Tracking Down Elusive Dictators

Manuel Noriega CBS/AP

The last time the U.S. launched an invasion to unseat a dictator, it was 1989, and the man was Manuel Noriega of Panama.

You might think that in a country well known to the U.S. military, and crawling with American spies, the Army had a lock on where Noriega was. But, as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, neither the Army nor the CIA had a clue.

When U.S. paratroopers were hitting the ground, Noriega was close-by, says Peter Eisner, author of "America's Prisoner: The Memoirs Of Manuel Noriega."

"He could see them landing," says Eisner. "At that moment he wasn't hiding at all; He was just sitting at a hotel bar tossing a few drinks."

For four days Noriega drove around Panama City, staying with friends, one step ahead of the Americans.

During that embarrassing manhunt, America's top general at the time paid Noriega a back-handed tribute.

"You gotta give credit where credit is due," said Colin Powell at the time. "Mr. Noriega is a very skilled thug. He has eluded us. We are continuing to look for him."

What does Noriega's elusiveness in Panama City say about a hunt for Saddam in Baghdad? Especially when Saddam, unlike Noriega, won't be surprised by an invasion.

"It is not easy to find a person that's able to move around," says retired Army Gen. Marc Cisneros, the Deputy Commander of the Panama invasion.

Cisneros says U.S. intelligence must do a better job tracking Saddam than it did tracking Noriega.

How is it that U.S. forces did not know Noriega was that close to the airport?

"In my view, special operations folks should have known that because we had ample time to get the targeting focused on him," says Cisneros. "It was not done."

Cisneros also warns that any manhunt conducted in a city will be extremely dangerous business.

"That's where we lost most of our soldiers - from snipers and night activity within the city," says Cisneros. "City fighting is hard, and a lot of people don't realize there were more soldiers lost in combat in Panama - in actual combat - than were lost in Desert Storm."

Eventually the noose encircling Noriega forced him to the Vatican Embassy, where he surrendered. But with no secret bunkers and no escape plan, the man who was the target of the American invasion was able to hide from American troops.
  • Jaime Holguin

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