Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Patriot Games: The Intriguing Life's Work of a CIA Official
The Washington Post reports that a retired official from the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense has died. Nestor Sanchez’s life reads like a Tom Clancy novel set in the major international hotspots of the later 20th century:
Most of his time at the [CIA] involved top-secret covert actions, including bloody 1954 coups in Guatemala and a 1960s plot to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Mr. Sanchez was also closely connected to former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, a onetime CIA paid informant.
Mr. Sanchez joined the CIA in 1952. His first assignment for the agency was as a field intelligence officer during the Korean War, where he recruited defectors to infiltrate North Korea.
Later, Sanchez’s CIA work focused on Latin America:
A New Mexico native and fluent Spanish speaker, Mr. Sanchez was sent to Central America to help engineer the 1954 coup against the left-leaning Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Mr. Sanchez sharpened his focus on CIA operations in Cuba. "It is obvious that the Soviets and Cubans are attempting to spread the malaise of Marxism to other countries, especially in Latin America," Mr. Sanchez once said, defending U.S. actions against the small tropical country. "They would impose dictatorships, economic decline and human suffering on the people."
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Mr. Sanchez later worked in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia and Spain before retiring from the CIA as chief of the Latin American division.
One curious case involved a Cuban informant:
Mr. Sanchez worked as the case officer in charge of Rolando Cubela, a Cuban CIA asset. Cubela was an officer in the Cuban army who had become disenchanted with Castro's leadership. At one point, Cubela asked Mr. Sanchez to provide him with a high-powered rifle equipped with a silencer and zooming scope.
Instead, on Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Sanchez gave Cubela a hypodermic syringe filled with poison and camouflaged as a writing pen. But the assassination attempt never took place, and CIA officials later suspected that Cubela was a double agent.
In the 1980s, Sanchez served in the Reagan Administration’s Defense Department:
From 1981 to 1987, Mr. Sanchez served as a senior official in the Department of Defense. An ardent anti-communist, he advocated for millions of dollars in Defense funding to aid the development of Latin American armies, especially in El Salvador.
"We understand the concern of those who remember the specter of Vietnam that the war in El Salvador is being 'Americanized,' " Mr. Sanchez said in 1983. "But Vietnam was 10,000 miles away. El Salvador is a contiguous region right at our doorstep. San Salvador is closer to Washington, D.C., than is San Francisco."
Even his personal life was enhanced by his professional life:
From 1955 to 1959, Mr. Sanchez was posted to Morocco under State Department cover, where he oversaw intelligence gathering operations from a small base in Casablanca. During his time there, Mr. Sanchez married Joan Russell, a fellow CIA employee working undercover in Casablanca. She died in 2008.