Anya Parampil interviews Drew White – a close friend and business partner of the founder of mercenary group Silvercorp – about the potential involvement of the Trump administration.
On May 5, I spoke at length to Drew White, a former U.S. Army Green Beret and the COO of the Silvercorp mercenary firm which spearheaded a botched invasion of in Venezuela on Sunday, May 3. On May 4, I made contact with Jordan Goudreau, the Silvercorp CEO whom U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his Miami-based advisor, J.J. Rendon, personally contracted to lead the operation.
While Goudreau seemed nervous and suggested I call back the following day, White spoke at length about his peripheral knowledge of the failed plot as well as his relationship with the two Americans Green Berets currently in Venezuelan custody.
White lives in Colorado Springs, a good distance from Melbourne, Florida, where both Silvercorp and Goudreau are based. He said he broke with Goudreau over the boneheaded coup plot, telling The Grayzone he thought it sounded insane.
White emphasized that he was uncomfortable with the plan because its leaders did not appear to have concrete U.S. government backing. He said that although Goudreau claimed to have a State Department contract, he hadn’t seen one, which led him to question the legality of the operation. White hoped his army buddy and former best man at his wedding did not go through with the mission. He wished they had stuck with their original business plan, which was to provide school security.
But unfortunately, the plot went through, even after Goudreau — whom White described as a “true believer” — had been exposed by name in the Associated Press. Now two of their army friends are in Venezuelan custody, and face criminal prosecution in the country for planning to kidnap and possibly kill its elected leader, President Nicolas Maduro.
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So, what drove Goudreau and his crew to follow through on their batshit operation? And what did Mike Pompeo’s State Department know about it, and when? White’s testimony raises the key question: Why did Goudreau believe he had a State Department contract in the first place?
Pompeo says the U.S. government had no “direct involvement” in the operation. Even if true, his assertion still leaves the door open to possible indirect support, such as reconnaissance or logistics assistance. What’s more, just days before Goudreau’s failed operation, Pompeo told reporters he was instructing his team to “update [their] plans to re-open the U.S. embassy in Caracas.” Why?
In the video above, I put these questions to White and offer my own thoughts about them afterwards, asking how it is possible that U.S. citizens were running a private military operation in Colombia without the knowledge of U.S. embassy staff in Bogotá. I also question the role of U.S. diplomat James Story, who has managed a “U.S. Virtual Embassy” to Venezuela out of the Colombian capital since he was kicked out of Caracas last spring.
A full transcript of my interview with White is below:
DREW WHITE: This is Drew.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Hi, Drew White?
AP: Hi. How are you? My name is Anya Parampil. I’m a journalist based in Washington, D.C. I’m calling because I saw that you are listed as the COO on a corporation called Silvercorp USA.
DW: Very familiar. Correct
AP: And I was wondering, I mean, I guess you know the question: if you had any thoughts about what’s been going on in the news lately regarding Silvercorp and Jordan [Goudreau]. I’ve been trying to reach him, but I’m just curious what exactly you think about what’s gone on in Venezuela. Were you aware of any of this?
DW: So, I mean, I’ve been talking to the media that calls when I catch it. My position and involvement is pretty transparent so, Silvercorp started as a company to supervise school security. Training special operations soldiers, law enforcement, putting them in schools to prevent active shooter events, right?
DW: Well, that was going, starting to work out, and then, you know, we broke ways, he started contracting overseas. And then he contacted me about this Venezuelan operation which appeared at the moment to be a State Department operation, right? Well I started to look into it, the contract didn’t line up. So, we broke ways there and then I didn’t, you know get involved in the actual operation… it didn’t seem like a sanctioned operation.
AP: Right, so why do you say it was State Department?
DW: It was a contract that was presented as a State Department contract. I just didn’t see it as that. It did not appear to be a State Department contract.
AP: But he was trying to suggest it was?
DW: Yeah. I mean he said it was, yeah. I mean he said it was [laughs].
AP: Do you think that maybe even though it wasn’t officially a State Department contract that there were U.S. officials involved?
DW: As far as I can tell there’s no U.S. involvement in this at all.
AP: So, what exactly was Jordan’s relationship with [Trump personal bodyguard] Keith Schiller?
DW: I’m not sure. Apparently, they’ve talked but I’m not privy to it. I don’t know the relationship. I’ve never met the guy, never talked to him. I was just told that there was a relationship.
AP: Yeah, it seemed that Jordan has done security for Trump events.
DW: Yeah, I mean [… inaudible …] it doesn’t mean affiliation. But, I don’t, there was nothing essentially, it appears that there might have been something with [Guaidó]. You know, the actual… [man the U.S.] recognized as president, but as far as the U.S. working with Silvercorp, I’ve never seen a State Department contract, ever.
AP: Mhmm, but he didn’t mention that he even was speaking with U.S. officials or that they were supporting it other than just the vague references to Schiller?
AP: So, you’re not in contact with him or have you spoken with him since all this went down?
DW: No. I mean, it’s been a while since we talked. So, I mean, I don’t know, I don’t know, much other than, you know we started originally the school security company and then now it’s named in this.
AP: What is Jordan like?
DW: Great guy. You know he was the best man at my wedding, close personal friend. Love the guy, just don’t know [inaudible] this direction honestly, you know, I just sort of at a loss for words at this point.
AP: Yeah, it’s kind of concerning because it seems like he would even be maybe at risk for arrest or something like that right now.
DW: Yeah, I’m just worried about them, like I said I love the guy. He’s like a brother to me.
AP: So why do you think he got so caught up in the Venezuelan opposition? Did he tell you that they had told him that this was a guaranteed, surefire operation, that it would just take a little bit of support?
DW: I mean essentially you had [Guaidó’s] backing and, you know, and I guess the assumption might have been that you know, if that’s like the supposed person to take over from Maduro, that maybe that seemed legitimate at that point. I just, again, I know enough because of everything that’s breaking now, so, but I just didn’t think it would actually… you know he talked about it, you know okay, whatever, and then once we had heard about it, and then it seemed that it wasn’t a State Department activity, no, that’s when I was like I can’t, I can’t be a part of any of this. You know what I mean? Because I own several companies around here and you know, I have my wife and kid and you know, they’re my priority. So I’m like look, man, like if it’s in the realm of legality and not a lawyer but I looked at it and it just didn’t seem right to me, you know? That would mean, I didn’t just, I didn’t have all the information on it. But for me, my gut check was like: I don’t want to be a part of this.
AP: Yeah, I understand. Do you two have any idea where money may have come from, he mentioned crowdsourcing?
DW: I mean that’s the part I heard is that you know, I guess these Uber drivers, other people I know on our end, no money, no money was there, it just wasn’t legitimate from our standpoint. It doesn’t mean that you know, [inaudible] now it’s just so open-ended. I just, I know him as the best man in my wedding, and close friend and teammate, we served together overseas [inaudible]. I just see him as that. I woke up Friday, you know, and saw this stuff breaking, and that actually a live operation went down. Luke Denman and Airan Barry were teammates of mine – so I’m like –
AP: I was going to just add, was going to ask you about them. I mean, it’s crazy now because they’re –
DW: Luke Denman is a close personal friend of mine.
AP: So, did you speak with them before they were getting involved in this or did they tell you –
DW: They went off … I mean they didn’t really, everyone was pretty closed on it. Obviously, I essentially told anybody that was looking at it that, it did not seem viable. You know I’m like this doesn’t…
AP: It just seems a little crazy.
DW: Yeah, you’re right. I mean to me, I look at — but like I don’t know the whole story. I don’t know what I don’t know, I just look at it from the outside and what was presented to me, you know, the business decision. This doesn’t make any sense. I’m out. I don’t want anything to do with it. So, I was doing school security and that’s what I wanted to do.
AP: Yeah, this is a big leap from that. So did the two other men, the ones who are now detained — there’s been rumors floating in Venezuela that one of them is a DEA agent, that one of them said that they had connections —
DW: None of them are DEA. They’re both prior service. Special forces members. Luke and Airan are both Green Berets, have no attachment to DEA or CIA ops.
AP: There were also claims that they were connected to Trump security as well?
DW: None of them.
AP: Do you get the sense that Jordan maybe wanted to do this in order to prove himself to the Trump administration or like make himself into the next Erik Prince something like that?
DW: Nah, he’s, Jordan, is, he’s a decent guy, he’s an intelligent guy, I truly believe, honestly, I think he did this for, he truly believes that him removing Maduro is better for the people there. Like, honest to God.
AP: I believe that. But I just think –
DW: I think he maybe, I don’t know if it was a conversation he had with people from … I don’t know. You know I don’t know what I don’t know, again. But from what I got from him is that, he spent a lot of time in South America. I think he grew an attachment for it. And I think he thought he was doing what was right.
AP: In Colombia, or where?
DW: He started in Colombia with you know that [Richard Branson] concert he did security for? That’s when that all opened up.
AP: Do you know how he ended up with that contract?
DW: Uhh, he was doing contracting in either the Dominican or Puerto Rico and he had a contact there that got him involved.
AP: And so, from that point he kind of met the Venezuelan opposition —
DW: That’s what I’m thinking. I mean I was, I’m a mortgage and insurance guy. So, I did 12 years in Special Operations, that’s a past life for me. I’m separated from it, have my family. I don’t know… like I have no clue honestly… it’s like one of your friends that calls you every few months, right? You just pick up where you left off and just, you know making sure that he was okay. That’s what I cared about. You know I have a lot of friends that, you know, die or kill themselves or whatnot and so that was like my biggest thing… making sure the guys were okay. When he calls and he’s like “I’m over here in South America”– “are you OK?”— “yeah, I’m OK’ – like, that’s all I need to know. That’s all I care about.
AP: Yeah, I guess I understand why what you’re saying about him being so convinced that he, you know, removing Maduro is the right thing and I think a lot of people feel that way. But it takes something else to actually go this far after, especially because last year there was a failed military uprising like, and I can tell you I’ve spent a lot of time in Venezuela and people who do understand the situation would look at this plot and say it’s totally absurd. So I wonder —
DW: No, I agree, I just you know, in where we’ve been in for myself personally: Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, you know multiple places across the world … um … I just don’t see anything more than the fact that, I truly believe that … I’m sorry I’m just distracted now because I see the news talking about all this crap… in my office.
AP: It must be surreal.
DW: Yeah, but he is a, he is a “true believer” as we say where we come from.
AP: In the military?
DW: Yeah. You know like he believes in … people should be free, they should not be oppressed, you know whatever … mattered to him. I mean he came out and said it: I did this for no money, I have no clue what’s going on. I don’t know I just don’t know what he’s doing, I just don’t see him getting past what I can see [inaudible]
AP: Did you ever meet any of the Venezuelans he was dealing with or hear about them?
DW: No, no, like again I got pulled into this because I was listed as the COO of the school security project. He refiled again, and you know I’ve had threats against myself, and everything on social media.
AP: I’m sorry about that.
DW: Yeah I’m like waking up to this on a Friday… [laughs]
AP: Yeah, I’m sorry about that. It’s really, I mean, I think everybody was shocked because it was just so insane, but I can’t imagine, yeah, you had this personal relationship with him. What would you want to say to him now?
DW: Oh, I love the guy… um… I don’t know [goes silent]
AP: I hope he’s okay.
AP: But, so you haven’t tried to get in touch with him?
DW: No, I mean, that’s what I told people, I was like look: My responsibility is my family.
AP: Yeah, totally. Well, I did speak with Jordan yesterday and he was very friendly and he said that he wanted to speak with me today and I haven’t been able to reach him. So, I guess I’ll just hope that maybe he’ll resurface again.
DW: Just text him. I mean like, just tell him like, I care about the guy.
AP: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I bet. Well, let’s stay in touch. I will let you know if I hear from him. I know he’s your friend. I don’t want to like put you in the position where you have to tell me, but I guess we’ll have to hear more. We’ll learn more about where he is. And what’s going on in the next few days.
DW: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s just… one, I mean, Airan and Luke are the priority.
DW: I mean we all know it [inaudible] but the thing is, like with Jordan. You know my thing is he’s such an intelligent guy. Like I don’t know what’s going on, if he was misled and something happened. You know what I mean? Like, none of it adds up to me. It’s just like in the first AP article, none of this makes sense to me.
AP: Yeah. I think that’s a lot of us. And it seemed like he was – well all of the media it seemed is kind of like attacking him and it’s like it’s trying to blame him alone for it, forget about the Venezuelan opposition, and I mean, I would still like to ask Jordan if maybe there were U.S. officials coaxing him along, maybe not directly supporting him, but maybe giving him confidence.
DW: Yeah. And the thing is, we’ve seen what happened. These guys, I mean, we just don’t know. Everything is so, it’s just, I don’t know. I feel bad for the guy, I hope, I hope that he, in the end, he’s exonerated. I have some anger towards this for being listed on there, I mean that pisses me off that my family’s put in jeopardy for something I’m not involved with, you know. It’s been pretty wild. But really the ultimate part to me is that my family, and that Jordan and Airan and Luke are just okay in the end. Regardless of what happens, or charges, or whatever. I just want them to be able to, whatever, recover and do what they need to do. Just be back, and their families don’t have to worry about it either.
AP: Yeah, do they have families?
DW: Luke’s Mom was today, I mean, both families. You know what I mean? Like, your parents.
DW: Yeah, you know, just hearing Luke’s mom, right, her statement was just, like heartbreaking. I mean it’s ridiculous. The whole thing is ridiculous.
AP: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I hope it will deescalate.
DW: I really do, you know what’s funny, you I just know what’s true and I don’t worry about it. I don’t have to remember anything because it’s all what happened. I don’t know the operational side but I remember when it was brought up and you know, I just wish the guys went back to doing the school security shit [laughs].
AP: Yeah, I’m sure they do too.
Anya Parampil is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula, Palestine, Venezuela and Honduras.
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