From: New York On-Line
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CONGRESS TO PROBE CONTRA COCAINE LINK: MISSION IMPEACHABLE?
by Rob Koenig
Revelations of money from illegal arms sales to Iran ending up
in Contra coffers has caused quite a stir. The two top men at the
national Security Council, Admiral john Poindexter and Lt.
Colenel Oliver North, are gone. Glad as we are to see them go,
this cabinet shuffling should be viewed with skepticism, for
behind the Swiss bank accounts and the illfated C-123 transport
in which eugene hasenfus was shot down lurks an even darker
secret, one whose revelation can only lead to impeachment
proceedings. In the midst of a sanctimonious and self-serving
"War on Drugs," the Costa Rica branch of the Contra support
operation has been shipping cocaine into the USA with the
apparent blessings of the White House. An impending Senate
Investigation and a Federal lawsuit in Florida are threatening to
expose a contra cocaine conspiracy with a trail of airplanes,
telephone calls and business cards leading to the office of Vice
President George Bush.
A good place to start is the May 30, 1984 press conference
held by former sandinista turned Contra Eden Pastora, held in
Costa Rica. Pastora was to announce his refusal to affiliate his
Costa Rica based group with the larger Nicaraguan Democratic
Front, as the Honduran based group was still run by Sanocista ex
Guards and dominated by the CIA. His announcement was interupted
by a bomb which killed 8 people and injured 28, including Pastora
and 28 journalists. Two of the injured journalists, writer Martha
Honey and cameraman Tony Avirgan decided to investigate the
bombing. They recieved a tip from a Costa rican named carlos
about a contra plot to blow up the US Embassy in San Jose and
kill the Ambassador, Lewis Tambs, while pinning the blame on the
Sandinistas. The plot involved Columbian cocaine dealers, angry
at Tamb's attempts to interdict shipments, and contra forces
operarting out of an 8,000 acre ranch owned by American
businessman and reputed CIA Agent John Hull. (Hull's business
partner, Bruce Jones, was revealed as a CIA Agent in the Feb. 85
Honey and Avirgan began recieving death threats. Their friend
Carlos was kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Eventually their
story ran in a Costa Rican daily.
John Hull was outraged at charges that his ranch was used as a
contra base and cocaine depot for shipments to Miami where their
sale funded the contras. He filed a libel suit against the
journalists, who enlisted the Christic Institute to defend them.
The Washington DC based Institute was formed in 1980 out of the
legal team that represented Karen Silkwood's family in their
successful suit against Kerr Mcgee corporation.
Hulls libel suit was dismissed. Subsequently the Christic
Institute filed a $23 million claim on behalf of the journalists
in Federal District Court in Miami, charging 30 Contra leaders
and their American backers (including retired Major General John
Singlaub) with involvement in a complex conspiracy of gun
running, cocaine smuggling, and the press conference bombing. The
case is pending.
A story by Joel Millman in the July 1 1986 Villiage Voice
detailed the strange career of Barry Seal, a Baton Rouge
Louisiana aircraft dealer, pilot, smuggler, and eventually,
informant for the Drug enforcement Agency (DEA).
Seal had been a Green Beret in Vietnam and later a pilot for
TWA. In 1972 he was indicted but aquitted on charges of
conspiring to ship explosives to anti-Castro Cubans in Mexico.
From '73 to '82 he ran a no questions asked airplane dealership,
including as customers the CIA. During this period he also flew
marijuana, and later cocaine, from Colombia to his private
airstrip in Baton Rouge. In 1982 he was arrested in Ft.
Lauderdale for possession with intent to deliver quaaludes, a
felony carrying 10 tears. Afraid of doing time, he offered his
services as an informant. At first the DEA wanted nothing to do
with Seal; they had spent enough time and money busting him in
the first place. So Seal flew his Lear jet to Washington for a
hearing before the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System.
This Vice-Presidential (italics) Task Force overruled the Miami
DEA office, which was forced to put him to work on Operation
Screamer. He helped in the largest cocaine bust in the history of
Nevada, as well as a sting that netted the Prime Minister of the
Turks and Caicos.
The main focus of Seal"s and the DEA's investigation was the
Medellin Cartel, based in the Columbian city of that name, and
headed by the Ochoa brothers, Jorge, Juan, and Flavio. Seal first
made contact with their Miami outlets, Filix Dixon Bates and
Carlos Bustamante (both now in prison on Seal's testimony).
Soon he was in Columbia contracting with Jorge and Flavio
Ochoa to deliver their cocaine to customers in Miami and the West
THE SOUP THICKENS
In his testimony against Bates and Bustamente Seal gives this
version of events:
When the plane in which he arrived in Columbia proved
unsuitable for the run the Ochoas came up with a twin engine
Titan as a replacement. Since this plane could not make it to
Seal's Louisiana airstrip nonstop, arrangements had been made for
refueling in Managua. This they did, but as they were taking off
from managua, an uninformed Sandinista defence battery fired on
the plane, forcing an emergency landing. Seal and his copilot,
longtime partner Emille Camp were arrested, but according to
Seal's testimony the Ochoa's Sandinista contacts arranged their
release and return to the US.
Seal revealed the Nicaraguan twist to his DEA bosses, adding
that he was expected to return to Managua to retrieve his 1500
kilogram cargo. The CIA is brought into the operation, rigging
Seal's favorite plane, a C-123 known as THE FAT LADY, with a
hidden camera to record the pickup. Tapes are made of Seal's
phone calls to a Sandinista official named Frederico Vaughan in
which arrangements are finalized.
Seal claims to have stopped at a military airfield just
outside Managua, where the camera clicked away as the plane was
refueled and the illicit cargo loaded by Sandinista soldiers in
The plane and cargo then flew to Homestead Air Base in
Florida, where the cocaine was transferred to a Winnebago
purchased by Bates and Bustamente. After a delay to convince
these two that the camper had driven from Baton Rouge it is
delivered to them, then rammed on the highway in a phoney
accident to obscure Seal's role in the ensuing search and
Facing congressional opposition to further aid to the Contras,
the white house could not wait for completion of the Ochoa case
before leaking the tale of Sandinista "narcoterrorism" to the
Moonie-owned Washington Times, without bothering to alert the DEA
or Seal, who continued to fly for the Ochoas, unaware his cover
was being blown. When the Ochoas placed a $2 million contract on
Seal, the investigation had to be abandoned, and President Reagan
presented one of Seal's photos in a televised press conference.
Despite an extradition treaty between the US and Nicaragua
still in force, no effort was made to bring Vaughan to answer the
Miami indictment, in which he was named a defendant. Nicaraguan
officials deny he was ever a "top" official, and say he has not
worked for the government at all since 1982. His whereabouts
since the purported cocaine flight remain unknown.
1985 brought new developments. On Feb. 20 Seal's copilot,
Emille Camp dies in a plane crash in Arkansas. In March a
disgruntled mercenary from CMA (Civilian Military Assistance),
Jack Terrel, visits Washington to tell Alabama Senator Jeremiah
Denton of the lack of support given MISURA, an anti-Sandinista
Indian group, by the CIA and main Contra groups. He returns to
Honduras only to be rounded up with 13 other CMA mercenaries, who
are told by the US Embassy that their actions are illegal, and
deported back to Miami.
By April the office of Massachusets Senator John Kerry had
begun investigating persistant rumours of contra drug
trafficking, and got hold of Terrel. Terrel had seen no evidence
of drugs in Honduras, but told of a contra plot, backed by
Columbian drug dealers, to blow up the US Embassy in San Jose and
kill Lewis Tambs. The drug dealers hated Tambs for trying to stop
cocaine shipments, and the contras planned to blame the bombing
on the Sandinistas. Sound familiar? Kerry's office verified
Terrel's story, and in June of 1986 called for an investigation.
Meanwhile, on April 18, 1985, a report entitled "Who are the
Contras?" was released by the Arms Control and Foreign Policy
Caucus. The report detailed the network of groups that were
raising funds and aiding the contras. Included were the World
Anti-Communist League (WACL) headed by retired Army General John
K. Singlaub, Soldier of Fortune magazine, Christian Broadcasting
Network, CMA, the Air Commando Association (headed by retired
General H.C. Aderholt), CAUSA International (part of Reverend
Moon's empire), Friends of the Americas, and others. A complete
list can be found in the book Contra Terror in Nicaragua by Reed
Brody, South End Press, 1985.
In April of '85 two CMA mercenaries were arrested by the Costa
Rican Civil Guard in connection with the foiled plot to blow up
the US Embassy in San Jose.
In the summer of '85 Barry Seal testified against the Medellin
cartel, implicating the Ochoas. In September Robert Owen
(formerly of Gray & Co., a Republican public relations firm, and
half-way house for CIA agents on their way into the private
sector) was hired by the State Department's Nicaraguan
Humanitarian Assistance Office. As Lt. Col. Oliver North's
representative Owen was the main link to the CMA. He was also
connected to the Miami based Cuban-American Brigade 2506, which
trained and fought with the contras.
In October 1985 a Cuban named Jesus Garcia was arrested in
Miami on a weapons charge. He regaled his attorney with tales of
contra involvement in the cocaine trade, the Pastora bombing, and
the by know familiar plot against Tamb. Garcia claimed to be in
touch with Bush's office, and it came out that Garcia was in a
back-up team in the assasination attempt on Pastora. Expect
Garcia to be a key witness in hearings this winter.
Finally, in December, 1985, Barry Seal was sentenced in Baton
Rouge. Expecting a lenient sentence because of his work for the
DEA and his promise to testify against the Ochoas in '86, he was
led into a trap wherein he was forced to accept six months
probation with community service at a Salvation Army shelter. He
was forbidden as a condition of probation to carry fire arms or
to have bodyguards with fire arms. Seals began his Salvation Army
shelter stint in January of 1986. On February 19, 1986, he was
assasinated in front of the shelter, shot over 50 times with an
Ingram Mac-10 and an Uzi. Eventually, seven people were arrested
in connection with Seal's death. By far the mosy interesting is a
man named Jose Coutin. Coutin owned a gun shop in Miami which
allegedly supplied the Uzi which was used in the Seal assasination.
The gun shop, was a well-known meeting place for contras,
particularly members of the Brigade 2506.
Last July Millman's Village Voice article appeared, breaking
the Barry Seal story, and raising serious doubts about the
alleged "Sandinista Connection". The article also suggested Seal
had taken a broader role in the contra supply operation.
Up to this point we have a complicated story with many missing
pieces. But on October 5th, 1986 the connecting pieces, well,
sort of fell out of the sky, in the person of our old friend, the
FAT LADY, shot down over Nicaragua. After Barry's death, she had
apparently reverted to Southern Air Transport, and was back to
work bringing supplies to the contras. One member of her crew,
mercenary Eugene Hasenfus survives to talk. On the body of the
pilot, William cooper, is found the business card of Robert Owen.
The co-pilot, Wallace sawyer Jr. has a notebook with the names of
34 CIA operatives. Another card has a number written on the
back... which proves to be the number of the Swiss bank account
containing the $12 million profits from the Iran arms sale.
Hasenfus revelations prove even worse. He identifies as
commanders of the supply operation two Cuban exiles with long
histories in the CIA, Ramon Medina and Max Gomez, both of whom
claimed to be friends of Vice president Bush, and in close
contact with Donald Gregg, his National Security Advisor, and a
onetime CIA Station Chief in Saigon.
Hasenfus also identified the operation's safe house in El
Salvador. The Salvadoran telephone released records showing
numerous calls to Oliver North at the White House (202-395-3345),
to Southern Air, and to the Stanford Technology Trading Corp., a
Virginia front run by retired Air Force General Richard Secord,
whose name cropped up in accounts of US assistance to Southeast
Asian heroin operations during the Vietnam war.
Gomez then turned out to be an alis used by Felix Rafael
Rodriguez, escaped from a Venezuelan prison, to which he had been
sentenced for the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner fatal to 70
people, including the Cuban fencing team. Both of the Vice
president's good friends have dropped out of sight.
Perhaps the Iranian arms deals were seen as a way to wean the
Contras from the cocaine business. Perhaps the operation
continued. Did the orders to silence Barry Seal come from the
Ochoas, finally indicted in absentia last week, or from a nervous
White House? Seal's baton Rouge attorney told the Voice "All the
federal government had to do to kill barry Seal, was to do
nothing. Then let mischief work its will."
Senator Robert Dole, Majority Leader in the outgoing Senate,
has called for a single Select Committee to investigate the Iran
arms deal. As a presidential aspirant he has much to gain from
the political demise of the Vice President. Leaving the matter to
a single committee however is an obvious ploy to forestall an
investigation of the numerous byways, like the drug connections,
which multiple investigations would surely reveal, and which
would cripple the Republicans for years to come.
Wanna hear the end of the story? Write or call your Senators
and Representatives and demand that the Kerry hearings proceed.
(Most of the Costa Rica information was taken from a lecture
delivered at the Wisconsin Historical Society by Dan Sheehan, one
of the Christic Institute attorneys.)
(Don't bother calling the number given for Ollie North. You get
a tape saying "The number you have dialed in the Executive Office
of the President is not in service at this time." Varying the
last three digits, however, may give you an associate with a tale