Here’s How a High School Dropout From California Reportedly Became a U.S. Spy Who ‘Hunted’ Terrorists
Fernando Jara was a high school dropout from California attending classes at the local community college when he shot an email to the Central Intelligence Agency offering his services in the war on terror shortly after 9/11, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Jara had converted to Islam roughly four years prior and said he was the perfect candidate: he spoke some Arabic, had already established his bona fides within the community, and knew where the more radical clerics preached. He could make their acquaintance relatively easily and pretend to follow in the footsteps of American terrorist John Walker Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan as an enemy combatant shortly after the U.S. invasion.
Much to his surprise, the federal government accepted his offer.
The Los Angeles Times elaborates:
Jara’s email landed at the right moment. An FBI agent and a CIA officer drove to his home and enlisted the eager 26-year-old as a contract employee.
He was trained in California, Virginia and Washington, D.C., by Arabic language teachers, firearms experts, counterterrorism agents and retired Cold War intelligence officers, he said.
David Manning, 56, a law enforcement firearms instructor and founder of Tacfire in Ventura, said he began working with Jara in 2002 after the FBI called with a special request.
In four weeks, Manning taught Jara how to fight with knives and guns.
On a recent weekend, Jara and Manning met for the first time in a decade. “You saved my life, Dave,” Jara said. “You turned me into a one-man army.”
Soon it became time to start the actual operation. Jara worked his contacts and, playing the part of an increasingly anti-American Islamic extremist, was able to get to both Yemen and Afghanistan.
The L.A. Times, which claims it has verified most of Jara’s story, continues:
In Yemen, he gained the confidence of imams and community leaders by playing the role of an ultra-conservative Muslim convert. He kept track of everything he learned along the way — such as the personal habits of imams and the intricacies of their mosques — and forwarded the information to his handlers in the Middle East and United States.
Jara also infiltrated the school Lindh had attended, the Yemen Language Center in Sana. He also penetrated Al-Imam University, founded by Sheik Abdul Majeed Zindani, a cleric believed to have issued a decree leading to the 2000 attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole that killed 17 sailors. “It led me to a one-on-one relationship with Al-Zindani, who introduced me to the inner circle of mujahedin recruiters,” Jara said.
In Afghanistan, he found routes that foreign fighters used to make their way into battle zones, and he tracked Americans who had joined with terrorists overseas.
“I hunted Westerners,” he said.
Jara spent years on that path, he said, before he became burnt out and had his cover blown. He was ordered to return home, given roughly $12,000 in severance pay, and cordially dismissed. He soon found himself struggling with alcoholism, showing signs of PTSD, and was sleeping in his car at the Cal State parking lot where he had landed a security job and was taking a number of classes.
“I was left alone,” Jara remarked.
But there, international history professor Mark Baker took the former spy under his wing, invited him to live in the guest bedroom of his family home, and got him back on his feet.
“Baker’s family unconditionally loved me back to life,” Jara told the L.A. Times.
He is now working towards his Master’s degree, runs a rehabilitation program called Rockhill Farm, and has married a Kern County public defender who, in November, became the first Latina elected as a county supervisor in the Central Valley.
Jara is reportedly breaking a confidentiality agreement with the government in speaking to the L.A. Times and isn’t sure how it will affect his future. He seems to be in good favor with the current administration, at least, having been invited to attend President Obama’s inauguration at the invitation of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
For now, he’s just working on recovering from all he witnessed as a spy, particularly the times when the intelligence he gathered indirectly led to civilian casualties during drone strikes.
“I’m ashamed of some of the things that happened over there,” he said. “I don’t hurt people anymore. My soul couldn’t take it.”
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