Advanced Search
Frederick Kempe
Frederick Kempe
Divorcing the Dictator
ISBN: 0399135170
Divorcing the Dictator
In Kempe's book, "Divorcing the Dictator: America's Bungled Affairs with Noriega," his theme is that the U.S. started the relationship in 1960 without thinking of the consequences. "The United States created the problem that we later had to correct with an invasion." He discussed researching Noriega's early childhood and getting access to the Panamanian dictator's inner circle. Kempe compared his book to the book "Our Man In Panama," written by John Dinges, that was published at the same time. Both were published shortly after the December 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama.
Divorcing the Dictator
Program Air Date: March 11, 1990

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Frederick Kempe, author of "Divorcing The Dictator: America's Bungled Affair With Noriega." In your epilogue, you have one sentence, and I want you to talk a little bit about, "America, not Noriega, is its own worst enemy." What do you mean?
ROBERT CARO, AUTHOR, "DIVORCING THE DICTATOR: AMERICA'S BUNGLED AFFAIR WITH NORIEGA": Well, another sentence in the epilogue says that foreign policy isn't made, it just happens, and I think that's what I'm saying, is that the US started this relationship without really thinking what the consequences were. We never knew long-term what we wanted from Noriega when we started the relationship in 1960. He was a cadet at the Peruvian Military Academy. Castro had just taken over in Cuba, and what we wanted were small pieces of information about instructors at the military academy, about fellow students who might have leftist or Communist tendencies. Noriega, however, knew all along what he wanted out of the relationship. He wanted a career. He wanted the prestige that came with being America's man, and he also wanted the training -- counterintelligence training, intelligence training, demolition training -- all the various sorts of training that we gave him, without which he never would have been able to rise through the ranks as successfully as he did. So I think that's what I'm trying to say, is to a large extent the United States created the problem it later had to correct through an invasion of 25,000 men.
LAMB: Have you ever met General Noriega?
KEMPE: I met him at the Rio Alto base in October -- actually November of 1988, and I think you remember this is the base where Stealth bombers hit in the December invasion. And I went up to him, I introduced myself to him, and it was very interesting, because he wasn't much like a dictator. He seemed more shy and withdrawn. The only thing that really showed that he was a leader was he had this penetrating stare, a real intelligence agent's stare. But I shook his hand and it was really a damp and limp handshake, not the sort of handshake you expect from a dictator. And I told him I was doing a book, and he promised to give me several long interviews for the book, which he never delivered on. That said, he did make available to me a lot of his high school friends, Peruvian Military Academy friends, political allies, and that was quite helpful, because through them I got into Noriega's circle, and I think that's one of the things that sets this book apart, is not only do I have a lot about the opposition and history, but I also got inside of Noriega's circle and found out a little bit more about what made him tick.
LAMB: There's a note in the back end. You have each chapter delineated, and then you have special notes that better explain what's behind the chapter, and I want to ask you about this. "Gathering the details of Noriega's early life presented one of the more difficult reporting projects for this book, involving interviews with family members and former childhood friends who primarily spoke anonymously because of fears of retribution from General Noriega, who endeavored to keep information about his early life secret. Those willing to speak on the record are quoted. This account includes many new details that haven't before been made public."
KEMPE: Right. Right. Noriega is not proud of his childhood. Now Omar Torrijos, the dictator that preceded Noriega, was very proud of his humble upbringing. He was very proud that his parents were schoolteachers in a small town in Panama. But Noriega's mother -- I was told she died when he was age five. And she was a domestic servant for his father, who never accepted him until Noriega was age 11 or 12. And he didn't grow up as the poorest person in Panama, but he was poor. He was adopted by a godmother, and the godmother, actually, was a very kind godmother, and so he didn't have -- he had a mean-streets upbringing, obviously, but he had a godmother who loved him, who dressed him very well, who groomed him very neatly. I met one of his school friends, a man named Hector Manfredo, who was his best friend when Noriega was age seven. And, you see, these are the types of stories that really, I thought, enriched my understanding of Noriega, to talk to someone when he -- who was his best friend when he was age seven. I said to Hector Manfredo, "Well, what drew you together?" And he said, "Well, it was a shared introversion. Neither one of us liked to talk much, and we could sit silently in the back of the room." I said, "Well, did you play games? What did you do? Was he athletic?" And he said, "No, even then he wasn't a games player. He was a serious man and he just liked to watch other people." So already, at age seven, you could see shades of the intelligence agent who would come. And I think of Noriega more in terms of being an intelligence agent than a dictator, because that's what he did longest and that's what he did best. He was never very good as a dictator. He didn't have the charisma. He didn't have an ideology. Most dictators have an ideology.
LAMB: When was the first time you ever went to Panama?
KEMPE: I went to Panama already in 1985, 1986, covering stories on the Contras, the Sandinistas, going to the Southern Command there and visiting sources. And that's when I first got interested because, of course, at that time you had a stolen election that the US endorsed, even knowing it was stolen. George Shultz traveled to the inauguration of the president that was elected at that time, actually a very good and honest man, Nicholas Ardito Barletta. But in his briefing book going to the inauguration was a cable that outlined how the election was stolen, and I went at that time and I became intrigued already with the country, but the book, and the hard work on the book, started in the fall of 1988.
LAMB: Do you speak Spanish?
KEMPE: I speak some Spanish, enough to get by here and there, but in Panama, curiously enough, it's not the same must that it is in other Latin American countries. The history of Panama is so tied into the United States that it probably is the only Latin American country in that entire region where one can actually do a good job of reporting without a fluent knowledge of Spanish.
LAMB: In the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, you thank Norm Pearlstine, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, for his support, but then you say, "I am deeply grateful for his willingness to humor my curious passion." When did you get a curious passion for Panama?
KEMPE: Well, some people say it's a perverse obsession, but I think when I first got fascinated I was diplomatic correspondent of The Wall Street Journal, and as diplomatic correspondent you look to learn how American foreign policy is made or not made. And for me, I was attracted to the Panama book for two reasons. First of all, I thought this was an excellent model through which one could study how bureaucracies work and really don't work, and how American foreign policy is made; the fact that there are many forces at work, and it's not national will but it's bureaucratic momentum. It's individual ambitions. It's compromise. And this is the way it's made, and I thought the Panama story was a very good model to how that. And not only that -- you had this fascinating character of Noriega, so I thought the book was a good way of telling a serious foreign policy story, but almost in a novelistic way, to bring in a general reader that normally wouldn't read a foreign-policy book.
LAMB: When was this book originally supposed to be published?
KEMPE: I had finished the book in December, and we were going to go through a long period of editing, galleys, all of this business, and the book would have come out in June. And I heard word from a source of mine -- I'd gone off to celebrate finishing the book in Aspen, and a source of mine called me in Aspen and said, "You'd better end your ski holiday and get yourself to Panama." And this was a very good source, and so I prepared to move myself to Panama.
LAMB: When was this?
KEMPE: This was -- I actually arrived in Panama two days after the invasion, coming up the road from Costa Rica, driving up from Costa Rica in a school bus. We rented a school bus because we figured it was less likely the school bus would be fired upon going to Panama City -- I and another journalist. And I used that opportunity to write an extra two chapters, the first chapter and the last chapter of the book. So everything was finished in December and we added a first chapter and a last chapter. I was very lucky, because one of my better friends during this period of reporting was the nuncio. I spent a great deal of time talking to him, and when Noriega ended up in the Nunciature, it was a bit of a godsend for my own book because I was able to get a very good feel for what life was like for Noriega in the Nunciature, and there's a chapter written about that.
LAMB: What is a nuncio?
KEMPE: I'm sorry. The papal nuncio is the Vatican's ambassador to Panama, and when Noriega went on the run, and he was on the run for four days, five days after the invasion -- four days after the invasion, it turned out that that was where he sought refuge in the end.
LAMB: I have a copy of a book that you no doubt have seen. This is John Dinges' book, "Our Man in Panama." The only reason I show it on this program is to ask you whether or not this has helped or hurt you as John Dinges comes out with a book on Panama at the same time, and when you read a lot of the reviews, the two of you are reviewed together.
KEMPE: Right. I think it helps and it hurts. I think it's a good book. It doesn't cover as broad of a territory as mine does, and because of that, to have two serious books and on a historical moment, I think, is a good thing for society. Now for my own book, obviously, I wish that my book were the only one that people had to buy. But that being said, it also focuses more interest in the subject more broadly. It brings more people into the bookstore asking for a book about Noriega. And so I think that obviously, in overall sales perhaps, I'm a little bit hurt, but I don't think that society is hurt through it since I think both books are credible and decent books.
LAMB: Did you know while you were writing your book that John Dinges of National Public Radio was doing his?
KEMPE: Yes, I did.
LAMB: You crossed paths?
KEMPE: We crossed paths here and there, but John worked very much from public record and also the history that I have in my book he goes into as well. But in the last two years he hasn't been much in Panama, so I was -- I did not run across him there. He does not go so much into the current events of the last two years as I do.
LAMB: One of the criticisms you read in some of the reviews is that your book -- well, one of the things that we talked about briefly is that they may have tried to put it out too fast because of the invasion and you're saying basically that wasn't the case. They just moved the press run up.
KEMPE: No that isn't the case at all.
LAMB: You were done.
KEMPE: Isn't the case at all. In fact, I'm quite happy that the last two chapters, which should have been hastily written chapters, chapters that really didn't tell you much more than were in the newspapers. I was able to get ahold of some intelligence cables, one of which was a debriefing of a man who had traveled with Noriega in his last four days, that gave new detail of where Noriega went, how he got there, the fact that he was in a white Hyundai South Korean subcompact running from one crony's house to another. One of the crony's houses where he stayed, he stayed in a locker room of this sort of lavish health club of a millionaire's home. I mean, this was not a dictator. This was not Che Guevara going to the jungles to fight a guerilla battle. This was a man who was running a large corporation called the Panamanian Defense Forces, which controlled so many different aspects of Panamanian society. And, in the end, he really didn't have the stuff to lead a fight for his position. He was more interested in saving his own skin. And so I think that these chapters are some of the strongest chapters in the book because I was able to come up with this intelligence material.
LAMB: What do you say to the critics that say you focus too much on the oddities of General Noriega -- his bisexuality and his penchant for prostitutes and his interest in mistresses and all that?
KEMPE: There's a lot in the book, and whenever you come out with a great deal of new information, people who don't have that information are going to criticize it or question it. That being said, I think anyone who reads the book closely will see that I've been quite careful about what I've put in the book. I was about to write a chapter called Rumors because I have piles of paper and notes and things that I couldn't put in the book because I couldn't corroborate them. For instance, one of the sources that I spent a great deal of time with, Jose Blandone -- he was one of Noriega's closest associates, right-hand man of Noriega. Blandone spent no time with any other book author. I spent hours and hours with him. He is a source that one has to treat gingerly. One, he's a very, very clever man, but he also has a political agenda. So you corroborate everything you get from a manlike that.

For instance, he said that George Bush instructed Noriega to call Fidel Castro to warn him in advance of the Granada invasion. That fact isn't in my book because I couldn't corroborate it. He also testified before a grand jury that he participated in a mediation of a dispute between the Medellin drug cartel and Noriega. Noriega had raided a drug laboratory that the Medellin cartel had set up in Panama in 1984 against an agreement -- an alleged agreement that Noriega had struck with the Medellin cartel. They paid a great deal of money for protection of that laboratory. Blandone said that he mediated this dispute. That's a key point in the indictments. I have that story in some length, in some detail in the book, and the reason for it is I was able to corroborate it. And for a book like this, I think the hardest job was not coming up with he information, it was coming up with the corroboration. And hours were spent that the reader won't even notice trying to make sure that I didn't overstep the bounds. When I write that the man is bisexual, believe me, I have talked to people who were intimately involved with Noriega in one way or another, and I was able to confirm that to my satisfaction.
LAMB: How did his personal habits affect the way he lived?
KEMPE: I think Noriega was a man who liked control. I think that's what motivated him. He wasn't motivated by ideology, and he was motived power to a certain extent, but I think control was the key, and one sees that in everything he did. His sexual relationships -- I think there was a matter of control. The way he ran the Panamanian Defense Forces as a centrally run organization -- much more centrally controlled than it was under dictator Omar Torrijos. And then the Panamanian Defense Forces took over control through law number 20 of the Constitution -- immigration, customs -- and they controlled a number of other things, ranging from horse racing and thelottery, to airports, ports. He really turned the PDF, the military, into a diversified corporation over which he was the chairman of the board.
LAMB: How many times did you go to Panama?
KEMPE: I went to Panama on four or five separate occasions, probably spent a total of six or seven months in Panama.
LAMB: This one line I wanted to ask you about. "In Panama, Queenie Altamorano took me on voyages that placed her in more danger than she wanted." You're acknowledging people. What did you mean by that?
LAMB: Who is she?
KEMPE: Well, Queenie Altamorano was a researcher who worked for me and an interpreter who worked for me as well in Panama, and she was very, very plugged into some very interesting circles in Panama, and the trip that I'm referring to -- I couldn't say it at that time, but I think I can now -- we went into the Chiriqui province and we met with guerillas who had been tortured or who had been locked up by Noriega in the past. And we had to meet secretly with them in the mountains at preset locations. Sometimes they would show up; sometimes they wouldn't show up. Some of them was actually trembling as he talked to me, and he spent more time pleading with me not to use his name. And then at the end of the meeting he even pleaded with me not to use the information. And to see that these guerillas, who were actually locked up by Noriega 20 years ago -- more than 20 years ago -- were still this nervous of the man, taught me a lot about the man, and I think that without the help of Queenie I would not have got to a lot of these individuals.
LAMB: "Eva Lozer, who saved me from embarrassment."
KEMPE: Because I am not a lifelong Panama expert, I relied on certain experts to read my manuscript and make sure I was not doing anything that was historically inaccurate or factually inaccurate. Eva Lozer certainly isn't responsible for what's in the book, but she's an expert on Panama at CSIS, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and she spent many long evenings reading every page of my manuscript at the end, making sure that -- or to the best of her ability making sure that I didn't make any historical or factual mistakes that jumped out at her.
LAMB: "Two reporters provided invaluable assistance: James Dorsey, M. Scott Malone." Who are they?
KEMPE: Whenever you write a book -- I actually should have listed probably 20 or 30 reporters there, but these two spent the most time with me working on it. Scott Malone is, I think, one of the better investigative reporters in this city and he's done some excellent work for "Frontline," PBS. James Dorsey, who's worked in the past for the Christian Science Monitor and for UPI, now working for The Washington Times, knows the region very well and is very, very well plugged in into military or other circles down there. And at times, in a crisis situation, it pays off for a journalist to work with other reporters, because you share information, you share insights, and also there's safety in numbers, and it's much better to go out into a dangerous situation with two people. James Dorsey and I, for instance, rented that school bus together and we came across the Costa Rican border and drove up from the Costa Rican border -- border to Panama just three days after the invasion.
LAMB: Do you have any problem as you're going about your job writing a book like this that your friends and other reporters know what you know? And do they have to not publish it in their own publications? How do you deal with information that you come on together?
KEMPE: Well, I was quite liberal with printing information I would find out along the way in The Wall Street Journal. Obviously, there's so much information in the book that you don't get it all into a newspaper. But by and large, I didn't find that was a problem. Even if you had a news break in a newspaper, you can't flush it out into detail. You can't tell the story in the way that you can in a book. So very often when I would do reporting together with one or the other reporter, I didn't find it was a conflict of interest at all.
LAMB: There's some other names that our viewers will recognize because they've been right where you are doing call-in shows. "David Ignatius' deft touch and instincts helped me shape the theme and writing." Why David Ignatius?
KEMPE: Well, David Ignatius is an old friend of mine. He was the Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in London when I was the East European correspondent and his backup in the Middle East and London. And it always helps to have a very, very trained eye -- as you know, David had been the editor of the Outlook section of The Washington Post -- a trained eye look over your manuscript. Every writer needs a good editor, and David is one of the best. The other one I list there, Alan Murray, was equally helpful and also has an incredibly keen eye for what's missing or what ought to be in. And again, I turn to these people because in doing a book of this size, you really need the help that you can get from the cleverest and the smartest editors that you have, and they very often will point you in a direction or suggest a means of telling a story that you might not have fallen upon yourself.
LAMB: Let me go to chapter 17, because it seemed to be a good place to talk about -- I mean, it's way into the middle of the book and there's so much that we're not going to cover here, but it seemed to be a good place to talk about our own government and what happens inside. But first I want to ask you -- and the name comes up first page of this chapter -- who Michael Herrari is.
KEMPE: Michael Herrari is a very interesting character. He was head of -- I think it was called special operations in the Mossad. And after the ...
LAMB: In Israel.
KEMPE: Right, in Israel. He's an Israeli Mossad agent and was very -- and he was on his way up to the top of the organization at and then he led the teams after the massacre at the Munich Olympics of -- not massacre, but the killing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. He led the team that was to hunt down the Palestinian terrorists. Unfortunately, in Norway he killed a Moroccan waiter instead of a Palestinian terrorist. It was a great embarrassment to the Mossad and to the Israeli government.

He was able to get away from that, but it harmed his career. He was sent off to Mexico to be station chief for the Mossad. Somewhere in this period he got to know the dictator Omar Torrijos. Omar Torrijos' wife was Jewish. At one point Michael Herrari intervened because Torrijos' wife's father was not very happy with the fact that she was married to this Panamanian dictator who was, of course, not Jewish. And Michael Herrari did some brokering and it was a personal favor to Torrijos and Torrijos was very touched. Apparently this started a close relationship. Noriega was the intelligence chief under this dictator. Michael Herrari, being a Mossad man, of course, worked very closely with him.

And this relationship -- again, this is one of the things in the book where I don't write nearly as much as I was told, simply because I couldn't corroborate a lot of it, but one does know that Herrari was very close to Noriega, that Noriega trusted few Panamanians and that he did trust Herrari. He trusted him with certain domestic political missions, carrying messages to certain politicians, and apparently he trusted him also in matters regarding the arms trade. Although I wasn't able to confirm this with documents, the Panamanian government is said to have provided end user certificates for the Israelis when they want to provide arms to certain parts of the world where they can't get the end user certificates.
LAMB: What's that? What's an end user certificate?
KEMPE: End user certificates -- if you want to buy weapons from a government, there are certain governments that aren't allowed to buy weapons during an embargo. For instance, Iran, during the war with Iraq, was not allowed to buy weapons from many different countries in the world. So Panama would provide an end user certificate. In other words, Panama would be buying the weapons, but they would never go to Panama. They would go to Iran.
LAMB: Didn't I read that they went from the Soviet Union to Iran through Panama?
KEMPE: Yeah. Well, the weapons themselves, of course, would never have gone to Panama, but the end user certificate would read Panama. They may go through another means.
LAMB: But you had an Israeli working for a Panamanian brokering arms from the Soviets to go to Iran through Panama.
KEMPE: Exactly. Exactly. And it didn't stop there. The embassy -- Panama's embassy in Vienna was a passport factory for intelligence agencies that wanted to operate in Eastern Europe. The Israelis, of course -- the Israeli passport was a problem. You didn't get into parts of Eastern Europe with that sort of passport, or the Soviet Union. But a Panamanian passport was accepted everywhere, and so the Jewish Panamanian ambassador in Vienna was a very useful conduit for passports for Israeli agents, according to intelligence sources that I had for the book.
LAMB: We're talking about this book called "Divorcing The Dictator," and our guest is Fred Kempe. Are you still on leave from The Wall Street Journal?
KEMPE: I've come back to The Wall Street Journal. As a matter of fact, I am, after this book is out and I've made my rounds, I'll be taking over as The Wall Street Journal's first Berlin bureau chief covering East-West relations.
LAMB: And when will you go to Berlin?
KEMPE: June 1st will be the official opening date of the bureau, but I'll travel off there next month already.
LAMB: Michael Herrari: Where is he now?
KEMPE: Mike Herrari's back in Israel, and The Wall Street Journal ran a story -- a very interesting story -- that outlined how he got there, and it certainly suggests that someone helped him out of the country and that there was a conscious decision made not to arrest him.
LAMB: Someone, meaning...
KEMPE: One can only guess that it was either Israeli agents on the ground who helped him get out or American agents on the ground who helped him get out. But he certainly did get help in getting out.
LAMB: Let me ask a question for the many viewers that have called about this over the last couple of months. Michael Herrari, an Israeli, former Mossad agent -- was he there in Panama on behalf of the Israeli government?
KEMPE: That's a very good question, and I don't think I have a satisfactory answer. All I know is Mossad agents, when they retire, do go into their own private businesses. Herrari obviously did have private businesses in Panama. In fact, he was known as Mr. 60 Percent for the large commissions he would take from Israeli businessmen who would try to set up operations in Panama. And these were legitimate businesses. That being said, I'm told by intelligence experts that these Mossad agents are on call. When the Israeli government needs their services, they will be called upon. And obviously, Mike Herrari has built up a number of contacts and important intelligence contacts over the years, and those don't evaporate just because you've decided officially to retire.
LAMB: Chapter 17 again, US Policy Follies. Who was Colonel Herera Hassan?
KEMPE: Well, Colonel Herera Hassan was the chief of security for Omar Torrijos, the dictator Omar Torrijos. He is of the opinion that Noriega was involved in one way or another with the suspicious helicopter -- excuse me -- plane crash in 1981 that took the life of Torrijos. Two years later, after some maneuvering, Noriega was able to take over power. He was -- because of his closeness to this dictator, Noriega pushed him off into various embassies. At the time that the US turned against Noriega, Herera Hassan was the ambassador to Israel. Interestingly enough, though, it was really Mike Herrari, the Mossad agent we were talking about, who was running the embassy. Herera Hassan was there and Mike Herrari was watching him. And so you see there are all sorts of intrigues all over in this story.
LAMB: Paid by whom?
KEMPE: He was the honorary consul to Panama, so the Panamanian government was paying Mike Herrari as the honorary consul.
LAMB: Living in Jerusalem?
KEMPE: Living in Jerusalem but also living in Panama, going back and forth. Herera Hassan expressed to me frustration that, really, it was very difficult for him to act as ambassador because Herrari was really in charge of the operations there. When the State Department wanted to get something moving against Noriega, they needed an exiled military leader.
LAMB: What year was this?
KEMPE: This was in 1988. The indictments came in February 1988 and then late in February President Eric Arturo Delvalle, president of Panama, tried to fire Noriega, tried to push him into resignation. Instead, Noriega got rid of him and he went into the underground. So this is where the crisis really starts speeding up, in February of 1988. March of 1988 a State Department official, Bill Walker, flies secretly to Israel to meet with Herera Hassan and says, "We want you to help us. We want you to fly to Washington on a secret mission and help us get rid of Noriega."

Herera Hassan said he would do so, thinking that "If this man is coming all the way out to Israel to recruit me to this mission, then the entire US administration must be behind it." But he was wrong. Even as the State Department was coming out to seek this help from Colonel Herera Hassan, the Pentagon was fighting what the State Department was trying to plan, which was some sort of exiled military activity that would lead to Noriega's overthrow, probably through a coup. So Herera Hassan -- by the time he lands in Washington, the plan that he was supposed to be the central figure in has been defeated in interagency battles, and so he becomes the first victim of American foreign policy battles because he was left out to dry.
LAMB: One little fact I want to ask you about: our current UN ambassador, Thomas Pickering, was the ambassador from the United States to Israel who approached the colonel?
KEMPE: He made the initial contact to see if the colonel would be willing to meet with the visiting State Department official.
LAMB: How do you keep track of all this?
KEMPE: Lots of papers, lots of documents, lots of interviews and lots of double-checking with the sources.
LAMB: How does it -- how does...
KEMPE: I had this whole story -- for instance, in this story, I had this whole story from a series of sources, and I took it to Herera Hassan and then I asked him to tell me his story, without telling him the details that were in my story. And his story matched my story detail by detail. When you get two completely different sources corroborating the same story without them knowing what you learned from the other, then you're pretty confident of your story.
LAMB: At some point in this chapter I remember you writing that the colonel -- the ambassador from Panama to Israel approached from a US State Department man, Walker ...
KEMPE: Right.
LAMB: ... flies to Israel, asks him to come to Washington.
KEMPE: Right.
LAMB: The ambassador from Panama to Israel flies to Washington, and by the time he gets here there's a line in here that says, "We don't want him anymore." Who was that that said they didn't want him anymore? And it ...
KEMPE: Well, it wasn't so much they didn't want him anymore. The thing is, this man was being used by the State Department as part of their game to push through something in the bureaucracy. So the State Department was at war with the Pentagon. We weren't only at war with Noriega. The State Department was at war with the Pentagon.
KEMPE: The State Department was filled with -- excuse me -- the State Department were really the hawks in this episode. They wanted to militarily take action. They were the ones that suggested some sort of commando raid that would bring Noriega's kidnap and bring him to justice in the United States.
LAMB: And -- OK, but...
KEMPE: And the Pentagon were the doves.
LAMB: OK. I was going to read that line. "These events began a bureaucratic war between a pacifist Pentagon and a militaristic State Department."
KEMPE: Exactly. Exactly.
LAMB: But I want to ask you to name names so that we know we can -- this was 1988, the last...
KEMPE: Right.
LAMB: ...year of the Reagan administration. Who are the militarists over in the State Department, and who are the pacifists in the Pentagon?
KEMPE: The militarist at the State Department would have been Elliott Abrams, but people misunderstand. They think that Elliott Abrams shaped this entire policy. Elliott Abrams wouldn't have been able to do this unless Secretary of State George Shultz said, "Yes, please. I approve of what you're doing." Abrams believed that the -- that Reagan had said, "We have to get rid of Noriega," and he was frustrated that this goal had been set but the Pentagon was blocking all resources or policies that would actually lead to the fulfillment of the goal.

Admiral Crowe, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led the charge on the other side. Now you also see the difference in weight -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff against an assistant secretary of state, who is not as powerful as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And part of the problem for Elliott Abrams and the State Department was George Shultz was traveling a lot during this time, and so at the interagency meetings he didn't have the strong voice of the secretary of state behind him. Admiral Crowe thought that this was a fool's mission. In fact, at one meeting he said to the president, "Do you really want to risk the lives of American soldiers from Peoria, Illinois, to unseat a dictator when the Panamanian people themselves aren't willing to risk their lives to get rid of him?" And that's a very strong argument.
LAMB: How did you -- by the way, how did you know that Admiral Crowe, in a private meeting, said, "You don't want to risk people from Peoria, Illinois, to get this dictator out of there"?
KEMPE: I was able to get notes from some of the meetings. In other cases, I had sources tell me what was said, and then I would take that account of the meeting to the other side. In other words, to Admiral Crowe's people or people close enough to Admiral Crowe or people in the Pentagon who had been involved in meetings in one way or another, and I would check the account, and they would either say, "Yes, that's true" or "No, that's not true." But that's the way I would play it out.
LAMB: Were you suggesting, though, that Admiral Crowe said Peoria, Illinois, because President Reagan was originally from a small town near there?
KEMPE: Well, I then say that he knew how to speak Reagan's language, and then I point out that Reagan was from -- what was it? -- Tampico?
LAMB: Tampico or...
KEMPE: Tampico, Illinois. The...
LAMB: Dixon, Illinois, and...
KEMPE: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and in that area.
KEMPE: Exactly. In the Dixon, Illinois, areas. And I'm not sure if Crowe picked the city for that reason, but he certainly picked the way of saying this because he knew this was the way to appeal to the president. But there's another very interesting point in this, and that is, for a president of the United States to take military action when his military officers are telling him it's foolhardy is a very, very difficult thing to do, because he trusts his military advisers. And...
LAMB: Why?
KEMPE: Because they are the ones who know the cost. They are the ones who know what's logistically possible. And so to have Secretary Shultz or Elliott Abrams say, "These people aren't telling you the truth," or, "These people are exaggerating the cost or the danger" -- because the Pentagon was saying, "If we take this action you're going to have hostage-taking. There are 40,000 to 50,000 Americans living in Panama. You would have massive hostage-taking," they argued. And the hostage-taking situation probably scares a president more than anything else. You see how much problem we're still having with hostage-taking. And I think the real change -- obviously there have been many changes between the Reagan administration and the Bush administration, but the real change in December of 1990 -- 1989, when the invasion took place, was the national security adviser, Colin Powell, said to the president, "Yes, I go along with this plan and we actually have a workable plan that we can carry out that I think will do the trick."
LAMB: When he became chairman...
KEMPE: When he...
LAMB: ...of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...
KEMPE: Exactly.
LAMB: ...under George Bush.
KEMPE: Exactly. When Colin Powell took over for Admiral Crowe as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
LAMB: This gets awfully complicated. Let's go...
KEMPE: It does. It does.
LAMB: Let's go back to it in 1988 because it's an exercise in understanding how our own government operates internally. President Reagan is sitting there waiting for suggestions from his State Department and his Pentagon.
KEMPE: Right.
LAMB: Admiral Crowe, who has a PhD in political science from Stanford...
KEMPE: That's right.
LAMB: ...says, "Don't use military force to go in and get this little dictator." Elliott Abrams is pushing for a military force to excise him from that country...
KEMPE: And his Harvard law degree.
LAMB: And his Harvard law degree.
KEMPE: Yeah. So you have this battle of intellects -- and very different men.
LAMB: Difference in age.
KEMPE: Difference in age. Crowe had led commands. He was much more of a down-to-earth speaker. I mean, he would sometimes hide his intellect behind this sort of "Aw, shucks" exterior which was very effective in interagency battles. Now the actual person who was vs. Elliott Abrams in the interagency meetings wasn't Crowe himself, it was Vice Admiral Jonathan Howe -- again, a very, very effective in-fighter because he had been in the political military bureau of the State Department, and he'd also worked in the White House in the past.
LAMB: You describe him as humorless, brilliant, calculating and arrogant.
KEMPE: Exactly.
LAMB: You ever meet him?
KEMPE: I have met him, and he...
LAMB: Was that accurate from what you saw when you met him?
KEMPE: Yes. He's a very impressive character, and he knew how to go around the bureaucracy. He knew how the State Department worked, he knew how the White House worked and he knew how the Pentagon worked. And in this interagency battles, those are very valuable skills.
LAMB: In retrospect, was Elliott Abrams right? Would they have saved 25 men and a million dollars, or whatever it cost for the invasion if they'd have gone in?
KEMPE: You know, I didn't want to make a point of who was right or wrong. I wanted to tell the story and leave it to the reader to decide. But I will make one judgment, and that is that Ronald Reagan didn't intervene to settle this battle. He didn't -- he didn't come down and say, "OK, you both have these opposing views. Let's now have a real policy which is measured and well-thought-out." What grew out of this bureaucratic paralysis was a policy of -- not of most effect, but of least resistance. And that policy of least resistance was economic sanctions. And economic sanctions were imposed in April of 1988 by Ronald Reagan, not because anyone thought this was the most effective policy. In fact, the Pentagon didn't think it was a good policy. State Department didn't think it was a good policy. Commerce and Treasury certainly didn't think it was a good policy. But the sanctions were decided upon because that was the only policy everyone could agree upon.
LAMB: Let me read you a line just about Admiral Crowe before we leave that particular part of this. "He was now authorized to express his own opinions and so unilaterally solved conflicts among the chiefs of each of the services." This is a result of the 1986 law that was passed that Barry Goldwater, among others, was behind...
KEMPE: Right.
LAMB: change the power structure at the Pentagon. "Crowe had become the most powerful peacetime military officer in American history."
KEMPE: Right.
LAMB: Is there anything else you can say about the upshot of that law, and is that law, do you think, a good thing?
KEMPE: Well, I think the law was designed to give the chairman of the Joint Chiefs more power to express his opinion and more power to speak his own mind in the interagency battles that took place, therefore bringing him up closer to the -- the power of other Cabinet members in these sorts of decisions. But I think the real difference -- certainly he was in a position where he could speak for himself and speak his own mind and put this through in interagency meetings, but also Admiral Crowe himself was a very effective man in that position, and he was hand-picked by Ronald Reagan to take that job during the Reagan administration. So very often, as we know, James Baker's power in this administration comes from his close relationship with George Bush, not because he's secretary of state. He's more powerful as secretary of state because of his close relationship. And I think that Ronald Reagan trusted Admiral Crowe enough not to distrust him when he said that "Military action would be too dangerous, and therefore I don't think we should undertake it." And so...
LAMB: What other lessons did you learn from watching -- or going back and getting both sides of this story, and were both sides anxious to tell you what happened?
KEMPE: Became more anxious once they discovered how much information breeds information, and once you have information from a meeting, it's easier to go to a participant of that meeting who wouldn't talk to you before and then he'll say, "No, you've got this wrong. You've got that right. OK, let's talk about it in more detail." And so one of the things one learns from writing a book like this is that you revisit sources and you go back to them time and again your better sources. And I think that what I learned from this whole episode is that what drives American foreign policy is a very complex mixture of things.

It isn't a neat process that you can draw on a chalkboard; but rather, it's a combination of bureaucratic momentum and bureaucratic imperatives: What the Pentagon wants, what the State Department wants, what the Treasury wants; individual ambitions: What Elliott Abrams wants, what Admiral Crowe wants. And also, of what's on the table that day. In May of 1989, you may remember, there was an election in Panama that was annulled. Thereafter, the vice presidential candidate in that election, Billy Ford, appeared on Time magazine with a blood-drenched shirt. Suddenly, Panama was on everybody's mind. But a week later, there was a massacre in Tiananmen Square. And not only does it disappear from the television screens, it also disappears from the president's agenda -- not disappears entirely, but it takes a lower priority, and in Washington, where you only have so many hours in a day, that affects how you pursue policy.
LAMB: "Davis was a political ambassador whose first try at diplomacy came in Paraguay after President Reagan's 1980 election. He came to Panama in 1986 after his wife had died in a plane crash, and Panama's crisis cut his time of mourning short, thrusting him onto the unforgiving stage." Who was Davis?
KEMPE: Arthur Davis was the ambassador to Panama during this crisis, and a very kindhearted man, a man who cared a great deal about human rights and a man who was very emotional in his support for the opposition in Panama, and in his opposition to General Noriega.
LAMB: This is in the same chapter where we're talking about government structure here, chapter 17.
KEMPE: Exactly.
LAMB: "The embassy's press section went to lengths to keep their ambassador out of the public limelight because of his inarticulate, shoot-from-the-hip approach to sensitive diplomatic matters."
KEMPE: It was -- I took some strain in getting my interviews with Ambassador Davis, simply because the press section of the embassy -- Ambassador Davis is not a trained diplomat. He's not a person who talks in diplomatic niceties. He's a supermarket developer from Colorado whose main claim to the Reagan administration was the fact that he was a friend of Joseph and Harley Coors in Colorado. And he was very effective at times as an ambassador, but because of the way he would drive after things with emotion. But the diplomats around him were afraid to let him too loose because he would also say foolish things. He wasn't diplomatic enough.

He wasn't an operator in the sense that one might have needed an operator. Now you have Deane Hinton as ambassador to Panama. He's a much different sort of ambassador. Here's a man who has been ambassador to Pakistan helping to run the Afghan war, ambassador to Costa Rica, ambassador to El Salvador. This is a diplomatic heavyweight they've now put in Panama, and I think part of the reason they put this diplomatic heavyweight in Panama is that Arthur Davis was considered not a weighty enough figure for this time of history in Panama.
LAMB: And he was the ambassador from the United States to Panama in 1988. How important is that ambassador in this mix?
KEMPE: I think the ambassador in the mix is very important, partly because of the Southern Command. You have an odd situation where the general of the Southern Command, Fred Warner, and the ambassador, Arthur Davis, are two powerful invi -- individuals in the same country. Fred Warner had Admiral Crowe's ear. When he said something wouldn't work in Panama, he was the head of 13,000 troops. He was a four-star general. He was listened to. Arthur Davis was not all that close to either George Shultz or Ronald Reagan. He did not have the sort of ready access or the punch in Washington that a General Warner would have with Admiral Crowe or with the Pentagon. And so that again weakened the State Department, because Ambassador Davis couldn't throw the weight around in Washington that a four-star general running the Southern Command, which was based in Panama -- he couldn't throw that kind of weight.
LAMB: One last thing on Ambassador Davis. This is continuation of where you say the embassy's press section went to great lengths to keep the ambassador out of the limelight. "They were even more upset that he couldn't control his daughter and new first lady, Susan" -- because his wife had died in a plane crash -- "who had become one of the opposition's most boisterous backers. She'd go to the front lawn of the embassy residence to bang on pots and pans, and embassy personnel complained that she often released classified information to reporters in an effort to promote the anti-Noriega cause." True?
KEMPE: It is true. It wouldn't be there if it weren't. And...
LAMB: How do you know? I mean, what...
KEMPE: Well, there's a lot -- Susan Davis was a woman who was very, very emotionally involved in the opposition's cause, very close to the opposition.
LAMB: Who's the opposition at this point?
KEMPE: Oh, the opposition at this point is the civic crusade, a band of businessmen who were against Noriega and who really started the first strong demonstrations in June of 1987 against Noriega. Also, the Delvalle family -- President Delvalle, when he went underground -- the Delvalle family lived with the Davises in their residence. Gabriel Lewis, the leader of the political opposition -- the Panamanian political opposition here -- he used to be the Panamanian ambassador to Washington during the Panama Canal treaties -- one of the strongest forces in the opposition.

His whole family lived with the Davises in Panama when they had to hide from Noriega. And whenever Susan Davis or Ambassador Davis would come to Washington, they would -- Susan Davis, particularly, would stay at the Gabriel Lewis home here. So the closeness between the opposition and the embassy was the sort of which one sees very, very rarely, because it's not considered diplomatic. When you're a diplomat, you're supposed to keep your ties open to all sides, and therefore you know more what was going on. And I do think this was one of the great weaknesses of the embassy. I think the embassy didn't know enough what was going on in the ruling party, in the ruling circles, or in Noriega's circle. I think the embassy shut itself out of that, partly because it had to because of sanctions and because of diplomatic cutoff, but also partly because it didn't try hard enough through other means to maintain these ties.
LAMB: Where is Susan Davis today?
KEMPE: I'm not -- I'm not sure. I think...
LAMB: Where is the ambassador today?
KEMPE: The ambassador is, I think, living in Washington, giving speeches here and there. He was working over at the State Department as the ambassador sitting in the State Department up until the time that Deane Hinton replaced him about a month or two ago.
LAMB: As you're going through the process of gathering information for this book and you're writing chapters like this, what's coming across your mind about the way we do business?
KEMPE: Well, I guess what I really want to do is have a book that tells people how foreign policy really is made. The academics consider these sorts of factors as not sufficiently serious -- or many academics don't consider them sufficiently serious. And part of what I try to do with this is give the academics the sort of journalistic information that will make their studies of foreign policy better. And also, I think the Kissingers and the Brzezinskis of the world, when they write their memoirs -- They are of a stature of individual where they can't really get into the gossipy sort of things that I get into. But these gossipy things shape policy. The fact that Ambassador Davis, as an ambassador, doesn't have the weight that General Warner, as head of the Southern Command -- this shapes how policy turns out. And so I guess this was my aim in the book, is to make it lively enough to bring the reader in, but also through this show them that American foreign policymaking is a messy and anecdotal and really quite a fascinating affair.
LAMB: Another sentence here I want to read, because our viewers know this man from seeing him on the call-in shows here and he's also written books. "Some of the most detailed and troubling stories to the State Department are written by Washington Post's Pentagon correspondent George Wilson ..."
KEMPE: Right.
LAMB: ... here's what I want to ask you about -- "long a favorite reporter of the uniformed military."
KEMPE: They like him. They think he's straight. They think he's honest. They think he tells a good story. Military sources are an interesting bunch, and I really like them, and it's because they're straight. They feel passionately. To decide on a career as an officer in the US military takes a certain level of patriotism and takes a certain level of devotion. They're not going to get rich doing it. And they're not going to live a nice, quiet life, because they're going to be moving around and they're going to be told where to move and when. So it takes a level of devotion that most of us don't have to our careers or jobs and because of that I respect them a lot. But I think part of the reason they like someone like George is because he is a straightforward, honest and a very good reporter.
LAMB: Do you ever feel you're being used when you're writing stories?
KEMPE: Oh, I mean, the trick to being a good journalist is to figure out when you're being used, how you can avoid it, but to use these motivations of your sources to get as much information as you can.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Divorcing The Dictator," and our guest is Fred Kempe, who writes for The Wall Street Journal, soon to go to Berlin and their Berlin bureau there, and unfortunately we're running out of time and I've got a lot to ask you about. Is writing a book tough?
KEMPE: It's the hardest and the most enjoyable thing I've ever done; hardest because you just have to dig so much harder than you do in daily reporting; most enjoyable because it's so rewarding at the end that you really got so much of the story.
LAMB: Where did you write it?
KEMPE: I wrote part of it in Panama and then I wrote the bulk of it sitting in my home on Capitol Hill.
LAMB: Is there a certain time of day that you write better than others?
KEMPE: Yes. I write best from about 6 in the morning to 10 in the morning, and from about 7 until 11 at night -- 7 PM till 11 at night.
LAMB: Where did you get your first interest in writing for a living?
KEMPE: Oh, I think that -- I already had it in junior high school, in high school. I just so much enjoyed writing about things that I saw and reading authors that I enjoyed and ...
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
KEMPE: I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a matter of fact, I mentioned that to Noriega when I first met him -- he mentioned it; he asked me. He said, "Where are you originally from?" And I said, "Utah." And he said, "Oh, yes, the Mormons. They have many intelligence agents."
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
KEMPE: I went to the University of Utah undergraduate, and then to the graduate school of journalism at Columbia, where I was also a member of the International Fellows Program at the School of International Affairs.
LAMB: And you wrote some for Newsweek?
KEMPE: Yes, I wrote for two years for Newsweek out of the Bonn bureau covering Germany and Eastern Europe.
LAMB: You thank Ken Adelman in the acknowledgements. How come?
KEMPE: Well, Ken Adelman, I think, is a very savvy political analyst, and his institute, the Institute for Contemporary Studies, made available to me an office to work out of in the beginning months of the book and a secretary to use to help me with phone calls, etc.
LAMB: We haven't got much time to talk about this. George Bush -- this chapter we just talked about, chapter 17, goes into chapter 18, The Missed Opportunity. What was that?
KEMPE: The missed opportunity, I think, were the negotiations of May of 1988. Reagan was making a deal to trade Noriega's resignation for the dropping of the indictments. Reagan thought it was a good deal, and it was almost completely done and then George Bush chose to oppose Reagan on this deal -- the first time that George Bush stood out publicly against Ronald Reagan on a major foreign policy question. And I think the book goes into some detail to outline how that decision was made, how the pressure of the presidential campaign pushed Bush into opposition to Ronald Reagan, and how ultimately these pressures from the Bush campaign and also from other politicians closed the space on this deal and forced the US to give Noriega an ultimatum -- 24-hour ultimatum to either sign the deal or everything would be off the table. And so, I guess, you know, we can't go into all that detail now, but I think the bottom line is that these negotiations were cut off before one really knew whether Noriega was going to go through with it or not.

Noriega was begging to sign the documents, deposit them with the papal nuncio. He only wanted a little time to clear it up with his military officers and to get the backing domestically. One doesn't know whether he would have ever been able to do that. One doesn't know whether he would have pulled the rug out from under in the end, but we will never know because we pulled the rug out from under the negotiations, and it was more for domestic policy considerations -- the interests of the Bush for President campaign -- than it was because of national security considerations.
LAMB: What do you say to the conspiracy theorists about the George Bush-Noriega connection and the difficulties that might come out of a trial?
KEMPE: As for George Bush himself, I was unable to find any smoking gun and I very much doubt that it exists. George Bush went after Noriega in too methodical and forceful a manner to think that Noriega has a lot on George Bush. That being said, I think that Noriega worked long enough with the CIA and other intelligence agencies of the US government to have a great deal of information that could be embarrassing to the US. I don't know whether that information needs to come out for the trial because it may not pertain to the charges against him.
LAMB: Is it true that we paid General Noriega, when he was working as an intelligence contact for us, $200,000 a year?
KEMPE: What I was able to ascertain was that in the 1970s he was paid up to $110,000 a year, but it was not paid to him personally. It was paid to the G2, his intelligence service, to, quote, unquote, "defray the costs of the liaison relationship." But Noriega obviously had control of the money. In the 1980s, then, he was paid starting at $185,000 a year and I understand that it went up. And this isn't payment just from one intelligence organization, but from a...
LAMB: What chances do you give Panama for surviving under a new government as a democracy?
KEMPE: I think the real trick is whether this leadership, which is a white sort of oligarchic leadership -- whether this leadership will be clever enough to reach out to the poorer sectors of Panama and to help lift their living standards and to be popular. One of the big mistakes I think this leadership has made thus far is trying to completely do away with all memory of the dictator Omar Torrijos. They may have disagreed with him, but he was very popular with the people, and I think that that shows not the best political judgment.
LAMB: About out of time. Have you enjoyed the book tour part of this thing, and do you find that the Americans are interested in this subject?
KEMPE: I find Americans are fascinated with this subject. The nuncio said to me the real lesson -- the papal nuncio, when I interviewed him in the end, I said, "What's the moral of this story?" And he said, "The moral is that your institutions aren't as good as your people." And when the people found out what Noriega was, they wouldn't any longer allow their politicians to maintain the relationship they were maintaining. And I think when you go around the country you see that, that people are shocked with the sort of relationship we had with this man, with the details of how long it had gone on, and almost a little bit embarrassed that they didn't know about it earlier.
LAMB: Anybody upset with what you wrote about them in the book that you've heard from?
KEMPE: So far so good. I think there are people who aren't happy and they've told me that, but there hasn't been anybody who's called me and said that they think that I've been unfair.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour has been Fred Kempe, and the book is called "Divorcing The Dictator," put out by Putnam. Costs $24.95. Thank you for joining us.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.