Tag Archives: Barry Seal

“Big Al” Carone

Married to the Mob and the CIA

Was “Big Al” Carone a prominent Mafioso, CIA operative, NYPD detective, bagman for George Bush and Oliver North, drug dealer, assassin and a “man of honor?”

by Michael C. Ruppert, High Times, September 11, 2002

“The plaintiffs would have this court believe that Mr. Carone has played the role of Forrest Gump, popping up as a key player in virtually every government conspiracy theory promulgated over the last 50 years. This court simply cannot view any of the plaintiffs’ claims as plausible, especially in light of the complete lack of even a scintilla of evidence except for one patently forged document and self-serving declarations. Accordingly, the court dismisses the case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).” — Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge, February 27, 2001

I first walked into this case in late 1983 when I got a call from former CIA case officer David MacMichael. As a matter of conscience, Dave had for many years been speaking out about illegal and inhumane operations being conducted by the CIA.

“Mike, there’s a woman in New Mexico named Dee Ferdinand. She says that her father, a guy named Albert Carone, was a high-level agency operative. He was also NYPD. She says that he was also in the Mafia. He’s been dead since ’90 and every record about him has apparently been sanitized. The family’s been denied benefits and had bank accounts stolen even though the daughter has records. She says her father knew Ollie North and George Bush personally. I think it’s something you might want to look into.”

It bit me like a pit bull. I had just started writing about CIA operations again after a disastrous and painful experience as the Los Angeles County press spokesman for the Ross Perot presidential campaign of 1992. That had proven to be yet another case of unmet expectations in my quest to find an honorable man. I had also just spent months putting together a conference in Indiana for the families of what was to ultimately become 109 US servicemen who had been “suicided” or died under suspicious circumstances. In almost every case where I could get information, I had discovered that there was a connection between the deaths and covert operations. Quite often there were links, reported by the dead serviceman to his family, of drug smuggling or criminal activity on or around military bases where they served.

My then fiancée, Mary, and I had brought many of these families together in a small town in Indiana in the fall of 1993. The ultimate pain for all of them was the discovery that there was no honor in their own government. The deaths of all of their sons, husbands and brothers had been dismissed as suicides or accidents. The cover-ups had been sloppy, arrogant and brutal in their apparent contempt for evidence. All of the families had vowed to do whatever it took to break the cases. None of them understood that they all would ultimately fail.

Now I was presented with a case where it had happened to someone on the inside–a bad guy. Would it be any different?

Mary and I packed our bags and flew to Albuquerque. My “cop instincts” had always served me well, and there was something about the demeanor of Desiree (Dee) Ferdinand, with her disarming Brooklyn accent reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob, that allowed me to instantly trust her. Her husband, Tommy Ferdinand, had struck me the same way. No b.s. and a sense of humor that I wish he still had today. I had told Dee up front where I was coming from. I didn’t like bad guys. She had been just as up-front that she knew that her father was a crook, a drug dealer, a CIA operative, a bagman, a killer and an all-around not-very-nice person. But for her it was a matter of honor.

That, I understood.

The Ferdinands rented a large ranch house in Corrales, just north of the city. On two acres Dee boarded and cared for six horses. She had a son, Vinnie, who was in his early twenties and going to college. Vinnie would soon become a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy. She had a younger daughter, Nikki, who was still living at home. Also living at the house was Tommy’s mother, Irene, and a not-too-friendly Rotweiler named Mikie which Mary instantly named “Cujo.”

The hospitality was genuine New York Italian and the food was just as authentic. Over two and a half days we talked. I asked questions and looked at documents and papers retained by Dee Carone Ferdinand after the death of her father, Albert Vincent Carone, in January 1990.

HONOR, YES: HONEST, NO

In a videotaped deposition made in September 1998 as she and a former Green Beret named Bill Tyree brought suit against the CIA, Dee Ferdinand was asked to describe what kind of a man her father was. “He was known as man of great respect, a man of honor. That is not to say that he was honest. He wasn’t. He did many bad things. But he lived by a code of honor. If he said something was so, you could take it to the bank.”

Over the years I have talked to almost every family member who knew Big Al, including Dee’s sister Carla and her husband John. Dee, Tommy, Carla, John, Irene and Vinnie had all seen Big Al in his Army uniform. Tommy and John told me how they had driven him at times to secure areas at LaGuardia or JFK airports, in full uniform, often with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. On other occasions he had been chauffeured in military vehicles. On one occasion Tommy had dropped him off at JFK inside a secure area, only to see the figure of Richard Nixon waiting for Carone in the open doorway of a nearby helicopter.

Over the course of two days I “debriefed” the family. Carone knew a great many people. He had served as an NYPD detective and bagman for the Genovese and Colombo families. He frequently took military leaves of absence to travel all over the world. The names of people he would later talk about, knowing of his imminent death, included Bill Casey, George Bush, Oliver North, Elliot Abrams, Richard Armitage (now deputy secretary of state to Colin Powell), Richard Secord, John Singlaub, Rafael “Chi Chi” Quintero, drug smuggler Barry Seal, Arkansas billionaire Jackson Stephens, Special Forces Colonel James “Bo” Gritz, General Richard Stillwell, Edwin Wilson, Robert Vesco and many more.

The paper exhibits were compelling and convincing. But I retained a healthy skepticism until I put Dee through a final test. I prepared list of names, some fake, some authentic. I asked Dee if her father had mentioned any of the names over the years. Without a single misstep she picked out almost every member of the board of directors of the Nugan Hand Bank, a legendary CIA drug bank that operated in Australia during the late 1970s and early ’80s. She didn’t fall for any of the falsified names. The real names included Edwin Black, General Leroy Manor and legendary CIA drug banker Paul Helliwell. [For an excellent history of the Nugan Hand affair, I recommend The Crime of Patriots by the late Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny.]

I had been thoroughly convinced that Al Carone was everything his daughter said he was. I told her that in my opinion, there was only one man who could help her. He had served as the CIA’s chief of station in Laos during the Vietnam War. He had risen to oversee the agency’s Western Hemisphere operations and the 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende. He had been the most powerful operations executive at the CIA before Jimmy Carter took office in January 1977. He had stayed with CIA until about 1980, and had retired under a cloud caused by the escapades of Edwin Wilson, one of his protégés who had been convicted of selling plastic explosives to Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

Throughout his career, especially from the days in Southeast Asia when he ran the largest CIA operation in history, his name had been linked to heroin. His name also turned up during the Iran-Contra investigations of the 1980s, which saw an explosion in cocaine use from which America has not yet recovered. From the moment that I had learned that CIA was dealing drugs and had begun the investigations that would nearly cost me my life, I had been obsessed with this man. He was the man who had been in charge of CIA’s covert operations when they had tried to recruit me in 1976.

“Dee, “I said. “As far as I know there is only one man who can help you. His name is Ted Shackley.

BIG AL’s SCHOOLING

Al Carone, or “Big Al” as he was known, had been a de facto orphan in Brooklyn in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. A street kid, left to roam while his mother “entertained” gentlemen at night, he had slept under stoops and in stairwells. He had been adopted by the legendary mobster Vito Genovese, who operated out of a nearby bar. Genovese fed the young street kid, sometimes let him sleep in the bar, and gave him quarters and dimes for running errands. It was here that Al Carone learned about loyalty and honor. There was no end to his love for “Don” Vito.

By the time World War II came around, little Al had become “Big Al,” a lifelong bodybuilder and a “made” member of the family. He entered the Army and was quickly assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps. Dee said that all of the paperwork she possessed covered the fact that her father really had spent the entire war working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA. This made immediate sense to me, because I had seen US government reports that Vito Genovese and his boss, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, had been used by the OSS and the Office of Naval Intelligence throughout World War II, first to protect New York docks from sabotage, then to assist in the invasion of Italy and later to prevent Communists and Socialists from winning elections in postwar Italy. The latter activities, funded by Corsican heroin, were the genesis of the famed French Connection, which smuggled tons of heroin into New York City until the 1970s.

After the war in 1946, “Big Al” had joined the New York City police. Dee had photos of her father as a patrolman and later as a detective. Throughout his NYPD career, Carone had made the payoffs to make sure that the CIA’s dope hit the streets safely. She had cancelled pay stubs, copies of pension records, a copy of his graduation roster from the police academy. Big Al had retired as a detective first grade in 1966. Yet, after her father’s death, when she went to ask for death benefits, the NYPD had told her that Al Carone has never been a policeman.

I remember holding one of his passports in my hands and seeing the visa stamps for London, the Bahamas and New York City. I remember the travel records of one of his partners named James Strauss, showing massive expenditures for dozens of flights to all of the world’s financial capitals, sometimes every other day, that a former FBI agent once told me, “could only have come from a GTR government travel account, because an airline would never allow a private business to run up that kind of a tab.”

Most of all I remember holding his personal phone book, separated at the spine from years of use and finding entries for maybe a dozen known Mafia figures including “Boss of Bosses” Paul Castellano, Joe Perscillia, Matty “the Horse” Ianniello and many others. Also in the phone book, on a separate sheet of paper but in the same handwriting, was the Locust Valley, Long Island address and phone number for CIA Director William Casey.

Casey, said the entire Carone family, had been at the Ferdinand home for Vinnie’s christening in the early ‘70s. When Dee was growing up, Casey and his wife had been frequent guests for dinner and social events. So had, on different occasions, Santo Trafficante, mob boss of South Florida, known as Uncle Sonny; Sam Giancana, known as Uncle Momo; and the short-lived boss of bosses Aniello Delacroce had been known as “Uncle Neal.” Both Delacroce and Castellano died in New York mob hits.

There were photographs of Carone in Army uniforms: one as a major, one as a full colonel. There were telegrams and letters referring to him by his military rank. And yet, after his death–which, as I read from the death certificate, was caused by “chemical toxicity of unknown etiology”–the US Army had insisted that he had never served in the military after 1946 and had never attained a rank higher than staff sergeant. He had been buried in a New Mexico military cemetery with that rank on his tombstone. This, said Dee, was not honorable.

But what had been done to Al Carone and his family had been more ruthless, systematic and well executed than anything I have seen before or since. Immediately after his death, both his personal and joint bank accounts held with Dee had disappeared. Even though Dee held passbooks and cancelled checks, the banks had insisted that the accounts never existed. Life-insurance policies which Dee and Tommy had given to a local attorney named Robert Fuentes–later discovered to have intelligence connections–disappeared. Carone’s NYPD pension vanished. The state of New Mexico said that Al Carone had never had a driver’s license. He lived there for 10 years. Coin collections and the contents of several storage facilities evaporated. Even the registration on his personal vehicle, which had always been registered in his name, was altered in state computers. When Dee went to check about having it transferred to her daughter, she found that the New Mexico DMV records showed that Dee had originally purchased the car in the early ‘80s.

Carone’s death had been long, painful and expensive. He knew he was going to die after his own collision with a question of honor, yet he had said repeatedly to the entire family that when he died they all would be taken care of. For the Mafia there was no more important code of honor than taking care of the family. It was apparently different for the CIA, and Big Al Carone had planted his feet in too many worlds before his own death. And it seems, to this day, that the world of the CIA was the one that eliminated his life, and in them, and the interests they worked for, there was no honor at all.

Nobody ever doubted where Al Carone was coming from. “Civilians” were not to be hurt. People who got killed were players, and they knew that was part of the game. Although Carone taught torture and interrogation techniques and guerrilla warfare, he served mostly as a “paymaster,” especially for assassinations and executions in the dark world of clandestine warfare. One assassination that Dee and Tommy would later discuss in their videotaped depositions was John F. Kennedy. Carone had revealed, before his death, that he had been in Dallas on November 22, 1963, that he had been positioned on a rooftop at the Love Field airport but could not get a clean shot. He was grateful for that. He had also delivered a cash payoff to Jack Ruby before the assassination.

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, when there were drug missions to be financed, Al Carone delivered both the money and the orders. When someone needed to be killed, it was the same thing. Before his death, he talked openly of working with Oliver North, Richard Secord, Richard Armitage, Barry Seal and Elliot Abrams. He told his family that North, Secord, Abrams and Armitage were “assholes.

SEALING HIS FATE

Throughout the years Carone had also shown signs of compassion and his own code of honor. He often lamented the fate of the POWs and MIAs in Vietnam and, in the years before his death, spoke openly about how “the boys” had been sold out. He spoke on several occasions of a Green Beret named “Sandy” whom he had worked with. He said Sandy had been sold out, betrayed and framed for a murder he didn’t commit because he had learned too much. Carone became obsessed with helping Sandy, and had spoken of delivering diaries to CIA headquarters that had been kept by his murdered wife that could have “brought down the government.” Both Dee and Tommy had seen the diaries in Carone’s briefcase before he had taken them to Langley, Virginia.

Carone was a good soldier. He did his job for years and kept his grumblings close to his vest. But things were falling apart. They had gotten out of hand. There were too many drugs, too much killing; too much corruption in Al Carone’s scheme of things. It no longer served any greater purpose. There was no compass except greed.

In the summer of 1985 Al Carone and his buddy Jim Strauss—whose company had the voluminous airline bills—went on a mission to Mexico. That mission, as were many of the other activities of Al Carone, fell under the umbrella code name of Amadeus. Dee and Tommy had heard the name many times before, when answering phones or taking messages for Big Al. It was name that always made him jump. It was a name that they said connected directly to George Herbert Walker Bush.

Carone was gone for weeks. And when he returned from Mexico he was never the same. His heart was broken. He said that he and Strauss and the men who were with them had wiped out entire village which Dee and Tommy can only remember as Chiapatulla or Tapachulla. “We killed everything there,” said Big Al, “men, women children, everything.” It was wrong. He also spoke of how a narc and a pilot had been tortured and buried alive. He was referring to DEA Agent Kiki Camarena. It was shortly after that he started to get violently ill. Within 18 months or so, he had kidney failure. The doctors, and there were many, could not pinpoint the cause. He would tell Dee and Tommy, “I’m not long for this world. The suits are coming to get me.”

He talked more openly in his last years. He voiced his concerns and became obsessed with the POWs, with Sandy and the “assholes” who had taken over the government. Before he died in 1990, he made his daughter promise not to bury him in his Army uniform. He was ashamed. “Burn it,” he said.

THE BIGGEST BATTLES AND HEAVY LOSSES

Shortly after I left New Mexico, Dee Ferdinand went to a luncheon of former intelligence officers. There she met former Howard Hughes aide and lifelong CIA operative Robert Maheu. Maheu gave her Shackley’s phone number.

Dee’s first conversation with Shackley was not thrilling. Keeping his standard noncommittal posture, he denied knowing Al Carone. This was a position he changed in subsequent conversations with Dee over the years. He asked her what she wanted. The first thing she wanted was her father’s headstone changed to reflect his rank of colonel.

It was changed within 10 days, and Dee took photographs of the new marker. She also “appropriated” a copy of the change order. The Army still—to this day—denies the rank.

After returning to Los Angeles, I wrote up a report of what I had learned. I sent it to a good friend, a retired Army Criminal Investigation Division warrant officer named Bill McCoy who lived in Alexandria, Virginia. McCoy was impressed and got Dee’s phone number from me. That was the beginning of a tightly woven friendship that involved phone calls, sometimes five times a week, until McCoy’s death in October 1997. “Mac,” as we all called him, was a loveable giant, prone to wearing berets, who had his investigative fingers in almost every covert operation I had ever heard of.

There were many mysteries about McCoy that remain unsolved to this day. Not the least of which was why he spent two years keeping Dee from learning the identity of Bill Tyree, the former Green Beret who had been framed for his own wife’s murder. Tyree, on the other hand, had only been told Dee’s married name rather than her maiden name. In the meantime I, familiar with both cases, never knew what Mac was doing.

Mac was a father-like figure, a great cook and raconteur. I visited his home in Virginia many times in 1994 and 1995. While coordinating information on a number of investigations, he managed to keep Bill and Dee from connecting. In the meantime, as the Carone family were threatened, intimidated and plagued by all manner of terrifying events, Dee’s resolve only deepened. She told me, with a conviction I still remember, “This is about honor. This is becoming a vendetta. All I want is what rightfully belonged to my father, nothing more.”

Her brother-in-law was shot at. Her son Vinnie narrowly escaped death in what appeared to be a staged traffic accident. Her fences were cut a half-dozen times and her horses scattered over the New Mexico countryside. Tommy, who held a civilian job at Kirtland Air Force Base, was shuffled to lower-paying assignments and eventually laid off. In 1997 Vinnie, then a sheriff’s deputy working extradition cases, was sent on dangerous and solitary assignments. He was photographed in secure areas of government facilities.

Dee would talk to McCoy four or five times a week. I would talk to McCoy or Dee at least twice a week. Still, none of us knew that Sandy and Tyree were one and the same, even though McCoy was doing investigations on Tyree’s case and he held all the pieces.

LACK OF HONOR

Things were complicated further in April 1995, when the Murrah Building was destroyed by a bomb blast in Oklahoma City. I was living near DC at the time, and Dee had called me within hours of the blast. She had called Shackley almost immediately. Then she called me. I gave her my word that I would not repeat what Shackley had said. According to Dee, Shackley said the act would be placed squarely at the feet of domestic terrorists. This, even as news reports were reporting only that Islamic terrorists were suspects.

Shortly thereafter, a journalist named David Hoffman, whom I had put in touch with Dee, got the same story from her on the strict condition that the conversation was off the record and confidential. Less than a year later he published a book in which he reported all of Dee’s conversation with Shackley, and even embellished to the point of placing himself in Shackley’s living room and describing him smoking a pipe, sitting in an overstuffed chair and “chortling” in satisfaction.

Dee, as a matter of honor, called Shackley as soon as she heard about the book. Because of that action or responsibility her relationship with him continued and, in fact, deepened.

BREAKTHROUGH TO DEFEAT

Bill McCoy died suddenly in October 1997. He was found sitting in his favorite easy chair, the victim of an apparent heart attack. Questions still linger among those of us who knew him.

It was around the time of Mac’s death that Dee and Tyree connected. Dee learned that Billy was “Sandy” and Billy learned that Dee was the daughter of Big Al. Facilitated by Massachusetts attorney Ray Kohlman, who came to represent both of them, first Billy and then Dee filed suits against the government. Over the years, Billy placed collect calls from the Walpole state prison in Massachusetts that sometimes added between $500-800 a month to the Ferdinands’ phone bills. This wore heavily on Tommy and his temper frequently got the better of him, especially as his hours were being cut back.

Dee was obsessed, and now she had a court case and searing documents that helped both her and Tyree. Affidavits long buried came to the surface, including one purportedly written by Bill Casey. Though filled with grammatical errors and misspellings, I was inclined to believe the document’s authenticity. My reasons were simple and based upon my years of experience, I knew that intelligence agencies often wrote completely accurate documents and deliberately salted them with errors to later discredit them. The 1986 document had more credibility because, while completely vindicating Dee’s assertions, it carefully laid all the blame in the CIA at the feet of people who were then or would soon be dead. It never once mentioned George Bush, and the document followed the long-cultivated CIA fallback position that drug dealing was all done to fight communism, and never once mentioned the billions of dollars that had flowed into American financial markets.

From 1998 until her case was finally dismissed, there were endless, draining, expensive, time-consuming legal moves, the kind I have witnessed in dozens of cases over the years. As time progressed, first Tyree’s suit and then Dee’s were dismissed. All of this happened and Dee and Bill Tyree spent more time talking to each other than any other living souls. They have never seen each other in person. For Tyree, locked up on a life sentence, this was not an issue. For Dee’s family, especially Tommy, who was paying the phone bills, it was; especially as the family teetered from month to month, on the edge of eviction.

I have both and seen and lived this hellish existence in the search for justice and the redemption of honor. It eats everything.

Dee and Tommy were divorced last year, as the suit was finally thrown out by a court system that seemingly wouldn’t know the rule of law, or honor, if it smacked it in the face. Dee now lives in a modest Albuquerque apartment and Tommy spends a lot of time riding his motorcycle. Tommy’s mother will no longer speak to Dee. Vinnie, still a sheriff, has at times estranged himself from his mother in recent years. All of Dee’s horses are gone and she holds down a job to pay the rent.

“It’s over,” she says with the same conviction I heard in 1993. “I will have nothing more to do with my father’s case. They won. I have nothing more to give.”

FINDING MEANING

Dee has had a number of conversations with Ted Shackley over the years and refuses to discuss details of any of them except to say that he was always helpful, always sympathetic and that he gave her advice that helped as she prepared and fought her case. “Of all the people I have spoken to who had something to do with this case, he’s the only one who never lied to me.”

When I asked how she could trust Shackley, she refused to discuss the matter any further. The conversations were private. It was a matter of honor.

One time, in tears, she recounted how Shackley had told her how proud he was of her as Big Al’s daughter, and that she had fought as hard as possible to honor her father. He had told her that she had behaved as he would have wanted his own daughter to behave, and maybe that is what this story is all about.

Having lost all of her material possessions and her marriage, and having suffered for years in a losing and futile battle—the way all of these battles always end—Dee Carone Ferdinand has no doubt in her heart that she gave all she had to give. She sleeps soundly at night and there is something in her still that remains defiantly unbroken, as Al Carone’s visions of total, unprincipled corruption come to full flower in the American government.

It was, after all, a matter of honor.

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Barry Seal

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.

WATERGATE

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.

COCAINE COWBOYS

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.

KANGAROO COURT

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

Felix Rodr”guez

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.”

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