Richard Carmon Francona
File:Lt Col Rick Francona.jpg
Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, USAF (Ret)
Nickname Rick
Born (1951-08-31) August 31, 1951 (age 69)
New Brighton, Pennsylvania
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1970-1998
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit Defense Intelligence Agency
National Security Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Gulf War
Awards Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Bronze Star
Air Medal (9)
Other work NBC/MSNBC/CNBC military analyst

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona is an author, commentator and media military analyst. He is a retired United States Air Force intelligence officer with extensive operational experience in the Middle East, including tours of duty with the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. He was under contract to NBC News and appeared regularly on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, as well as Radio Canada and other worldwide media.

Background[edit | edit source]

Rick Francona served for over 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, most of it in the Middle East. Fluent in Arabic, he served in the region with the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. The colonel has a bachelor's degree from Chapman College (now Chapman University) in Government and the Arabic language, and a master's degree from Troy State University in International Relations with a concentration in Middle East studies. He is a cousin of former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Francona and his wife Emily, also a retired Air Force intelligence officer, reside on the Oregon Coast.

Military service[edit | edit source]

Lt Col Rick Francona enlisted in the Air Force in 1970, and served as a Vietnamese linguist until 1973, conducting combat aerial reconnaissance missions over Vietnam and Laos in a variety of strategic and tactical aircraft. After Arabic language training, he served at a variety of locations in the Middle East from 1975 to 1977, and supported the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon in 1976. In 1978, he became an Arabic language instructor at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

Following his commissioning in 1979, Lt Col Francona was an instructor at the Air Force intelligence school in Denver, Colorado. From 1982 to 1984, he was a Middle East operations officer with the National Security Agency in the United States and classified locations overseas. In 1984, he was assigned as an advisor to the Royal Jordanian Air Force in Amman, Jordan.

In 1987, Lt Col Francona was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency as the assistant Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East. During this assignment, he spent much of 1987 and 1988 at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, as a liaison officer to the Iraqi armed forces directorate of military intelligence. Lt Col Francona traveled extensively as an observer of Iraqi combat operations against Iranian forces, and flew sorties with the Iraqi air force. His observations were key to the discovery of Iraqi chemical weapons capabilities and ballistic missile modifications.


Rick Francona with Iraqi Lt Gen Sultan Hashim Ahmad at Gulf War ceasefire talks, Safwan, Iraq, March 3, 1991

Immediately following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990 and through the Gulf War, Lt Col Francona was deployed to the Gulf as the personal interpreter and advisor on Iraqi armed forces to commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. As such, he was the lead interpreter for ceasefire talks with the Iraqi military at Safwan, Iraq, in March, 1991.

After the end of the Gulf War, the colonel served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and was a principal author of the Department of Defense report to Congress on the conduct of the Gulf war. In 1992, he was selected to be the first air attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, returning to the United States in early 1995.

From 1995 to 1996, Lt Col Francona served with the Central Intelligence Agency, and participated in a variety of sensitive operations in the Middle East, including the escape of an Iraqi scientist's family. During one of these operations, he survived an attempt on his life by Iraqi Intelligence Service agents. He was later awarded the CIA Bronze Seal Medallion for his service to the CIA.

In 1996, the colonel was selected to develop the Department of Defense counterterrorism intelligence branch. In late 1997, the colonel led a special operations team supporting NATO forces in Bosnia. He returned to the United States and retired from active duty in 1998.

His decorations include the 60px  Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the 60px  Defense Superior Service Medal, the 60px  Bronze Star, and nine 60px  Air Medals, as well as campaign awards for service in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and the Balkans. The colonel was awarded the Central Intelligence Agency Seal Medallion for his service with that agency. In 2006, Lt Col Francona was inducted into the Defense Language Institute Hall of Fame.

Commentary[edit | edit source]

Lt Col Francona is a media analyst on Middle East political-military events, formerly under contract to NBC News and appeared regularly on NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, MSNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Scarborough Country, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and others. He also writes periodic articles for MSNBC, the Council on Foreign Relations, and his blog at Middle East Perspectives. He frequently speaks to conventions and public service audiences.

In 2010, Francona appeared as a subject matter expert on the Iraqi military and Saddam Hussein in an episode of Spike TV's "Who is the Deadliest Warrior."

The Pentagon's military analyst program[edit | edit source]

In April 2008 documents obtained by New York Times reporter David Barstow revealed that Francona had been recruited as one of over 75 retired military officers involved in the Pentagon military analyst program. Participants appeared on television and radio news shows as military analysts, and/or penned newspaper op/ed columns. The program was launched in early 2002 by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke. The idea was to recruit "key influentials" to help sell a wary public on "a possible Iraq invasion." [1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. David Barstow, "Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," New York Times, April 20, 2008.

Books[edit | edit source]

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