Michael Flynn’s firing as Donald Trump’s national security adviser after just 24 days in the job should raise among good-government advocates the question of who else on the National Security Council staff should go. My nominee is retired Lt. Col. Craig Deare, Flynn’s pick to be the NSC’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere.
A self-described expert on Mexico, Deare comes to the post with a checkered record of support for and involvement with some of the Western Hemisphere’s most notorious human-rights abusers.
He’s a central figure in former Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin’s request for a Department of Defense inspector general’s investigation into what role the U.S. Southern Command’s William Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies played in the 2009 military coup in Honduras. The allegation was that senior staff at the center had conspired to cover up the center’s support in Washington for the 2009 coup, which saw the Honduran military literally remove President Manuel Zelaya from power and fly him in his pajamas to Panama. CIA officers who discovered the center’s support for the coup plotters were said to be furious.
Deare and I were both professors at the center, and Deare was present for at least one of the meetings where the cover-up was discussed. More than once, I had been ordered to leave the meetings when the discussions began. Deare previously had been a deputy commander of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Joint Counterintelligence Operations Element in Honduras.
Of interest to Levin’s committee was the possibility that the CHDS, as the center is known, still bore vestiges of the old School of the Americas, the U.S. program that trained Latin America military officers, many of whom then went on to be brutal dictators in their home countries.
“I was shocked to learn that Craig Deare is being considered for a key position on the National Security Council,” said Dennis Caffrey, a former dean at CHDS. “He has serious ethical and moral flaws.”
Among those, Caffrey said, was Deare’s loss of his security clearance after it was discovered that he’d falsified a U.S. Army performance report while assigned to the staff of then-Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who at the time was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Deare even used the office robo-pen to forge the senator’s signature.
“Promoting this man into an environment involving higher levels of classified materials is difficult to justify or an indication that security is not taken seriously at the higher levels of (Trump’s) government,” added James Zackrison, an Oxford-educated former assistant CHDS professor and one of the whistleblowers whose testimony was forwarded by Levin to the Defense Department IG.
Deare’s personal relationships with high-profile military and civilian Latin Americans tied to human-rights abuses also raise questions about his fitness. One of his closet friends at CHDS was Jaime Garcia Covarrubias, a former senior adviser to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and allegedly a member of the DINA state intelligence organization linked to some of the worst human-rights crimes of the Pinochet regime, including the 1976 car-bombing in Washington that killed former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, his American assistant.
Garcia Covarrubias was indicted in a civilian court in Chile in 2014 for his alleged role in the torture and murder of seven unarmed detainees in a supposed armed clash that never happened. A year later, he was indicted for his alleged role in the permanent disappearance of another detainee.
In his role as CHDS senior staff, Deare promoted figures from Argentina who were intimately involved in that country’s notorious “dirty war” against political opponents. For example, Deare brought to CHDS as a special speaker a wealthy foreign lecturer, Mario Montoto, whose boss during the dirty war, Mario Firmenich, was the head of Latin America’s supposedly largest urban terrorist organization, the Montoneros, but actually was a double agent for the Argentine army’s notorious 601 Intelligence Battalion. The intelligence unit not only helped direct the 1980 “cocaine coup” by Gen. Luis García Meza in neighboring Bolivia, but also organized and trained Nicaraguan anti-Sandinista contras in Lepaterique, Honduras, in 1981 and 1982. In return, Deare later became an “illustrious member” of Montoto’s well-funded foundation in Buenos Aires.
Another CHDS speaker under Deare’s wing was Julio Cirino, a 601 Intelligence Battalion employee during the dirty war who was convicted in Argentina in 2013 for human rights crimes. Declassified U.S. records dating to 1979 show that Cirino admitted that Argentina’s military dictatorship had killed people with no relationships to armed groups, to keep them from identifying him and other members of the 601 and other repressive units.
The Center for Public Integrity reported in March 2015 that a document it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act portrayed a “sort of frat-house atmosphere” at CHDS under Center Director Richard D. Downie, who said publicly that he owed his position there to Deare. “It stated that staff had exchanged ‘racially charged emails’ — including one directed at President Barack Obama; used offensive language such as ‘f----t,’ ‘buttboy’ and ‘homo’; and that ‘women employees feel that they are treated inappropriately,’ ” it reported. “Even senior leaders used ‘inappropriate hand gestures,’ ” it said, and mentioned “simulations of masturbation.”
Deare’s personal problems also became an issue at CHDS, when his second wife showed up unannounced to complain that her husband was having a sexual relationship with a CHDS contractor directly in his chain of command. Caffrey recalled the affair as “a major embarrassment and public scandal.”
The National Security Council can do better.
Martin Edwin Andersen, a former assistant professor at the National Defense University, is a national security and human rights whistleblower in the Departments of Justice and Defense.