Two of the most persistent offensives of the Reagan presidency have been the war against communism in Central America and the war on drugs here at home.
But investigations of America's secret war in Nicaragua have revealed mounting evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency has been fighting the Contra war with the help of international drug traffickers.
It is not a new story.
Tonight's FRONTLINE investigation traces the CIA's involvement with drug lords back to the agency's birth following World War II. It is a long history that asks this question: "In the war on drugs, which side is the CIA on?"
Our program was produced by Leslie and Andrew Cockburn. It is called Guns, Drugs, and the CIA and is reported by Leslie Cockburn. Ronald Reagan: Illegal drugs are one thing that no community in America can, should, or needs to tolerate. America's already started to take that message to heart. That's why I believe the tide of battle has turned and we're beginning to win the crusade for a drug-free America. U.S. Senator John Kerry: The subcommittee on narcotics, terrorism, international operations will come to order. From what we have learned these past months, our declaration on war against drugs seems to have produced a war of words and not action. Our drugs seem to have produced a war of words and not action. Our borders are inundated with more narcotics than in anytime ever before. It seems as though stopping drug trafficking in the United States has been a secondary U.S. foreign policy objective, sacrificed repeatedly for other political and institutional goals such as changing the government of Nicaragua, supporting the government of Panama, using drug-running organizations as intelligence assets, and protecting military and intelligence sources from possible compromise through involvement in drug trafficking. RAMON MILIAN RODRIGUEZ, Government Witness If we start with the premise that drug trafficking is morally reprehensible, our government agencies are not supposed to do anything like that, but they live in a practical world. SUBCOMMITTEE HEARINGS John Kerry: Would you raise your right hand please. NARRATOR Ramon Milian Rodriguez saw that world as the chief accountant of the Colombian cocaine cartel responsible for managing eleven billion dollars in drug profits. Now serving a forty-three year sentence for money laundering, he has been a key witness for a senate investigation probing links between drugs and the CIA. RAMON MILIAN RODRIGUEZ Say for instance, the drug group was involved in a war with a terrorist group, a communist terrorist group, well, it would behove the CIA to give that drug group as much help and advice as possible so they could win their little war. VICTOR MARCHETTI The history of the CIA runs parallel to criminal and drug operations throughout the world, but it's coincidental. NARRATOR Victor Marchetti came to know the world of covert operations as a long time CIA officer. He is the highest ranking agency official ever to go public about what he learned. VICTOR MARCHETTI, Central Intelligence Agency It goes all the way back to the predecessor organization OSS and its involvement with the Italian mafia, the Cosa Nostra in Sicily and Southern Italy. Later on when they were fighting communists in France and--that they got in tight with the Corsican brotherhood. The Corsican brotherhood of course were big dope dealers. As things changed in the world the CIA got involved with the Kuomintang types in Burma who were drug runners because they were resisting the drift towards communism there. The same thing happened in Southeast Asia, later in Latin America. Some of the very people who are the best sources of information, who are capable of accomplishing things and the like happen to be the criminal element. WILLIAM COLBY, Former Director, CIA CIA has had a solid rule against being involved in drug trafficking. That's not to say that some of the people who CIA has used or been in touch with over the years may well have themselves been involved in drug traffic, but not the CIA. RAMON MILIAN RODRIGUEZ If the CIA is going to, if their job is to maintain the safety of our country and freedom by manipulating foreign powers to do what this country wants, and if the guy who's holding the power at that particular moment happens to be a drug lord, then you have to get involved with the drug lord. VICTOR MARCHETTI As a result, we kept getting involved with these kinds of people, not for drug purposes and not for personal gain but to achieve a higher ideological goal. NARRATOR In a refugee camp in Northeast Thailand, there live the remnants of one such involvement. They are the Hmong or Meo Tribe. While American troops were fighting in Vietnam, these people were the foot soldiers of a secret CIA army. They fought in undeclared war in Northern Laos, across the border from North Vietnam. GENERAL RICHARD SECORD They're hill people, they're little guys. Like most hill people they're pretty fierce. In Laos we were the guerrillas. The war in Laos was a textbook example of what can be done in unconventional warfare. NARRATOR General Richard Secord is one of the many veterans of the CIA secret war in Laos. Because Laos was officially neutral, American troops could not be used. The CIA relied on massive air power and a tribal army to fight the local communists and the North Vietnamese.
On the ground in Northern Laos, a handful of CIA officers directed as many as eighty-five thousand soldiers drawn from the mountain tribes. But American officials did more than just send their allies into battle. RON RICKENBACH, Former Official, U.S. Agency for International Development Early on, I think that we all believed that what we were doing was in the best interests of America, that we were in fact perhaps involved in some not so desirable aspects of the drug traffic, however we believed strongly in the beginning that we were there for a just cause. NARRATOR Ron Rickenbach served in Laos as an official for the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1962 to 1969. He was on the front lines. RON RICKENBACH These people were willing to take up arms. We needed to stop the Red threat and people believed that in that vein we made, you know, certain compromises or certain trade-offs for a larger good. Growing opium was a natural agricultural enterprise for these people and they had been doing it for many years before the Americans ever got there. When we got there they continued to do so. RICHARD SECORD When they would move from one place to another they would carry their little bags of opium, they smoked it in pipes. And opium could be bought in the streets of any village. FRED PLATT, Former Pilot, Laos When a farmer raised a crop of opium, what he got for his year's worth of work was the equivalent of thirty-five to forty U.S. dollars. That amount of opium, were it refined into morphine base, then into morphine, then into heroin and appeared on the streets of New York, that thirty-five dollar crop of opium would be worth fifty, sixty, a hundred thousand dollars in 1969 dollars--maybe a million dollars today. NARRATOR The war isolated the Meo tribespeople in their remote villages. CIA-owned Air America planes became their only life line to the outside world. While Meo children came to believe that rice fell from the sky, Meo farmer witnesses could count on Air America to move their cash crop. RON RICKENBACH It was then the presence of these air support services in and out of the areas in question where the product, where the opium was grown that greatly facilitated an increase in production and an ease of transhipment from the point of agriculture to the point of processing. So, when I say the Americans greased the wheels, essentially what I'm saying is we did not create opium production. We did not create a situation where drug trafficking was happening. But because of the nature of our presence, this very intense American means that was made available to the situation it accelerated in proportion dramatically. NARRATOR The possibility that Air America flew drugs is still hotly disputed by many former senior officers. RICHARD SECORD You can question any number of people who were there, who actually were there, not people who claim that they had some knowledge of rumors, you can question any number of people and I venture to say they will all support what I'm saying, and that is that there was no commercial trade in opium going on. RON RICKENBACH I was on the airstrip, that was my job, to move in and about and to go from place to place and my people were in charge of dispatching aircraft. I was in the areas where opium was transshipped, I personally was a witness to opium being placed on aircraft, American aircraft. I witnessed it being taken off smaller aircraft that were coming in from outlying sites. NEIL HANSEN, Former Pilot, Air America Yes I've seen the sticky bricks come on board and no one was challenging their right to carry it. It was their own property. NARRATOR Neil Hansen is a former senior Air America pilot, now serving a sentence for smuggling cocaine. NEIL HANSEN We were some sort of a freebie airline in some respects there, whoever the customer or the local representative put on the airplane we flew.
Primarily it was transported on our smaller aircraft, the Helios, the Porters and the things like that would visit the little outlying villages. They would send their opium to market. NARRATOR From the villages, the planes carried their cargo over the mountains to Long Chien, CIA headquarters for the war. It was a secret city. Unmarked on any map and carefully hidden from outsiders, Long Chien became one of the busiest airports in the world, with hundreds of landings and takeoffs a day. ED DEARBORN, Former Pilot, Air America At the height of the war when there were thousands of people in there, there were villages all over, there were landing pads up on what we called Skyline drive which was the ridge on the north side of Long Chien. T-28s were going in and out of there, C-130s were going in and out of there. It was an amazing place, just amazing. NARRATOR Ed Dearborn is a veteran of Long Chien and Air America. A key figure in the covert air operation. ED DEARBORN From a sleepy little valley and village you know, surrounded by the mountains and the karst, this great war machine actually was working up there.
It was the heart and pulse of Laos at that time, more commonly referred to as the CIA's secret base you now, heh heh heh. NARRATOR To lead their Meo army, the CIA selected Vang Pao, a former lieutenant in the French colonial army in Laos. The agency made very effort to boost his reputation.
CIA FILM Speaker: His name was Vang Pao, a charismatic, passionate and committed man. A patriot without a country. NARRATOR Vang Pao, however, did more than just lead his people in war. According to observers he and his officers dominated the trade in the Meo farmers' cash crop. In 1968, one visitor got a first-hand look at this trade in the village called Long Pot. JOHN EVERINGHAM, Photographer I was given the guest bed in the village, in fact the district headman's house, and I ended up sharing it with a guy in military uniform who I later found out was an officer of the Vang Pao army and one morning I was awoken very early by this great confusion of people and noise at the bottom of the bed, just, literally people brushing against my feet with the packets of black sticky substance in bamboo tubes and wrapped up in leaves and bits and things and the military officer who was there was weighing it out and paying off a considerable amount of money to these people and this went on for most of the morning and it went on for several mornings he brought up a great deal of this substance which I then started to think about and asked and had it confirmed that this was in fact raw opium. NARRATOR War photographer John Everingham has lived in Southeast Asia for over twenty years. He was one of the very few outsiders who dared to look for and photograph the secret army for himself. John Everingham: They all wore American supplied uniforms and the villagers very innocently and very openly told me, "oh they took it to Long Chien," and I asked them how they took it and they said, "oh well they took it on the helicopters as everything else that went to and from Long Chien went by helicopter and so did the opium." Frontline: And whose helicopters were they? John Everingham: Well they were the Air America helicopters which were on contract to the CIA. NEIL HANSEN We did not go down to the embassy and be privy to their secret briefings or anything else. We flew the airplanes. If they put something on the airplanes and told you not to look at it you didn't look at it, because you'd no longer be employed. JOHN EVERINGHAM I know as a fact soon after the army was formed the military officers soon got control of the opium trade. It helped not only them make a lot of money and become good loyal officers to the CIA but it helped the villagers. The villagers needed their opium carried out and carried over the land in a war situation that was much more dangerous and more difficult, and the officers were obviously paying a good price 'cos the villagers were very eager to sell to the military people. HARRY ADERHOLT, U.S. General That's hogwash. No way and as far as the agency ever, ever advocating that is do you think I would be in an organization where I've devoted my life to my country--involved in a operation like that without blowing the whistle?--absolutely not.
NARRATOR For veterans like General Aderholt and General Secord the war in Laos is now commemorated at nostalgic reunions. Last fall they gathered at a Florida air base to talk over old times and current business.
While Vang Pao does not attend such functions, he is well remembered by his old comrades. Frontline: Was the agency responsible for people's salaries, were they paying Vang Pao? Harry Aderholt: Of course, they were a hundred percent responsible, because Vang Pao was responding to agency requirements, even though they may have come from the highest levels of the U.S. government, yes, of course. Frontline: He was in the chain of command. Harry Aderholt: Yes. Frontline: Did you work with Vang Pao? Richard Secord: Sure, all the time. Frontline: What was your relationship? Richard Secord: I was his supplier of air, therefore he stayed in close contact with me. Frontline: Were you in charge of supplying Air America planes? Richard Secord: For the tactical air operations, yes. NARRATOR The movement of Air America planes say witnesses were influenced by Vang Pao's business requirements. Ron Rickenbach: Vang Pao wanted control of the aircraft-- sure, he would do the work that needed to be done but it would give that much more freedom and that much more flexibility to use these aircraft to go out and pick up the opium that needed to be picked up at this site or that site and to bring it back to Long Chien, and there was quite a hassle and Vang Pao won. Not only did he get control of the aircraft, but there was also a question of the operational control of the airplanes that were leaving Long Chien to go south, even into Thailand, and there was an embarrassing situation where the Americans knew that this could be exposed and it would be a very compromising situation. The way they got around that was to concede, to create for Vang Pao his own local airline, and Xieng Kouang airlines came into reality as a direct result of this compromise that was worked out, and they brought in a C-47 from the states and they painted it up nice and put Xieng Kouang airlines on it and they gave it to Vang Pao, and that aircraft was largely used for the transshipment of opium from Long Chien to sites further south. Frontline: Air Opium? Ron Rickenbach: Air opium. Harry Aderholt: Those airlines didn't really belong to General Vang Pao. Frontline: They belonged to the agency. Harry Aderholt: They belonged to the agency. They were maintained by the United States government in the form of Air America or Continental, so they didn't really own anything. It wasn't something he could take away with him, it was something that we controlled every iota of that operation, lock, stock and barrel. Frontline: You know what the nickname for that airline was? Richard Secord: No. Frontline: Opium Air. Richard Secord: I've never heard that before. NARRATOR Back in the old days the men who flew for Air America and drank in the Purple Porpoise Bar in Vientiane were less discreet.
Most of them are long gone and far away from Laos now but one legendary CIA officer still lives across the Mekong River close to his old mountain battleground. RON RICKENBACH The man that was in charge of that local operation was a man by the name of Tony Poe, and he was notorious. He had been involved with the agency from the OSS days he was a World War II combat veteran and he had been with the agency from its inception and he was the prototype operations officer. They made a movie about him when they made Apocalypses Now. He was the caricature of Marlon Brando. NARRATOR Until now, Tony Poe has never talked publicly about the Laos operation. He saw it from beginning to end. one of Vang Pao's early case officers, Poe claims he was transferred from Long Chien because unlike his successors, he refused to tolerate the Meo leader's corruption. TONY POE, Former CIA Officer You don't let him run loose without a chain on him. You gotta control him just like any kind of an animal or a baby. You have to control him. Hey! He's the only guy that had a pair of shoes when I first met him--what are you talking about, why does he need Mercedes Benz, apartments and hotels and homes where he never had them in his life before. Why are you going to give it to him? Frontline: Plus he was making money on the side with his business? Tony Poe: Oh, he was making millions, 'cos he had his own source of, uh, avenue for his own, uh, heroin. Frontline: What did he do with the money? Tony Poe: What do you mean? U.S. bank accounts, Switzerland, wherever. Frontline: Didn't they know, when Vang Pao said 'I want some aircraft', didn't they know what he wanted that for? Tony Poe: I'm sure we all knew it, but we tried to monitor it, because we controlled most of the pilots you see. We're giving him freedom of navigation into Thailand, into the bases, and we don't want him to get involved in moving, you know, this illicit traffic--O.K., silver bars and gold, O.K., but not heroin. What they would do is, they weren't going into Thailand, they were flying it in a big wet wing airplane that could fly for thirteen hours, a DC-3, and all the wings were filled with gas. They fly down to Pakse, then they fly over to Da Nang, and then the number two guy to President Thieu would receive it. NARRATOR Nguyen Van Thieu was president of South Vietnam from 1967 to 1975. Reports at the time accused president Thieu of financing his election through the heroin trade. Like Vang Pao, he always denied it, remaining America's honored and indispensable ally. Tony Poe: They were all in a contractual relationship:Some of this goes to me, some of this goes to thee. And you know just the bookkeeping--we deliver you on a certain day; they had coded messages and di-di-di. That means so and so as this much comes back and goes into our Swiss bank account. Oh they had a wonderful relationship and every, maybe, six months they'd all come together, have a party somewhere and talk about their business:is it good or bad. It is like a mafia, yeah, a big organized mafia. NARRATOR By the end of 1970, there were thirty thousand Americans in Vietnam addicted to heroin. GI's were dying from overdoses at the rate of two a day. WILLIAM COLBY When the drug traffic became a real problem to the American troops in Vietnam, then the CIA was asked by President to get involved in the program to limit that traffic and stop it. NARRATOR But in 1972, a U.S. intelligence agent in Southeast Asia sent a secret field report to customs. It suggested a serious conflict of interest: quote--"It was ironic that the CIA should be given the responsibility of narcotics intelligence, particularly since they were supporting the prime movers. Even though the CIA was, in fact, facilitating the movement of opiates to the U.S., they steadfastly hid behind the shield of secrecy and said that all was done in the interest of national security." End quote. VICTOR MARCHETTI I doubt that they had any strong deep understanding of what they were allowing to happen by turning their head the other way and letting Vang Pao ship his dope out which was made into heroin which was going to our troops, which was corrupting people throughout Southeast Asia and back here, the effect it had on crime, I doubt that any one of them really thought in those terms at the time. NARRATOR While the heroin trade was flourishing by 1970, the war in Laos was going badly. As the communists steadily advanced, the civilian population faced a choice between evacuation to refugee camps or being bombed by the U.S. Air Force. These operations only added to the huge cost of feeding, training and supplying the secret army. For a war that did not officially exist, the CIA was spending heavily. Harry Aderholt: The money was always there. We had a program--In fact, that's the reason the agency supply system was so much better than the military supply system. Frontline: Cash? Harry Aderholt: Cash. They didn't have to go through a procurement system, a bureaucracy, that made everything cost three times as much. Fred Platt: On two different occasions I brought bags up that I knew was payroll. Wish I'd have crashed on those times, and been able to stick that somewhere in the jungle and go get it, 'cos it was unaccounted funds. Frontline: How much money would be in a bag? Fred Platt: Well I--you know, a bag would probably have a couple of hundred thousand dollars in it, depending on where you were going with it and who it was going to. VICTOR MARCHETTI I was sitting up there in the Director's--on the Director's staff, and that's where it all came together. NARRATOR The CIA Director's senior staff prepared the agency's official budget. Victor Marchetti: For Laos, I think it was around thirty million, perhaps forty million, but it was very small. Frontline: Was that enough to run this war? Victor Marchetti: Well, I don't think so. I would think the war was costing quite a big, probably--if all the costs were pulled together, I would imagine it would probably cost as much as the entire agency's budget. Frontline: How was the war in Laos financed? Richard Secord: U.S. appropriated funds. Frontline: Through which agency? Richard Secord: I think through the CIA and through the Defense Department both. NARRATOR A secret Pentagon report put the Defense Department contribution to the war in Laos at a hundred and forty-six million dollars in 1970. But the report also showed that the CIA was spending up to sixty million dollars more than they were getting from Congress. Victor Marchetti: Well, there may have been other funds generated by Vang Pao himself through his dope operations. After all I mean they were poppy growers and opium smugglers, so I imagine there was money being earned that way that was Vang Pao's contribution to the war. Frontline: Is it conceivable that the CIA would fight a war with dope money? Victor Marchetti: Well, yes, in the sense that they would not sell dope to earn money to support an operation. But they would look the other way if the people they were supporting were financing themselves by selling dope. Harry Aderholt: General Vang Pao was financed by U.S. government funds. Frontline: How much was he getting? Harry Aderholt: I don't know what General Vang Pao was getting, but the Meo program, I'm sure, ran several hundred million dollars. At the end, to fight a war like we were fighting, and to have an airline...I don't know what the funding was, but I'm sure the Congressional Committees have access to those records. NARRATOR As a former chief counsel for the House Select Committee on Narcotics, Joe Nellis did indeed have access to the records. Joe Nellis: Vang Pao had a heavy hand in the production of heroin in that area. Frontline: How much of the money that was going to pay these thousands and thousands of tribesmen to fight for us, for the CIA. Where was that money coming from? Joe Nellis: From the trade. Frontline: From the opium trade? Joe Nellis: Yes surely. Frontline: How would that work? Joe Nellis: Well, money would be paid for the transportation, and the safe arrival of the merchandise to its proper destination, and that money would be paid to the carrier, the person transporting the merchandise and that money would be used to pay off the farmers. But as I told you, they got so little of it that there was an enormous amount left over, and it was that money was used to feed to the peasants in order to get them to continue not only fighting for us but also continuing to give us very important intelligence about the movement of the North Vietnamese. Richard Secord: We wouldn't have permitted it, it would have been too dangerous.
Frontline: Why? Richard Secord: Because the American system wouldn't put up with it. Joe Nellis: I have never revealed any classified information that I obtained when I was with the committee and I'm not going to start now, but I do know that that was verified. Frontline: That it was known here? Joe Nellis: Yes. Frontline: Well, without getting into classified information, was that at a high level or a low level? Joe Nellis: Well, I can't discuss the level. Let's put it this way; you're familiar with the Iran-Contra business. Frontline: Yes. Joe Nellis: That was known at a very high level, it was known at all sorts of levels really--it's amazing that they could keep it secret as long as they did, and I guess that was the situation with Air America. People in CIA certainly knew it, and at that time Dick Helms I think was the head of the office, and I'm sure he must have reported it to Nixon. NARRATOR Former CIA Director Richard Helms told us: "I knew nothing of this. It certainly was not policy." RICHARD SECORD It's patently impossible. There are thousands of people involved in the intelligence community in the United States who read the reports, who are intimately familiar with details of field activities, and no such operation could ever be kept secret from the authorities in Washington, and would never be tolerated, never, not for a minute. Frontline: How many people knew what was going on? Joe Nellis: Oh I don't think it was very many at all-- Frontline: Five? Joe Nellis: --A handful-- Frontline: Ten? Joe Nellis: --A handful, maybe a hundred. RON RICKENBACH I personally did not complain, not at the time. I certainly complained after the fact, but that came as a result of my own awakening as to the rather horrible implications of what we were doing and I left working for the government rather abortively because I just could not tolerate myself-what was going on. NARRATOR His disgust was not only at the drug trade, but at the human cost of a war in which the recruits were as young as eight years old. RON RICKENBACH These people were absolutely decimated. The war itself took its own toll. Thousands and thousands of these people were either maimed or killed or died of disease or malnutrition secondary to the effects of the war. Many were bombed, many were blown away by conflict and combat. What was left after the war was the exodus to the south or to the west.
These people have had their whole life destroyed for helping out in our war. For helping out in our war. NARRATOR By 1981, six years after leaving Laos, the CIA was fighting another secret war, this time in Central America. The secret army were the Contras, fighting to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua. Once again, they were trained and equipped by the CIA. It was time for the old hands to go to work again. Richard Secord: It's an irregular war in Central American, and there aren't a lot of people who have experience in irregular warfare, paramilitary warfare, so it would be natural to see people who are experienced in this kind of operation utilized again. ED DEARBORN It's the old boy network as somebody called it one time. The call goes out and who's got the experience? It's the same war, different place and different names. We're not speaking Laotian, we're speaking Spanish now, but it's the same darn war, I don't care what anybody says. NARRATOR Eugene Hasenfus was just one of a number of veterans from Laos who answered the call in Central America. When his plane was shot down over Nicaragua in October 1986, an Air America handbook turned up in the wreckage. Hasenfus had operated out of the Illopango Airbase in El Salvador, headquarters for the White House Contra resupply network. His commander there had been a veteran of another old CIA network. Felix Rodriguez, a Cuban American, had been sent down from Miami. FELIX RODRIGUEZ The feeling that I see now in the Nicaraguan freedom fighters, I know their experience, because I was left inside once, and I wanted to help them as much as I could. NARRATOR Like Rodriguez, the Miami Cubans of Brigade 2506 are still ready to support the anti-communist cause, thirty years after their failed invasion of Cuba. They were willing recruits for the CIA's war against Nicaragua. The Brigade supplied soldiers in the field, commanders and fundraisers for the Contra cause.
The Brigade had been created and trained by the CIA for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. After their defeat the CIA continued to maintain and use this skilled force of covert operators, wherever they were needed. Their numbers grew into the thousands. They had their own navy, as well as other assets provided by the CIA, including businesses and banks. Manuel Artime: I was in charge... NARRATOR Manuel Artime was the agency's favorite Cuban, handpicked to command both the Bay of Pigs and the covert operations that followed. In 1972, he recruited and arranged CIA training for a brilliant young accountant called Ramon Milian Rodriguez. Ramon Milian Rodriguez: He ran covert operations out of Miami for the CIA. Frontline: So Artime had a whole group of people who were his people? Milian Rodriguez: Oh yes, Artime ran a very large operation, it was very large. It was very active, all over Central and South America. Manuel Artime: A lot of Cubans go to work with the Central Intelligence Agency in foreign operations. Milian Rodriguez: He was in charge of, among other things, the Watergate burglars and things like that. Frontline: Did you launder any money for the Watergate guys? Milian Rodriguez: I made payments for the Watergate burglars, yes. I start out in life in one scandal and I've ended it in another, it seems. After Watergate, the group that Manuel Artime was running in Miami was disbanded. The fact that the burglars were Cuban really hurt in Miami, so you had a situation where people were laid off. They were just given the assets. For instance, if you were running a print shop, you kept the print shop. If you had a boat, as there were many boats for surveillance and intelligence, you just kept the boat. That was really the starting off point where you got some well trained people into the drug business. RICHARD SECORD Many, many Cubans worked for a time in that time. Some of them have become very successful good American citizens. Others have become gangsters. NARRATOR But with a secret Contra was to fight, the agency was more interested in covert skills than good citizenship, particularly when it came to raising money. Ramon Milian Rodriguez was ideally placed. With access to the limitless resources of the Medellin cocaine cartel, he had no problem raising cash. SUBCOMMITTEE HEARINGS John Kerry: You've been a supporter living in the Cuban community, passionately anti-communist and anti-Castro. You've also been a supporter of the Contras. Is that accurate? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Yes sir. John Kerry: Are you aware whether or not narcotics proceeds at some time may or may not have supported Contra efforts? Milian Rodriguez: Yes sir. Narcotics proceeds were used to shore up the Contra effort. John Kerry: Did you personally play a role in some of the transfer of that money? Milian Rodriguez: Yes I did. NARRATOR In 1984, when Congress cut off Contra funding, the White House turned to other sources for support. According to documents, Ramon Milian Rodriguez had been laundering foreign payments for the CIA up through 1982, at the same time as he was laundering cash for the cocaine cartel. He says the CIA turned to him again. MILIAN RODRIGUEZ To have people like me in place that can be used, is marvelous for them. The agency, and quite rightly so, has things that they have to do which they can never admit to an oversight committee, all right, and the only way they can fund these things is through drug money or through illicit money that they can get their hands on in some way. KERRY HEARINGS John Kerry (in hearings): Was any of the money traceable to drugs or to drug related transactions? Milian Rodriguez: The money that we--you're taIking about the money that we provided? John Kerry: That's right. Milian Rodriguez: No sir. John Kerry: And why was that? Milian Rodriguez: Because we're experts at what we do. JOSE BLANDON Frontline: Who is Ramon Milian Rodriguez? Jose Blandon: He worked for the Cartel. Frontline: So he was laundering money for the cartel? Jose Blandon: Yes. Frontline: And he worked with Noriega? Jose Blandon: Yes. NARRATOR Until last year, Jose Blandon was General Manuel Noriega's head of political intelligence in Panama. He was a key U.S. government witness for the grand jury that indicted Noriega for drug trafficking.
General Noriega was more than ready to support the Reagan administration in the Contra war after Congress cut off funding. Frontline: How important was Noriega to the White House in the Contra resupply effort? Jose Blandon: He play a key role in the supply of arms to the Contras. Frontline: So when various administration officials like Oliver North met with General Noriega, did they know that he was involved in narcotics trafficking? Jose Blandon: I think that the United States had information that Noriega is involved in drugs since at least eight years. Frontline: Eight years? Jose Blandon: Yes, so they knew about that. Frontline: Were they just looking the other way on his drug trafficking? Jose Blandon: The problem is that for the white House, I mean for the administration, the Reagan administration, Nicaragua was so important. The focus of all the foreign policy of the United States in Central America was Nicaragua and the fight against the communists, so for them drugs was something in second place. Frontline: Drugs took second place? Jose Blandon: Yes. NARRATOR Noriega's Contra support earned him powerful friends in Washington, including the CIA Director William Casey. Noriega was on his payroll at a reported two hundred thousand dollars a year. Jose Blandon: That was a very special relationship. Frontline: What kind of special relationship? Jose Blandon: Well, Noriega talked with Casey and they had at least, that I know, more than three meetings. And he always received the support of Casey. Frontline: What kind of support from Casey? Jose Blandon: All kinds of support. Political support. So when somebody tried to investigate anything, Casey stopped it, look this is a very important person in this war Frontline: So Casey would actually stop investigations of Noriega? Jose Blandon: Yes, he was a man that helped Noriega very much. NARRATOR According to Blandon, Noriega was not the only drug trafficker to reap the rewards of Contra support. The cocaine cartel also saw the advantages of backing U.S. policy. Jose Blandon: That's the reason why the Cartel of Medellin decided in 1983 to cooperate with the Contras. Frontline: So you're saying that in 1983 the Cartel started supporting the Contras? Jose Blandon: Yes. Frontline: And the reason was because they knew that they could therefore get protection? Jose Blandon: Yes. Frontline: How did they help them out? Was it arms, plus cash, or was it jut arms? How did that work? Jose Blandon: They work in different ways. First, they established the network to supply arms, and also they pay in cash.
SUBCOMMITTEE HEARINGS General Paul Gorman: If one wants to organize an armed resistance or an armed undertaking for any purpose; the easy place to get the money, the easy places to get the guns are in the drug world. NARRATOR General Paul Gorman was the commander of the U.S. southern command, based in Panama, from 1982 to 1985. PAUL GORMAN The most ready source of money, big money, easy money, fast money, sure money, cash money is the narcotics racket. NARRATOR General Gorman was asked whether the Contras could have relied on drug cash.
SUBCOMMITTEE HEARINGS John Kerry: Based on your knowledge of how it works and what you understood from your experience down there, it wouldn't surprise you? Paul Gorman: Not at all, particularly if they'd been on somebody's payroll and had their funds cut off. It would be the natural recourse of those people. Frontline: How much money was actually contributed by you or through you for the Contras, total? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: It was a little under ten million dollars. Frontline: I presume it wasn't all sent in one suitcase. Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Oh no no. It was delivered on a per need basis. You know, they'd say we need so much at such a location and we'd take care of the logistics of it. NARRATOR Milian Rodriguez says he used a series of Cuban controlled front companies in Miami and Costa Rica to funnel the ten million dollars to the Contra cause. These fronts ranged from banks to obscure fish companies located in out of the way Miami shopping centers or in provincial port towns in Costa Rica. The route for the drug cash was carefully disguised.
SUBCOMMITTEE HEARINGS John Kerry: Are you familiar with the name of a company called Frigirificos de Puntarenas. Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Yes sir, I am. John Kerry: What is that company? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Well it's a shrimp processing warehouse, but more importantly, was one of the fronts that we used. John Kerry: Did you set it up? What role did you play in it? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: I was the key person in setting up the interlocking chain of companies around Frigorificos de Puntarenas. John Kerry: Were payments or arrangements made by which the Contras could receive money through Frigorificos? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Yes sir. Ramon Milian Rodriguez: If you add up what it cost to run the Contra operation and you get to a bottom line figure, and you deduct from that the known sources, you're going to have a tremendous deficit and I think the question has to be where...you know, how was the deficit taken care of? Frontline: There was a deficit? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Yes. Frontline: they realized that. Ramon Milian Rodriguez: And we took care of it.
IRAN CONTRA HEARINGS Congressman Les Aspin: I've been spending some time looking at the numbers here of the amount of aid that the Contras were getting at various time and I come to the conclusion that we're missing something, that there's got to be another source of funding for the Contras other than those which this committee has so far identified. NARRATOR Last summer, the Iran Contra committees were aware that there had been an unacknowledged source of money from somewhere. Congressman Aspin: I think there's got to be some other source of funds that we, we meaning this committee has not yet uncovered. Admiral Poindexter: Well I don't think I can help you there, I don't know of anything else. Frontline: The war cost so much every day. Richard Secord: Uh-huh. Frontline: They were getting a certain amount, thanks to you, through Switzerland. Richard Secord: Any many others, yes. Frontline: And many others. But the war cost more than that. Richard Secord: Uh-huh. Frontline: Do you have any idea how much more it cost? Richard Secord: Well I think, uh--Director Casey asked me that, a similar question in the spring of '86 I think it was an I told him that I thought that the Contra effort would need a minimum of ten million dollars over the next three months over and above the monies that we could apply in order to hang in there through the summer months til the Congress would act. There was some expectation in the White House I guess, and in State, that the Congress would act much sooner than they acted. Things were going downhill rapidly.
SUBCOMMITTEE HEARINGS Senator D'Amato: Did the people who received this money, were they aware of the fact that this was drug money, the proceeds came from drug money? Ramon Milian Rodriguez I--let's put it like this, Senator D'Amato, the Contra peasant in the field did not but the men who made the contact with me did. At that time I was under indictment, I mean I was red hot. NARRATOR His arrest was well publicized. The five million dollars seized with him brought Vice President Bush to Miami to pose with what the money launderer termed his petty cash. Frontline: Did Ramon Milian Rodriguez have any friends who were working in the Contra resupply network? Jose Blandon: Yes. Frontline: Who would that have been? Jose Blandon: Felix Rodriguez. Frontline: Felix Rodriguez? Jose Blandon: Yes. NARRATOR A veteran of the Artime organization and the CIA, Felix Rodriguez was a key member of the White House resupply network. The Senate was told by the money launderer that it was Felix Rodriguez who solicited the drug cash. RAMON MILIAN RODRIGUEZ You have a fellow that's a tremendous patriot, like Felix Rodriguez, who has sacrificed his personal needs for the cause of fighting communism and all of a sudden he finds himself in a position where his troops are going to run out of money. They won't have money for bullets, for food, for medicine. I think in the case of Felix it might have been something done out of desperation, they had to get money and they were willing to get it from any source to continue their war. Richard Secord: When they go on the offense they burn up a lot of ammunition, weapons, they need a lot of air resupply, radios, uniforms, boots, food, and all this stuff. You know, the cost just goes up. Frontline: Well there were allegations that Felix Rodriguez was desperately trying to make up that deficit. Richard Secord: If he was it certainly didn't come to our attention. Frontline: So you have no knowledge of it? Richard Secord: No, not at all. Frontline: Well the allegations are that he tried to make up the deficit by soliciting money from drug traffickers. Richard Secord: Well I thought you were circling back to that but certainly we didn't hear anything like that at the time. As I said Felix is no friend of mine but I'd be astonished if he were involved with drug traffickers, I really would. Frontline: When General Noriega told you that Felix Rodriguez was friendly with Ramon Milian Rodriguez, were you surprised to hear that Felix Rodriguez would be involved with a drug traffickers? Jose Blandon: Surprised? Why? NARRATOR According to Blandon, while Felix Rodriguez was supplying the Contras from Illopango, he was receiving arms shipments with the help of this man: Mike Harare, a former Israeli intelligence agent and a key aide to General Noriega. Harare, says Blandon, was also in business for the cocaine cartel, using the same network to ship arms and drugs, all with the sanction of the CIA. Frontline: Did he get involved with narcotics trafficking in the course of helping to supply the Contras with weapons? Jose Blandon: Yes, that was part of the business. Frontline: So he was moving cocaine -- Jose Blandon: --Yes-- Frontline: --From Colombia to the United States? Jose Blandon: No. They moved the cocaine from Colombia to Panama, to the airstrips in Costa Rica or Honduras to the United States. Frontline: At the same time as he was gathering up arms for the Contras? Jose Blandon: Yes. Frontline: Where were the arms coming from? Jose Blandon: From Yugoslavia, and from the East bloc, the communist countries NARRATOR From 1983 to 1985, says Blandon, this network, supported by Israeli and U.S. intelligence was a major source of arms for the Contras. Frontline: Harare, the Israeli, who was working with Noriega, was working with Felix Rodriguez? Jose Blandon: Yes. Frontline: And Harare at the same time was involved with drug trafficking? Jose Blandon: Yes. Frontline: Who was Felix Rodriguez working for, or with, when he approached you? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Well the only government mention he made was Vice President Bush. Frontline: And what was his relationship with Bush as you understood it? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: He was reporting directly to Bush. I was led to believe he was reporting regularly to the Vice President. Richard Secord: He was in touch with the VP's office on a number of occasions. I really don't know, I've never understood that relationship. Ramon Milian Rodriguez: The request for the contribution made a lot more sense because Felix was reporting to George Bush. If Felix had come to me and said I'm reporting to anyone else, let's say, you know, Oliver North, I might have been more skeptical, I didn't know who Oliver North was and I didn't know his background. But you know, if you have a...let's say we'll call him an ex-CIA operative, even though it's not true you know, he's a current operative... Frontline: Who is? Ramon Milian Rodriguez: Felix. You know, everyone says he's ex-CIA-- Frontline: This is Felix Rodriguez-- Ramon Milian Rodriguez: --Yeah, there's nothing ex about him. But if you have a CIA, what you consider to be a CIA man coming to you saying 'I want to fight this war, we're out of funds, can you help us out. I'm reporting directly to Bush on it', I mean it's very real, very believable, here you have a CIA guy reporting to his old boss. NARRATOR This February 1985 memo from General Paul Gorman confirms that Bush and the Cuban had known each other for years, and that Rodriguez' primary responsibility was Nicaragua and the Contra FDN forces.
Rodriguez quote "is operating as a private citizen, but his acquaintanceship with the Vice President is real enough, going back to the latter's days as Director of Central Intelligence. Rodriguez' primary commitment to the region is in Nicaragua, where he wants to assist the FDN."
IRAN CONTRA HEARINGS Iran Contra investigator: Did you say anything to Vice President Bush about your activities on behalf of this resupply operation? Felix Rodriguez: No sir, not to him or anyone on his staff. NARRATOR But when Hasenfus was shot down, the first call that Rodriguez made from Central America was to a staffer of Vice President Bush. Questions about that call forced the Bush office to put out a summary, listing seventeen meetings with Rodriguez, including three with Bush himself. Nevertheless the Vice President has insisted that these contacts with Rodriguez concerned only El Salvador, not the Contras. Ramon Milian Rodriguez: He wasn't selling drugs. We were, you know, he was just raising money, tainted money granted, but for a very good cause. NARRATOR Felix Rodriguez claims he met with the cartel's money launderer only once, and never solicited cash.
SUBCOMMITTEE HEARINGS John Kerry: We permitted narcotics we were complicitous as a country in narcotics traffic at the same time as we're spending countless dollars in this country to try to get rid of this problem. It's mind boggling. Frontline: Is the war on drugs a big priority in this country, really? Joe Nellis: Oh no, no, it's largely a joke. There is no war on drugs. No president who's ever announced one has ever fought one, and no President who's ever announced one has ever given the soldiers the ammunition with which to fight one. Senator D'Amato: The intelligence agencies of this country by God should be involved in this battle instead of working with the scum of the earth, which they've been doing. They should be involved in this battle as a crusade for the survival of this country and this hemisphere. John Kerry: I don't know if we've got the worst intelligence system in the world, I don't know if we've got the best and they knew it all and just overlooked it. But no matter how you look at it, something's wrong. Something is really wrong out there. RAMON MILIAN RODRIGUEZ Now, you can deny U.S. government involvement in drugs all you wanted, but the patterns are there and the players are there popping up again and, you know, eventually somebody's going to realize what the truth is.
JUDY WOODRUFF This summer, both Ramon Milian Rodriguez and Felix Rodriguez are expected to testify publicly in front of Senator Kerry's committee about the drug cartel's alleged 10 million dollar contribution to the Contras.
Vice President Bush declined to be interviewed for this program or to reply to FRONTLINE's written questions about his relationship with Felix Rodriguez.
Thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. Good night.
June 9, 2005
By SAUL LANDAU
President George W. Bush has emphasized that if one of the myriad of U.S. police agencies even suspect someone of planning, abetting or carrying out a terrorist act, he will, at a minimum, get tossed into a dark hole. Indeed, Bush has thrown the Magna Carta into the garbage heap when it comes to Muslims suspected of pernicious thoughts toward the United States.But if suspected terrorists turn their rage toward the detested Fidel Castro, these rules don't apply.Indeed, those who try to bomb Cuban targets, or those related to Cuba, receive special treatment. This double-standard casts a shadow over the president's commitment to fight terrorism.For example, TV footage showed Homeland Security cops arresting Posada in mid May. But the arresting officers didn't even handcuff the Western Hemisphere's most notorious terrorist. (Remember how Bush's pal Ken "Kenny Boy" Lay ENRON's CEO got handcuffed?) Justice Department spokespeople said they plan to charge the foremost terrorist in the western hemisphere with "illegal entry into the United States."The FBI has reams of files on Posada, affectionately called "Bambi" by his terrorist friends. Former FBI Special Agent Carter Cornick told New York Times reporter Tim Weiner that Posada was "up to his eyeballs" in the October 1976 destruction of a Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados. All 73 passengers and crew members died. Recently published FBI and CIA documents not only confirm Cornick's statement, but also reveal that U.S. agencies had knowledge of the plot and did not inform Cuban authorities or try to stop the bombing.Posada denied involvement at the time, but police nabbed two of the plotters who had disembarked in Barbados. They fingered Posada as the man who hired them to place the bomb on the plane. His name became ubiquitous in the files of agencies that monitored terrorists. Nevertheless, several weeks after Posada announced his presence on U.S. soil, Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, still claimed he had no information that Posada had even entered the country.Posada himself promoted his high international profile. So that the world knew of his exploits, he boasted to New York Times reporters Anne Bardach and Larry Rohter in 1998 that he had organized a sabotage campaign of Cuban tourist spots. In 1997, one of Posada's agents in Cuba detonated a bomb at a Cuban hotel that killed an Italian tourist. Posada replied that "it was a freak accident, but I sleep like a baby." A hardened terrorist can't afford to be sentimental!In 1999, Panamanian police discovered that the 71-year-old Posada, between visits to his proctologist, conspired with three other anti-Castro geezers to assassinate Cuba's leader in Panama. Castro was to give a public speech there.This quartet of seniors, Guillermo Novo, Pedro Remon, Gaspar Jimenez andPosada, planned to blow up the platform from which Castro would speak. After Panamanian police arrested them, they denied any involvement. "What proof do they have?" sneered Posada et. al. a mere set of their fingerprints on the explosives found in their rented car.This March, Posada entered the U.S. surreptitiously. He left Panama less than a year after out-going Panamanian President Mireyea Moscoso pardoned him and his accomplices.Moscoso also apparently contravened Panamanian law by issuing the pardons before the appeals process had ended. The Panamanian press mused about the "coincidence" between the issuing of pardons and the simultaneous $4 million deposited in her Swiss bank account.After pardoning the geezers, Moscoso phoned U.S. Ambassador Simon Ferro, saying she had complied with Washington's request to release the men.On May 20, 2004, the four caught a waiting airplane that took them to Honduras. There, Posada, the veritable padrino of Latin American terrorism, disembarked while the other three continued to Miami so their arrival could coincide with President Bush's campaign stop. They entered the United States without problems, despite their terrorist rap sheets.Did Homeland Security personnel read Bush's November 26, 2001 declaration? "If anybody harbors a terrorist, they're a terrorist." Did Bush send a note to anti-terrorist agencies explaining that they should make exceptions for "zealous patriots" who wanted to assassinate Castro and anyone else who happened to be near him when the bomb went off?Indeed, all four pardoned Castro-haters had for decades tried to assassinate and commit sabotage against Cuban and other officials and properties in New York, Mexico and the Caribbean.A Washington D.C. jury had convicted Guillermo Novo first of conspiring to assassinate former Chilean Chancellor Orlando Letelier. When an appeals court reversed that conviction on procedural grounds, a second jury in 1982 found Novo guilty of perjury for lying to a grand jury about his knowledge of the assassination plot. In September 1976, five Cubans working with Chilean secret police agents on orders from Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet had car-bombed Letelier on Washington's Embassy Row.Ronni Moffitt, Letelier's young colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies, also died in the bombing. The FBI also knew that Posada had knowledge of the plot to kill Letelier.Born Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles in Cienfuegos, Cuba in 1928, this Cuban expatriate served on dictator Fulgencio Batista's repressive forces until the January 1959 revolutionary takeover. Posada then swore vengeance.The CIA recruited him for its 1961 invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. But the Agency placed Posada in an anti-Castro version of the Waffen SS, a squad that would "mop up" after the invaders had prevailed. Following the April fiasco, the CIA sent Posada for "training" at Fort Benning, Georgia, to learn about spying, using explosives and other lethal devices. In 1971, working out of Venezuela, he partnered with Antonio Veciana, founder of Alpha 66, another anti-Castro terrorist group, to plan an elaborate plot to assassinate Castro.In a 1996 interview, Veciana told me how he and Posada had recruited two Venezuelan hit men, disguised them as a TV news crew and sent them to Santiago, Chile, before Castro arrived on a visit. Meanwhile, the assassins "blended in" with the press corps. CIA technicians had outfitted their news camera with a gun. Fortunately for Fidel, the assassins chickened out. Posada, enraged over such cowardice, recruited other assassins to use the same lethal camera on Castro when he stopped in Caracas for a press conference on his return to Cuba. Those whackers also had second thoughts and the plot failed again.Perhaps Posada's frustration over the failed 1971 hits abated after the "success" of his 1976 Barbados air sabotage. After Venezuelan authorities charged him with responsibility for the airline bombing, they tossed him into prison while appeal after appeal took place until August 1985. Then, someone who knew and admired Posada perhaps Jorge Mas Canosa, leader of the Cuban American Nation Foundation in Miami, who is listed with a $50 note next to his name in Lt. Col. Oliver North's notebooks, published by the Iran-Contra Congressional subcommittees -- bribed prison authorities to help Posada "escape."Following his "escape," North then engaged this fugitive to re-supply the CIA-backed Contras from El Salvador. When the United States stopped funding the Contra War, with the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Posada returned to the bombing business. This time, he selected bombing hotels in Cuba, a strategic target that would impair Castro's foreign exchange source by making the island a dangerous spot for European tourists. Posada told Times reporters Bardach and Rohter that the money came from wealthy Cubans in Miami.Given Posada's own boasting and from the available evidence in published documents, the Justice Department had to either try him for terrorist acts or deport him to Venezuela, which has requested his extradition. He plotted the 1976 airliner bombing from Caracas and escaped from prison there. He also apparently committed murder and torture there as well. Despite this overwhelming documentation, however, the Justice Department rejected Venezuela's May 2005 extradition request to try Posada for this crime on the grounds that the request lacked sufficient detail.One wonders: Did Posada announce his illegal presence in the United States with the idea that U.S. government complicity in aiding and abetting his past acts of terrorism would protect him? U.S. authorities didn't inform Cuba or try to stop the 1976 air-bombing plot, and in 1971, as Veciana stated, the CIA made the gun that Posada's agents placed inside the camera to assassinate Castro. And Ollie North has knowledge of Posada's covert activities for U.S. intelligence as well.Given Washington's decade long history of terrorism aimed at Cuba, Bush might ask his staff to re-word the doctrinaire anti-terrorist statements they write for his press conferences.After the foul 9/11 deeds, a few wise counselors had recommended that Bush leave the anti-terrorist campaign to police and judicial agencies. But Bush insisted on war. By employing the military to this task and in the process justifying the erosion of human rights as necessary to fighting terrorism, the world has come to think of the U.S. government as hypocritical at best.Posada, an old U.S. terrorist chicken, has come home to roost in Bush's nest. He has also exposed Bush's anti-terrorist policies as a hoax.Saul Landau teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He wrote Assassination on Embassy Row, an account of the Letelier-Moffitt murders, (with John Dinges). A version of this article appeared in Foreign Policy In Focus.http://www.counterpunch.org/landau06092005.html
Homeland security allows terrorist drug dealer Posada to stay in the U.S.
http://www.counterpunch.org/alarcon06172005.html June 17, 2005
By RICARDO ALARCÓN
Very important news came from Buenos Aires earlier this week: The Supreme Court of Argentina has declared un-Constitutional certain laws granting impunity to those involved in crimes --30 000 desaparecidos-- during the last military regime. This dramatic ruling opens the possibility for justice to be done in hundreds or thousands of cases still unresolved.
It comes ten days after an International Conference Against Terrorism for Justice and Truth was held in Havana with 681 participants from 67 countries that asked, among others things, for such steps to be taken. The Argentina decision hopefully may contribute to a process that should not be limited to that country. At the Havana Conference the international connections of Operation Condor were document, as was the role of such groups as CORU and the CIA in government sponsored terrorism and massive violations of human rights.
Ironically a number of the most notorious individuals involved in those criminal actions are now freely walking the streets of Miami, such as Orlando Bosch--regardless of now declassified official papers showing his connection with the assassination in Washington DC of Letelier and Ronnie Moffit.
On the other hand, Luis Posada Carriles is waiting for admission to join the club of welcomed terrorists. He has been in the US since March, a fugitive from Venezuelan justice for twenty years, his trial for masterminding the midair destruction of a civilian airplane and the killing of 73 innocents still pending. Instead of extraditing him to Venezuela, as required according to a number of antiterrorists Conventions, the Bush administration is handling his case as a matter of possible violations of immigration laws.
Adding insult to injury, it is assumed that Posada just entered the US by land from Mexico, just as thousands of poor Latinos attempt ever day,-alone and without any help. Does anybody really believe that? Or is this rather an effort to cover up a case of human smuggling-- in this case of a notorious, self proclaimed terrorist--into US territory?
At the recent El Paso hearing, Posada was accompanied by, among others, Santiago Alvarez, a pretty well known anti-Cuba fanatic himself. Mr. Alvarez has been supporting Posada, quite openly, at least since Mr. Posada was arrested in Panama in 2000. Alvarez sent a plane to pick up Posada, when he was pardoned by the Panamanian President. It was Mr. Alvarez who announced, in March 2005, that Posada was in Miami. Since that moment Alvarez has been acting as his spokesman and he was the one that organized and chaired the press conference with Posada last May.
Since April, Cuba has been denouncing the fact that Posada entered US territory by sea from Islas Mujeres, Mexico, on board of the Santrina a boat owned by Mr. Alvarez. We base our accusation on what was published in a series of investigative reports by a local Mexican newspaper indicating that the Santrina entered that Mexican resort island by mid march to take Posada to Miami. The newspaper has quoted several witnesses and official records of what happened there just a few days before Mr. Alvarez announced that Posada was in Miami.
The Department of Homeland Security should be invited to answer some questions. How did Posada enter the US territory? Who helped him? What do they intend to do, if anything, to investigate such serious violation of the laws?
I believe that impunity must also be fought in the United States.
Ricardo Alarcon Quesada is Cuba's Vice President and President of its National Assembly.
June 21, 2005
“He who protects a terrorist is a terrorist” -George W. Bush
-George W. Bush
Mérida, Yucatán, June 2005: On Mexico’s Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres, on March 14, Authentic Journalist Yolanda Gutiérrez Sagrero and photojournalist Mario Alonzo pulled the first threads on a curtain that now disintegrates in tatters. Sunlight now shines upon the darkest recesses and hypocrisies of George W. Bush’s so-called “War on Terrorism,” and thus, Bush’s terror war is in doubt as never before.
Gutiérrez, Alonzo, and their colleagues at Mexico’s daily Por Esto! tugged on the threads and found América’s most-wanted fugitive behind that curtain: Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban-born, Miami-fed, CIA-paid, confessed architect of the 1976 terrorist passenger jet bombing that killed 73 civilians, including the teenage members of Cuba’s Olympic fencing team.
Known as “the Latin American Osama bin Laden,” Posada Carriles, 77, has publicly confessed, as well, to bombings of civilian targets in tourist hotels, and additional terrorist acts. His trail of violence under a cloak of official protection goes back decades. A recent book even places him at Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, in 1963, at the hour when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated there. Whether or not he also helped kill JFK, Posada Carriles, with 40 years of collaboration with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is not somebody that the U.S. government wants talking too much, or too honestly, or too loudly about what he’s seen and done, and with whom, and on whose authority (dad’s, Mr. President?) to the press. Read it and weep, citizens of the United States: A terrorist named Luis Posada Carriles is blackmailing your president, George W. Bush, today in order to win “political asylum.” And, so far, the cowardly Bush doesn’t have the courage to stop him.
Ever since his pardon and release from Panamanian prison in the final hours of the presidency of Mireya Moscoso in August of last year, this terrorist successfully eluded an international manhunt. He is wanted by the government of Venezuela (the country where he is a naturalized Cuban-born citizen) to face trial for the 1976 passenger jet bombing. He was free as an ocean pirate until the boat that took him to the United States washed up against the sandbars of Isla Mujeres, which, unfortunately for Posada Carriles (but fortunately for everyone else) is an isle where the flag of the Authentic Journalism renaissance waves higher than his own Jolly Roger.
The latest chapter in this saga of an international terrorist and those who protect him began with the March 14th report of what seemed to be a routine story about a shrimp boat adrift off of Isla Mujeres – poetically, it is also the island campus of the first Narco News School of Authentic Journalism – by Isla bureau chief Yolanda Gutiérrez…
Another day on the job, another seemingly routine story to be reported: Early on the morning of March 14, journalist Yolanda Gutiérrez learned that a 90-foot shrimp boat was stranded near a sand bar off the shores of the island. She leaped into action. After all, the journalist Gutiérrez has steadfastly defended the nearby endangered coral reefs from environmental destruction, and the locals were worried that this boat adrift might do them more harm.
“ISLA MUJERES, March 14: A shrimp boat from the United States with five crew members aboard was stranded for various hours while it attempted to enter the navigation canal and drifted to close to shore, although sources of the Port Captain’s office said that it did not affect any coral reef zones. “The boat named ‘Santrina,’ approximately 90 feet long and five or six meters wide, with license number 604553 went adrift at about 7:45 a.m. when it attempted to arrive in the Isla Mujeres port from the North. “The crew and its captain, José Pujol, had left from the Bahamas and came to the island to stock up on food, water and fuel, in order to continue its route, which is unknown because the captain refused to speak with reporters…”
“The boat named ‘Santrina,’ approximately 90 feet long and five or six meters wide, with license number 604553 went adrift at about 7:45 a.m. when it attempted to arrive in the Isla Mujeres port from the North.
“The crew and its captain, José Pujol, had left from the Bahamas and came to the island to stock up on food, water and fuel, in order to continue its route, which is unknown because the captain refused to speak with reporters…”
There’s more to Yolanda’s report:
“Personnel from the Port Captain’s office coordinated the rescue efforts with the help of the S.S. 3 de Diciembre, a boat belonging to Javier Ayala Rejon, and two speedboats belonging to the tourist boat co-op of Isla Mujeres… “The S.S. Santrina finally escaped from the sand bank at 12:30 p.m., near the concrete docks, where the crew immediately presented itself to the Mexican Marines who conducted a routine inspection with drug-sniffing canines… “…the officials of the National Marine Park conducted an inspection of the area where the boat had been adrift to confirm that there had been no damage to the marine ecosystem… International Sanitary inspectors, immigration, and customs agents also inspected the boat…”
“The S.S. Santrina finally escaped from the sand bank at 12:30 p.m., near the concrete docks, where the crew immediately presented itself to the Mexican Marines who conducted a routine inspection with drug-sniffing canines…
“…the officials of the National Marine Park conducted an inspection of the area where the boat had been adrift to confirm that there had been no damage to the marine ecosystem… International Sanitary inspectors, immigration, and customs agents also inspected the boat…”
And there it stood: solid daily journalism on what seemed to be a small story but one important to the island’s residents who care deeply about the preservation of the local coral reefs.
Authentic Photojournalist Mario Alonzo snapped pictures of the skipper and crew, and his latest models were none too happy about it, refusing to talk to the press.
Little did anybody know – until those photos received scrutiny across the Caribbean – that the remodeled shrimp boat was carrying a monster onto U.S. shores.
On March 29, Channel 41 TV of Miami (a controversial Spanish-language station that, in 2004, conducted interviews with armed paramilitaries who said they were plotting violent overthrows of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments), a broadcaster that counts with the nephew of former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista as one of its program hosts, announced that Posada Carriles was in South Florida and would seek political asylum in the United States.
“If Posada is indeed in Miami, his visit mirrors his shadowy career as a CIA-trained spy, an explosives expert, escape artist, security advisor to presidents across the Caribbean and—some say—terrorist… Born in 1928 in the south-central port of Cienfuegos, Posada quickly soured on Castro’s revolution and joined Brigade 2506 before its disastrous landing at the Bay of Pigs. “His ship never hit shore, and he went on to be a CIA operative in Miami, specially trained in the science of explosives. “But by 1967 he was working with the Venezuelan police, tracking down pro-Castro guerrillas. And until 1976, when he and Miami pediatrician Orlando Bosch were arrested in Caracas for the midair bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, he had been just another anti-Castro militant. “Venezuela’s cumbersome legal system never convicted either man for the airplane bombing. Bosch eventually won his freedom, but Posada escaped from prison, while awaiting a prosecutor’s appeal, in August 1985. “One year later he turned up in El Salvador, secretly working for U.S. National Security Council member Lt. Col. Oliver North and managing part of the supply operations for contra guerrillas fighting the Marxist-led Sandinista government in Nicaragua…. “In 1997, a dozen or so bombs went off in tourist spots around Havana for the first time in decades, killing one tourist and wounding half a dozen others. A young Salvadoran, Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, was arrested in Havana. “Herald reports linked Posada to the bombings and said Cuban exiles in South Florida had provided $15,000 in funding. The next year, the New York Times quoted Posada as saying he was responsible for the bombings and that leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation had ‘’supported’’ his efforts to topple Castro. Posada later said he lied to the newspaper, and denied a role in the bombings. “Posada then melted back into shadows until November 2000, when he and Miami exiles Pedro Remón, Gaspar Jiménez and Guillermo Novo were arrested in Panama for allegedly plotting to assassinate Castro during a summit there. “They were convicted only on charges of endangering public safety and sentenced to up to eight years, but Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned them in late 2004. The three Miami men came home, but Posada went into hiding…”
Born in 1928 in the south-central port of Cienfuegos, Posada quickly soured on Castro’s revolution and joined Brigade 2506 before its disastrous landing at the Bay of Pigs.
“His ship never hit shore, and he went on to be a CIA operative in Miami, specially trained in the science of explosives.
“But by 1967 he was working with the Venezuelan police, tracking down pro-Castro guerrillas. And until 1976, when he and Miami pediatrician Orlando Bosch were arrested in Caracas for the midair bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, he had been just another anti-Castro militant.
“Venezuela’s cumbersome legal system never convicted either man for the airplane bombing. Bosch eventually won his freedom, but Posada escaped from prison, while awaiting a prosecutor’s appeal, in August 1985.
“One year later he turned up in El Salvador, secretly working for U.S. National Security Council member Lt. Col. Oliver North and managing part of the supply operations for contra guerrillas fighting the Marxist-led Sandinista government in Nicaragua….
“In 1997, a dozen or so bombs went off in tourist spots around Havana for the first time in decades, killing one tourist and wounding half a dozen others. A young Salvadoran, Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, was arrested in Havana.
“Herald reports linked Posada to the bombings and said Cuban exiles in South Florida had provided $15,000 in funding. The next year, the New York Times quoted Posada as saying he was responsible for the bombings and that leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation had ‘’supported’’ his efforts to topple Castro. Posada later said he lied to the newspaper, and denied a role in the bombings.
“Posada then melted back into shadows until November 2000, when he and Miami exiles Pedro Remón, Gaspar Jiménez and Guillermo Novo were arrested in Panama for allegedly plotting to assassinate Castro during a summit there.
“They were convicted only on charges of endangering public safety and sentenced to up to eight years, but Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned them in late 2004. The three Miami men came home, but Posada went into hiding…”
Soon after the report that the terrorist had come ashore in Florida, Miami attorney Eduardo Soto, representing Posada Carriles, announced that his client was “asking for political asylum” in the United States. He claimed, curiously, that Posada Carriles had entered the U.S. over land from Mexico to Texas, “like thousands of people do each day.”
There, in the photos, on the S.S. Santrina, were Santiago Álvarez Fernández-Magriña, owner of the S.S. Santrina, and ship captain José Pujol, a.k.a. ‘Pepín’… considered to be terrorist accomplices of Posada Carriles by Cuban Intelligence.
“What is the United States doing giving asylum to someone who exploded a civilian airliner?” boomed Comandante Fidel Castro, waving a copy of the March 16 issue of Por Esto! in the air.
“Look!” he lectured the international journalists present: “Look at what a newspaper can do! This is Authentic Journalism!”
The Associated Press later quoted Mexican immigration officials, who were among the authorities that revised the papers of the crew of the S.S. Santrina back on March 14, as claiming that “all of them were U.S. citizens” and that “the five crew members identified themselves as employees of the Caribbean Dive and Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to oceanic investigation with its headquarters in Miami. The boat was also reported as property of this company.” Mexican immigration confirmed that the boat, when it left Isla Mujeres, did indeed head toward Miami.
By April 18, the daily Por Esto! had learned more details:
At his next press conference, Cuban leader Fidel Castro noted, again, the work of Por Esto!, “a newspaper that has shined a lot of light, has continued investigating, and has revealed very interesting details.”
By the morning of April 20, at his six a.m. press conference, Castro began reading the Por Esto! reports aloud on national television. Complaining about “the total silence” by the governments of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala regarding Posada Carriles’ stays in those countries, Castro said: “What we do have are new reports about what happened in Isla Mujeres. Por Esto! has kept on investigating and reports new facts….”
Watching that televised phone interview, in Havana, was Fidel Castro, who the next morning again convened the press. He said:
“The fact that the editor of Por Esto! has lived here (in Cuba) is not a problem, because nobody can say that (the Posada Carriles news story) is an invention of Castro or anyone else. The monster, Posada Carriles, is there, among them. He is one of them. He was brought from Isla Mujeres to Miami and this has become a nightmare for Washington. The whole world knows that the man is there! They don’t know what to do with him, but they have the monster with them. Meanwhile, Por Esto! continues doing its own thing: It continues investigating.”
In a reference to Menéndez’s role as a professor of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, Castro added: “Now he even teaches Authentic Journalism to North American journalists!”
Meanwhile, fishermen and citizens of Isla Mujeres (where Por Esto! is the dominant daily newspaper) began to step forward as to what they had witnessed: “Five Men Arrived and Six Launched Out” was the headline in the newspaper’s April 24 edition. “Six persons could be seen on the boat” as the S.S. Santrina left Isla Mujeres on March 15, reported Yolanda Gutiérrez, based on interviews with eyewitnesses “who for obvious reasons asked not to be named.”
“One of the crew members noticed that (the people on) a small boat that was entering the Macax lagoon were observing them and, immediately, one of the people who could be seen on the S.S. Santrina ran to take cover inside the boat, although at the moment nobody suspected what was really happening,” reported Gutiérrez. (True to the week’s script, Fidel Castro read her article on national TV the next morning.)
In a May 17 “exclusive interview” with the Miami Herald, Posada Carriles repeated his attorney’s claim that he had entered the United States, over land, from Mexico to Texas, and spun an elaborate account of his supposed Greyhound bus trip to Florida from there.
And yet, contradicting the veracity of his own claims, Posada also told the Herald:
“Posada said that sometime earlier this year, a friend drove him across the border into Belize and then into the Cancún area of Mexico. “That was around the same time that the Santrina was docked at Isla Mujeres. Posada declined to say whether he met Alvarez there.”
“That was around the same time that the Santrina was docked at Isla Mujeres. Posada declined to say whether he met Alvarez there.”
That might explain the bizarre story offered by Posada Carriles and his attorneys that he somehow entered the U.S. through Texas and not via the easier route from Yucatán to Florida. Yet, it simply does not make sense that someone with Posada Carriles’ economic means and with generous support from the wealthy Miami ex-Cuban mafia would enter Mexico from Belize and travel, at age 77, the arduous 90-hour exodus via land from Cancún to Miami, at the precise moment when his buddies were docked in nearby Isla Mujeres.
Meanwhile, other citizens came forward – in Chetumal, in Cancun and in Isla Mujeres – to bear witness to the presence of the international terrorist Posada Carriles in their locales.
“I saw Luis Posada Carriles,” the former mayor of Isla Mujeres Fidel Villanueva told Por Esto! on May 19. “We all saw him. In reality, don Luis was there. I tied my boat at the Isla Mujeres port and he was there. On a Saturday, we saw him there, watching the boats, but we didn’t know who he was.”
“I saw him just as many people in the Isla Mujeres port saw him,” continued former Mayor Villanueva.
On May 26, the daily El Sol of Zacatecas, Mexico, published an interview with the Secretary of the Navy in Mexico, Marco Antonio Peyrot, who confirmed that Posada Carriles entered the United States on the remodeled shrimp boat, the S.S. Santrina, that launched from Isla Mujeres. “This is the Mexican Navy!” proclaimed Fidel Castro, in Havana, at his May 27 press conference. “The Secretary of the Navy in Mexico!”
By protecting his smugglers with an incredible tale that he entered the U.S. through Texas, Posada Carriles’ claim has led to his own immigration hearings being held in El Paso. But, lo’ and behold, his attorneys have filed for a change of venue to Miami, where a federal judiciary, historically supportive of the ex-Cuban “exile community” in South Florida, would be more likely to protect him. (There’s an analysis of the legal questions surrounding Posada’s plea for asylum by Arthur Shaw, published at Vheadline.) And… this just in! A judge has ruled that Posada Carriles will have to press his case not on the home court of Miami, but in Texas.
Meanwhile, along Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and up and down this hemisphere, an Authentic Journalism “swarm” of the type that just eleven days ago shook Bolivia, is digging deeper into the facts…
As Por Esto! and its journalists dug deeper into the path of terrorist Luis Posada Carriles along that same coastline into the United States – the same path as the cocaine, after all – the newspaper began to find an ugly confluence between the maritime smuggling of illegal immigrants from Cuba into Mexico (with the protection of the U.S. and Mexican governments) and the historic maritime smuggling of the drug cocaine (with the protection of the U.S. and Mexican governments) in the same waters.
Invited to give a presentation at the World Summit Against Terrorism and for Truth and Justice in Havana, Cuba, early this month, Por Esto!’s Quintana Roo editor (and professor of the School of Authentic Journalism) Renán Castro explained that the Posada Carriles story is “the tip of the iceberg of a dangerous operation for all the nations in the region, and specifically for the Republic of Cuba and for my country, Mexico.”
“The dangerous international terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was protected in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico by narco-traffickers that belong to the Central American cartel headed by capo Otto Herrera García, who is associated with Mexican criminal organizations led by Ismael Zambada (a.k.a. El Mayo) and Joaquin “Chapo” Guzmán, all of them associated with the Cuban-American mafia located in Cancún. They directed all the logistics so that (Posada Carriles) could remain for more than a week inside Mexican territory without being detected officially by Mexican authorities. “In Cancún, in the state of Quintana Roo, Posada Carriles was supported by a known trafficker of illegal Cuban immigrants named Juan Carlos Riberol (a.k.a. El Profe), who for more than seven years has led a powerful criminal network linked to a group of Cuban-American drug traffickers known as Los Marielitos, who maintain a close relationship with the Cuban-American Foundation with its headquarters in Miami… “We believe the reports of the courageous Colombian journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina who in his presentation here mentioned that the Cuban-American Foundation has, since the 1980s, maintained connections with Colombian narco-traffickers to finance subversive acts against the revolutionary government of Cuba… “The most serious element in all of this is the participation of the Cuban-American Foundation in all these operations that are being constructed to allow for 55 to 100 illegal Cuban immigrants to arrive in Quintana Roo each week, who are then taken to the United States and, when they don’t have family members in Miami, Florida, who can pay the costs of their transport, they are used to smuggle drugs onto U.S. territory.”
“In Cancún, in the state of Quintana Roo, Posada Carriles was supported by a known trafficker of illegal Cuban immigrants named Juan Carlos Riberol (a.k.a. El Profe), who for more than seven years has led a powerful criminal network linked to a group of Cuban-American drug traffickers known as Los Marielitos, who maintain a close relationship with the Cuban-American Foundation with its headquarters in Miami…
“We believe the reports of the courageous Colombian journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina who in his presentation here mentioned that the Cuban-American Foundation has, since the 1980s, maintained connections with Colombian narco-traffickers to finance subversive acts against the revolutionary government of Cuba…
“The most serious element in all of this is the participation of the Cuban-American Foundation in all these operations that are being constructed to allow for 55 to 100 illegal Cuban immigrants to arrive in Quintana Roo each week, who are then taken to the United States and, when they don’t have family members in Miami, Florida, who can pay the costs of their transport, they are used to smuggle drugs onto U.S. territory.”
“There are things that nobody dares say, and what you have just said here are the words of the valiant. They use those boats for drugs. You have denounced something that has not been mentioned until now, that the boat is also dedicated to drug trafficking. That’s serious. But the most serious thing is what they did in violation of United States laws, smuggling terrorists, something that is severely punished in the United States…”
Writing from Florida in this month’s Clamor magazine, Narco News School of Authentic Journalism professor Andrew Stelzer writes about his fulltime job as a radio reporter:
“It’s a grind, and often I feel as if I’m not doing what I should be — going deeper into stories, uncovering hidden secrets buried inside the machinery of government and corporations, and holding the powerful accountable for wrongs against society.”
Stelzer speaks of the difficulty for journalists like his colleague and ours, the late Gary Webb, who dug so deeply into the cocaine-trafficking scandals in which Posada Carriles was involved in the 1980s that his newspaper editor, Jerry Ceppos, betrayed the search for the truth and cast Gary out as an industry pariah.
But, as in the case of Authentic Journalist Yolanda Gutiérrez rising early on the morning of March 14 on Isla Mujeres to report one of those seemingly routine stories, only to end up tugging on a thread that now unravels the gigantic, previously impenetrable, falsehood of Washington’s “wars” against terrorism and drugs, this kind of daily journalism work can be, and is, immensely important.
What Gutiérrez, and photojournalist Mario Alonzo, and Renán Castro, and the rest of the Por Esto! team have that Gary Webb did not have at the San Jose Mercury News in the 1990s is the knowledge and faith that they count with a publisher that will back them to the ultimate consequences as long as they report the truth, and, now, an international network of Authentic Journalists to spread the story far and wide across borders and languages.
And so it is no longer a surprise when someone like Hugo Chávez reads Narco News aloud on his national radio show, or when Fidel Castro reads aloud from Por Esto! on national television. Nor is it any surprise when these developments get translated and exported across the globe, basking the isolated journalists in the sunlight of public protection.
Authentic Journalists of the world: Yolanda Gutiérrez pulled a thread three months ago. She and her Por Esto! colleagues were and are backed by everyone at her newspaper and in our Authentic Journalism renaissance. The informational curtain that had kept the truth about a state-sponsored international terrorist from public view is shredded and coming apart wider each day. There are a thousand frays already. Grab one of those strings, right now, and start pulling. The Posada Carriles case can topple an Empire that is no more formidable than a shrimp boat adrift in a sea of terrorism and narco-trafficking. Pull this string. Yank hard, and do it for justice. Avenge the lies. Do it for Gary Webb.
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Strangely, the major mainstream media outlets have been slow to pick up on the news.
If you recall, Posada Carriles was arrested in Miami in mid-May after allegedly entering the United States illegally via the Texas/Mexico border. He then claims to have taken a bus from Texas to Miami.
Well that tall tale may be coming back to haunt the long-time CIA operative who is accused of blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976, snuffing out the lives of some 73 innocent people. Of course, that is just the tip of the ice pick in terms of the crimes Posada Carriles stands accused of in the eyes of the world. Venezuela, in particular, wants justice served up to Posada Carriles and is seeking his extradition in connection with the airline bombing.
The 77-year-old Posada Carriles is a native of Cuba but later also became a citizen of Venezuela, where the airline-bombing plot was allegedly masterminded. Now, he is seeking to wrap himself in the U.S. flag in a bid for political asylum – part of a desperate attempt to protect himself from the fate his past deeds have thrust upon his future.
But it’s tough to beat fate when you’re playing against the house.
If only Posada-Carriles would have stuck with the Miami version of the story, instead of the tall Texas tale, he might be sitting in the catbird seat today, facing an immigration hearing in Miami. Instead, he’s now a jailbird in El Paso with the paw of the mighty U.S. government planted squarely on his soul.
How can this be? How is it that the U.S. government, which created this Frankenstein Posada-Carriles, is now seeking to cage the monster?
Remember, pride is the devil’s fatal flaw. The Bush Administration has made it known to the world that it has a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism: You’re either with us or with the terrorists, right?
The arrogance of such a philistine foreign-policy stance, though, is certain to become a bitter pill to swallow when you find a terrorist caught up in your own system. That is precisely what has happened to the Bush Administration in the Posada-Carriles case.
The White House is now confronted with a terrorist who has played for their team: Posada-Carriles -- and they don’t want too many of his dirty little secrets getting out in the sunshine, particularly in a Venezuelan court of all places.
But the Bush Administration, despite its deftness at making buzzards appear to be eagles, has been caught in a game of pickle. If they run toward the base called “asylum,” the world media currently focused on Posada-Carriles will surely tag them out. If they run toward the base called “extradition,” they can’t get around Venezuela’s claim on their CIA operative.
So what to do?
First, back to that pride thing. The whole reason the White House finds itself in this pickle is because Posada Carriles jumped off base to begin with by shooting off his big mouth. After all of the cloak-and-dagger tactics that were employed to assure his safe passage to Miami, Posada Carriles decided to jump on a soapbox to brag about his adventure by granting an interview to the media.
In other words, Posada Carriles put the spotlight on himself, in an act of egotistical stupidity, forcing the Bush Administration to swoop in and pick him up -- via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- before he did even more damage to the Administration’s already putrid world image.
But the big question is why did they move Posada Carriles to El Paso, Texas?
If the Bush Administration really wanted him to be granted asylum, wouldn’t they have left him plead his immigration case in Miami, where he has the backing of the anti-Castro Cuban community and political machine? Instead, they arrested him the day after he granted an “exclusive” interview to the Miami Herald, flew him to the former Homestead Air Force Base in South Florida and then sent him directly to jail in El Paso.
Narco News decided to ask a number of high-ranking law-enforcement officials who have experience with immigration and intelligence-agency matters about this strategy. They agreed to share their views, if we would agree to keep their names confidential.
Following is their take on what is now happening to Posada-Carriles and why the recent postponement of his bond hearing comes as no surprise:
Source 1: A former high-ranking DEA official
“If he was a CIA operative, and he was, I don’t think the CIA wanted him in custody,” the source says. “But he had the audacity to grant an interview with the Miami Herald, and he was arrested the day after that interview. … He did a stupid thing and rubbed it in the government’s face by coming into the U.S. illegally and then having the balls to grant an interview to the press in the middle of Miami.”
The source adds that if the immigration judge in El Paso was really under political pressure to grant Posada Carriles asylum, then he would have granted his motion to have the case moved to Miami, “but he didn’t.”
“They’re going to keep him in custody where the government can keep an eye on him,” the former DEA official says. “How many Cubans are incarcerated already (in the United States)? They can hold him indefinitely, until he dies, maybe due to bad prison food.”
Source 2: Another former high-ranking DEA official
"They put him in El Paso to bury him. They picked him up because they had no choice (after he went public) and they put him in El Paso, a small community that doesn't get much media attention."
He adds that the government "would have been content to let him wile away in the Cuban community, but now they have a political hot potato on their hands." The source adds that the Bush Administration is faced with the hypocrisy of its own stand on the war on terror.
"So they will prolong the situation and keep him around for years pretending it is being litigated. He is not in good health from what I understand, so it will get tied up in the courts for the few years he has left, and he will die in prison."
The source adds that after a time, he will be put under "house arrest." What that means, the source explains, is that Posada Carriles will be put in a minimum-security prison or other confinement where he will be under guard 24/7. The former DEA official adds that he knows of people who are in this situation right now and have been under “house arrest” for three years or more.
"Their (the U.S. government's) hands are tied. They've taken this strong stand on terror, and now they have Posada Carriles."
The source then slammed the mainstream press, saying that it's just amazing how they let the Bush Administration get a free pass on scandals like these.
"They talk about state control of the media in Iraq. The same thing exists here (in the U.S.). If the New York Times or the Washington Post would publish something too negative, the White House would cut them off, so they don't pursue these things."
Source 3: A private consultant who does work for the intelligence community
"They will get Posada Carriles in prison." the source opines.
"He will die of syphilis. That would be the easiest excuse. He's never had it before, but they will give it to him. (The disease) takes 25 years (to kill you) if not treated. In his case, they'll condense his syphilis.”
Source 4: A high-ranking Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official
This source agrees that Posada Carriles was sent to El Paso to be deep-sixed until the flurry of media coverage dies down. However, he departs with the others in predicting Posada Carriles’ ultimate fate. He says what will matter is whether the government (the Agency) thinks Posada Carriles is still "useful."
If not, well the DHS official does concede the government is capable of anything, including causing an inconvenient exit from this life for Posada. But he says that is a very extreme outcome. It's more likely, the DHS official says, that Posada Carriles will just rot in prison.
But, if deemed useful, then he will be held in El Paso until the media sunshine on his case is eclipsed by other news.
"Why take Posada out, because he still might have information that is useful, or he might still be useful?” the source explains. “If he is alive, then he can be useful. I think (after the press dies down) they will load a van with 100 illegal aliens, put him in, and take him back to Mexico and drop him off.
“... Who's going to know if the Agency shows up with a document that looks legitimate to transfer him to a different prison, and then he disappears?"
As far as the media picking up on Posada Carriles’ "disappearance" down the road, this source says: "The media will not get hold of it. It will happen after everything has died down. If someone in the media does try to get at it, they'll tie the reporter up in knots and back him off the story. And no one will care."
On the record
One former law enforcement source was willing to speak openly about his analysis of the situation. Lok Lau is a former CIA operative and FBI agent who worked a deep undercover assignment spying on China in the late 1980s.
Here’s his take on Posada Carriles:
“I think he used the media as leverage to try to get asylum, and he was betting on the fact that he wouldn’t be arrested,” Lau says. “I think they arrested him because people in the (U.S.) government got scared. If you were a top dog at the CIA station in Florida, would you want to take a chance on Posada Carriles and risk that your career might be ruined, or would it be easier to arrest him and shut him up? Most of these guys in the government are only concerned about themselves and their careers, so why would they stick their necks out (for Posada Carriles)?”
Lau adds that Posada Carriles was “playing a high risk game trying to get something over on the government.”
“He lost in a game of power politics,” Lau says. “People in the government are running scared now. The war is going badly, the polls look bad for the President and the Congress, so no one wants to be left holding the bag when the shit hits the fan.
“This guy has a lot of baggage. If you put together a list of his dirty deeds, it would be thicker than the Holy Bible.”
As far as what might happen to Posada Carriles in jail, Lau concedes there is a “possibility they will knock him off.” However, he says a much more realistic outcome is that he doesn’t survive the prison experience due to a type of benign neglect.
“I’ve been in jail as an undercover agent,” he explains. “The criminal element and gang activity is so bad that if they want to get rid of him, all they have to do is make it convenient for him to die by not doing enough to protect him.”
So there you have it. Posada Carriles has come to “America” wrapped in the flag seeking asylum. And he may well soon find himself buried in America, wrapped in a flag, in the shelter of a coffin.
June 21, 2005
This robust man, who has both Venezuelan and Cuban nationality, speaks slowly. This man, who U.S. immigration agents arrested on May 17 and now keep guarded in an El Paso, Texas prison, is the murderer of 73 people who died October 6, 1976, in a mid-flight attack on a Cubana de Aviación passenger airplane, as Authentic Journalist Alicia Herrera documented so well in her book Pusimos la bomba… ¿y qué? (“We Planted the Bomb, So What?”). But Luis Posada Carriles is responsible for more terrorist attacks in the last few decades… for many more…
For example, Posada has always been connected to dozens of anti-Castro terrorist groups, training them and supporting their actions from various countries throughout North and South America. Come on, the guy was an agent in former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista’s secret police before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. And according to the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde, which published a succinct biography of this terrorist, there is evidence he may have even been involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Let’s just take a look at some important dates:
1961 to 1967: Posada, aside from raising suspicions of his involvement in the Kennedy assassination, receives military training in explosives and other skills at Fort Benning (later home to the School of the Americas), where he graduated with the rank of lieutenant. He, in turn, goes on to train anti-Castro mercenaries and dedicates himself to various terrorist operations while the CIA provides him a salary. Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa occasionally finances his activities, as declassified FBI documents have now shown. He operates during these years out of other Latin American counties, such as Mexico and Guatemala.
1967 to 1975: The CIA taps him to work with the General Directorship of the Venezuelan Police, and then later with that county’s intelligence service, the DISIP. From Caracas, until 1975, he works in the service of several intelligence agencies, always as a high-ranking DISIP official. He also has time to help organize torture sessions of Venezuelan guerrillas during this period. At this point in his career, according to the declassified CIA documents, Posada Carriles seems to have begun worrying his bosses with his extreme propensity for violence. From then on, his “actions” are no longer openly linked to the CIA and U.S. government (though this is merely because there are still not enough documents available to prove it).
1976: The key year in Luis Posada Carriles’ terrorist career.
This made-in-the-USA jewel of international terrorism then spends nearly nine years in the shadows, in reality living like a king (protected by Venezuelan police and intelligence officials)... until the night of August 18, 1985, when, draped in a black leather jacket, he walks out the door of the prison where he was staying in Caracas. He has new tasks to carry out for the United States government.
1985: After his “graceful flight” from Venezuela, via Aruba and Costa Rica, Luis Posada Carriles arrives in El Salvador, just in time for the climax of the counterinsurgency war in that country, and just as the Regan administration’s most brutal monstrosity, the Nicaraguan “contra” war, is really beginning to take off. There his old comrade in arms, Félix Rodríguez, awaits him. As the U.S. Congress had prohibited further funding for the contras, a terrorist group fighting against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, Posada and Rodríguez had to work extra to obtain guns… under the orders of the mind behind all of this: Oliver North. Yes, Posada Carriles, operating from the Salvadoran Ilopango military base, formed part of the group that gave rise to the famous Iran-Contra case.
With the Irangate scandal heating up, in October 1986 Posada begins working on a variety of projects that will take him through the next fourteen years. He works with the Salvadoran police to capture and torture members of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), and does similar work in Guatemala. He allies himself with the Cuban-American National Foundation, presided over at that time by its founder Jorge Mas Canosa, to create the foundation’s “security commission.” This commission was a terrorist group that has continued to carry out violent attacks, including a failed assassination attempt against Fidel Castro in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1994. That same year, the dangerous agent dedicated himself to the task of publishing a book entitled El camino del guerrero (“The Path of the Warrior”), in which he declares himself “active” once again. (As a CIA agent? As a terrorist? Or as both?)
2000: Posada enters Panama on November 5 with a false passport. On the 17th of that month he is arrested together with three of his accomplices (one of them their Panamanian chauffeur) before trying to assassinate Fidel Castro, for at least the fourth time since 1959. “Bambi” goes back to jail in Panama for another three years and a few months… until then-president Mireya Moscoso pardons him on August 26, 2004, the day before she leaves office.
Posada and his henchmen were sent to the United States by plane, courtesy of Moscoso, but “Bambi” got off in Honduras and took a long tour of Central America and Mexico, by land, sea, and plane, until he finally arrived in Miami… where he was arrested on May 17, as we said earlier (see Al Giordano’s report of today for more details.) This señor, with his angelic face, is without a doubt the most soulless terrorist of our times: he has killed and tortured in Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Cuba, Argentina, Portugal, and in the United States. But for the moment, Washington is only pressing hypocritical charges of “illegal entry” into U.S. territory.
A US immigration judge has postponed a bail hearing for Luis Posada Carriles, a hardline opponent of Cuban leader Fidel Castro seen here in May 2003. US authorities accuse Posada Carriles of illegally entering the United States through Mexico in March.(AFP/File)
Luis Posada Carriles is escorted by U.S. law enforcement officers to a golf cart to be driven to a helicopter at Miami's Krome detention center after being arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Miami, May 17, 2005. A U.S. judge has refused to move the request for asylum case of Cuban exile and Castro foe Luis Posada Carriles to a federal court in Florida from Texas. (Reuters - Handout)
Cuban-American Luis Posada Carriles gets out of car at a courthouse in Panama City, in this photo taken March 15, 2004. A U.S. judge has refused to move the request for asylum case of Cuban exile and Castro foe Luis Posada Carriles to a federal court in Florida from Texas. Posada, who is wanted in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, is being detained in El Paso, but asked to move his immigration case to Miami because his lawyer is based there. Photo by Alberto Lowe/Reuters
Newly declassified US documents show that a terror suspect and former CIA asset in US custody, Luis Posada Carriles, said in 1976: 'We are going to hit a Cuban airplane' prior to the bombing of a Cubana flight off Barbados October 6 of the same year.(AFP/File/Teresita Chavarria)
Stories by Gary Webb Mercury News Staff Writer
For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found. This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the crack capital of the world.
Frames: [ Enable | Disable ]
Backers of CIA-led Nicaraguan rebels brought cocaine to poor L.A. neighborhoods in early '80s to help finance war -- and a plague was born. Published: Aug. 18, 1996 Stories
How a smuggler, a bureaucrat and a driven ghetto teen-ager created the cocaine pipeline, and how crack was "born" in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1974. Published: Aug. 19, 1996 Stories
The impact of the crack epidemic on the black community and why justice hasn't been for all. Published: Aug. 20, 1996 Stories
June 23, 2005
Click here to go straight to the restored Dark Alliance website.
For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found. This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the crack capital of the world. – From the introduction to the original Dark Alliance website, August, 1996
This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the crack capital of the world.
In August 1996, Gary Webb began publishing the results of a yearlong investigation that traced the money fueling the horrific U.S.-backed “contra” war against Nicaragua to the profits from Los Angeles’ 1980s crack epidemic. The CIA led its contra army to spend the entire decade terrorizing the Nicaraguan people and their Sandinista government, happily allowing the contras to flood Los Angeles and other North American cities with cocaine to fund their efforts. Gary provided extensively documented evidence that while poor communities in L.A. paid the price of the crack explosion – from rampant addiction in their neighborhoods to oppressive law enforcement and jailing with Reagan’s stepped-up “war on drugs” – the United States government protected the men moving a great deal of the drugs coming into the city. Local dealers faced life sentences while the bigtime narcos from Washington to Managua went free.
What came next is well known. Gary’s story, and the website he and the San Jose Mercury News created to showcase and expand upon it, were initially the talk of the global village. Politicians cited the article in both Sacramento and Washington. The CIA launched an internal investigation. Millions of people were visiting the website.
But then the backlash came. The L.A. Times, embarrassed at having missed a major story on its own turf, and the New York Times, happy to follow its colleagues’ lead in squashing a story that didn’t fit with its own narrative, wielded their mercenary pens against him. Rather than follow up on his exhaustive research, the attack dogs on both coasts pulled his work apart and attacked him for things he hadn’t even said. Although the CIA’s internal investigation would later confirm many of Gary’s own claims, the paper retracted the story and marginalized Gary to the point where he was forced to quit.
Even when copies of the text from the published stories were posted on websites and sent out to mailing lists, it was not the same. The Dark Alliance website was truly groundbreaking, one of the first innovations in using the Internet to not just replicate but expand what journalism could be. Rather than remaining static, the articles lived on the website, surrounded by images, sound files, reader discussion forums that Gary participated in, and an entire library of background information supporting Webb’s powerful case against the C.I.A. Millions of readers flocked to these pages, a nearly unheard-of response in those early days of the World Wide Web.
Until the end of his life, Gary was immensely proud of this website and its role in expanding the idea of what Internet journalism could be. In 2002, having gotten his hands on one of the few remaining copies of the CD, he triumphantly resurrected it. At that time, Gary wrote:
“This site, which won a CNET “Best of the Web” award in 1996, was constructed from a CDROM made by the San Jose Mercury News to promote its Internet presence. Thousands of CDs were made, then quietly incinerated. The reason: the website’s logo—a crack smoker superimposed over the CIA seal—had been criticized as “too suggestive.” Fortunately a few CDs were saved from the flames. Despite the passage of time, this webpage remains a brilliant testament to the power of Internet journalism.”
Gary Webb, a hero of authentic journalism, an inspiration to truth-seekers around the world, a friend to all of us at Narco News, but now an unemployable outcast in the world of commercial newspapers, took his own life on December 10, 2004. His resurrected website died with him: the company hosting it was bought out and the files lost.
…Almost. Today, Narco News, with support from The Fund for Authentic Journalism, is pleased to announce that the Dark Alliance website has a new, and this time permanent, home at Narco News. Gary’s family found that old, storied, (“priceless to us,” as his ex-wife, Susan Bell, described it to me) CDROM among his possessions. Nine years ago, the Mercury News had placed some kind of archaic copy protection on the CD (of the kind that nobody uses anymore because such obsolete cyber-padlocks are so frequently picked), and by the time Gary’s son Ian sent us a copy this historic work was available for public viewing again.
The expanded version that Gary posted in 2002 is gone. But the original pages, still bearing the logo of the newspaper that gave birth to and then disowned them, are all there. A few elements from the CDROM have been cleaned up to make the pages easier to navigate, but the content you will see is essentially unchanged from what those millions of first-time readers saw when they logged on nearly a decade ago. As with Gary’s original “director’s cut” version of it, this project is being carried out for educational and historic purposes, and, happily, is in no way connected to, nor sponsored by, the San Jose Mercury News.
Narco News will unveil the Dark Alliance website in its new home by publishing these stories in installments, the way they were originally published back in 1996, over the coming week.
Today we present Part I…
Published on August 18, 1996, these first two reports of the Dark Alliance series introduced readers around the world to the players and relationships of the whole tangled affair. Webb identifies the alliance at the root of his story as “the union of a U.S-backed army attempting to overthrow a revolutionary socialist government and the Uzi-toting ‘gangstas’ of Compton and South-Central Los Angeles.”
Here we meet Ricky Ross, L.A.’s top dope dealer in the early eighties, and the men from the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN, the 5,000-man, CIA-commanded group that led the contra war against the Sandinista government) he bought his cocaine from. We see the evidence of the help they received from the air force of El Salvador (a country receiving support from the U.S. for its own massive, bloody war against an internal popular uprising.)
We also learn about the “wall of secrecy” that allowed the Nicaraguan traffickers to operate with impunity. Attempts by U.S. law enforcement to bring down the Nicaraguan traffickers repeatedly fizzled out, leaving many agents convinced that the CIA was blocking their efforts. A DEA agent working in El Salvador documents cocaine flights leaving that country only to have his reports ignored and in internal investigation launched against him.
Read the reports:
America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua war Testimony links U.S. to drugs-guns trade
Testimony links U.S. to drugs-guns trade
In the reports filed for the August 19 edition of the San Jose Mercury News, Gary Webb looks back to the origins of crack cocaine use in Los Angeles. Just as the invention of crack was bringing cocaine out of the parlors and clubs of the elite and into poor urban neighborhoods, a young Ricky Ross used his connections to the Crips organization in L.A. on the one hand, and to Nicaraguan suppliers with unbelievably low-priced cocaine on the other to become the king of the crack business. A former L.A. narcotics officer tells Webb of Ross that “…there’s no telling how many tens of thousands of people he touched. He’s responsible for a major cancer that still hasn’t stopped spreading.” Through Ross, the Contras and their North American allies were able to pour tons of cocaine into the streets of L.A. to fund their war.
Shadowy origins of ‘crack’ epidemic Drug agent thought she was onto something big Drug expert: ‘Crack’ born in San Francisco Bay Area in ‘74
Drug agent thought she was onto something big
Drug expert: ‘Crack’ born in San Francisco Bay Area in ‘74
In his third set of reports, Webb tackles the racial aspects of his story, asking why the black community has been so disproportionately hit by the crack epidemic. He writes:
Nothing epitomizes the drug war’s uneven impact on black Americans more clearly than the intertwined lives of Ricky Donnell Ross, a high school dropout, and his suave cocaine supplier, Danilo Blandon, who has a master’s degree in marketing and was one of the top civilian leaders in California of an anti-communist guerrilla army formed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
While Ross sits in prison, Blandon leads a comfortable, U.S.-subsidized life back in Nicaragua as a member of the new business class there. Blandon’s white or well-connected, contra-allied associates in both Central and North America also remain free. Webb ties this in to the widely noted disparity in sentencing between whites and blacks in U.S. courts and the general trends that have caused African Americans to bear the brunt of the war on drugs in the U.S. The Dark Alliance story had a particularly strong impact in California’s black community, in large part because of Webb’s ability to lay out such connections between oppressive U.S. foreign policy in the 1980s and the contemporary problems that community faced.
War on drugs has unequal impact on black Americans Flawed sentencing the main reason for race disparity San Francisco Bay Area man tangled in drug web
Flawed sentencing the main reason for race disparity
San Francisco Bay Area man tangled in drug web
Day Three also marks the unveiling (and unleashing) of the full Dark Alliance website, complete with the additional documentation, multimedia exhibits, reader forums, and links that made it so ahead of its time.
Dark Alliance Website
Watch a short video of Gary Webb, included on the unreleased Dark Alliance CDROM (Quicktime format).
Gary Webb Speaks on Narco News, October 23, 2000 Narco News Solidarity Letter from Gary Webb, March 16,2001 Crack, Cigarettes, and the arrival of Gary by George Sanchez, March 3, 2003 Gary Webb Joins Narco News as Guest Editor by Al Giordano, March 3, 2003 Gary Webb, ¡Presente! by Luis Gómez, December 12, 2004 Gary Webb: Do What He Did by Al Giordano, December 15, 2004 Gary Webb Drew Blood by Bill Conroy, December 17, 2004 An Anonymous Eulogy for Gary… and Truth December 17, 2004 Gary Webb: In his own words, a Video by Narco News and GNN The Life and Times of Gary Webb by George Sanchez, January 25, 2005 Saint Gary Webb by Charlie Hardy, February 10, 2005 Article by Robert Parry http://www.consortiumnews.com/2004/121304.html
Narco News Solidarity Letter from Gary Webb, March 16,2001
Crack, Cigarettes, and the arrival of Gary by George Sanchez, March 3, 2003
Gary Webb Joins Narco News as Guest Editor by Al Giordano, March 3, 2003
Gary Webb, ¡Presente! by Luis Gómez, December 12, 2004
Gary Webb: Do What He Did by Al Giordano, December 15, 2004
Gary Webb Drew Blood by Bill Conroy, December 17, 2004
An Anonymous Eulogy for Gary… and Truth December 17, 2004
Gary Webb: In his own words, a Video by Narco News and GNN
The Life and Times of Gary Webb by George Sanchez, January 25, 2005
Saint Gary Webb by Charlie Hardy, February 10, 2005
Read more in Gary Webb’s 1999 book Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion from Seven Stories Press.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
WHEN I CAME to work in the sprawling newsroom of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the early 1980s, I was assigned to share a computer terminal with a tall middle-aged reporter with a long, virtually unpronounceable Polish name. To save time, people called him Tom A.
To me, arriving from a small daily in Kentucky, Tom A. was the epitome of the hard-boiled big-city newspaperman. The city officials he wrote about and the editors who mangled his copy were "fuckinjerks." A question prompting an affirmative response would elicit "fuckin-a-tweetie" instead of "yes." And when his phone rang he would say, "It's the Big One," before picking up the receiver. No matter how many times I heard that, I always laughed. The Big One was the reporter's holy grail--the tip that led you from the daily morass of press conferences and cop calls on to the trail of the Biggest Story You'd Ever Write, the one that would turn the rest of your career into an anticlimax. I never knew if it was cynicism or optimism that made him say it, but deep inside, I thought he was jinxing himself.
The Big One, I believed, would be like a bullet with your name on it. You'd never hear it coming. And almost a decade later, long after Tom A., the Plain Dealer, and I had parted company, that's precisely how it happened.
I didn't even take the call.
It manifested itself as a pink "While You Were Out" message slip left on my desk in July 1995, bearing an unusual and unfamiliar name: Coral Marie Talavera Baca. There was no message, just a number, somewhere in the East Bay.
I called, but there was no answer, so I put the message aside. If I have time, I told myself, I'll try again later. Several days later an identical message slip appeared. Its twin was still sitting on a pile of papers at the edge of my desk. This time Coral Marie Talavera Baca was home.
"I saw the story you did a couple weeks ago," she began. "The one about the drug seizure laws. I thought you did a good job."
"Thanks a lot," I said, and I meant it. She was the first reader who'd called about that story, a front-page piece in the San Jose Mercury News about a convicted cocaine trafficker who, without any formal legal training, had beaten the U.S. Justice Department in court three straight times and was on the verge of flushing the government's multibillion-dollar asset forfeiture program right down the toilet.
"You didn't just give the government's side of it," she continued.
I asked what I could do for her.
"My boyfriend is in a situation like that," she said, "and I thought it might make a good follow-up story for you. What the government has done to him is unbelievable."
"He's in prison right now on cocaine trafficking charges. He's been in jail for three years."
"How much more time has he got?"
"Well, that's just it," she said. "He's never been brought to trial. He's done three years already, and he's never been convicted of anything."
"He must have waived his speedy trial rights," I said.
"No, none of them have," she said. "There are about five or six guys who were indicted with him, and most of them are still waiting to be tried, too. They want to go to trial because they think it's a bullshit case. Rafael keeps writing letters to the judge and the prosecutor, saying, you know, try me or let me go."
"Rafael's your boyfriend?"
"Yes. Rafael Cornejo."
"No, Nicaraguan. But he's lived in the Bay Area since he was like 2 or something."
It's interesting, I thought, but not the kind of story likely to excite my editors. Some drug dealers don't like being in jail? Oh. I knew what I would hear if I pitched Coral's story to my editors: We've done that already. And that was what I told her.
She was not dissuaded.
"There's something about Rafael's case that I don't think you would have ever done before," she persisted. "One of the government's witnesses is a guy who used to work with the CIA selling drugs. Tons of it."
"What now?" I wasn't sure I'd heard correctly.
"The CIA. He used to work for them or something. He's a Nicaraguan, too. Rafael knows him; he can tell you. He told me the guy had admitted bringing four tons of cocaine into the country."
I put down my pen. She'd sounded so rational. Where did this CIA stuff come from? In 18 years of investigative reporting, I had ended up doubting the credibility of every person who ever called me with a tip about the CIA. I flashed on Eddie Johnson, a conspiracy theorist who would come bopping into the Kentucky Post's newsroom every so often with amazing tales of intrigue and corruption. Interviewing Eddie was one of the rites of passage at the Post. Someone would invariably send him over to the newest reporter on the staff to see how long it took the rookie to figure out he was spinning his wheels.
Suddenly I remembered who I was talking to--a cocaine dealer's moll.
That explained it.
"Oh, the CIA. Well, you're right. I've never done any stories about the CIA. I don't run across them too often here in Sacramento. See, I mostly cover state government."
"You probably think I'm crazy, right?"
"No, no," I assured her. "You know, could be true, who's to say? When it comes to the CIA, stranger things have happened."
There was a short silence, and I could hear her exhale sharply.
"How dare you treat me like I'm an idiot," she said evenly. "You don't even know me. I work for a law firm. I've copied every single piece of paper that's been filed in Rafael's case, and I can document everything I'm telling you. You can ask Rafael, and he can tell you himself...He's got a court date in San Francisco coming up in a couple weeks. Why don't I meet you at the courthouse? That way you can sit in on the hearing, and if you're interested we could get lunch or something and talk."
That cinched it. Now the worst that could happen was lunch in San Francisco in mid-July, away from the phones and the editors. And, who knows, there was an off chance she was telling the truth.
FLIPPING ON MY computer, I logged into the Dialog database, which contains full-text electronic versions of millions of newspaper and magazine stories, property records, legal filings, you name it. OK. Let's see if Rafael Cornejo even exists.
A message flashed on the screen: "Your search has retrieved 11 documents. Display?" So far so good.
I called up the most recent one, a newspaper story that had appeared a year before in the San Francisco Chronicle. My eyes widened. "4 Indicted in Prison Breakout Plot--Pleasanton Inmates Planned to Leave in Copter, Prosecutors Say."
I quickly scanned the story. Son of a bitch. Four inmates were indicted yesterday in connection with a bold plan to escape from the federal lockup in Pleasanton using plastic explosives and a helicopter that would have taken them to a cargo ship at sea. The group also considered killing a guard if their keepers tried to thwart the escape, prosecutors contend. Rafael Cornejo, 39, of Lafayette, an alleged cocaine kingpin with reputed ties to Nicaraguan drug traffickers and Panamanian money launderers, was among those indicted for conspiracy to escape.
That's some boyfriend she's got there, I mused. The newspaper stories make him sound like Al Capone. And he wants to sit down and have a chat?
When I pushed open the doors to the vast courtroom in the San Francisco federal courthouse a few weeks later, I found a scene from Miami Vice.
To my left, a dark-suited army of federal agents and prosecutors huddled around a long, polished wooden table, looking grim and talking in low voices. On the right, an array of long-haired, expensively attired defense attorneys were whispering to a group of long-haired, angry-looking Hispanics--their clients. The judge had not yet arrived.
I had no idea what Coral Baca looked like, so I scanned the faces in the courtroom, trying to pick out a woman who could be a drug kingpin's girlfriend. She found me first.
"You must be Gary," said a voice behind me.
I turned, and for an instant all I saw was cleavage and jewelry. She looked to be in her mid-20s. Dark hair. Bright red lipstick. Long legs. Short skirt. Dressed to accentuate her positive attributes. I could barely speak.
She tossed her hair and smiled. "Pleased to meet you." She stuck out a hand with a giant diamond on it, and I shook it weakly.
We sat down in the row of seats behind the prosecutors' table, and I glanced at her again. That boyfriend of hers must be going nuts.
She pointed out Cornejo, a short, handsome Latino with a strong jaw and long, wavy hair parted in the middle.
"Can we go out in the hall and talk for a minute?" I asked her.
We sat on a bench just outside the door. I told her I needed to get case numbers so I could ask for the court files. And, by the way, did she bring those documents she'd mentioned?
She reached into her briefcase and brought out a stack an inch thick. "I've got three bankers' boxes full back at home, and you're welcome to see all of it, but this is the stuff I was telling you about concerning the witness."
I flipped through the documents. Most of them were federal law enforcement reports, DEA-6s and FBI 302s, every page bearing big black letters that said, "MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED--PROPERTY OF U.S. GOVERNMENT." At the bottom of the stack was a transcript of some sort. I pulled it out.
"Grand Jury for the Northern District of California, Grand Jury Number 93-5, Grand Jury Inv. No. 9301035. Reporter's Transcript of Proceedings. Testimony of Oscar Danilo Blandón. February 3, 1994."
I whistled. "Federal grand jury transcripts? I'm impressed. Where'd you get these?"
"The government turned them over under discovery. Dave Hall did. I heard he really got reamed out by the DEA when they found out about all the stuff he gave us."
I SKIMMED THE 39-page transcript. Whatever else this Blandón fellow may have been, he was pretty much the way Coral had described him. A big-time trafficker who'd dealt dope for many years, he started out dealing for the Contras, a right-wing Nicaraguan guerrilla army, in Los Angeles. He'd used drug money to buy trucks and supplies. At some point after Ronald Reagan got into power, the CIA had decided his services as a fundraiser were no longer required, and he stayed in the drug business for himself.
What made the story so compelling was that he was appearing before the grand jury as a U.S. government witness. He wasn't under investigation. He wasn't trying to beat a rap. He was there as a witness for the prosecution, which meant that the U.S. Justice Department was vouching for him.
But who was the grand jury investigating? Every time the testimony led in that direction, words--mostly names--were blacked out.
"Who is this family they keep asking him about?"
"Rafael says it's Meneses. Norwin Meneses and his nephews. Have you heard of them?"
"Norwin is one of the biggest traffickers on the West Coast. When Rafael got arrested, that's who the FBI and the IRS wanted to talk to him about. Rafael has known (Norwin and his nephews) for years. Since the '70s, I think. The government is apparently using Blandón to get to Meneses."
Inside, I heard the bailiff calling the court to order, and we returned to the courtroom. During the hearing, I kept trying to recall where I had heard about this Contra-cocaine business before. Had I read it in a book? Seen it on television? Like most Americans, I knew the Contras had been a creation of the CIA, the darlings of the Reagan Right, made up largely of the vanquished followers of deposed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza and his brutal army, the National Guard. But drug trafficking? Surely, I thought, if there had been some concrete evidence, it would have stuck in my mind. Maybe I was confusing it with something else. During a break, I went to the restroom and bumped into Assistant U.S. Attorney Hall. I introduced myself as a reporter. Hall eyed me cautiously.
"Why would the Mercury News be interested in this case?" he asked. "You should have been here two years ago. This is old stuff now."
"I'm not really doing a story on this case. I'm looking into one of the witnesses. A man named Blandón. Am I pronouncing the name correctly?"
Hall appeared surprised. "What about him?"
"About his selling cocaine for the Contras." Hall leaned back slightly, folded his arms and gave me a quizzical smile. "Who have you been talking to?"
"Actually, I've been reading. And I was curious to know what you made of his testimony about selling drugs for the Contras in L.A. Did you believe him?"
"Well, yeah, but I don't know how you could absolutely confirm it. I mean, I don't know what to tell you," he said with a slight laugh. "The CIA won't tell me anything."
I jotted down his remark. "Oh, you've asked them?"
"Yeah, but I never heard anything back. Not that I expected to. But that's all ancient history. You're really doing a story about that?"
"I don't know if I'm doing a story at all," I said. "At this point, I'm just trying to see if there is one. Do you know where Blandón is these days?"
"Not a clue."
That couldn't be true, I thought. How could he not know? He was one of the witnesses against Rafael Cornejo. "From what I heard," I told him, "he's a pretty significant witness in your case here. He hasn't disappeared, has he? He is going to testify?"
Hall's friendly demeanor changed. "We're not at all certain about that."
WHEN I GOT back to Sacramento, I called my editor at the main office in San Jose, Dawn Garcia, and filled her in on the day's events. Dawn was a former investigative reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, and had been the Mercury's state editor for several years.
"So, what do you think?" she asked, editorese for, "Is there a story here and how long will it take to get it?"
"I don't know. I'd like to spend a little time looking into it at least. Hell, if his testimony is true, it could be a pretty good story. The Contras were selling coke in L.A.? I've never heard that one before."
She mulled it over for a moment before agreeing. "It's not like there's a lot going on in Sacramento right now," she said. That was true enough. The sun-baked state capital was entering its summertime siesta, when triple-digit temperatures sent solons adjourning happily to mountain or seashore locales. With any luck, I was about to join them.
"I need to go down to San Diego for a couple days," I said. "Blandón testified that he was arrested down there in '92 for conspiracy, so there's probably a court file somewhere. He may be living down there, for all I know. Probably the quickest way to find out if what he was saying is true is to find him."
Dawn OK'd the trip, and a few days later I was in balmy San Diego, squinting at microfiche in the clerk's office of the U.S. District Court.
I found Blandón's case file within a few minutes.
He and six others, including his wife Chepita Blandón, had been secretly indicted May 5, 1992, for conspiring to distribute cocaine. He'd been buying wholesale quantities from suppliers and reselling it to other wholesalers. Way up on the food chain. According to the indictment, he'd been a trafficker for 10 years, had clients nationwide and had bragged on tape of selling other L.A. dealers between two and four tons of cocaine.
He was such a big-timer that the judge had ordered him and his wife held in jail without bail because they posed "a threat to the health and moral fiber of the community."
The file contained a transcript of a detention hearing, held to determine if the couple should be released on bail. Blandón's prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O'Neale, brought out his best ammo to persuade the judge to keep the couple locked up until trial. "Mr. Blandón's family was closely associated with the Somoza government that was overthrown in 1979," O'Neale said. "He is a large-scale cocaine trafficker and has been for a long time," O'Neale argued. Given the amount of cocaine he'd sold, O'Neale said, Blandón's minimum mandatory punishment was "off the charts"--life plus a $4 million fine--giving him plenty of incentive to flee the country.
Blandón's lawyer, Brad Brunon, confirmed the couple's close ties to Somoza and produced a photo of them at a wedding reception with El Presidente and his spouse. That just showed what fine families they were from, he said. The accusations in Nicaragua against Blandón, Brunon argued, were "politically motivated because of Mr. Blandón's activities with the Contras in the early 1980s."
Damn, here it is again. His own lawyer says he was working for the Contras.
From the docket sheet, I could see that the case had never gone to trial. Everyone had pleaded out, starting with Blandón. Five months after his arrest, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and the charges against his wife were dropped. After that, his fugitive co-defendants were quickly arrested and pleaded guilty. But they all received extremely short sentences. One was even put on unsupervised probation.
I didn't get it. If O'Neale had such a rock-solid case against a major drug-trafficking ring, why were they let off so easily? People did more time for burglary. Even Blandón, the ringleader, only got 48 months, and from the docket sheet it appeared that was later cut almost in half.
As I read on, I realized that Blandón was already back on the streets--totally unsupervised. No probation. No parole. Free as a bird. He'd walked out of jail Sept. 19, 1994, on the arm of an INS agent, Robert Tellez. He'd done 28 months for 10 years of cocaine trafficking.
The last page of the file told me why.
It was a motion filed by U.S. Attorney O'Neale, asking the court to unseal Blandón's plea agreement and a couple of internal Justice Department memorandums. "During the course of this case, defendant Oscar Danilo Blandón cooperated with and rendered substantial assistance to the United States," O'Neale wrote. At the government's request, his jail sentence had been secretly cut twice. O'Neale then persuaded the judge to let Blandón out of jail completely, telling the court he was needed as a full-time paid informant for the U.S. Department of Justice. Since he'd be undercover, O'Neale wrote, he couldn't very well have probation agents checking up on him. He was released on unsupervised probation. I walked back to my hotel convinced that I was on the right track. Now there were two separate sources saying--in court--that Blandón was involved with the Contras and had been selling large amounts of cocaine in Los Angeles. And when the government finally had a chance to put him away forever, it had opened up the cell doors and let him walk. I needed to find Blandón. I had a million questions only he could answer.
BACK IN SACRAMENTO, I did some checking on the targets of the 1994 grand jury investigation--the Meneses family--and again Coral's description proved accurate, perhaps even understated. At the California State Library's government publications section, I scoured the indices that catalog congressional hearings by topic and witness name. Meneses wasn't listed, but there had been a series of hearings back in 1987 and 1988, I saw, dealing with the issue of the Contras and cocaine: a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
For the next six days I sat with rolls of dimes at a microfiche printer in the quiet wood-paneled recesses of the library, reading and copying many of the 1,100 pages of transcripts and exhibits of the Kerry Committee hearings, growing more astounded each day. The committee's investigators had uncovered direct links between drug dealers and the Contras. They'd gotten into BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) years before anyone knew what that banking scandal even was. They'd found evidence of Manuel Noriega's involvement with drugs--four years before the invasion. Many of the Kerry Committee witnesses, I noted, later became U.S. Justice Department witnesses against Noriega.
Kerry and his staff had taken videotaped depositions from Contra leaders who acknowledged receiving drug profits, with the apparent knowledge of the CIA. The drug dealers had admitted--under oath--giving money to the Contras, and had passed polygraph tests. The pilots had admitted flying weapons down and cocaine and marijuana back, landing in at least one instance at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. The exhibits included U.S. Customs reports, FBI reports, internal Justice Department memos. It almost knocked me off my chair.
It was all there in black and white. Blandón's testimony about selling cocaine for the Contras in L.A. wasn't some improbable fantasy. This could have actually happened.
I called Jack Blum, the Washington, D.C., attorney who'd headed the Kerry investigation, and he confirmed that Meneses had been an early target. But the Justice Department, he said, had stonewalled the committee's requests for information, and he had finally given up trying to obtain the records, moving on to other, more productive areas. "There was a lot of weird stuff going on out on the West Coast, but after our experiences with Justice...we mainly concentrated on the cocaine coming into the East."
"Why is it that I can barely remember this?" I asked. "I mean, I read the papers every day."
"It wasn't in the papers, for the most part. We laid it all out, and we were trashed," Blum said. "I've got to tell you, there's a real problem with the press in this town. We were totally hit by the leadership of the administration and much of the congressional leadership. They simply turned around and said, 'These people are crazy. Their witnesses are full of shit. They're a bunch of drug dealers, drug addicts; don't listen to them.' And they dumped all over us. It came from every direction and every corner. We were even dumped on by the Iran-Contra Committee. They wouldn't touch this issue with a 10-foot pole."
"There had to have been some reporters who followed this," I protested. "Maybe I'm naive, but this seems like a huge story to me."
Blum barked a laugh. "Well, it's nice to hear someone finally say that, even if it is 10 years later."
A FEW DAYS later I got a call from Coral. My one chance to hook up with Blandón had just fallen through. "He isn't going to be testifying at Rafael's trial after all," she told me. "Rafael's attorney won his motion to have the DEA and FBI release the uncensored files, and the U.S. attorney decided to drop him as a witness rather than do that. Can you believe it? He was one of the witnesses they used to get the indictment against Rafael, and now they're refusing to put him on the stand."
I hung up the phone in a funk.
But pretty soon the San Diego attorney who had been out of town when I was looking for Blandón returned my call. Juanita Brooks had represented Blandón's friend and co-defendant, a Mexican millionaire named Sergio Guerra. Another lawyer in her firm had defended Chepita Blandón. She knew quite a bit about the couple.
"You don't happen to know where he is these days, do you?"
"No, but I can tell you where he'll be in a couple of months. Here in San Diego. Entirely by coincidence, I have a case coming up where he's the chief prosecution witness against my client."
"You're kidding," I said. "What case is this?"
"It's a pretty big one. Have you ever heard of someone named Freeway Ricky Ross?"
Indeed I had. I'd run across him while researching the asset forfeiture series in 1993. "He's one of the biggest crack dealers in L.A.," I said.
"That's what they say," Brooks replied. "He and my client and a couple others were arrested in a DEA reverse sting last year, and Blandón is the confidential informant in the case."
"How did Blandón get involved with crack dealers?"
"I don't have a lot of details because the government has been very protective of him. They've refused to give us any discovery so far," Brooks said. "But from what I understand, Blandón used to be one of Ricky Ross' sources back in the 1980s, and I suppose he played off that friendship."
My mind was racing. Blandón, the Contra fundraiser, had sold cocaine to the biggest crack dealer in South Central L.A.? That was too much.
"Are you sure about this?"
"I wouldn't want you to quote me on it," she said, "but, yes, I'm pretty sure. You can always call Alan Fenster, Ross' attorney, and ask him. I'm sure he knows."
FENSTER WAS OUT, so I left a message on his voice mail, telling him I was working on a story about Oscar Danilo Blandón and wanted to interview him. When I got back from lunch, I found a message from Fenster waiting. It said: "Oscar who?"
My heart sank. I'd suspected it was a bum lead, but I'd been keeping my fingers crossed anyway. I should have known; that would have been too perfect. I called Fenster back to thank him for his time, and he asked what kind of a story I was working on. I told him--the Contras and cocaine.
"I'm curious," he said. "What made you think this Oscar person was involved in Ricky's case?"
I told him what Brooks had related, and he gasped.
"He's the informant? Are you serious? No wonder those bastards won't give me his name!" Fenster began swearing a blue streak.
"Forgive me," he said. "But if you only knew what kind of bullshit I've been going through to get that information from those sons of bitches, and then some reporter calls me up from San Jose and he knows all about him, it just makes me...."
"Your client didn't tell you his name?"
"He didn't know it! He only knew him as Danilo, and then he wasn't even sure that was his real name. You and Ricky need to talk. I'll have him call you." He hung up abruptly.
Ross called a few hours later. I asked him what he knew about Blandón. "A lot," he said. "He was almost like a godfather to me. He's the one who got me going."
"Was he your main source?"
"He was. Everybody I knew, I knew through him. So really, he could be considered as my only source. In a sense, he was."
"When was this?"
"Eighty-one or '82. Right when I was getting going."
Damn, I thought. That was right when Blandón said he started dealing drugs.
"Would you be willing to sit down and talk to me about this?" I asked.
"Hell, yeah. I'll tell you anything you want to know."
At the end of September 1995, I spent a week in San Diego, going through the files of the Ross case, interviewing defense attorneys and prosecutors, listening to undercover DEA tapes. I attended a discovery hearing and watched as Fenster and the other defense lawyers made another futile attempt to find out details about the government's informant, so they could begin preparing their defenses. Assistant U.S. Attorney O'Neale refused to provide a thing. They'd get what they were entitled to, he promised, 10 days before trial.
"See what I mean?" Fenster asked me on his way out. "It's like the trial in Alice in Wonderland."
I spent hours with Ross at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. He knew nothing of Blandón's past, I discovered. He had no idea who the Contras were or whose side they were on. To him, Danilo was just a nice guy with a lot of cheap dope.
"What would you say if I were to tell you that he was working for the Contras, selling cocaine to help them buy weapons and supplies?" I asked.
Ross goggled. "And they put me in jail? I'd say that was some fucked-up shit there. They say I sold dope all over, but man, I know he done sold 10 times more than me. Are you being straight with me?"
Whiteout The CIA, Drugs and the Press
Read the Review
Webb's Big Story
Sunday, August 18, 1996, was not a major news day for most American newspapers. The big story of the hour was the preview of the Democratic convention in Chicago.
About 2,500 miles west of Chicago lies Silicon Valley. Its big newspaper is the San Jose Mercury News, which has a solid reputation as a good regional paper. Like other Knight-Ridder properties, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Detroit Free Press, it has a middle-of-the-road political cast slightly tilted to the Democratic side.
As the citizens of Santa Clara County browsed through their newspaper that Sunday morning, many of them surely stopped at the first article of a three-part series, under the slightly sinister title "Dark Alliance," subtitled "The Story Behind the Crack Explosion." The words were superimposed on a murky picture of a black man smoking a crack pipe, said image overlaid on the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency. The first day's headline was "America's Crack Plague Has Roots in Nicaraguan War," just above the byline of the author of the series, a reporter in the Mercury News Sacramento bureau named Gary Webb.
Within a couple of weeks, the story that Webb laid across August 18, 19 and 20 in the San Jose Mercury News would convulse black America and prompt the Central Intelligence Agency first to furious denials and then to one of the most ruthless campaigns of vilification of a journalist since the Agency went after Seymour Hersh in the mid 1970s. Within three weeks, both the Justice Department and the CIA bowed to fierce demands by California Senator Barbara Boxer and Los Angeles Representative Maxine Waters for thorough a investigation. By mid-November, a crowd of 1,500 locals in Waters's own district in South Central Los Angeles would be giving CIA director John Deutch one of the hardest evenings of his life. In terms of public unease about the secret activities of the US government, Webb's series was the most significant event since the Iran/Contra affair nearly blew Ronald Reagan out of the water.
From the savage assaults on Webb by other members of his profession, those unfamiliar with the series might have assumed that Webb had made a series of wild and unsubstantiated charges, long on dramatic speculation and short on specific data or sourcing. In fact, Webb's series was succinct and narrowly focused.
Webb stuck closely to a single story line: how a group of Nicaraguan exiles set up a cocaine ring in California, establishing ties with the black street gangs of South Central Los Angeles who manufactured crack out of shipments of powder cocaine. Webb then charted how much of the profits made by the Nicaraguan exiles had been funneled back to the Contra army -- created in the late 1970s by the Central Intelligence Agency, with the mission of sabotaging the Sandinista revolution that had evicted Anastasio Somoza and his corrupt clique in 1979.
The very first paragraph of the series neatly summed up the theme. It was, as they say in the business, a strong lead, but a justified one. "For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the CIA." That San Francisco drug ring was headed by a Nicaraguan exile named Norwin Meneses Cantarero, who served "as the head of security and intelligence" for the leading organization in the Contra coalition, the FDN or Fuerza Democratico Nicaraguense. The FDN was headed by Enrique Bermudez and Adolfo Calero, who had been installed in those positions under the oversight of the CIA. Meneses came from a family intimately linked to the Somoza dictatorship. One brother had been chief of police in Managua. Two other brothers were generals in the force most loyal to Somoza, the National Guard. While his brothers were assisting Somoza in the political dictatorship that darkened Nicaragua for many decades, Norwin Meneses applied his energies mostly to straightforwardly criminal enterprises in the civil sector. He ran a car theft ring and was also one of the top drug traffickers in Nicaragua, where he was known as El Rey del Drogas (the king of drugs). Meneses worked with the approval of the Somoza clan, which duly received its rake-off.
In 1977, Norwin Meneses felt it necessary to register his disquiet at a Nicaraguan customs probe into his smuggling of high-end North American cars from the US into Nicaragua. The Meneses gang murdered the chief of customs. Owing to Norwin's powerful family, the case was never prosecuted.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency and other agencies had been keeping files on Meneses since at least 1974. Yet he was granted political refugee status in July 1979, when he and other members of Somoza's elite fled to the US. Meneses landed in San Francisco as part of what became known locally as the Nicaraguan "gold rush." Here he lost no time in rebuilding his criminal enterprises in stolen cars and drugs.
Meneses's contact in Los Angeles was another Nicaraguan exile, Oscar Danilo Blandon. Blandon had left Managua in June 1979, a month before Meneses, on the eve of Somoza's downfall. The son of a Managua slumlord, Blandon had earned a master's degree in marketing from the University of Bogota in Colombia and had headed Somoza's agricultural export program. Agricultural exports were an important component of the country's mainly ranching- and coffee-based economy, with the Somoza family itself owning no less than a quarter of the nation's agricultural land.
In his position as head of the export program, Blandon had developed close ties to the US Department of Commerce and the US State Department. He secured $27 million in USAID funding and was well known to the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency, both of which had a commanding presence in Somoza's Nicaragua. (Somoza had sent his officer corps for training in the US, and the CIA station chief was the most powerful foreigner in Managua.)
Blandon's wife, Chepita, also came from a powerful clan, the Murillo family. One of her relatives was the mayor of Managua. Like many other Somoza supporters, both the Blandon and Murillo families lost most of their fortunes in the 1979 revolution and burned with the desire to evict the popular government headed by the Sandinista commanders.
Blandon and his wife settled in Los Angeles, where he started a used-car business. He also began to involve himself in Nicaraguan emigre politics. Testifying on February 3, 1994 as a government witness before a federal grand jury investigating the Meneses family's drug ring in San Francisco, Blandon said he drove to San Francisco for several meetings with Norwin Meneses "to start the movement, the Contra revolution." Blandon had known the Meneses family in Nicaragua. In fact, Blandon said, his mother shared Meneses's last name of Cantarero, "so we are related." He said he and Meneses "met with the politics people," but couldn't find a way to raise big sums of cash.
In the spring of 1981, Blandon got a phone call from an old friend and business associate from Managua named Donald Barrios. Barrios, then living in Miami, was moving in high-level Nicaraguan emigre circles. This group included General Gustavo Medina, once an important intelligence officer in Somoza's National Guard, a position in which he had long-standing ties to the CIA. Blandon later testified that Barrios "started telling me we had to raise some money and send it to Honduras." Barrios instructed Blandon to go to Los Angeles International Airport to meet Meneses. Blandon and Meneses then flew to Honduras and, in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, met with Enrique Bermudez, former National Guardsman and military commander of the FDN.
In Somoza's final days, President Jimmy Carter had made a last-ditch effort to maintain a US-backed regime in Nicaragua even if Somoza should be forced to quit. The plan was to preserve the bloodthirsty National Guard as the custodian of US interests. When this plan failed and the Sandinistas swept to power, Carter ordered the initial organization of what later became known as the Contras, operating out of Honduras. The CIA mustered Argentinian officers fresh from their own death squad campaigns, and these men began to organize the exiled National Guardsmen into a military force.
Bermudez was key to this CIA-organized operation from the start. He had been a colonel in the National Guard, had trained at the US National Defense College outside Washington, D.C., and had served from 1976 to July 1979 as Somoza's military attache in Washington. Furnished with $300,000 in CIA money, Bermudez took command of the fledgling Contra force in Honduras. In the summer of 1981, at the dawn of the Reagan administration, Bermudez held a press conference in Honduras. In language drafted by his CIA handlers, Bermudez announced the formation of the FDN and his own position as commander of its military wing. The CIA script later installed Adolfo Calero, formerly the Coca-Cola concessionaire in Managua, as the FDN's civilian head, operating mainly out of the United States, where he was under tight CIA supervision.
Blandon and Meneses arrived to meet Bermudez at a moment of financial strain for the Contra army, then in formation. The CIA had provided seed money, but it wasn't until November 23, 1981 that Reagan approved National Security Directive 17, which provided a budget of $19.3 million for the Contras, via the CIA. The Contras, Bermudez said, needed money urgently, and, Blandon later testified to a US federal grand jury, it was at this meeting that the need for drug money to finance the Contras was proposed. "There's a saying," Blandon testified, "that `the ends justify the means.' And that's what Mr. Bermudez told us in Honduras."
Bermudez was not repelled by the moral implications of drug smuggling. In fact, evidence gathered during congressional hearings in the mid-1980s suggests that Bermudez himself had previously had a hand in the drug trade. "Bermudez was the target of a government-sponsored drug sting operation," said Senator John Kerry, who chaired a committee that investigated charges of Contra cocaine smuggling. "He has been involved in drug running." Kerry charged that the CIA had protected Bermudez from arrest. "The law enforcement officials know that the sting was called back in the interest of protecting the Contras," Kerry concluded.
Back in San Francisco, Meneses began educating Blandon, the graduate in marketing, on the finer points of cocaine wholesaling. Trained in accountancy, Blandon did some work on Meneses's books and rapidly became aware of the substantial scale of his cocaine operation. In 1981 alone, Blandon later testified, the Meneses ring moved 900 kilos of cocaine. At that time the wholesale price of a kilo of cocaine was $50,000. The cocaine was coming from Colombia via Mexico and Miami and then to the Bay Area, where it was stashed in about a dozen warehouses. Meneses was also keeping cocaine at the house of his mistress, Blanca Margarita Castano, who lived near the old Cow Palace in the Hunters Point area. Eventually Meneses's romantic complications prompted him to relocate his wife and young children to Los Angeles, with Mrs. Meneses ensconced in a silk-screening business under the eye of Blandon, who also set up a restaurant for Mrs. Meneses called Chickalina. Both the silk-screen shop and the restaurant became fronts for the drug business. As Blandon put it, "It was marketing, okay? Marketing."
As a cocaine wholesaler in Los Angeles, Blandon got off to a slow start. He'd pick up a couple of kilos from Meneses, along with a list of local buyers, and he'd do the rounds in his white Toyota. But business remained static until he made a fateful contact with a young black fellow living in South Central named Rick Ross. Ross was born in Troup, Texas and as a young child moved to Los Angeles with his mother. He'd shown promise as a tennis player in high school and had set his sights on a college scholarship, when his coach found he could neither read nor write and dropped him. Ross went to Los Angeles Trade Technical College, was number three on the tennis team, and entered a course in bookbinding. To make some money he started selling stolen car parts, was arrested, and had to quit school.
Ross first heard about cocaine, at the time a middle-class drug, from a college friend, and it wasn't long before he made a connection with a Nicaraguan dealer named Henry Corrales. Corrales gave Ross a good price, and he was able to make a decent profit in reselling to the Crips gang in South Central and Compton.
As we shall see, the economics of cocaine became a bitter issue in the uproar over Webb's series. Was it true that the cocaine prices set by the Nicaraguans rendered the drug affordable to poor people for the first time? Arguably, this was the case -- and indeed there is more evidence to substantiate such a thesis than Webb was able to offer in his tightly edited series. Cheap cocaine began to appear in South Central Los Angeles in early 1982. Ross got it from Corrales, who worked for Meneses and Blandon, and it wasn't long before Ross went directly to Blandon.
As Ross later told Webb, the prices offered by Blandon gave him command of the Los Angeles market. He was buying his cocaine supplies at sometimes $10,000 less per kilo than the going rate. "It was unreal," Ross remembered. "We were just wiping everyone out." His connections to the Bloods and Crips street gangs solved the distribution problems that had previously beleaguered Blandon. By 1983, Ross -- now known as "Freeway Ricky" -- was buying over a 100 kilos of cocaine a week and selling as much as $3 million worth of crack a day.
Drugs weren't the only commodity Blandon was selling to Ross. The young entrepreneur was also receiving from the Nicaraguan a steady stream of weapons and surveillance equipment, including Uzi submachine guns, semi-automatic handguns, miniature videocameras, recording equipment, police scanners and Colt AR-15 assault rifles. Ross told Webb that Blandon even tried to sell his partner a grenade launcher.
Blandon's source for this equipment was a man named Ronald J. Lister. Lister, who figures prominently in the story, was a former Laguna Beach police detective who at that time was running two security firms -- Mundy Security and Pyramid International Security Consultants. Blandon testified at Rick Ross's trial in March 1996 that Lister would attend meetings of Contra supporters in Southern California to demonstrate his arsenal. Lister had worked as an informant for the DEA and FBI, and boasted of his ties to the CIA during the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was waging war in Central America.
Business was indeed booming. In 1981 Meneses had, according to Blandon's reading of his account books, been moving 900 kilos a year. Two years later the numbers had surged to around 5,000 kilos a year -- and the latter figure represents just the amount Blandon's LA operation was handling. Ross was a brilliant businessman. His greatest coup was to recognize the potential in recent technological innovations for the mass marketing of cocaine. Ross didn't invent the process whereby powder cocaine was converted into the "rocks" of crack that could be sold at affordable street prices; crack had first appeared in poor city neighborhoods on the West Coast in 1979. But Ross was the first to take full advantage. Crack could be bought for $4 to $5 a hit. It gave an intense, although brief, high, and was highly addictive. Consequently, as the furious black reaction to the Webb series tells us, crack engendered social disaster in neighborhoods such as South Central. Families were ravaged by addiction. Addicts stole and robbed to buy the next hit. Gangs fought bloody battles for control of turf. The plague elicited a savage response from the state. Prison sentences were a hundred times more severe for crack-related offenses than for powder cocaine.
By 1985, Ross and his affiliates in the street gangs had begun exporting their crack operation to what the DEA reckoned to be at least a dozen other cities. Obviously, the sums accruing to Danilo Blandon in the drug trade were enormous, and he testified at Ross's trial that "whatever we were running in LA, the profit was going to the Contra revolution." Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, the CIA officer in charge of covert operations in Latin America, has denied, both in the press and in his memoir, allegations that the CIA would have sanctioned or turned a blind eye to Contra drug shipments for funding reasons. The CIA's Contra operation, said Clarridge, "was funded by the US government. There was enough money to fund the operation. We didn't need, and neither did the Contras need the money from anybody else."
But from the beginning, Clarridge's plans for the Contras were much more ambitious than the initial scheme of the Reagan administration, which was to use them as part of an effort to seal off Nicaragua and try to stop it from aiding guerrilla struggles in neighboring countries. Clarridge wanted a covert war. In the summer of 1981, a week after becoming head of the CIA's Latin American operations, he took his recommendations to CIA chief William Casey: "My plan was simple. 1. Take the war to Nicaragua. 2. Start killing Cubans." This quickly evolved into a far-ranging program of assassinations, industrial sabotage and incursions into Nicaraguan territory from bases in Honduras and Costa Rica.
The problem for Clarridge and for the CIA was that the US Congress tended to be dubious of such large plans, which were not politically popular. The initial appropriation was meager, amounting to only $19 million in 1982 for the CIA's covert operations against Nicaragua. In the spring of 1982 such covert costs soared when the Argentinians who had been supervising day-to-day military training for the fledgling Contra force in Honduras pulled out at the onset of the Falklands/Malvinas War. Later that year, Congress moved to restrict CIA aid for the Contras. At the last second Rep. Edward Boland of Massachusetts introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill for fiscal 1983, prohibiting the CIA from spending any money "for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua." The Agency was given only $21 million outside Boland's restrictions for activities related to the Contras.
In December 1983 Congress capped Contra funding for fiscal 1984 at only $24 million, which was roughly a quarter of what the Reagan administration had claimed was necessary for a proper fighting force. The shortfall was what drove Robert McFarlane and Oliver North to hunt for alternative sources of funding -- for example, asking the Saudis for $1 million a month. Clarridge went on a similar mission to South Africa. North was in the process of setting up covert bank accounts in mid-1984.
In April 1984, it emerged that the CIA had undertaken the mining of Nicaraguan harbors. The political uproar in the US resulted in the most restrictive of the Boland amendments, passed by Congress in October 1984. During fiscal 1985, the amendment read, "no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement, or individual." The year 1985 also marked the peak of the Meneses-Blandon drug sales, at the time of the CIA's greatest need for money for its Contra army. The Boland amendment expired on October 17, 1986, and immediately the portion of the CIA budget allocated for the Contras rose to $100 million.
During this stressful period of desperate Contra need for cash, when Reagan secretly decreed to National Security Adviser McFarlane that whatever Congress might stipulate, the Contras had to be kept together "body and soul," the drug operation run by Contra supporters Meneses and Blandon led a charmed life, without any disruption of its activities by law enforcement. Indeed, several law enforcement officers have complained publicly that actions targeted against Meneses were blocked by NSC officers in the Reagan administration and by the CIA.
Only a few weeks after the Blandon-Meneses partnership was launched in the summer of 1981, a young DEA agent in San Francisco named Susan Smith began an investigation of Norwin Meneses. Smith had picked up rumors on the street that a group of Nicaraguan exiles headed by Meneses was selling cocaine in the Bay Area and sending money and weapons back to Central America. She checked the DEA files on Meneses and found a bulging record of the man's criminal activities, dating back to a 1978 FBI report charging that Norwin and his brother Ernest were "smuggling 20 kilos of cocaine at a time into the United States." One of the entry points for Meneses's cocaine was apparently New Orleans, where Smith came across records from the DEA's "Operation Alligator." This government sting had busted a large cocaine ring in New Orleans. One of the arrested men, Manuel Porro, told DEA agent Bill Cunningham that Meneses was the source of the cocaine. However, Meneses was never arrested.
A few months later, Smith discovered, the San Francisco DEA office received a tip that Meneses was also the supplier for cocaine seized in a major bust in Tampa, Florida in February 1980. The cocaine had apparently been flown to Tampa from Meneses's ranch in Costa Rica, to be distributed by Meneses's relatives. Smith also learned that, beginning in early June 1981, Detective Joseph Lee of the Baldwin Park Police Department in Los Angeles had been investigating a Nicaraguan dealer named Julio Bermudez who was making two trips a month to San Francisco, where he would pick up 20 pounds of cocaine at a time from Meneses's warehouses.
Smith mustered this information into an affidavit for a search warrant. dated November 16, 1981, and began trailing Meneses and his dealers. On one occasion, Smith followed Meneses's men to a house in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, which was owned by Carlos Cabezas, a Nicaraguan lawyer and accountant who had served as a pilot in Somoza's National Guard. Cabezas was a leading figure in the anti-Sandinista movement in California.
Then Smith's superiors abruptly terminated her investigation and she was reassigned to cover drug dealing by motorcycle gangs in Oakland. Despite her huge file on Meneses, Smith told Webb, DEA managers evinced no interest. Smith quit the DEA in 1984, asking her superiors if they wanted her extensive files on the Meneses drug ring. They declined, and the files were shredded.
What's more than a little curious about the DEA's lack of interest in Meneses in 1984 is that in February 1983 the FBI had scored one of the largest cocaine seizures in California history, in the so-called Frogman case. Members of the Meneses drug syndicate had been caught attempting to swim ashore at the San Francisco docks from a Colombian freighter, the Ciudad de Cuta, with 400 pounds of cocaine. According to the DEA, the drugs had a street value at that time of more than $100 million. Ultimately, thirty-five people were arrested in the Frogman case, including Julio Zavala and the man whose house Susan Smith had staked out, Carlos Cabezas. The Frogman trial was going on at the very moment the DEA was telling Susan Smith that information about Cabezas and Meneses held no interest for it.
But then again, the Frogman case was not exactly your run-of-the-mill drug trial. On November 28, 1984, Cabezas testified in that trial that this cocaine-smuggling operation was a funding source for the Contras. Furthermore, he testified that the cocaine he brought into the US came from Norwin Meneses's ranch in Costa Rica. His testimony at the trial was limited, because the judge would not allow the defense to explore the CIA's role in any detail. In a subsequent interview recorded for a British TV documentary, Cabezas said that the CIA was aware of, and in fact had supervised, a crucial phase of his drug-trafficking operation. "It wasn't until the second trip that I had to go to Costa Rica," Cabezas said, "when I met this guy [Ivan Gomez] that's supposed to be the CIA agent. They told me who he was and the reason he was there, it was to make sure that the money was given to the right people and nobody was taking advantage of the situation and nobody was taking profits that they were not supposed to. And that was it. He was making sure that the money goes to the Contra revolution."
Concerns that the drug money might have been diverted to the bank accounts of Contra leaders were not without foundation. Two of Cabezas' colleagues in this Costa Rica/San Francisco cocaine enterprise were Troilo and Ferdinand Sanchez, close relatives of Contra leader Aristides Sanchez. Sanchez was a member of the FDN's directorate. He and his relatives maintained an offshore bank account in the Dutch Antilles, which Oliver North's aide Robert Owen suspected was being refreshed with cash intended for the Contra effort. Owen wrote a memo to North that he believed that "the CIA is being had." North took no action. Clearly, Reagan's National Security staff knew well that drug money from the Meneses syndicate was supposed to go, with CIA approval, to the Contra war effort, and they were chagrined that the money might have been diverted from that mission.
One of the other leaders of the Frogman operation was Julio Zavala, a brother-in-law of Cabezas. After his arrest, FBI agents seized $36,800 in cash from Zavala, which the government considered to be drug money and therefore subject to seizure. Zavala claimed that the money was cash meant to buy weapons for the Contras. His attorney, Judd Iverson, submitted letters to the court from two Contra leaders backing up Zavala's story. US District Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello, who had also been urged by the CIA to return the money, stipulated in a court filing on October 2, 1984 that the money would be given back. In 1987 this deal came to the attention of Jack Blum, investigator for Senator John Kerry's committee probing the stories of Contra drug running. Blum and Kerry called Russoniello to ask about the case. "We had a telephone conversation with Mr. Russoniello," Blum recalled during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on October 23, 1996, "and he shouted at us. He shouted at Senator John Kerry, who chaired the committee. He accused us of being subversives for wanting to get into it."
So Zavala got his money back, though he did spend some time in prison. Norwin Meneses, the kingpin of the operation, was never indicted or arrested for his part in the Frogman case. Witnesses testified before Kerry's committee in 1988 that Meneses had been tipped off about the planned arrest "by his sources in US law enforcement." Another witness said he believed that Meneses was working "as an FBI informant" at the time of the arrest.
In fact, the US government did not indict Norwin Meneses until 1989, after the end of the Contra war, and the indictment was for conspiracy to sell precisely 1 kilo of cocaine in 1984. By then Meneses, sensing his veil of protection might have worn thin, had left San Francisco for his ranch in Costa Rica. No attempt was made to secure Meneses's arrest or to persuade the Costa Rican government to extradite him. The indictment wasn't made public and was kept under seal in San Francisco at the request of the federal government. Interestingly enough, 1984 -- the year for which the US government chose to charge Meneses with dealing in cocaine -- was the very year in which he had been most conspicuous as a big figure in the Nicaraguan emigre movement supporting the Contras. During that year Meneses had been entertaining Contra leaders, hosting Contra fundraising dinners and having his photograph taken with Adolfo Calero.
Webb uncovered evidence that even Contra supporters in San Francisco were uncomfortable about the source of Meneses's disbursements in the Contra cause. The Mercury News series included an interview with, Dennis Ainsworth, a former Cal State/Hayward economics professor who was a well-connected Reagan Republican and active in the Contra cause. In 1985 he was told by Renato Pena, an FDN leader in San Francisco, "that the FDN is involved in drug smuggling with the aid of Norwin Meneses who also buys arms for Enrique Bermudez, a leader of the FDN." Ainsworth finally told his friends in the Reagan administration about Meneses, and asked what they knew about the Nicaraguan. He was told that the DEA had a drug file on Meneses "two feet thick." Ainsworth gave a detailed interview to the FBI on February 27, 1987, a severely edited version of which had recently been declassified by the US National Archives. In this interview, Ainsworth not only backed the contention that Meneses was using drug profits to buy weapons for the Contras, but also gave details of how US Customs and DEA agents trying to investigate Meneses "felt threatened and intimidated by National Security interference in legitimate narcotics smuggling investigations."
Norwin Meneses was finally arrested in 1990, when Nicaraguan authorities caught him trying to transport 750 kilos of cocaine. Reporters in Managua soon unearthed the sealed San Francisco indictment. The Nicaraguan police and the Nicaraguan judge presiding over Meneses's trial expressed outrage that the United States had known about the drug lord's activities for fifteen years, but had never arrested him. "We always felt there was an unanswered question," recalled Rene Vita, a former narcotics investigator, to the British TV documentary crew. "How was it that this man, who was known to be involved in drug-related activities, moved so freely around Central America, the US and Mexico?"
Meneses had been turned in to the Nicaraguan police by his longtime associate Enrique Miranda, a former intelligence officer in Somoza's National Guard, who had been Meneses's link to the Bogota cocaine cartel in Colombia. Miranda testified that from 1981 through 1985 Meneses transported his cocaine out of Colombia through the services of Marcos Aguado, a Nicaraguan who had become a senior officer in the Salvadoran air force. Aguado was a contract pilot for the US "humanitarian aid" flights to the Contras, based at Ilopango airbase in San Salvador. The overseer for such operations at this airport was a career CIA officer, Felix Rodriguez. Miranda testified that Aguado flew Salvadoran air force planes to Colombia to pick up cocaine shipments and delivered them to US Air Force bases in Texas. On the basis of Miranda's testimony, Norwin Meneses was sentenced by the Nicaraguan court to thirty years in prison.
Danilo Blandon enjoyed good fortune as far as any intrusion by law enforcement into his affairs was concerned. All the way through the first half of the 1980s, the prime wholesaler of cocaine to Los Angeles was not once raided or inconvenienced in any way by any authorities. The Boland amendment barring aid to the Contras was lifted on October 17, 1986. On October 27, 1986, warrants were issued by the FBI, IRS and Los Angeles County Sheriff's office for the arrest of Blandon and his wife. The arrest warrants from the LA Sheriff's office included an affidavit from Sergeant Tom Gordon, charging that "Danilo Blandon is in charge of a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and distribution organization operating in southern California. The moneys gained from the sales of cocaine are transported to Florida and laundered through Orlando Murillo who is a high-ranking officer of a chain of banks in Florida named Government Securities Corporation. From this bank the moneys are filtered to the Contra rebels to buy arms in the war in Nicaragua." Orlando Murillo was a cousin of Blandon's wife, Chepita. Police raided twelve warehouses suspected of being used by Blandon. No drugs were found. The police were convinced that Blandon had received a tip-off about the impending raids and had cleaned up.
One of the targets in those early morning raids on October 27 was the Mission Viejo home of Ronald Lister, the former Laguna Beach police detective who had been the arms supplier to the Blandon ring. Lister opened the door wearing his bathrobe, and sheriff's deputies flooded in. Lister became belligerent and told the deputies they were "making a big mistake." He informed the police that he didn't deal drugs, but that he did do a lot of business in Latin America for the US government, and that his friends in the government weren't going to be happy about the deputies ransacking his house.
Then Lister picked up the phone and said he was calling his friend "Scott Weekly of the CIA." The cops continued in the search, and though they found no cocaine, they did turn up an amazing cache of weapons, military manuals and training videotapes. Even though Lister escaped arrest, the police seized boxes of military material. Again, the police were convinced that someone had tipped Lister to the impending raid. These suspicions magnified when, less than a week later, all of the evidence carted from Lister's house mysteriously disappeared from the Sheriff's Department's property room.
(C) 1998 Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair All rights reserved. ISBN: 1-85984-897-4
NICE JOB, GUYS! AND OF COURSE PLAN COLOMBIA PRIMARILY ATTACKS THE CROPS OWNED BY FARC, NOT ONES OWNED BY ESCOBAR CRONIE AND NOW PRESIDENT URIBE.
Saturday, 26 June 1999
BOGOTA -- The head of the New York Stock Exchange held face-to-face talks Saturday with a leader of Colombia's main Marxist rebel group, government sources said.
They said NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso flew into a demilitarized region of Colombia's southern jungle and savanna for his talks with a member of the general secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
A government spokesman initially said Grasso had met Manuel Marulanda, a legendary figure known by the alias ``Sureshot'' and the FARC's maximum commander.
But the state-run news agency ANCOL later reported that Grasso had met Raul Reyes, one of Marulanda's top deputies and his chief negotiator in fledgling peace talks with the government.
The meeting was thought to be the first between a senior member of the FARC, which is radically opposed to capitalism, and a representative of one of the world's top financial markets.
ANCOL quoted Grasso as having stressed the importance of full-fledged negotiations between the government and FARC, which are due to get under way on July 7 and aimed at ending a conflict that has taken more than 35,000 lives over the last decade alone.
The news agency said Grasso had extended a personal invitation to leaders of the FARC, which is considered a ''terrorist'' organization by the State Department, to visit Wall Street as soon as possible.
"I invite members of the FARC to visit the New York Stock Exchange so that they can get to know the market personally," Grasso was quoted as saying.
"I truly hope that they can do this," he added.
The government has granted the FARC control of a Switzerland-sized area of south and southeast Colombia since last November as a confidence-building measure to enter into peace talks.
ANCOL said Grasso's talks with Reyes, which lasted 1-1/2 hours, took place inside the rebel-controlled zone in an area near the village of La Machacha, in southern Caqueta province.
The news agency also said Grasso, whose presence in Colombia was kept secret until Saturday, was slated to return to New York Sunday.
Local media said Grasso had asked to meet a representative of the FARC's high command to discuss foreign investment and the future role of U.S. businesses in Colombia.
The FARC and a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), both took up arms against the state in the mid-1960s and have a long-running tradition of targeting U.S. interests in Colombia.
Both groups also use kidnapping to help bankroll their war effort.
©1999 Reuters Limited
WHAT DID JOHN ROBERTS KNOW ABOUT THE ADAM COMMUTATION? Pakistani heroin smuggler served 5 years of 55 year sentence; freed by senior Bush and his Justice Department two days before Bill Clinton was sworn in. Pakistani heroin smuggler flown as quickly out of the country as the Bin Ladens and Saudis were a few days after 911.
Perhaps the strangest decision by the first Bush administration and its Justice Department, in which Roberts was a significant player as Deputy Solicitor General, was their January 18, 1993 decision to commute the tough sentence -- two days before Bush left office -- of convicted Pakistani heroin smuggler Aslam Adam. A resident of Karachi who had only been in the United States for less than a month, Adam was sentenced in 1985 to a 55 year Federal prison term after federal authorities caught him retrieving a package containing heroin sent from Pakistan to a Charlotte, North Carolina post office box. The package had been flagged by a US Customs Officer at JFK Airport in New York and a stakeout was laid in Charlotte to catch Adam when he picked up the package. It was reported at the time of Adam's commutation that he was involved in a CIA covert operation involving Pakistan. During 1985, the CIA, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's ISI intelligence, was funding and training the Mujaheddin guerrillas fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. One of the guerrilla leaders was Osama Bin Laden. Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials, as well as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, expressed bewilderment and surprise at Adam's pardon by Bush and the Justice Department. U.S. Judge Robert Potter (a tough sentencing judge nicknamed "Maximum Bob") said he didn't want Adam freed. In addition, upon Adam's pardon and quick release from Butner Federal Prison in North Carolina, he was taken by Federal agents to a waiting plane and flown to Pakistan. Prison warden K.M. Hawk was opposed to an earlier proposal to have Adam freed to serve his sentence in Pakistan. Bush never explained why he pardoned Adam. Bush White House officials directed inquiries to the Justice Department. Justice passed the buck back to the White House.
The comments by various parties involved in the Adam case:
"It's most unusual. There must have been some diplomatic aspect. I can't see President Bush making a cavalier move on the brink of leaving office in this fashion after what he's said about the war on drugs." -- Ken Andresen, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Adam.
"It's not good to be recommending clemency in cases of drug offenses." -- David Stephenson, Pardon Attorney of the US Justice Department.
"It may be that the Drug Enforcement Administration or the CIA wanted something from Pakistan -- and what they wanted will never see the light of day." - anonymous law enforcement official.
"I didn't know anything about it until I saw it in the paper." -- Judge Robert Potter.
"I don't know why the president commuted this man's sentence. Only the president and his close advisers would know that." -- Thomas J. Ashcraft, US Attorney, Western District of North Carolina.
"I wish I had been as effective with President Bush as Mr. Adam." -- Pakistani ambassador to the United States Syeda Hussain.
"God bless Bush." -- Fatima Adam, Aslam Adam's mother.
"Drugs is the gravest threat facing our nation." -- President George H. W. Bush.
Source: "Freeing of drug smuggler baffles legal authorities," By John Monk, Gary L. Wright; Knight-Ridder Tribune News, The Houston Chronicle, March 28, 1993, p. A20.
Adam's name was the last on Bush's pardon/commutation list:
But for the last few decades, wherever Posada goes the specter of the Bush dynasty follows. At the time of the Cubana bombing, on October 6, 1976, George H.W. Bush was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and newly released records show that agency involvement with the bombing was greater than even suspected by many of the more cynical observers. It does not get any clearer than the CIA report of June 22, 1976, that stated, "a Cuban Exile extremist group, of which Orlando Bosch [a long-time partner of Posada] is a leader, plans to place a bomb on a Cubana Airline flight traveling between Panama and Havana." Bush senior was also Vice President of the United States when Posada “escaped” from a Venezuelan prison while being tried for the Cubana bombing. Posada resurfaced soon after his 1985 escape from Venezuela, as Ramon Medina, a chief player in the Iran-Contra affair,a grotesquerie hatched by the CIA and the Reagan-Bush Administration that helped fund itself by facilitating drug sales in the United States. In 1986, Bush family friend and lapdog, Elliot Abrams, lied stone-faced to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about U.S. involvement in the "contra" affair, making sure to protect Bush senior:
"Mr. Stokes asked whether denial of U.S. involvement included the Vice President. Mr. Abram’s said Mr. Gregg of the Vice President’s staff had introduced Mr. [Felix] Rodriguez to Salvadoran Air Force officials in 1984 to serve as an adviser on air/ground operations. Mr. Rodriguez’ actions since that time were on his own."
Abrams has resurfaced as a chief adviser in the Bush junior administration. And Bush senior, as President, released Posada’s comrade-in-arms, Orlando Bosch, from federal detention in 1990. Now with the weight of all this history on him, and no doubt tremendous familial pressure, Bush junior must decide what to do with a 77-year-old terrorist who is really the living embodiment of a failed United States policy of decades past. The federal government transported Posada to El Paso, Texas, where he is to have a bond hearing on July 25.
We are unable to go into any further detail, but credible information has it that Posada is no longer in El Paso. Additionally, two separate calls to the detention facility supposedly holding Posada yielded differing information concerning his upcoming bond hearing. During a call this morning, employees said that the bond hearing set for the 25th will be accomplished electronically, with neither Posada nor his attorney to be present. Later in the day, however, a second call to the detention center yielded the information that Posada was “most definitely” at that facility and that he would be present for the bond hearing next Monday.
Bill Conroy, well known to regular readers of Narco News and the Narcosphere, said that he checked with sources on the inside and could not confirm that Posada had been moved. But one of his sources said that “it would not be a big surprise if Posada were moved. They could move him on a whim, claiming he was under threat or for some national security pretense. [The government] want[s] to control [Posada] as much as [it] can without killing him.”
If the U.S. is moving Posada around, it is in an effort to play a shell game with its own past. It must be difficult to know what to do with someone whose life and experience span U.S.-sponsored murder, deceit and lies perpetrated upon people and democracies, and who is a Bush family member by ideology, temperament, and disgust for law, if not by birth. Samuel Beckett once said that, “Habit is the ballast that chains a dog to his vomit.” We will soon find out what chains George W. Bush to Luis Posada.
Of even greater interest, however, is the fact that the Associated Press reports that the federal immigration judge hearing Posada’s case “asked lawyers involved in the deportation case … to provide briefs on whether the Bay of Pigs invasion could be considered an act of terrorism.”
That’s right, U.S. prosecutors and Posada’s attorneys will now have to duke it out over whether the U.S. government engaged in an act of terrorism against the Cuban government in the early 1960s. And the irony is that it will be to the benefit of U.S. prosecutors to argue that it was terrorism, since it would seem to bolster the government’s case against granting Posada asylum.
Posada claims he entered the “land of the free” through Mexico. Other facts seem to indicate he may well have landed in Florida via a trip on a covert shrimp boat. After granting an interview to a Miami newspaper announcing his whereabouts in the Cuban community in Miami, he was taken into custody by federal agents and shipped to El Paso.
From the AP story:
Judge William A. Abbott also denied bond for Luis Posada Carriles, 77, a former CIA operative accused of orchestrating the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner while in Caracas, Venezuela. … Among the factors Abbott said he would consider in Posada's case was whether he had ever provided material support for acts of terror. Recently declassified CIA documents show that the spy agency trained Posada in Guatemala in 1961 to participate in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, including explosives and weapons training. Posada, who rose to the rank of second lieutenant, was in the U.S. Army from March 1963 to March 1964 in Fort Benning, Ga. Abbott said the sponsor of terrorist activity didn't matter, even if it were the U.S. government. He didn't elaborate, except to say he would ask the lawyers to provide briefs on the matter.
… Among the factors Abbott said he would consider in Posada's case was whether he had ever provided material support for acts of terror.
Recently declassified CIA documents show that the spy agency trained Posada in Guatemala in 1961 to participate in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, including explosives and weapons training. Posada, who rose to the rank of second lieutenant, was in the U.S. Army from March 1963 to March 1964 in Fort Benning, Ga.
Abbott said the sponsor of terrorist activity didn't matter, even if it were the U.S. government. He didn't elaborate, except to say he would ask the lawyers to provide briefs on the matter.
So is the judge in the case actually going to stand up to the Bush Administration and pry open Posada’s terrorist past before pronouncing judgment? If so, how long will it be before the judge is jammed up by U.S. “national security interests” — and Posada’s case transferred to a more friendly court?
Those cards have yet to be play out. But Posada’s attorney seems to be interested in this game of Texas Hold‘em as well, according to the AP report:
"I look forward to reading the government's response," said Matthew J. Archambeault, one of Posada's Florida-based attorneys.
"I look forward to reading the government's response," said Matthew J. Archambeault, one of Posada's Florida-based attorneys.
After all, if Posada’s work for the CIA is deemed “terrorist activity,” by extension that means the CIA is a sponsor of terrorism
It does appear the strain of it all, and maybe the bad prison food, are starting to get to Posada.
More from the AP report:
Posada was mostly silent during Monday's hearing, occasionally conferring in Spanish with one of his lawyers. Appearing in court in a red jail uniform, with the outline of a bulletproof vest visible on his back, Posada's right temple and jaw were heavily bandaged from recent skin cancer surgery.
Posada was mostly silent during Monday's hearing, occasionally conferring in Spanish with one of his lawyers. Appearing in court in a red jail uniform, with the outline of a bulletproof vest visible on his back, Posada's right temple and jaw were heavily bandaged from recent skin cancer surgery.
Of course, Posada’s attorneys are denying that their client participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion -- well, in lawyer talk anyway. His attorney, Archambeault, said Posada “did not actually participate in the failed invasion,” according to the AP report. But such wording leaves plenty of wiggle room for Posada to avoid perjury charges down the road, when it comes to light that he did play a role in the planning and coordination of the invasion.
Posada’s attorneys also are denying that their client had any role in another terrorist act, the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. However, it seems even his longtime employer, the CIA, can’t back up Posada on that one.
From the AP report:
According to a declassified CIA document released last month, Posada said shortly before the deadly bombing that he and others would "hit a Cuban airplane." Venezuelan officials have said Posada was in Caracas when he allegedly planned the attack, which killed 73 people when the plane crashed off the coast of Barbados.
According to a declassified CIA document released last month, Posada said shortly before the deadly bombing that he and others would "hit a Cuban airplane." Venezuelan officials have said Posada was in Caracas when he allegedly planned the attack, which killed 73 people when the plane crashed off the coast of Barbados.
Finally, Posada has dropped his claim that he is a U.S. resident. His attorney says his client “didn’t want to burden the court with an issue he couldn’t win,” the AP reports.
So it sounds like Posada’s attorneys are zero for three at the plate by my count. The judge now wants to explore Posada’s ties to the Bay of Pigs invasion; even CIA documents point to the fact that Posada’s denials concerning the Cuban airline bombing don’t carry water; and now Posada is giving up on what had all along seemed a dubious claim to U.S. residency –- given the fact that he hadn’t lived in the United States (prior to his illegal entry) in decades.
So where’s the beef in his case? What does he deserve asylum from –- the justice due for his terrorist past?
Posada’s last hope is the political might of the anti-Castro Cuban community it seems, or at least that might explain why, as AP reports, that his “lawyer did say Posada would renew his request that the case be moved to Miami and elsewhere in Florida, where Posada has friends and relatives.”
But will Bush actually take the international political heat on this one to appease elements of the anti-Castro Cuban community in Miami? Not likely –- particularly because those votes can always be “fixed” in other ways.
And the Bush Administration is certainly not going to allow Posada, a Venezuelan citizen, to be turned over to the Venezuelan government –- which is seeking his extradition so that he can stand trial on charges that he masterminded the Cuban airliner bombing.
Posada avoided standing trial on the same charges 20 years ago by escaping from a prison in that South American country. If Posada is brought back for a return engagement, he would have the eyes of the world upon him –- and a stage for uncloaking a sordid tale of covert treachery stretching back some 45 years.
The Bush White House already has to be worried about what Posada might say in a U.S. courtroom. He is already threatening to testify at his next hearing in El Paso, slated for Aug. 29, the AP reports.
Posada even appears willing to open up on questions about terrorism.
From a separate report by Reuters:
Posada will "work with the government in good faith" to answer the terrorism question, said (Posada’s attorney) Archambeault. "Mr. Posada doesn't want the U.S. government to jump through hoops."
Posada will "work with the government in good faith" to answer the terrorism question, said (Posada’s attorney) Archambeault. "Mr. Posada doesn't want the U.S. government to jump through hoops."
That will be a case of the fox asking the snake what he did with the chicken eggs.
Stay tuned. This game of Texas Hold‘em still has a few wild cards in play.
And in the mean time, can someone make sure Posada gets a cell without a window. Too much sunshine could be bad for his skin cancer.
Posada Hearing Judge denies bond for accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles
Posted on Mon, Jul. 25, 2005
Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles used a false Salvadoran passport to fly to South Florida in the spring of 2000 -- about six months before using the same passport to travel to Panama, where he was arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Posada's April 26, 2000 trip to Miami, revealed in documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, may become a point of contention during deportation proceedings that resume today for Posada, who has been accused of acts of terrorism.
Use of a false passport to enter the country is a deportable offense in its own right.
Posada, who escaped from a Venezuelan jail in 1985 and was freed from Panama after receiving a pardon, was taken into U.S. custody on May 17 after sneaking into South Florida this year. But the records filed in his deportation case in El Paso, Texas, raise questions about just how often the former CIA operative has visited America.
A travel record included as federal evidence against Posada shows he arrived at Miami International Airport on a flight from Central America on April 26, 2000 carrying a Salvadoran passport in the name of Franco Rodriguez Mena.
Records submitted for the current immigration case show ''Rodriguez Mena'' traveled to Miami ostensibly to catch a connecting flight to another country. But the record does not show him leaving.
Moreover, a separate record, obtained by The Herald, shows Rodriguez Mena classified as a ''violator,'' suggesting that he might have slipped illegally out of a transit lounge at MIA.
Matthew Archambeault, a Posada lawyer, told The Herald late Sunday that Posada confirmed to him over the weekend that he indeed traveled to Miami on April 26, 2000 -- but only to catch a plane to Aruba, and that he never left the transit lounge.
So far, Posada has been accused only of being in the country illegally. But use of false documents is a federal offense that could result in a sentence of up to 25 years in prison if the false document was used for terrorism purposes. Attempting to enter the United States on a false passport also renders a traveler inadmissible and deportable.
U.S. government officials declined comment.
A motion filed by Posada's lawyers in immigration court last week questioned the relevance of citing the fake passport.
''Document fraud is not a particularly serious crime and would not be the type of crime that would make him ineligible for reception of a bond,'' the motion said.
In addition to the alleged misadventure in Panama, Posada has been accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people and has been linked to a series of 1997 bombings at Cuban hotels.
The revelation that he came to South Florida once before without being discovered adds new details about his movements just prior to the alleged Panama conspiracy.
It came just months before Posada's fateful trip to Panama, where he was arrested with three other Cuban exile militants -- all of whom live in South Florida.
The four -- Posada, Guillermo Novo, Gaspar Jimenez and Pedro Remon -- were released in August after then-Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned them. Posada traveled to Honduras where he went underground and then arrived in Miami in late March, still in hiding. Novo, Jimenez and Remon were flown to Opa-locka in a leased private jet soon after being released in Panama.
One of the three, Remon, told the Herald Friday that he did not know Posada had been in the United States before March of this year.
''He may have just gotten on a different plane or something,'' Remon said of Posada's Miami visit. ``I didn't know that he was in here 2000. I never talked to Luis Posada in North American territory.''
Novo and Jimenez could not be reached for comment.
Posada's lawyers, in a motion filed last week, objected to the inclusion of the Rodriguez Mena travel record in the government's evidence package. They said it was irrelevant to the case. But the motion did not question the accuracy of the travel record.
Posada's lawyers also objected to the inclusion of other Rodriguez Mena travel records which suggest that he might have flown to the United States on at least three other occasions -- in 1998, 1999 and once more in October 2000.
There are no corroborating immigration documents to support those trips, however.
The U.S. filing also includes investigative documents from El Salvador, where authorities issued an arrest warrant for Posada on grounds that he procured false documents in their country.
Posada once lived in Miami with a green card in the 1960s, but moved abroad. His lawyer plans to argue in the El Paso proceedings that he is still a resident, despite having been out of the country for decades.
Norma Morfa, a Miami spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees MIA passport control, said her agency could neither ``deny or confirm this information due to the case still being under investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.''
Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman, said her agency is ``precluded from commenting on pending litigation.''
Posted on Sat, Jul. 23, 2005
CARACAS, Venezuela - (KRT) - Breaking 29 years of silence, one of two men convicted in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people said in an exclusive interview that exile militant Luis Posada Carriles should be extradited to Venezuela to stand trial in the case.
But Freddy Lugo - who claims he was an innocent dupe in the bomb plot - denied that he made incriminating statements Venezuelan officials attribute to him in their application to have Posada sent to Caracas.
Posada, a former CIA operative who has been linked to a series of 1997 bombings at Cuban hotels, is in U.S. custody after sneaking into the country this year. He is seeking asylum in a case that largely hinges on the shadowy events of 1976 - the year that Lugo says changed his life forever.
Lugo told The Miami Herald that Posada should be returned to Venezuela because he had escaped from a Venezuelan jail before a case against him in the airliner bombing was resolved.
Posada escaped in 1985 - after an initial acquittal but while a prosecutor's appeal was pending. Two years later, a Caracas court acquitted Posada's associate, Cuban exile militant Orlando Bosch. But the court convicted Lugo and his friend Hernan Ricardo.
"He escaped from a Venezuelan jail," Lugo said during the hourlong interview. "He must come to finish serving his time here, like I did, being innocent."
In a June 10 statement as part of its extradition request, the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., cited Lugo as a key witness against Posada. The statement said the Venezuelan government had delivered to the United States evidence that includes "the testimony of Freddy Lugo confirming his participation in the blowing up of the plane and of urgent calls made by Lugo and Ricardo to Posada Carriles shortly after the disaster, seeking his help."
That testimony has not been released to the public. But Lugo said of it: "It's false."
Bernardo Alvarez, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, said what matters legally in the case is Lugo's prior testimony.
"There are statements on the part of Freddy Lugo which are clear and consistent over the years," Alvarez said in an e-mail to The Herald Friday evening. "We do not know what Lugo said or why he said it to The Miami Herald, but we know what he told the authorities and this is consistent with the submitted evidence."
Posada told The Herald earlier this year that he didn't believe Lugo was involved in the bombing. "In my opinion, Hernan Ricardo may have been involved, although he always denied everything," he said. "Freddy Lugo was a fool."
Lugo still lives in Caracas, in a one-story whitewashed house in a working class neighborhood. It's surrounded by a 10-foot concrete wall. He says he makes his money driving a cab.
He lives with his sister, his son and his daughter-in-law and keeps a low profile.
During the interview at his home, Lugo immediately proclaimed his innocence. He also said that he did not know if Posada or the other men implicated in the attacks - Ricardo and Bosch - were guilty or innocent.
"I only know that I know nothing," Lugo said, speaking calmly while his family ate lunch in the kitchen. "I participated indirectly without knowing anything."
Alternately serious and jovial, often exhibiting subtle dark humor, Lugo portrayed himself as a scapegoat, an innocent bystander drawn into a plot that the other three may or may not have hatched without his knowledge.
"Journalists perhaps don't want to interview me because I don't have anything explosive to tell them," Lugo said, smiling.
Lugo and Ricardo were news photographers for the Caracas newspaper El Mundo at the time of the 1976 bombing. They were also part-time covert agents for DISIP, the Venezuelan state security agency.
One of the agency's top officials - before he retired and started his own private security agency - was Posada. Posada also owned a private security firm in Caracas that employed Ricardo - though just before the bombing, Posada reassigned him to serve as Bosch's chauffeur.
Lugo said that when he took a trip overseas with Ricardo in October 1976, he had no idea the plane was doomed. He said he went along because he wanted to buy camera equipment - and Ricardo had offered to pay for the plane tickets.
"What an expensive trip, right? It destroyed my life," he said.
Lugo and Ricardo left Caracas for Trinidad and Tobago, where they boarded the Cubana de Aviacion DC-8. They got off during a stopover in Barbados. Shortly after takeoff from Barbados, the plane exploded.
Lugo and Ricardo left Barbados in a hurry, Venezuelan court records say. Shortly after they reached Trinidad, they were arrested.
Along with Bosch and Posada, Lugo and Ricardo were tried in Venezuela and acquitted by a military court in 1980, but the case was then continued in a civilian court.
By 1987, Posada had escaped. Bosch was acquitted that year. Lugo and Ricardo were convicted and sentenced to 20 years - though in 1993 they were placed on supervised release.
Lugo said he had not had any contact with Ricardo since. Ricardo could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
Posada's attorney in Caracas, Joaquin Chaffardet, and Posada both told The Herald they believe Ricardo is now out of Venezuela and working as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said the agency does not confirm whether someone is an informant.
According to official Venezuelan documents, Lugo told authorities that immediately after he and Ricardo learned the plane had exploded, Ricardo was both distraught and incredulous.
The Venezuelan account says Ricardo called himself the world's deadliest terrorist - deadlier even than Venezuela's notorious Carlos "The Jackal."
Venezuelan investigators said Lugo quoted Ricardo as saying: "Damn, Lugo, I am desperate and I feel like crying because I had never killed anyone. ... `The Jackal' may have his record as a great terrorist, but I surpassed him. What's more, I surpassed even the Palestinians in terrorism and now I am the one who has the record, because I am the one who blew up that thing."
Lugo told The Herald that he never heard Ricardo make any such statement.
"All those things are false," he said, adding that statements attributed to him during the investigation were fabrications by detectives "to advance their careers."
Lugo revealed a hint of bitterness toward Posada, Ricardo and Bosch, insinuating that he had been deliberately sucked into a sinister plot against Fidel Castro.
He said that during his time in Venezuelan prisons, he distanced himself from Posada, Ricardo and Bosch because he felt that associating with the three men would have made him appear guilty.
"I didn't want to have any relations with those people because that would compromise me more," he said. "I didn't have anything to do with pro-Castro groups or anti-Castro groups or any of those things." Likewise, he said, the strong moral support and legal assistance that Posada, Bosch and Ricardo received from Cuban exiles while in prison did not extend to him.
Now, Lugo said, he just wants to live the rest of his life quietly.
"I wander around the streets of Caracas relaxed," he said. "I don't have any problems or fear. I feel innocent down to the last bone in my body."
© 2005, The Miami Herald.
Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.herald.com
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
Now, let me set the stage for you. When you are being debriefed by the federal government for use as an informant, you're not going to go in there and tell them crazy-sounding stories, because they're not going to believe you, they're going to slap you in jail, right? What Rudd told them was, that he was involved in a meeting with Pablo Escobar, who was then the head of the Medellín cartel. They were working out arrangements to set up cocaine shipments into South Florida. He said Escobar started ranting and raving about that damned George Bush, and now he's got that South Florida Drug Task Force set up which has really been making things difficult, and the man's a traitor. And he used to deal with us, but now he wants to be president and thinks that he's double-crossing us. And Rudd said, well, what are you talking about? And Escobar said, we made a deal with that guy, that we were going to ship weapons to the contras, they were in there flying weapons down to Columbia, we were unloading weapons, we were getting them to the contras, and the deal was, we were supposed to get our stuff to the United States without any problems. And that was the deal that we made. And now he double-crossed us. So the U.S. Attorney heard this, and he wrote this panicky memo to Washington saying, you know, this man has been very reliable so far, everything he's told us has checked out, and now he's saying that the Vice President of the United States is involved with drug traffickers. We might want to check this out. And it went all the way up -- the funny thing about government documents is, whenever it passes over somebody's desk, they have to initial it. And this thing was like a ladder, it went all the way up and all the way up, and it got up to the head of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, and he looked at it and said, looks like a job for Lawrence Walsh! And so he sent it over to Walsh, the Iran-contra prosecutor, and he said, here, you take it, you deal with this. And Walsh's office -- I interviewed Walsh, and he said, we didn't have the authority to deal with that. We were looking at Ollie North. So I said, did anybody investigate this? And the answer was, "no." And that thing sat in the National Archives for ten years, nobody ever looked at it. Voice From the Audience: Is that in your book? Gary Webb: Yeah. Voice From the Audience: Thank you. Audience Member #1: Well, first of all, I'd like to thank you for pursuing this story, you have a lot of guts to do it. [Applause from the audience.] Gary Webb: This is what reporters are supposed to do. This is what reporters are supposed to do. I don't think I was doing anything special. Audience Member #1: Still, there's not too many guys like you that are doing it. Gary Webb: That's true, they've all still got jobs. [Laughter, scattered applause.] Audience Member #1: I just had a couple of questions, the first one is, I followed the story on the web site, and I thought it was a really great story, it was really well done. And I noticed that the San Jose Mercury News seemed to support you for a while, and then all the sudden that support collapsed. So I was wondering what your relationship is with your editor there, and how that all played out, and when they all pulled out the rug from under you. Gary Webb: Well, the support collapsed probably after the LA Times... The Washington [Post] came out first, the New York Times came out second, and the LA Times came out third, and they started getting nervous. There's a phenomenon in the media we all know, it's called "piling on," and they started seeing themselves getting piled on. They sent me back down to Central America two more times to do more reporting and I came back with stories that were even more outrageous than what they printed in the newspaper the first time. And they were faced with a situation of, now we're accusing Oliver North of being involved in drug trafficking. Now we're accusing the Justice Department of being part and parcel to this. Geez, if we get beat up over accusing a couple of CIA agents of being involved in this, what the hell is going to happen now? And they actually said, I had memos saying, you know, if we run these stories, there is going to be a firestorm of criticism. So, I think they took the easy way out. The easy way out was not to go ahead and do the story. It was to back off the story. But they had a problem, because the story was true. And it isn't every day that you're confronted with how to take a dive on a true story. They spent several months -- honestly, literally, because I was getting these drafts back and forth -- trying to figure out how to say, we don't support this story, even though it's true. And if you go back and you read the editor's column, you'll see that the great difficulty that he had trying to take a dive on this thing. And he ended up talking about "gray areas" that should have been explored a little more and "subtleties" that we should have not brushed over so lightly, without disclosing the fact that the series had originally been four parts and they cut it to three parts, because "nobody reads four part series' anymore." So, that was one reason. The other reason was, you know, one of the things you learn very quickly when you get into journalism is that there's safety in numbers. Editors don't like being out there on a limb all by themselves. I remember very clearly going to press conferences, coming back, writing a story, sending it in, and my editor calling up and saying, well gee, this isn't what AP wrote. Or, the Chronicle just ran their story, and that's not what the Chronicle wrote. And I'd say, "Fine. Good." And they said, no, we've got to make it the same, we don't want to be different. We don't want our story to be different from everybody else's. And so what they were seeing at the Mercury was, the Big Three newspapers were sitting on one side of the fence, and they were out there by themselves, and that just panicked the hell out of them. So, you have to understand newspaper mentality to understand it a little bit, but it's not too hard to understand cowardice, either. I think a lot of that was that they were just scared as hell to go ahead with the story. Audience Member #1: Were they able to look you in the eye, and... Gary Webb: No. They didn't, they just did this over the phone. I went to Sacramento. Audience Member #1: When did you find out about it, and what did you... Gary Webb: Oh, they called me up at home, two months after I turned in my last four stories, and said, we're going to write a column saying, you know, we're not going ahead with this. And that's when I jumped in the car and drove up there and said, what the hell's going on? And I got all these mealy-mouthed answers, you know, geez, gray areas, subtleties, one thing or another... But I said, tell me one thing that's wrong with the story, and nobody could ever point to anything. And today, to this day, nobody has ever said there was a factual error in that story. [Inaudible question from the audience.] Gary Webb: The question was, the editors are one thing, what about the readers? Um... who cares about the readers? Honestly. The reader's don't run the newspaper. [Another inaudible question from the audience regarding letters to the editor and boycotts of the newspaper.] Gary Webb: Well, a number of them did, and believe me, the newspaper office was flooded with calls and emails. And the newspaper, to their credit, printed a bunch of them, calling it the most cowardly thing they'd ever seen. But in the long run, the readers, you know, don't run the place. And that's the thing about newspaper markets these days. You folks really don't have any choice! What else are you going to read? And the editors know this. When I started in this business, we had two newspapers in town where I worked in Cincinnati. And we were deathly afraid that if we sat on a story for 24 hours, the Cincinnati Inquirer was going to put it in the paper, and we were going to look like dopes. We were going to look like we were covering stuff up, we were going to look like we were protecting somebody. So we were putting stuff in the paper without thinking about it sometimes, but we got it in the paper. Now, we can sit on stuff for months, who's going to find out about it? And even if somebody found out about it, what are they going to do? That's the big danger that everybody has sort of missed. These one-newspaper towns, you've got no choice. You've got no choice. And television? Television's not going to do it. I mean, they're down filming animals at the zoo! [Laughter and applause.] Audience Member #2: I assume you have talked to John Cummings, the one that wrote Compromised, that book? Gary Webb: I talked to Terry Reed, who was the principal author on that, yeah. Audience Member #2: Well, that was a well-documented book, and I had just finished reading this when I happened to look down and see the headlines on the Sunday paper. And he stated that Oliver North told him personally that he was a CIA asset that manufactured weapons. Gary Webb: Right. Audience Member #2: When he discovered that they were importing cocaine, he got out of there. And they chased him with his family across country for two years trying to catch him. But he had said in that book that Oliver North told him that Vice President Bush told Oliver North to dirty Clinton's men with the drug money. Which I assumed was what Whitewater was all about, was finding the laundering and trying to find something on Clinton. Do you know anything about that? Gary Webb: Yeah, let me sum up your question. Essentially, you're asking about the goings-on in Mena, Arkansas, because of the drug operations going on at this little air base in Arkansas while Clinton was governor down there. The fellow you referred to, Terry Reed, wrote a book called Compromised which talked about his role in this corporate operation in Mena which was initially designed to train contra pilots -- Reed was a pilot -- and it was also designed after the Boland Amendment went into effect to get weapons parts to the contras, because the CIA couldn't provide them anymore. And as Reed got into this weapons parts business, he discovered that the CIA was shipping cocaine back through these weapons crates that were coming back into the United States. And when he blew the whistle on it, he was sort of sent on this long odyssey of criminal charges being filed against him, etcetera etcetera etcetera. A lot of what Reed wrote is accurate as far as I can tell, and a lot of it was documented. There is a House Banking Committee investigation that has been going on now for about three years, looking specifically at Mena, Arkansas, looking specifically at a drug trafficker named Barry Seal, who was one of the biggest cocaine and marijuana importers in the south side of the United States during the 1980s. Seal was also, coincidentally, working for the CIA, and was working for the Drug Enforcement Administration. I don't know how many of you remember this, but one night Ronnie Reagan got on TV and held up a grainy picture, and said, here's proof that the Sandanistas are dealing drugs. Look, here's Pablo Escobar, and they're all loading cocaine into a plane, and this was taken in Nicaragua. This was the eve of a vote on the contra aid. That photograph was set up by Barry Seal. The plane that was used was Seal's plane, and it was the same plane that was shot down over Nicaragua a couple of years later that Eugene Hasenfus was in, that broke open the whole Iran-contra scandal. The Banking Committee is supposed to be coming out with a report in the next couple of months looking at the relationship between Barry Seal, the U.S. government and Clinton's folks. Alex Cockburn has done a number of stories on this company called Park-On Meter down in Russellville, Arkansas, that's hooked up with Clinton's family, hooked up with Hillary's law firm, that sort of thing. To me, that's a story people ought to be looking at. I never thought Whitewater was much of a story, frankly. What I thought the story was about was Clinton's buddy Dan Lasater, the bond broker down there who was a convicted cocaine trafficker. Clinton pardoned him on his way to Washington. Lasater was a major drug trafficker, and Terry Reed's book claims Lasater was part and parcel with this whole thing. Voice From the Audience: Cockburn's newsletter is called CounterPunch, and he's done a good job of defending you in it. Gary Webb: Yeah, Cockburn has also written a book called Whiteout, which is a very interesting look at the history of CIA drug trafficking. Actually, I think it's selling pretty well itself. The New York Times hated it, of course, but what else is new? Audience Member #2: Well I just wanted to mention that he states also -- I guess it was Terry Reed who was actually doing the work -- he said Bush was running the whole thing as vice president. Gary Webb: I think that George Bush's role in this whole thing is one of the large unexplored areas of it. Audience Member #2: Which is why I think Reagan put him in as vice president, because of his position with the CIA. Gary Webb: Well, you know, that whole South Florida Drug Task Force was full of CIA operatives. Full of them. This was supposed to be our vanguard in the war against cocaine cartels, and if those Colombians are to be believed, this was the vehicle that we were using to ship arms and allow cocaine into the country, this Drug Task Force. Nobody's looked at that. But there are lots of clues that there's a lot to be dug out. Audience Member #3: Thank you, Gary. I lost my feature columnist position at my college paper for writing a satire of Christianity some years ago, and... Gary Webb: That'll do it, yeah. [Laughter from the audience.] Audience Member #3: And I lost my job twice in the last five years because of my activism in the community, but I got a job [inaudible]. But my question is, I knew someone in the mid-'80s who said that he was in the Navy, and that he had information that the Navy was involved in delivering cocaine to this country. Another kind of bombshell, I'd like to have you comment on it, I saw a video some years ago that said the UFO research that's being done down in the southwest is being funded by drug money and cocaine dealings by the CIA, and that there are 25 top secret levels of government above the Top Secret category, and that there are some levels that even the president doesn't know about. So there's another topic for another book, I just wanted to have you comment... Gary Webb: A number of topics for another book. [Laughter from the audience.] I don't know about the UFO research, but I do know you're right that we have very little idea how vast the intelligence community in this country is, or what they're up to. I think there's a great story brewing -- it's called the ECHELON program, and it involves the sharing of eavesdropped emails and cell phone communications, because it is illegal for them to do it in this country. So they've been going to New Zealand and Australia and Canada and having those governments eavesdrop on our conversations and tell us about it. I've read a couple of stories about it in the English press, and I read a couple of stories about it in the Canadian press, but I've seen precious little in the American press. But there's stuff on the Internet that circulates about that, if you're interested in the topic. I think it's called the ECHELON program. Audience Member #4: I'm glad you brought up James Burke and his Connections, because there are a lot of connections here. One I didn't hear too much about, and I know you've done a lot of research on, was how computers and high tech was used by the Crips and Bloods early on. I lived in south LA prior to this, knew some of these people, and you're right, they had virtually no education. And to suddenly have an operation that's computer literate, riding out of Bakersfield, Fresno, on north and then east in a very quick period -- I'm still learning the computer, I'm probably as old as you are, or older -- so I'd like to hear something on that. The whole dislocation of south LA that occurred -- the Watts Festival, the whole empowerment of the black community was occurring beginning in the late '60s and into the early '70s and mid-'70s, and then collapses into a sea of flipping demographics, and suddenly by 1990 it is El Salvadoran-dominated. And that's another curious part of this equation as we talk about drugs. Gary Webb: Well, that's quite a bevy of things there. As far as the sophistication of the Crips and the Bloods, the one thing that I probably should have mentioned was that when Danilo Blandón went down to South Central to start selling this dope, he had an M.B.A. in marketing. So he knew what he was doing. His job for the Somoza government was setting up wholesale markets for agricultural products. He'd received an M.B.A. thanks to us, actually -- we helped finance him, we helped send him to the University of Bogata to get his M.B.A. so he could go back to Nicaragua, and he actually came to the United States to sell dope to the gangs. So this was a very sophisticated operation. One of the money launderers from this group was a macro-economist -- his uncle, Orlando Murillo, was on the Central Bank of Nicaragua. The weapons advisor they had was a guy who'd been a cop for fifteen years. They had another weapons advisor who had been a Navy SEAL. You don't get these kinds of people by putting ads in the paper. This is not a drug ring that just sort of falls together by chance. This is like an all-star game. Which is why I suspect more and more that this thing was set up by a higher authority than a couple of drug dealers. Audience Member #5: Hi Gary, I just want to thank you for going against the traffic on this whole deal. I'm in the journalism school up at U. of O., and I'm interested in the story behind the story. I was hoping you could share some anecdotes about the kind of activity that you engaged in to get the story. For example, when you get off a plane in Nicaragua, what do you do? Where do you start? How do you talk to "Freeway" Ricky? How do you go against a government stonewall? Gary Webb: The question is, how do you do a story like this, essentially. Well, thing I've always found is, if you go knock on somebody's door, they're a lot less apt to slam it in your face than if you call them up on the telephone. So, the reason I went down to Nicaragua was to go knock on doors. I didn't go down there and just step off a plane -- I found a fellow down in Nicaragua and we hired him as a stringer, a fellow named George Hidell who is a marvelous investigative reporter, he knew all sorts of government officials down there. And I speak no Spanish, which was another handicap. George speaks like four languages. So, you find people like that to help you out. With these drug dealers, you know, it's amazing how willing they are to talk. I did a series while I was in Kentucky on organized crime in the coal industry. And it was about this mass of stock swindlers who had looted Wall Street back in the '60s and moved down to Kentucky in the '70s while the coal boom was going on, during the energy shortage. The lesson I learned in that thing -- I thought these guys would never talk to me, I figured they'd be crazy to talk to a reporter about the scams they were pulling. But they were happy to talk about it, they were flattered that you would come to them and say, hey, tell me about what you do. Tell me your greatest knock-off. Those guys would go on forever! So, you know, everybody, no matter what they do, they sort of have pride in their work... [Laughter from the audience.] And, you know, I found that when you appeared interested, they would be happy to tell you. The people who lied to me, the people who slammed doors in my face, were the DEA and the FBI. The DEA called me down -- I wrote about this in the book -- they had a meeting, and they were telling me that if I wrote this story, I was going to help drug traffickers bring drugs into the country, and I was going to get DEA agents killed, and this, that and the other thing, all of which was utterly bullshit. So that's the thing -- just ask. There's really no secret to it. Audience Member #6: I'd like to ask a couple of questions very quickly. The first one is, if you wouldn't mind being a reference librarian for a moment -- there was the Golden Triangle. I was just wondering if you've ever, in your curiosity about this, touched on that -- the drug rings and the heroin trade out of Southeast Asia. And the second one is about the fellow from the Houston Chronicle, I don't remember his name right off, but you know who I'm talking about, if you could just touch on that a little bit... Gary Webb: Yes. The first question was about whether I ever touched on what was going on in the Golden Triangle. Fortunately, I didn't have to -- there's a great book called The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, by Alfred McCoy, which is sort of a classic in CIA drug trafficking lore. I don't think you can get any better than that. That's a great reference in the library, you can go check it out. McCoy was a professor at the University of Wisconsin who went to Laos during the time that the secret war in Laos was going on, and he wrote about how the CIA was flying heroin out on Air America. That's the thing that really surprised me about the reaction to my story was, it's not like I invented this stuff. There's a long, long history of CIA involvement in drug traffic which Cockburn gets into in Whiteout. And the second question was about Pete Brewton -- there was a reporter in Houston for the Houston Post named Pete Brewton who did the series -- I think it was '91 or '92 -- on the strange connections between the S&L collapses, particularly in Texas, and CIA agents. And his theory was that a lot of these collapses were not mismanagement, they were intentional. These things were looted, with the idea that a lot of the money was siphoned off to fund covert operations overseas. And Brewton wrote this series, and it was funny, because after all hell broke loose on my story, I called him up, and he said, "Well, I was waiting for this to happen to you." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "I was exactly like you are. I'd been in this business for twenty years, I'd won all sorts of awards, I'd lectured in college journalism courses, and I wrote a series that had these three little letters C-I-A in it. And suddenly I was unreliable, and I couldn't be trusted, and Reed Irvine at Accuracy In Media was writing nasty things about me, and my editor had lost confidence in me, so I quit the business and went to law school." Brewton wrote a book called The Mafia, CIA and George Bush. It's hard to find, but it's worth looking up if you can find it. It's all there, it's all documented. See, the difference between his story and my story was, we put ours out on the web, and it got out. Brewton's story is sort of confined to the printed page, and I think the Washington Journalism Review actually wrote a story about, how come nobody's writing about this, nobody's picking up this story. Nobody touched this story, it just sort of died. And the same thing would have happened with my series, had we not had this amazing web page. Thank God we did, or this thing would have just slipped underneath the waves, and nobody would have ever heard about it. Audience Member #7: I'm glad you're here. I guess the CIA, there was something I read in the paper a couple of years ago, that said the CIA is actually murdering people, and they admitted it, they don't usually do that. Gary Webb: It's a new burst of honesty from the new CIA. Audience Member #7: They'll murder us with kindness. In the Chicago police force, there were about 10 officers who were kicked off the police force for doing drugs or selling drugs, and George Bush or something... I heard that he had a buddy who had a lot of money in drug testing equipment, so that's one reason everybody has to pee in a cup now... [Laughter from the audience.] The other thing I found, there was a meth lab close to here, and somebody who wasn't even involved with it, he was paralyzed... And as you know, we have the "Just Say No to Drugs" deal... What do you think we can do to stop us, the People, from being hypnotized once again from all these shenanigans, doing other people injury in terms of these kinds of messages, at the same time they're selling. Because all this money is being spent for all this... Gary Webb: I guess the question is, what could you do to keep from being hypnotized by the media message, specifically on the Drug War? Is that what you're talking about? Audience Member #7: Yeah, or all the funds... like, there's another thing here with the meth lab, they say we'll kind of turn people in... Gary Webb: Oh yeah, the nation of informers. Audience Member #7: Yeah. Gary Webb: That's something I have to laugh about -- up until I think '75 or '76, probably even later than that, you could go to your doctor and get methamphetamine. I mean, there were housewives by the hundreds of thousands across the United States who were taking it every day to lose weight, and now all the sudden it was the worst thing on the face of the earth. That's one thing I got into in the book, was the sort of crack hysteria in 1986 that prompted all these crazy laws that are still on the books today, and the 100:1 sentencing ratio... I don't know how many of you saw, on PBS a couple of nights back, there was a great show on informants called "Snitch." [Murmurs of recognition from the audience.] Yeah, on Frontline. That was very heartening to see, because I don't think ten years ago that it would have stood a chance in hell of getting on the air.
What I'm seeing now is that a lot of people are finally waking up to the idea that this "drug war" has been a fraud since the get-go. My personal opinion is, I think the main purpose of this whole drug war was to sort of erode civil liberties, very slowly and very gradually, and sort of put us down into a police state. [Robust burst of applause from the audience.] And we're pretty close to that. I've got to hand it to them, they've done a good job. We have no Fourth Amendment left anymore, we're all peeing in cups, and we're all doing all sorts of things that our parents probably would have marched in the streets about. The solution to that is to read something other than the daily newspaper, and turn off the TV news. I mean, I'm sorry, I hate to say that, but that's mind-rot. You've got to find alternative sources of information. [Robust applause.] Voice From the Audience: How can you say that it was all a chain reaction, that it was not done deliberately, and on the other hand say it has at the same time deliberately eroded our rights? Gary Webb: Well, the question was, how can I say on one hand it was a chain reaction, and on the other hand say the drug war was set up deliberately to erode our rights. I mean, you're talking about sort of macro versus micro. And I do not give the CIA that much credit, that they could plan these vast conspiracies down through the ages and have them work -- most of them don't. What I'm saying is, you have police groups, you have police lobbying groups, you have prison guard groups -- they seize opportunities when they come along. The Drug War has given them a lot of opportunities to say, okay, now let's lengthen prison sentences. Why? Well, because if you keep people in jail longer, you need more prison guards. Let's build more prisons. Why? Well, people get jobs, prison guards get jobs. The police stay in business. We need to fund more of them. We need to give bigger budgets to the correctional facilities. This is all very conscious, but I don't think anybody sat in a room in 1974 and said, okay, by 1995, we're going to have X number of Americans locked up or under parole supervision. I don't think they mind -- you know, I think they like that. But I don't think it was a conscious effort. I think it was just one bad idea, after another bad idea, compounded with a stupid idea, compounded with a really stupid idea. And here we are. So I don't know if that answers your question or not... Audience Member #8: To me, the Iran-contra story was one of the most interesting and totally frustrating things. And the more information, the more about it I heard -- we don't know anything about it, I mean, if you look for any official data, they deny everything. And to see Ollie North, the upstanding blue-eyed American, standing there lying through his teeth, and we knew it... [Inaudible comment, "before Congress and the President"?] What galls me is that these people who are guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors are now getting these enormous pensions, and we have to pay for these bums. It sickens me! Gary Webb: Right. Audience Member #8: And I actually have a question -- this is my question, by the way, I know you have a thousand other questions [laughter from the audience] -- but the one that stays with me, and has always bothered me, was the Christic Institute, and I thought it was fantastic. And they were hit with this enormous lawsuit, and they had to bail out. This needs to be ["rehired"?] because they knew what they were doing, they had all the right answers, and they were run out of office, so to say, in disgrace, because of this lawsuit. Gary Webb: The question was about the Christic Institute, and about how the Iran-contra controversy is probably one of the worst scandals. I agree with you, I think the Iran-contra scandal was worse than Watergate, far worse than this nonsense we're doing now. But I'll tell you, I think the press played a very big part in downplaying that scandal. One of the people I interviewed for the book was a woman named Pam Naughton, who was one of the best prosecutors that the Iran-contra committee had. And I asked her, why -- you know, it was also the first scandal that was televised, and I remember watching them at night. I would go to work and I'd set the VCR, and I'd come home at night and I'd watch the hearings. Then I'd pick up the paper the next morning, and it was completely different! And I couldn't figure it out, and this has bothered me all these years. So when I got Pam Naughton on the phone, I said, what the hell happened to the press corps in Washington during the Iran-contra scandal? And she said, well, I can tell you what I saw. She said, every day, we would come out at the start of this hearings, and we would lay out a stack of documents -- all the exhibits we were going to introduce -- stuff that she thought was extremely incriminating, front page story after front page story, and they'd sit them on a table. And she said, every day the press corps would come in, and they'd say hi, how're you doing, blah blah blah, and they'd go sit down in the front row and start talking about, you know, did you see the ball game last night, and what they saw on Johnny Carson. And she said one or two reporters would go up and get their stack of documents and go back and write about it, and everybody else sat in the front row, and they would sit and say, okay, what's our story today? And they would all agree what the story was, and they'd go back and write it. Most of them never even looked at the exhibits. And that's why I say it was the press's fault, because there was so much stuff that came out of those hearings. That used to just drive me crazy, you would never see it in the newspaper. And I don't think it's a conspiracy -- if anything, it's a conspiracy of stupidity and laziness. I talked to Bob Parry about this -- when he was working for Newsweek covering Iran-contra, they weren't even letting him go to the hearings. He had to get transcripts messengered to him at his house secretly, so his editors wouldn't find out he was actually reading the transcripts, because he was writing stories that were so different from everybody else's. Bob Parry tells a story of being at a dinner party with Bobby Inman from the CIA, the editor of Newsweek, and all the muckity-mucks -- this was his big introduction into Washington society. And they were sitting at the dinner table in the midst of the Iran-contra thing, talking about everything but Iran-contra. And Bob said he had the bad taste of bringing up the Iran-contra hearing and mentioning one particularly bad aspect of it. And he said, the editor of Newsweek looked at him and said, "You know, Bob, there are just some things that it's better the country just doesn't know about." And all these admirals and generals sitting around the table all nodded their heads in agreement, and they wanted to talk about something else. That's the attitude. That's the attitude in Washington. And that's the attitude of the Washington press corps, and nowadays it's even worse than that, because now, if you play the game right, you get a TV show. Now you've got the McLaughlin Group. Now you get your mug on CNN. You know. And that's how they keep them in line. If you're a rabble rouser, and a shit-stirrer, they don't want your type on television. They want the pundits. The other question was about the Christic Institute. They had it all figured out. The Christic Institute had this thing figured out. They filed suit in May of 1986, alleging that the Reagan administration, the CIA, this sort of parallel government was going on. Oliver North was involved in it, you had the Bay of Pigs Cubans that were involved in it down in Costa Rica, they had names, they had dates, and they got murdered. And the Reagan administration's line was, they're a bunch of left-wing liberal crazies, this was conspiracy theory. If you want to see what they really thought, go to Oliver North's diaries, which are public -- the National Security Archive has got them -- all he was writing about, after the Christic Institute's suit was filed, was how we've got to shut this thing down, how we have to discredit these witnesses, how we've got to get this guy set up, how we've got to get this guy out of the country... They knew that the Christic Institute was right, and they were deathly afraid that the American public was going to find out about it. I am convinced that the judge who was hearing the case was part and parcel to the problem. He threw the case out of court and fined the Christic Institute, I think it was $1.3 million, for even bringing the lawsuit. It was deemed "frivolous litigation." And it finally bankrupted them. And they went away. But that's the problem when you try to take on the government in its own arena, and the federal courts are definitely part of its own arena. They make the rules. And in cases like that, you don't stand a chance in hell, it won't happen. Voice From the Audience: But if you cannot get the truth in the courts, if you cannot write it in the papers, then what do you do? Gary Webb: You do it yourself. You do it yourself. You've got to start rebuilding an information system on your own. And that's what's going on. It's very small, but it's happening. People are talking to each other through newsgroups on the Internet. People are doing Internet newsletters. Voice From the Audience: Do you have a website? Emcee: Let's use the mike, let's use the mike. Gary Webb: The question is, do I have a website. No, I don't, but I'm building one. [Inaudible question from the audience.] Gary Webb: Well, let's let these people who have been standing in line... [Commotion, murmuring. Someone calls out, "Please use the mike."] Audience Member #9: When you mentioned prisons a moment ago, I couldn't help but remember that it is America's fastest-growing industry, the "prison industry" -- which is a hell of a phrase unto itself. But it seems that the CIA had people aligned throughout Central America at one point, and El Salvador, with the contras, and in Honduras and Nicaragua, and in Panama, Manuel Noriega... Gary Webb: Our "man in Panama," that's right. Audience Member #9: Yeah. But something went wrong with him, and he got pinched in public. And I'm interested to know what you think about that. Gary Webb: The question is about Manuel Noriega, who was our "man in Panama" for so many years. What happened to Noriega is that -- I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that he was a drug trafficker, because we knew that for years. What it had to do with was what is going to happen at the end of this year, which is when control of the Panama Canal goes over to the Panamanians. If you read the New York Times story that Seymour Hersh wrote back in June of 1986 that exposed Noriega publicly as a drug trafficker and money launderer, there were some very telling phrases in it. All unsourced, naturally, you know -- unattributed comments from high-ranking government officials -- but they talked about how they were nervous that Noriega had become unreliable. And with control of the Panama Canal reverting to the Panamanian government, they were very nervous at the idea of having somebody as "unstable" as Noriega running the country at that point. And I think that was a well-founded fear. You've got a major drug trafficker controlling a major maritime thoroughway. I can see the CIA being nervous about being cut out of the business. [Laughter from the audience.] But I think that's what the whole thing with Noriega was about -- they wanted him out of there, because they wanted somebody that they could control a little more closely in power in Panama for when the canal gets reverted back to them. Audience Member #9: Was there much of a profit difference between Nicaragua and Panama as far as the drugs went? Gary Webb: Well, what Noriega had done was sort of create an international banking center for drug money. That was his part of it. Nicaragua was nothing ever than just a trans-shipment point. Central America was never anything more than a trans-shipment point. Columbia Peru and Bolivia were the producers, and the planes needed a place to refuel, and that's all that Central America ever was. The banking was all done in Panama. Audience Member #10: You talk about how they sat on their stories, the newspapers? Why did they suddenly decide to pursue the stories? Gary Webb: Which stories are these? Audience Member #10: The stories about the crack dealing and the CIA. Why did they suddenly decide that, well, actually... Gary Webb: The question was -- correct me if I'm wrong -- the question raised the fact that the other newspapers didn't do anything about this story for a while, and then after I wrote it they came after me. Is that what you're asking? Audience Member #10: Well, yeah, and then eventually the CIA admitted it... and I mean, why are people asking, it sat for a long time, and then suddenly everyone was on it. What was the turning point that made them decide to pursue it? Gary Webb: The turning point that made them decide to pursue the story was the fact that it had gotten out over the Internet, and people were calling them up saying, why don't you have the story in your newspaper? You know, I don't think the subject matter frightened the major media as much as the fact that a little newspaper in Northern California was able to set the national agenda for once. And people were marching in the streets, people were holding hearings in Washington, they were demanding Congressional hearings, you had John Deutch, the CIA director, go down on that surreal trip down to South Central to convince everyone that everything was okay... [Laughter from the audience.] And all of this was happening without the big media being involved in it at all. And the reason that happened was because we had an outlet -- we had the web. And the people at the Mercury News did a fantastic job on this website.
And so, news was marching on without them. There's a professor at the University of Wisconsin who's done a paper on the whole "Dark Alliance" thing, and her thesis is that this story was shut down more because of how it got out than for what it actually said. That it was an attempt by the major media to regain control of the Internet, and to suggest that unless they're the ones who are putting it out, it's unreliable. Which I think you see in a lot of stories. The mainstream press gladly promotes the idea that you can't believe anything you read on the Internet, it's all kooks, it's all conspiracy theorists... And there are, I mean, I admit, there are a lot of them out there, but it's not all false. But the idea that we're being taught is, unless it's got our name on it, you can't believe it. So they can retain control of the means of communication anyway. Audience Member #11: You mentioned Iran-contra, which was private foreign policy in defiance of Congress, which means it was a high crime. From there, we get more drugs, we get erosion of civil liberties and the loss of the Fourth Amendment, which you mentioned. And we have to get that back, because without it, we're just commodities to one another. So what I'd like to ask you is, what are you working on now? And do you have your own journalistic chain of reaction? Are you going to be doing something that connects back to this? Gary Webb: The question is what am I doing now -- believe it or not, I'm working for the government. [Laughter from the audience.] I work for the California legislature, and I do investigations of state agencies. I just wrote a piece for Esquire magazine which should be out in April on another fabulous DEA program that they're running. Actually, part of it's based here in Oregon, called Operation Pipeline. That story is coming out in April, and Esquire told me they want me to write more stuff for them, they want me to do some investigative reporting for them, so I'll be working for them. And I'm putting together another book proposal, and a couple of other things. I'm not going to work for newspapers any more, I learned my lesson. Audience Member #12: A year ago the editor of your newspaper was here to speak, sponsored by the University of Oregon School of Journalism. Before I got up here, I took a casual look around -- I don't know all of the members of the journalism faculty, but I didn't recognize any. We did have a student here who got up and asked a question. That leads to this question: I'd like, if you don't mind, to ask if there is someone from the University of Oregon journalism faculty here, would they mind being acknowledged and raising their hand? Gary Webb: All right, there's one back there. Audience Member #12: There is one. Okay. [Applause from the audience.] I'm pleased to see it. There is that one person. My point is, I think much of what you've said this evening constitutes an indictment -- and a valid indictment -- of the university journalism programs in this country. [Applause.] Most Americans and I believe -- and I'm interested in your reaction -- that it reinforces that indictment when we see, to that person's credit, that she is the only faculty member from our school of journalism to hear you tonight. Gary Webb: I think the general question was about the state of the journalism schools. The one thing journalism schools don't teach, by and large, is investigative reporting. They teach stenography very well. That's why I consider most of journalism today to be stenography. You go to a press conference, you write down the quotes accurately, you come back, you don't provide any context, you don't provide any perspective, because that gets into analysis, and heavens knows, we don't want any analysis in our newspapers. But you report things accurately, you report things fairly, and even if it's a lie you put it in the newspaper, and that's considered journalism. I don't consider that journalism, I consider that stenography. And that is the way they teach journalism in school, that's the way I was taught. Unless you go to a very different journalism school from the kinds that most kids go to, that's what you're taught. Now, there are specialized journalism schools, there are master's programs like the Kiplinger Program at Ohio State, that's very good. So, I'm not saying that all journalism schools are bad, but they don't teach you to be journalists. They discourage you from doing that, by and large. And I don't think it's the fault of the journalism professors, I just think that's the way things have been taught in this country for so long, that they just do it automatically. I'd be interested in hearing the professor's thoughts about it, but that's sort of the way I look at things. I spent way too many years in journalism school. I kind of got shed of those notions after I got out in the real world. [End of transcript.] © ParaScope, Inc. 1999
You think this is all "ancient history"? Think again. The current glut of pure white heroin entering this country has its roots in our undercover support of the Afghan rebell fight against Soviet Russia.
See: Dealing With the Deamon
It's now nearly 90 years since the first international attempts were taken to control ilicit drugs in 1909 at Shanghai. Today the world is facing levels of heroin production unprecedented in recent history, ten times higher than the last "plague" of the 1970's. Heroin has now become a global commodity insinuating its way into much of the third world and the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Dealing with the Demon is a three part series which examines how this came to be and what can be done about it. Each film interweaves contemporary human stories with crucial scenes from the history of the drug trade which has now grown to become the second largest industry in the world. This series provides the hidden background which is essential to understanding the global nature of the drug trade and the ongoing debate about what to do about ilicit drugs in society. Filmed in fifteen different countries (in Asia, United States, Australia and Europe) at considerable risk to the filmmakers, Dealing with the Deamon is a compeling view of one of the darkest aspects of recent history. The story that is revealed, follows the simple but expedient formula that drugs (and other long term problems like Islamic terrorism) took a back seat when the priority was winning a war against the evil Soviet Empire. At its more complex level, the story of heroin in the Golden Crescent involves connections between the CIA, the ISI, Mujahideen, the collapsed BCCI bank and Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
Interview with Alfred McCoy, professor of Southeast Asian History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade
But surely a minor "crime" such as a traffic ticket or a failure to report to Homeland Security on entry is not what was contemplated. And even if Posada could somehow convince the Homeland judges of the validity of his spurious residency and asylum claims (that he is a US resident although he has lived abroad for 30 years; that he is entitled to asylum here although he has murdered scores of innocent people), he still should be extradited now to Venezuela because his migration status has nothing to do with extradition for trial for his alleged crime, murdering 73 innocent Cubana flight 455 passengers in 1976.
So why not just send him to the extradition judge and be done with it? What's the reason for keeping him here? Delay for delay's sake? Aggravate the Venezuelan government? Weaken the US claim to be the world leader in its "war against terrorism"? None of these seem very convincing as motives, even for this Administration. According to recently declassified CIA reports ( National Security Archives, Book 153, FBI report 11/2/76 ), in custody after his Oct. 6, 1976 bombing of the Cubana civilian airliner, flight 455, Posada threatened through his co-conspirator Morales Navarette that if forced to talk, the Venezuelan government "would go down the tube" and there would be "another Watergate."
George Bush Senior, CIA Director at the time of the Cubana bombing, had previously appointed Ted Shackley as his Deputy Director for Special Operations. Since Bay of Pigs, Shackley had been in charge of the JM/Wave Miami CIA station which had been training anti-Castro extremists for possible invasion, then demolitions (Posada ran the school), biological warfare and murderous incursions into Cuba. In 1976 CIA had urged several violent US anti-Castro groups to join together under one umbrella organization called CORU. It was led by Orlando Bosch and took credit for the Letelier murders in Washington, DC in September.
Bush Senior has said he was not with the CIA before being appointed director by President Ford in early 1976. Joseph McBride in an article in The Nation of July 16, 1988 wrote: "A source with close connections to the intelligence community confirmed that Bush started working for the CIA in 1960 or 1961, using his oil business for clandestine activities." There's a memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to the State Department dated Nov. 28, 1963 concerning information developed by the Miami FBI office about groups in Miami seeking to blame the JFK murder on the Cuban government. It says the information was orally furnished on Nov. 23 to "George Bush of the CIA." Bush Senior was in Dallas then. As was another CIA operative, Chauncey Holt (now deceased), who identified Posada as being in Dealey Plaza at the time of the murder.
Other sources, among them CIA agent Marita Lorenz, placed Orlando Bosch and Guillermo Novo there. The question arises whether their presence there can be dismissed as coincidence. After all, Bosch, Posada's accomplice in the Cuban airline bombing, was pardoned by President Bush Senior in 1990 against the strong objection of his own Justice Department, which had implicated him in more than 70 terrorist crimes. And Guillermo Novo and Posada were just last year pardoned on another bombing charge and released by the US-friendly outgoing president of Panama. Yet another anti-Castro extremist, Felix Rodriguez, who killed Ernesto Guevara and worked with Posada in the Iran-Contra supply network, has long been a Bush Senior personal friend.
The official versions of Watergate and JFK’s murder don't make a lot of sense when one considers motivations of the supposed actors. It's now clear that Nixon ordered the burglary of Democratic National Headquarters in 1972. But what was he looking for at such great risk? In his book on Watergate, Staff Chief H. R. Haldeman wrote that when Nixon was caught on tape talking about the risk that a Watergate probe could "blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing," he was actually referring to the JFK murder, not the invasion of Cuba. As Vice President in 1960 (a political protégé of Senator Prescott Bush), Nixon had supervised the preparation of the invasion. It seems odd he would confuse these events if they were unrelated. Moreover, what could be "blown" about the Bay of Pigs that was not already known?
And why did Lee Harvey Oswald kill JFK? The Warren Commission and the subsequent Congressional committees could not come up with a motive. In an effort at the time of the murder to blame the Cuban government, a photo of Oswald was spread across US newspapers showing him on a New Orleans street holding a "Fair Play for Cuba Committee" sign. But why were there no other members of the New Orleans committee? Why did Oswald give the address of the committee as 544 Camp St., which was the side entrance for the offices of Sergio Arcacha Smith and Guy Banister, both rabid anti-Castro extremists? Why were anti-Castro Cubans often seen there? Why did Oswald spend much of his time there? Why was Allen Dulles, the CIA Director who planned the Bay of Pigs and was subsequently fired by JFK, put on the Warren Commission? Why did CIA misinform the Commission on so many key evidentiary matters? The official answers to these questions seem to be "blowin' in the wind." It's like a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.
In the fall of 1963, JFK was not relying much on CIA intelligence or opinions regarding Cuba. Negotiations (supposedly secret) were about to start between US and Cuba to possibly normalize relations. JFK's conditions were that Cuba distance itself from the Soviet Union and stop aiding revolutionary movements in Latin America, to which Castro seemed amenable.
A key part of Allen Dulles's Bay of Pigs plan was "Operation 40." They were 40 CIA agents, mostly gunmen, whose job was to kill the leading members of Cuba's government. Some, like Posada, had previously worked in enforcement for the Batista regime. Prior to the invasion they were waiting in Dominican Republic. Their boat took off for Cuba but turned around when informed the invasion was failing. They returned to the US, and, unbeknownst to JFK, Operation 40 continued on. For years and decades, with some changes in names and personnel.
Many of the original names kept appearing in connection with subsequent covert, violent CIA projects, such as Operation Mongoose, Operation Phoenix, the JFK murder, the regime changes in Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Watergate burglary, the bombing of Cubana flight 455, the Iran-Contra war, and Operation Condor which exterminated many South American progressives. Names like Luis Posada, Orlando Bosch, Felix Rodriguez, E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Antonio Veciana, Guillermo Novo, Eugenio Martinez, Ricardo Morales, David Sanchez Morales, David Phillips, all members of the 40.
In an oligarchy where the important decisions are made in secret by a power elite, where the mainstream media is used to manipulate rather than inform, it's often difficult for the public to distinguish actual from virtual reality. It's apparent that Posada could supply many of the missing pieces of the puzzles of the last 45 years. He has friends in Miami and they have brought him here to resurface after 30 years. If he needed money or a place to hide comfortably, they could easily have provided him with such in another country. What we now know about his past is enough to say that he and his friends could be going public with his knowledge of CIA operations as a threat or extortion chip, perhaps to affect future US policy toward Cuba. This would explain why his legally required extradition is being delayed.
CIA's Anti-Drug Message for Kids The CIA wants American families to know that it's fighting the war on drugs, but the real story isn't quite so simple or so pretty. By Martin A. Lee. March 4, 2001
CIA Admits Tolerating Contra-Cocaine Trafficking House Intelligence Committee buries admissions in new contra-cocaine report. By Robert Parry. June 8, 2000
Hyde's Blind Eye: Contras & Cocaine The chief House manager’s double standards on scandal. By Dennis Bernstein & Leslie Kean. December 14, 1999
Contra-Cocaine: Falling Between the 'Crack' Congress has taken the Nicaraguan contra-cocaine scandal back behind closed doors, even though the CIA admitted serious wrongdoing in a public report. By Robert Parry. June 18, 1999
L.A.'s Other Coke Pipeline The CIA’s contra-cocaine investigation reportedly stumbled upon a new drug pipeline into Los Angeles, with a CIA veteran of the contra war implicated. By Robert Parry. December 29, 1998
The Contras’ Narco-Terrorists The Hitz report describes how some U.S.-trained veterans of the terror wars against Fidel Castro’s Cuba turned to drug trafficking in the 1970s and reappeared as contras supporters in the 1980s. October 15, 1998
Special Report: CIA’s Drug Confession In a shocking new report, CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz confirms long-standing allegations that drug traffickers pervaded the Nicaraguan contra war. Hitz found evidence in the CIA’s own files connecting key contras and contra backers to major trafficking organizations, including the Medellin cartel. One thread of evidence even led into Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council where the contra war was overseen by Lt. Col. Oliver North. October 15, 1998
The NYT’s New Contra Lies The New York Times, “the newspaper of record,” has altered the historical record, again, to protect the Nicaraguan contras and the paper’s own bad reporting. October 1, 1998
John Hull's Great Escape CIA-linked farmer John Hull skipped Costa Rica to avoid a drug trial -- and got help in his escape from DEA operatives. August 2, 1998
Special Report: Contra-Cocaine -- Justice Denied A new Justice Department report reveals that the Reagan-Bush administrations knew much more about Nicaraguan contra-drug trafficking. The CIA also blocked investigators who got too close. But the Justice report still denigrates witnesses, such as smuggler Jorge Morales, and keeps the cover-up alive. August 2, 1998
The NYT's Contra-Cocaine Dilemma For a dozen years, The New York Times mocked allegations that the Nicaraguan contras were implicated in cocaine trafficking. Finally, the nation's 'newspaper of record' is admitting that there was something to the story after all. But the Times is still letting the CIA put its spin on the scandal -- and the Times still doesn't want to confess its own guilt. July 23, 1998
Reality Bites Back: Contra-Coke Proof Incoming CIA Inspector General Britt Snider must decide how to release an explosive report confirming long-held suspicions that the Nicaraguan contra operation smuggled cocaine. The report implicates the CIA and casts a dark shadow over the war run by the late CIA director William Casey and White House aide Oliver North. July 9, 1998
Two New Contra-Coke Books Two new books are throwing down the gauntlet -- again -- to the CIA on the issue of drug trafficking. July 9, 1998
Listen to Bob Parry & Gary Webb Discussing New Contra-Cocaine Report on "Democracy Now." July 20, 1998
Contra-Coke: Evidence of Premeditation A memo reveals how CIA Director William J. Casey engineered a legal change in 1982 that spared the spy agency from a legal requirement to report on drug smuggling by agents. The memo, released by Rep. Maxine Waters, is evidence that Casey anticipated cocaine trafficking by the Nicaraguan contras. June 1, 1998
Contra Cocaine: Bad to Worse The CIA has issued part one of its long-awaited Nicaraguan contra cocaine report. While the spy agency hopes everyone will just read the executive summary, the fine print of the report shows that the drug trafficking was a severe problem. (2/16/98)
Contra-Crack Guide: Reading Between the Lines The CIA and the Justice Department are clearing themselves of wrongdoing on alleged Nicaraguan contra-crack sales. Yet, while the verdicts are public, the actual evidence is still under wraps. And reporter Gary Webb has lost his job. (1/5/98)
Hung Out to Dry: 'Dark Alliance' Series Dies Under pressure from the Big Media, San Jose Mercury News editors pulled reporter Gary Webb off the contra-drug story. But in a first-person account, Webb's co-author in Nicaragua warns about dangers to others who worked on the story. (6/30/97)
CIA, Contras & Cocaine: Big Media Rejoices The nation's leading newspapers celebrated a column by a San Jose Mercury News editor, backing away from last year's series linking the Nicaraguan contras to the nation's 'crack' epidemic. But the evidence of contra drugs remains, as do questions about the big media's hostility toward the decade-old story. (6/2/97)
CIA & Cocaine: Agency Assets Cross the Line The CIA faces a new drug-trafficking embarrassment with the Miami indictment of a Venezuelan general who worked with the CIA on narcotics issues. But the problem goes far deeper, all the way down to the spy agency's Cold War roots. (3/17/97)
Contra-Crack: Investigators vs. Brickwall Maxine Waters tracks CIA-contra-crack suspicions. (2/3/97)
Contra-Crack: Contra Crack Controversy Continues A new report backs the allegations and chastises the big papers. (1/6/97)
Contra-Crack: CIA, Drugs & National Press When a West Coast paper published new evidence linking the CIA-managed Nicaraguan contra rebels to cocaine smuggling, the Washington press rallied to the spy agency's defense -- and pummeled the out-of-step journalists. (12/23/96)
Contra-Crack: The Kerry-Weld Cocaine War While Sen. John Kerry led the fight to expose the contra-crack drug trade, Gov. Bill Weld stalled. (11/11/96)
Contra-Crack: Contra-Crack Story Assailed (Part 1) The Washington Post rushes to the CIA's defense. (10-28-96)
Contra-Crack: Contra-Crack Story Assailed (Part 2) The Washington Times' Pro-Contra beat goes on. (10-28-96)
Contra-Crack: Blacks Angered by Contra-Crack A published report of CIA-backed crack cocaine dealing in black communities across America has touched a raw nerve among black leaders. (9-30-96)
Archive October Surprise 'X-Files' Series
The Original Eight-Part Series
The Russian Report What the KGB knew about the October Surprise mystery, but the American people didn't. (12-11-95)
The Ladies Room Secrets How historic secrets about this political era were recovered from a remote Capitol Hill wash room. (12-21-95)
Bill Casey's Iranian What FBI wiretaps captured about secret payments from BCCI and a Bush-connected lawyer to an Iranian "double-agent."(12-31-95)
Follow the Money How some of the world's most secretive and powerful players joined forces to fix the pivotal 1980 election. (1-15-96)
Saddam's 'Green Light' What a "top secret" report reveals about the origins of the bloody Iran-Iraq War. (1-31-96)
Where's Bill Casey How the national news media and Congress "debunked" the October Surprise allegations by adopting bogus alibis for Bill Casey. (2-14-96)
Bush & a CIA Power Play What CIA veterans and former CIA director George Bush did to regain The White House in the 1980s. (2-29-96)
Lies Spun into History How absurd alibis became part of the October Surprise historical record. (3-14-96)
More Recent Updates
David Rockefeller & 'October Surprise' Case Election 1980 was a turning point in American political history, but how the Republicans exploited Jimmy Carter's humiliation over the Iranian hostage crisis to ensure Ronald Reagan's victory is still little understood. Nor do the American people know the background roles in the "October Surprise" case played by David Rockefeller, the Shah of Iran's banker, and his many powerful friends. Adapted from Secrecy & Privilege. Posted April 15, 2005
Rockefeller Aide's Tie to 'October Surprise' Some of the most intriguing documents found in the files of the House 'October Surprise' Task Force relate to the role of Joseph Verner Reed, one of Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller's top aides. According to an FBI agent's notes, Reed tried to stonewall the investigation of alleged Republican interference in President Carter's 1980 Iran-hostage negotiations. The Reed documents were never released to the American people but were found by reporter Robert Parry in a Capitol Hill storage room. Part of our new Document Archive. Posted April 12, 2005.
Russian Report on 'October Surprise' Case For the first time, we are posting the "confidential" Russian government report about the 1980 "October Surprise" case. The report -- a rare case of Moscow cooperating with the United States on an intelligence investigation -- asserts that Reagan-Bush campaign officials did secretly negotiate with Iranian leaders behind President Carter's back. Posted April 5, 2005
Arafat & the Original 'October Surprise' Skeletons of an election controversy past -- the alleged Reagan-Bush "October Surprise" scheme of 1980 -- have surfaced, as a top aide to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat describes a secret meeting between the PLO and a key Republican. The Arafat aide says the Republican sought the PLO's help in sabotaging President Carter's efforts to free 52 American hostages in Iran. November 2, 2004
Russia's Prime Minister & 'October Surprise' Boris Yeltsin’s nominee for Russia’s new prime minister wrote a secret report in 1993, confirming the 1980 ‘October Surprise’ charges and implicating top Republicans in a hostage plot with Iran. Sergey Stepashin sent the explosive report to the U.S. Congress, but the extraordinary document was hidden. By Robert Parry. May 14, 1999
Earl Brian: Reagan's 'Scandal Man' Off to Jail In the early 1990s, the word of Ronald Reagan's friend Earl Brian helped debunk two major scandals. But now, Brian's credibility has collapsed with his federal fraud conviction. (8/25/97)
October Surprise: Finally, Time for the Truth? Seven years ago, Jamshid Hashemi, an Iranian businessman and CIA operative, broke his silence about the October Surprise controversy. Now, with more and more public figures corroborating parts of the story, Jamshid Hashemi is revealing new details about this ultimate dirty trick and the CIA. (5/5/97)
October Surprise: Time for Truth? (Part 2) The enduring mystery of George Bush and alleged Paris meetings with Iranians in 1980: Did he go or did he stay? (5/19/97)
Imperial Bush A closer look at the Bush record -- from the war in Iraq to the war on the environment
2004 Campaign Will Americans take the exit ramp off the Bush presidency in November?
Behind Colin Powell's Legend Colin Powell's sterling reputation in Washington hides his life-long role as water-carrier for conservative ideologues.
The 2000 Campaign Recounting the controversial presidential campaign
Media Crisis Is the national media a danger to democracy?
The Clinton Scandals The story behind President Clinton's impeachment
Nazi Echo Pinochet & Other Characters
The Dark Side of Rev. Moon Rev. Sun Myung Moon and American politics
Contra Crack Contra drug stories uncovered
Lost History How the American historical record has been tainted by lies and cover-ups
The October Surprise "X-Files" The 1980 October Surprise scandal exposed
International From free trade to the Kosovo crisis
Other Investigative Stories
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