MENA - LA
BECAUSE OF THE PARALLELS BETWEEN THE LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA STORY AND THE MENA, ARKANSAS STORY, THE INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATIONS CORROBORATE EACH OTHER.
But for the tenacity and sacrifices of exceptionally ethical and responsible journalists, the truth about the crimes of the CIA and three presidents in the 1980’s might have been successfully kept secret. The California story, investigated and written by Gary Webb, and the Arkansas story, investigated and written by Sally Denton and Roger Morris, exposed the truth.
The Arkansas Story
Sally Denton and Roger Morris wrote “The Crimes of Mena,” which nearly went unpublished. Although the staff of The Sunday Outlook section of The Washington Post enthusiastically supported its publication, and the executive editor of the paper gave his final approval, the article was cancelled at the last moment and without explanation by the paper’s managing editor, Bob Kaiser.
One has to wonder who’s calling the shots at The Post. Kaiser told Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Sunday Telegraph, that the article was “a non-existent story,” when months later The Post discounted Webb’s investigation when, in fact, Webb corroborated Denton and Morris.
“The Crimes of Mena” was finally published in July, 1995, in Penthouse magazine.
Sally Denton and Roger Morris
A longtime supporter of Linda Ives, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of The London Sunday Telegraph expresses his thoughts about The Washington Post pulling “The Crimes of Mena” story at the last minute. He writes:
“It is clear that The Washington Post took the article extremely seriously. It was to be run at full length – taking up several pages in an almost unprecedented spread across the Sunday Outlook section.
“The treatment of the article by Morris and Denton will fuel claims from both Left and Right that The Washington Post is engaged in active suppression of the news to protect Clinton or the CIA or both.
- The article by Denton and Morris, “The Crimes of Mena”
- A fictionalized story of Barry Seal at Mena that got right the involvement of 3 presidents, American Made
- Congressional hearings on the Arkansas story
The Crimes of Mena
By: Sally Denton and Roger Morris
Barry Seal — gunrunner, drug trafficker, and covert C.I.A. operative extraordinaire — is hardly a familiar name in American politics. But nine years after he was murdered in a hail of bullets by Medellin cartel hit men outside a Salvation Army shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he has come back to haunt the reputations of three American presidents.
Seal’s legacy includes more than 2,000 newly discovered documents that now verify and quantify much of what previously had been only suspicion, conjecture, and legend. The documents confirm that from 1981 to his brutal death in 1986, Barry Seal carried on one of the most lucrative, extensive, and brazen operations in the history of the international drug trade, and that he did it with the evident complicity, if not collusion, of elements of the United States government, apparently with the acquiescence of Ronald Reagan’s administration, impunity from any subsequent exposure by George Bush’s administration, and under the usually acute political nose of then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.
The newly unearthed papers show the real Seal as far more impressive and well-connected than the character played by Dennis Hopper in a made-for-TV movie some years ago, loosely based on the smuggler’s life. The film portrayed the pudgy pilot as a hapless victim, caught in a cross fire between bungling but benign government agencies and Latin drug lords. The truth sprinkled through the documents is a richer — and altogether more sinister — matter of national and individual corruption. It is a tale of massive, socially devastating crime, of what seems to have been an official cover-up to match, and, not least, of the strange reluctance of so-called mainstream American journalism to come to grips with the phenomenon and its ominous implications — even when the documentary evidence had appeared.
The trail winds back to another slightly bruited but obscure name — a small place in western Arkansas called Mena.
Of the many stories emerging from the Arkansas of the 1980s that was crucible to the Clinton presidency, none has been more elusive than the charges surrounding Mena. Nestled in the dense pine and hardwood forests of the Oachita Mountains, some 160 miles west of Little Rock, once thought a refuge for nineteenth-century border outlaws and even a hotbed of Depression-era anarchists, the tiny town has been the locale for persistent reports of drug smuggling, gunrunning, and money laundering tracing to the early eighties, when Seal based his aircraft at Mena’s Intermountain Regional Airport.
From first accounts circulating locally in Arkansas, the story surfaced nationally as early as 1989 in a Penthouse article called “Snowbound,” written by the investigative reporter John Cummings, and in a Jack Anderson column, but was never advanced at the time by other media. Few reporters covering Clinton in the 1992 campaign missed hearing at least something about Mena. But it was obviously a serious and demanding subject — the specter of vast drug smuggling with CIA involvement — and none of the major media pursued it seriously During 1992, the story was kept alive by Sarah McClendon, The Nation, and The Village Voice.
Then, after Clinton became president, Mena began to reappear. Over the past year, CBS News and The Wall Street Journal have reported the original, unquieted charges surrounding Mena, including the shadow of some CIA (or “national security”) involvement in the gun and drug traffic, and the apparent failure of then governor Clinton to pursue evidence of such international crime so close to home.
“Seal was smuggling drugs and kept his planes at Mena,” The Wall Street Journal reported in 1994. “He also acted as an agent for the DEA In one of these missions, he flew the plane that produced photographs of Sandinistas loading drugs in Nicaragua. He was killed by a drug gang [Medellin cartel hit men] in Baton Rouge. The cargo plane he flew was the same one later flown by Eugene Hasenfus when he was shot down over Nicaragua with a load of contra supplies.
In a mix of wild rumor and random fact, Mena has also been a topic of ubiquitous anti-Clinton diatribes circulated by right-wing extremists — an irony in that the Mena operation was the apparent brainchild of the two previous and Republican administrations.
Still, most of the larger American media have continued to ignore, if not ridicule, the Mena accusations. Finding no conspiracy in the Oachitas last July, a Washington Post reporter typically scoffed at the “alleged dark deeds,” contrasting Mena with an image as “Clandestination, Arkansas . . . Cloak and Dagger Capital of America.” Noting that The New York Times had “mentioned Mena primarily as the headquarters of the American Rock Garden Society,” the Columbia Journalism Review in a recent issue dismissed “the conspiracy theories” as of “dubious relevance.”
A former Little Rock businessman, Terry Reed, has coauthored with John Cummings a highly controversial book, Compromised: Clinton, Bush, and the C.lA., which describes a number of covert activities around Mena, including a CIA operation to train pilots and troops for the Nicaraguan Contras, and the collusion of local officials. Both the book and its authors were greeted with derision.
Now, however, a new mass of documentary evidence has come to light regarding just such “dark deeds” — previously private and secret records that substantiate as never before some of the worst and most portentous suspicions about what went on at Mena, Arkansas, a decade ago.
Given the scope and implications of the Mena story, it may be easy to understand the media’s initial skepticism and reluctance. But it was never so easy to dismiss the testimony arid suspicions of some of those close to the matter: Internal Revenue Service Agent Bill Duncan, Arkansas State Police investigator Russell Welch, Arkansas Attorney General J. Winston Bryant, Congressman Bill Alexander, and various other local law-enforcement officials and citizens.
All of these people were convinced by the late eighties that there existed what Bryant termed “credible evidence” of the most serious criminal activity involving Mena between 1981 and 1986. They also believed that the crimes were committed with the acquiescence, if not the complicity, of elements of the US government. But they couldn’t seem to get the national media to pay attention.
During the 1992 campaign, outside advisers and aides urged former California governor Jerry Brown to raise the Mena issue against Clinton — at least to ask why the Arkansas governor had not done more about such serious international crime so close to home. But Brown, too, backed away from the subject. “I’ll raise it if the major media break it first,” he told aides. “The media will do it, Governor,” one of them replied in frustration, “if only you’ll raise it.”
Mena’s obscure airport was thought by the IRS, the FBI, US Customs, and the Arkansas State Police to be a base for Adler Berriman “Barry” Seal, a self-confessed, convicted smuggler whose operations had been linked to the intelligence community. Duncan and Welch both spent years building cases against Seal and others for drug smuggling and money laundering around Mena, only to see their own law-enforcement careers damaged in the process.
What evidence they gathered, they have said in testimony and other public statements, was not sufficiently pursued by the then US attorney for the region, J. Michael Fitzhugh, or by the IRS, Arkansas State Police, and other agencies. Duncan, testifying before the joint investigation by the Arkansas state attorney general’s office and the United States Congress in June 1991, said that 29 federal indictments drafted in a Mena-based money-laundering scheme had gone unexplored. Fitzhugh, responding at the time to Duncan’s charges, said, “This office has not slowed up any investigation . . . [and] has never been under any pressure in any investigation.”
By 1992, to Duncan’s and Welch’s mounting dismay, several other official inquiries into the alleged Mena connection were similarly ineffectual or were stifled altogether, furthering their suspicions of government collusion and cover-up. In his testimony before Congress, Duncan said the IRS “withdrew support for the operations” and further directed him to “withhold information from Congress and perjure myself.”
Duncan later testified that he had never before experienced “anything remotely akin to this type of interference. . . . Alarms were going off,” he continued, “and as soon as Mr. Fitzhugh got involved, he was more aggressive in not allowing the subpoenas and in interfering in the investigative process.”
State policeman Russell Welch felt he was “probably the most knowledgeable person” regarding the activities at Mena, yet he was not initially subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. Welch testified later that the only reason he was ultimately subpoenaed at all was because one of the grand jurors was from Mena and “told the others that if they wanted to know something about the Mena airport, they ought to ask that guy [Welch] out there in the hall.”
State Attorney General Bryant, in a 1991 letter to the office of Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation, wondered “why no one was prosecuted in Arkansas despite a mountain of evidence that Seal was using Arkansas as his principle staging area during the years 1982 through 1985.”
What actually went on in the woods of western Arkansas? The question is still relevant for what it may reveal about certain government operations during the time that Reagan and Bush were in the White House and Clinton was governor of Arkansas.
In a mass of startling new documentation — the more than 2,000 papers gathered by the authors from private and law-enforcement sources in a year-long nationwide search — answers are found and serious questions are posed.
These newly unearthed documents — the veritable private papers of Barry Seal — substantiate at least part of what went on at Mena.
What might be called the Seal archive dates back to 1981, when Seal began his operations at the Intermountain Regional Airport in Mena. The archive, all of it now in our possession, continues beyond February 1986, when Seal was murdered by Colombian assassins after he had testified in federal court in Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami for the US government against leaders of the Medellin drug cartel.
The papers include such seemingly innocuous material as Seal’s bank and telephone records; negotiable instruments, promissory notes, and invoices; personal correspondence address and appointment books; bills of sale for aircraft and boats; aircraft registration, and modification work orders.
In addition, the archive also contains personal diaries; handwritten to-do lists and other private notes; secretly tape-recorded conversations; and cryptographic keys and legends for codes used in the Seal operation.
Finally, there are extensive official records: federal investigative and surveillance reports, accounting assessments by the IRS and the DEA, and court proceedings not previously reported in the press — testimony as well as confidential pre-sentencing memoranda in federal narcotics-trafficking trials in Florida and Nevada — numerous depositions, and other sworn statements.
The archive paints a vivid portrait not only of a major criminal conspiracy around Mena, but also of the unmistakable shadow of government complicity. Among the new revelations:
Mena, from 1981 to 1985, was indeed one of the centers for international smuggling traffic. According to official IRS and DEA calculations, sworn court testimony, and other corroborative records, the traffic amounted to thousands of kilos of cocaine and heroin and literally hundreds of millions of dollars in drug profits. According to a 1986 letter from the Louisiana attorney general to then US attorney general Edwin Meese, Seal “smuggled between $3 billion and $5 billion of drugs into the US”
Seal himself spent considerable sums to land, base, maintain, and specially equip or refit his aircraft for smuggling. According to personal and business records, he had extensive associations at Mena and in Little Rock, and was in nearly constant telephone contact with Mena when he was not there himself. Phone records indicate Seal made repeated calls to Mena the day before his murder. This was long after Seal, according to his own testimony, was working as an $800,000-a-year informant for the federal government.
A former member of the Army Special Forces, Seal had ties to the Central Intelligence Agency dating to the early 1970s. He had confided to relatives and others, according to their sworn statements, that he was a CIA operative before and during the period when he established his operations at Mena. In one statement to Louisiana State Police, a Seal relative said, “Barry was into gunrunning and drug smuggling in Central and South America . . . and he had done some time in El Salvadore [sic].” Another then added, “lt was true, but at the time Barry was working for the CIA.”
In a posthumous jeopardy-assessment case against Seal — also documented in the archive — the IRS determined that money earned by Seal between 1984 and 1986 was not illegal because of his “CIA-DEA employment.” The only public official acknowledgment of Seal’s relationship to the CIA has been in court and congressional testimony, and in various published accounts describing the CIA’s installation of cameras in Seal’s C-123K transport plane, used in a highly celebrated 1984 sting operation against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
Robert Joura, the assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s Houston office and the agent who coordinated Seal’s undercover work, told The Washington Post last year that Seal was enlisted by the CIA for one sensitive mission — providing photographic evidence that the Sandinistas were letting cocaine from Colombia move through Nicaragua. A spokesman for then Senate candidate Oliver North told The Post that North had been kept aware of Seal’s work through “intelligence sources.”
Federal Aviation Administration registration records contained in the archive confirm that aircraft identified by federal and state narcotics agents as in the Seal smuggling operation were previously owned by Air America, Inc., widely reported to have been a CIA proprietary company. Emile Camp, one of Seal’s pilots and a witness to some of his most significant dealings, was killed on a mountainside near Mena in 1985 in the unexplained crash of one of those planes that had once belonged to Air America.
According to still other Seal records, at least some of the aircraft in his smuggling fleet, which included a Lear jet, helicopters, and former US military transports, were also outfitted with avionics and other equipment by yet another company in turn linked to Air America.
Among the aircraft flown in and out of Mena was Seal’s C-123K cargo plane, christened Fat Lady. The records show that Fat Lady, serial number 54-0679, was sold by Seal months before his death. According to other files, the plane soon found its way to a phantom company of what became known in the Iran-Contra scandal as “the Enterprise,” the CIA-related secret entity managed by Oliver North and others to smuggle illegal weapons to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. According to former DEA agent Celerino Castillo and others, the aircraft was allegedly involved in a return traffic in cocaine, profits from which were then used to finance more clandestine gunrunning.
F.A.A. records show that in October 1986, the same Fat Lady was shot down over Nicaragua with a load of arms destined for the Contras. Documents found on board the aircraft and seized by the Sandinistas included logs linking the plane with Area 51 — the nation’s top-secret nuclear-weapons facility at the Nevada Test Site. The doomed aircraft was co-piloted by Wallace Blaine “Buzz” Sawyer, a native of western Arkansas, who died in the crash. The admissions of the surviving crew member, Eugene Hasenfus, began a public unraveling of the Iran-Contra episode.
An Arkansas gun manufacturer testified in 1993 in federal court in Fayetteville that the CIA contracted with him to build 250 automatic pistols for the Mena operation. William Holmes testified that he had been introduced to Seal in Mena by a CIA operative, and that he then sold weapons to Seal. Even though he was given a Department of Defense purchase order for guns fitted with silencers, Holmes testified that he was never paid the $140,000 the government owed him. “After the Hasenfus plane was shot down,” Holmes said, “you couldn’t find a soul around Mena.”
Meanwhile, there was still more evidence that Seal’s massive smuggling operation based in Arkansas had been part of a CIA operation, and that the crimes were continuing well after Seal’s murder. In 1991 sworn testimony to both Congressman Alexander and Attorney General Bryant, state police investigator Welch recorded that in 1987 he had documented “new activity at the [Mena] airport with the appearance of . . . an Australian business [a company linked with the CIA], and C-130s had appeared. . . .”
At the same time, according to Welch, two FBI agents officially informed him that the CIA “had something going on at the Mena Airport involving Southern Air Transport [another company linked with the CIA] . . . and they didn’t want us [the Arkansas State Police] to screw it up like we had the last one.”
The hundreds of millions in profits generated by the Seal trafficking via Mena and other outposts resulted in extraordinary banking and business practices in apparent efforts to launder or disperse the vast amounts of illicit money in Arkansas and elsewhere. Seal’s financial records show from the early eighties, for example, instances of daily deposits of $50,000 or more, and extensive use of an offshore foreign bank in the Caribbean, as well as financial institutions in Arkansas and Florida.
According to IRS criminal investigator Duncan, secretaries at the Mena Airport told him that when Seal flew into Mena, “there would be stacks of cash to be taken to the bank and laundered.” One secretary told him that she was ordered to obtain numerous cashier’s checks, each in an amount just under $10,000, at various banks in Mena and surrounding communities, to avoid filing the federal Currency Transaction Reports required for all bank transactions that exceed that limit.
Bank tellers testified before a federal grand jury that in November 1982, a Mena airport employee carried a suitcase containing more than $70,000 into a bank. “The bank officer went down the teller lines handing out the stacks of $1,000 bills and got the cashier’s checks.”
Law-enforcement sources confirmed that hundreds of thousands of dollars were laundered from 1981 to 1983 just in a few small banks near Mena, and that millions more from Seal’s operation were laundered elsewhere in Arkansas and the nation.
Spanish-language documents in Seal’s possession at the time of his murder also indicate that he had accounts throughout Central America and was planning to set up his own bank in the Caribbean.
Additionally, Seal’s files suggest a grandiose scheme for building an empire. Papers in his office at the time of his death include references to dozens of companies all of which had names that began with Royale. Among them: Royale Sports, Royale Television Network, Royale Liquors, Royale Casino, S.A., Royale Pharmaceuticals, Royale Arabians, Royale Seafood, Royale Security, Royale Resorts . . . and on and on.
Seal was scarcely alone in his extensive smuggling operation based in Mena from 1981 to 1986, commonly described in both federal and state law-enforcement files as one of the largest drug-trafficking operations in the United States at the time, if not in the history of the drug trade. Documents show Seal confiding on one occasion that he was “only the transport,” pointing to an extensive network of narcotics distribution and finance in Arkansas and other states. After drugs were smuggled across the border, the duffel bags of cocaine would be retrieved by helicopters and dropped onto flatbed trucks destined for various American cities.
In recognition of Seal’s significance in the drug trade, government prosecutors made him their chief witness in various cases, including a 1985 Miami trial in absentia of Medellln drug lords; in another 1985 trial of what federal officials regarded as the largest narcotics-trafficking case to date in Las Vegas; and in still a third prosecution of corrupt officials in the Turks and Caicos Islands. At the same time, court records and other documents reveal a studied indifference by government prosecutors to Seal’s earlier and ongoing operations at Mena.
In the end, the Seal documents are vindication for dedicated officials in Arkansas like agents Duncan and Welch and local citizens’ groups like the Arkansas Committee, whose own evidence and charges take on new gravity — and also for The Nation, The Village Voice, the Association of National Security Alumni, the venerable Washington journalists Sarah McClendon and Jack Anderson, Arkansas. reporters Rodney Bowers and Mara Leveritt, and others who kept an all-too-authentic story alive amid wider indifference.
But now the larger implications of the newly exposed evidence seem as disturbing as the criminal enormity it silhouettes. Like his modern freebooter’s life, Seal’s documents leave the political and legal landscape littered with stark questions.
What, for example, happened to some nine different official investigations into Mena after 1987, from allegedly compromised federal grand juries to congressional inquiries suppressed by the National Security Council in 1988 under Ronald Reagan to still later Justice Department inaction under George Bush?
Officials repeatedly invoked national security to quash most of the investigations. Court documents do show clearly that the CIA and the DEA employed Seal during 1984 and 1985 for the Reagan administration’s celebrated sting attempt to implicate the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime in cocaine trafficking.
According to a December 1988 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, “cases were dropped. The apparent reason was that the prosecution might have revealed national-security information, even though all of the crimes which were the focus of the investigation occurred before Seal became a federal informant.”
Tax records show that, having assessed Seal posthumously for some $86 million in back taxes on his earnings from Mena and elsewhere between 1981 and 1983, even the IRS forgave the taxes on hundreds of millions in known drug and gun profits over the ensuing two-year period when Seal was officially admitted to be employed by the government.
To follow the IRS Iogic, what of the years, crimes, and profits at Mena in the early eighties, before Barry Seal became an acknowledged federal operative, as well as the subsequently reported drug-trafficking activities at Mena even after his murder — crimes far removed from his admitted cooperation as government informant and witness?
“Joe [name deleted] works for Seal and cannot be touched because Seal works for the CIA,” a Customs official said in an Arkansas investigation into drug trafficking during the early eighties. “A CIA or DEA operation is taking place at the Mena airport,” an FBI telex advised the Arkansas State Police in August 1987, 18 months after Seal’s murder. Welch later testified that a Customs agent told him, “Look, we’ve been told not to touch anything that has Barry Seal’s name on it, just to let it go.”
The London Sunday Telegraph recently reported new evidence, including a secret code number, that Seal was also working as an operative of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the period of the gunrunning and drug smuggling.
Perhaps most telling is what is so visibly missing from the voluminous files. In thousands of pages reflecting a man of meticulous organization and plan- ning, Barry Seal seems to have felt singularly and utterly secure — if not somehow invulnerable — at least in the ceaseless air transport and delivery into the United States of tons of cocaine for more than five years. In a 1986 letter to the DEA, the commander and deputy commander of narcotics for the Louisiana State Police say that Seal “was being given apparent free rein to import drugs in conjunction with DEA investigations with so little restraint and control on his actions as to allow him the opportunity to import drugs for himself should he have been so disposed.”
Seal’s personal videotapes, in the authors’ possession, show one scene in which he used US Army paratroop equipment, as well as militarylike precision, in his drug-transporting operation. Then, in the middle of the afternoon after a number of dry runs, one of his airplanes dropped a load of several duffel bags attached to a parachute. Within seconds, the cargo sitting on the remote grass landing strip was retrieved by Seal and loaded onto a helicopter that had followed the low-flying aircraft. “This is the first daylight cocaine drop in the history of the state of Louisiana,” Seal narrates on the tape. If the duffel bags seen in the smuggler’s home movies were filled with cocaine — as Seal himself states on tape — that single load would have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Perhaps the videos were not of an actual cocaine drop, but merely the drug trafficker’s training video for his smuggling organization, or even a test maneuver. Regardless, the films show a remarkable, fearless invincibility. Barry Seal was not expecting apprehension.
His most personal papers show him all but unconcerned about the very flights and drops that would indeed have been protected or “fixed,” according to law-enforcement sources, by the collusion of US intelligence.
In an interview with agent Duncan, Seal brazenly “admitted that he had been a drug smuggler.”
If the Seal documents show anything, an attentive reader might conclude, it is that ominous implication of some official sanction. Over the entire episode looms the unmistakable shape of government collaboration in vast drug trafficking and gunrunning, and in a decade-long cover-up of criminality.
Government investigators apparently had no doubt about the magnitude of those crimes. According to Customs sources, Seal’s operations at Mena and other bases were involved in the export of guns to Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, and Brazil, as well as to the Contras, and the importation of cocaine from Colombia to be sold in New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and other cities, as well as in Arkansas itself.
Duncan and his colleagues knew that Seal’s modus operandi included dumping most of the drugs in other southern states, so that what Arkansas agents witnessed in Mena was but a tiny fragment of an operation staggering in its magnitude. Yet none of the putative inquiries seems to have made a serious effort to gather even a fraction of the available Seal documents now assembled and studied by the authors.
Finally, of course, there are somber questions about then governor Clinton’s own role vis-a-vis the crimes of Mena.
Clinton has acknowledged learning officially about Mena only in April 1988, though a state police investigation had been in progress for several years. As the state’s chief executive, Clinton often claimed to be fully abreast of such inquiries. In his one public statement on the matter as governor, in September 1991 he spoke of that investigation finding “linkages to the federal government,” and “all kinds of questions about whether he [Seal] had any links to the CIA . . . and if that backed into the Iran-Contra deal.”
But then Clinton did not offer further support for any inquiry, “despite the fact,” as Bill Plante and Michael Singer of CBS News have written, “that a Republican administration was apparently sponsoring a Contra-aid operation in his state and protecting a smuggling ring that flew tons of cocaine through Arkansas.”
As recently as March 1995, Arkansas state trooper Larry Patterson testified under oath, according to The London Sunday Telegraph, that he and other officers “discussed repeatedly in Clinton’s presence” the “large quantities of drugs being flown into the Mena airport, large quantities of money, large quantities of guns,” indicating that Clinton may have known much more about Seal’s activities than he has admitted.
Moreover, what of the hundreds of millions generated by Seal’s Mena contraband? The Seal records reveal his dealings with at least one major Little Rock bank. How much drug money from him or his associates made its way into criminal laundering in Arkansas’s notoriously freewheeling financial institutions and bond houses, some of which are reportedly under investigation by the Whitewater special prosecutor for just such large, unaccountable infusions of cash and unexplained transactions?
“The state offers an enticing climate for traffickers,” IRS agents had concluded by the end of the eighties, documenting a “major increase” in the amount of large cash and bank transactions in Arkansas after 1985, despite a struggling local economy.
Meanwhile, prominent backers of Clinton’s over the same years — including bond broker and convicted drug dealer Dan Lasater and chicken tycoon Don Tyson — have themselves been subjects of extensive investigative and surveillance files by the DEA or the FBI similar to those relating to Seal, including allegations of illegal drug activity that Tyson has recently acknowledged publicly and denounced as “totally false.” “This may be the first president in history with such close buddies who have NADDIS numbers,” says one concerned law-enforcement official, referring to the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Intelligence System numbers assigned those under protracted investigation for possible drug crimes.
The Seal documents are still more proof that for Clinton, the Arkansas of the eighties and the company he kept there will not soon disappear as a political or even constitutional liability.
“I’ve always felt we never got the whole story there,” Clinton said in 1991.
Indeed. But as president of the United States, he need no longer wonder — and neither should the nation. On the basis of the Seal documents (copies of which are being given to the Whitewater special prosecutor in any case), the president should ask immediately for a full report on the matter from the CIA, the DEA, the FBI, the Justice Department, and other relevant agencies of his own administration — including the long-buried evidence gathered by IRS agent Duncan and Arkansas state police investigator Welch. President Clinton should also offer full executive-branch cooperation with a reopened congressional inquiry, and expose the subject fully for what it says of both the American past and future.
Seal saw himself as a patriot to the end. He had dictated his own epitaph for his grave in Baton Rouge: “A rebel adventurer the likes of whom in previous days made America great.” In a sense his documents may now render that claim less ironic than it seems.
The tons of drugs that Seal and his associates brought into the country, officials agree, affected tens of thousands of lives at the least, and exacted an incalculable toll on American society. And for the three presidents, the enduring questions of political scandal are once again apt: What did they know about Mena? When did they know it? Why didn’t they do anything to stop it?
The crimes of Mena were real. That much is now documented beyond doubt. The only remaining issues are how far they extended, and who was responsible.
Copyright © 1995 Penthouse
Reprinted for Fair Use Only
The California Story
Gary Webb wrote “The Dark Alliance”, a three part series published in 1996 by The San Jose Mercury in which he linked the CIA’s cocaine operation to the crack epidemic that was rampant in Los Angeles ghettos.
Despite the level of public outrage, the government chose to ignore the story, and The Washington Post published a story that essentially discounted the severity of Gary Webb’s claims, asserting that he could not prove direct links to the crack epidemic nor the “exact sums” that went to the Contras.
Unable to stem the tide of pressure from the mainstream press, Gary’s editors withdrew their support and published a public apology for the way that story was “handled.” Despite the paper’s position, Gary Webb would not back away from the story
Webb was vilified by mainstream media to protect Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. His career was destroyed and his marriage ended, but he refused to back down. In 2004, he was found with 2 bullet holes in his head. An explanation of the suicide ruling is told in a lengthy article about the last decade of his life for those who want to learn more.
- A video of Gary Webb talking about his experience
- His article, “The Dark Alliance”
- The movie Kill the Messenger, depicting the dangers Webb faced while researching his article
- Congressional hearings
Allgations of CIA Drug Trafficing
House Intelligence Committe
Testimony of Frederick P. Hitz
Frederick P. Hitz
MARCH 16, 1998
CIA Drug Trafficking Allegations
Committee members heard testimony concerning allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency facilitated the introduction and spread of crack cocaine in U.S. urban areas in order to fund Contra activities in Nicaragua.
Representative Millender-McDonald testified that the report by the CIA Inspector-General was incorrect and that the committee must pursue its own investigation of the matter to uncover those responsible for this activity.
Inspector-General Hitz outlined his office’s report which finds no evidence of any links between the CIA and drug traffickers in Central America.
16 March 1998
Statement by Frederick P. Hitz
I want to make clear that we found absolutely no evidence to indicate that CIA as an organization or its employees were involved in any conspiracy to bring drugs into the United States.
News Articles That Legitimize the Mena Story.
AUGUST 21, 1996
Report links drug ring, CIA, Contras
The Associated Press
SAN JOSE, Calf.-Throughout the 1980s, a San Francisco Bay area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs and funneled the profits to some of the CIA-run Contras in Nicaragua, a newspaper reported.
Repeated attempts to prosecute the ring’s kingpin were thwarted by the CIA, possibly to cover up ties between the traffickers and Contra leaders, the San Jose Mercury News reported in a series of articles after a year long investigation.
The newspaper’s report, based on recently declassifed federal reports, court testimony and interviews, also alleges that the drug network was partly responsible for the ongoing “crack” problem in Los Angeles.
The money pipeline was created after the CIA combined several armies to create the 5,000 member anti-communist Fuerza Democraticia Nicaraguense (Nicaraguan Democratic Force) in mid-1981, the newspaper reported.
The same year, the drug ring sold almost a ton of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods, notorious Los Angeles gangs, for $54 million, said Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes, I a former force leader and government informant.
“There is a saying that the ends justify the means,” Blandon testifled in 1994. “So we started raising money for the Contra revolution.”
The Mercury News identifed the primary buyer as Ricky Donnell Ross, or “Freeway Rick,” a notorious South-Central Los Angeles dealer who bought powder cocaine, turned it into crack and sold it wholesale throughout the city and the nation.
Blandon spent 28 months in U.S. prison for dealing drugs, the Mercury News said. He was released from prison in 1994 to become a full- time informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, a job that has since paid more than $166,000.
How much of the drug ring’s profits went to the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense before it disbanded in 1988 still is unclear. But in his testimony, Blandon said, “whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going to the Contra revolution.”
Blandon’s boss, Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero, was a major drug dealer and smuggler who ran the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense operation from his homes in Burlingame and Pacifica in Northern California, the paper reported.
Although records show that the U.S. government was aware of Meneses’ dealings since 1974, the Mercury News reported that he has never been in a U.S. prison. Meneses currently is serving time in Nicaragua after being arrested in connection with a 750-kilo shipment of cocaine.
Federal prosecutors blame the CIA and other federal departments for Meneses’ relatively sweet treatment in the United States, the Mercury News said.
“The Justice Department flipped out to prevent us from getting access to people, records anything that would help us find out about it,”said Jack Blum, former chief counsel to the Senate subcommittee that investigated alleged cocaine traffcking to the Contras. “It was one of the most frustrating exercises that I can ever recall.”
Agents from four other agencies, including the DEA, U.S. Customs, the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, also have complained that the CIA hampered investigations, the Mercury News reported.
The reason might well be Meneses’ own connections to the CIA, the Mercury News said. One piece of evidence-a picture taken in June 1984 shows Meneses with Adolfo Calero, a longtime CIA operative and Fuerza Demoratica Nicaraguense political boss.
But efforts to trace the government’s knowledge of the drug ring have similarly been thwarted, the newspaper reported.
Freedom of Information Act requests that reporters filed with the CIA and DEA have been denied on national security and privacy grounds. A Freedom of Information request filed with the FBI has so far been ignored, the Mercury News reported.
While Blandon has never said he was selling cocaine for the CIA, Bradley Brunon, his lawyer, said he has drawn his own conclusions from the CIA’s clandestine behavior.
“Was (Blandon) involved with the CIA? Probably. Was he involved with drugs? Most definitely,” Brunon said. “Were those two things involved with each other? They’ve never said that, obviously. They’ve never admitted that. But I don’t know where those guys get these big aircraft.”
Aug. 11, 1997
BARRY SEAL PURCHASED U.S. MINESWEEPER FOR USE IN CONTRA WAR
Relationship to the CIA closer than previously admitted
A just finished TV documentary reveals new details of the association between legendary drug smuggler Barry Seal and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Sam Dalton, the New Orleans-based attorney for three Colombian hitmen convicted of assassinating Barry Seal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1986 has told TV producer Daniel Hopsicker that on the night of Seal’s murder the FBI threatened local police to release the contents of Seal’s Cadillac.
When the contents of Seal’s trunk was brought into evidence at the murder trial–after the judge had threatened the federal government with contempt– it changed the picture of Barry Seal as a free-lancing drug trafficker.
“Barry Seal was delivering arms and money to the Contras,” Dalton says. “Now one of the things that really turned us on about that premise, which held hope we would be able to persuade a jury to spare the lives of the Colombians convicted of Seal’s murder–was Barry’s Seals’ ability to buy a surplus minesweeper from the government.”
“Wait a minute,” Hopsicker protested, “Barry Seal, a drug smuggler, bought a minesweeper from the government? How did you find out about this?”
Dalton smiled. “It was formerly named the Stark, and its name was changed to the Condor,” he said. “My investigation led me to a transcript of the IRS. So we just felt like that was too close to the federal government to be done in that fashion without the federal government knowing full well what was going on, and having plans of its own for the contras and the use of that minesweeper by the Contras.”
Barry Seal first appeared on the front page of the Washington Times on July 17, 1984 in a picture showing his participation in a CIA sting of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Seal also carried out a CIA operation to detect nuclear devices in Nicaragua from his airplane. After Seal’s assassination, his C-123K Fairchild provider was shot down over Nicaragua with Eugene Hasenfus on board–unraveling the CIA involvement in the Contra war under the Iran-Contra diversion.
The close association between Barry Seal and the CIA uncovered by Hopsicker has led him to conclude that Seal may have been a CIA agent. “The biggest drug smuggler in American history was a CIA agent,” he says, adding “being a CIA agent is not something one does at the same time as one smuggles drugs. One smuggles drugs as part of one’s duties as a CIA agent.” By the federal government’s own estimate, Seal imported drugs at a street value of between $3 billion and $5 billion.
The CIA last year released a declassified summary of a report by the CIA’s inspector general on the activities at Mena airport in Arkansas where Seal’s C-123K was based. Inspector General Frederick P. Hitz confirmed the existence of covert activities at Mena, but claimed that the CIA had only had “limited contact” with Seal and that “all allegations implying that the CIA condoned, abetted or participated in narcotics trafficking are absolutely false.”
The report did, however, confirm that Arkansas State Trooper L.D. Brown had been under consideration for employment by the CIA in 1984. Brown has told the Washington Weekly that he was asked by his CIA contact Donald P. Gregg to participate in Seal’s transport flights to Central America carrying M-16s for the Contras and bringing duffel bags of cocaine back to Arkansas with the apparent knowledge of then-Governor Bill Clinton and then- Vice President George Bush.
Published in the Aug. 11, 1997 issue of The Washington Weekly Copyright 1997 The Washington Weekly. Reposting permitted with this message intact
The Salt Lake Tribune
SERIES ON CIA-RUN DRUG RING SPARKS CALL FOR PROBE
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Sen. Barbara Boxer asked the director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Wednesday to investigate the CIA’s apparent role in the sale of cocaine in California by members of a CIA-run guerrilla organization.
Citing a recent investigation by the San Jose Mercury News into the origins of the crack cocaine epidemic in black America, Boxer told CIA Director John Deutch that “even the notion that the U.S. government was involved in trafficking is sickening.”
Mark Mansfield, a spokesman for the CIA, said Deutch was out of town and “has not yet received a letter from Sen. Boxer on this matter. He will, of course, respond after he’s had an opportunity to review it.”
Mansfield said the CIA was not currently looking into the situation because “charges of CIA involvement in such an operation are simply without merit. The CIA neither engages in nor condones narcotics trafficking.”
The Mercury News’ three-part series, which ran last week, showed how cocaine dealers working for the CIA’s Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) helped spawn a crack-cocaine epidemic by selling massive amounts of cut-rate coke to the gangs of South Central Los Angeles throughout much of the 1980s.
Damning Admission: The head of the drug ring’s Southern California operation, a former Nicaraguan government official named Danilo Blandon, has admitted in federal court testimony that he and other exiles began selling drugs in black L.A. neighborhoods in 1982 to help finance the CIA’s army, known in the United States as the Contras. Blandon testified that once U.S.-taxpayer dollars began flowing to his organization, he stayed in the cocaine business to make money for himself.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) records show he was dealing an average of 100 kilos a week to the Crips and Bloods in Los Angeles during the 1980s, an activity that helped spark the crack epidemic in Los Angeles and, eventually, across the nation. He sold them cocaine until his arrest in 1992, court records show.
Blandon testified that before the Contra drug operation began, he and the head of the drug ring — Nicaraguan smuggler Norwin Meneses — met with Col. Enrique Bermudez, a longtime CIA employee and the military head of the FDN, who was murdered in Nicaragua in 1991. Meneses also confirmed that meeting.
At the time Blandon made those revelations, he was a highly trusted operative for the DEA which got him out of jail in 1992, gave him a green card and put him on the drug agency’s payroll. The Justice Department has paid him more than $166,000 since 1994, court records show.
Refering to past reports of Contra involvement in cocaine trafficking during the 1980s, Boxer told Deutch that “for over a decade, rumors of a Contra-CIA connection have persisted. These questions can be put to rest only by a candid and thorough investigation of the facts. I urge you to conduct such an investigation.”
The CIA refused to release any documents regarding the FDN’s cocaine dealers to the Mercury News, citing national security concerns. The DEA refused on the grounds that it would be an unwarranted invasion of the trafffickers’ privacy.
Internal Investigations: It is the second time in recent weeks that the CIA has been asked to look into apparent involvement by CIA operatives in drug smuggling and gun running.
The CIA’s Inspector General announced on Aug. 6 that it would conduct an internal inquiry into an airbase in Mena, Ark., that was reportedly used in the mid-1980s to fly guns to the Contras, and drugs into Louisiana. The base, according to former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris, was run by a CIA and DEA informant named Barry Seal, who was murdered by Colombian gunmen in Baton Rouge in 1986.
Morris, who wrote a book on the topic recently, said that the CIA opened up a weapons-making facility near Mena, which provided guns to the Nicaraguan anti-Communists. The Inspector General’s inquiry into Mena was requested by Rep Jim Leach, R-Iowa.
Boxer defended her decision to ask the CIA to investigate itself, saying that CIA director Deutch had promised to “change the culture” of the spy agency when Clinton appointed him in 1995.
“If they [the CIA] don’t want to do it, there’s always the possibility that the Congress will,” Boxer said. But she said she was convinced Deutch shared her opinion that it was time to “clear the decks” at the CIA.
“No one has ever really evaulated the role of the CIA in the post-Cold War period,” Boxer said, noting that the Mercury News’ investigation provided “a good place to start. I want to get to the bottom of this.”
Joe Hicks, head of the Multicultural Collaborative in Los Angeles, said “the real question is who’s going to own up to this and . . . [will] the government admit to having a role in starting what has been this horrific scourge in the inner city?”
Hicks, an African American, said some politicians “have been pointing a finger at inner city communities, saying, `We can’t help these people because it’s just the way these people are.’ But if you inject the kinds of guns, drugs and apparatus to support trafficking in any community, it would have the same effects we’re seeing now, irrespective of skin color.”
This isn’t Boxer’s first involvement in the issue of the Contras and cocaine. In 1986, she asked for a Congressional investigation of a San Franciso drug bust that eventually became known as “The Frogman Case.” Stories in the San Francisco Examiner at the time revealed direct links between some of the drug smugglers arrested and the Nicaraguan Contras, but then-U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello blasted those stories as “shameful” and predicted that Boxer and others would one day apologize for questioning his handling of the case.
Records show Russoniello returned $36,000 seized from one of the traffickers in the Frogman Case after Contra leaders wrote the court and declared that the money was “for the restoration of democracy in Nicaragua.”
The investigation Boxer requested was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where it died an unheralded death.
In Nicaragua, meanwhile, the Mercury’s series has sparked a controversy involving allegations of press censorship.
La Prensa, which is Managua’s largest daily, began reprinting the series last week, but ran a heavily censored version and quit running it after one day.
Commander Eduardo Cuadra, head of the Criminal Investigations Department of the National Police, admitted that he had urged the paper’s editor, Pedro Xavier Solis, to stop publishing Blandon’s name in the series, saying the former trafficker “is instrumental in an ongoing joint operation with the DEA”.
Solis justified his action by claiming not to have seen the documents supporting the Mercury News’ series, which are available on the Internet and are being widely read by Nicaraguan reporters.
© Copyright 1996, The Salt Lake Tribune
Reproduced with permission
All material found on Utah OnLine is copyrighted The Salt Lake Tribune and associated news services. No material may be reproduced or reused without explicit permission from The Salt Lake Tribune.
ALLEGATIONS OF CIA PROVIDING DRUGS TO AMERICAN CITIES (House of Representatives -9/27/1996)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentlewoman from California [Ms. Waters] is recognized for 5 minutes.
Ms. WATERS. Mr. Speaker, as you know, I have been involved in trying to move the investigations that finally have been agreed to in order to get to the root of the facts and allegations that have been unveiled in the San Jose Mercury News under the heading `Dark Alliance,’ written by investigative reporter Gary Webb.
It has been an interesting journey over the past two weeks. Over the past 2 weeks, not only have we begun to ask questions about these revelations; we are bombarded with requests to send more information to individuals all around this Nation.
I held a community meeting down in South-Central Los Angeles and reached out to about 75 community leaders. About 250 showed up. During the Congressional Black Caucus weekend here in Washington, I had a workshop. Over 3,000 people showed up at the workshop. This morning, I was up in Baltimore for the Human Rights Commission that was meeting there. Seven
hundred people were there. This afternoon the Howard students rallied down near the Reflecting Pool. They had a good turnout.
The major press has now gotten involved. Just this evening Tom Brokaw on NBC did quite an extensive piece. Included in that piece was John Kerry and information about his investigation.
I have continued to reach out. People are calling me with all kinds of information. I began to look in the archieves, just to see what is there, and discovered some very interesting things.
I decided to look in the diary that is in the archives of Oliver North. I discovered that there was a notebook entry, for example, on a conversation with Robert Owen, who was his liaison with the Contras, dated August 9, 1985. The discussion covers a plane being used by Mario Calero, brother of the head of the FDN Adolpho Calero, based in New Orleans, to ferry supplies to the Contras in Honduras.
This is what the notation said: `Honduran DC-6 which is being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into the United States.’
These are his diary notations that are in the archives. There are many more. It seems as it we are going to spend many, many hours on this.
Mr. ROHRABACHER. Mr. Speaker, will the gentlewoman yield?
Ms. WATERS. I yield to the gentleman from California.
Mr. ROHRABACHER. If the gentlewoman would yield for a question, was the gentlewoman clear that Oliver North was noting that to move against it?
Ms. WATERS. When I checked with the DEA, who he was supposed to give the information to, nobody has a record.
Mr. ROHRABACHER. It was a secret operation. He wouldn’t be telling any one. Do any of the allegations being made, and obviously there are some very bad characters involved with drug dealing on various sides of various issues, but did any of these drug shipments go through Mena Airport at a time when President Clinton was Governor of Arkansas?
Ms. WATERS. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, we are going to find out exactly where they went. What is interesting about one of the introductions to the John Kerry committee report was, everybody knew that there were drug runs. Several agencies of the Federal Government had distinct knowledge that drugs were being flown into the United States, and the proceeds were being used to fund the Contras.
My point is this: Whether the CIA or the DEA or the Justice Department or anybody knew and did nothing, turned their heads, allowed it to go on, or directly participated in it, they are guilty of undermining the citizens of this country. They are guilty of creating the devastation of many of the communities in this country.
We are going to proceed with these investigations. I am going to spend considerable time looking in the archives, going through Oliver North’s diaries, looking at information that surfaced in newspapers during the period of time this was going on. We are going to get to the bottom of this.
I am pleased about the involvement now of many of our churches, schools that are coming on line, universities that are getting interested, community groups that are calling from all over. People are calling from the so-called right and the left.
We have citizens who say, `Ms. Waters, I do not agree with you on a lot of things, but I agree with you on this. We want you to stick with it, to stay with it. We are outraged at the idea that our government could have known, could have been involved with this, could have been a part of a plot.’
Mr. Speaker, this is just the beginning. I will be with you often as we unveil this information about CIA, DEA, involvement in drug trafficking in America.
* * * * * * * * *STATEMENT OF MICHAEL R. BROMWICH INSPECTOR GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE BEFORE THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE
INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGED CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE CIA, THE NICARAGUAN CONTRAS AND COCAINE TRAFFICKING IN THE 1980’S
OCTOBER 23, 1996
Office of the Inspector General 10th & Constitution Avenue, NW, Suite 4706 Washington, D.C. 20530, (202) 514-3435
* * * * * * * * *
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL R. BROMWICH
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee:
Thank you for inviting me to testify about my office’s investigation concerning allegations involving the Central Intelligence Agency’s suggested link to drug trafficking by supporters of the Nicaraguan Contras. My investigation will examine whether Department of Justice personnel were aware of such information and, if so, what they did about it. Because our investigation is just beginning, my testimony will be limited to some extent. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to describe for you the scope of our investigation and its current status.
As the Committee is aware, these allegations were publicized in August 1996 through a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News. The articles focused on two convicted drug dealers, Oscar Blandon and Norwin Meneses, who were alleged to have supported the Nicaraguan Contras through the sale of crack cocaine to “Freeway” Ricky Ross, a well-known drug dealer who operated primarily in South Central Los Angeles. While implying that the CIA was involved in the drug trafficking in some manner, the articles also alleged that Department of Justice employees, particularly DEA agents, may have been aware of this CIA connection to drug trafficking. The allegations provoked an angry response from the public, particularly the African-American community in South Central Los Angeles. The Department and I have received numerous letters from members of Congress as well as California officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, requesting that these allegations be fully investigated.
On September 20, 1996, I announced that the Office of Inspector General would be conducting an investigation into these aspects of the allegations that involve Department of Justice employees. For example, we will be investigating DEA’s use of Blandon and Meneses as informers; whether the DEA failed to conduct appropriate drug investigations because of a real or suspected CIA involvement; the means whereby Blandon obtained from the INS his green card that allowed him to remain in the United States even though he was convicted of a felony; and the knowledge of DOJ employees of Blandon’s alleged CIA connections.
Although I do not have jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of CIA employees, our investigation will necessarily involve coordination with the CIA Inspector General’s inquiry, which will examine the CIA’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking. I have met with CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz, and we have agreed to coordinate with each other when the investigations overlap and to share documents that are relevant to each inquiry. Our investigative staffs will be meeting on a regular basis to coordinate this process.
Our investigation is fully underway. The investigative team currently consists of three attorneys as well as additional investigators both here and on the West Coast. We have transmitted document requests to all Department of Justice agencies, and we have begun receiving responses to that request. The responses to our document requests have already produced a substantial quantity of documents from various Department components.
To our knowledge, allegations concerning whether the Department had any information suggesting a CIA link to Contra drug traffickers have not been previously examined in a comprehensive fashion by the Department of Justice. Through our ongoing document requests and our planned interviews of witnesses, we will determine what work has been done by Department personnel that is relevant to our inquiry. It would be premature to detail the documents that we have received that are related to these matters.
While I cannot discuss in detail the investigative steps that we intend to take, I can assure you that our investigation will be complete and thorough. The Office of Inspector General has successfully completed similar large-scale investigations. As examples of the type of work undertaken by my office, I would point to our recently completed report on the deception of members of a Congressional Task Force by officials in the INS’ Miami District; our report on allegations of racist conduct by federal employees at the Good O’ Boy Roundup; and the classified reports of our investigations into the Justice Department’s response to the murder of four Marines in the Zona Rosa district of El Salvador and to certain violent crimes committed against U.S. nationals in Guatemala. These reports typify the thorough investigations and reporting that the Office of Inspector General conducts. You can be assured that the investigation into these serious allegations will be no less thorough and no less independent than our previous work.
I am prepared to answer questions at this time.
November 15, 1996
The CIA’s shadow in Arkansas
By Mara Leveritt
The CIA was up to something at Mena, and that fact alone may explain everything else.
The CIA doesn’t like to give up its secrets. So it’s a coup of sorts when the citizens of this country and particularly of a state can wrest a little bit of information out of this huge but shrouded institution.
Such a milestone occurred last week. In a report commissioned by Republican Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, chairman of the House Banking Committee, the CIA’s inspector general’s office acknowledged what some of us here in Arkansas have long suspected: that the CIA did have a hand in unusual activities in the little town of Mena. Specifically, the agency owned up to only four, fairly innocuous-sounding admissions:
That it conducted a two-week-long “joint training operation with another federal agency at Mena Intermountain Airport.”
That it used the airport for “routine aviation-related services on agency equipment.”
That L.D. Brown, a former Arkansas State Police trooper, was an applicant for employment with the agency in 1984 (as Brown has claimed), though his application was rejected near the end of that year.
That CIA personnel had had “limited contact” with Adler Berriman “Barry” Seal, a major drug trafficker and federal informant (who also, coincidentally, worked out of the airport at Mena before his murder in 1986)
That’s about the extent of what the CIA was willing to admit. And it’s taken the agency a decade to get around to saying even that much. But, late and slim as they are, the acknowledgments arrive in this state like the clap of a sonic boom – one whose reverberations will continue for years.
To understand the revelations’ significance, we must remember what it’s taken to get just this far. Attention was first focused on Mena in the early 1980s when officials from the Louisiana State Police notified state police in Arkansas that Seal, who’d been dogged out of Louisiana, was moving his base of operations up here. Russell Welch, an investigator for the Arkansas State Police, and William Duncan, an investigator for the IRS, began surveilling Seal, documenting evidence of his involvement in both drug-trafficking and money-laundering at the airport and through banks at Mena.
The odd events that were occurring there only gained public attention slowly, as Welch and Duncan tried to bring their evidence to the attention of federal prosecutors. To the investigators’ dismay, they found themselves blocked at every turn. No one in a position to act, it seemed, wanted to lay a hand on Seal or to even look too closely at what was happening at Mena. Despite the drumbeat of anti-drug rhetoric that was going on in the background, no action was ever taken against Seal while he was blatantly flying in and out of Arkansas.
This led the investigators to suspect that they were fighting an invisible enemy; that for reasons they could not understand and that no one was bothering to explain, their efforts at law enforcement were being thwarted by other powers in the federal government. Fuel was added to these suspicions when Terry Reed, a self-described former CIA “operative,” and Brown, who worked in the security detail for then-Gov. Bill Clinton, both went public with claims that they knew of CIA involvement at Mena.
Brown’s story is especially interesting. He says that while he was being considered for CIA employment, he was taken on two airplane rides from Mena to Honduras, where he claims to have witnessed Nicaraguan Contra rebels being given M-16 rifles in exchange for quantities of cocaine, which were then flown back to Mena. Brown says he was shocked and told Clinton what he’d seen, but that the governor seemed unsurprised. After Seal’s murder, his personal airplane, the one he’d flown so often into Mena, was shot down in Nicaragua, a bit of nasty business that opened what is now known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
Meanwhile, back in Arkansas, suspicion of CIA involvement at Mena began to grow, despite a pronounced reluctance by most of the media to question the federal inaction with regard to Seal’s operation. Moreover, attempts to shake some information out of the FBI, the DEA, and the CIA were resolutely stonewalled until now, that is; until this little crack.
Now we have confirmation that the CIA was up to something at Mena, and that fact alone may explain everything else. It suggests a reason why officials in so many administrations–Democrat and Republican, alike–have turned such a resolutely blind eye to apparently illegal activities at Mena. Yet last week’s acknowledgments don’t begin to approach an adequate explanation.
In its report, the CIA said it found no evidence the agency had engaged in “money laundering, narcotics trafficking, arms smuggling or other illegal activities at or around Mena.” Maybe. But under the circumstances, we here in Arkansas might be forgiven if we laugh.
Reproduced with Permission
Copyright © 1996 Arkansas Writers’ Project, Inc. All Rights Reserved
June 6, 1997
The Arkansas Times
Spooks with erasers
By Mara Leveritt
Did you read that the CIA now admits having destroyed its own records about its role in the 1953 coup in Iran? Well, what did we expect? The budget of the CIA is secret. The number of people it employs is a secret. Where it operates and what it does is a secret. And now we know that even big chunks of its history have been consigned to the black hole of oblivion.
News reports last week said that the agency is now trying to find out what other sensitive records were destroyed during the 1960s.
I love it when the CIA tries to find out something, especially something that it itself did. It’s always so difficult for them.
(I mean, we’re not asking them to do something hard, like gather the necessary documentation to renew their Arkansas car tags. Lord, if the CIA had to try to do that, they’d probably have to hire another 700 researchers — a number which, of course, they could never report, at salaries which they could never reveal, either. And then, the agency could never tell us whether they had found their tax records, assessment sheets, proof of insurance, and so forth. National security, you understand. We’d be left to guess and speculate.)
What we’re left to wonder about now is how many historical records the CIA has shredded — and presumably swallowed. Maybe every one of its gazillion unreported employees is required to chew up a certain amount of sensitive, shredded paper every week. Or maybe they have a big cook-out every Fourth of July, where they grill hamburgers over briquettes made of documents that might have reshaped our view of history, had they managed to escape the fire. Or maybe by now the CIA has developed a paper-eating bug that works its way through files, systematically seeking out and destroying any sensitive, embarrassing, or even criminal information.
Anything is possible. The point is, we’ll never know. It’s hard for the public even to ask, “Do you still have files on this episode?” or, “Where are your records on that?” because most of the time, we never found out in the first place in which this and that’s the CIA has been involved. We can only surmise.
Usually if events take a peculiar turn, or if a situation goes from bad to worse, or if the way is suddenly paved for some multi-national corporation to swoop in and start extracting resources from some third-worId country, we can pretty well be sure that we’re seeing the CIA’s handiwork. CIA officials now say that the Iran files and who knows how many others were apparently destroyed as part of a routine paring down of classified documents that were stored in CIA safes.
You can appreciate their problem. If almost everything you do is top-secret and potentially explosive, you’re going to want to store the records of those deeds in a highly secure safe. But even if you’re the CIA, the amount of space in your safes is limited. So what choice do you have?
You can’t just box up your records of liaisons with some of the world’s most unsavory characters and haul them to the attic. And what of those reports linking the CIA to torturers in the jungle? Even dry financial records, about the people to whom we paid money — and the services they performed for it could be a mite disturbing. You could hardly find enough safes for that kind of information.
So one could understand why the agency might come to think that frequent house-cleanings might be a good idea. It’s only our country’s need for an informed democracy that takes a beating in the process. That, and the right of future generations to have access to crucial archival records.
A CIA spokesman said last week that the agency no longer allows the destruction of historical documents. That news would come as some relief, if we could believe anything that comes out of the mouth of an agency that specializes in words like “disinformation” and “deniability.”
Not surprisingly, a former member of the CIA’s history staff disputed the spokesman’s contention, saying that the destruction of critical documents continues to this day.
This news might explain a lot about why the agency has not been able to tell us more about what went on in Mena, particularly as that related to the drug smuggler Barry Seal. Last year, the CIA told Congress that it could “find no evidence” that it knew that Seal, with whom it has admitted working, was actually a drug trafficker himself.
Well, duh. That’s the nice thing about evidence that’s been destroyed. It tends to be hard to find.
Reproduced with Permission
Copyright © 1996 Arkansas Writers’ Project, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Aug. 18, 1997
The Washington Weekly
CIA Linked To Seal’s Assassination
George Bush’s Personal Phone Number Found in Seals’ Trunk
By: Daniel Hopsicker
“The biggest drug smuggler in American History was a CIA Agent.”
That’s the mind-boggling conclusion of a 6-month investigation into the life and death of Barry Seal, a pivotal figure of the Iran/Contra ’80s. Seal’s C123 military cargo plane figured prominently in two of the biggest and least-understood events of the decade, the Sandinista ‘drug- sting’ operation, designed to be the ‘Gulf of Tonkin Incident’ in a US- Nicaragua war, and the downing, six months after Seal’s assassination, of his beloved Fat Lady cargo plane over Nicaragua, with Eugene Hasenfus onboard, precipitating what came to be known, mistakenly, as Iran/Contra.
We have learned that the official cover-up of Seal’s CIA affiliation began before his body was cold.
Until now, the ‘official version of events’ retailed the popular legend of Barry Seal’s assassination, with Seal being gunned down by Colombians on a Medellin cartel hit.
Three Colombians were convicted of his murder, and while their cartel connections have been revealed to the world, their connection to Oliver North’s Enterprise has not. The ‘shooter team’ was armed by somebody with long experience with shooter teams, Miami CIA asset Jose Coutin, whose Miami gun shop also supplied weapons to the Contras.
They are part of what we call the Secret History; that is, that history of our life and times in which lone gunmen do NOT play any significant role.
Speculation has long been that Seal was assassinated, not on cartel orders, but at the behest of the CIA. But unless the Medellin cartel was giving orders to the FBI, which confiscated and then withheld evidence in Seal’s capital murder investigation in Baton Rouge Louisiana of February 1986, the ‘conspiracy theorists’ among us may turn out to be right: the CIA ordered the hit on Seal.
The Medellin ‘hit’ story has always had one big flaw: who would dare to kill one of the CIA’s own? Recall, for example, what the KGB did in Lebanon in the 80’s when one of their agents was kidnapped in the Bekaa Valley: if you didn’t hear that grisly story of Russian-retaliation-via- human-dismemberment, you were fortunate.
So a cartel hit on a CIA Agent is a dubious proposition. But the Medellin Cartel fulfilling the contract has always made a certain sense, at least to those who understand that the most important doctrine of American Foreign Policy is not the Monroe Doctrine, but the Doctrine of Plausible Deniability.
When, for example, the Gambino Family (to cite another organized crime syndicate) finds it necessary to enforce discipline by ‘splashing’ one of their own, they may contract it out to another ‘outfit.’ But woe betide the organization that takes it on itself to kill one of their own without permission.
Our investigation, with some of its evidence presented here for the first time, proves that the biggest cocaine smuggler in American History, Barry Seal, was a CIA Agent. So, would the Medellin Cartel risk the wrath of the CIA to kill Seal?
Other than those whose cars get waved through the checkpoints at Langley Virginia, there has been only one person until today in a position to find out. And he had his doubts about the cartel-hit cover story, as well.
His name is Sam Dalton, and he was the New Orleans attorney who represented the Colombian hit men who killed Seal in the penalty phase of their trial. Sam Dalton subpoenaed the CIA about what he suspected was its complicity in Seal’s assassination in a court of law.
The “conspiracy theorists” among us (you know who you are) were right
.”We were trying to subpoena the CIA because we felt like they had documents, exhibits, and evidence that would indicate complicity in Seal’s assassination,” Dalton says slowly.
Through discovery, his investigation gained access to something more valuable than gold, the contents of the trunk of Barry Seal’s Cadillac on the night he died, and discovered that a cover-up was underway before Seal’s body had grown cold in the Baton Rouge morgue.
“The FBI went into the Baton Rouge Police Department and literally and physically seized the contents of that trunk from the Baton Rouge Police. In fact, the Baton Rouge Police probably would have had to draw their guns to keep possession of that trunk,” Dalton says today, in an explosive interview on the just-released 2-hour TV special “The Secret Heartbeat of America.”
His voice slows further, his words growing more deliberate. “And, actually, by law, the Baton Rouge Police should have done that, but they didn’t.”
Why didn’t they? What was there about Barry Seal that led the FBI and the CIA to refuse to cooperate with state officials in the most publicized assassination in Louisiana history?
Dalton wanted to know. And so he began a legal battle to gain access to the evidence seized. Even he sounds surprised that he was, eventually, at least partly successful.
“They (the CIA and FBI) wouldn’t even honor the subpoena,” he states, about the demands of the trial judge for the return of the seized evidence.
But then a wild card entered the picture, as wild cards often do in America, even today, in the form of a courageous state judge. “It wasn’t until a state judge really backed them up, and threatened to hold them in contempt, that they partially complied.”
Dalton described the brinkmanship necessary to gain access to what the defense should have had as a matter of course during discovery.
“If it hadn’t been for a good state judge, with enough courage to back the federal government up,” Dalton stated, “we’d have never gotten inside that trunk. He (the judge) made them give us that trunk back.”
And when the FBI finally did turn over the contents of the trunk they had obviously ransacked it first, Dalton says. “Some of the things that had been in it we didn’t get back.”
Then Dalton’s voice turns positively gleeful. “But they had missed a few things that indicated just how valuable that trunk was. Because that’s where that phone number was. That’s where we found George Bush’s private phone number. “
“They were regularly talking to each other very seriously over what was probably a secure phone,” he states.
“Barry Seal was in direct contact with George Bush.”
Barry Seal and George Bush? Could they have been, secretly, one of Washington’s Fun Couples of the ’80’s?
Lewis Unglesby is today one of the most powerful and well-known attorneys in Louisiana. But back in 1986, he was just a 36-year-old lawyer who represented Barry Seal, and who, Unglesby himself admits, was made by Seal to operate on a “need-to-know basis.”
“I sat him down one time,” recalls Unglesby, talking about his relationship with Seal, “and said: I cannot represent you effectively unless I know what is going on. Barry smiled, and gave me a number, and told me to call it, and identify myself as him (Seal.)
I dialed the number, a little dubiously, and a pleasant female voice answered: ‘Office of the Vice President.'”
“This is Barry Seal,” Unglesby said into the phone.
“Just a moment, sir,” the secretary replied. “Then a man’s voice came on the line, identifying himself as Admiral somebody, and said to me, ‘Barry, where have you been?'”
“Excuse me, Sir, “Unglesby replied, “but my name is Lewis Unglesby and I’m Barry Seal’s attorney.”
There was a click, Unglesby relates. The phone went dead. “Seal just smiled when I looked over at him in shock, and then went back to treating me on a need-to-know basis.”
(The Admiral in question might well have been Admiral Daniel Murphy, assigned to work in the Office of the Vice President, from which numerous reports state Contra operations were masterminded.)
But this is not just a case of (yet another) official cover-up of the murder of a quasi-public official, Barry Seal. There is strong evidence that the murder was not just covered-up, but orchestrated by the very same people who later trooped dutifully up Capital Hill to lie to the United Stages Congress about what became known as the Iran/Contra. Scandal.
Consider, for example, the simple mathematics of the hit team. Seven people were arrested in connection with Seal’s assassination. But only four men were charged with the crime, and only three were convicted. The fourth Colombian charged, although presumably guilty at the least of conspiracy to commit murder, was extradited to Columbia.
And what are we to make of the evidence of George Bush’s personal phone number in Seal’s possession at the time of his death? Is this some historical anomaly, upon which experts will eternally disagree? What was George Bush’s knowledge and involvement in cocaine smuggling under the pretext of national security carried out in Mena Arkansas?
The complete answer waits another day, but consider this: pretend that your unlisted phone number had been found with the body of the biggest drug smuggler in American History. What sort of questions might the police ask you?
The story of Barry Seal, drug smuggler, is well known today, at least in its outlines. What hasn’t been known before now is much about the story of Barry Seal, CIA Agent.
We spoke with one of the three government witnesses in the penalty phase of the Colombians’ trial whose testimony was so damning about Seal’s activities on behalf of the federal government that two jurors attempted to change their verdict to ‘not guilty.’
In our television special, Sam Dalton has this to say about this man: “If all our government people were as courageous as he was, we wouldn’t have the problems today in this country that we have.”
Ten years ago, this man knew as much about Barry Seal’s drug-smuggling activities as anyone alive. Today this man holds an important and sensitive government position requiring anonymity, and thus requested anonymity when we interviewed him.
Attorney Sam Dalton offers another bombshell. “Lieutenant ______ caught Seal smuggling drugs red-handed at the docks, and the DEA and the CIA showed up, and told the state police to butt out, and took over the operation.” Its not known if the DEA or CIA ever made efforts to charge Seal for this crime, but we wouldn’t bet on it.
“Barry’s involvement in Contra re-supply began way before the commonly accepted date of 1983,” this source told us in a matter-of-fact tone. We asked him of his knowledge of Seal’s CIA connections. “Barry’s been a spook since 1971,” he stated calmly. “In fact, Barry goes all the way back to the Bay of Pigs.”
Ten years ago, honest state law enforcement officials in affected states like Louisiana and Arkansas were outspoken in their condemnation of what they saw as officially-sanctioned drug smuggling in Mena Arkansas.
Yet, ten years ago, the cocaine continued to flow.
Today, courageous San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb has been relegated to writing obituaries in Cupertino, California for his refusal to “get with the program.”
But others have stepped forward to continue the fight to expose the scandal that swirls around the CIA, the Contras, and cocaine, and particularly on the Mena, Arkansas front on this battleground to know the truth.
Today, new sources like Sam Dalton are coming forward with forthright testimony to add to the voluminous evidence and testimony that already exists, testimony ranging from US Congressmen (former Ark. Rep. Bill Alexander) to state police (Arkansas State Criminal Investigator Russell Welch), to former drug pilots, that have testified that the CIA operation Barry Seal set up in Mena was used, and is still being used, to smuggle drugs with official sanction into the United States of America.
Today, all this is already known.
And today, the cocaine continues to flow.
Published in the Aug. 18, 1997 issue of The Washington Weekly. Copyright © 1997 The Washington Weekly. Reposting permitted with this message intact.
Excerpts from Michael Reagan’s interview with Daniel Hopsicker
August 22, 1997
Reagan: “The Secret Heartbeat of America” is the just completed two hour TV special that may never air in America because of its explosive contents – the courageous crusade of a mother who lost her child. Linda Ives lost her child, and Jean Duffey, an equally courageous prosecuting attorney who wouldn’t let their murders go unsolved.
Let me bring in Daniel Hopsicker. Daniel, tell me about your history because you are the producer-investigative reporter on this . What are your credentials?
Hopsicker: Mike, I’m in the television industry. I produce a business TV show called “Global Business” internationally and on NBC. It has been airing for about 18 months.
I went out to do a pilot for a half hour show called “Conspiracy.” I wanted to do an “In Search of the Paranoid 90s.” And, like In Search of, each show would have an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. The train death was going to be the main course, or the serious story on our pilot half hour episode.
Then I went down to Arkansas and met Mrs. Ives. But, the first thing that happened is that I met Jean Duffey in Houston.
Reagan: Jean Duffey who, I believe, is the deputy District Attorney.
Hopsicker: And she speaks very much as a lawyer speaks, you know what I mean?
Hopsicker: Very studied in her mannerisms and very deliberate in her speech. OK? So, I interviewed her and the next day I flew into Little Rock (Arkansas) and the first person I see in Little Rock is a reporter with the Arkansas Democrat who had followed the train deaths for seven years.
The first thing the reporter said to me is, looking me straight in the eyes is: “Jean Duffey is crazy. She belongs in an insane asylum.” It was one of the shocking moments of my life. He didn’t know that I had already talked with Jean Duffey when he told me that.
It was one of the most shocking moments of my life, because I realized someone was deliberately lying to me. This was misinformation coming from a reporter who had been friendly to me when I had approached him asking questions.
Hopsicker: I was shocked! Then the next day I met Linda Ives and I talked to her. It became very clear that Linda Ives is a bereaved mother who was inadvertently caught when a huge tornado swept down and hit…
Reagan: Dan, stay with me, I’ve got to take a break! We’ll be back with Linda Ives and Daniel Hopsicker . The Secret Heartbeat of America has answers to the following questions. What are they? We’ll let you know after the break.
When we come back on the Michael Reagan Radio Talk show we’ll tell you a little bit more, and get more information on Daniel Hopsicker the producer and investigative reporter for The Secret Heartbeat of America. We’ll talk to Linda for a few moments more then find out what you can do to either see this or get this show on television.
Reagan: We’re back everybody, …..Dan, you went into this blind other than you went down to get some information for a television show.
Hopsicker: That’s correct.
Reagan: You went in kinda thinking, “This will make a good show, and be a fun thing to do.” Was there a point in time when things changed for you and you became a believer?
Hopsicker: Almost immediately! In fact, immediately. Linda Ives and Jean Duffey, if you spent any time with them, you would realize quickly that they are telling the truth. When you hear the story and have seen either the Clinton Chronicles or Obstruction of Justice that profile the story – you realize there has been a government cover-up of serious and long lasting proportions.
Reagan: What do you think caused the deaths of Kevin Ives and Don Henry?
Hopsicker: That is the question. Why? Why has there been such a government cover-up. Apparently, Mike, and this is another shocking thing that I discovered. Drugs rained from the sky over the State of Arkansas in the 1980s.
I was in Los Angeles. I’ve never seen drug rain from the sky here. But there are lots of reports from people who live in Arkansas that indeed that did occur back then. The boys were at a point of a drug drop.
Reagan: So, what do you answer in this special that you have. What are some of the questions we are going to get answers to?
Hopsicker: I think why the cover-up has gone on so long. OK? Why wasn’t this just a case of local and then state misconduct that was able to be handled through the judicial process. Why has the cover-up been so long lasting.
Reagan: Are we going to learn some things from this video that we didn’t learn from anything else?
Hopsicker: Absolutely – some major new things. Would you like to hear one?
Hopsicker: You’ve heard of Mena, Arkansas.
Reagan: Yes. I could spell it in my sleep.
Hopsicker: And you’ve heard of Barry Seal? And you know that Barry Seal by the government’s own admission brought in almost $5 billion worth of cocaine.
Reagan: Give or take a snort!
Hopsicker: Give or take a snort. Well, here is the biggest revelation I could have ever found to be true. Barry Seal was a CIA Agent.
Reagan: Do you know who he worked for? Who he answered to?
Hopsicker: I’ve heard various people. I’ve heard Oliver North.
Hopsicker: Yeah, I’ve heard higher. Apparently he was part of an operation that was long standing and used Mena, Arkansas as a private installation of a secret cabal, if you would, who had their fingers in some powerful government positions.