Inside Operation Gideon, a Coup Gone Very Wrong

Why did three American ex-Special Forces soldiers try to overthrow the Venezuelan government?

By KEVIN T. DUGAN



The two Americans left late on May 2nd, 2020, well after dark had fallen on an arid beach near Castilletes, in northern Colombia. The men, both ex-Special Forces, had been waiting to pile into a flat-bottomed boat stocked with guns and ammunition and about 50 Venezuelan revolutionaries for a journey into the heart of enemy territory. 

The mission was Operation Gideon, and its objective was to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

But the weather wasn’t cooperating, and the 5 p.m. launch had been delayed by an hour, then another. One pilot boat carrying 11 had already shipped out, but the Americans waited for the all-clear from the operation’s leader, Jordan Goudreau, the intense ex-Green Beret and head of the private-security company Silvercorp USA. Goudreau was some 1,100 miles northwest in Florida — the boat he intended to get him to Venezuela had broken down — poring over weather forecasts and giving orders via satellite phone.

Around 8 p.m., the winds finally lulled. Goudreau radioed the two Americans to depart. The plan, even in good weather, would have been incredibly risky. They were to sail undetected through hostile waters for about 16 hours before landing just north of Caracas. 

From there they would fan out. One group would take over a broadcast station, which would activate a number of sleeper cells. The two Americans would commandeer an airport, while another group would capture Maduro, the feared Bolivarian dictator who has starved his people and exacerbated one of the largest refugee crises in the world. 

Finally, they would exfiltrate the deposed leader via plane to the U.S., which had placed a $15 million bounty on his head.

Pretty much everything went wrong. The revolutionaries, having trained on land, spent their miserable voyage seasick and vomiting overboard. 

Hourly calls between Goudreau and the mercenaries failed to go through — in one crucial miscommunication, Goudreau thought the boats were turning back to Colombia, when they’d sailed on. 

An engine gave out, fuel ran low. Venezuelan fishing boats informed the government of at least one of the vessels. The pilot boat was overtaken by the Venezuelan military, which killed six men on board. 

The larger one was escorted by Maduro forces into the sea town of Macuto. In propaganda videos released by Venezuela, the rest of the revolutionaries — as well as the two Americans — can be seen aboard the boat with their hands in the air.

The story of the failed coup is one of a plan so inept it makes John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco 59 years earlier look sophisticated. Among the supplies brought were a high-end BB gun and a Kindle e-reader, according to photographs taken after the raid, and the two Americans, former Staff Sgt. Luke Denman and Sgt. Airan Berry, hardly spoke Spanish. 

Not only had the Maduro regime infiltrated Operation Gideon with informants, the secret plan was no secret at all: It was openly discussed on Venezuelan television, and its existence had already been reported in an article by the Associated Press. Goudreau himself provided a comment.

Operation Gideon’s failure isn’t in dispute. What’s less clear, however, is how it came to be. Those who supposedly knew about it — intelligence operators, political and military wanna-bes, secretive Trumpworld associates — have distanced themselves from it, unsurprisingly, as it resulted in the imprisonment of two former U.S. soldiers, the deaths of an unknown number of Venezuelans, and a consolidation of power by the Maduro regime.

Goudreau told me his story over four hours in two conversations, first over Zoom from an undisclosed location with the shadow of a ceiling fan spinning overhead, then from a burner number with a Texas area code. 

He surfaced in November after going underground for six months, a period of time he refuses to talk about. I corroborated details of his story with more than a dozen firsthand sources, as well as reporting from AP and the Miami Herald, but his perspective, especially on the launch of Operation Gideon, provides a key to understanding the coup gone wrong.

I’d been trying to find Goudreau since May. Those who’d known him — some trustworthy, others less so — described him alternately as a savvy con man, a world-class bullshit artist, a loose cannon too naive to realize he was being played. What I found was more complicated. 

Goudreau was often ingratiating, confident, and open about his history of concussions, memory lapses, and the deep toll that 15 years of fighting in the Middle East have taken on his health. Still, details of his story differ in slight but significant ways on retellings, and sometimes contradict documented evidence. 

He and his lawyer never sent data and documents that, Goudreau says, would prove details of his story right. Anger rises swiftly when I challenge him.

PREPARATION: Berry (left) and Denman were recruited by Jordan Goudreau. “Luke told me that he had a buddy in Washington, D.C., working [with higher- ups] on a plan to train Venezuelan nationals to repatriate their country,” says a friend of Denman.


Goudreau is also more inconsistent than his detractors have painted him: The 44-year-old calls himself a mere “kid” unfamiliar with business, while insisting he’s the mastermind behind the operation; he defends an allegedly cartel-linked Venezuelan general as having “a good heart,” while railing against other politicians for unspecified corruption; he insists that Operation Gideon was an honest attempt to liberate the Venezuelan people, while decrying the regime-change politics that led to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

In part because of his alleged betrayal by the Trump administration, at several points during our conversation Goudreau compares himself to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, the latter of whom he calls a “hero.”

Yet, despite his engineering of a foreign coup, Goudreau is still a free man. Federal law-enforcement agencies have arrested others allegedly involved in the plot, but the Justice Department has not filed an indictment against him. 

His surfacing comes as he sues one of his financial backers for breach of contract, claiming he’d been told the planning was done with the personal knowledge of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and that Juan Guaidó, Maduro’s U.S.-backed challenger, had supported Goudreau’s plan to invade Venezuela through to the end — all claims that have been disputed.

“Look, I’m responsible for everything I do or fail to do,” Goudreau says. “I’m not, ‘Oh, it wasn’t me.’ That ain’t me, man. I fucked up. I own it. It’s on me. But at the same time, there’s reasons why.”

Though modern private-security firms have been around since the 19th century, use of military contractors exploded after 9/11, which ushered in a new age of privatized war. 

At its peak, in 2009, about 50,000 mercenaries were in the Middle East to fill in the gaps for the military. 

It made sense for those enlisting, since contractors were paid at least double the military’s rate, and there were fewer rules to follow. If a situation got fucked, you could still skip the country and never really have to worry about a court martial or criminal prosecution.

“There was no accountability,” says Sean McFate, author of The Modern Mercenary and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “International law around this is very weak, and it’s very hard to enforce.”

     Goudreau in Afghanistan, circa 2015. / Courtesy of Jordan Goudreau


After Blackwater mercs gunned down 14 civilians at Nisour Square in Baghdad in 2007, the U.S. cut the flow of money to military contractors. But according to Doug Brooks, the former head of a private-security industry group, the business didn’t go away. It just got smaller, harder to track, and more clandestine.

“Most Americans, when they think of private security, they think of Blackwater, and that’s the Jurassic age at this point,” McFate says. “The whole industry has gone full-on mercenary. And there are a lot of charlatans in the business.”

Goudreau insists that Silvercorp USA isn’t a mercenary organization. “We’re just trying to solve problems,” he says. It’s the kind of vague corporate patter one expects to hear from Wall Street types, not someone who’s spent nearly his whole adult life making war.

Goudreau says he was raised in a fairly typical lower-middle-class Canadian family in Calgary. “I grew up on Transformers and Voltron,” he says. He heard stories about his great-grandfather, who’d fought in World War I, and a cousin, Donald Ian McDonald, who was a drug adviser for Ronald Reagan. 

Ever since he was a boy running around in U.S. Army T-shirts, his goal was to join the Special Forces. When he was 17, he joined the Canadian Army Reserve, before enrolling at the University of Calgary and getting a degree in computer science. After getting a green card, he joined the U.S. Army at 24 in February 2001.

Goudreau spent 15 years in the Army, earning three bronze stars and rising to sergeant first class. The way he tells it, his time in the 10th Special Forces Group put him in some of the most contentious, and pivotal, moments of the post-9/11 Middle East. Publicly available Army records are sparse, but they don’t contradict him. 

His job was to kill people deemed “high-value targets” by Army command, he says. As a member of the elite Delta Force squad, he says, he was deployed to Sadr City in 2006, the site of some of the most prolonged violence during the Iraq War, just as Saddam Hussein was executed and the “surge” began. (He declined to watch Hussein hang, even though he was invited to attend, he says.) 

He also claims he was deployed to Libya in the wake of Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ death at the raid on the U.S. Embassy compound in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012.

His final deployment to Afghanistan came in 2014. By then, he was not the same man who enlisted. He claims to have survived countless stabbings, explosions, shrapnel wounds, and blunt-force trauma to the head. Even the impact from explosions he set off had a deteriorating effect on him. “I’ve dispatched terrorists several ways, with grenades and rockets and thermobaric bombs. So it adds up,” he says.

An Army neurologist effectively ended his military career following some brain scans that showed traumatic brain injury, and he was honorably discharged in February 2016. 

“When I got out of the Army, I was in really bad shape,” he says. He went to the Cleveland VA Medical Center, where they treated his concussions and back injuries and put him on a healthy diet. 

Once he was out, he rode a Harley-Davidson across the country with a friend, staying at campsites along the way, working through the trauma of war. “The hardest thing I ever did in my life is get [out of] the Army. This is all I knew. I was always a soldier,” he says.

Goudreau’s home life during his Army career led to legal problems and debts that persist to this day. He had married a University of North Carolina student and part-time bodybuilder who helped recruit for the FBI on campus, and in 2007 they were living in Phoenix and had started a property-management business together. 

But by 2013, the Department of Defense launched an investigation into him over his allegedly defrauding the Army out of at least $62,000, court documents show, by overcharging for rent stipends. 

Goudreau says that his then-wife, from whom he is now divorced, lived in Brooklyn, but the Army claimed she was living in Arizona. Goudreau says his paperwork clarifying the situation was rejected. 

Bloomberg reported that Army investigators found there was probable cause Goudreau had committed fraud and forged documents. (Requests to his lawyer for documentation went unanswered, and his ex-wife, who was not implicated in the investigation, didn’t return multiple calls and messages seeking comment.)

Goudreau now plays it down as a misunderstanding and continues to pay back the debt. But others remember his anger. “I met him when he was becoming unhinged about that situation,” Francis X. Reilly, a retired Air Force master sergeant, tells Rolling Stone. 

At the time, Goudreau was crashing for free at Reilly’s place in Florida after they’d met at an event for veterans. “He was not in a good place, let’s just put it that way. He was saying not very good things about what he wanted to do to the people he owed the debt to.”

Reilly was stationed in Georgia and rarely saw Goudreau, but they would occasionally have lunch. “He was a supernice guy, but he just wasn’t — I don’t know,” Reilly says. “I’d probably trust the dude with my life. It was just, I didn’t know him that well. He got out of the Army on a bad note. Some of the stuff he told me he did in Afghanistan . . . that’s probably what’s wrong with Jordan. We had to do a lot of bad shit.”

It was around this time, in early 2018, that Goudreau first came up with the plan to start Silvercorp. Prior to that, he was aimless, working security jobs wherever they’d come along. He says he’d been inspired after a gig for AT&T in Puerto Rico and, later, by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

“Every single high school shooting, the police get their ass kicked,” Goudreau says. 

“My premise is, I’m going to put guys in who are gunfighters.” According to a notarized statement Reilly filed with the Florida Department of State, Goudreau listed Reilly and used his home address on the paperwork for the company. Reilly claimed the documents were “filed fraudulently” without his knowledge or consent.

That spring, Reilly says, he found out that Goudreau had been quietly making money renting out properties on Airbnb and told him to leave. Reilly hasn’t heard from him since.

“I fucked up. It’s on me,” says Jordan Goudreau — pictured in 2020 — about the coup. “But at the same time, there’s reasons why.” / Courtesy of Jordan Goudreau


Goudreau’s interest in Venezuela started in February 2019, after working security at a Richard Branson-sponsored festival in Columbia, which was raising money for refugees in the region. 

Six million Venezuelans have fled since Maduro took power in 2013, and many of them came into the neighboring country. “Somebody called me and said, ‘Hey, I need a counterterrorist, there’s going to be problems,’ ” Goudreau says.

Despite its vast oil wealth, Venezuela is one of the least stable countries in the Western Hemisphere. Since the 2013 death of Hugo Chávez, Maduro has overseen the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, where the military has taken control of most of the country’s food and supplies, and the wealth from its oil reserves stays concentrated in the hands of his cronies. Venezuela “is mired in hunger, misery, corruption, and persecution,” says Andreina Baduel, a journalist there whose brother, Adolfo, is jailed for participating in Operation Gideon and whose father and husband have also been imprisoned for political reasons.

“It is very hard, what you experience here. It is an odyssey to get water, gasoline. . . . The electricity, the internet, etc., are long gone.”

In 2018, Maduro won a sham election, emboldening a new political adversary in his opponent Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and 49 other countries recognize as the true leader of Venezuela. 

At the time, there was a widespread belief in Washington, D.C., that Maduro’s administration was on the verge of toppling and the Venezuelan “armed forces would flip and go right over to Guaidó,” says Michael Shifter, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Trump reportedly asked his advisers why the U.S. couldn’t just invade the country. In his tell-all memoir, former National Security Adviser John Bolton — a Venezuela hawk who supported increasing sanctions on the country —claims that Trump told advisers that it would be “cool” to invade.

At the same time, Guaidó, now in exile, was plotting his own overthrow of Maduro. One of his operatives was J.J. Rendon, an eccentric and shrewd anti-socialist political strategist whose fingerprints are on many of the past decade’s Latin American elections. 

A professed Buddhist who is usually seen wearing all black, Rendon says he considered at least 20 different plans, including propaganda and legal options, as part of a broader push for Guaidó to gain power. 

“There were soft scenarios like talking, influence,” he says. “Some of the things we were implementing at that moment already happened,” like the international community decrying the Maduro regime as criminal.

And then there was ousting the president, which Goudreau claims he found out about from Donald Trump’s former personal bodyguard Keith Schiller. (Four lawyers who have represented Schiller didn’t respond to requests for comment on his behalf, and the White House didn’t return an email seeking comment.) 

“He was introduced [to] me by somebody else who had worked with me and saw what I was capable of,” Goudreau says. From there, the 133-page lawsuit Goudreau filed against Rendon in November explains his version of how he got involved: In May 2019, Schiller’s consulting company sought to hire Goudreau to help overthrow Maduro and made representations that this plan had the Trump administration’s backing. 

Goudreau then went to Bogotá, Colombia, to meet with exiled leaders of the Venezuelan military, including Gen. Cliver Alcala, a military official now in U.S. custody for drug trafficking, a charge he’s denied. (He is currently awaiting trial.) Goudreau says he made further inroads with the Trump administration by meeting with Drew Horn, an aide to Pence around this time, and Travis Lucas, whose lobbying firm has worked on behalf of the Trump administration. 

He also met with various financiers, including Roen Kraft, heir to the cheese fortune, and claims in the suit that Kraft had briefly discussed the coup plan with Pence at an event. Though attempts to reach Kraft through his family’s company were unsuccessful, he told the AP that he had discussed funding humanitarian aid, but after Goudreau maintained it would be a military operation, Kraft declined to fund it. By the fall, he was out.

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2020 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump walks to a meeting in the Oval Office with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido at the White House in Washington. According to interviews with opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and aspiring freedom fighters, planning for a clandestine cross border incursion from Colombia began in the aftermath of an April 30, 2019 barracks revolt by soldiers who betrayed Maduro and swore loyalty to Guaido, who the U.S. and some 60 other nations recognize as Venezuela’s rightful leader. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Trump and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó (left) at the White House in February 2020. / Evan Vucci/AP


According to the suit, Rendon contacted Goudreau in August 2019. After allegedly considering a competing proposal by Erik Prince’s Frontier Services Group that would have cost $500 million, the suit alleges, Guaidó decided to go with a plan hatched by Goudreau that would have cost $1.5 million up front, with more than $200 million paid for through oil sales after Guaidó took power. (A lawyer for Prince provided a statement to Rolling Stone in response to Goudreau’s suit: “Erik Prince never made any such proposal to the Guaidó government, but he does believe strongly that any action taken in Venezuela must be swift and decisive to avoid a protracted civil war.”)

Although the Trump administration has used sanctions and support for political opponents to pressure Maduro to step down, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said there was no “direct” U.S. involvement in the attempted coup. 

Guaidó has denied any personal connection to the botched invasion. Lucas says any claims his company had any knowledge of the coup, or played any role in it, “are completely false.” Schiller has previously denied involvement.

By July 2019, Guaidó had been setting up training camps throughout Colombia for three months, one Venezuelan opposition leader told the BBC. About 300 anti-Maduro soldiers, drawn from Venezuela’s military and police, according to two people familiar with the plans, began training around seaside tourist towns: Maicao, Palomino, Riohacha, and Santa Marta, according to information provided to Rolling Stone by an ex-law enforcement officer with connections to the Colombian military.

The camps were not a success. Ephraim Mattos, a former Navy SEAL who conducts humanitarian operations and was in touch with one of the rebels, says food was scarce; water was run in by hose from a nearby river. There was very little training. The men would watch war movies or play FIFA during their off-hours.

By September, the plot was taking shape. “I learned at this point that there was a specific plan to overthrow Maduro, put Guaidó into power, and take back the country,” says Mattos. He realized something was off almost immediately. One of the revolutionaries showed him pictures Goudreau had posted of himself sitting in his car and working security at a Trump rally as proof of his bona fides.

“This is not how a professional operator acts. This guy’s obsessed with himself,” Mattos says. “I told [the Venezuelan revolutionary], ‘This guy is not who you think he is.’ ” But even Mattos didn’t know what to think. “I kept it in the back of my mind that maybe he was backed by the CIA or some kind of a go-between,” he says.

Within a month the whole plan crumbled. The number of willing rebels collapsed from 300 to 60 in a storm of accusations that one person or another was a spy. Talks between Goudreau and Rendon also broke down. 

An October 16th contract, allegedly signed on behalf of Guaidó and included as an exhibit in Goudreau’s lawsuit, specified that Goudreau would help in “planning and executing an operation to capture/detain/remove Nicolas Maduro . . . and install the recognized Venezuelan president, Juan Guaidó.” (Guaidó has denied all involvement.) 

Rendon tells Rolling Stone he couldn’t trust Goudreau after he said he would move forward with the operation with funding from investors who had ties to Maduro — which could undermine the entire plan. “[Rendon] signed that contract with no intention of paying anything, because he knew at the end of the day I was gonna do it, because that’s who I am,” Goudreau says. (Rendon tells Rolling Stone that Goudreau’s suit is “bogus,” and says that a later agreement nullifies the contract that Goudreau uses as the basis for his suit.)

In October 2019, Rendon paid Goudreau $50,000 out of his personal bank account, which muddied the waters about the intentions of Guaidó’s camp. According to the lawsuit, that was meant to be the first installment of the fees for the coup. 

While Rendon has previously told news outlets the payment was only intended to reimburse expenses and quietly end the relationship, I didn’t understand why he would pay Goudreau at all, and I pressed Rendon on that point. 

Why not let him eat the loss? Rendon conceded that the payment wasn’t meant to cut ties entirely. “In order to keep it civil, in my mind, I was leaving the door open for talking in the future,” he says. “To let the guy go with his expenses covered and no hard feelings.”

In January 2020, Goudreau and the two other Americans met at a small Miami-area airport before boarding a private plane headed to Barranquilla, Colombia. Goudreau had apparently found other backing. Driven by what he now says was a calling to overthrow a tyrant, he was going forward with the plan.

CAPTURED: In a press conference on May 6th, 2020, Venezuelan President Maduro holds up what he claims are Denman and Berry’s passports. The two Americans have since been convicted of terrorism and arms trafficking, and were each sentenced to 20 years.

Miraflores Palace Presidential Press Office/AP


Airan Berry, 41, had served 17 years in the Army, earning two Bronze Star medals and commendations for his tours in Iraq and in Kosovo. He’d enlisted straight out of high school; he had a black beard, tattoos covering his wide, muscle-bound arms and hands, and a fearsome demeanor. Privately, he was deeply into conspiracy theories, following at least 10 accounts on Instagram tied to QAnon, Vice reported shortly after his capture.

Of the three, the least likely to have been caught up in an international debacle was probably Luke Denman. The 34-year-old was from a military family and had a reputation as a loner. At Westlake High, the Austin school known for its football program, he was drawn toward skateboarding and sketching, and later riding motorcycles, according to his mother, Kay.

After graduation, he took his time before enlisting. There was an aborted semester at Austin Community College, then odd jobs around the city. “He just thought that his life wasn’t going the direction he wanted,” says Tatiana Saito, his girlfriend since 2015. Denman spent about five years in active duty and served a combat tour in Iraq for the 10th Special Forces Group before coming back in 2011. After that, he was briefly married while continuing to serve as a reserve.

The years before Denman joined Silvercorp were some of his most restless. He bounced around jobs: tree-nursery worker, pilot, security guard, commercial diver. He grew his collection of motorcycles, including his dad’s Harley, which he would ride as far as Portland, Oregon, where Saito’s family lived. 

He and Saito moved to Florida for a security job at the Four Seasons; soon after, he quit to get a diving degree. After he graduated in May 2019, they moved about an hour west of New Orleans, where he worked as an underwater welding apprentice on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, Saito says.

Denman didn’t last five months. It might have been the hours; it might have been the loneliness. But it also might have been Goudreau. “Luke told me, when we first talked about it, probably early October, that he had a buddy that was in Washington, D.C., talking with the higher-ups, and they were working on some kind of plan to train Venezuelan nationals to repatriate their country,” says Braxton Smith, a longtime friend.

When Goudreau, Denman, and Berry boarded the plane to Colombia, they were escorted by Yacsy Alexandra Mirabal. The way Goudreau tells it, she was a patriot — willing to give up everything to see the liberation of her country — and, he claims, a financial backer who invested about $100,000 of her own money into the cause. 

Goudreau didn’t know at the time, however, that the plane was owned by Franklin Duran, a wealthy businessman with family ties to a Venezuelan-owned oil company, who was convicted in 2008 of operating as an illegal agent of the Venezuelan government. 

In fact, Mirabal had worked under Duran. In September, Colombian authorities, in partnership with the FBI, arrested her for being a Venezuelan agent trying to destabilize Colombia.

None of this bothers Goudreau today. I was struck by how deeply he still believes in the people who allegedly helped facilitate the coup, how forcefully he rejects any notion that Mirabal, Duran, or exiled Venezuelan Gen. Alcala might have had divided loyalties. 

Mirabal, he says, “has more courage than all of them, and so does the general. Let me tell you something about the general,” he continues. “That dude is beyond fucking repute. He’s an honorable man.”

Despite Goudreau’s unbreakable trust, the apparent ties to the Venezuelan government have raised questions about whether Maduro’s regime was secretly guiding the operation. A failed coup led by a bunch of Americans, after all, would be a propaganda win for Maduro, and an embarrassment for the U.S. There were other signs that the plan was not airtight. 

Starting in March, a critical arms shipment — allegedly facilitated by Mirabal — was apprehended in Colombia. Then, Venezuelan politicians went on television to point out the location of the rebel training camps in Colombia, and the AP published its story about Operation Gideon before the launch.

Goudreau acknowledges that the operation had been infiltrated, but maintains that the final push was done without the Maduro regime’s knowledge. “It would have been a lot different if it was truly compromised,” he says, even while acknowledging that six men were killed and almost all the rest were captured. 

In November, the Miami Herald published an article, based on an interview with one of Operation Gideon’s participants and data given to them by Goudreau, saying that one of the coup participants informed the Maduro regime of the coordinates of the landing. Goudreau strenuously disputes this, but also acknowledges he couldn’t know for sure.

Other evidence does point to Maduro’s forces lying in wait. The Maduro regime claimed that the six men from the smaller vessel were killed in a firefight as they landed ashore. 

However, Rolling Stone obtained an autopsy report containing graphic photos of the dead men that concludes none of the rebels’ weapons were found near the bodies, and that they were likely executed at close range, including one who may have been killed with a shot to the back of the head. An independent forensic pathologist, who commented on condition of anonymity, says that the evidence in the report supports that conclusion.

“The execution stuff? That’s very possible,” Goudreau says. “But would it alarm you to know that we basically executed a whole bunch of people in Iraq? If I was in that [situation] I probably would have shot everybody, too. That’s war. Look, the Geneva Convention doesn’t cover fucking enemy insurgents.”

Goudreau argues that it didn’t matter that Venezuela knew about the plan, as long as it didn’t know when or where they planned to attack. He even says he delayed Operation Gideon’s launch by a few days until after the AP story was published, as a way to catch Maduro off guard. (He also blames the AP reporter for the deaths of the six men because the story was published. When I tell him he’s contradicting himself, he just denies it.)

But in a tale so rife with espionage and intrigue, motives are never entirely clear. In July, Duran was arrested by Maduro’s police and charged with treason and financing terrorism. Before his arrest, he’d told reporters for The Washington Post that he did not knowingly have anything to do with the plot.

“This is a story where you have this criminal, corrupt regime that’s paying a lot of people off, and it’s hard to keep that machine running,” says Shifter, the Council on Foreign Relations member. “The segment of people who believe in the revolution today in Venezuela is negligible. So it all becomes transactional.”

The future for Denman and Berry is now uncertain. On August 7th, 2020, Venezuela’s attorney general announced that they were convicted on terrorism and arms-smuggling charges. They were sentenced to 20 years in prison. The following week, the government convicted another 17 Venezuelans. (The fate of the other 36 Venezuelans who weren’t killed in the raid is unknown.) 

Maduro maintains that the operation was backed by the U.S. government. Initial talks between Maduro and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who negotiates the release of prisoners and hostages through his nonprofit, have so far gone nowhere, except to make sure Denman and Berry were being treated well. 

On October 16th, Denman and Berry had a Zoom call with their families where they appeared healthy and in good spirits. Their families set up a GoFundMe to help cover legal costs, but as of mid-November had raised less than half of its $50,000 goal.

On May 21st, Goudreau says, the FBI raided his Florida home, characterizing the action as an attempt on his life. “I took my shirt off. And they had no reason to death-by-cop me. But they knew my background. 

They knew I had a gun,” he says. And while the FBI recently started to return nearly $57,000 they had seized during the raid, Goudreau’s lawyer told him he is still under investigation.

“If the DOJ wants to go after me, they can indict me because I jaywalked and then put me in prison for 20 fucking years,” Goudreau says. “It’s rare in this world to have guys like Julian Assange, and it’s rare to have guys like Edward Snowden actually see something that’s fucked up, say, ‘You know what, that’s fucked up, I’m going to try to fix it.’ You know why it’s rare? It’s because these governments come together and they just destroy them.”

To this day, Goudreau still thinks he had a good chance at success. He blames a cadre of provocateurs, from double agents to former Silvercorp employees and the DEA and the FBI, for hobbling his plans. If he had the chance to do it again, he says he’d seek out a smaller circle of people he could trust.

“Had we succeeded, you really think that the Guaidó administration would have said, ‘That’s not us, we want nothing to do with this’? 

Do you think that Donald Trump would have said, ‘That wasn’t us’? 

Every motherfucker that I talked to would have said, ‘That was us! U.S.A., baby!’ 

They would have taken credit for all of it. And if you say it’s not true, you’re pretty naive.”

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