Wall Street Journal on Noriega October 23, 1989 In the course of his recent Wall Street Jo
Wall Street Journal on Noriega
October 23, 1989
In the course of his recent Wall Street Journal expose of the political
history of General Manuel Antonio Noriega, Frederick Kempe observes:
Before American foreign policy set out to destroy
Noriega, it helped create him out of the crucible of
Panama's long history of conspirators and pirates.
For most of the past 30 years, the marriage was one
of convenience. In 1960, for example, when Mr. Noriega
was both a cadet at an elite military academy in Peru
and a spy-in-training for the U.S. Defense Intelligence
Agency, he was detained by Lima authorities for
allegedly raping and savagely beating a prostitute,
according to a U.S. Embassy cable from that period. The
woman had nearly died. But U.S. Intelligence, rather
than rein in or cut loose its new spy, merely filed the
report away. Mr. Noriega's tips on emerging leftists at
his school were deemed more important to U.S.
interests. (Oct.18, 1989)
Kempe reports that Noriega was but one of a covey of dictators (including the
Shah of Iran, Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza, Marcos in the Philippines, and
Duvalier in Haiti) whose power formed part of the nexus of American foreign
According to "former U.S. intelligence officials," Noriega's ties to the
American espionage began in 1959, while he was a student at "the
French-modeled" Chorrillos Military Academy in Lima. His half brother, Luis
Carlos Noriega Hurtado, a Panamanian diplomat in Peru, relayed Tony's reports
on his fellow students, the officers and instructors in the school.
Mr. Noriega's relationship to American intelligence
agencies became contractual in either 1966 or 1967
intelligence officials say. His commanding officer at
the Chiriqui Province garrison, Major Omar Torrijos,
gave him an intriguing assignment: Mr. Noriega would
organize the province's first intelligence service.
The spy network would serve two clients: the
Panamanian government, by monitoring political
opponents in the region, and the U.S., by tracking the
growing Communist influence in the unions organized at
United Fruit Co.'s banana plantations in Bocas del
Toros and Puerto Armuelles.
Two years earlier, in 1964, Capt. Noriega, chief of the transit police in
David City, had organized an informants network among taxi drivers in the
provincial capital: "He knew which local luminaries had been caught driving
drunk, which had been found with their mistresses." In 1967, having learned
through this source that one union leader was having an affair with the wife
of his deputy, Noriega used the information to divide union leaders in Puerto
Armuelles, a town dominated by the United Fruit company.
Power brought out the perverse in Noriega's personality:
Rodrigo Miranda, a local lawyer and human-rights
monitor, recalls an intoxicated Noriega visiting
prisoners in their cells at the 5th Zone Garrison
headquarters in David...Mr. Noriega would order them
all to take off their clothes and run around the
courtyard naked, laughing at them and then retreating
to his office. "People started wondering if something
was wrong with him," Mr. Miranda recalls.
However, "...as far as the U.S. military was concerned, Mr. Noriega was a
model recruit." In 1967, he received training in psychological operations at
Fort Bragg, N.C. and attended a two-month course in military intelligence at
the School of the Americas in Panama.
In 1970, Noriega became chief of intelligence in Panama, expanding his
contacts to the Cubans, the Israelis, the Taiwanese and others. State
Department officials became wary of Noriega because of his ability "`to
simultaneously milk the antagonistic intelligence services of Cuba and the
United States,' recalls Francis J. McNeil, who, as deputy assistant secretary
of state for inter-American affairs, first ran across reports from Mr. Noriega
in 1977." At state, they began to refer to Noriega as "rent-a-colonel".
Nixon's Drug Enforcement Agency was equally alarmed at some of Noriega's
[the DEA] became dismayed at the extent of the
[Panamanian] G-2's connections to arrested drug
traffickers. One DEA agent drew up a list of five
options for dealing with Col. Noriega, one of which
In 1976, U.S. intelligence "discovered that [Noriega] had been buying
recordings of electronically monitored conversations from three sergeants
working for the U.S. Army's 470th Military Intelligence Group. The tapes
included wiretaps of Gen. Torrijos's own phone..." As a result, early in the
Carter administration, the CIA's new director, Stansfield Turner cancelled its
contract with Noriega. Carlos Wittgreen, a close friend and business partner
of Noriega was one of five Panamanians indicted in southern Florida for
illegally selling arms to the Sandinistas. Yet in 1979 when federal and
county (Dade) authorities initiated a plan to arrest Noriega during a planned
trip to the U.S. to meet with his counterpart in the Pentagon, the military
foiled the plan by alerting Noriega. In January 1980, according to Jerome
Sanford, an assistant U.S. attorney, the Justice Department had second
thoughts as well about the arrest of Noriega when Panama granted asylum to the
Shah of Iran. The indictments against Noriega and Wittgreen were dropped.
In August 1983, Noriega assumed power in Panama.
The Reagan administration...put Mr. Noriega's G-2 back
on the U.S. payroll. Payments averaged nearly $200,000
a year from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and
[Nevertheless] During the Reagan years [Noriega]
expanded his business and intelligence contacts with
the Cubans and the Sandinistas. He allegedly entered
into Panama's first formal business arrangement with
Colombian drug bosses, according to Floyd Carlton, a
pilot who once worked for Mr. Noriega...
Noriega's "insurance policy" was his involvement with the Contras.
[Jose] Blandon [a close ally of Noriega's] says the
general allowed the Contras to set up a secret training
center in Panama. Mr. Noriega also conveyed
intelligence from his spy operation inside the
Nicaraguan capital of Managua. And on at least one
occasion, in the spring of 1985, he helped arrange a
sabotage attack on a Sandinista arsenal in Nicaragua.
Noriega also compromised U.S. officials:
Curtin Windsor, then the ambassador to Costa Rica,
recalls being invited to Panama by Mr. Noriega's
brother Luis Carlos for a weekend of deep sea fishing
and "quiet, serious conversation" on the Aswara
Peninsula. Mr. Windsor notified Everett E. Briggs, the
U.S. ambassador to Panama. of the invitation. "Briggs
screamed," Mr. Windsor recalls. He says Mr. Briggs told
him he was being set up for a "honey trap," in which
Mr. Noriega would try to involve him in an orgy and
then record the event "with sound and video."
Noriega continued to court the Reagan Administration, contributing $100,000 to
a Contra leader, according to documents released during the Oliver North
trial. In late 1986, according to the same documents, he offered to
assassinate the Sandinista leadership in exchange "for a promise to help clean
up Noriega's image and a commitment to lift the ban on military sales to the
Panamanian Defense Forces". North conveyed the offer to Elliot Abrams who
passed it on to George Shultz. Shultz rejected the proposal.
According to Kempe, the Iran-Contra scandal took away Noriega's insurance
thirdwnews carnet.panama 10:52 pm Nov 16, 1989
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