I met Ann Louise Bardach at her house in Santa Barbara one afternoon in early January. I was running late because of traffic and just before I arrived, she called to inform me that I had missed something “very big.” As she breathlessly led me into the kitchen of the lovely ranch-style home she shares with her husband, the actor Bobby Lesser, Bardach, a small, wiry woman with auburn hair and large brown eyes, attempted to explain at breakneck speed the startling events of the past hour. In between letting out several yelps of glee accompanied by what is best described as a little jig, she announced that a U.S. representative was launching a congressional investigation into the government’s relationship with Luis Posada Carriles, the notorious anti-Castro militant on whom she had been reporting for years and the reason she is currently facing a federal subpoena (“I’m just trying to stay out of jail one day at a time.”). Dressed in black leggings and a red hooded sweatshirt, Bardach ran around the kitchen in an aimless frenzy, talking nonstop—about the wires she’d read that morning, the sorry state of press freedom, The Miami Herald’s reluctance to cover controversial Cuban issues, and a deal with Scribner’s to write a book about Castro’s later years and the U.S. government’s recent entanglements with Cuban exile militants.
Bardach is widely considered the go-to journalist on all things Cuban and Miami, a niche she began carving out for herself more than fifteen years ago when, as a contract writer for Vanity Fair, she got a phone call from a woman named Marita Lorenz, who claimed to be an ex-lover of Fidel Castro. Long inured to such unsolicited pitches, Bardach, a veteran crime reporter, was skeptical. “I think I said something like, ‘Well that’s not exactly news,’” she recalls. But when the woman added that she had worked for the CIA and attempted to assassinate Castro, Bardach’s ears perked up. “Well that could be news,” she remembers thinking. With “no real background” in Cuban or Miami politics, she embarked on a reporting adventure that she likens to “going down the rabbit hole” where “nothing was what it appeared to be.” When she learned that Lorenz had worked alongside E. Howard Hunt (who died this January), Bardach was hooked. She soon found herself in a “smoke and mirrors world,” surrounded by a cast of “shady characters” that included Frank Sturgis, a former CIA operative, notorious double agent, and Watergate burglar. “It doesn’t get any better than listening to Frank Sturgis spin for you,” she says in her deep, slightly raspy voice. “It’s like meeting Peter Lorre in Casablanca, you know? You can’t make this stuff up.”
Published in 1993, Bardach’s lengthy article on Lorenz was a convoluted tale of intrigue involving such major historical events as the Bay of Pigs, Watergate, the 1976 murder of the Chilean ambassador to the United States, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. She says she probably wouldn’t pursue the Lorenz story today—“She gets too much attention for a person who’s lying about too many parts of it”—but is indebted to the experience. “What Marita Lorenz did for me was make me fascinated with the Cuban exile theater, the militant theater, and I became very interested in the fact that the CIA had financed them for so long,” she explains. “We create this mobile guerrilla army to go kill Castro and bring down this government and then we say, ‘Guess what, guys? We’ve changed our minds.’ And these guys say to us,” Bardach pauses and adds in a low whisper, “‘Well, you may have changed your minds, but we haven’t.’”