Author Interview with Rick Francona

Today we welcome military expert and CNN contributor Rick Francona.

Book ‘Em:  Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.

Rick Francona:  I am a retired US Air Force intelligence officer, but work part time as a military analyst for CNN (including CNN International and HLN). I also speak on Middle East and military topics to various groups, as well as on cruise ships.

Book ‘Em:  Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?

Rick Francona:  Both of my books are nonfiction and are accounts of my participation in military and intelligence operations. I wrote the first book at the request of the publisher, and the second to document my participation in what I considered an important part of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.

Ally to Adversary – An Eyewitness Account of Iraq’s Fall from Grace US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis – 1999

From the publisher: Much has been written about the Iran-Iraq War, Desert Storm, and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, but until now no one has chronicled the perilous, spiraling course of U.S.-Iraqi relations from inside the highest military and diplomatic levels. In this revealing firsthand account, career intelligence officer and Arabic linguist Rick Francona takes the reader on an unforgettable odyssey from the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq War, to the top secret tactical decision-making meetings of the Desert Storm coalition forces, to the actual surrender at Safwan by Iraqi officials, many of whom he had worked with previously as allies.

As the point man for the highly sensitive support the United States gave Iraq in 1987-1988, during its war with Iran, Francona walked the streets of Baghdad, toured military facilities, and established close relations with high-ranking Iraqis. Through these activities he gained a unique and valuable perspective of Iraq’s military capabilities and doctrine, including its use of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons. Later, as General Norman Schwarzkopf’s personal interpreter, he shared in the successes, failures, and frustrations of political and military planning and prosecution during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. From the author’s sparkling, informative prose, the reader discovers how the delicate coalition of international forces was developed and maintained despite contentious parochialism that threatened to divide the force and even U.S. services. Francona sheds considerable new light on the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. and coalition intelligence efforts and explodes myths surrounding their methods and results.

Objective, revealing, and often humorous, this unprecedented peek inside the closed doors of U.S. and international military decision-making documents an important epoch of U.S. and Middle East history and offers many lessons and warnings for current and future relations.

Chasing Demons – My Hunt for War Criminals in Bosnia Francona Advisors, Carmel – 2012

From the publisher: In 1997, dissatisfied with the response of the Bosnian Serb government in arresting indicted war criminals, the United States and its allies Great Britain and the Netherlands deployed special operations teams to Bosnia-Herzegovina to hunt down and capture a group of dangerous men accused of genocide and other crimes against humanity. The Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency created two teams to track and detain seven war criminals. Lt Col Rick Francona was hand-picked to serve as the senior Defense Department officer on one of those teams. The orders were simple: find them, detain them, turn them over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. Carrying out the orders was not. This is that story.

Book ‘Em:  Do you have a work in progress?

Rick Francona:  Not a book – I mostly write analyses for my own website at Middle East Perspectives.

Book ‘Em:  What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?

Rick Francona:  Interesting question. The most difficult situations I have been in were on classified operations, so I haven’t written publicly about them. I survived an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in northern Iraq – I have written a bit on that, but it is still a vivid and troubling memory.

Book ‘Em:  What sort of research do you do for your work?

Rick Francona:  When serving on military deployments, I tried to keep a journal and notes that have been useful. I use the internet like everyone else, but am careful to check the sourcing. I am able to read Arabic, so much of my research is combing through reliable Arabic media to complement the available English materials.

Book ‘Em:  Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?

Rick Francona:  Actually, I find that I derive a lot of satisfaction from research – I guess that’s fortunate.

Book ‘Em:  Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

Rick Francona:  Mostly family and friends. I did have a few colleagues when I was still on active duty that encouraged me to write about my experiences in Baghdad while involved in our intelligence support to the Iraqi military intelligence service, followed by serving as General Schwarzkopf’s personal advisor and interpreter during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

One colleague (and author) – Nick Eftimiades – introduced me to his editor at the Naval Institute Press, who told me to “write the book – we’ll publish it.” I know – when I talk to other writers and authors, they are a bit jealous. I guess I did not go through a series of rejections that appear to be the “right of passage” to become an author.

Book ‘Em:  What would you say are your strengths as an author?

Rick Francona:  I have written for my entire career, actually my entire adult life. Intelligence operations officers write not only intelligence reports, but must effectively document in great detail every aspect of an intelligence operation.

Book ‘Em:  How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?

Rick Francona:  Probably daily, but it’s not a religion with me. I write when I have something to say.

Book ‘Em:  Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?

Rick Francona:  Hopefully right where I am now.

Book ‘Em:  If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

Rick Francona:  Since I only write nonfiction, I’ll stick with that: Write what you know.

Book ‘Em:  What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?

Rick Francona:  Read it and come away with an appreciation of knowing something they did not know before.

Links to Rick Francona’s works:

Ally to Adversary – An Eyewitness Account of Iraq’s Fall from Grace US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis – 1999

Chasing Demons – My Hunt for War Criminals in Bosnia Francona Advisors, Carmel – 2012

Middle East Perspectives by Rick Francona

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