Inside The Octopus
Could Barry Seal be the man behind the JFK assassination, Air America, Watergate, Iran-Contra and just about every other major scandal in recent history?
Preston Peet, High Times, June 5, 2002
Who is really responsible for the JFK assassination, Air America, Watergate, Iran-Contra and just about every other major scandal in recent history? Could the Barry Seal story provide the answer? Does Seal’s sad saga provide a window on the Octopus that really rules America?
Adler Berriman “Barry” Seal was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 16, 1939 to a typical American family. Barry, his two brothers, Benjy and Wendell, his mom, a homemaker, and his dad, a candy wholesaler, lived in a house on Lovers Lane. During his teens, Barry would bicycle to Ryan’s Field to watch airplanes in action. Seal’s first flight instructor, Eddie Duffard, told Dan Hopsicker that Barry was a skinny kid with a paper route, but he was always trying to prove something.
“That boy was first cousin to a bird,” recalled Duffard.
On July 16, 1955, his 16th birthday, Seal got his pilot’s license. Two weeks later, he boarded a U.S. Air Force plane for a two-week summer camp with the Civil Air Patrol at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. There he came under the command of David Ferrie, and met fellow cadet Lee Harvey Oswald, two principal figures in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
John Odom was a childhood friend. “One Friday, I got a call from Barry asking if I’d like to fly to Lacombe. We left about 5:30 AM,” says Odom. At the Lacombe airport, David Ferrie pointed out 50 boxes on the runway. Flying back to Baton Rouge, Seal told Odom the boxes were weapons, and Ferrie was paying him $400 a week — $2,500 a week in today’s dollars — to deliver them. “How’d you like to make that kind of money?” asked Seal, who was still a high-school senior.
Two years later, he was making $2,000 per flight, carrying weapons into Cuba for Fidel Castro’s revolution. Joe Nettles, his second flight instructor, believes Seal was the best pilot in the US at the time. One thing we know for sure: After falling into David Ferrie’s orbit, Seal suddenly became very secretive.
SECRET AGENT MAN
Ferrie had been an undercover operative for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, during World War II. He was also a failed priest, a self-trained cancer researcher, an avid hypnotist and an enthusiastic supporter of right-wing agendas. As commander of a Civil Air Patrol unit, he probably screened cadets for future roles in intelligence operations.
Eddie Shearer, one of Ferrie’s cadets, recalls this revealing incident: “This kid was twirling a ‘guidon,’ a metal pole with a fleur de lis, and it got away from him and cut his hand. Dave walks over to him and puts his hand out in front of the kid’s face, like he’s giving him a stiff-arm, and says, ‘You will feel sensation, but no pain.'” It became clear to Shearer that Ferrie had been hypnotizing some of the cadets for a long time.
In 1960, Seal asked his roommate, Jerry Chidgey, to help him empty out the Louisiana National Guard armory, using keys Seal had mysteriously obtained. They loaded weapons into an unmarked police van and drove to Hammond, Louisiana, “where the guns were loaded onto a DC-3 and flown to Guatemala.”
As we know today, Guatemala was a staging area for the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. Seal sent his mother a postcard from the Mayas Excelsior Hotel in Guatemala City, just three weeks before he flew a P-51 in the ill-fated invasion.
He then returned to the US and joined the US Army Special Forces Reserves. He was assigned to the 21st Special Forces Group and went to jump school in Ft. Benning, Georgia. On May 1, 1963, Seal was assigned to Company D, Special Ops Detachment of the 20th Special Forces Group-Spec Forces Group Airborne.
It is during this time, just before President Kennedy was killed, that an illuminating photograph was taken. A smiling 24-year-old Seal is seated at a nightclub table in Mexico City with Frank Sturgis, Felix Rodriguez and William Seymour, all members of the CIA’s assassination squad, Operation 40.
Louis Gaudin, an air-traffic controller at Redbird Airport, located south of Dallas, told the FBI he recalled observing three men in business suits board a Comanche-type aircraft hours after the assassination. Seal owned such a plane, and many believe he flew the plane that spirited the assassins to Canada.
In 1965, Seal went to work flying for the CIA-friendly, Howard Hughes-owned company, Trans World Airlines, becoming, at age 26, the youngest pilot certified to fly Boeing 707s. While “working” for TWA, Seal volunteered for hazardous duty to fly into battle zones in Vietnam with explosives and war material.
Theodore “The Blond Ghost” Shackley, had been in charge of the covert anti-Castro operations in Miami, but after the Bay of Pigs, he was moved to Southeast Asia, along with Felix Rodriguez, Ed Wilson, Oliver North, John Singlaub and Richard Secord.
Secord coordinated clandestine flights of supplies, personnel — and, some say, heroin and opium — to various points in Asia and Europe. Barry Seal was a pilot for some of those flights. Secord also helped plan bombing runs against Laotian opium warlord Vang Pao’s rivals, in exchange for Pao’s help in keeping the communist North Vietnamese out of Laos. Various pilots for Air America have alleged that they were flying opium deliveries that Shackley had personally authorized.
Seal survived Vietnam and returned to the US. On July 1, 1972, while on “sick leave” from his job with TWA, he was arrested by US Customs agents and charged, along with Murray Kessler, a nephew of mob boss Carlo Gambino, in an attempt to smuggle 14,000 pounds of C-4 to anti-Castro forces in Mexico. His arrest was preceded and followed by some very unusual and interesting actions on the part of the Nixon administration and the CIA, not to mention the prosecutors.
According to Henrik Kruger in The Great Heroin Coup, on May 27, 1971, President Richard Nixon authorized the spending of $100 million on a “covert kidnapping and assassination program.” Just a few days later, Nixon created the Special Investigations Unit, the notorious “plumbers,” telling Charles Colson to hire CIA agent Howard Hunt to work with G. Gordon Liddy. He created the Drug Enforcement Administration on July 1, 1973. Author Dan Hopsicker believes Nixon was attempting to wrest control of global narcotics operations away from the CIA.
Two weeks before Seal’s bust, Frank Sturgis was arrested breaking into the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, along with Nixon’s head of campaign security and three other men with ties to the Bay of Pigs invasion. Liddy and Hunt, who ran the operation from a hotel room across the street, were also arrested. In a desperate attempt to insure their silence, Nixon scrambled to find $200,000 in “hush money.”
Pete Brewton, in his book, The Mafia, CIA, and George Bush, quotes a letter written by Seal during this period, stating that the Customs agent who busted him, Cesario Diosdado, “has proven to have been an ex-CIA agent who worked in the Bay of Pigs invasion and has been working both sides of the fence in the Miami area.” According to Brewton, the deal had been for 10,000 automatic weapons and C-4 explosives, in exchange for 25 kilos of heroin. Was this heroin going to be converted into the much-needed hush money? After delaying the proceedings for two years, the government presented tainted evidence, effectively sabotaging the case, which resulted in a mistrial for Seal. Six weeks later, Nixon resigned.
Seal lost his “cover job” with TWA, but continued working for the CIA, flying round trips to Latin America using the code name Ellis McKenzie. During one of these runs, a friend told Seal he was glad the C-4 never made it to Mexico. After all, think of the death and destruction it would have caused. Seal, now in his thirties, began weeping uncontrollably. His friend had to take over the controls. It was the first sign Seal was having trouble reconciling what the CIA was paying him to do.
Offering up a rationale for CIA involvement in drug dealing, covert operative Gerry Patrick Hemming told Hopsicker, “First of all, we figure, who’s using this dope? Leftists! You can’t allow that kind of capability to remain freelance. There’s too much money.” So the US government keeps its hands on the drug wheel, to keep control of the money.
Seal was arrested again in Honduras on Dec. 10, 1979, with a plane filled with Colombian cocaine. According to Seal’s wife, Debbie, the bust went down because he’d paid off the wrong people. It took nine months to “figure out who to bribe.”
According to Mara Leveritt in The Boys on the Tracks, Louisiana State Police Sergeant Jack Crittendon talked to Seal in 1982, telling him he was about to be indicted on a Quaalude charge, so why didn’t he work for them as an informant and avoid criminal prosecution? Seal said he would “have to talk to his people.” As Crittendon related to Leveritt, “At that point, Seal had more resources than the Louisiana State Police. We knew he wasn’t going to the leaders of the cartel in Colombia and ask them if they minded if he went ahead and informed on them. And we knew he wasn’t going to talk it over with the people who worked for him. So who were these people he was going to have to talk to?” Could it be his handlers at the CIA?
In April 1982, within weeks of this conversation, Seal moved his smuggling operation from Baton Rouge to Mena, Arkansas, a small mountain community with a population of 5,800. He opened Rich Mountain Aviation at the Mena airport. The life he was living was showing up in his appearance. He weighed close to 300 pounds, and his new nickname was “Thunder Thighs.” He was also dabbling in cocaine use.
Seal would fly weapons to Nicaraguan Contra bases in Costa Rica and Honduras for Oliver North and return with loads of cocaine, making airdrops into the surrounding areas around Mena. He was also training pilots and smugglers, even making his own training films, one of which shows a gleeful Seal picking up “the first daylight drug drop in US history.”
The operation Seal brought to Mena was not a small one. As Leveritt reports, Seal himself testified his enterprise consisted of “a Lear Jet, as well as helicopters, surplus military cargo planes, and several single- and twin-engine planes. He also had at his disposal two ships with sophisticated navigational and communications equipment — one of which boasted a helipad — and numerous cars and vans. Seal claimed he employed more than 60 people, coordinating their activities through state-of-the-art electronics. His communications equipment featured ultra high-frequency radios with scramblers, pocket-sized encoders for telephones and high-frequency satellite communications devices like those used on Air Force B-52s. For navigation, his pilots had night-vision goggles and other devices, which Seal once described as being of the same range and quality as those used on nuclear submarines.” He was also laundering money through the tiny banks of Mena, having accomplices who worked at the banks pass out money to tellers in slightly less than $10,000 amounts, to dodge IRS attention.
In March 1983, Seal was indicted by a Florida grand jury for smuggling 200,000 bogus Quaaludes, the same charge the Louisiana police warned him about a year earlier. Was this a real bust? Or perhaps an attempt to “sheep-dip” Seal into the role of a mob-connected drug trafficker? Or maybe just an attempt to maintain leverage on someone threatening to pull out of covert operations? The phony Quaaludes were so worthless Seal had dumped thousands into a river. Why would a bigtime cocaine smuggler take a risk for phony pills that couldn’t even be sold?
In October 1983, the FBI opened an investigation into Rich Mountain Aviation. The Colombian cocaine pipeline fueling the Contras’ war against Nicaragua’s leftist government was hemorrhaging money, as every link along the chain skimmed whatever they could steal. Much of the intense surveillance on Seal was probably designed to keep his pilfering down rather than stop his operation.
Seal was convicted on the Quaalude charge in February 1984, and faced up to 10 years in prison. Desperately looking for a deal to stay out of prison, he flew to Washington for a meeting with George Bush’s Vice-Presidential Drug Task Force, where he was recruited into a new operation. With CIA-mounted cameras hidden in the nose and cargo bay of Seal’s C-123K plane, Seal flew to Los Brasiles civilian airfield in Nicaragua on June 25, 1984.
The hidden cameras took a series of grainy photos in which Seal, top Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar, a mystery man known as Frederico Vaughn, and Seal’s co-pilot, Emile Camp, along with Nicaraguan soldiers, were caught loading 1,200 kilos of cocaine. Seal flew the plane back to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, where the DEA took the cocaine and the CIA took the film. This operation was intended to “sheep-dip” the Sandinista government as cocaine smugglers.
Due to Seal’s cooperation in setting up this sting, a federal judge reduced his sentence to six months probation, praising Seal for his work against the Sandinistas and pointing out that when an informant puts his life on the line to help the forces of law and order, they deserve just compensation.
As early as June 27, 1984, reports were leaking out that the Reagan administration had “proof” of Sandinista drug running. That September, Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-FL) accused the Sandinistas of “being a brutal regime funded by the drug trade.” Though the photos weren’t released to the press, the story made front pages around the US.
Seal continued flying weapons and supplies for the Contra support efforts, and flying tons of drugs back into the US on the return. His operation suffered a real blow when Emile Camp flew into the side of a mountain just short of Mena. Flying helicopters, Seal and his brother Ben found the wreckage after a two-day search. Leveritt reports that Seal’s secretary at Rich Mountain Aviation, Deandra Seale, later testified that Seal and Camp had been planning on taking a trip to Baton Rouge, then on to Miami in Seal’s Lear Jet, but after finding the Lear stolen upon their arrival in Baton Rouge, Seal had Camp fly another of his planes back to Mena, while Seal took a commercial flight. Camp never made it. Many people in the area assumed foul play was involved and that Seal was the real target.
In December 1984, Seal was arrested in Louisiana flying in a load of marijuana. After paying $250,000 bond, Seal went back to work as an informant for the DEA, working to get a light sentence for both the pot and other charges involving masterminding the smuggling of massive amounts of drugs into Louisiana. Seal helped in an assortment of cases, helping the US government obtain 17 criminal convictions, including those of Norman Saunders, prime minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, in March 1985, and three upper-level members of the Medellin cartel. Seal told investigators that between March 1984, and August 1985, he made a quarter-million dollars smuggling up to 15,000 kilos of cocaine while working for the DEA, and another $575,000 when the DEA let him keep the money from one shipment.
All this assistance didn’t help Seal in the Louisiana federal court, where he was sentenced Dec. 20, 1985 to six months supervised probation at a Salvation Army halfway house. Judge Frank Polozola barred him from carrying a gun or hiring armed guards. “They made me a clay pigeon,” said Seal.
On a cool twilight evening in Baton Rouge, February 19, 1986, Seal pulled into a Salvation Army parking lot in his white Cadillac. He sat for a moment, then saw several Colombian gunmen approaching his car. He covered his ears as bursts from MAC-10 machine guns shattered the evening calm.
Richard Sharpstein, defense attorney for one of Seal’s assassins, Miguel Velez, says: “All three Colombians who went on trial always said they were being directed, after they got into this country, on what to do and where to go by an ‘anonymous gringo,’ a US military officer, who they very quickly figured out was Oliver North,”
But none of this ever came out in court. All three killers volunteered the same information to their attorneys. All three were convicted of murder and are now serving life in Angola state prison. “Barry had gotten screwed on his deal down there in Baton Rouge,” says Sharpstein today.
“Seal’s lawyer, Lewis Unglesby, testified that when they told Barry he had to report to the halfway house, Barry told them it was a death warrant. Seal went back to Unglesby’s office, where they called George Bush directly, who was then both Vice President and coordinator of the Drug Task Force. Barry threatened to blow the whistle on the Contra guns-for-drugs deals. Barry had openly said to many people that he had hired and trained a lot of the pilots on that operation, and he had the goods on Bush and others. IRS agents showed up at his house, and claimed there was a $30 million lien on him because he’d made $60 million in the drug business. Barry told them to go to hell. He called Bush again and told him to get the IRS off his ass. He wouldn’t let the IRS agents in the house, so they came back with a warrant. He was burning things in the toilet. This testimony came from IRS agents in the sentencing phase when we were trying to prove the government was involved. Shortly before he was killed, they were threatening to take away his house.” The IRS was able to seize most of Seal’s aircraft, while his million-dollar offshore bank accounts were also mysteriously emptied out.
“An interesting thing came up from the local cops,” Sharpstein continues. “When it went out on the honk as to who it was that was killed at the halfway house, the FBI showed up and cleaned out Seal’s car. There was almost nothing left. We finally made them give us a couple of boxes. They claimed they gave us what they had, like a phony passport from Honduras, but nothing heavy.”
When HT pointed out that didn’t sound legal, seizing evidence from a murder scene under investigation, Sharpstein replied ruefully, “Right. But there were a lot of funny things that went on. The Colombians got a life sentence instead of the death penalty, because we showed government complicity.” The most important item retrieved from Seal’s car was George Bush’s private phone number.
Hopsicker is the first researcher to note there were other murders that same day, including top people in the Medellin cartel. Pablo Carrera, the number-two man, was gunned down in Colombia, as was Pablo Ochilla, the brother-in-law of Jorge Ochoa. The murders took place simultaneously in Colombia, Miami and Baton Rouge.
“Barry Seal wasn’t assassinated by the Medellin cartel,” says Hopsicker, who alleges that up to 30 cartel soldiers were also murdered that same evening. “Seal’s murder may have been the opening salvo in the cleanup of Operation Black Eagle, a network of 5,000 people who made possible the export of arms in the direction of Central America, and the import of drugs back.”
SCUTTLING THE INVESTIGATIONS
“I was working with an IRS criminal investigator and we were doing a straight-ahead law-enforcement investigation of a cocaine-smuggling operation,” former Arkansas State Police Lieutenant Russell Welch tells HT, describing his and IRS agent Bill Duncan’s investigation into Mena Airport. “As time went on it became more convoluted, issues came up, things from the Justice Department weren’t being handled the same as other investigations were being handled. This was creating problems for us, and ultimately led to a breakdown in the entire criminal-justice system as far as we were concerned, in that things were being handled differently from the prosecutorial and Justice Department ends.” Asked if he felt Seal was being protected, Welch answers, “Without a doubt.”
In Welch’s view of the U.S. government’s efforts to investigate, or not investigate, Seal’s operation at Mena, “Seal was running a very obvious cocaine-smuggling operation. We ran a successful investigation. Even the U.S. Attorney at the time for Mena, J. Michael Fitzhugh, three or four times said we’re going to prosecute these guys. He called meetings of all the agencies involved, and although the DEA and the FBI hung around and acted like they had an investigation going, it was clear to us they didn’t. We had subpoenaed Seal 30 days before he was killed. We had been trying for a year to get him to come to Arkansas to answer questions for us, then three days before Christmas we got a call to interview him in Louisiana, so we did. Then he was killed a month later.”
Bill Duncan, Welch’s partner in the investigation, was told by one secretary at Rich Mountain Aviation, who also happened to be the daughter of a high-ranking Colombian official, that Seal had paid a $450,000 bribe directly to Attorney General Edwin Meese, which might explain why federal investigations into Seal never materialized.
When Duncan was about to testify to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime in December 1987, which was trying to figure out why there had never been an indictment at Mena, two IRS attorneys assigned to “assist” him in preparing for his appearance told him not to say anything about either the bribe allegation or his belief that the investigation had been stymied due to interference from the U.S. Department of Justice. He later revealed that they were asking him to “perjure himself.” Duncan resigned in 1989 after 17 years with the IRS, disgusted with the way his investigation into Seal had been scuttled. Welch also resigned after surviving being infected with anthrax.
Within two weeks of Seal’s assassination, Louisiana Attorney General William J. Guste Jr. wrote an angry letter to Meese demanding to know why Seal had not been protected, when he obviously knew such a huge amount about international illegal drug trafficking, having, by Guste’s figures, brought between $3 and $5 billion worth of drugs into the US. There was no response to his query.
Leveritt quotes Joe Hardegree, the prosecuting attorney for Polk County, Arkansas, in a written statement explaining why there was no action taken in the Mena investigations: “I have good reason to believe that all federal law-enforcement agencies from the Justice Department down through the FBI to the DEA all received encouragement to downplay and de-emphasize any investigation or prosecution that might expose Seal’s activities and the national-security involvement in them. It was in this framework that the federal grand juries and law-enforcement authorities in Arkansas apparently stopped in their serious deliberations or investigations concerning Barry Seal’s activities and all of the surrounding circumstances. The really unfortunate aspect of this whole matter is the apparent fact that the federal investigation of drug trafficking in connection with the Mena airport came to be intricately involved with the internal politics and more particularly with the private wars conducted by the Reagan White House and so sensitive that no information concerning Seal’s activities could be released to the public. The ultimate result is that not only Seal but all his confederates and all those who worked with or assisted him in illicit drug trafficking were protected by the government.”
According to Leveritt, in 1988, two years after Seal was murdered, the Reagan White House “ordered the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency to refuse to turn over information sought by the General Accounting Office for its investigation into Mena.”
IN FROM THE COLD
Despite government roadblocks, investigations into Mena continue, led by “deep throat” informers from the world of black operations. The most fascinating of these spooks to come forward was Major Gene Duncan, also known as Doris Gene “Chip” Tatum.
Many years ago, Tatum posted a story on the Internet titled: “Who the Hell Is Ellis McKenzie?” It detailed a special assignment he conducted in Honduras after Seal’s death, involving a cocaine smuggler using Seal’s old alias. Tatum was arrested for treason and placed in jail. While incarcerated, he continued to orchestrate the posting of sensitive material about Seal on the Internet. Suddenly, he was unexpectedly released and immediately disappeared. He is assumed dead. Before he disappeared, Tatum posted a list of “Boss Hogs” reportedly given to him by Seal:
BARRY SEAL’s BOSS HOGS
William Casey, Director Central Intelligence
Clair Elroy George, Head of CIA’s Central American Task Force
Vice President George Bush
Dr. Henry Kissinger, Chairman, Kissinger Associates, former US Secretary of State; former National Security Adviser
General Alexander Haig, former Secretary of State
Donald Gregg, former National Security Adviser to VP Bush, Ambassador to Korea and alleged joint “Controller” of Panama’s Manuel Noriega, along with William Casey
Duane “Dewey” Claridge, CIA
Joseph Fernandez, CIA Costa Rica Station Chief
Lt. Col. Oliver North, National Security Council aide
John Singlaub, CIA covert operator
William Colby, Director Central Intelligence, 1973-76
Richard V. Secord
William Weld, head of Criminal Division, US Department of Justice
General Peroot, Defense Intelligence Agency
Only one person would emerge to refute Tatum’s claims: William “Bear” Bottoms, a former Navy pilot, the brother of Seal’s first wife, and one of the pilots in Seal’s smuggling operations. After filling his Internet site with endless babble leading nowhere, Bottoms earned the reputation as the number-one disinformation specialist involving Mena.
Meanwhile, Seal’s favorite plane has turned up as part of a fleet of planes used by George W. Bush as the Governor of Texas. As Hopsicker reported in former LAPD narcotics officer Mike Ruppert’s newsletter, From the Wilderness, on Oct. 31, 1999, the 1982 Beechcraft King Air 200 (FAA registration number N6308F, serial number BB-1014), went through a convoluted path from Seal to Bush that brings one immediately back to the halcyon days of Iran-Contra.
“I followed the plane through the people who owned it between Seal and Bush, and guess what? They are some of the same people connected to some of the major financial fraud that went under the rubric of the Iran-Contra and savings and loan scandals, and they all had ties to the Bush family,” says Hopsicker.
“I heard tons of people tell me what a generous, warm spirit Seal was,” concludes Hopsicker. But by the end of his life, Seal showed signs of cocaine abuse, no longer charming and friendly, but just another desperate cocaine addict. One of Seal’s boyhood friends, John Prevost, told Seal’s wife shortly before the end, “You tell Barry, if he’s dealing drugs, he needs to die in a flaming car wreck.” Prevost told Hopsicker that Seal had really changed. He kept a gun under the seat of his car and was loud, boastful, arrogant. “It wasn’t the Barry I knew.”