Part 6: Did Richard Hirschfeld play a role in capture of Saddam Hussein?
Loyal friend of Muhammad Ali doubled as enigmatic figure on world stage
When Hirschfeld met with Eddie Garcia in Philadelphia, Richard was nearing the end of his life on the run. He and Garcia had many friends and mutual acquaintances in Hampton Roads and they enjoyed their conversation together. All the while, Hirschfeld’s lawyers were trying to work out a deal with the feds to clear up the charges so that Richard could return home.
Once in the early 1980s, the FBI had solicited Hirschfeld to help them in an investigation of Garcia but Richard had refused. From that point forward, no charges were ever brought against Eddie Garcia. Just as he had shown the courage to return to Germany and testify against his former cellmate, Hirschfeld again showed courage in not giving up his old friend from Virginia Beach.
Reporter’s note: I was personally aware that federal authorities were trying to make a criminal case against Garcia, whom they believed had ties to Organized Crime. I have always believed that if Richard Hirschfeld had betrayed Garcia, federal charges against him would have disappeared.
By 2002, Hirschfeld was back in the United States and living out of the limelight in south Florida. Efforts to work out a deal and be repatriated had failed leaving him among the hunted.
In March 2003 the United States went to war in Iraq. By May, President Bush issued his famous “Mission accomplished” proclamation. By summer, newscasts were dominated by the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and for Iraq’s elusive president, Saddam Hussein.
Hirschfeld was never reluctant to seize an opportunity and had made connections in the telecommunications industry while in exile. He had contacts in the United States and abroad, which resulted in his forming a corporation known as Global Telesat Corporation based in Charlottesville. The company had been incorporated by Richard and all officers, except one, were Hirschfeld’s sons and his wife. The truth of the matter was that Richard was running the company and his son Todd was the front man.
In October 2003, Todd signed a letter written on Global Telesat stationary, which was sent to Anthony J. Navarra, President of Globalstar LP, which billed itself as the world’s largest provider of hand-held satellite phones. The letter spelled out the terms of a business agreement between the two companies in which Global Telesat would pay Globalstar to use its satellite communication systems.
Among the various elements of the letter, was a description of how the systems would be commercially deployed in order to camouflage their national security importance to the United States military forces. Globalstar has never disclosed its dealings with Global Telesat.
Soon after the a business agreement was consummated, Hirschfeld began flying regularly from Florida to Washington, D.C. where he met with United States intelligence officials, said Robert D. Thorell, a telecom specialist who says he worked with Hirschfeld and often accompanied him on the trips.
Thorell said that Hirschfeld traveled under an assumed name, Richard Marshall, and carried a badge and a credit card issued by the CIA.
According to Thorell, Hirschfeld was working under contract with the Defense Intelligence Agency to provide a service that enabled the government to track the movements of soldiers and convoys. The devices his company supplied — about the size of a pack of cigarettes — could monitor the movements of hostile forces, said Thorell. He also stated that this system would enable you to know the whereabouts of each and every soldier.
Thorell said that he and Hirschfeld made several trips to Washington and also flew to Turkey and Jordan on business related to the government project.
On December 13, 2003, at approximately 8 p.m. American soldiers pulled Saddam Hussein from a hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit. What had led to Saddam’s discovery? The capture was not the result of a single tip, but rather an accumulation of intelligence and information provided by Saddam loyalists during hostile questioning, according to Pentagon reports.
However, one news account stated that agents with the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, discovered the farmhouse by intercepting cell phone calls that Saddam had made to his second wife in Beirut. The Pentagon acknowledged that unspecified intelligence led to three possible sites, one of which was the location where Saddam was captured.
The Pentagon would not elaborate on the nature of the intelligence that was used to locate Saddam but a classified report that made its way through the Defense Department in the weeks after the capture asserted that the surveillance system supplied to the government by Hirschfeld and his business associates had helped them locate Saddam Hussein.
Among those who knew details of the report were Hirschfeld Associates and a former CIA agent, who had close ties to the government operative who helped author the report.
Jerris Leonard, a Washington lawyer and former assistant US Attorney General who represented Hirschfeld, said during an interview in his Washington office in February that a credible source has confirmed the existence of the report. Though he declined to describe what was in the report, Leonard said its contents were so important that Defense Department officials had told him they would be willing to lobby for relief for Hirschfeld from his criminal problems.
Hirschfeld had always believed that his work for the government would eventually be his “get out of jail free card.” However, although several high-ranking government officials, whose names you would recognize in the news today, were aware of the report, none of them agreed to to comment on the existence of the report or its contents.
Hirschfeld had solicited Garcia to help him with contacts, relationships that might get him out of trouble – and, of course, Garcia accommodated. One day in the late summer, Garcia and two other men (the ex-CIA agent and the man who had co-offered the classified report) met with former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
However, Gilmore was not willing to represent Hirschfeld in order to help him gain a pardon. Contact was also made with evangelist Pat Robertson who seemed interested and willing to help, however, when he contacted his attorneys, those prospects died as well.
In October 2004, Hirschfeld sat in his $4 million Fort Lauderdale mansion, at his computer, when something stirred outback. The federal authorities rushed in and took Hirschfeld into custody.
Sitting in a jail cell for the first time since 1995, Hirschfeld faced extradition to Norfolk, Virginia to stand trial on charges that could have kept him imprisoned for up to 70 years. He was represented by three very talented lawyers, all of whom were working on his case in similar yet dissimilar areas.
Those lawyers were Nina Ginsberg, Jerris Leonard, and C. Boyden Gray. All of them had contacts with very notable people within the government all the way to the office of President of the United States. But none of them were able to make any progress in the effort to have the charges against Hirschfeld reduced.
Hirschfeld had always believed that the charges against him were questionable, hinging on legal complexities. But, as the case against him mounted, more charges were leveled than his lawyers could refute. The case was very complex and even people within the legal community had a difficult time understanding all of the various facts that were the basis of the charges.
In the end, the feds were trying to transfer him from the federal prison in Miami to Norfolk where he would stand trial and again face some of the same prosecutors that had been after him for so long. He was out of options and had little prospect of ever being released, whereupon he took his own life by hanging himself in his cell.
He had requested to be cremated and his ashes spread beneath a single, solemn oak tree on a hillside near Charlottesville, Virginia. He also requested the tune that would be played on his behalf. The family made their way to the selected site and carried out his wishes.
Thus, the amazing life of Richard Hirschfeld ended.
Reporter’s note: There is no doubt that Richard Hirschfeld was an enigmatic man who was fiercely loyal to the few friends that he had and was also fiercely hated by many others. But I know this, when I entered the life of this man — by accident — seemingly everyone told me that he was not to be trusted. But I found him to be exactly the opposite of everything that I heard at the time. I believed then, as I believe now, that when the chips were down such as the testimony in Germany, Richard Hirschfeld was a man that could be counted on to do the right thing, regardless of whether or not he was going to benefit. That is how I will remember him.