The New York Times on Tuesday published some astonishing quotes from Ben Carson's advisers describing how utterly unprepared the Republican presidential hopeful was on foreign policy matters -- in case that wasn't already evident by his shaky performances on the debate stage.
Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to the famed neurosurgeon on terrorism and national security, told Times reporter Trip Gabriel that the candidate needed weekly briefings on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Clarridge told the Times, suggesting Carson was having trouble processing the material.
Carson's campaign pushed back on Tuesday, saying Clarridge had "incomplete knowledge of the daily, not weekly briefings" the candidate receives. Carson's spokesman then upped the ante, essentially calling into question the mental capacity of Clarridge, 82.
"He is coming to the end of a long career of serving our country," Carson communications director Doug Watts said. "For The New York Times to take advantage of an elderly gentleman and use him as their foil in this story is an affront to good journalistic practices."
The Times described Clarridge as a former CIA agent with "a colorful, even legendary" history in the American intelligence community -- "someone who could have stepped out of a Hollywood thriller."
Born in New Hampshire, Clarridge, known by his childhood nickname Dewey, joined the CIA in 1955. He ran secret wars for more than 30 years, doing stints as chief of the Latin America and European divisions, as well as head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center that he set up in 1986. Clarridge was forced to retire after he was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in what he referred to as "the Iran-Contra nonsense." (He was later pardoned.)
The scandal "had nothing to do with me, I was only a little part of the Iran thing, but the Contra thing I had nothing to do with," he said later in an interview.
After the CIA, Clarridge went private, running his own network of intelligence sources across Pakistan and Afghanistan "poolside at his home near San Diego." The network allowed him to inform military and political leaders in Washington with on-the-ground information from the Middle East, sending somewhat dubious dispatches that the Times in 2011 described as "fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated report."
An operative belonging to that network was apparently the source of Carson's faulty intelligence on the Middle East. At the latest Republican primary debate in Milwaukee, Carson said the Chinese were involved in Syria -- a claim later later shot down the White House.
Clarridge's worldview and unflinching attitude was put on display a 2008 interview for 'The War On Democracy," a documentary by filmmaker John Pilger. In the film, Clarridge is unforgiving in his defense of U.S. actions abroad, including propping up former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
"Chile, the only reason it exists is because of Pinochet. What human price, give me a break. Thousands? What thousands?" Clarridge said of the Pinochet government's killings of political opponents.
He added later: "We are gonna protect ourselves, and we are gonna go on protecting ourselves because we end up protecting all of you. We'll intervene whenever we decide it's in our national security interest to intervene. And if you don't like it, lump it. Get used to it, world."
Another remarkable part of Clarridge's biography is his recent work in Pakistani tribal areas. According to a New York Times report, in an effort to prove his worth to the Pentagon, Clarridge directed his team to help find a young American soldier held captive by the Taliban in July 2009. The soldier had disappeared from his base in Afghanistan earlier that month.
Clarridge's team never found the soldier -- Bowe Bergdahl. But years later, Bergdahl found his way back to America as part of an infamous prisoner swap with the Taliban, executed by the Obama administration.
Clarridge went on to insist that Bergdahl was high on hashish at the time he was captured. Carson, meanwhile, criticized the swap.
This article has been updated to include Clarridge's involvement in the search for Bergdahl.