Cigar Aficionado

Smoking Out the Terrorists

G-Man Pat D'Amuro is helping the FBI wage war on America's enemies but still finds time to light up

Pasquale J. (Pat) D'Amuro got the call one Sunday that some visitors from a "foreign intelligence service" were having trouble in New York. Seems they couldn't find a place to smoke in the city.

"They were from a Middle Eastern country, I can't tell you which one," says D'Amuro, the head of the FBI's New York office. "They had just come up from [Washington,] D.C., and were having some problems finding what they needed. I got a call from one of the agents helping them and was able to resolve the issue with one phone call."

D'Amuro, a cigar aficionado, called his contacts at one of Manhattan's larger tobacco shops and persuaded them to open their conference room. Everyone was happy. D'Amuro remembers cigar-friendlier days. "This city's becoming very difficult. We always had people come in from overseas. We'd entertain them and we'd always have cigars with us," he says. D'Amuro is relaxed as he talks about what has turned out to be a minor diplomatic obstacle.

He welcomes the break, one of the few he's enjoyed over the past three years.

"It's been a blur," says D'Amuro. Just prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, D'Amuro had been in charge of the FBI's special operations division in New York. Shortly after 9/11, the director of the FBI "requested" that D'Amuro spend some time at headquarters. From January 2002 until August 2003, he served as the assistant director of the counterterrorism unit in Washington, fighting the bureau's war on terror and battling charges from domestic critics that the FBI had failed to pick up on clues that would have prevented the calamity of 9/11.

"You can't be right 100 percent of the time," says D'Amuro, who assumed his present post—his formal title is assistant director in charge of the FBI, New York—in August 2003. "That's not reality. Nobody is right 100 percent of the time. We strive for that. Every employee in this office wishes they could have prevented 9/11. There isn't one person here that goes back and takes a look at what was done and doesn't ask, How could you have done it better?" D'Amuro emphasizes that he understands that public expectations, although unrealistic, are high. "But the truth is, we need to be right every time. A terrorist has to be right, has to be lucky, only once."

D'Amuro is on a campaign to restore the faith in and the credibility of the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. He has been remarkably media-friendly, inviting television crews to interview special agents of the FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force in New York City. That's extremely rare. "You'll see and hear the anger and frustration," D'Amuro says. "They have had so many successes that no one knows about and they're taking a big hit on this." According to a number of experts, both inside and outside the bureau, before 9/11 the FBI prevented some 40 terror plots that would have cost tens of thousands of lives.

Ask him who's to blame for 9/11 and the response comes quickly: "Osama bin Laden and the radical fundamentalists. And with luck we'll bring them to justice." D'Amuro believes that the United States is not out of the woods when it comes to terrorism. "I think we're much safer today than we were prior to 9/11," D'Amuro confides. "A tremendous amount of resources have been put into hardening our infrastructure, into helping build a better FBI and a better information technology system. I don't think we are yet where we need to be. I think there are still areas of improvement. I think it's going to be years before homeland security is as operational as it should be."

This may explain why D'Amuro says the likelihood of another catastrophe like 9/11 is a real threat. "You know, look at the history of terrorism in this country. It's still a very new phenomenon. When you look at Israel, they've lived with it on a daily basis. It's become part of their society. We are a long way from protecting our infrastructure, from protecting our citizens against a terrorist attack in the future. We've not seen an end of attacks domestically. Unfortunately, I think that's just the reality."

Today, however, D'Amuro is taking a break from reality to talk about his passion: cigars.

"I think [the best time to smoke is] when you've got a lot of friends around and you've had a great meal and you still have some wine to finish up and the bottle of Port comes out afterwards," the G-man explains. "I have a Florida room and that's the only room in the house where I'm allowed to smoke, because it's got five sliding doors that I can open up whenever I need to. So I would say after a meal with some friends having a cigar is my favorite time. But there's never a bad time. On the golf course. But on the golf course I find I don't go for the real great cigars because I don't really enjoy [them] as much when I'm walking around, but after the round of golf, that's when you break out the really good cigars. Also, driving home."

D'Amuro remembers one drive home from the office several years ago and an experience with a Paul Garmirian cigar, a PG Belicoso that had been given to him by his boss, John O'Neill. (O'Neill, thought to be one of the FBI's most knowledgeable experts on Al Qaeda, died on 9/11. He had retired from the FBI New York office as head of counterterrorism and become the head of security for the World Trade Center. He was on his second day on the job at the Twin Towers.) D'Amuro was driving home on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway when he saw a commotion up ahead.

"I saw this guy on the shoulder shove this woman and then go across [their] van, and I couldn't see him, and she went after him and I thought they were going to get into a fight," recalls D'Amuro. "So I put the light on the car and jumped out of the car. Apparently this van had cut this guy off and he was just beating the crap out of this guy in the van. So I go up there and I've got this PG in my mouth and it's got about an inch of ash on it, and I tell him, FBI! Stop!' Of course, he's not listening, so I grab him by the back of the collar and I put him on the front of the hood of my car. Thank God there was a police unit right behind me throwing on his lights, getting out to assist. I said, Stay there. FBI. Don't move.' Everything got resolved. I get back in the car and I notice the ash is still on my cigar.

"I didn't call Paul [Garmirian] immediately. John told him the story. He reminded me of the story the day he opened up the shop. He told that story to his customers." (Garmirian owns McLean Cigar PG Boutique, which opened this April in McLean, Virginia.)

Although D'Amuro is very fond of PGs, not to mention a friend of the manufacturer, he delights in mixing up his repertoire. "The Padrón Anniversary series is one of my favorites," he says over lunch. "You know, I haven't had many of them, but I think the Ashton VSGs are very good. Truthfully, I like trying a lot of different cigars. I like variety. I don't like sticking with the same cigar all the time. But I always seem to come back to the PGs and Padróns."

Like all cigar lovers, D'Amuro can remember special moments and what he was smoking. Once, after the discovery of a few pipe bombs, he and another agent, also a cigar smoker, had to run up to the Bronx, where they found a receipt for a storage facility on the West Side of Manhattan. The incident turned out not to be terror-related, but something having to do with a drug dealer who wanted to eliminate the competition. "The PD [police department] shut down the West Side Highway at rush hour, five o'clock. It was an unbelievable sight. My boss had a million and one questions and we had answers for all of them, so he handed me a PG and we were smoking cigars, watching the traffic on the West Side Highway."

Also like many cigar smokers, D'Amuro's first cigar was with his father when he was in his late teens. "I can still remember turning green, but after that first cigar and after that first experience, when I was in college I would sit down and have a cigar with him or have a cigar and a Scotch. That's how I started. I can't remember what the very first cigar was, but I remember it was green because I turned green. This was back around '75, '76."

Nonetheless, he was hooked.

"I got in the bureau in '79 and came to New York, where I smoked cigars regularly. I started in a reactive squad with some old-time agents. One of the agents we called Ashes because of the holes burned in different articles of clothing," D'Amuro recalls. "At that time, I think they used to smoke more cigars than they do today. But through the years, just routinely we would have cigars, and the taste would improve as time went along. And then you got into much better cigars. And in the early '90s when cigar prices just went through the roof, we would find a way in the office of getting some very nice cigars."

D'Amuro's father is now smoking some very nice cigars, too, ones that don't turn you green, thanks to his son, although he still smokes the mass-market cigars when he runs out of the premiums. "The problem is he won't go out and buy the real good ones. He waits for me to send them to him," D'Amuro says with a laugh. "My sister told him one time at Christmas, I called Pat up and told him he was crazy for spending that much money on cigars and that he shouldn't buy you a box for Christmas.' And he looked at her—and you know that in an Italian family, the daughter is like the father's jewel, you don't touch her—and he said, Mind your own business.' So, he's due for a couple of boxes. He likes the PGs. He likes the Padróns. He pretty much likes what I like."

D'Amuro keeps his smokes in a large Elie Bleu humidor in his study, where he starts every day checking to see that the world hasn't blown up. The morning is a quieter time for him. He chats with his wife and tells her whether he'll be home in time for dinner. On the drive to work, he is occupied by thoughts that any father might have.

"You've seen some recent articles about FBI agents struggling to make a living in New York. Unfortunately—fortunately I guess when you look at it—I have a son who's doing very well in school and has the ability, I think, to get into some of our top institutions for advanced education. You know, those institutions cost some money, and I'm at the point where I've got about another year and I'm gonna have some large bills coming my way for college. So I don't know what the future holds. I may not be able to make ends meet by staying in the bureau and [still be] able to get him to college."

D'Amuro's been in the FBI for 25 years. He knows he won't be there forever, but doesn't easily accept the idea that he might need to get out before the mandatory retirement age of 57. "I can't imagine waking up one day and putting my feet on the floor and not being in the FBI," he says.

Inevitably, that day will come. Maybe there's a "very nice cigar" to go with it.

Alejandro Benes is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.