ITS official name was Operation Gideon but it’s been described in far more colourful ways. One US official wryly observed that the plot appeared to have been lifted straight out of Jack Ryan, the military-espionage drama on Netflix. Others have been more scathing, among them former US diplomat Brett McGurk, a veteran of both Obama and Trump administrations, who said it smacked of the Keystone Cops meets Bay of Pigs.

McGurk, of course, was referring to that other real-time drama, the now infamous botched seaborne invasion of Cuba in 1961 backed by the CIA in an effort to overthrow the country’s then new revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

For his part President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, the country in which this latest tragifarce effort to overthrow a leader was played out, had a colourful take of his own. Those involved said Maduro, were men “playing Rambo’’.

Whatever the interpretation of the plot against Maduro, everyone is agreed on one thing; this is certainly a jaw-dropping story. It’s also a complicated one, so perhaps best explained in summary before examined in more detail.

In short, Operation Gideon was a recent plot the aftermath of which is still playing out to invade Venezuela by sea, overthrow the government and fly President Maduro to the US to face trial on drugs charges.

Heading up this audacious operation was one Jordan Goudreau a Canadian-born gung-ho former US Special Forces Green Beret and three times Bronze Star recipient who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So there you have it, the simple plot outline and the key players: Jordan Goudreau and his target the Venezuelan president. But dig deeper and this story becomes so much more labyrinthine and multi-layered.

To begin with Goudreau himself is a curious character, a man according to Drew White – another former soldier who served alongside him– as someone whose “head wasn’t in the world of reality”.

What was real enough though, was the private Florida-based security contractor Silvercorp USA that Goudreau founded in 2018.

At the start he envisaged the company’s role as simply one of providing guards to protect American schools from mass shootings.

But Goudreau’s ambitions didn’t stop there, and before long Silvercorp was working as security at rallies in support of US president Donald Trump while its founder was cooking up his plan to abduct Maduro.

According to Giancarlo Fiorella, an investigator in Latin America for the investigative journalism website Bellingcat, Goudreau can be clearly seen in a video on the Silvercorp website wearing an earpiece and apparently providing security at a Trump rally at Bojangles Coliseum in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, in October 26, 2018.

But it was far off Venezuela on which Goudreau had set his sights. According to a subsequent Associated Press (AP) news agency report his plot was to gain real momentum when he again worked security, this time at a concert in support of Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader recognised by the US and some 60 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader rather than Maduro.

The fundraising concert called Music for Venezuela: Aid and Freedom, was organised by British billionaire Richard Branson on the Venezuelan-Colombian border back in February last year. While most of the 31 performers on the day were Venezuelan and Colombian, there were those within the global music industry that were critical of the concert and Branson’s motives.

Among the most vocal was Roger Waters, the co-founder and former bass player of world famous band Pink Floyd. It was Waters who at the time released a video statement in which he told Branson to “Back off” and that his “Live-Aid-ish” concert had “nothing to do with humanitarian aid at all”.

“It has to do with Richard Branson, and I’m not surprised by this,” said Waters, implying that Branson had bought into a US decision to “take over Venezuela” for whatever Washington’s “reasons may be”. During the time this international public spat between one of the world’s richest people and the former Pink Floyd bassist was playing out, would-be mercenary plotter Goudreau was focusing his attention on the Venezuelan president.

“Controlling chaos on the Venezuela border where a dictator looks on with apprehension,” Goudreau wrote arrogantly in the caption of a photo of himself on the concert stage posted to his Instagram account at the time.

In that same Instagram account were many other photographs of him, posing for the camera, shirtless, muscle bound and armed, or on helicopters and private planes.

But it was to be some time later, just a week ago at the start of May, that Goudreau’s name finally cropped up in a remarkable scoop, again by the AP news agency. This expose outlined in detail his involvement in the wild scheme to raise a mercenary army along with former Venezuelan Major General Cliver Alcala who had been living in exile in neighbouring Colombia since 2018.

“The plan was simple, but perilous. Some 300 heavily armed volunteers would sneak into Venezuela from the northern tip of South America,” wrote AP reporter Joshua Goodman in his news dispatch on May 1.

“Along the way, they would raid military bases in the socialist country and ignite a popular rebellion that would end in President Nicolas Maduro’s arrest,” Goodman went on to explain.

Some observers believe that Maduro and his government were aware of the plot as early as March 24. But even if unaware of it they could hardly have failed to notice the AP article of May 1 revealing the plot against the president.

The fact that the details surfaced in the newswire report was typical say observers of how leaky and ham-fisted the planning of Operation Gideon was on every level.

“The plot was “half-cocked,” said Ephraim Mattos, a former US Navy Seal, speaking to the Financial Times last week.

Mattos, says he first learned of the operation last September when he was training Venezuelan defectors in combat first-aid at a Colombian training camp, adding that he thought the plot’s leader, Goudreau, was “inept”.

“Everything was so botched; infiltrated by double agents. No one would have believed there’s any way they’re actually going to pull the trigger on it,” Mattos told the Financial Times.

THERE were, however, other fellow Americans who were far more convinced by Goudreau’s big money making scheme. It could after all potentially bring them in a $15m bounty from the US government, should they deliver Maduro to the US, and maybe an even bigger payoff from those within Venezuela’s opposition ranks who would then seize power.

These other Americans were Airan Berry 41 and Luke Denman 34 both also former US Special Forces soldiers who had served with Goudreau in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their fate was to take an altogether different turn from that of the plot’s mastermind when last weekend both men, part of a group of 60 self declared Venezuelan “freedom fighters”, took to the sea in two boats and set sail from Colombia to Venezuela to storm the country’s capital Caracas and capture Maduro.

According to the New York Times, Goudreau later said his men vomited the entire way and almost ran out of petrol as their boats were “hugging” the Caribbean coast off Venezuela.

Speaking to reporters Venezuela’s Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, described how the mercenaries tried to land using speedboats before dawn on a beach at Macuto Bay, about an hour north of Caracas, but were intercepted by military and special police units.

Goudreau meanwhile is said to have remained in Florida, prevented by coronavirus-related border closures from travelling to Colombia to join his ‘brothers in arms.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly the whole fiasco, which resulted in 13 men – including Americans Berry and Denman – being taken into custody, has made the affair the laughing stock among veterans of the US Special Forces community.

“These are guys who couldn’t make it in the major leagues, so they tried to create a major league of their own to the detriment of their own safety,” one former special operations member told the online media portal VICE, who could not give the source’s name because they still work in government.

“It’s so common to see guys try to play with the big boys and fail miserably. SilverCorp just took it to the extreme,” the source added.

But ignominious failure and ridicule aside, major questions remain as to just who was behind or bankrolled Operation Gideon, even if the equipment and weapons the mercenaries were carrying were comparatively limited and unsophisticated.

While Maduro described the captured Americans as members of “Trump’s security”, the US president on Friday reiterated that Washington was not behind the bungled operation, saying those who carried it out were a “rogue group”.

“I know nothing about it. I think the government has nothing to do with it at all, and I have to find out what happened,” said Trump.

“If we ever did anything with Venezuela, it wouldn’t be that way. It would be slightly different. It would be called an invasion,” the US leader insisted, further fuelling the belief that Washington would like nothing better than to see the demise of Maduro’s regime and have greater control over this oil rich but crisis wracked country.

For now there remains more questions than answers as to who was behind this extraordinary affair. That the world barely noticed is only a result say observers of global distraction over the coronavirus crisis.

In the US and Latin America of course it has been big news, with some reports suggesting that evidence exists of deals done at the highest levels.

According to the Washington Post, last September at a glittering Miami high-rise on the shores of Biscayne Bay in South Florida, representatives of the Venezuelan opposition appointed by its leader Juan Guaido, sat in a room where they explored and discussed all options in their US-backed quest to oust Maduro. According to the newspaper’s account the group including top aide to Guaido, Juan Jose (JJ) Rendon, listened as Goudreau laid out his plan to penetrate Venezuela and “extract” Maduro and his henchmen. By October last year, the plan had advanced to the point of a signed agreement, contingent on funding and other conditions.

Since then Goudreau has made public part of what he says is a contract with Guaido agreed last October for $213m, but Guiado’s aides have described it as a “false document” that the opposition leader never signed.

Top aide JJ Rendon however later told the Financial Times that there was a preliminary contract that he signed but Guaido had not. He also said that a 42-page annex to the contract raised the idea of capturing members of the regime and bringing them to justice, presumably including Maduro himself.

Goudreau however failed to fulfil even the basic requirements of the agreement and began to behave erratically the opposition group claims, asking them for a $1.5 million retainer and giving rise to doubts that he could pull off the operation.

Within “six to seven days tops” the Guaido team abandoned the plan insists JJ Rendon, but Goudreau seemingly decided to go ahead anyway, organising the operation on a “shoestring budget” and insisting that he did so despite Guaido failing to pay him because he was a “freedom fighter”.

Just where the truth lies in this whole murky affair perhaps only time will tell. For now Airan Berry and Luke Denman the two Americans captured are languishing in a Venezuelan prison. Goudreau meanwhile appears to have gone to ground.

Were it not for the deaths involved and the serious diplomatic repercussions for already tense relations between Washington and Caracas, Operation Gideon would simply be seen for the farce that it is.

If there are any winners in all of this so far, it is president Maduro, who now has yet more political ammunition to aim at his most despised adversaries: the Venezuelan opposition. Maduro, like others, will point the finger at the CIA, long associated with plots and schemes of this kind in Latin America and elsewhere.

But such was the amateurish and ill-advised nature of this operation some say it’s hard to imagine the spy agency’s hand in this. Reports have even surfaced that the CIA attempted to convince the mercenaries not to go ahead with their plan, but then again, it would not be the first time the CIA has made a botch of a covert operation.

The Macuto Bay Raid, as it’s now been dubbed, was no Bay of Pigs, but it’s still a disaster of sorts for the US. And as one American colleague rightly pointed out the other day: “It’s one helluva story.”