A Study in Conspiracyby Jean Duffey
First, there were years of confusion:
Those of us who profess a connection between the "train deaths" and our federal government realize the difficulty average folks have believing there could be such a conspiracy between local and federal officials. It's nearly impossible to imagine such a notion, which makes it easy for mainstream media to scoff at the mere suggestion.
The public's skepticism is understandable. When U.S. Attorney Chuck Banks held a press conference in June of 1991, to clear Dan Harmon and all other Saline County public officials "of drug-related public misconduct and other forms of wrongdoing," (Arkansas Gazette, June 28, 1991) I knew Banks was covering up serious crimes, but I didn't suspect a conspiracy.
There were immediate rumors of blackmail based on a visit Harmon made to Banks with a video tape tucked under his arm. A few years prior to this visit, Harmon headed a county grand jury investigation involving a Saline County gambling house protected by former Sheriff James Steed. Prostitutes were paid to lure public officials into sexuals encounters which were clandestinely captured on film, and if such a film of Banks existed, Harmon would certainly have access to it. Putting two and two together, a plausible explanation of Banks' blatant obstruction of justice was spawned.
I was not and still am not convinced, however, a two-year federal investigation was shut down because Banks was being blackmailed. Harmon's visit with Banks was indeed before Banks publicly proclaimed all Saline County free of corruption, but it was after Banks had already begun to dismantle the grand jury investigation. The wheels were already in motion to thwart any public official indictments. It seemed to me an attempt to blackmail Banks would have to be lower-keyed, and the facts are supportive of my supposition.
Prior to his walking into Banks' office with the alleged video tape, Harmon was facing seven felony counts of income tax evasion. After leaving Banks' office without the alleged video tape, he was facing three misdemeanor counts of failure to file tax returns. Blackmailing Banks to reduce charges of tax improprieties is believable, but blackmailing a U.S. Attorney to ignore two years of accumulated evidence against a number of public officials is simply not believable.
Shutting down a federal grand jury which wanted to indict several public officials was a very large-scale obstruction of justice, and Banks could not have done that on his own. Banks sent the 1990 jurors home at the end of their term with a warning they would be indicted if they spoke about what went on during their service. This was according to three grand jurors who were so outraged at Banks they wanted me to know they were unanimously ready to indict Dan Harmon and several other public officials. Something more than a blackmail tape was involved.
Still, I didn't think in terms of a conspiracy, even though Banks, a republican- appointed U.S. Attorney, was protecting a bunch of democrats holding county offices. To justify his actions, Banks used a media smear campaign Harmon had contrived against me, which had completely discredited me professionally by the end of 1990. Although Banks knew the information my drug task force had provided the grand jury was credible, he used my destroyed reputation as the reason he concluded the allegations against Saline County officials "were based on rumors and innuendo." (Arkansas Gazette, June 28, 1991) The truth is, even if all the evidence offered by my drug task force was discounted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Govar had independently accumulated enough evidence during his two-year investigation of Saline County corruption to support indictments. In spite of the amassed evidence, Banks announced , "we found no evidence of any drug-related misconduct by public officials in Saline County." (Benton Courier, June 27, 1991)
I was dumbstruck by the announcement and bewildered when I remembered Chris Day, the Saline County Arkansas Gazette reporter, had given me prior warning. A source Chris would not name told him Banks was going to clear Harmon and all other Saline County officials in exchange for a federal judgeship nomination. I immediately called Bob Govar with Chris's prediction. Bob said, "That's nonsense. Banks has been wanting a nomination for years, but it's just not going to happen." Bob was wrong. Several months were allowed to pass after Banks publicly cleansed Saline County, then Banks received his federal judgeship nomination from President George Bush.* That's right - from George Bush. Some kind of conspiracy plot was the only explanation, but it was just too ridiculous to consider, so I didn't.
Professionally destroyed, dodging two bogus felony warrants, and fearing for my safety, my husband and I retreated from the controversy and lived quietly as school teachers in Pasadena, Texas. Then, in March of 1994, the FBI persuaded me to get involved again. An eye witness had come forward and passed an FBI polygraph test placing Dan Harmon on the tracks with Kevin Ives and Don Henry the night they were murdered back in 1987. This prompted the FBI to open it's own investigation of the "train deaths" and to ask for my assistance. It was during that eighteen-month-long FBI investigation the conspiracy exposed itself.
Linda Ives and I began communicating for the first time. We shared information with each other and with the FBI. I also met Saline County Sheriff Investigator John Brown, who told me about a pilot he had interviewed who claimed to have flown a drug drop to the location where Kevin and Don were murdered. Additionally, Arkansas had become the focus of national interest by now, and many investigative reporters were anxious to uncover information about Clinton. The "train deaths" case certainly had connections to Clinton via Fahmy Malak, which initially piqued the interests of right-wingers. Then, as Linda and I shared information with anyone and everyone who would listen, the mystery unraveled, and the FBI verified much of what we now know.
Now, there was understanding:
Local law enforcement officers protected a major drug-drop site in Saline County that was part of the Mena Airport drug smuggling operation set up in the early 1980's by the notorious drug smuggler, Barry Seal. By the mid-1980's, CIA operatives were using Mena to help finance their covert support of the Nicaraguan Contras. (See the Mena page.) In spite of overwhelming evidence, Mena's connection to a CIA operation or to a government-protected drug operation has been discounted or ignored by mainstream media. Even though Seal smuggled drugs in a cargo plane given to him by the CIA, and even though that plane was shot down over Nicaragua with a load of weapons, the media reports and supports the official CIA position of denial.
I realize now, my drug task force was dismantled because we were getting too close to solving the "train deaths." We learned Kevin and Don were murdered because they witnessed a drug and/or money drop from an airplane. My task force knew public officials were actively involved in covering up the murders, but we were shut down before we connected the local activity to Mena. We were not allowed to progress our investigation any further. Harmon, a popular public figure at that time, lead a brutal campaign to discredit me; dirty public officials supported Harmon's efforts; the media thrived for months on writing unsubstantiated allegations against me and my task force; and Chuck Banks used me as a scapegoat to justify shutting down the 1990 federal grand jury inquiry.
When I realized the catalyst for the thwarting of every investigation of the "train deaths" had been the Mena connection, I warned Phyllis Cournan, the agent in charge of the FBI investigation. I told her Kevin and Don's killers would be indicted only if the investigation stayed away from Mena, but I was fooling myself to think that was possible. The Mena connection must eventually be made. By then, there had been six "train deaths" investigations that had gone nowhere, and in November of 1995, the FBI investigation became number seven. (See the FBI page.) The Mena connection again caused the rug to be yanked out from under an investigation which, in turn, is the logic behind a conspiracy premise.
A problem with swallowing any conspiracy theory is the murky connections. However, in this case, the evidence of a conspiracy between Mena CIA operatives and Saline County public official thugs brings the big picture into focus. It is important to understand all those involved did not sit around a conference table and discuss how to pull off a conspiracy. To the contrary, I have spoken to several ex-CIA operatives and a CIA contract pilot who occasionally flew the Saline County drop. They all explain that any one person in an operation knows only what is necessary for a specific assignment. This fits with statements made by some of the witnesses claiming to have picked up drugs from the tracks. They were told the drugs were coming up from Louisiana by train, which I believe was deliberate misinformation. Yet, it is the role of Dan Harmon in this story that is most convincing there was and is a multi-level, bi-partisan conspiracy.
My drug task force provided substantial evidence of Harmon's involvement in illegal drug activity to the 1990 federal grand jury. Harmon countered with a smear campaign discrediting me and my task force. I was the good guy, and Harmon was the bad guy; but I was abandoned, and Harmon was supported. At the time, I didn't know the cause of Harmon's muscle, but the effect was clear - Banks protected Harmon from a multi-count indictment by a federal grand jury. From a larger perspective - Democratic District Prosecutor Dan Harmon was cleared by Republican U.S. Attorney Chuck Banks who was rewarded with a federal judgeship nomination by Republican President George Bush who is a former CIA Director.
Sounds pretty wild, but I challenge anyone to come up with any other explanation that makes half good sense for the support and protection Dan Harmon has received from low- to high-ranking public officials in spite of his years of various and numerous well-publicized criminal activity. (See Browse Back to the Future on the Saline County, Arkansas page.)
Now, there is frustration mixed with hope:
Like the adage, Linda and I are all dressed up with no place to go. We have enough evidence to have Dan Harmon and several other public officials indicted for covering up the murders of Kevin and Don, but we have no place to take it. We have enough evidence to connect the murders to CIA-Mena drug smuggling, but mainstream media won't listen. We have evidence to warrant a Congressional investigation of a conspiracy among Republicans and Democrats to cover-up the crimes of Mena, but a Republican Congress won't investigate a Republican scandal.
We have no official authority, we have no political clout, and we have no media influence, and we have no money, but we appear to be having an effect. Dan Harmon went down in flames, and three political candidates from his district, who publicly supported him through the years faced surprising defeats on November 5. (See Three Down on the Saline County, Arkansas page.)
The odds are overwhelmingly against us, but we have hope and we have the Internet. Maybe we have all we need.
*Note: Chuck Banks was scheduled for a confirmation hearing in late November of 1992, but all Bush nominations were withdrawn immediately after Clinton won the election. Banks never received his judgeship. Sometimes there is justice. Banks, however, managed this year to get himself appointed head of the Pulaski County Republican Party. Either memories are short, or the Republicans of Pulaski County don't care if their leader is dirty.