Longform

The Wake-Up Call

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He believes the only way to combat this potential threat is by sending agents to South America like the United States did in World War II to hunt Nazi agents operating south of the border.


The lack of cooperation between local law-enforcement and intelligence agencies actually helps the terrorists, believes Raul Diaz. He has a shocking story from his days investigating exile terrorism here in South Florida that helps illustrate his point.

In November and December of 1975, Diaz was investigating a series of bombings in Miami undertaken by Rolando Otero Hernandez, who operated under the name El Condor. Diaz worked as part of a task force that included the City of Miami police, the state FDLE, and the FBI. While sharing information with one of his colleagues, he made a disturbing discovery: Something was rotten about one of Diaz's informants, whom he will only identify today as Big O.

The informant received money from a variety of law-enforcement agencies. Acting individually, the City of Miami, Metro-Dade County, and the FBI all bought his information on exile extremists.

"It turns out later that the guy was suspected of being a Castro agent," relates Diaz. "The United States government and our security agencies had been paying for Castro's counterintelligence all these years."

So Diaz set a trap. Big O was scheduled to attend a meeting of a clandestine exile group. Diaz went to the owner of the house where the meeting was to be held and asked for permission to tape the gathering. The next day the informant came to Diaz and told him the group had planned to blow up a boat. Diaz had the tape and knew the informant was lying. Armed with the evidence, he told the FBI Big O was no good. To this day he is flabbergasted at the response: The FBI refused to cut him loose because it would embarrass the bureau.

"They said, “We can't blackball him. We must have warehouses full of his fucking reports. All these years this guy has been lying to us, and what are we going to say now?'" he recalls.

"So not only does [lack of cooperation] effect the inner relations among the agencies but bad guys capitalize on it. This guy was a suspected agent for Castro. He was putting pressure on the Cuban activists to do more stuff, and then he would tell on them to the FBI. So he was an agent provocateur, an informant for the FBI, and a suspected Castro agent!"

Diaz says nothing was ever done about the informant, although local police stopped using him.

"Everything can't be done by the federal government," says former Metro-Dade homicide detective José Diaz. "Give more resources to local and state law-enforcement agencies so they can have more people. [They] need to share their resources and intelligence. If [the feds] had closer relations with local police departments, they could solve the problem of having people who speak the language."

"If [fighting terrorism] continues to be solely a federal task, it will be a failure," concurs former ATF chief Robert Creighton. "The FBI has 12,000 agents or so. What are 12,000 people going to do in a country of 300 million? The only way we are going to be successful is if state and local law enforcement are involved 100 percent."

Raul Diaz puts it bluntly: "Somebody has to tell local not all FBI agents are assholes. Then you have to tell the FBI that all local police officers are not spies. They have to trust each other."

Not everybody sees it this way. Former Miami DEA chief Thomas Cash points out existing overlap between local and federal authorities. He believes some collaboration is detrimental. "Our federal agencies spend a lot of time doing local police work in the name of cooperation," complains Cash. "The words task force mean nobody is responsible."

But Raul Diaz believes it's too dangerous not to cooperate. "They don't want locals to know, because God forbid they should fuck up an operation," he says. "Well you know what? They could have had Mohamed Atta when that [traffic cop] stopped the man and checked him on the computer, but [Atta] wasn't [in the database]."

"[The terrorists] need to fear every police car they see," insists Creighton.

The tendency to hoard information rather than make it useful by distributing the data attracts the ire of former U.S. Marshal José Lopez.

"You have no idea how much bullshit is classified in the bowels of this government," he says. "I have seen newspaper articles that are classified.... [Then] you come and ask me: “Do you know about this?' and I say, “I cannot tell you; it's classified.' That has to change. We have to share."

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Jacob Bernstein
Contact: Jacob Bernstein