Never take no for an answer. The story of the CIA’s first Disabled Case Officer Richard Diaz.

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Ryan Morfin:
Welcome to Non-Beta Alpha. I’m Ryan Morfin. On today’s episode, we have Rick Diaz, a CIA case officer who teaches us of why it’s important to never take no for an answer. This is Non-Beta Alpha.
Ryan Morfin:
(singing)
Ryan Morfin:
Richard, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us today.
Richard Diaz:
Thank you very much.
Ryan Morfin:
Well, it’s an honor to have you on, sir. You served our country with distinction at the CIA, that you were a case officer, but your journey is really compelling. When I first heard it, I knew I had to have you on the show to tell your journey. Would you mind giving us a little bit of your background and a little bit about where you come from and then how you got into the field of work that you started in?
Richard Diaz:
Yeah, definitely. Well, I’m the first CIA case officer in the history of the agency to get through the qualification course and the weapons qualification course to be an operations officer with a disability. I’ve got a brachial plexus injury to the right arm. I’ll talk to you a little bit more about that, but kind of give you a bit of a background on myself and get to it in understanding where I come from and my journey, like you said, it’s been a long road to get to where I am. Having to break through roadblocks every step of the way. Never taking no for an answer, which is the essence to my success. It took me to some of the most dangerous areas around the world to do the job that was extremely difficult for a person with two arms, much less one arm.
Richard Diaz:
I’ve been fighting, taking risks my entire life. One thing I have learned is never taking no for an answer. Part of that attitude is also the essence of the most effective wealth managers or businessman. As a son of a poor Latino migrant worker, I knew all too well what it was like to struggle, living in poverty, and suffering the backlash against migrants of the 1970s. I saw my father struggle to put food on the table, keeping us from the fields. I saw him take us from a one-bedroom house, living with nine family members down in our home, or him going from a meter reader to a senior corporate salesman before he died. Never taking no for an answer, and neither did I.
Richard Diaz:
This was a fight that was bred into me, which followed me during my career in the US Air Force, where I flew spy missions over Russia and other denied areas during the Cold War. I worked undercover targeting the Turkish Mafia, to surviving a run-in with the 17 November Terrorist group during Desert Storm, which prepared me for my life in the CIA and the struggle to become their first disabled case officer.
Richard Diaz:
But that road was fraught with obstacles and sometimes with outright disdain for what I was trying to do. My efforts were initially met with off-handed remarks, which turned into direct hostility as I neared my goals. Being told I don’t belong and I should quit, then afterwards being bullied by some, but I persevered. Not taking no for an answer.
Richard Diaz:
When people see me-
Ryan Morfin:
So-
Richard Diaz:
… Yeah, go ahead.
Ryan Morfin:
… No, no. I was going to ask you, what part of the country were you from when you were raised with your family? Tell me a little bit about that experience because a lot of Americans don’t really hear that experience and I’d love to share that.
Richard Diaz:
Sure. My family is from McAllen, Texas, down in the Rio Grande Valley. My family would move from state to state, depending on the picking seasons. Whether it was Ohio, Michigan for the apples, and even picking there in Central Texas. I think it was cotton. They were working on that as well. They lived in migrant camps, went to migrant schools. My father made a decision that that was enough for us, that he didn’t want us to have to live through that, so he moved us to Peoria, Illinois where we lived with nine other family members in our home until we could figure out how to get out of that.
Ryan Morfin:
Peoria’s a lot colder than McAllen, Texas. I’m sure shoveling snow is not one of your favorite things to do. It’s definitely not one of my favorite things to do.
Richard Diaz:
No, I hated it. It was definitely cold. But even that life itself was definitely a learned thing. Just think about it. You had nine family members that lived in a one-bedroom house, one bathroom. We had people sleeping on tables, on floors, but that’s just the life that we had at the time. My father did everything he could to keep us from going in the fields and having to do that for the rest of our lives and he did it.
Ryan Morfin:
Where was he from originally? Was he from Southern Texas or was he from Mexico?
Richard Diaz:
West Loco, Texas, down along the border. That’s where my mother was from as well.
Ryan Morfin:
Got it. You guys ended up in Peoria, Illinois and I guess you got involved in public school there. Tell me about it. How long did you guys stay in the Midwest?
Richard Diaz:
We were in Peoria for a few years, but then we ended up moving to Granville, Illinois. My father eventually got a job as a salesman and he eventually moved up and we ended up moving to South Milwaukee, as he worked his way up into the company. Then, that’s where I ended up going into the Air Force, from there.
Ryan Morfin:
How was it being Mexican-American going into the US Air Force at that period of time? Any issues, or did you feel like you were able to get in and do whatever billets you wanted?
Richard Diaz:
Well, yeah. At that time, I didn’t have a degree, so we were pretty open to sending me wherever I wanted to be. That’s where I wanted to get in the FBI. I knew that’s what I wanted, so I volunteered to join the Air Force Security Police Law Enforcement. I thought that was a good step up to help me get into the FBI at that time.
Richard Diaz:
But yeah, it was a struggle, just first getting in and trying to figure things out. But it was pretty good. It was great.
Ryan Morfin:
Is it kind of like the shows on NCIS or is it more like base patrol and all that, when you’re in the Air Force Security?
Richard Diaz:
Well, this was kind of funny. When I first got in, the recruiter showed me this film of these guys, security forces, fighting terrorists, shooting guns, driving the Humvees and doing the whole thing. I said, “Great. That’s what I wanted.” The recruiter looked at me. He said, “Okay. Are you sure about that?” I said, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do.” Six months later I find myself guarding a B-52 at 2:00AM, 30 degrees below zero in Northern Maine. There was not a single terrorist in sight. I said, “Enough’s enough.”
Richard Diaz:
But after that, I did finally was able to do a joint task force with the Office of Special Investigations overseas, where I worked undercover narcotics and targeting the Turkish Mafia for black marketing in Turkey. I eventually got to that, but it took some time.
Ryan Morfin:
Very cool. When you left the Air Force, you said you wanted your next step to go into the FBI, but what happened after you left the Air Force?
Richard Diaz:
Well, when I was in the Air Force, this is when I got injured. My whole goal was to get into the FBI. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s why I went into law enforcement. I finally got to do an interview with the FBI. I did the first interview out of an office in Omaha and I remember doing that interview. It was the strangest interview I ever had in my life. It was a panel interview and it was all middle-age white men who gave me the interview. Nothing to say against that, but most of their issues were concerning my race, for some reason, and whether they think a minority should be moved up within the FBI, what their position should be, and the types of jobs. I kind of walked out of there, knowing I didn’t get the job, at first. Then, about a month later, the office was sued by a bunch of Hispanic officers for racism. There was a big issue with that. It was all over the papers. After that, they finally changed the way they did their job interviews.
Richard Diaz:
Then, when I went to Texas, I did that same interview and I ended up getting into the FBI. That was about two weeks from the FBI Academy when I was out jogging alongside of the road in West Texas in the desert when a truck ran off the road and hit me at about 62 miles an hour, giving me a severe brachial plexus injury. I was almost killed. It was a hit and run. They just left on the side of the road. After that, I was going to have surgery. It was about two weeks after the surgery when my father was killed in a plane crash, so I couldn’t have the surgery. I had to delay it, which caused the permanent injury to my arm that I have right now.
Richard Diaz:
So, I got kicked out by the Air Force and the FBI told me no. I said, “You know what? I’m not giving up.” That’s why I eventually made it to the CIA.
Ryan Morfin:
You had a traumatic injury and then a traumatic family tragedy. Then, during that period of time, how long did it take you to, I guess, rebuild your morale or your focus to go back into another government area?
Richard Diaz:
It was a very difficult journey. It was very stressful trying to deal with the disability, trying to figure things out, how to do things with one arm. Everything from playing with my kids to driving a car and whatever else I had to do. I had to figure it out. On top of that, the stresses of trying to find work. I had found a temporary job, which I ended up not getting. I had for a little while, then I was unemployed for about nine months. It was a big struggle. It was about two years before I could really get myself back on my feet. That’s when I ended up going to the agency.
Ryan Morfin:
Well, and it’s that two year period of… I’m sure you’ll never forget it… anyone who’s ever experienced unemployment, there’s a lot of Americans out there today that are unemployed. Any advice? You say, “Never take no for an answer,” but when people are dealing through that, what would you say to them?
Richard Diaz:
The key to it is family and never giving up. It was really difficult. Keep your goals in mind. Set up your goals and keep fighting to get those goals and not to give up. It’s tough. It really is. I see these guys, some of the disabled vets, and some other folks on the streets with the signs out there, asking for money and stuff. A lot of times, I’ll sit down and I’ll talk to them. I’ll say, “Hey, I was in the same situation. I was able to do it. I’m disabled. I can do this.” Try to encourage them. I do that. I used to volunteer at a homeless shelter as well, where I did the same thing and talking to them. Okay. You can overcome this, but it’s not easy, but I’ve been there and I know what it’s like.
Ryan Morfin:
Unemployment’s coming way down, but I do think there’s a group of people, a group of Americans today, that are in long-term unemployment because of the sectors that they were working in. Our hearts go out to them, but hopefully they can re-skill up and change their life course because I got a feeling we’ll be in this rough patch for a little bit longer than people want to hear.
Ryan Morfin:
Well, you got the job and then you applied, I guess, for the government to go back into the government. At the end of that two year period, was it right into the CIA? Where’d you go from there?
Richard Diaz:
I ended up with the DoD IG, Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office. Then, I got a road into the Agency, but it took me five times to get into the Agency. It was tough. I didn’t give up. The fifth time I finally got it. I was able to convince them to get me in. They let me in the door. I’m not sure if they regret it or not, after what I’ve done, but I got my foot in the door but it took five times of not giving up.
Ryan Morfin:
Once you get up and you get in, you have to go through a bunch of coursework. We don’t have to get into that, but what shocks me about your story is that you had to also get weapons qualified with only one arm. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how that works.
Richard Diaz:
I volunteered for an overseas assignment to a war zone. Part of the process was to get weapons qualified. Again, with that, it took me four or five times to try to get that certification, even them to allow me to do it with a disability. Shooting with a Glock brought a whole handful of issues in itself. I had to figure out how to do everything that somebody does with two arms, with one arm, from shooting the gun, loading the magazines, loading the gun, fixing jams, and firing the rounds.
Richard Diaz:
One of the things I did is I figured things out. One of the things I always say is, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I had to figure out how I was going to do this. What I did is I purchased two right-side Glock magazines and I put them on the left-side, behind a KYDEX holster and I reversed the magazines, so all I had to do was pickup, push in, and the gun was loaded.
Richard Diaz:
Then, I used my KYDEX holster to fix the jams, to cock the gun back, shoot, and I was able to fire off three to four rounds in about four seconds, while fixing a jam in the middle of that, which was really unheard of for one arm at that time. But it was definitely a challenge, but I was able to do it. That was my initial qualification. I would get through another qualification later on in my career that questioned this first one, but I did it.
Ryan Morfin:
Now, shooting a Glock with two hands is hard enough, but doing it with one, that’s amazing. Well, as you got in, you volunteered for the war zone and they drop you off. Where’d you deploy to, or if you can’t say, and how was it down range?
Richard Diaz:
I deployed out to Southwest Asia area, but it was definitely a challenge. I remember when I first arrived there, I was at a clearing barrel, trying to clear my gun, and using my one-handed technique, I heard people in the background say, “Oh, yeah. He’s disabled. What’s he doing here?” I remember turning around and looking at them and I said to them, “You know what? I qualified just like you did and I’m here to stay. I’m not going anywhere.” And I walked away.
Richard Diaz:
Then, the following morning, my logs officer handed me my keys to my truck. He was kind of smiling and laughing. I was trying to figure out why. I walked out. He followed me with two other guys. They stood up on top of a hill when I went to get into my truck. I got in my truck and I looked down. It was a stick shift. Then, I kind of laughed a bit and I said to myself, “Okay.” Because when I was first disabled, I drove a stick shift truck, and I had my four year-old son, I trained him how to shift up and shift down while I was driving the truck until I could figure out how to do drive with my knee and shift the truck. I could actually make left and right turns now with my knee without even a problem. It scares people, but I can definitely do it. So, I got in the truck and I drove off. I looked up at them and they kind of just sat there with their mouths open. I waved and I took off and drove out of the parking lot.
Richard Diaz:
I remember, the following day, some supervisor came up and said that there was some concern about my ability to handle myself in a war zone with a disability. That night or the following night, we were out and we normally have Security Forces go out in front of us to pave the way and one night, at about 2:00AM, we pulled out. Security Forces went out, said it was secure. We went out, and I was in the back of a truck and I had three other guys in the truck with my translator driving. The insurgent pulls out with an AK-47 pointing at us. I remember, the first thing I did was I called into the Security Forces, said, “Hey, we need help. I got a guy with a gun.” They said the words I’ll probably never forget, “You’re on your own. We’re too far away. Deal with it.”
Richard Diaz:
At that point, you have split seconds to make a decision that’s going to determine the lives of everybody in that truck. My first option was number one, we try to run the guy over. If we try to run him over, we were in a thin-skinned vehicle, a regular armor vehicle. We’d probably all get killed because he gets that gun off, it’d go right through it. So, second option, I was a pretty good shot, but it was pitch black dark and I would have to fire the gun at about 20 yards, hitting the guy so he couldn’t fire a shot. I wasn’t going to put people’s lives at risk.
Richard Diaz:
So, my third option was to trust my translator to talk our way out of it… we were all dressed in local garb and stuff… which I did, and we all ended up getting through the situation safely, which is the same thing. I learned from that from a previous experience in the military where my cover got blown when I was overseas in Turkey and I was surrounded by several angry Turks in the back of a shop. They were all armed and I wasn’t armed. I had to talk my way out of it. I barely got out with my life, but I made the decision to talk my way out versus fight my way out, which is the same thing that happened with this situation.
Richard Diaz:
When I got back, nobody ever questioned my ability in a war zone ever again. It was a shut case.
Ryan Morfin:
That’s fantastic. How does one talk their way out of a drug den in the back of an office with no weapons? What’d you say, “Hey, guys. I’m just kidding. I’m just here looking for real estate.”
Richard Diaz:
Well, they knew who I was because a corrupt Turkish official turned my name over to the head of the mafia. So, they set me up and unbeknownst to the Office of Special Investigations was running the case with them that they barely sent me into a trap. When that happened, the key to that is the one guy that I basically had recruited from them was my gardener actually and I developed such a close relationship with him, which really helped me in my CI career, that he trusted me, that he would do anything for me. I really looked towards him when I was surrounded and he finally said, “Okay, let him go,” because he couldn’t believe that I had been traded. He couldn’t believe that. He was able to vouch for me to get me out of that room. I got out barely. Like I said, barely by the skin of my teeth. We ended up getting ex field out of the country after that. Within a couple days we were gone.
Ryan Morfin:
Wow.
Richard Diaz:
But the key, again, is setting up that relationship.
Ryan Morfin:
Yep. No, and he was your gardener, you said?
Richard Diaz:
Well, yeah, because he had the contacts with the mafia off base.
Ryan Morfin:
Got it.
Richard Diaz:
And he set me up with the meetings and everything.
Ryan Morfin:
Got it. Wow. Got to be nice to everybody. You never know who’s going to help you out later. You never know.
Ryan Morfin:
How many year did you serve in the Agency?
Richard Diaz:
20 years.
Ryan Morfin:
Wow.
Richard Diaz:
I did nine in the military.
Ryan Morfin:
Well, thank you for your service. That’s a long career. That’s a long career in any industry, but this one especially. It’s very arduous. Going forward, you got out. What are you doing now? What do you think about today’s environment that we’re in, as a country?
Richard Diaz:
Well, right now I started my own company, a company of one, [Alcore 00:21:16] International. I provide guidance to different companies on security issues. I have some contracts. I’ve been overseas doing some stuff, in safety and security. I’ve also developed some of the programs that I’ve learned from my Agency career and it’s all open source information on basically developing my own recruitment cycle. Taking the existing recruitment cycle for the Agency, [inaudible 00:21:46], and build my own and build it around a business recruitment cycle. I’m trying to work on that. I’ve done some stuff for UBS and they’re going to have me come back and do some client events as well. That’s what’s keeping me busy.
Richard Diaz:
I’m also volunteering at the International Spy Museum. I did a web chat with them a couple weeks ago and we’re looking at some fundraising things and so forth and there’s a possibility they may put some of my stuff up on display there as well at the museum.
Ryan Morfin:
Well, that’s fantastic. The work you’re doing for UBS, maybe touch on it a little bit. You’re talking to financial advisors about developing their approach to new clients.
Richard Diaz:
Right, just the approach on how to basically go after the big clients they want to go after, how to be able to go after them, target them, develop that relationship, do an assessment of them. Then, be able to go in and hit it home at the end by getting the recruitment. We call it recruitment, but sealing the deal with them at the end. But there’s a whole process that you have to go through and a lot of it’s, like we said before, is built on trust and built on the relationship you have with them.
Richard Diaz:
If you can develop a relationship with that client, then you can recruit him in the end. He’ll do anything for you by the time he’s gone. The key to that recruitment at the end is using his own words, his own situation, against him. Talking about how he has issues, financially or whatever, you can talk to him about, “Hey, here’s how I can help you financially. Here’s what I can do for you. Again, the whole basis of it is just being able to how to go after those targets, how to assess them and use the best approach and develop that relationship.
Ryan Morfin:
No, it’s interesting. Some advisors are just depending on technology to bring them leads, but I think there’s no replication, there’s no replacement, I guess, for human contact, human sales skills, gathering assets that way. If anybody thinks they’ve figured it out and they always hit 1000%, then they probably don’t need any coaching or help. But I do think it’s important for advisors to bring new ideas to how they approach the business.
Richard Diaz:
Yeah. I had a couple financial advisors, not from UBS, other ones I’ve talked to. They tell me, “Well, the clients come to me. I don’t need to go after my client.” I just looked at them and said, “Good luck. You can’t do it that way. You got to learn the hard skills.” We used to call it in my profession, bricks and sticks, the old way. Develop the relationship. Be able to go in there, physically have physical contact with that client, because that’s how you build trust.
Ryan Morfin:
This part of the conversation we call in season two the human factor. I’m going to ask you six questions that are usually yes or no questions, but here we go. If there was a vaccine available today, would you take it for COVID?
Richard Diaz:
Yes.
Ryan Morfin:
Who do you think’s going to win the election in November?
Richard Diaz:
That one I’m not sure about at this point.
Ryan Morfin:
Yeah, too close to call. Such an exogenous shock to the system.
Ryan Morfin:
What type of economic recovery are we in? Do you think it’s going to be a V-shape recovery or is this a different type of shape?
Richard Diaz:
I think V-shape is what it’s going to be.
Ryan Morfin:
Is there anything that you achieved this summer that you’re proud of? Any projects that you worked on during quarantine?
Richard Diaz:
Just a big one is the Spy Museum and was honored to be asked by them to speak at the museum. It’s a big deal. It’s not something they allow a lot of people to do, but that’s something I was very interested in was for Disability Awareness Month. It worked out pretty well.
Ryan Morfin:
Well, that’s awesome. Are there any silver linings that you see in the economy in 2021 for the US?
Richard Diaz:
Once the vaccine gets in place, and it depends on who comes into the office.
Ryan Morfin:
Yeah. No, I think that’s right. I think that will take the lid off the top. There’ll be a lot of growth coming after that. Last question, is there anything that you’re watching or listening to or reading that you’d like to share with our viewers?
Richard Diaz:
Yeah, one of the books that actually I just started reading, it’s called A Woman of No Importance. It’s about Virginia Hall. She was the first disabled SOE, their Special Operations Officer for the Brits, working behind enemy lines, and how she operated. She had one leg, but we had a lot of similarities when I was reading this. It’s just amazing how life imitates life.
Richard Diaz:
For example, when she was injured, she was 27 years-old. I was 27 years-old. She worked in Turkey. I worked in Turkey. She was almost killed in Turkey. I was almost killed in Turkey. She worked on setting up networks behind enemy lines, which is exactly what I was doing in my work. She was tied to the state department. I was tied with the state department. We recruited some of the same types of people. We both had difficulty moving up because of our disability. We were both questioned about our ability in a war zone because of our disability. It’s a really good book. I’m about half way through it right now and it’s shocking the crap out of me, to be honest with you. The similarities and what she went through, it’s pretty incredibly. Our fathers died about the same age, tragically, both of our fathers did. The similarities are just amazing. I have a lot of respect for her. It’s a good book.
Ryan Morfin:
Well, fantastic. Well, we’ll make sure we hyperlink that to this episode for people to check it out. Rick, I appreciate you being on the show and sharing your story and telling our viewers that never take no for an answer. I think people today need to hear that more than ever, just given high structural unemployment, but also some people I think need to reevaluate where they’re going, what trajectory they’re on, and what goals they’re looking to achieve.
Ryan Morfin:
I appreciate you being so open with your story. Thank you for your service.
Richard Diaz:
Thank you. Take care.
Ryan Morfin:
Bye.
Ryan Morfin:
Thanks for watching Non-Beta Alpha. Before we go, please remember to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts and our YouTube channel. This is Non-Beta Alpha and now you know.

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