The U.S. military may be fighting the war on the ground, and the CIA may be collecting the intelligence and carrying out drone strikes, but for years, the people responsible for targeting and killing top Al Qaeda operatives did not come from within the U.S. government at all.
The job was outsourced to Blackwater, a private security firm. It was part of a top secret assassination program created under President George W. Bush that Congress only learned about seven years into its existence. And in the new book, "How to Get Away with Murder in America," author and journalist Evan Wright profiles the man at the center of the Blackwater operation: Enrique Prado, whose resume included working as a bodyguard for Miami mobsters and allegedly having killed seven people himself.
"This is a story about a man named Enrique Prado, who rose up at the time of 9/11 to be the chief of operations for the CIA at their counterterrorist unit," Wright says. Prado, a Cuban immigrant, grew up in Florida, and served in the Air Force on a special operations team. Upon his return to Florida, he reunited with Alberto San Pedro, a high school friend, who had begun to smuggle massive amounts of cocaine into the United States. Prado became a hitman, working for San Pedro.
"I actually think that the CIA was duped by him initially," Wright says. "I don't think they knew what they were getting when they hired him in '82 because he had a clean record."
After 1991, Prado was investigated for murders by an FBI task force, but, according to Wright, the CIA successfully kept him out of the proceedings. He was promoted shortly thereafter.
"I don't know who in the CIA knew who [Prado] was when they promoted him, but some people knew about his past," Wright says.
While the CIA has frequently hired outside help, in this case, although senior staff officers like Prado were being used to run the program, it was not subject to "the normal restrictions and approval by the executive branch." Also, because the CIA outsourced the assassination program, there is little accountability or information as to what the actions it took.
"It's very hard to tell what they were doing," Wright says. "As a reporter, it's much easier to look into the government. There's the Freedom of Information Act, [and] there's oversight. But once a private company starts doing things, they actually have much more privacy than the government, so we're not sure what Blackwater did and what its successors did."