Almost by accident, I came to know Dewey Clarridge reasonably well as a warm acquaintance rather than as an intimate. From 1987 to 1991, I represented the CIA Chief-of-Station in San Jose, Costa Rica in the Iran-Contra affair, and Dewey had for a time been my client’s boss.
During the Iran-Contra turmoil, the usual suspects in Washington, D.C. were out to burn as many Agency Clandestine Service officers as they could make a case against. Given his involvement in both prongs of the larger Iran-Contra matter, Dewey quickly surmised that Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh and his staff would be looking at him as a possible defendant. Dewey knew nothing about the Grand Jury process, which was the mechanism being used by the Independent Counsel to investigate the activities of the Agency regarding both the Iran and Contra components of the overall matter. In that context, my client asked me to explain to Dewey how the Grand Jury process works. In that way, Dewey could more intelligently assess his own situation and gain an understanding of what might be coming at him in the future. I was happy to do that and did so a few days later.
It was clear from the beginning that the Independent Counsel would cast a wide net, especially with regard to the CIA, which had considerable involvement in both aspects of the Iran-Contra situation. Dewey had been at the center of formulating the successful strategy to deal with the Sandinista War against its own Nicaraguan people. He also led the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) within the Agency, an element within the Clandestine Service vital to addressing international jihadist terror both before and after al-Qaeda’s attack on the United States on 9-11. In 1991, IC Walsh did indeed finally get around to indicting Dewey, along with other members of the Clandestine Service. Throughout, I monitored what the IC was doing very closely.
I felt Dewey’s prosecution by the Independent Counsel was profoundly unjust. As a result, even though I barely knew him and had never represented him, I took it upon myself to go down to the Federal Courthouse to lend him support with my presence during the arraignment process. As depicted in a Washington Post photo at the time, Dewey came to court wearing a British SAS battle jacket which he had been given by an SAS Brit who was one of Dewey’s many admirers among those who made their careers opposing the enemies of civilization. We did not speak that day, but Dewey saw me in the courtroom and intuitively seemed to understand why I was there. As he left the courtroom he looked over at me, smiled, nodded his head in acknowledgement and later kindly referred to me as “a prince of a man” in his memoir, A Spy For All Seasons. With my small gesture of support, I had become “one of Dewey’s guys.”
In December 2015, I began visiting Dewey in various hospitals and rehabilitation facilities as he struggled to recover from his cancer. My last visit to see him was on April 4, 2016 at his Virginia home, just five days before he passed. Toward the end, I always went to see Dewey with a former Agency operator who served under Dewey in multiple assignments, including the U.S. invasion of Grenada. My visiting companion had decidedly more to discuss with Dewey than I did. For example, as they reminisced, I learned that during the Grenada incursion in 1983, my co-visitor had been on a helicopter with a number of SEAL Team Six operators. While offloading the SEALs, the helicopter began receiving heavy small arms fire. The copilot was shot through the leg. The pilot declared an in-air emergency. The “bird” took 38 hits before crash-landing on the deck of a Navy assault ship, miraculously without loss of life to any of its remaining occupants.
While occasionally controversial, the Intelligence profession is not only honorable but one that bears the imprimatur of Scripture. Three thousand five hundred years ago, after miraculously leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses launched perhaps the first intelligence operations in recorded history when he commissioned representatives from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to scout the Promised Land. Later, after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan to begin the conquest of Canaan, Joshua infiltrated Israelite spies into the impregnable city of Jericho before delivering that daunting fortress into the hands of the Israelites for destruction. Scripture confirms that, the Lord has always intended his image bearers to seek His face in freedom.
Just so, Dewey Clarridge was an extraordinary American, a patriot, and a master of the sometimes dark but always necessary art of espionage. Seemingly always at the center of a national crisis, Dewey was one of that cadre of warriors who always ran toward the sound of the guns. It is a testimony to his character that everyone who worked for him was always ferociously loyal to “the boss.” It is a sad reality that, in a fallen world, the blessings of liberty will be lost to all without warriors like Dewey Clarridge remaining committed to standing on the Wall of Freedom.
Dewey Clarridge, American patriot, RIP.
Thomas E. Wilson is a graduate of Georgetown College, Georgetown Law Center, and Columbia University. During 1968-69, he served in the United States Army in Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Mr. Wilson spent a significant portion of his law career representing clients from the United States Intelligence Community and retired from the active practice of law in 2013. He currently lives with his wife, Charlie, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Photo Credit: Dewey Clarridge in the SAS battle jacket leaving the U.S. Federal Courthouse in 1991 after his arraignment (Rich Lipski/The Washington Post).