LAMB: What I meant by that, is you talk about it being one of your most memorable moments, on the day that you can tell the story ...
LAMB: Tell the story.
RODRIGUEZ: Sure. Well, for a long time he had been one of our greatest adversaries. He was one of the people who headed the La Cabana forces, who actually assassinated thousands of Cubans in there, and when I was told by the Agency in 1967 that he was in Bolivia, would I participate? -- after they talked to me, I thought it was a fantastic challenge to go there and try to roll back what he was trying to do in Central America, the same thing that had happened in Cuba.
LAMB: How did he die?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, when I write ...
LAMB: This is the two of you, by the way.
LAMB: This picture is of the two of you right here.
RODRIGUEZ: Right, that is the only picture ever of Commander Guevara in captivity. It had never been made public until this year. Everybody thought probably it never existed. That is why I believe that recently they called the Cuban Interest Section, , and they said that there official version of Che's death was that he died in combat.
LAMB: How did this picture then become public?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I had the pictures and finally now a lot of people convinced me that I should release it with the book and it would be interesting to people and also tell the story of how it happened, because a lot of people have claims from different sides how Che Guevara died. You take a version from the far right, you take a version from the far left, they are 180 degrees apart. I thought for the benefit of history that the story should be told the way it happened without taking it apart, for historical purposes.
LAMB: How did it happen?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I guess it was definitely one of the highlights of my life, is the situation that I did face in Boliva, which I hope I don't have to face again. But, for example, we went there as an advisor to the second regular battalion, who was the battalion under the eight division that was operating the area where he was.
LAMB: Let me stop you just a second. This was in what year?
LAMB: And you were working for the Agency?
LAMB: Assigned to Boliva?
RODRIGUEZ: Right, assigned to work with the government of Bolivia and one of the reasons that they chose me and my friend, another Cuban, was that we were not U.S. citizens at the time and there was a prohibition by the U.S. Ambassador in Boliva that a non-U.S. citizen could go, but no U.S. citizen could participate in the operational area, avoiding a conflict, so I had not the limitation because I was not a citizen, so I was able to accompany the units or being in real conflicting areas in the area.
LAMB: And, go ahead and tell the story.
RODRIGUEZ: Okay. When I first got there, we worked closely first in La Speranza with the second ranger battalion. My friend concentrated mostly in training, what we call the eyes and ears of the battalion. There was a specialized unit of people who spoke the [audio loss] and the [audio loss] -- farmers from the area that were just turned into soldiers, and they were to go in civilian clothes when the battalion was to be deployed, to be able to talk to the farmers and get the information to feed the intelligence to the battalion. At the same time, I concentrated mostly in operating at the division level with Colonel Santana who was later assassinated in Paris by the so-called command of Che Guevara, being ambassador of Bolivia in France, and I was an advisor to the Colonel and to his head of intelligence at the time.
So we were able to track all the movement of Che, and I used to accompany the head of intelligence to wherever there was an encounter with the guerrillas by other units, Bolivian units. For example, we were able to keep alive Paco Jose Castillo-Chavez, who I interrogated and gave us the in-depth intelligence on how Che's group operated, with the vanguard, central and rear guard. Because of his intelligence, we were able to determine when Lieutenant Galindo had an encounter and killed three guerrillas, one of them was a Cuban by the name of Miguel, the other one was a Bolivian doctor ….and another Bolivian leader called Coco Perella. We knew from Paco that these were the three-forward element of Che, and that Che was in the area.
So with this information, I was able to go back to Colonel Santana and recommend that the training should be cut short -- of the battalion that was being specially trained by the U.S. as special forces. So he cut two weeks out of the training -- that had to be just for graduation purposes and move the battalion to the area at the very end of September. I guess it is also the very element of luck that on the seventh of October, the intelligence unit that we had trained, whom my friend, actually, had trained, had a conversation with camposinos and farmers in the area, who told him that they were voices of the cabral , where the nobody was supposed to be. So he passed his information to the captain of the company that was operating already in the area from his battalion, and they put a circle, they surrounded around that specific area, on the evening of the seventh of October. On the eighth, when they first started to move, they had the first encounter with the guerrilla.
They were able to capture commander Guevara alive with another Bolivian called Simone Cubas, war name was Willie, and at that point in time, was actually setting up communication gear in airplanes, into, well, now they are very old single engine planes that the Bolivians had and had no communication with the ground troops. So I took the time to put in antennas and to put a P.R.C. 10 radio that was compatible, to have a compatible communication from the air to the ground. So when that arrived and they were still not clear, you can imagine what a sensation of -- not only happiness, but, it is hard to explain, that probably Guevara was captured and nobody could really believe it. So I got into the back seat of one of the planes, and Major Seratt into the back of the other one, and we flew over the area and we confirmed that it was what they called “Papa,” who was the leader of the guerrilla council, and then they said “extranjero,” which is the foreigner, but we knew that it was Che.
We returned from there and that evening we gathered at the hotel in Via Grande, and I asked Colonel Santana, if he wanted me to accompany him. He spoke to his people in there and told them how much we have helped them and if they did not mind, he knew how much it meant to me to be face to face with my enemy for many, many years. So he agreed and everybody agreed in the area, and on the following day, we flew at seven o'clock in the morning in a small helicopter -- the pilot who was Major Colonel Santana, myself…..We first came in and we landed right beside a schoolhouse where he was and Colonel Santeno and another officer and myself went into the room, we asked a few questions from Che and he would look at him and not answer, so he left the area and went back to the operational area, where still you could hear the fighting going on. They were still shooting less than a kilometer from there, with the rest of the guerrilla was in the general area.
So I set up a shop leader photographing the area there -- to photograph the diary and all the documents that he had with him. So, I asked Colonel Santana, he made available to me his bag where he had all the documents and everything, and once in a while he would go in and the first night I came in, I looked at him and he was tied down, it was an emotional moment, to see this man that I have seen before in his day of glory in Moscow and in China, and now I saw this man on the floor in rags, destroyed, beaten, and in front of him were the dead bodies of two Cubans that were very close to him. So, I looked at him and I said "Che Guevara, I would like to talk to you" and he looked at me very arrogantly and said, "Nobody interrogates me.” I wish I had looked back and said "Look, I didn't come here to interrogate you," -- said, "Our ideals are different, but I admire you, you used to be the head of a state in Cuba, and you are like this because you believe in your ideal. I just came to talk to you.”
He looked to me for about a minute or so and saw if I was sincere, so then he said, "Can I see, can you untie me?" and I said, "Sure.” I ordered one of the soldiers in there to come in and untie him, and we sat him on a little bench. He asked for some tobacco for his pipe, so I got a cigarette from one of his soldiers, and he started smoking his pipe and we had a conversation on and off, because I had to continue to,first of all, send a message by radio, and also radio operator by telegraph to headquarters in Washington, who were already prepared the day before, and at the same time, finish photographing the diary.
So I came in several times. There was one point in time when the helicopter arrived, that had left to take our wounded, our killed, and bring back food and ammunition, and the major newsman brought a camera to take a picture of the prisoner, and I had my camera, I didn't even thought of that at the time. So, I asked him, "Do you mind, Commander"?, and he said "No.” So we took him outside and that is the picture you are looking at. After that, when I was still there and Colonel Santana was still out in the field, we got a phone call from Via Grande There was only one telephone in Ligera, which is the small village where he was. That phone call brought the instructions from the high command of the Bolivian government to eliminate the prisoner.
So when Colonel Santana came down, I was the highest ranking officer at the time. I had the rank of captain in the area, and there was only a lieutenant of the guerrillas. So they called me. I took the phone call. So when Colonel Santana returned to leave, I called him aside and I told him there was instruction from his high command to eliminate the prisoner, and my instruction from the U.S. government was to try to keep him alive. He said, "Look, I know you have tried, and you have helped us a great deal, but this is order from my high command, and you can eliminate him any way you want it, we know how much harm he has done to your country, but I want your word of honor that you will bring me back the dead body of Che Guevara at two o'clock in the afternoon.” That was about the middle of the morning. So, I told him, "Colonel, try to change their mind, it is my instruction, but if there is not any other instruction from you, I will give you my word of honor that I will bring you back the dead body of Che Guevara.”
So I continued to talk to him back and forth in there until one time he left the room and the school teacher, a girl, a lady, came to me and said, "Capitano, why are you going to kill him?” And I said, "Lady, why are you saying that?” and she said, "Well, we have seen you in there photographed with him," and she brought a small portable radio and said, "Here is the radio saying that he has died from combat wounds, already" -- so at that point I saw there was not much point of continuing to wait. It was after 12:30 noontime, and I went into the room where he was sitting and I looked at him and said, "Commander, I am sorry, it is our order from the high Bolivian command.” He turned white like a piece of paper. I had never seen anybody lose the color of his face like he did, but he did not move a muscle.
He looked me straight and said, "Felix, it is better this way, I should have never been captured alive.” He pulled out the pipe and said, "I would like to give this pipe to a soldodito, a small soldier who treated me well.” At that point in time, Sergeant …brought it into the room and said, "Yo lo quero, I want it, you know I want the pipe,” but Che had the pipe in his hand and said, "No, I won't give it to you.” So I ordered twice for him to leave until he finally left the room, and he went with the pipe like this, and I said, "Commander, will you give it to me?” So he thought for a while and said, "Yes, si, which means yes, to you I will give" -- and he gave me the pipe. I put it away and then I told him, "Is there anything you want for your family"?. So he looked at me, and you could tell very easily that there was a lot of sadness and sarcastic in his voice, when he said, "Tell Fidel that he will soon see a triumphant revolution in America." Then he changed and said, "And tell my wife to remarry and try to be happy.”
So we shook hands, we embraced, and it was definitely a very emotional moment. I never in my life had been in a situation where you had to tell somebody he is going to be killed, and I hope I don't have to go through that again. And, after that, I left the room -- I didn't want -- he stood at attention, apparently he thought maybe I was going to be the one killing him. I really didn't want even to be there. I left the room, I called Sergeant Teran, who I knew was doing that in there, and said, "Sergeant, don't shoot him down -- this man is supposed to die from combat wound -- from here up, just from here down,” and I left the room. It was one o'clock in the afternoon. About 1:10, I was right beside the table I had set up to take the pictures. I heard the fire, so I looked at my watch and I took note that it was 1:10 when he died.
LAMB: Were you surprised at how compassionate you were with him at that point?
RODRIGUEZ: At that point in time, you really cannot -- it is exactly what happens -- you know, a lot of people sometimes have criticized me for it, but it is something at that point in time you cannot control -- it is the way it happened -- I guess as an enemy I respected the man who died with dignity, and he was very, very dangerous because he strongly believed in his ideals, even though they were wrong, but that is -- I can tell you that is the exact version of how he died. Because you will find when you read a lot of papers, like say from both sides, completely different attitudes.
LAMB: What did you do then, with the body?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, after awhile, two captains came from the Bolivians, and we all went in. After they left there, I washed his face, that had mud on the face, and got him in the helicopter, on the ride ski of the helicopter, and we were ready to leave the -- there was a soldier who came and told the pilot, “Can you wait, Father Schiller wants to see him?” And here comes a priest on a mule that almost got decapitated because he was just so intensely looking at the body that he didn't see that the blade of the chopper was already going on, and he stopped just about this close from the blade and he went down. He actually blessed, which to me not looking inside, I took a picture, while he was doing that and I mentally went over and said, "This is a man that never believed in God, nevertheless he received the last rites ritual of the church.”
We took off from there, and we landed at Vio Grande area, and that is where they were waiting for us, everybody sort of hid my cab down. I was in uniform and left so I would be, you know, out of being in picture or photography, whatever, and of course everybody left with the body to the hospital in La Paz …, where he was attended there. I stayed with the head of intelligence, Major Sosadra, and the head of operation, Serette, and the pilot, and then went and had a meeting with General Obando, who was the commander in chief of the armed forces.
LAMB: This is the book we are talking about, and the author is Felix Rodriguez along with John Weisman. “Shadow Warrior” is the title. How do you remember all this?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, this, first of all, is very intense. It is something that is hard for you to erase from your mind. Second, I had to brief a lot of people. At my first briefing, of course, was my case officer in Bolivia. Then I had to give the same story to General Porter in Panama and other people -- so it is something that is not very easy to forget.
LAMB: Here is some more photographs from the book and including what is -- over here is a picture of John Kerry, a Senator from Massachusetts, Senator Sarbanes is next to him, George Bush, the President of the United States, and yours truly.
LAMB: When was this taken?
RODRIGUEZ: It was taken on May 1, 1986.
LAMB: And, why were you there with the Vice President?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I had met the Vice President -- the first time was in January. Don Greg introduced me to him when I was going to El Salvador for the helicopter concept, and I briefed him on the helicopter concept, and I also showed him an album that I had with the capture of Che Guevara. So, the second time, I went to visit him, at that point in time I was planning to leave El Salvador.
LAMB: I want to show the audience also this note. We have seen, we have heard a lot about the Presidential notes, and this was from October 23, 1988?
RODRIGUEZ: Right. I sent the President-elect at the time a Christmas card, and he was nice enough to answer me with another card.
LAMB: And he says in here, "Yes, the truth is powerful, you have told the truth.” Why was he writing to you about truth?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, we all have been so much -- because, I believe, mostly with political situations, trying to implicate that he knew more about those things -- and we always believed that the truth is powerful, and it will eventually prevail -- so he was telling me that from the note that it did prevail, the truth.
LAMB: You went to his inaugural, why?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, I am very proud to have been there. I admired the President of the United States, and I know better than anybody else what is truthfulness and what is integrity. They have been put in question by a lot of people for political reasons.
LAMB: How do you know better than anybody else?
RODRIGUEZ: Because everybody accused that I told him about the camp, and I know that I never mentioned it to him or downgraded anything about the country.
LAMB: And this all came out in the hearings?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, yes.
LAMB: What did you think of the hearings?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I will tell you. Went to the hearings -- a lot of people told me to bring a lawyer, in my house included, and I thought that it would be odd for me, I believe in this country, that I would not need a lawyer to defend what I have been doing for the last 27 years, at that point in time, to defend the United States and my ideals. And if I needed a lawyer to defend that, then I was in the wrong country, and I don't believe I am in the wrong country, and it proved to be so.
LAMB: When did you testify?
RODRIGUEZ: I testified on the 27th and the 28th of May, 1987.
LAMB: For what committee?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, the Iran-Contra committee.
LAMB: And why were you called?
RODRIGUEZ: I was called because I participated in the re-supply of the Contras by providing in El Salvador the contacts to be able to launch the operation from there for re-supply of the Contras, actually.
LAMB: And you also testified before Senator Kerry's committee?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, that is another one of the motives why I wrote the book. After all the testimony in congress, he used a man called Ramon Meleone Rodriguez to imply that with the knowledge of the Vice President then, I had received 10 million dollars of drug money for the Contras, from me and Rodriguez, and I had proven that it was an absolute lie. I did talk to him once, at the request of a lieutenant, who said that Meleone Rodriguez could compromise the government of Nicaragua, that he was asked on a tape of an assistant of Daniel Ortega, from Guatemala, to set up a laundering money operation out of Panama for the benefit of the Nicaraguan government.
I went and heard him out and as soon as I finished the meeting with Meleone Rodriguez, I passed the information to the FBI and when I came to Washington, I passed the information to the CIA, and ever since, I never even talked to the guy again in my life, and Kerry used this individual who had been put in jail for 46 years, into promoting the idea that the Vice President knew about it and authorized this type of an operation, and I was involved in getting the money for the Contras. Actually, I was in El Salvador flying at the time when my wife called me, and told me there was a story in the Miami Herald saying about that, which I told her, "Forget about it -- is nothing true to it.” But she was very concerned because people doesn't know us and they read this in the paper, and it is very detrimental to you, to your family and your integrity.
So I did go and testify in private with Senator Kerry. It was a very strong hearing and they didn't want to do it in an open hearing at the time, and then it took me well over a year to testify openly, and when they did, which I hoped C-SPAN could cover it, because he made sure that C-SPAN did cover the hearing with Meleone Rodriguez. And I specifically requested from Kathleen Meese and Jack Blum from his committee that I wanted to testify with C-SPAN coverage, and they said, “Oh, yeah, there is going to be a lot of coverage,” and when I arrived there, they put me, like, number five to testify, and it was 4:30 in the afternoon and there was no television camera to cover my testimony. And at that hearing, he had to admit that he believed me -- that it wasn't true. Then I later learned, because he didn't even say that the time, that they had run a lie detector test of Meleone Rodriguez, and it proved that two crucial questions that they asked about me, that he was lying and on the third one he decided not to continue with the lie detector test.
LAMB: You mean, we weren't there when you came to testify?
RODRIGUEZ: No, sir.
LAMB: No one was there, no television camera?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, there was a camera, but it wasn't on the air anywhere, and I specifically requested that there would be cameras in there. But I guess when he had, for so long, it is amazing the millions of dollars that he is paying of taxpayers' money in that investigation, trying to prove that the Contras were involved in drugs, and then when nothing came out, you know, he just let it go, ride, and then when I tried for him to put this on television, and let the people know the truth, it was sort of pushed aside.
LAMB: Well, so that the audience will understand, we don't -- Senator Kerry doesn't tell
C-SPAN when to carry his hearings and vice-versa. The point, though, it is interesting, because we carried most of those hearings, and I am interested to hear that you say we weren't there. What day of the week was it?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I forgot what day it was, but, for example, they had -- it is the day they had Admiral Murphy in it. He had me, like, number five witness. They started at eight o'clock in the morning or nine o'clock in the morning and my hearing was about 4:30 in the afternoon, so at that time, even the reporters were gone out of the room.
LAMB: Well, if we were there in the beginning, we were there in the end, is the only thing, because we stay from the beginning to the end.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, then they somehow, they chose a day that you were not there.
LAMB: What day of the week was this, a Friday?
RODRIGUEZ: I forgot what day it was.
LAMB: Jack Blum, on page 256, Jack Blum's wimpish reaction, you feel strongly about Jack Blum?
LAMB: Who is he?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I don't like the way -- he is a lawyer that apparently came out, out of the institute for policy that is headed by Ambassador White, which everybody knows is a very liberal individual, and actually, I didn't realize at the time that they were the ones who got very involved in this investigation. It is the group of Ambassador White.
LAMB: Ambassador White used to be the ambassador to El Salvador?
RODRIGUEZ: To El Salvador, at the end of Jimmy Carter's presidency.
LAMB: And Jack Blum worked for him?
RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, he was a member or trustee -- of the board or trustees of Jack Blum's -- excuse me -- of Ambassador's White organization. And it is fascinating when you see the relationship between Jack Blum, Kerry's committee, the Christian Institute that was recently thrown out of court -- all the things that they did with that completely outrageous claim of assassination teams and the assassination of Adam Pastora, probably you are familiar with it, that lasted for over a year, until finally Judge King threw it out of court in the Miami area, and that many people spent millions of dollars in it. They were trying to accus -- and then you have got the Christian Institute giving credibility to the investigation because a Senate subcommittee is always the same people. You've got Jack Blum involved, Senator Kerry's committee, the Christian Institute, and they were all the same thing. Breneke is one of the sources all of them use -- that proved to be a liar and it is amazing.
LAMB: So one of the reasons you wrote this book was because you didn't get coverage all during that period that you thought you deserved -- to tell your story?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, it is very hard when they accuse you of narcotics, being involved in narcotics, not being true, and you see it publicized in newspapers, like in El Salvador, in Guatemala, all over the United States -- and then when Senators say they believe you, it doesn't appear anywhere.
LAMB: Did Senator Kerry eventually say he believed you?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, yes. He said it in the open hearing, but there was no television coverage there, and I do have the transcript from the Senate that said that, exactly the same thing, plus it added the fact that in the end, Rodriguez was proved to be a liar in the lie detector test.
LAMB: What impact did it have on your life in Miami, and with your family, once your story started becoming public? Prior to this book, in other words, did it have a negative impact on the family? You wife has called you.
RODRIGUEZ: We live in a community that is very sympathetic to anything that has to do against communism, but nevertheless, I was -- people who knows me, it doesn't bother me at all, because they know exactly what I have done and where I stand. But people who doesn't know you, and they get this type of allegation from a congressional committee, it is very disturbing.
LAMB: Chapter 18: "I learned, sometimes painfully, in the weeks and months following my initial Capitol Hill testimony, that people tend to deal, not in the truth, as it really is, but the truth as they want to see it, and the facts be damned.” And you go on to talk about the press, in some detail. You say, “In my own case, I have found scores of reportorial errors in facts, some might be considered minor, but taken as a body or work, they led me to the inescapable conclusion, that too many journalists just don't care very much, either about the facts or telling the truth,” and you go on to give examples. Tell us some of the examples.
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, we had, for example, reports of an organization, all in the Rolling Stone -- a piece in the Rolling Stone that made the same echo of the Kerry committee, an operation that they invented, called Black Eagle, and they claimed that all of these people were involved, that I was involved in an operation before North's operation, and supporting the Contras, which never existed. That is the story where they used that there was an Israeli operation who supported the Contras before Oliver North. I had met, for example, General Castillo back in 1983 in El Salvador for this operation. There were stories, for example, that I said in there, which fortunately was killed. I would say, for example, on ABC, where they had Breneke, again the same player of Kerry's committee, saying that I was in Panama telling pilots that, don't worry about it, that the Vice President is supporting this operation 100 percent, and it was an operation allegedly for drugs and re-supply of the Contras, which never existed. I challenged it, and I said, "Look, tell me what day it was?” Well, they could not come up the exact day. I said, "Tell me within two weeks.” Because the month that they said that I was doing that in Panama, I flew extensively with the Salvadoran Air Force against the guerrillas and 99 percent of the chances were that the day that they were picked up with we were able to tell them what operation I was, who was my co-pilot, details of my helicopter and the result of the operation. So, when the other sources that they had could not give any of these details, it eventually killed the source. But, there was a lot of this misinformation all over.
LAMB: Breneke, is that Richard Breneke?
LAMB: Who is he?
RODRIGUEZ: I don't know. I have read later on that he was, I believe, a businessman from Oregon who claimed that he worked for the CIA. He claimed that he worked for the Israelis, and I believe he is under indictment right now for lying and for betraying federal agents. And he said he used to work for the CIA and produced a fake document from the agency.
LAMB: Who is Jose Blandon?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I never knew of him until I saw it in one of the papers, I think it was either Senator Kerry or Lefty Cockburn. It was the same group that manipulated all of these operations and he claimed at one point in time, which was put out of context -- I remember seeing a tape from him saying, "Yes, Felix Rodriguez was the one” --that, well, I saw him the first time on television, so I had never met him in my life.
LAMB: That is Jose Blandon, and who is he?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I read that he was an advisor to Norieaga, an intelligence advisor, to Norieaga, at one point in time.
LAMB: Now, he -- this is a few weeks ago, the day of the attempted Panamanian coup against General Norieaga? He is standing the Senate radio and television gallery, and you will see in just a moment, that there are senators from both sides of the political fence -- Senator Helms, on the conservative side, Senator Kerry on the liberal side, and others, including Senator D’Amato. Is he, in your opinion, a reliable witness?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, see, I don't know because I don't know him, because when he was put in context, what happened and the way I saw it in there was -- he, they were trying to portray his operation never existed, alright, that I was working with the Israelis to supply the Contras before North's operation, and then don't say in jest it was a man in El Salvador called Felix Rodriguez, who was helping the re-supply of the Contras. Now, if he was referring to the time with Oliver North, then he was correct. If he was referring to a time that never existed before, of course he was lying, but I don't know whether he was using that context or not.
LAMB: You wrote in your book, "From my experience, only witnesses whose views were ideologically opposed to Kerry's, and Blum's anti-Contra policy, were questioned aggressively." One of Kerry's fellow senators, Republican, Mitch McConnell, privately wrote the Massachusetts Democrat that the investigation was turning into a witch hunt. Did Senator McConnell help you in this process?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I went to him and talked to him one day, when he was on the committee with Kerry, and I wanted to testify openly, and Kerry would not have me to
testify, after I saw Meleone Rodriguez testimony on television, so he helped me in trying to get Kerry to have an open hearing with me, and for a long time he didn't, so he provided a press conference in the Senate, where everybody was, including most of the networks, and they filmed, and it was never aired. I even brought a paper to Senator Kerry saying that obviously, from the testimony of Meleone Rodriguez and myself, that one of the two is lying, and I wanted the committee it to pursue to the very end, give the full strength of the law to that one which is lying, who was committing perjury, and I signed that. I include that on the -- with my uncle, with an affidavit to them, to the committee, to make sure that whoever was lying of the two of us would be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law. I don't know what ever happened to that document, because he gave satisfaction to me but I don't -- I guess they never gave an additional sentence to Meleone, or maybe they were afraid that Meleone would come back and say that they promised him some leniency by lying.
LAMB: How many interviews have you given so far on your book?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, I guess it is just ...
LAMB: How long have you been on -- are you on a tour?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, it is about a three-days tour.
LAMB: What is the reaction?
RODRIGUEZ: I think it has been very positive.
LAMB: Are you getting an opportunity to tell your side of the story?
RODRIGUEZ: Most of the places, yes.
LAMB: When they, people disagree with you strongly, what is it over, at this stage?
RODRIGUEZ: What is that?
LAMB: What do people strongly disagree with you about, in your tour at this point.? Have you done radio call-in shows and things like that, where people react? Are people -- do you get a lot of opposition to your point of view?
RODRIGUEZ: No, as a matter of fact, I had two radio shows in New York and the one that had calls -- there was not a single negative call. They were all very positive.
LAMB: Why do you think that you had such a rough time here in this city, with the committees?
RODRIGUEZ: It was a political year, in my opinion. It was very important, for they know the truth, with the perception, and I think that is what Kerry's committee pursued to the every end. The perception of the American people that the President or the Vice President then was lying, to see if it will probably generate some votes for the Democratic side. When the election was over, then they left me aside.
LAMB: What do you think of Oliver North?
RODRIGUEZ: I met -- I really am not -- cannot talk with that authority about him, because I didn't know him that well. When I first met him, I liked him very much, his ideas were very much along with mine, very positive, and he supported my going to El Salvador for helicopter concept very much -- very, very good. Nevertheless I guess for a man to be involved in that many things that he was involved with is kind of hard. It was almost impossible to really master 15 or 20 different operations where he had his hand ...
LAMB: You do write, though, that when you visited him in his office, that he said some things about you that weren't true.
LAMB: What were those?
RODRIGUEZ: When I talked to him, he accused me that I was talking openly on the telephone line, that I was a security risk and I asked him to prove it. He told me that he could not because those were under the Freedom of Information Act, they could not give it to me unless, you know, I guess I can sign for it. And I told him, I said, "Look, I will sign for you a release from the CIA, FBI, NSC, whatever you want, but prove to me that I am a security risk,” and he never came up with any document to substantiate what he had said. But I believe to a great extent that he was led by other people who I was critical of because of the poor equipment that was being used in the resupply operation and, God knows, all the things that they were telling him at the time.
LAMB: You wrote, "One is that North had grandiose ideas about himself.” What did you mean?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I was one time, for example, sitting in his office, and he received a phone call from somebody and he said in the telephone, "I have in front of me my chief of operation in Central America," and it was at the time that I just started the work with him and there was no such an organization as a chief of operations in Central America for him. I was just helping him implement the help of the Nicaraguan resistance, which I strongly supported.
LAMB: "He also had the habit of telling people that I had been recruited by him, indeed he would make a point of keeping my old friend, Don Greg, in the dark, when it came to my participation in his covert contra operations. Why? Perhaps because Don would not have approved of the way he was going about it.” Donald Greg, current ambassador to Korea is your friend?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, he is.
LAMB: Used to be a top aide to current President, George Bush, then Vice President?
LAMB: Why are you friends with Don Greg?
RODRIGUEZ: We go back to Vietnam, back in 1970, ‘71 and ‘72. Don Greg was the regional chief in the area near Saigon, Benwa, where I was working with the PRU, the provisional reconnaissance unit, that is where I worked out the concept that was later very effective in El Salvador. So Don was my boss at that point in time and he knew of the success of the operation in Vietnam, and we continued the friendship and relationship all through these years, and we still are very close friends.
LAMB: What do you like about Don Greg?
RODRIGUEZ: He is a very straight individual. He is a very honest individual and he is one individual that -- people who knows him can tell you that he is a fantastic guy, for example, and a very straight individual. All of these publicized memoranda that came out in the Iran-Contra later on that question, because he said that there was resupply of the Contras to be discussed, which was never discussed. He was the one who found it and he was the one who turned it over to the committees.
LAMB: "Another of North's qualities was naivete" -- why do you say that in your book?
RODRIGUEZ: I don't think he was that much knowledgeable of a lot of these operations in paramilitary activities, that he was involved and that is perhaps where he was misguided to a great extent. And I don't know his real background in paramilitary operations, but what we were doing in Central America in resupplying the -- that operation when he got his people in -- and I don't think that he really knew that much about it.
LAMB: When was the last time you were in combat of any kind or any kind of a skirmish?
RODRIGUEZ: Ah, early this year. I was flying in El Salvador. As a matter of fact, that is when we did one program, television program of 60 Minutes, and Mike Wallace was in one of the helicopters, and we even took fire that time. We had one pilot, not pilot, one soldier killed in one of our helicopters and the other one badly wounded.
LAMB: Are you on call to do more work like this, if they want it?
RODRIGUEZ: I always -- I think I will continue after this tour to fly in El Salvador, as long as there is communist guerrillas in that area.
LAMB: Taking any chances of writing this book in the middle of the possibility that you might do more work for the CIA?
RODRIGUEZ: No, I finished working for the CIA in 1976 and I believe from the exposition -- I don't think -- but if there is an opportunity that I can help, I would certainly be available, but I doubt it very much that they will call upon me.
LAMB: Who will you work for then, if you go back down to El Salvador?
RODRIGUEZ: No, I am not working for anybody, a volunteer must serve as an individual to help the Salvadorans. Since I got my retirement, I don't need the pay from anybody, and they gave me a place to sleep and to eat in the air base in there, so I just got my own retribution from my feeling that I am still contributing something worthwhile. I have not abandoned the fight I started in 1961, when the Bay of Pigs, that I have not abandoned the people who died in that time, and my commitment, I guess, will more or less be finished when Cuba is free, and Cuba is not yet free.
LAMB: Think Cuba will ever be free, in your lifetime?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, I am very convinced that it will be, and probably sooner that a lot of people expect.
LAMB: If somebody came to you today and said, "Felix, we've got another mission for you, we want you to go assassinate Fidel Castro,” would you do it?
RODRIGUEZ: I don't think at this point in time there is a situation where assassination will solve the problems down there. I think it is going to take care of itself with the political internal situation there, and I feel very strongly that perhaps in the next two years, we will see a free Cuba, or at least, a tremendous change from the present political situation and in a heading towards a democracy and that it will eventually become one.
LAMB: What do you think of Daniel Ortega?
RODRIGUEZ: I especially have been reading lately about where he has been cancelling the cease fire. I hope that they will go through with the election and I hope that they can really be honest about it and then take the consequences themselves as the result of the election. I believe that lately I was reading that the polls showed that Violetta Chamoro has quite a heading over Daniel Ortega, and perhaps he is trying to see how he can get away from that election. Obviously in the past, we didn't have the support of the U.S. Congress 100 percent, so I think it is important to give an opportunity to this election and to this initiative in Central America, but at the same time, I believe it is very important that if it doesn't work, we have a very close Congress working with the President of the United States to make sure that we do work together to create free democracies in that part of the world.
LAMB: You've seen a lot of revolutionaries, what do you think of Daniel Ortego as a revolutionary -- is he tough?
RODRIGUEZ: Daniel Ortega is the creation of Fidel Castro, in my opinion, and he responds to a great deal to Fidel and Fidel's support in that part of the area in his country. I don't believe he has the popular support of the people, and I believe that if there are free elections in there, that definitely Violetta Chamoro will win, and then it remains to be seen whether they will turn over the rein of power to a democracy.
LAMB: You write in your book, page 235, "Few U.S. congressman, in fact, have taken adequate time to personally examine the problems in El Salvador. It is far more pleasant for them to travel on fact-finding trips to Paris, Rome and London, and when they do visit this country, they all too often arrive for only a few hours, with their minds made up already. They are prepared to support only those issues that they have set into their own personal agendas.” Fair criticism?
RODRIGUEZ: Right. You find a lot of the congressmen that go down there, that do not agree with El Salvador, they go and visit the same people from the left in El Salvador that will tell them what they want to hear. Most of them really doesn't go to the Contra side or try to go to the hospital. I don't say all, I say a lot of them, don't go into the hospital and don't see really the damage the communist mines are doing on the soldiers and on civilians in the area. You've got a lot of problems that -- they will take, for example -- let's see if I can get it put in words correctly. A lot of time when they have problems with the administration, they take actions which are not what they are seeing there. For example, we see when Congressman Obey cut the the supply of the helicopters used by the military of El Salvador. He was having a problem then with the administration and the 500 was the helicopter I was using to fly at treetop level to make sure that there was no civilian casualties, because it is the only helicopter at that altitude that can determine civilians from military or guerrilla troops.
LAMB: You suggest in your book that Congressman Obey was responsible for some El Salvadoran deaths.
RODRIGUEZ: Well, if you look at it from their perspective, he at one point in time turned down the resupply of 500 helicopters into the area, which was vitally to be used for actually supporting the guerrillas before, and that was one of the problems that we had in there is, when there is a contact in the area and they try to bomb a place, if you don't have any eyeball to eyeball contact with them, you may be 200-300 meters off in a very heavily populated country and you might hit the wrong people, so the 500 is actually the helicopter that will determine an exact location of the guerrilla and eliminate the civilian casualties. And because he had problems with the administration, he holds on delivering five Huey 500 helicopters and it took a long time for the ambassador and the head of the new group to finally convince him to release one at a time.
LAMB: We only have about two minutes left, and I want to show the audience a couple of things, and we are going to have to ask Mark on this camera to do that. On your left lapel are a couple of buttons there, one of them looks like some kind of a combat ribbon and the other one looks like -- explain to us and we will get it on the screen here in just a second.
RODRIGUEZ: Okay. This one on top is the CIA intelligence star for valor and then the bottom one is the button for the veteran of foreign wars.
LAMB: Okay, right, and then you have a tie clasp on that I want the audience to see, and ask you what that says -- from here it looks like it says George Bush, does it?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes. It is the tie clip that then Vice President Bush gave me the first time that I visited his office in January of 1985, and I am very proud of it and wear it.
LAMB: This is the book and it is written by Felix Rodriguez along with John Weisman, “The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles.” It is published by Simon and Schuster, in your book stores. Felix Rodriguez, thank you for being our guest.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you very much. It has been a pleasure.
They understood what impact that had on the Soviet Union.
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