[First in a three part series, where Cork Graham responds to critics and discusses his combat experience in Central America in the 1980s.–editor]
In 2011, I began writing a shooting and firearms-focused column for Guns & Patriots. It was the first time in 20 years that I openly discussed the Central America War, specifically my involvement in it as a paramilitary officer for the CIA.
I expected a number of my fellow veterans in the special operations community to chime in and comment, and even show their distaste at my admission. What I didn’t expect was that the people who touted themselves at experts would challenge me in such an inflammatory and inaccurate manner—it was disrespectful and so poorly researched.
It has taken me awhile to respond because, one, I have my own life to lead; and two, the comments were so ludicrous that I couldn’t take them seriously. What I began realizing, though was that there might be those unknowledgeable about Central America who might actually take these “experts” seriously.
There are thousands of former operators like me, who, after seeing what happened to me and were ready to finally talk, might clam up for another 20 years, and in the process would lose a special opportunity to further their healing process. As a nation, we would also have lost a monumental part and understanding of international history.
Because talking about this is part of the healing process, if these other American veterans of the Central America War saw me silenced, my silence would be yet another hurdle that prevented their own healing, another obstacle in their moving forward. Considering my seven-years’ experience counseling those confronting combat-related post-traumatic stress, I would not be able to live with myself.
When my character and combat record was attacked by former intelligence officers and book authors Jeff Stein and Merle Pribbenow in 2011, I didn’t know whether to actually get angry, or just flat out laugh: I don’t know about you, but when investigative reporters and intelligence officers can’t even find a person of interest’s real name, I quickly begin questioning all the rest of the information they’ve come up with.
Let’s start setting the record straight by getting down to facts, something that Pribbenow and Stein could have easily done had they used an information source much more reliable than publicly available Internet credit search services. Had they used something like those of us who were professionally trained as journalists to use before the Internet, namely LEXIS-NEXIS, they would have read an archive of articles from 1983 and 1984 about an 18-year-old photojournalist imprisoned in Vietnam for 11 months.
They would have learned that I’m not Franklin “Cork” Graham, but actually Frederick “Cork” Graham, something they’d have seen had they also checked the cover of my bestselling 2004 memoir about the experience, titled THE BAMBOO CHEST. There’s also a Wikipedia page on me that states that my birth name, and the name that is used in the articles on me during the 1980s, is Frederick Graham. ‘Cork is an adoptive name given me by my extended Oglala Lakota family on the Pine Ridge Reservation, that I use as my nom de plume out of respect to that family and their long dead son, Corky, that I’m named after.
Once I calmed down enough, I got pretty intrigued: What intelligence officers worth their salt could have fallen so far from the mark?
Some of their other statements were so far out that I wondered if this was some drug-induced false flag operation. How else could such evident desk-riding REMFs (Rear Echelon M@ther F%ck*rs) have written such drivel, and not checked their facts—even those proposed by supposed “experts” on the subject of the Central America War, or better yet at least with those who actually fought it in the swamps and mountains.
I’ve begun calling this gang the Association of Former Intelligence Officer’s Little Ole Ladies Mahjong Club, led an Annapolis drop out and Mother Jones copy editor by the name of Adam Weinstein, who was barely out of diapers the first time I was shot at while reporting on Hmong tribesmen on the Mekong River between Laos and Thailand in 1983.
Weinstein was looking to build interest for a memoir about his time as a contractor in Iraq by blogging a piece about me.
But, considering his experience as a “military contractor”, according to his resume, when he resided just a few blocks down from me on Divisadero in San Francisco (and now resides in Miami as a homepage editor for FUSION, a joint venture between NBC and Univision), I’m still curious as to what could be interesting about a military contractor who: “managed publications for Gen. Ray Odierno’s HQ staff. Created and managed the US’s first social media campaign in Iraq. Prepared senior military staff for media engagements. Produced speeches, news releases, broadcast scripts, and speeches for world audiences; trained junior soldiers in storytelling.”
Sounds like he was just a civilian flack.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer to read a book about my long dead friend and former Navy SEAL Scotty Helvenston. Scotty was the youngest to graduate BUDs at the time.
Better, yet, I’d love to read a memoir by one bad-ass by the name of Army Col. Jim Steele, who was MILGROUP commander during part of my time in Central America, and who covertly recovered Scotty’s body, along with the rest of the Blackwater operators hanging from the bridge at Fallujah, while commanding a team of Iraqi operators as a real “military” contractor.
To get back to business and really look at what these “experts” said. I’m delighted David Spencer chimed in. After all, he’s the main authority on the Central America War that higher education seems to seek out. He was a professor at the National Defense University when he got it so wrong—as many who never had to get their feet dirty in that last proxy war of the Cold War.
Back then, I used to see many of them practicing their investigative journalism at the bar in the Camino Real Hotel, or hanging out at one of the many parties the US Embassy used to give at the Camino Real Hotel pool. Fun days, eh? Hmm…
Spencer said that I must have been some wannabe or “poser” because I was wearing a “commercial camouflage uniform” and carrying a “standard infantry M16A1.”
He said: “If you were a paramilitary officer, you would be carrying your own weapon which, like the ‘real’ U.S. Special Forces soldier next to him, would probably be an M16 carbine variant with personalized optics, stock, etc.”
Although Spencer is now a member of a security consulting group called Matter Navis LLC, and says he has worked and trained with a number of military and law enforcement officers, according to his bio, he does not know much about tactical shooting or how gear is got and used during real war conditions: where nothing seems to go right, and when it does it’s not what you really need.
He also does not seem to remember why MILGROUP and Agency operators were publicly required to carry carbines or why I would have chosen that normal length M16 over the carbine M16 I also carried in the field.
Back to the 1980s when Congress thought having US operators in the field with carbines instead of full-length M16s somehow kept us from going into the field and getting into firefights with the FMLN, Cubans, and Sandinistas.
To remind everyone what stupidity Congress put on the American advisor in Central America: they required all American advisors to only carry carbine M16s. Supposedly, a carbine M16 is a much more defensive and less offensive weapon than a full length M16. This was supposed to allay fears of the American public that we were going to ramp up US military presence in Central America and find ourselves in a new Vietnam.
Practically no Americans know that we were fighting a hot war in Central America.
We had a major military presence at Palmerola in Honduras and if any of my teams had to engage a fighting retreat, as those from the Vietnam-era fighting liked to call a “broken arrow,” we’d have at least the US Army Special Forces teams enroute from San Salvador, Tegus, or a variety of secret bases along the Honduran/Nicaraguan border to bail us out after a call out on the radio.