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RICHARD MARCINKO'S CRAMPED STUDIO apartment in Alexandria, Va., feels like a hunter's lair. It is filled with Cambodian art, temple rubbings and statues, and on the wall are the skin of a wallaby he killed in Australia, medals and pictures of him at various stages of his 30-year career in the Navy. And though the bearded Marcinko, 51, with his long graying hair and blue jeans, no longer looks the "spit-and-polish" Navy SEAL he once was, one can see and hear the warrior within. He may be amiable, even charming, but much of his language is unprintable, and his subject matter—killing and war—is chilling. "I'm good at [war]," he says calmly. "My philosophy is, kill them before they kill us. Killing is my mission. It's my career."

Or was. These days Marcinko is trying to launch a security consulting business from this tiny room—which is a step down for the hard-drinking, womanizing, establishment-bucking commander described in Marcinko's best-selling autobiography, Rogue Warrior, written with John Weisman. "I'm a hunter and they're managers," he says of many career officers. Or, as he rages over and over again in the book, "Why the hell didn't they let us do what we were trained to do? Even in Vietnam, the system kept me from hunting and killing as many of the enemy as I would have liked."

Marcinko's choler stems partly from the fact that in 1990 he was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government: As leader of an anti-terrorist unit, he helped a vendor get government contracts for grenades in return for a kickback of about $100,000 to a company of which he was a silent partner. He served 15 months in prison and was released in July. Marcinko glosses over the case in his book, but asked by his coauthor if he was guilty, he replies, "Absolutely. Guilty as charged. Guilty of putting my men before bureaucratic bulls—t. Guilty of spending as much money as I can get my hands on to train my men properly. Guilty of preparing men for war instead of peace. Of all these things I am indeed guilty. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima f—ing culpa."

Such belligerence suffuses Rogue Warrior, which Marcinko says he wrote to defray his six-figure legal expenses. The book argues that his prosecution was little more than a vendetta by military brass humiliated by Marcinko's final assignment, Red Cell. In 1984, at the behest of Adm. James "Ace" Lyons, a deputy chief of naval operations, Marcinko formed Red Cell, an antiterrorist outfit that staged mock attacks on military installations here and abroad and exposed their security flaws. The unit planted bombs near Air Force One, took over a nuclear submarine base, even kidnapped admirals—and videotaped it all. "I'd tell them Red Cell was coming, eat them alive, and then show the film and rub their noses in it," Marcinko says proudly. A high-ranking Navy official says there was no vendetta and that "the general take was that Red Cell was a good thing," but even Marcinko's supporter, Lyons, admits, "Dick can get carried away."

Rogue Warrior is not a book for the faint of heart. In the course of it, Marcinko eats monkey brains and sacs of cobra venom; he lines up Vietcong corpses and booby-traps them, the better to kill more VC; he refers to Cambodian women as "dessert." In the name of "unit f—-ing integrity," he does a lot of mandatory brawling in tough bars with his men.

This self-described professional killer was born in 1940 in the mining town of Lansford, Pa., the son and grandson of Czechoslovakian coal miners. He "voluntarily disenrolled" from high school at 17 and joined the Navy. "Talk about gung ho," he writes about those halcyon days at boot camp. "I even spit-shined the soles of my boots." After he saw a Richard Widmark movie, The Frogmen, he decided to join the Underwater Demolition Team, where he learned how to dive, how to parachute, how to blow things up.

He graduated from Officer Candidate School in 1965 and pulled strings to get assigned to SEAL (Sea, Air, Land Unit) Team Two in time to go to Vietnam in 1966. He also acquired the social skills needed to help him climb the Navy ladder. (Says coauthor Weisman: "Dick used the F word all the time, but he knew which admirals you could say it to.") After a stint as naval attaché in Cambodia in 1973, he eventually became a commander.

Marcinko married Kathy Black, whom he'd known since they were teenagers, in 1962, and they have two children, Kathy, 25, and Richie, 28. The marriage finally fell apart in 1985 because, says Marcinko, "I preferred the company of other SEALs to my wife's companionship." He is now engaged to Nancy Alexander, 32, an office manager with two young daughters.

"I know he's rough and tough, because everybody says he is," says Alexander, "but I've never seen it. He's a teddy bear." 60 Minutes producer Charlie Thompson, who did a segment on Marcinko, makes one think of a slightly different sort of animal. "He's the kind of guy," says Thompson, "a friend of mine said, you should keep locked up and let him out when there's a war."

ELIZABETH GLEICK
CHARLOTTE HAYS in Virginia

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  • Charlotte Hays.