Dr. Death Revisited May 5 ,2005 In French TV documentary, ex-CIA official admits ties to CIA-cocaine scandal character
Ink-Stained Wretchedness April 25, 2005 http://www.ocweekly.com/ink/05/33/media.php
DEA'S FINEST DETAILS CORRUPTION By John Veit
(Celerino Castillo III, one of the Drug Enforcement Agency's most prolific agents, who netted record busts in New York, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and San Francisco, was ordered not to investigate US-sponsored drug trafficking operations supervised by Oliver North. After twelve years of service, Castillo has retired from the agency, "amazed that the US government could get away with drug trafficking for so long." In his book Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras, and the Drug War [Mosaic Press, 1994], Castillo details the US role in drug and weapons smuggling, money laundering, torture, and murder, and includes Oliver North's drug use and dealing, and the training of death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala by the DEA.)
VIETNAM BLUES Sergeant Castillo was a doper's nightmare during his days in Vietnam. Constantly testing the reflexes and surveillance skills of his platoon, Castillo had no tolerance for soldiers stoned on heroin or OJ's (marijuana soaked with opium). Compassionate with users suffering emotional problems, Castillo took a hard line with those who compromised the safety of the unit, court-martialling anyone who failed to clean themselves up after two warnings.
With addicts dying around him regularly, Castillo vowed to make fighting narcotics his life's work once back in the states. He told the SHADOW: "Every week we would send another overdose victim home in a green bag. If the soldier was well liked, someone would pump a bullet in the soldier's body. The family would be told he died a hero's death. If the consensus was that the dead soldier had been an asshole, he would be sent home with nothing more than the needle pricks in his arm." Dope and undisciplined soldiers were problems Castillo left behind when he volunteered to join a secret sniper unit in neighboring Cambodia in 1971. The Vietcong used Cambodia as a staging ground for raids on South Vietnam since the US Congress had declared it off-limits to American soldiers. Castillo's twelve-man team would pick off commanding officers at VC bases with M-14 sniper rifles. "We never missed," Castillo recalled. "According to the Pentagon, we were never there."
These were the first of many US Government cover-ups Castillo was to be involved with in his twenty-one year career as a public servant.
OFFICER CASTILLO, TEXAS DEA 101 Things were tamer back in Edinburgh, Texas, where Castillo served as a police officer while earning a criminal justice degree from Pan American University in 1975. "I drank in every detail of the lectures, paying particular attention to any mention of drug laws. They would be my weapons in the streets." Serving first as a dispatcher at the Edinburgh Police Department, he moved to the field, using his Vietnam surveillance and combat skills well, often surprising thieves and other miscreants during the commission of crimes.
Being fluent in Spanish enabled Castillo to intimately interact with people on his beat and he became a model community police officer. His network of informants grew quickly. Unlike the felons in later assignments with the DEA, most of Castillo's informants were locals, people with families fed up with the drug trade in their neighborhood. It was when working with federal agents that Castillo saw basic classroom policing get "thrown out the window."
Two senior DEA agents, Jesse Torrez and Chema Cavazos, took Castillo on as an apprentice of sorts, taking him along when he fed them busts too big for Edinburgh's small force to handle. When Castillo got wind of any smuggling over the border, his DEA mentors summoned the federales, the Mexican national police renowned for their violence.
Mexican interrogations involved hanging the suspected trafficker by a beam and pouring seltzer up his nose. Often a cattle prod, the chicara, named after the cicada, was used to extract names of customs officials and traffickers working both sides of the border. The Americans would stand by at a distance, listening for valuable intelligence.
During other co-ventures between the Edinburgh PD and the DEA, Castillo witnessed the DEA's disregard for the safety of informants. DEA agents would often barge in minutes after a transaction was made, giving the informant's identity away instantly. Castillo had always waited long enough to create an avenue of doubt in the mind of the suspect, a necessary courtesy insuring the relationship's continuity. Like all the DEA offices Castillo later worked in, the one in McAllen, Texas was cooperatively dysfunctional, with two sets of agents pitted against each other, divided primarily along racial lines. Animosity and suspicion among agents were constants in an organization where precision and coordination is a prerequisite to mutual survival.
NEW YORK CITY: NO RULES After six years in Edinburgh, Castillo joined the DEA. His first assignment was New York City in 1980, a far cry from Vietnam's jungles and the relatively placid living of the Rio Grande Valley. Cocaine was making a healthy return to streetcorners and the city's surviving discos. Crack pipes were making their first gasps in the city as Ronald Reagan ushered in a new era of borrowed prosperity and conspicuous decadence.
Placed in the New York office's wiliest squad, the "Raiders," Castillo watched as dealers' doors were kicked in without warrants, illegal wiretaps were performed, and Miranda rights were forgotten. During a stint at Kennedy Airport, he saw agents rip off traffickers, regularly pocketing cash, jewelry and drugs. Not being one to snitch, the young agent held his tongue. "I had always done things by the book. Here they ripped out the pages and stomped on them," Castillo told the SHADOW. "Internal Affairs was always watching, but we were protected by the cluster of New Yorkers in DEA's Washington office known as the New York Mafia." These administrative agents insured that the New York office, the country's largest, was immune from "messy internal investigations." Contacted by the SHADOW, DEA spokesman John Hughes denied that such an organization existed, stating that such a thing would, "stick out like a sore thumb."
DEA BRASS: BIGOTS WITH BADGES The DEA has never been a pioneer of affirmative action. Most agents do not speak Spanish, despite the Agency's constant interaction with Hispanics. On several occasions, Castillo's safety was jeopardized when Spanish-challenged agents failed to recognize the bust's signal word among the rolling Spanish chatter, leaving him to improvise with armed dealers anxious for their drugs or cash.
Spanish-speaking agents follow cases from the mouth of the informant to the prison cell, their superiors often performing only administrative tasks. Despite the paucity of their investigative work, DEA administrators would rush in with the swarm of blue windbreakers the day of the bust, eager to take credit for everything. Castillo told the SHADOW, "Every Hispanic agent I knew fell into the same trap and was assigned wiretap monitoring, translations, and surveillance. We worked long hours building cases against Dominicans and Puerto Ricans and would have to stand back while paper pushers took the credit."
Being a workaholic brought quick results in the Big Apple for Castillo. In his four years working the city, Castillo orchestrated some of the biggest busts the nation had ever seen. On November 4th, 1982, twenty pounds of heroin worth $20 million were hauled in, one of the largest busts in New York City history.
With every day spent on the streets, Castillo's hatred for drugs grew with increasing vehemence. Castillo witnessed addicts of every ilk, sometimes as young as fourteen, constantly throwing their lives into the toilet so drug dealers could get rich. It would be a hard slap of reality to later discover that the United States government was instrumental in saturating American streets with life destroying drugs.
PERU: DRUG WAR FUTILITY By 1984, the US appetite for cocaine was peaking as fields in South America were converted to accommodate the coca leaf. Castillo, the only Spanish-speaking field agent in Peru, continued his efficient work, making numerous busts in his two years there.
Working the jungles, although frustrating for Castillo, was a welcome change from Manhattan's steel maze and reminiscent of Vietnam. Stymied by the DEA's advisory status in foreign countries, however, Castillo was unable to probe too deeply into Peru's narco underworld. The Peruvian military thought their American advisor would be satisfied torching small labs and shooting down traffickers' planes. Castillo demanded to bust the big labs, the factories run by the cartels. Peru's military however, conveniently kept the larger fields and refineries off-limits to American investigation. The military claimed that the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist guerrillas whose reign of terror included cocaine smuggling and numerous murders of government officials and civilians) controlled the areas of major cocaine production.
The last thing Peru's government wanted was to have an American agent killed by Sendero, which would jeopardize future military aid. Castillo later learned their caution was merely a smokescreen used to protect Columbian cartel-controlled airstrips and refineries from American intervention. The military, like most Peruvian governmental agencies, was largely dominated by Colombia's cartels who were adept at greasing palms and instilling fear in the hearts of potential drug enforcement heroes.
The US took a more prominent role in the Peruvian military during Castillo's four years there, with programs like Operation Condor, which used the collective services of the DEA, CIA and the armies of Colombia and Peru to fight drug trafficking. With their help, Castillo was able to coordinate more and larger busts, including South America's biggest ever: four tons of raw coca paste, three airplanes, and a gargantuan cocaine refinery able to perform every phase of the leaf's metamorphosis into nose candy. As a result, US military aid to Peru was increased.
Despite his successes, Castillo remained mired in the DEA's bigoted bureaucracy. Castillo's station chief, Peter Rieff, a non-Spanish speaker, felt threatened by Castillo and transferred him to Guatemala without the promotion originally promised after one year's service. Rieff's reasoning was, "you just haven't paid your dues, Cele."
DEA NEGLECT: AN AGENT IS MURDERED It was during Castillo's Peru junket that DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camerena was killed by CIA informants on March 6th, 1985 in Vista Hermosa, Mexico near Guadalajara. Left alone to work Mexico with some of the country's most notoriously dangerous traffickers, Camerena often complained about not receiving enough support in the field while working undercover. "Camerena warned the DEA brass things were getting dangerous in Guadalajara. The Agency ignored him," Castillo recalled to the SHADOW after listening to audio tapes of Camarena's torture and murder. "Both of the killers worked for the CIA and were double-dipping," (snitching for the CIA while using their protected status to deal dope on the side.) Only one of Camarena's killers were caught.
Castillo empathized with Camerena's plight. He could just as easily have been the one who dug too deeply for the cartel's convenience. Kidnapping and murdering family members of police and informants is common practice in the drug-dominated nations of Latin America. With his wife and two children following him on his long-term assignments, Castillo constantly worried that they would suffer a fate similar to El Salvador's President José Napoleon Duarte, who had to walk unarmed into a guerrilla compound in 1986 and beg for the release of his daughter in exchange for immunity for their imprisoned comrades.
During a later assignment, an informant provided Castillo with wiretapped conversations of a drug dealing Guatemalan colonel outlining an intricate plan to assassinate him. "Instead of talking about the bust the informant was setting up, Colonel Moran kept going on about how he was going to blame the rebels for my assassination. A hit squad was going to wait in the bushes and ambush me when I drove past on Highway 8 in El Salvador," Castillo told the SHADOW from his home state of Texas, where he is currently president of his local Parent Teachers Association.
Castillo had reported to his superiors that Moran was heavily involved in narcotics trafficking, frequently orchestrating cash drops to the Panama City branch of the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). After hearing the tapes outlining the assassination, DEA superiors ordered Castillo to drive down Highway 8 to El Salvador to investigate a mission of dubious importance. "I felt as if someone had painted a bullseye on the back of my head," Castillo recalled. "Tree branches were sniper rifles, I drove about ninety miles an hour most of the way."
DEA files outlining Colonel Moran's sporadic career as a DEA and CIA informant were provided to Castillo by agents sympathetic to his plight as an agency pariah. During later DEA attempts to silence Castillo, the Colonel was summoned to testify before the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility. Moran detailed allegations to enthralled inspectors that Castillo had shot several drug dealers in the back of the head during a bust in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala in 1986. The charges were false and Moran's plot to assassinate Castillo was never mentioned during the proceedings.
DEA informants include some of the world's most disreputable rouges who often use their informant status as carte blanche to deal dope on the side. Although DEA spokesman Hughes denied to the SHADOW that such "double dipping" is tolerated, he added: "You don't use the Pope to catch drug dealers."
Hughes also denied that the agency is reckless with their overseas agents, saying they "always have a recourse for back-up, usually with local police." Local police certainly didn't help Camerena, and Castillo laughed when the SHADOW told him Hughes' remarks.
CENTRAL AMERICA: CHAOS, COCAINE, DEATH SQUADS The Guatemala City DEA office in the US Embassy compound covers four countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Be-lize, and Honduras. In 1985, Castillo's beat, El Salvador and Guatemala, was one of the most volatile on the globe, racked by years of internal warfare, death squad violence, and narcotrafficking.
Like Peru, both governments were subservient to three related entities: the US Government, the cartels, and their militaries. The militaries operated on their own, violently rooting out sus-pected communists from their borders while trafficking drugs and weapons to support themselves. Both nations' mili-taries harbored death squads who rou-tinely kidnapped and tortured suspected subversives. It was with these elements that Castillo was forced to cooperate in forming anti-narcoterrorism units.
In training his elite drug squads, Castillo utilized the services of re-nowned death squad leaders. Dr. Hec-tor Antonio Regalado was hired as a firearms trainer for Castillo's El Salva-dor unit at the recommendation of Colonel James Steele, commander of the United States Military Group which oversaw American armed forces in Cen-tral America.
Trained at the US' School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, Regalado often bragged of his trigger-man role in the assassination of Arch-bishop Oscar Romero, a globally be-loved human rights activist, in March 1980. Regalado was also a torture ex-pert, frequently using his skills as a dentist to extract information from nota-ble "subversives." Much to Castillo's dis-gust, the death squads' most notorious human butchers and drug dealers be-came his students and colleagues. While Castillo's classes dealt primarily with surveillance, raid tactics and firearms training, others detailed explicit torture methods. Deemed "interview tech-niques," students were instructed how to use cattle prods and hoses and to sub-merge suspects' faces in buckets of water until nearly causing drowning.
Death squad drug busts made the Mexican federales seem tame by com-parison. Standard procedure involved Castillo doing the intelligence gathering for a bust, after which the military would swarm in, interrogating and tor-turing the traffickers to death before absconding with a portion of the drugs.
One such bust happened on Septem-ber 25, 1987, when Castillo's unit busted a cocaine ring run by Guatemalan Con-gressman Carlos Ramiro de Paz. 3000 kilos of cocaine, the largest bust in Central American history, were found. By the time the coke got to headquar-ters, however, six hundred kilos were missing. A soldier laughingly admitted to Castillo that the G2 (Guatemala's elite military unit) had pilfered it.
While the G2 let de Paz live, (G2 wiretappers later relished listening to him pleading with Medillin cartel leader Pablo Escobar to have mercy on him), everyone else was hacked to death with machetes. A Mexican drug courier's daughters were gang-raped before their execution.
Castillo reported these and other de-tails of Guatemalan and Salvadoran military corruption to his station chief, Bob Stia, who reluctantly signed the re-ports. All of Castillo's reports were for-warded to the US Embassy, where they went on to Washington. DEA Washing-ton refuses to open the Puerto Barrios file, in addition to most of Castillo's reports, citing privacy restrictions. Cas-tillo has, however, made his reports available to journalists and the public.
IRAN-CONTRA-COCAINE The Iran-Contra scandal blared across American television and newspapers, but drug activity was rarely mentioned. The American public accepted the Reagan Administration's version of Iran-Contra, which maintained that weapons were covertly sold to Iran in order to generate funds for Contra mercenary soldiers seeking to overthrow the Nica-raguan Sandanista government. The money used by US Marine Corps Lieu-tenant Colonel Oliver North and his entourage from weapons sales to Iran to fund the Contras was a "drop in the bucket," according to Castillo. He told the SHADOW, "To the best of my knowledge, most of the money to fund the contras came through narcotics trafficking."
During Castillo's first day briefing, DEA Station Chief Stia casually men-tioned an operation being conducted by North and the National Security Council in El Salvador's Ilopango airport. This operation was to dominate the rest of Castillo's life, ruining his career as an agent. Stia said North picked up where the CIA left off, in supplying the con-tras with the necessary trappings of in-surrection. US support of the contras was highly illegal, prohibited by the US congress' Boland Amendments.
While Castillo empathized with con-tra soldiers in the field, who were de-pendent upon the erratic stream of sup-plies by the US, he would not tolerate drug trafficking by anyone. Reports of the Contras dealing in narcotics had saturated the DEA Central American office. Stia always looked the other way, warning "don't interfere with their oper-ation," according to Castillo. Castillo told Stia that he would report any and all trafficking he witnessed. Castillo says this prompted a laugh from Stia, who assured him that excessively insightful investigations into the contra operation would prompt DEA brass to find an ex-cuse to pull him out of the country. It proved to be a prophetic statement.
Castillo had established an informant at Ilopango who was in charge of in-specting cargo and routing air traffic. Soon, Castillo had detailed information on "hundreds of flights carrying cash, drugs, and weapons through Ilopango. All of which was sanctioned by the US government." Unaware of Ilopango's protected status, Bobby Nieves, a DEA country attache from Costa Rica, wired Castillo in April of 1986, instructing him to in-vestigate hangars four and five at Ilo-pango, saying in his cable, "We believe the Contras are involved in narcotics traf-ficking."
Castillo was shocked to see that most of Ilopango's traffickers were protected by the National Security Council's secur-ity blanket. In the spring of 1986, the Central Intelligence Agency had re-quested a US visa for Carlos Alberto Amador to use on narcotics trafficking missions. Amador is documented in ele-ven DEA files for narcotics trafficking and was typical of Ilopango's pilots. Castillo asked US Embassy Consular General Robert Chavez to block the visa request. Chavez complied, but worried he would be later castigated by his superiors. "Everyone was afraid of what might happen to them if they sup-ported my allegations," Castillo told the SHADOW.
The El Salvador home of Walter Grasheim, known in Powderburns as William Brasher, was raided by Cas-tillo's anti-narco terrorism unit on September 1, 1986. Grasheim is a con-victed cocaine dealer and is documented in seven DEA files alleging drug traf-ficking. Grasheim's place was a bar-racks for Contra pilots stopping through El Salvador. Prostitute informants who frequented the disheveled ranch house told Castillo it was the site of many all-nighters where contra pilots and govern-ment officials including Oliver North, spent long hours "doing cocaine, having sex, and shooting rifles."
The Grasheim raid yielded "enough firepower to arm a platoon," according to Castillo. The arsenal included "cases of C-4 explosives, hand grenades, rifles, night vision equipment, helicopter hel-mets, US embassy license plates and files documenting payoffs to El Salva-doran military officials. An M-16 rifle belonging to US Military Group Com-mander Steele was also found."
Castillo called US Customs agent Richard Rivera, asking him to find the sources of the American weapons. Cus-toms called him off the case and the weapons disappeared into the prover-bial memory hole. US Customs did not return SHADOW phone calls seeking permission for Rivera to talk. Rivera, however, has since confirmed Castillo's account in eleven interviews with the mainstream press.
Castillo tried to get an American official to answer his inquiries as to how Grasheim, a civilian with no legitimate ties to the US government, had pro-cured brand-new American arms, US embassy radios, and license plates. Edwin Corr, then US Ambassador to El Salvador, denied any link between Gra-sheim and Iran-Contra, telling the SHADOW that such allegations were "absolutely false." Like most US officials contacted by the SHADOW, however, Corr effusively praised Castillo's dili-gence as an agent, but expressed bewil-derment as to why Castillo has under-taken his crusade.
PSYCHOTIC OLLIE NORTH: COKE DEALER Jack Blum, Special Prosecutor for Senator John Kerry's (D-Mass) Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations told the SHADOW: "There is no doubt in my mind that Oliver North knew about narcotics trafficking at Ilopango." The Committee interviewed dozens of pilots who openly detailed the "guns down, drugs up" operation. One such pilot, Michael Palmer, indicted for bringing 300,000 lbs. of marijuana into the US in the mid 1908's, frequently boasted to prosecutors that his activities were supported by the US government.
During Kerry's investigation, Castillo was ordered by the DEA's Freedom of Information Office to keep his reports on the Contras active, thereby rendering them inaccessible to the Committee and the press. Lacking Castillo's reports, the Committee still concluded in 1989 that: "There was substantial evidence of drug smuggling through the war zones on the part of individual Contras, contra pilots, mercenaries who worked with the Contras and the Contra supporters in the region."
Tim Ross, a twenty-one year veteran broadcaster for the BBC in Colombia, connected what he called "Ollie North's mob" to drug dealing in that country as well. Ross told the SHADOW that "In late '84, early '85, North brought five Afghani military advisers to Colombia on a speaking tour, three left, two stayed. The two that stayed were chemists who introduced heroin manufacturing to Colombia. He also brought in an Israeli agronomist who helped to cultivate opium poppies."
Ross said that when he started investigating too deeply for North's comfort, however, he was summoned to the US Embassy in Bogota and told, "You're going to lay off this story or you are going to die" by an "ex-marine, the type of guy who used to cut Vietcong throats with his thumbnail." Ross ran the story anyway, detailing Colombia's growing heroin epidemic, but North told his superiors that the story was nothing more than "fabrications, including trumped-up fake Mexican file footage."
Released after Powderburns and partially reprinted in the Washington Post and the Virginia Pilot, 534 pages of North's personal diaries mention drug trafficking. The July 9, 1984 entry states, "wanted aircraft to go to Bolivia to pick up paste, want aircraft to pick up 1,500 kilos." The July 12, 1985 entry reads, "$14 million to finance Supermarket came from drugs." The "Supermarket" was an Honduran weapons depot used by private arms merchants to supply the Contras. North is currently under investigation by the DEA for arms smuggling, according to DEA file number GF GD 91/93. North has denied any involvement with narcotics trafficking, stating in his autobiography Under Fire, "Very little in my life has angered me as much as the allegations that I or anyone else involved with the resistance had a drug connection."
North claims that when he heard of narcotics trafficking in Central America, he dutifully reported it to the DEA and CIA. DEA director Jack Lawn, DEA spokesman John Hughes and agent Castillo, who would have been assigned to investigate such information, denied that North ever supplied them with narcotics tips.
Oliver North has been no stranger to mayhem. After serving as a Marine combat officer in Vietnam, North had difficulties readjusting to American society. In 1974, according to Parade magazine (Nov 13, 1994), North spent an evening running through a suburban neighborhood naked, waving his .45 automatic pistol and screaming, "I'm no good!" North mentions his subsequent three week stay at Bethesda Naval Medical Center's psychiatric ward in his autobiography, but cites marital difficulties and depression over the failing war as causes for his stay there.
North has Castillo largely to blame for his recent loss in the 1994 Virginia senate race. Embarking on a fifty day journey through Virginia prior to the election, Castillo went on several radio and television talk shows and made public appearances throughout the state. Usually addressing die-hard Ollie fans, Castillo's town meetings invariably ended the same way: angry patriots deflated by their hero's involvement in narcotics. Despite millions of dollars in support from Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Freedom Alliance, Ollie still managed to lose the election.
GEORGE BUSH: A TELLING GRIN George Bush visited Guatemala City in January of 1986 for the inauguration of newly-elected president Cerezo. Castillo later compiled evidence that Cerezo's brother and top aides were involved in drug trafficking, but was instructed by Stia not to "embarrass the Guatemalan government" by pursuing the case. During Cerezo's inauguration party at US Ambassador Piedra's home, Castillo voiced his suspicions about Ilopango's drug activity. "There's some funny things going on at Ilopango with the Contras," he told Bush. Bush merely grinned and kept ominously silent. Later that day, Bush met with Oliver North at the Embassy to discuss the Contra operation.
"PROJECT DEMOCRACY" EXPOSED Castillo constantly threatened his superiors that if they stifled his reports on "Project Democracy", as the Contra resupply operation was called, it would "come back and bite them in the butt." A Sandanista surface-to-air-missile provided the fangs they so desperately feared. On October 5, 1986, a C-123 airplane left Ilopango laden with munitions for the Contras. The plane was shot down and Eugene Hasenfus, the lone survivor, admitted to television news cameras after a few days of captivity that "the CIA did most of the coordination for flights and oversaw all of our housing, transportation, also refueling and some flight plans."
According to North's autobiography, after the Hasenfus affair, then-CIA director Bill Casey ordered North to "shut it down and clean it up," regarding the Contra resupply operation. Casey conveniently died on the second day of the Iran-Contra hearings.
DEA BRASS COMES DOWN HARD Throughout his investigations, Castillo was warned to ignore Ilopango and the Contras, yet he persisted. Stia's original warning to Castillo came true when representatives from the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) flew in from Washington to investigate Castillo and Stia for violations of DEA rules.
Despite their problems, Stia had always respected Castillo, recommending him for a bonus and promotion in 1987. Castillo repeated every detail of his investigations to the OPR agents, constantly amazed at how little interest was shown in the contra-cocaine connection. OPR had no interest in stopping the sordid dealings of Ollie North's mob, but were looking for anything to nail Castillo so he could be discredited and removed from the agency.
Finding a series of minor violations, including socializing with an informant, receiving and soliciting gifts, possession of an automatic weapon, and misappropriation of government property, Castillo was suspended for thirty five days, then transferred back to the States. The charges stemmed not from Castillo's lack of bureaucratic integrity, but from some paperwork snafus "routinely committed by every agent in the field." Other violations, such as the routine aerial spraying of food crops, rivers, and bodies with the deadly chemical Roundup, were never investigated.
Regarding Castillo's claims, DEA spokesman John Hughes told the SHADOW, "Most of what you have is not confirmable. He may have written the reports you mention; we just don't have them in this office." CIA spokesman David French told the San Francisco Bay Guardian that Castillo's allegations, "are not something we can comment on." Despite the death threats, Castillo receives on his answering machine each week, Hughes assured the SHADOW that, "No one at the DEA bears any ill will against Cele." Ironically, Hughes added, "This is a good story and it deserves to be told."
AUSA BOB MERKLE article about Lehder getting a dealhttp://www.fear.org/carlos1.htmlhttp://www.sptimes.com/News/112899/Floridian/Carlos_Lehder_Rivas__.shtmlhttp://tamara-inscoe-johnson.com/work2.htm
By ROBERT MERKLE
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 28, 1999
From his jail cell in Danbury, Conn., where he was doing time for importing marijuana, Carlos Lehder Rivas saw massive cultural upheaval, crumbling social and moral constraints, and diminishing respect for the dignity of the individual.
To Lehder, it all added up to one thing: an opportunity to import and distribute cocaine to the American consumer on a massive scale.
A founding member of the infamous Medellin Cartel, Lehder knew America could not resist the exciting drug if it were affordable and readily available. Much as Henry Ford transformed the automobile industry through mass production, Lehder and his colleagues created a river of cocaine where only a trickle had gone before.
Lehder, who idolized Adolf Hitler, labeled his packaged kilos with swastikas and murdered anyone who got in his way. He commanded an armed garrison on a Bahamian island replete with hangars and a jet-capable runway. Twenty-four hours a day, his pilots injected cocaine by the ton into the United States. The cartel invested its immense profits in American goods and services or shipped them by Learjet to safe banking havens throughout Latin America and Europe.
In just a few years, the cartel succeeded in wreaking lasting injury to our society. Children dropped out of school. Men and women dropped out of jobs. Marriages were ruined. Morgues and emergency rooms swelled with the victims of drug-related street crime. Violence escalated everywhere. Businesses suffered from employee absenteeism, theft and incompetence.
Predictably, the reaction of our social institutions was overly broad and misdirected. Instead of taking a reasoned approach focused on shrinking the drug market, America declared "war" on Lehder and his ilk. We built prisons and toughened laws to the point of absurdity. Public fear and anger, fueled by political demagoguery, created a senseless national hunger for capital punishment.
The law enforcement ranks grew exponentially, with no discernible effect. A "bend the rules" mentality infected the police, eroding our civil liberties. Forfeiture laws were routinely abused, with personal property seized on the thinnest of allegations. Decisions previously vested in the presumed wisdom and experience of judges were now entrusted to inexperienced and ambitious prosectors.
Carlos Lehder was a destructive force, rendered effective by our own apathy and ignorance. We can thank him, his henchmen, his bankers, his lawyers, his financial advisers, and ultimately ourselves for higher taxes, threatened civil liberties, diminished national potential, an increasingly arrogant political class, and a deepening national cynicism.
Before his capture, Lehder sat on a throne in the jungle of Colombia and bragged of his attack on the cultural heart of this nation. His money, power and machine guns were only as strong as the American appetite for cocaine. That appetite flourished in a society slowly abandoning any sense of culture, history or tradition.
We were never really at war with Carlos Lehder. We were, and are still, at war with ourselves in those places where our national unity and strength begin.
* * *
Former U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle, now in private practice, prosecuted Lehder for drug trafficking in 1987-88. Lehder was convicted and sentenced to life plus 135 years in prison. He later struck a deal to testify in the drug trafficking trial of former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega. Lehder's whereabouts are a government secret.
Hunted down, then protected
With business skills as strong as his taste for violence, Lehder had turned Colombia's chaotic cocaine trade into the Medellin Cartel, an efficient and murderous operation responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine that came into this country a decade ago.
So when Lehder was finally captured in a Colombian jungle in 1987 after almost four years in hiding, then-U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese hailed it as a major victory in the war on drugs. Lehder would be extradited, officials announced, and become the first foreign drug lord to face the full force of American justice.
Not mentioned in the burst of publicity surrounding the arrest was one curious fact: Lehder had already begun cutting a deal from his remote hideaway, a deal that would eventually land him in the federal witness protection program.
How could the man who ran the world's biggest drug operation, a man wanted for years by the American government, wind up as a federally protected witness?
Because the Justice Department desperately wanted Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, a smaller player in the drug trade but a bigger political fish.
In exchange for his testimony against Noriega in 1992, the U.S. government cut Lehder's sentence from life plus 135 years to 55 years. Lehder now claims he had an additional deal that would have further reduced his sentence and made him eligible for deportation and freedom. This deal, he complains, the government reneged on.
The Lehder case illustrates how far the federal government's use of the witness protection program has moved from its original intent of protecting innocent victims or informants who testify against major crime figures. Lehder was rewarded for turning in someone who was in effect an underling in his operation.
For his testimony, he got special treatment in prison, a drastically reduced sentence, and protection in this country for his family. And, only a small fraction of his $2.5 billion cocaine-built fortune was seized. The man originally in charge of Lehder's prosecution believes the deal between the government and Lehder was a travesty.
Robert Merkle contends that Noriega would have been convicted without Lehder.
"First of all, Lehder's testimony was entirely gratuitous and unnecessary for a conviction of Noriega. Secondly, they gave a deal to the guy who was directing the bad activities to convict someone who was following directions.
Merkle, U.S. attorney in Tampa at the time, is appalled by the Lehder case. "I never contemplated any kind of deal with Carlos Lehder," he said. "It never entered my head to even think about it."
But Merkle was overruled by his Justice Department bosses in Washington intent on putting away Noriega.
Born in the United States of a German father and Colombian mother, Lehder began his life of crime as a low-level drug dealer in Michigan. After doing time for a drug-related car theft, Lehder decided to seek his fortune in Colombia.
Barely eking out a living as a car dealer, Lehder decided to cash in on the burgeoning demand for cocaine in the United States in the early 1980s. Using an efficient, high-tech approach to cocaine smuggling that facilitated shipment of the drug in mass quantities, Lehder was soon a rising star. He found a remote landing strip at the southern tip of the Bahamas, Norman Cay, which he secured by bribing Bahamian officials and running off its inhabitants. Jets loaded with cocaine would travel to Norman Cay. The drugs would be reloaded onto smaller planes and dispatched to northern Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. These unexpected destinations made evasion easier because U.S. authorities were watching only the country's southern borders.
The smuggling operation was an overnight success. Court papers show the first load Lehder shipped in 1982 reaped a $1 million profit for two days of work.
Shortly thereafter, Lehder talked other drug lords into forming a cooperative that became a cartel based in the northwestern industrial city of Medellin.
At the peak of the cartel's power, every hour of every day a jet loaded with as much as 300 kilograms would roll into the Bahamian air strip.
Court papers say Lehder earned $250 to $300 million a year in the early 1980s. He owned 15 cars and trucks, three airplanes, a helicopter, 12 haciendas, an apartment building and nine other properties, including a huge Bavarian-style tourist complex in Colombia's Armenia City, as well as assets throughout the world.
By 1987, his net worth was estimated at more than $2.5 billion.
Violence was as crucial to the cartel's success as were Lehder's shrewd ideas for transporting cocaine. Although the United States charged Lehder with drug dealing and money laundering and not murder, acts of violence carried out on his behalf were documented in a federal detention order drawn up in 1987.
In it, the U.S. government says Lehder and others were responsible for assassinating Colombia's justice minister in 1984; for the 1985 armed attack on Colombia's Supreme Court building that killed 11 justices and 84 other people; for assassinating two newspaper editors in Colombia and 26 other journalists; for shooting the Colombian ambassador to Hungary in 1987; and for a long list of murders of police officers, informants and other government officials.
Lehder once threatened to kill one federal judge a week if he was caught, prompting U.S. officials to put narcotics agents, their families and other officials on worldwide alert after his arrest.
During his trial in 1988, U.S. marshals were parked outside the homes of prosecutors and other agents involved in the matter. But none of this dissuaded the government from making a deal.
That happened in 1987. Lehder got special handling from the start. Instead of being held in Florida where he would be tried, Lehder was housed in a two-cell unit at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Ill., and given a telephone.
There he made contact with aides to Vice President George Bush, who had run the Central Intelligence Agency during the early years of the cartel. Over the next 18 months, senior officials from the FBI, CIA and other investigatory agencies interviewed Lehder.
Merkle, the man who prosecuted Lehder, knew none of this. Lehder's seven-month trial proceeded normally and ended in 1988 with a conviction on drug distribution and related crimes. He got life in prison plus 135 years. Merkle felt justice was served.
Only later would he find out that Lehder was scheduled to testify against Noriega for a reduced sentence.
In April 1992, Noriega became the first leader of a sovereign nation to be convicted in the United States. He and 17 associated were found guilty on two counts of racketeering, conspiracy to import cocaine and a variety of other related crimes.
In his testimony, Lehder admitted he had no direct contact with Noriega, but said the Medellin Cartel paid millions to the Panamanian president. But he was not an impressive witness. Much of his testimony, laced with rambling tirades about American imperialism, was so incoherent the judge considered ordering a psychiatric examination.
Merkle, who had prepared a Noriega indictment in Tampa, was mystified by the decision to deal with Lehder. He believes to this day that his case was "very strong" without Lehder.
Lehder, he says, "got a very large quid for a very small quo. He would have done the United States a lot more good if he had forked over millions and millions of dollars he made selling coke."
Lehder, for his part, is not satisfied. He contends he's the victim of a double cross. Last fall he wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler of Miami, the man who presided over the Noriega case. Lehder asked to recant his testimony because he said the government reneged on a deal that would have cut his sentence to 30 years. That sentence reduction would have made him eligible for extradition to Germany or Colombia. Hoeveler has yet to rule on Lehder's motion. Ernst D. Mueller, a former federal prosecutor who tried the Lehder case with Merkle, said Lehder has already got more than he deserved.
"He has gotten everything we promised, and then some. There were no other deals that I'm aware of," Mueller said.
Mueller said a case could be made that Lehder didn't hold up his end of the deal. While Lehder professed to have large amounts of information about corrupt governments throughout Central and South America and in the Caribbean, he has testified only in the Noriega matter.
When Mueller made that point to Lehder, the Colombian offered nothing more.
Three years later, Lehder wrote his letter of complaint to the judge.
Within weeks of sending that letter last fall, Lehder was whisked away into the night, several protected witnesses at the Mesa Unit in Arizona say. No one has heard from him since.
Court papers do not show any further sentence reductions. German and Colombian officials say they know nothing about his whereabouts and Justice Department officials refuse to acknowledge that Lehder is even in the witness program.
Posada escapes into Honduras on a fake U.S. Passport after being pardoned in Panama. Three known terrorists drug dealers allowed into the United States. nice job, Dept. of Homeland Security!!!!http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/sunday/commentary/la-op-sweig12sep12,1,2644811.story
Amid Cheers, Terrorists Have Landed in the U.S. By Julia E. Sweig and Peter Kornbluh Los Angeles Times Sunday 12 September 2004 To curry favor with Cuban Americans, Bush turns a blind eye.Washington - A little-noticed but chilling scene at Opa-locka Airport outside Miami last month demonstrates that the Bush administration's commitment to fighting international terrorism can be overtaken by presidential politics - even if that means admitting known terrorists onto U.S. soil. That's what happened when outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso inexplicably pardoned four Cuban exiles convicted of "endangering public safety" for their role in an assassination plot against Fidel Castro during a 2000 international summit in Panama. After their release, three of the four immediately flew via private jet to Miami, where they were greeted with a cheering fiesta organized by the hard-line anti-Castro community. Federal officials briefly interviewed the pardoned men - all holders of U.S. passports - and then let them go their way. The fourth man, Luis Posada Carriles, was the most notorious member of this anti-Castro cell. He is an escapee from a prison in Venezuela, where he was incarcerated for blowing up an Air Cubana passenger plane in 1976, killing 73. He also admitted plotting six hotel bombings in Havana that killed one tourist and injured 11 others in 1997. Posada has gone into hiding in Honduras while seeking a Central American country that will harbor him, prompting Honduran President Ricardo Maduro to demand an explanation from the Bush administration on how a renowned terrorist could enter his country using a false U.S. passport.The terrorist backgrounds of Posada's three comrades-in-arms are as well documented as their leader's. Guillermo Novo once fired a bazooka at the U.N. building; in February 1979, he was convicted and sentenced to 40 years for conspiracy in the 1976 assassination of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American colleague, Ronni Moffitt, in Washington. (His conviction was subsequently vacated on a legal technicality.) Gaspar Jimenez was convicted and imprisoned in Mexico in 1977 for murdering a Cuban consulate official; he was released by authorities in 1983. Pedro Remon received a 10-year sentence in 1986 for conspiring to kill Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations in 1980. These are violent men. Panamanian prosecutors said they had planned to detonate 33 pounds of explosives while Castro was speaking at a university in Panama. Had they not been intercepted by the authorities, the blast not only would have killed the Cuban president but quite possibly hundreds of others gathered to hear him speak during the inter-American summit. For a small but powerful minority in the Cuban American community, the Posada gang are freedom fighters. But Sept. 11 taught the rest of us about the danger of political fanatics who seek to rationalize their violence. To uphold his oft-stated principle that no nation can be neutral in the war on terrorism, shouldn't President Bush have condemned Moscoso's decision to release these terrorists? To protect the sanctity of U.S. borders and the security of Americans, shouldn't the administration have taken all available steps to keep known terrorists out of the United States? But Florida is crucial to Bush's reelection strategy. Currying favor with anti-Castro constituents in Miami appears to trump the president's anti-terrorism principles. So far, not a single White House, State Department or Homeland Security official has expressed outrage at Panama's decision to put terrorists back on the world's streets. The FBI appears to have no plans to lead a search for Posada so he can be returned to Venezuela, where he is a wanted fugitive. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has rounded up and expelled hundreds of foreigners on the mere suspicion of a terrorist link, has indicated no intention to detain and deport Novo, Jimenez and Remon. In June, the White House seemed to have maxed out on pandering to hard-line Cuban exiles when it virtually eliminated family visits and remittances to Cuba as part of a new initiative to undermine Castro's rule. But that policy has upset anti-Castro moderates in both parties because it criminalizes efforts to build family ties across the Straits of Florida, something a family-values president should support. In response, Bush's decision to accept the repatriation of the Cuban exile terrorists seems calculated to shore up support in the Cuban American community. "I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world," Bush recently said in an interview. But the decision to allow members of the Posada gang into this country, and the televised spectacle of Miamians applauding their return, sends a different and dangerous message: In a swing state, some terrorists are not only acceptable but welcome. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Julia E. Sweig is senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "Inside the Cuban Revolution." Peter Kornbluh is the author of "Bay of Pigs Declassified." -------
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