It is a pre-summer afternoon in Madrid. With a panama hat and a book in hand, a heated Jaime Rocha enters the “lobby” of a four-star hotel on the outskirts of the city. He sits, as usual, with his back to the wall. He is one of the tics that have remained of his 28 years in the Spanish intelligence service.
This 79-year-old former agent of the CESID (now CNI), a restless soul who has not stopped retirement in Cadiz lands, recounts in an interview with Efe his recently published second novel, in which he recounts his experiences in communist Prague of 1989. He already has in his head, he says, the third.
Assigned as “Press Attache” at the Embassy of Spain, he lived there the fall of the regime in the Velvet Revolution and details in its pages how he managed to get information, in a ten-con-ten with journalists and opponents, while solving a shipment of weapons for ETA and a murder by the Stasi in Spain.
Rocha has written The wall in five months, in confinement, combining writing with his work in an NGO and in the publishing house that he founded -Doble Identidad- to try to unite Spanish “spy” literature, a subject in which, he says , there is much to tell.
Question.- You are already in the second book and on your way to the third, is there a “boom” of the Spanish spy novel
Hopefully. It seems important to me. Why not
Here there has always been a kind of fear, of taboo, of “I can’t say this.” I do not reveal anything that I cannot reveal. I tell my experiences, everything I tell I have lived. (In the CNI) they have not corrected a single comma. On the contrary, they have encouraged me to write. I encourage my colleagues to do so, because my case is one among thousands.
Q.- Where are the limits for an agent or former agent to be able to recount their experiences
A.- Especially in classified documentation. I cannot publish classified documentation even if I had it. Now, personal experiences, as many as I want. I have no restrictions, no one is going to tell me not to tell what I have experienced, they cannot prohibit me. They haven’t, nor will they.
Q.- In your first novel you tell about your dealings with Muammar Gaddafi’s circle in Libya. Then he was assigned to Prague. Czechoslovakia must have seemed like a haven of peace…
R.- Not at all. Keep in mind that we were in 89, with the fall of the Berlin wall. General (Emilio) Manglano (former director of CESID) was going to send me to The Hague one Friday afternoon and on Monday he called me and said: “You’re going to Prague.” That was starting to boil. He told me: “I don’t want you to tell me what is happening, but what is going to happen.” I got there and I was very lucky, I got very important collaborations, like that of a journalist from the Communist Party newspaper and a group of Hispanists who were very close friends of Luis Delibes who were opponents.
To capture these sources, Rocha says, he first gained their trust by sharing personal experiences. “That’s the beginning,” she says. If it wasn’t enough, he went to “the second phase, which doesn’t usually fail: the economic one.” And there is a third. “If you really have a lot of interest, start the threat.”
He confesses, he has been a victim of his own medicine: “They have tried to buy me. My price in 1986 was 7 million pesetas. It will come out in the third book. It was here in Madrid. They wanted me to look elsewhere. I discovered a very ugly issue and they tried to get me into the mess. Since I didn’t get in, they made me the financial offer and then they moved on to the threat.”
Q.- In the novel you explain how the CESID intercepted a shipment of weapons for ETA thanks to your help. Do you think that too little is known about the work of the Spanish agents
A.- Yes, little is known because there is a certain shame in telling these things that I think it is time for them to be told. On the other hand, they are fans of telling stories, why don’t we
In the third novel I want to tell more about ETA’s issues. I spent 6 months commanding a CESID unit called “operational infrastructures”, which were shell companies. We set up a business in the Basque Country and supplied ETA members with some things. It helped us to have them located.
Q.- You also mention the secret services of the former German Democratic Republic, the Stasi, a close collaborator of the KGB. Define me with a few adjectives to Russian intelligence.
A.- They are merciless men, they are very violent and use poison frequently and with total ease. For me they are extremely violent, I don’t know if they go through the threat phase or go directly and kill them. I have had some run-ins with them and with a branch they have in Spain, the Cuban services.
Q.- And the North American
A.- They are very effective and have an impressive number of resources. Them and the Mossad. Even more so the Mossad, who are very professional, have very clear ideas and are very effective. And there are no obstacles to getting anyone out of the way.
Q.- Is there any secret service that is not usually talked about but that stands out
A.- I like the French. They are very similar to us in the way they work. They control a lot the human factor. We are people who work with people on very sensitive issues, sometimes dangerous. Empathy, emotional intelligence, that human factor is in the French, and in us too. The human relationship for us is fundamental.
Q.- From the rearguard that retirement gives you, how do you see the evolution of intelligence in the last decades
A.- Technology has advanced a lot, now there is a lot of information through technological means, such as spy satellites. From a camp of terrorists who are training in the desert, they photograph you until one of the one who is there. But the human factor is still important. In 9/11 what failed was the human factor, they had relied so much on technology that they did not detect the presence of the jihadist pilots who were training there.
Q.- How do you deal with having to lie so much
R.- In my private life I try not to lie. They have been interrogating me for a long time in a gendarmerie with a different personality from mine and I had to maintain that lie. That is emotional intelligence, you have to have that innate faculty, they cannot teach you that. You have to lie without moving a muscle, you have to tell lies by believing them first.
Q.- Are you a spy all your life
A.- Yes, there are tics that remain. For example, I go to a restaurant and I always sit at the last table with my back against the wall. If I didn’t, I’d be restless all the time. And also the desire to know. When I am going to interview a person, I previously know who he is, I have informed myself. They are tics that remain.