Pablo Escobar: Beyond Narcos - Shaun Attwood (2016)
Chapter 12. George HW Bush and CIA Drug Trafficking
Narcos focused on the DEA’s quest to capture Pablo, while omitting the CIA’s complicity in cocaine trafficking throughout that time. DEA agent Steve Murphy was Pablo’s nemesis from episode one, but Murphy only arrived in Colombia in 1991, so his presence in all of the Pablo-related events from 1976 to 1991 is fictional. Murphy was a minion of Pablo’s real nemesis: George HW Bush.
Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan-Bush administration launched an expansion of the War on Drugs. The “Just say no” campaign was funded largely by tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies. The government claimed that the war was necessary to take down the Pablos of this world, but its burden fell mostly on hundreds of thousands of non-violent marijuana users, many of whom were SWAT-team raided and dragged off to jail.
Reagan’s wife, Nancy, was a leading spokesperson: “If you’re a casual drug user, you’re an accomplice to murder.” The campaign, in combination with sensational headlines about rabid black crack users murdering white people, prostituting themselves for a pittance and giving birth to malnourished alien-like babies caused public opinion about drugs to swing in favour of the zero-tolerance policies that filled prisons with non-violent drug users from the poorest neighbourhoods. Private prisons and all of the industries that grew up around them became a massive source of profit for the politicians taking contributions from them.
In 1982, Ronald Regan created the South Florida Task Force, headed by George HW Bush. It combined elements of the FBI, army and Navy to fight traffickers who weren’t working with the CIA. The media published images of soldiers, surveillance planes and helicopter gunships off the coast of Florida, waging war with Pablo’s smugglers. As drug seizures rose, Reagan and Bush posed for photos amid tons of confiscated cocaine, and proclaimed their success in the War on Drugs. They never mentioned that the price of cocaine in America was falling despite the gunboats, a sure sign that the supply into America was increasing. Even DEA agents complained that the War on Drugs was just a handover of money to the military.
In 1983, a program called Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) started in American schools. Students were encouraged to let the police know about their friends’ and families’ drug habits, so they could swiftly be incarcerated. The Reagan-Bush administration doubled the federal prison population. Young offenders and non-violent drug users were sent to Special Alternative Incarceration boot camps to have their rebellious attitudes demolished. They often emerged traumatised and more inclined to take drugs.
Simultaneously, the Reagan-Bush administration quietly instructed American universities to destroy all of the research into marijuana undertaken between 1966 and 1976, which could have benefited people with a range of ailments, including cancer patients at risk of death because they couldn’t eat, and children born with rare conditions who had hundreds of seizures a week and were at risk of entering comas and dying.
The federal government used planes to illegally spray marijuana fields in Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee with the toxic weed-killer Paraquat, risking the lives of marijuana smokers. Banned in several European countries, Paraquat is highly toxic to animals and has serious and irreversible delayed effects if absorbed. As little as one teaspoonful of the active ingredient is fatal. Death occurs up to thirty days after ingestion. It’s also toxic if absorbed through the skin, and can cause nose bleeding if inhaled. No antidote for poisoning exists although it is recommended that hospitalisation is sought without delay. The government was able to use it by classifying it as having low acute toxicity when sprayed.
Reagan’s Drugs Czar, Carlton Turner, said that kids deserved to die as a punishment for smoking poisoned weed, to teach them a lesson. Two years later, he called for the death penalty for all drug users. On one occasion, the DEA had been ordered to spray Paraquat on a marijuana plantation in Georgia, but the Forest Service had miscalculated the location. The Paraquat ended up on a corn crop. Drugs Czar Turner was a co-owner of a patent, along with the University of Mississippi, on a chemical test that detected the presence of Paraquat on crops. Although he stood to earn royalties from the patent, he denied any conflict of interest.
Extending the War on Drugs into Colombia included dropping chemical poisons on peasants and their crops. Many had to leave the little pieces of land they owned, and they were reduced to begging. Their land often ended up in the hands of the wealthy and foreign corporations.
By 1986, officials in Florida acknowledged that the amount of drugs entering the US had skyrocketed. The Government Accounting Office stated that cocaine imports had doubled in one year.
In the summer of 1989, the Commissioner of US Customs resigned because he believed that the only real battles were being fought against minorities and the downtrodden, while those in authority were protecting the government’s monopoly in the trade. “The War on Drugs is a war of words,” he said.
While the international narcotics trade thrived, Reagan declared the War on Drugs to be one of his best achievements. But in 1989, the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that the US government – via the CIA – had been trafficking in hard drugs for military weapons. During the investigation, the increasingly frail and senile Reagan feigned ignorance and most people believed him. Throughout Reagan’s term, ex-CIA-director Bush had really been calling the shots.
President Bush was inaugurated on January 20, 1989. On September 5, 1989, he outlined his strategy for eradicating drug use. He asked Congress for $7.9 billion, 70 percent for law enforcement, including $1.6 billion for prisons. “This scourge will stop.” His focus was on reducing demand, meaning arresting more drug users, rather than prevention, education and medical treatment. He increased the repressive measures against marijuana users. “Our nation has zero tolerance for casual drug use… You do drugs, you will be caught, and when you’re caught, you will be punished. Some think there won’t be room for them in jail. We’ll make room.”
The story of Keith Jackson illustrates Bush’s duplicity in the War on Drugs. On September 5, 1989, President Bush appeared on TV. “This is the first time since taking the oath of office that I’ve felt an issue was so important, so threatening, that it warranted talking directly with you, the American people. All of us agree that the gravest domestic threat facing our nation today is drugs. Drugs have strained our faith in our system of justice. Our courts, our prisons, our legal system, are stretched to breaking point. The social costs of drugs are mounting. In short, drugs are sapping our strength as a nation. Turn on the evening news or pick up the morning paper and you’ll see what some Americans know just by stepping out their front door: Our most serious problem today is cocaine, and in particular, crack…” Reaching to his side, Bush produced a bag labelled EVIDENCE with chalky rocks in it. “This is crack cocaine seized a few days ago by Drug Enforcement agents in a park just across the street from the White House. It could easily have been heroin or PCP. It’s as innocent-looking as candy, but it’s turning our cities into battle zones and it’s murdering our children. Let there be no mistake: this stuff is poison. Some used to call drugs harmless recreation; they’re not. Drugs are a real and terribly dangerous threat to our neighbourhoods, our friends and our families…”
Bush’s claim aroused suspicion in Michael Isikoff, an NBC correspondent, who doubted that crack was being sold in Lafayette Square, an urban park north of the White House. Through contacts at the DEA, Isikoff learned the truth. Bush’s speech writers had decided that a prop would enhance the president’s rhetoric, so they wrote the Lafayette Square crack story into the script before it had happened. After Bush approved the idea, the DEA was told to make a drug purchase near the White House in order to fit the script.
The assignment ended up with Special Agent Sam Gaye, who was asked by his boss, “Can you make a drug buy around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Can you call any defendants you’ve been buying from?” In court, Gaye testified, “I had twenty-four hours to buy three ounces of crack.”
Using informers, Gaye set up a purchase, which fell through after the dealer didn’t show up in the park. During the second attempt, the agent’s body microphone malfunctioned, and the cameraman about to film the transaction was assaulted by a homeless person.
Finally, an informant contacted an amenable low-level dealer, Keith Jackson, an eighteen-year-old high-school student who lived across town. Gaye asked Keith to meet him in the park.
“Where’s Lafayette Park?” Keith said.
“It’s across the street from the White House.”
“Where the fuck is the White House?” Keith said.
“We had to manipulate him to get him down there,” said William McMullan, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s Washington field office. “It wasn’t easy.”
When the DEA video tape was played in court, the jury laughed. It showed Gaye waiting on Pennsylvania Avenue with the White House and tourists behind him. Before Jackson and an informant arrived by car, an irate woman sprung up from below the camera’s vision, and yelling was heard as an altercation unfolded.
“There was this lady,” Gaye said, “who got up off the ground and said, ‘Don’t take my photo! Don’t take my photo!’”
For the White House transaction, as well as three earlier sales, Keith ended up facing ten years to life without parole even though he had no previous convictions. The first trial was a mistrial, but on retrial he was convicted of three counts with two being dropped, including the Lafayette Park sale. The judge sentenced him to ten years due to the mandatory minimums for selling crack near a school, but suggested that he seek clemency, which was never granted.
A teenager had been sacrificed to improve Bush’s ratings.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and with the Soviet Union contracting, the US was rapidly running out of Communists to fight. Bush needed enemies to maintain his popularity at the voting booths and to keep the war machine in business. Pablo was ideal.
In November 1990, Bush signed a bill that coerced the states into suspending the driver’s licenses and revoking government permits and benefits (including college loans) of those convicted of drug crimes. He advocated the heavy use of forfeiture or confiscation of property that the government believed to be drug related. It was primarily used to take cars and currency, and the money was recycled back into the state and federal government. These laws operated under presumed guilt, which did not require a trial or even a conviction.
By 1992, there were more people in federal prisons for drug charges than there were for all crimes in 1980, with the burden overwhelmingly falling on black people. Twice as many people were arrested for possession than supplying. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, said there were too many arrests. New York City jails filled to breaking point, and jail boats had to be opened. Bush’s policies did nothing to stop people from buying and selling drugs.
That the US government was simultaneously waging a War on Drugs while facilitating their importation via the CIA is hard for some people to swallow. But it must be probed further to understand why Pablo was taken down.
In 1985, Retired US Navy Lieutenant Commander Al Martin had dinner with George HW Bush, Jeb Bush and a CIA veteran Felix Rodriguez, who’d taken $10 million from the Medellín Cartel for the Nicaraguan rebels (as detailed in Chapter 4). Over food, George HW Bush boasted that he operated on the Big Lie principle, whereby big lies would be believed because the public couldn’t conceive that their leader was capable of bending the truth that far, such as a president railing against drugs while overseeing drug trafficking worth billions.
Anyone who tried to blow the whistle on Bush’s phoney War on Drugs ended up paying a price. Former DEA agent Cele Castillo wrote Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras & the Drug War (1998), in which he detailed a meeting with George HW Bush. Assigned to El Salvador in 1986 to investigate a pilot who stored his plane at the Ilopango airbase, Castillo had discovered that the Nicaraguan rebels were smuggling cocaine to the US, using the same pilots, planes and hangers as the CIA and NSC (National Security Council), under the direction of Bush’s frontman Oliver North. At Ilopango, he often saw Bush’s buddy, Felix Rodriguez, whom Castillo described as an American terrorist. Bewildered, he told his bosses about the cocaine smuggling. They instructed him to use the word “alleged” in his reports instead of stating things as factual.
Castillo reported that a CIA agent was requesting a US Visa for a Nicaraguan-rebel drug smuggler who was flying cocaine from Costa Rica to anti-Castro Cubans in Miami. The cocaine in Costa Rica was picked up from the ranch of an American, John Hull, who, by the admission of the CIA’s station chief in Costa Rica, was working with the CIA on military supply and other operations on behalf of the Nicaraguan rebels, and was being paid $110,000 a month by Oliver North.
After Castillo blew the whistle, Vice President Bush met him briefly during a visit to Guatemala City on January 14, 1986, at a cocktail party at the ambassador’s residence. Protected by a retinue of Secret Service agents, Bush was talking to embassy personnel and Guatemalan dignitaries. Bush approached Castillo and read the tag on his lapel, which identified him as a member of the US embassy. Shaking hands, Bush asked what he did.
“I’m a DEA agent assigned to Guatemala.”
“Well, what do you do?”
“There’s some funny things going on with the Contras in El Salvador.”
Without uttering a response, Bush smiled and walked away. Castillo realised that Bush was in on the drug trafficking.
Following the party at the ambassador’s house, the US Ambassador to El Salvador sent a back-channel cable to the State Department. A few days later, the DEA closed down Castillo’s investigation. The reports he’d filed disappeared into what Castillo called a black hole at DEA headquarters. In February 1987, DEA investigators found “no credible information” to indicate that traffickers were part of any political organisation, including the Nicaraguan rebels and the government of Nicaragua. Castillo received so much harassment that he ended up quitting the DEA in 1990.
Presidential candidate and billionaire, Ross Perot, hired Bo Gritz, a Green Beret who’d earned multiple medals for bravery, to find American POWs imprisoned in Asia decades after the Vietnam War. While on his mission, Gritz came across General Khun Sa, a Burmese drug lord, who offered to identify US government officials he claimed had been trafficking in heroin for over twenty years. Having uncovered CIA drug trafficking in Asia, Perot and Gritz were shocked.
Perot requested a meeting with George HW Bush, so that he could present his evidence. Bush told Perot to go to the proper authorities and refused to help any further.
Here are extracts from a letter Gritz wrote to Bush:
Why does it seem that you are saying “YES” to illegal narcotics in America?
I turned over video tapes to your NSC staff assistant, Tom Harvey, January 1987, wherein General KHUN SA, overlord of Asia’s “Golden Triangle” offered to stop 900 tons of heroin/opium from entering the free world in 1987. Harvey told me, “...there is no interest here in doing that.”
Unfortunately, Khun Sa knew nothing about US POWs. He did, however, offer to trade his nation's poppy dependence for a legitimate economy.
Instead of receiving an “Atta Boy” for bringing back video tape showing Khun Sa’s offer to stop 900 tons of illegal narcotics and expose dirty USG officials, Scott was jailed and I was threatened. I was told that if I didn’t “erase and forget” all that we had discovered, I would, “hurt the government.” Further, I was promised a prison sentence of “15 years.”
I returned to Burma with two other American witnesses, Lance Trimmer, a private detective from San Francisco, and Barry Flynn from Boston. Gen Khun Sa identified some of those in government service he says were dealing in heroin and arms sales. We video-taped this second interview and I turned copies over in June 1987, to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence; Chairman of the House on Foreign Affairs Task Force on Narcotics Control; Co-Chairman, Senate Narcotics Committee; Senator Harry Reid, NV; Representative James Bilbray, NV; and other Congressional members. Mister Richard Armitage, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, is one of those USG officials implicated by Khun Sa. Nothing was done with this evidence that indicated that anyone of authority, including yourself, had intended to do anything more than protect Mr Armitage. I was charged with “Misuse of Passport.” Seems that it is alright for Oliver North and Robert MacFarlane to go into Iran on Irish Passports to negotiate an illegal arms deal that neither you nor anyone else admits condoning, but I can’t use a passport that brings back drug information against your friends.
Lance Trimmer and I submitted a “Citizen Complaint of Wrongdoing by Federal Officers” to Attorney General Edwin Meese, III on 17 September 1987. Continuous private and Legislative inquiries to date indicate that the Attorney General’s Office has “lost” the document. Congressional requests to the Government Accounting Office have resulted in additional government snares and stalls.
January 20, 1988, I talked before your Breakfast Club in Houston, Texas. A distinguished group of approximately 125 associates of yours, including the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, expressed assurance that you are a righteous man. Almost all of them raised their hand when I asked how many of them know you personally. If you are a man with good intent, I pray you will do more than respond to this letter. I ask that you seriously look into the possibility that political appointees close to you are guilty of by-passing our Constitutional process, and for purposes of promoting illegal covert operations, conspired in the trafficking of narcotics and arms.
Please answer why a respected American Citizen like Mister H Ross Perot can bring you a pile of evidence of wrongdoing by Armitage and others, and you, according to TIME magazine (May 4, page 18), not only offer him no support, but have your Secretary of Defense, Frank Carlucci tell Mr. Perot to “stop pursuing Mr Armitage.” Why Sir, will you not look into affidavits gathered by The Christic Institute (Washington, D.C.), which testify that Armitage not only trafficked in heroin, but did so under the guise of an officer charged with bringing home our POWs. If the charges are true, Armitage, who is still responsible for POW recovery as your Assistant Secretary of Defense ISA, has every reason not to want these heroes returned to us alive. Clearly, follow-on investigations would illuminate the collective crimes of Armitage and others.
…in May 1987, Gen Khun Sa, in his jungle headquarters, named Richard Armitage as a key connection in a ring of heroin trafficking mobsters and USG officials. A US agent I have known for many years stopped by my home last month en route to his next overseas assignment. He remarked that he had worked for those CIA chiefs named by Khun Sa, and that by his own personal knowledge, he knew what Khun Sa said was true. He was surprised it had taken so long to surface.
I am a registered Republican. I voted for you twice. I will not do so again. If you have any love or loyalty in your heart for this nation; if you have not completely sold out, then do something positive to determine the truth of these most serious allegations. You were Director of the CIA in 1975, during a time Khun Sa says Armitage and CIA officials were trafficking in heroin. As Director of Intelligence you were responsible to the American people for the activities of your assistant – even as you should know what some of these same people are doing who are close to you now as our Vice President because I feel these “parallel government” types will only be promoted by you, giving them more reason to bury our POWs.
Parting shot Mr Vice President: On 28 January 1988, General Khun Sa tendered an offer to turn over to me one metric ton (2,200 pounds) of heroin. He says this is a good faith gesture to the American people that he is serious about stopping all drugs coming from the infamous Golden Triangle. If you and Nancy Reagan are really serious about saying “NO” to drugs, why not test Gen Khun Sa? I challenge you to allow me in the company of agents of your choice to arrange to receive this token offer worth over $4 billion on the streets of New York City. It will represent the largest “legal” seizure of heroin on record. You can personally torch it, dump it in the ocean, or turn it into legal medication; as I understand there is a great shortage of legal opiates available to our doctors. I think Gen Khun Sa’s offer is most interesting. If you say “YES” then the ever increasing flow of heroin from Southeast Asia (600 tons—’86, 900 tons—’87, 1200 tons—’88) may dry up – not good for business in the parallel government and super CIA circles Oliver North mentioned. If you say “NO” to Khun Sa, you are showing colors not fit for a man who would be President.
Respecting Your Office,
James “Bo” Gritz, Concerned American, Box 472 HCR-31 Sandy Valley, NV 89019, Tel: (702) 723-5266
Further investigation of the CIA drug trafficking led Ross Perot to Mena, Arkansas (a hub of CIA-sponsored trafficking that I detail in my book American Made) and Bush’s involvement.
“When you look into the [Vietnam POW] cover-up,” Perot said, “you find government officials in the drug trade who can’t break themselves of the habit. What I have found is a snake pit [CIA drug trafficking] without a bottom. They will do anything to keep this covered up.”
Unable to get Bush to acknowledge the trafficking, Perot ran against Bush in the 1992 election. Ex-CIA cocaine-smuggling-pilot Chip Tatum stated that Bush was so terrified of Perot becoming president and prosecuting Bush for drug crimes that Bush made plans to assassinate him. When Perot ran again in 1996, Tatum wrote him a letter:
Dear Mr Perot:
As you prepare your part for the 1996 election, there is a matter of grave importance of which you should be aware.
In 1992, as the commander of a Black Operations Unit called Pegasus, I was ordered to neutralize you. Our unit was directed by President George Bush. It was determined, at some point, that the party you formed was counter to the American system of democracy. In his attempt to justify your neutralization, Mr Bush expressed not only his concerns of the existence of your party and the threat which you posed to free America, but also the positions of other US and world leaders.
I had been associated with Pegasus since its creation in 1985. The original mission of our unit was to align world leaders and financiers with the United States. I was personally responsible for the neutralization of one Mossad agent, an army Chief of Staff of a foreign government, a rebel leader and the president of a foreign government.
However, all of these missions were directed toward enemies of the United States as determined by our President. And because of this, I did not hesitate to successfully neutralize these enemies.
The order to neutralize you, however, went against all that I believed in. It was obvious to me that his order was predicated on a desire to remain as President rather than a matter of enemy alignment. I refused the order. I further advised the President and others that if you or members of your organization or family were threatened or harmed in any way, I would cause information, which includes certain documents, to be disseminated from their six locations in various areas of the world, to various media and political destinations. I walked away from Special Operations that day with the knowledge that you don’t just quit! I felt, however, that the time capsules protected my interests.
In September of 1994, I received a telephone call demanding the information “or else!” It was obvious from the day that I walked out of Pegasus that to turn this information over would be terminal. In the spring of 1995, I was arrested by the FBI for wire fraud. Although innocent of the allegations, I found it necessary to plead guilty in an attempt to tarnish my credibility. It was my opinion, as I expressed it to [Felix] Rodriguez when he called and threatened me, that if I were of questionable credibility, the documents, if ever made public, may not stand on their merits.
With this arrest, I seized upon the opportunity to effect this theory. I have since been indicted on a second fraud charge, this time involving my wife. I will not allow this prosecution of my family. I have notified the authorities that I intend to put my case to a jury. While awaiting the trial, I wrote a book involving my first experience in the Special Operations arena. Since then, I have found that the US Marshals have instructed the Hillsborough County jail to hold me, regardless of the outcome of the instant trial charge.
The new charge is treason. For over twenty years I have dedicated my skills, time, and health to my country. I have been shot, tortured, and beaten, fighting to protect our right to form and run our government as determined by the Constitution. I am not aware of an active Pegasus unit. I had assumed it was disbanded with the new President… Someone had to orchestrate this. So, be aware and alert!
Good luck and good fortune in 1996.
In 1996, Perot’s strategy to take votes from Bush worked, and Bill Clinton won – a president involving in drug trafficking was replaced by another involved in trafficking as detailed in my book, American Made. As Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton was paid off by the CIA to allow cocaine to flow through his state.
On YouTube, Chip Tatum stated that Bush had direct knowledge of the drug operation coming out of Central and South America. Tatum saw Bush at a drugs camp, standing by a cocaine press. Thanks to YouTube, the testimonies of numerous US pilots who flew drugs into America for the CIA are available: Google Beau Abbott, Tosh Plumlee or Terry Reed.
In April 1989, Senator John Kerry’s Subcommittee on Terrorism Narcotics and International Operations released its report, “Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy.” It included diary entries from Bush’s frontman Oliver North. In July 1984, North wrote that he wanted “aircraft to go to Bolivia to pick up paste, want aircraft to pick up 1,500 kilos.” On July 12, 1985, he wrote, “$14 million to finance [arms] Supermarket came from drugs.”
While others took the fall for trafficking, the DEA never investigated North. Even though he’d kept his hands clean by not actually flying the drugs himself, he was guilty of conspiracy under statutes passed by Congress in 1953, concerning anyone committing any act, no matter how small, in the furtherance of a crime. The DEA had stood down, even though North had used international traffickers on the DEA’s most wanted list.
One example in the Kerry Report was the airline SETCO, described as “the principal company used by the Contras in Honduras to transport supplies and personnel,” in 1986. As early as 1983, US Customs had told the DEA that the owner of the airline was Juan Matta Ballesteros, one of the biggest cocaine traffickers in the world. By 1980, the DEA was aware that Matta and his co-conspirators were estimated to be trafficking one-third of the cocaine used in America. Oliver North had obtained funding from the State Department for Matta’s SETCO and three other airlines, all established and run by traffickers. The DEA’s response was to close their office in Honduras and to have their officials lie to the public. The difficulty of this deceit was compounded after Matta and his accomplices conspired to kidnap, torture and murder a DEA agent in Mexico in 1985. As they’d all been contributing drug money and weapons to the Nicaraguan rebels, Matta wasn’t arrested until 1988, as part of a strategy for George HW Bush’s run for the presidency.
Born into a CIA family, Mike Ruppert rose up the ranks as an LA police officer. After witnessing huge CIA shipments of cocaine into California, he blew the whistle and was forced to quit amid death threats. After the journalist Gary Webb detailed the CIA cocaine trafficking that Bush had overseen, people were so outraged that the CIA director appeared at a town-hall meeting at a high school in LA – an epicentre of the crack epidemic that CIA cocaine had helped to fuel. Mike Ruppert decided to attend.
A Congresswoman approached the microphone. “It’s not up to us to prove the CIA was involved in drug trafficking in South Central Los Angeles. Rather, it’s up to them to prove they were not.”
As CIA director Deutch got up to speak, the crowd booed and jeered. “I’m going to be brief,” he said. “I want to make four points, and only four points. First, the people of the CIA and I understand the tremendous horror that drugs have been to Americans, what drugs do to families and communities, and the way drugs kill babies. We understand how ravaging drugs are in this country. CIA employees and I share your anger at the injustice and lack of compassion that drug victims encounter.”
“He sounds just like Clinton!” someone yelled.
“During the past two years,” Deutch said, “while I have been director of Central Intelligence, our case officers’ intelligence operations have directly worked to capture all of the Cali Cartel drug lords. We have seriously disrupted the flow of coca paste between the growing areas of Peru and Bolivia to the cocaine processing facilities in Colombia. We have seized huge amounts of heroin grown in the poppy fields of Southwest Asia. Our purpose is to stop drugs from coming into the US. So my second point is that the CIA is fighting against drugs.” The audience grumbled.
“Our activities are secret. Accordingly, there’s not a lot of public understanding of what we do. I understand that people are suspicious of the CIA, and in the course of recruiting agents to break up those groups that bring drugs into the US, our case officers, our men and women deal with bad people, very bad people, sometimes at great risk to their lives. These are criminals with which we must deal, if we are going to stop drugs from coming to the country. They frequently lie about their relationships with us for their own purpose. So it is hard for members of the public to know what is true and what is not true…
“Now we all know that the US government and the CIA supported the Contras [Nicaraguan rebels] in their efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the mid-80s. It is alleged that the CIA also helped the Contras raise money for arms by introducing crack cocaine into California. It is an appalling charge that goes to the heart of this country. It is a charge that cannot go unanswered,” Deutch said, pounding on the table.
“It says that the CIA, an agency of the United States government founded to protect Americans, helped introduce drugs and poison into our children and helped kill their future. No one who heads a government agency – not myself or anyone else – can let such an allegation stand. I will get to the bottom of it and I will let you know the results of what I have found.
“I’ve ordered an independent investigation of these charges. The third point I want to make to you is to explain the nature of the investigation. I’ve ordered the CIA Inspector General to undertake a full investigation.” The crowd yelled their discontent so loudly that Deutch had to wait a minute before continuing. “Let me tell you why he’s the right official to do the job. First, the IG is established by law of Congress to be independent, to carry out activities, to look for fraud and crimes within the CIA. Secondly, the inspector general has access to all CIA records and documents, no matter how secret. Third, the IG has the authority to interview the right people. Fourth, he is able to cooperate with other government departments. For example, the Department of Justice, the DEA, the Department of Defense, all of which had operations on-going in Nicaragua at the time. Finally, the IG has a good track record of being a whistle-blower on past misdeeds of the CIA. For example, just last month he uncovered that some CIA employees were misusing credit cards and they are now in jail.”
“What about Guatemala? What about those murders?” a heckler yelled, referring to CIA-sponsored military regimes in Guatemala murdering thousands of civilians.
“Most importantly, when this investigation is complete, I intend to make the results public, so that any person can judge the adequacy of the investigation. Anyone in the public who has a wish to look at the report will be able to do so. I want to stress that I am not the only person in the CIA who wants any American to believe that the CIA was responsible for this kind of disgusting charge. Finally, I want to say to you that as of today, we have no evidence of conspiracy by the CIA to engage in encouraging drug traffickers in Nicaragua or elsewhere in Latin America during this or any other period.”
A question came from a graduate student of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama: “I’d like to know how this incident differs from what happened at my school, where, for forty years, the government denied inflicting syphilis on African-American men?”
Deutch conceded that what had happened at Tuskegee was terrible. “Let me say something else. There was no one who came forward forty years ago and said they were going to investigate.”
“… where I live there are no jobs for the children and our kids are just seen as commodities,” a woman said. “They are being cycled through the prisons. They come back to the street and are marked and scarred for the rest of their life. You, the President and everybody else should be highly upset. You should be saying, how did this cancer get here?”
A man stood up. “And now we are supposed to trust the CIA to investigate itself?”
Deutch tried to quell the malcontents by overemphasising the Inspector General’s independence, which incensed the crowd.
“Why don’t you turn it over to an independent counsel? Someone who has the power to issue subpoenas. It would have more credibility.”
Deutch responded that no independent counsel was possible because no criminal complaint had been filed.
It was Mike Ruppert’s turn to speak. For years, he’d been waiting for such an opportunity. The rowdy audience hushed as Mike said, “I will tell you, director Deutch, as a former Los Angeles Police narcotics detective, that your agency has dealt drugs throughout this country for a long time.”
There was a standing ovation. The audience went wild. It took a few minutes to calm everybody down.
“Director Deutch, I will refer you to three specific agency operations known as Amadeus, Pegasus and Watchtower. I have Watchtower documents heavily redacted by the Agency [CIA]. I was personally exposed to CIA operations and recruited by CIA personnel who attempted to recruit me in the late 70s to become involved in protecting Agency drug operations in this country. I have been trying to get this out for eighteen years, and I have the evidence. My question for you is very specific, sir. If in the course of the IG’s [CIA Inspector General’s] investigations… you come across evidence of severely criminal activity, and it’s classified, will you use that classification to hide the criminal activity or will you tell the American people the truth?”
There was more applause and cheering as Deutch wrung his hands and clasped them together as if praying.
“If you have information,” Deutch said, “about CIA illegal activity in drugs, you should immediately bring that information to wherever you want, but let me suggest three places: the Los Angeles Police Department–”
“No! No!” the crowd yelled.
“It is your choice: the Los Angeles Police Department, the Inspector General or the office of one of your congresspersons…”
The audience started chanting, “He told you!”
“If this information turns up wrongdoing,” Deutch said, growing exasperated. “We will bring the people to justice and make them accountable.”
“For the record…” Mike said, “I did bring this information out eighteen years ago and I got shot at and forced out of LAPD because of it.” Mike finished to massive applause.
“My question to you is,” a spectator said to Deutch, “if you know all this stuff that the Agency has done historically, then why should we believe you today, when you say certainly this could never happen in Los Angeles, when the CIA’s done this stuff all over the world?”
“I didn’t come here thinking everyone was going to believe me,” Deutch said. “I came here for a much simpler task. I came here to stand up on my legs and tell you I was going to investigate these horrible allegations. All you can do is listen to what I have to say and wait to see the results.”
“But how can we know how many documents have been shredded and how can we be certain that more documents won’t be shredded?”
“I don’t know that anybody has found any lost documents in the operational files,” Deutch said. “I know of nobody who has found any gaps in sequences, any missing files, any missing papers for any period of that time. That may come up.”
“Hey, do you know Walter Pincus?” a man asked, referring to a journalist who spied on American students abroad for the CIA.
“Yes,” Deutch said. “Why?”
“Is he an asset of the CIA?”
As if he’d had enough, Deutch clasped his head and shook it.
The crowd vented on the lady who’d invited Deutch to the meeting. “I don’t know why this lady is saluting Deutch’s courage for coming here today, when everybody knows this building has got hundreds of pigs in it. There’s pigs behind those curtains. There’s pigs on the roof. We’re not going to get no ghetto justice today.” The crowd murmured its approval.
A man stood and pointed at Deutch. “To see you coming in this community today in this way is nothing more than a public-relations move for the white people of this country. So you are going to come into this community today and insult us, and tell us you’re going to investigate yourself. You’ve got to be crazy.”
Refusing to take any more questions, Deutch concluded with, “You know, I’ve learned how important it is for our government and our agency to get on top of this problem and stop it. I came today to try and describe the approach and have left with a better appreciation of what is on your mind.”
Immediately, the media tried to spin the meeting in a way favourable to the CIA. Via satellite, Ted Koppel of Nightline interviewed members of the audience, trying to extract a positive testimony, only to find himself rebuffed by questions such as, “You come down here and talk about solutions. We have kids that are dying. We have hospitals for babies born drug addicted. When are you guys going to come down and bring cameras to our neighbourhood?”
“I’m not sure that anybody even thought that was why Director Deutch came there today,” Koppel said. “He’s come here because a lot of you are in anguish. A lot of you are angry. A lot of you are frustrated by what you believe to be the CIA’s involvement in bringing drugs to South Central LA. Now, I want to hear from someone who thought it did some good.”
“Well, I am glad Mr Deutch was here today,” said Marcine Shaw, the mayor pro tem of Compton. “I’m glad Congresswoman Macdonald had him here because that’s what it took to get your cameras here, Mr Koppel.”
Koppel shook his head. “Yes, but that’s not the question.” Koppel finished his broadcast with, “If any suspicions were put to rest or minds changed, there was no evidence of it in South Central this evening.”
Originally, Pablo was in bed with the CIA through the Medellín Cartel’s contributions to the Nicaraguan rebels. Traffickers who made such payments to the CIA were allowed to operate. Testifying as a US government witness at the Noriega trial, Carlos Lehder admitted contributing millions to the Nicaraguan rebels. Narcos tied the Medellín Cartel to the Nicaraguan government, which gave a false impression that the Communists were financing their activity with cocaine.
It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Pablo that the CIA had helped to overthrow the government of Bolivia in 1980, and put cocaine traffickers in charge – detailed in my book, We Are Being Lied To: The War on Drugs. In the name of fighting Communism, the CIA had put Klaus Barbi – a Nazi war criminal responsible for the deaths of up to 14,000 people – in charge of the coup in Bolivia. His Argentine death squad had massacred numerous civilians. In light of what had transpired in Bolivia, Pablo probably thought that his goal of becoming the president of Colombia was realistic.
After the coup, the CIA-backed Bolivian government exported raw coca. One of its customers was the Medellín Cartel. As the anti-Communist cause was being advanced, the CIA protected this activity by obstructing investigations by other law-enforcement agencies. In doing so, it created a secure route for coca paste to go from Bolivia to Colombia. In Medellín, the Bolivian paste was processed and distributed to the US.
The Argentine intelligence services made a fortune from selling Bolivian paste. Some of the money was laundered in Miami and recycled into other anti-Communist causes, which included buying massive amounts of weapons from US manufacturers, which Bush represented, along with banking interests. That’s how Bush used drug money to finance the Nicaraguan rebels.
Prompted by the journalism of Gary Webb, the CIA and Justice Department investigations confirmed that the Nicaraguan rebels had been involved in the cocaine trade throughout the 1980s. The CIA had been aware of it, and they’d steered other agencies, such as DEA investigators, away from the truth.
Despite Narcos holding Pablo accountable for nearly all of the cocaine entering America, CIA-protected cocaine wasn’t only coming from Colombia. Pablo was used as a smokescreen for cocaine coming from various routes originating in South America. In El Salvador, the military were involved. Honduras was a major transiting point. Anti-Castro Cubans active in Costa Rica sent boatloads of cocaine to Miami. As usual, the CIA stopped all of the investigations into these areas. The mainstream media avoided it. Long after Pablo’s demise, the tangled roots of this infrastructure keep the cocaine flowing to this day.
Although Pablo started out working with the CIA, the protection provided by the CIA for those contributing to its anti-Communist causes only lasted for so long. General Manuel Noriega of Panama learned this the hard way. While contributing to the Nicaraguan rebels, Noriega turned Panama into a haven for drug money. When George HW Bush was running the CIA in 1976, the US was paying Noriega $200,000 a year. By December 1989, Noriega was no longer useful. Bush turned on Noriega, who allegedly had filmed high-ranking CIA and US officials at sex parties with underage boys and girls at his home in Panama. Lambasting Noriega for drug crimes, the Americans invaded Panama, while omitting his CIA history. Operation Just Cause involved 27,684 troops and 300 aircraft attacking Panama. In January 1990, Noriega surrendered. In the US, he was sentenced to thirty years for trafficking, racketeering and money laundering.
Somehow Pablo fell out of favour with the CIA. Researchers have speculated over the possible causes. Some believe it was a similar situation to Noriega: Pablo had become more valuable as an enemy to Bush.
Falling out of favour with someone like Bush must have been daunting. Pablo was a midget in the murder leagues compared to Bush, who authorised the bombing of some of the poorest places in the world. Bush’s invasion of Panama caused approximately 4,000 civilian deaths – about the same number of deaths credited to Pablo. According to the Pentagon, Bush’s invasion of Iraq caused the deaths of 100,000 soldiers and 7,000 civilians. Backed up by presidential pomp and circumstance, video-casts of precision bombing and an ability to write off the mass murder of civilians as collateral damage, Bush committed murder with panache. With God and the media on his side, he never suffered any consequences.
With Bush and the US military stepping up actions against Pablo, he needed a new strategy to emerge unscathed. It didn’t take long for him to come up with one.