By David P Beiter

Thanks to Ms. Freddi ".A.R.." Ready

The remarkable life and brutal death of Adler Berriman Seal
explains why America is losing the war on drugs.  .  .because, in
large measure, the American government is fighting itself.


Article by John Cummings and Ernest Volkman

 Penthouse Magazine

 July, 1989

 [Internet Poster's comment:]

"Above all it points out how good the government is in
suppressing this kind of information when it does get out."

The three killers, lurking in the shadow of a of a garbage
dumpster that evening of February l9, 1986, had no trouble
spotting their quarry.  Almost precisely at 6 PM., "Thunder
Thighs" wheeled his gaudy white Cadillac into the parking lot.
As usual, the nearly 300 pound bulk of a man also known as El
Gordo (the fat one) had no bodyguards, and he took no precautions
of any kind.  He did not see the waiting killers as he backed
into a parking spot.  They approached the driver's side.  Two
quick bursts from the silencer-equipped MAC-10 and Uzi submachine
guns smashed into El Gordo's head and body.  He was dead
instantly.  And so ended the remarkable career of Thunder Thighs,
the narcotics underworld's nickname for Adler Berriman Seal- gun
runner, CIA asset, government informant, con-man, narcotics
trafficker, double dealer, criminal mastermind.  But so did any
possibility for Seal to elaborate on some very tantalizing clues
he had let slip just before his death -clues to several of his
astonishing secrets that would have revealed that the United
States government: went into business with drug smugglers,
allowing tons of narcotics to enter the country as a necessary
cost of higher geopolitical objectives; subordinated drug
enforcement to the goal of overthrowing Nicaragua's Sandinista
government; allowed two southern states to be used as major
distribution points for Latin American narcotics, then interfered
with all attempts by local police -and even federal agents -to
eradicate the problem.

Adler Berriman "Barry" Seal knew all this because he was the most
important organizer, facilitator, and impresario of a sordid
partnership between government and crime.  Although his death
halted his first, tentative steps toward telling all he knew, a
lengthy investigation by Penthouse has uncovered most of what
Seal was hinting at.  What stands revealed is a story of greed,
government myopia, and blind expediency.  Summarily, it explains
why America is losing the war against drugs- for in large
measure, the American government has been fighting itself.  To
understand this, it is necessary to under stand the extraordinary
case of Adler Berriman Seal.

"A lot of people," Barry Seal once said, "are happy working nine
to five every day, going to L.S.U. games on Saturday and church
on Sunday.  But I wanted excitement in my life." It was the only
explanation Seal ever offered for his lengthy career in the dark
world of narcotics smuggling and intelligence, but to those who
knew him, those few words summarize the man.

Seal struck them as a buccaneer, a man most concerned with the
sheer joy of getting away with something.  Although he earned $30
million as a drug smuggler, Seal was not especially interested in
money.  What really turned him on was openly committing a
criminal act, then defying the authorities to catch him.  (He was
notorious for taunting narcotics agents.) A rollicking,
back-slapping good ol' boy with the pronounced accent of his
native Baton Rouge, Seal loved flying.  He served a brief stint
in the Air National Guard, and by 1972, at age 26, he was the
youngest 747 pilot in the country.  But Seal was bored by the
humdrum of commercial flying, and a search for excitement was to
lead him to his first foray into the underworld of narcotics and

The Casablanca-like world of Miami's Cuban exile community
provided the field for his foray.  In early 1972 he plunged into
the alphabet soup of organizations dedicated to overthrowing
Fidel Castro, emerging as partner with one that had a branch
operation in Mexico.  Seal agreed to smuggle seven tons of C-4
explosives to the Mexican base, from which the group was secretly
preparing to dispatch teams of saboteurs into Cuba.  But as so
often happens in such cases, the exile group was honeycombed with
informers.  Seal was arrested for violating the Neutrality Act
even before the load of explosives could leave the ground.  His
sloppily drawn case was thrown out by the court, allowing him to
escape the serious federal charge, yet he did learn some valuable
lessons from the experience.  For one thing, a number of
operatives in the exile group had been (or still were) CIA
assets, meaning that the agency tended to turn a blind eye -at
times of its own choosing -when the more valued assets became
involved in certain activities, including drug smuggling.  For
another, although this particular group's smuggling operation ran
afoul of the law, there were plenty of others that had official
support.  In other words, no matter what the law said, if a
government agency wanted something smuggled, it would be

While Seal was absorbing these lessons, the CIA recruited him as
an asset.  He was the perfect choice: an expert pilot, a great
talker- extremely charming and totally fearless -with wide
contacts throughout Latin America and the apparent willingness to
do just about any thing for excitement.

Seal started his own business as an "independent aviation
consultant" specializing in Latin America.  Established with CIA
aid, the enterprise allowed Seal to fly all over the hemisphere
in the process of collecting intelligence.  As cloak and-dagger,
it was interesting but not very exciting work, and by 1976, Seal
was looking for something more dazzling to slake his thirst for
risky adventure.  He found it in the person of William R.
Reeves, a notorious narcotics trafficker who specialized in
smuggling huge loads of marijuana from Colombia into the United
States.  Reeves was trying to enlist top-notch pilots willing to
take risks, a perfect description of Seal.  He became Reeves's
partner, personally flying the multi-hundred-kilo shipments.

The question arises: Did the CIA know at the time that one of its
assets was using his air plane business to smuggle drugs?  And
more to the point, if it did know, did the agency give Seal
either direct or tacit approval to do just that, provided he
continue to provide it with intelligence or other services?  That
is one secret Seal carried with him to the grave, but it is
difficult to imagine that the CIA had no knowledge.

The narcotics underworld is relatively small, and it soon became
fairly common knowledge that the American "Thunder Thighs" (so
nicknamed because of thighs the approximate size of oak trees)
was moving huge loads.  Moreover, Seal had developed a reputation
as a fearless, highly skilled pilot who could evade any official
attempt to stop him, having done so dozens of times by 1980.
Seal seemed to live a charmed life as a smuggler.  In a business
noted for short career spans, he flew his drug-smuggling runs
with all the casualness of a man taking a drive to the shopping
mall.  Explaining some years later why he decided to become a
drug smuggler, Seal said, "Because it was easy and because the
money was incredible." That much was true: Seal received a
sliding scale "fee" of several thousand dollars on the drugs he
smuggled; on at least one flight of several tons, he netted
nearly $1.5 million.  Yet, to others in the narcotics-smuggling
fraternity, there was something not quite right about Barry
Seal.  He was widely rumored to be dabbling in gunrunning under
CIA aegis (true) and to be enjoying some sort of official
protection for his drug-smuggling flights (perhaps true)
springing from Seal's apparent unconcern about any possibility of
arrest, especially by U.S. authorities.

When fellow traffickers would ask him directly if he had some
sort of official or unofficial sanction, Seal would merely smile
enigmatically and wink.

Whatever Seal's covert connections at that point, the important
fact was that he had become indispensable to a group of three
Colombian entrepreneurs determined to make their narcotics
business the most successful in the hemisphere.  Pablo Escobar,
Jorge Ochoa, and Carlos Lehder faced a knotty problem: how to get
their product safely and profitably to the booming American
market.  Lehder had provided part of the answer, advocating the
use of regular smuggling flights, each plane carrying hundreds of
kilos.  This method would replace the in efficient system of
"mules"- drug couriers who would enter the United States with
narcotics concealed in their clothing, or packed inside condoms
that were swallowed and later regurgitated -as well as the
increasingly hazardous practice of smuggling drugs aboard ships
(too risky because of stepped-up Coast Guard patrols) or Avianca
(the Colombian national airline) jetliners.  (U.S. Customs was
onto that game.) Only regular relays of drug planes, Lehder
argued, could possibly handle the escalating demands of the
American market.  He was right, but that raised several
problems.  How could such a system be set up?  How could the
planes land and unload safely in the United States?  How could
the planes cover the long flight from Colombia?  Lehder and his
partners took an important step by striking a deal with a corrupt
colonel in the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) named Manuel
Noriega.  The head of the PDF's intelligence unit, Noriega
controlled a network of out-of-the-way landing strips in Panama
that he agreed to provide for Lehder and his partners' use.

(Since the partners all came from the Colombian city of Medellin,
they became known as the Medellinites, and later, the Medellin
Cartel.) In return, Noriega was to receive a $500,000 bribe plus
a one-percent cut of the value of every shipment that came
through Panama.  Additionally, Panama's notoriously lax banking
laws would be used to launder the Medellin drug profits -in
return for another slice to Noriega.  That arrangement cut the
distance problem, and Seal, ever the daring innovator, provided
the rest of the solution.  First he decided that the narcotics
would be flown in fast twin-engine planes that had been stripped
down and rigged with advanced electronic navigation equipment and
extra fuel bladders.  The next step was to cut a cargo door into
the side of the aircraft that could be opened only from the
inside.  This particular innovation, a stroke of genius by Seal,
made the drug planes nearly invulnerable to attack by law
enforcement.  Seal would load his planes with narcotics in
Colombia or Panama, then, when he had reached the southern U.S.
coast, the drugs would be pushed out the door at pre-arranged
sites -later to be picked up by a helicopter in Seal's fleet.

That way even a drug search at a U.S. airport would reveal a
"clean" plane with no narcotics aboard.  No evidence, no case.
Seal had another idea to balk the forces of the law.  Despite
increased air patrols and radar coverage, he discovered U.S.
defense had a critical weakness in the Gulf of Mexico, where
dozens of offshore oil platforms were serviced by relays of
helicopters.  On his flights northward, Seal would steer toward
the platforms, drop to a low height, throttle back to about 120
knots an hour, then head landward.  Among the clutter of busy
helicopter flights, it was nearly impossible for a radar operator
to distinguish an unscheduled flight of a private aircraft flying
at the same altitude and speed.  With the transportation system
in place, the Medellin Cartel and Seal -the man who made it work
-went cosmic.  By 1981, Seal was flying hundreds of kilos of
narcotics into this country in a regular system.  The cartel
virtually abandoned the marijuana business in favor of the much
more profitable (and easier to transport) cocaine, almost
exclusively the new drug of choice in America.

What had started as a trickle was now a flood, overwhelming the
relatively puny forces deployed to staunch it.  But the flood
would get even worse, because the American government was about
to go into business with the drug traffickers on a large scale.

It began in the mind of then CIA director William Casey.  As
Casey saw the problem, the Soviet Union was about to establish a
Central American beachhead via the Sandinista government of
Nicaragua.  The only solution was to therefore eliminate the
Sandinista regime.  Since an outright American military invasion
was out of the question, beginning in late 1981, Casey began to
formulate plans for a covert paramilitary operation to accomplish
the task.  Essentially the plan was simple.  Two groups of
Nicaraguan exiles -one based in Honduras, the other in Costa
Rica -would be armed and trained for a guerrilla war inside
Nicaragua that would eventually topple the regime.  The
difficulty, however, was that Congress was extremely nervous
about the operation, and amid questions of whether an
American-sponsored war was the right way to solve the Nicaraguan
problem, there were increasing indications that Congress was
about to cut off the money.  (The first congressional
restrictions came in 1982.) To prepare for that eventuality,
Casey decided on a secret operation to keep the anti-Sandinista
forces, known as Contras, armed and supplied.  With a need for
strict secrecy in order to circumvent the law, Casey set about
creating an operation that could not be traced back to the CIA,
code-named Eagle (later, Black Eagle), the operation went forward
through an essential Casey contact, Micha "Mike" Harare.  The
former head of operations in Central America for Mossad, Israel's
CIA, Harare was a man steeped in the darker arts of modern

Beginning in 1972, he was a key operative for Mossad murder
squads that rampaged throughout Europe, killing key Palestinian
guerrillas believed to be responsible for the slaughter of
Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.  But in
1975, Harare's hit team killed an innocent man in error, and
Harare was exiled to Mexico City as chief of Mossad's Central
American operations.  Harare left the Israeli intelligence
service in 1978.

In the interim, however, he had not only established close
relations with the CIA, he had also forged important business
contacts, among them Colonel Noriega of Panama, who had worked
closely with Mossad.  While serving as a Mossad asset, Harare
went into the import-export business in Panama City.  The link
with his former agency was important.  Harare was able to
arrange $20 million worth of Israeli arms for Panama's military,
plus Mossad training and Israeli- made Uzi submachine guns for
Noriega's intelligence operatives.  In return, Noriega was able
to offer the Israelis the use of Panama -the Vienna of
international intrigue in the southern hemisphere -as a conduit
for embargoed arms to Israel.  It was a cozy arrangement, and
when Casey sought out Harare in 1982 to help set up a covert
Contra support operation, the Israeli knew the perfect point man
for the job: Noriega, now a general, the most powerful man in
Panama.  The choice was unfortunate, for at that point Noriega
was a full-fledged drug trafficker, allowing Panama to be used as
a narcotics trans-shipment point.  It is questionable whether
Harare knew about Noriega's drug connections, but the CIA
certainly did.

It knew because it had recruited as an information source one of
Panama's more striking political leaders, Dr.  Hugo Spadafora,
Panama's vice minister of health under dictator Omar Torrijos.
Following Torrijos's death in a plane crash in 1981, Spadafora at
first allied himself with Noriega, then began to get uneasy about
the man called "Pineapple Face" behind his back.  The
breathtakingly pragmatic Noriega was playing all sides of the

Spadafora found out that Noriega was being paid $200,000 a year
as an asset for the CIA, while at the same time he was providing
information to Fidel Castro.  Worse, Noriega was deeply involved
in drug trafficking, actually allowing Panamanian airstrips to be
used in moving drugs to the United States.  Actually, the
situation was worse than Spadafora knew.  As early as 1972, the
CIA was aware that Noriega had been named in federal
drug-enforcement reports as a suspected trafficker, which in 1976
did not prevent then CIA director George Bush from approving
Noriega's enrollment as a paid CIA asset in 1977, a report
detailing drug dealing by Noriega and other Panamanian military
officers was sent to the White House where it disappeared.
Although Bush's successor at the CIA, Stansfield Turner, dropped
Noriega from the agency's pay roll in 1977 after learning of his
drug trafficking, the Panamanian was restored to the agency's
good graces when the Reagan administration came into office.
(Spadafora continued to complain to the CIA about Noriega until
the general found out about it in 1985.  He had Spadafora
tortured to death.  then dumped his body in a U.S. Mail sack,
Noriega's way of making a grisly point.)

As if the CIA's reliance on a man like Noriega weren't bad
enough, the crime was compounded by a second decision: Seal was
recruited to find pilots for Black Eagle flights.  The
requirements were obvious: Prospective pilots had to have some
experience smuggling contraband across international borders, and
had to know how to land loaded planes at remote airstrips and fly
at night without lights -among other assorted esoterica not
taught at any conventional flying school.  There was, of course,
only one class of pilots with such experience, and Seal rounded
up a collection of the most notorious drug-running pilots in both
hemispheres.  No one -least of all Seal -had to point out certain
benefits of the entirely "unofficial" arrangement.  The pilots
would move arms provided by Israel from various sites in the
United States and elsewhere down to secret Panamanian air
fields.  From there, the arms -Russian made PLO weapons captured
by the Israelis whose use would not betray American involvement
-would be off loaded for trans-shipment by various means further
south.  Instantly grasping that drug pilots would be sitting in
cockpits of empty planes for the return flights, Noriega alertly
filled the void by arranging for them to carry narcotics.  From
Noriega's standpoint, the deal was almost too good to be true,
since he was working both sides of the street.  "He isn't for
sale, but he is for rent," as one CIA official said of Noriega,
but that was something of an understatement.  Noriega, in fact,
was for sale to the highest bidder, and while he was busy helping
the CIA, he was also telling the D.G.I., Castro's intelligence
service, about operation Black Eagle.  And to top it all, Noriega
actually became an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration.  Unbeknownst to the DEA, Noriega used the
connection to hand up perceived competitors of his business
partners, the Medellin Cartel.  (The head of the DEA later wrote
a letter to Noriega praising his contribution to the war against
drugs, an embarrassing correspondence he later explained by
saying he did not know of Noriega's involvement in drugs because
the CIA never told him.)

That, in turn, raises the question of how much then vice
president George Bush knew about the operation, especially
Noriega's involvement.  The evidence is ambiguous, but a central
fact is that Casey, concerned that the operation be as far
removed from the CIA as possible, hit upon the idea of using the
Vice President's office as a "cover," arranging it via Bush's
chief of staff, Donald Gregg, a former CIA officer.  Gregg, in
turn, knew the right man to oversee the job: Felix Rodriguez, a
fanatically anti-Communist Cuban exile who had worked for Gregg
and the CIA in Vietnam.  In 1981, by then officially retired from
the agency, Rodriguez volunteered his services to battle the
Sandinistas.  Gregg deputized him to oversee the distribution of
illegal arms to the Contras, primarily at a staging area in El
Salvador, where Rodriguez was good friends with Salvadoran
General Juan Bustillo.  (Both Gregg and Bush were later to say
they knew nothing of any illegal operations to arm the Contras
until August 1986, and it is unknown whether Gregg informed his
boss of Black Eagle.)

Whatever the merit of Black Eagle's geopolitical objectives, the
only real beneficiaries were Noriega, the Medellin drug cartel
-and Barry Seal.  He had achieved every drug smuggler's dream,
securing smuggling routes under a form of quasi official
protection.  From January 1981 to August 1982, Seal earned
profits of at least $19 million while smuggling several tons of
cocaine into the United States.  In the process, he became
something of a legend in the drug underworld, garnering some of
its conventional trappings of success: a large new home in an
exclusive Baton Rouge suburb, outfitted with oriental rugs and
expensive artwork and furniture.  He acquired a small fleet of
luxury cars, along with several large boats.  To anyone wondering
how this self-described "businessman" had come by all this
success, Seal provided few answers.  He had acquired a front
business, which, oddly, turned out to be a sign rental company.
Headquartered in a run down building in a decaying industrial
section of Baton Rouge, the company looked like a Chinese puzzle,
with no apparent entrance or exit and no first floor windows.
Those who worked in the sign rental company were under strict
orders not to have anything to do with other people in the
building whose duties seemed somewhat obscure.  The boss himself
most often seemed to be "out," and when he was "in," betrayed
some odd habits for a businessman.  For example, there was the
matter of that brown paper bag he always carried, filled with
quarters obtained by a beleaguered secretary ordered to make
trips to the bank and cash in thousands of dollars for coins.
Seal hardly ever used the office phone, preferring instead to
call from a network of pay phones all over the city, to which he
would be summoned by a beeper he wore.  The beeper went off
constantly.  Clearly he was a wealthy man, but much of his
capital was poured into planes and equipment for what was
apparently his own private air force.  (He once laid out $750,000
in cash for some high-tech navigation equipment.) Among the
planes he bought was a C-123 cargo plane, the kind the military
once used to move entire armies and their equipment.  As the
small staff of workers at the sign rental company wondered, what
would such a business need a fleet of airplanes for?  Their boss
did not provide an answer, nor did he tell them why his crummy
little building required such tight security, including
grim-looking men with guns.  Indeed, there was a great deal Seal
would not tell his legitimate but bewildered employees about: his
bustling drug organization, which by 1982 had 60 people working
for it; his mysterious flights back and forth across the Gulf of
Mexico, some of them containing arms for the Contras; his return
flights loaded with narcotics; his business dealings with the
Colombians, who preferred calling him by his nickname El Gordo,
having been often amused by the sight of Seal extricating his
vast bulk from a cockpit.

What the sign-rental company employees saw was a boss whose moods
seemed to switch from southern charm, when he could talk the
birds out of the trees, to towering rage.  Less suspicious minds
attributed all this, even including the bag of quarters, to a
certain eccentricity.  A workaholic, Seal appeared to move in a
blur nearly round the clock, and his expression was often
enigmatic, as if he were keeping many secrets.  He sure was: By
that point Seal knew all about Noriega, the connections with the
Medellin Cartel, the CIA's secret Black Eagle operation, the
hiring of drug runners to smuggle guns, and the curious
intersection that the drug underworld and American intelligence
now occupied.  At that intersection, it was hard to tell the
difference between the good guys and the bad guys, especially
characters like Noriega, the CIA's pinup boy in Panama.  Seal
himself was an out-and-out bad guy, but in early 1982, as Black
Eagle was running full blast and Seal was reaping gargantuan
profits from his expanding narcotics empire, he was about to
become even more deeply involved in intelligence operations that
intersected with narcotics.  In the process, he would open one of
the most bizarre chapters in American crime, a chapter that would
reveal conclusively why the so-called war on drugs was lost.

In the early spring of 1982, an extraordinary summit meeting of
sorts took place in a Baton Rouge steakhouse between master
narcotics smuggler Barry Seal and two men intent on destroying
him.  Seal was expansive, drawing on his considerable reserve of
southern charm.  But the two men seated at the table -Lieutenant
Butch Milan and Investigator Jack Crittenden of the Louisiana
State Police narcotics unit -were not charmed in the slightest.
For quite some time they had been stalking Seal and his
organization, slowly piecing together its dimensions in the
process of building a case.  It had not been easy.  Seal, one of
the most cunning criminals they had ever encountered, had
perfected an airtight security system.  Uncanny in his ability to
spot surveillance teams, he drove the cops nuts.  For one thing,
Seal never seemed to use the same telephone twice, frustrating
all attempts to plant bugs.  By the time police teams managed to
spot Seal in a phone booth, feeding dozens of quarters into the
coin slot from his ubiquitous paper bag, it was too late to mount
a wire.  There were other frustrations.  Seal's confederates
seemed impervious to pressure -they all harbored a deep fear of
Seal -and inspections of Seal's planes never uncovered an ounce
of contraband.  Seal seemed to regard the entire process as a
game, and took delight in approaching surveillance teams and
roundly berating them as "assholes" for failing to catch him.
Nevertheless, patient police work had begun to draw a web around
Seal when Lieutenant Milan decided on an unorthodox move.  He and
Crittenden, one of his best investigators, would meet with Seal,
announce that they now had enough to put him and his people away
for 40 years, then propose a deal.  Under Milan's terms, Seal
would admit his guilt, receive leniency, then become an
informant, providing first-hand testimony against the nerve
center of the narcotics flood washing over the United States, the
Medellin drug lords of Colombia.  It was every narcotics agent's

Essentially this was a bluff, but Milan hoped that if Seal
believed the police were really about to pounce, he would buy
it.  Neither Milan nor Crittenden knew at that point of Seal's
CIA connections and his direct involvement in Black Eagle, though
they did wonder about rumors concerning Seal's high-level
connections.  Their immediate concern was Barry Seal, drug
smuggler, the man who was bringing tons of the stuff into the
sovereign state of Louisiana.  Milan wanted Seal out of
business.  In a grim-faced tone meant to suggest that he was not
taken with Seal's oozing charm, Milan put the matter squarely on
the line." Listen to me," Milan snapped.  "You're good and you've
been lucky, Barry.  But we'll get you, I personally guarantee

I don't care if it takes every man we've got working seven days a
week, 24 hours a day -we're going to put your ass in jail.  Is my
meaning clear?" Seal grasped the point instantly, and listened
quietly as Milan and Crittenden outlined their terms for the
deal: that Seal was to get out of the narcotics business, become
an informant, and tell Milan everything the police wanted to know
about the Medellin Cartel." Well, before I do that," Seal
replied, "I'll have to check with some people." The answer caught
Milan and Crittenden by surprise.  "Check with some people?"
Certainly Seal wasn't about to run the proposal past his
confederates or the Medellin Cartel -so who could "they" be?
Crittenden was especially uneasy; perhaps those rumors about Seal
running guns for the CIA (and getting protection for his drug
flights in return) were true.  If so, that might complicate the

Crittenden was right to feel uneasy, for in fact police pressure
on Seal was making things very complicated.  The complications
had begun in Panama, where Noriega's notoriety as a drug
trafficker became so widespread that CIA agents running Black
Eagle concluded it was time to put some distance between him and
the operation.  Accordingly, a revised operation, code-named
Supermarket, was set into motion by Casey.  Noriega would have a
less direct role in the Supermarket operation.  Using Micha
Harare, the former Mossad operative, once again as cutout, the
idea was to ship Polish and Czechoslovakian arms, purchased in
Europe through CIA-connected arms dealers, to several large
warehouses in Honduras controlled by members of the Honduran
military friendly to the CIA.

The problem was that arms trading is a cash-only business; in the
case of Supermarket, one requiring millions of dollars up front
that the CIA could not spend on a clearly illegal operation.
Noriega rode to the rescue, magnanimously offering the use of a
Panamanian laundry to properly hide the source of funds he
guaranteed would somehow materialize, which they did -somewhere
around $20 million.  Where did Noriega get the money?  It didn't
require much imagination to deduce how a man with Noriega's
business connections could conjure up so much cash: narcotics.
Some of the money was raised from the Medellin Cartel, which
Noriega advised to make an $8 million "contribution" to
Supermarket as a means of scoring some points with the Americans.

An attack of acute naivete would be required to believe that the
CIA people involved in Supermarket- including Casey himself -did
not know that narcotics money formed the bulk of the funding for
the operation.  No one needed to look any further than the
curious case of Julio Zavala.  a drug trafficker who was arrested
in San Francisco in early 1983 on narcotics-trafficking charges.
To the astonishment of prosecutors, Zavala claimed that he was
working closely with the Contras to raise money to purchase
arms.  Sure enough, the leading Contra faction confirmed Zavala's
story, and prosecutors were ultimately required to return $36,000
seized on Zavala's person when he was arrested.  The Contras
claimed that the money was in fact theirs.Then there was the case
of the so called "southern front."

In 1982, Casey had approved the creation of a group of Costa
Rican-based Contras under the leadership of Eden "Commandante
Zero" Pastora, a former Sandinista leader who had broken with the
regime.  However grandiose Casey's strategic conception that
Pastora's "southern front" would unite with the Honduran-based
Contra faction in the north and crush Nicaragua in a giant
pincer, there was in fact not enough money io accomplish that
vision.  The Boland Amendment made direct CIA funding impossible,
and some members of Pastora's faction began reaching out for
other sources of funds.  Pastora himself wanted nothing to do
with drugs, but one of his aides, Sebastian Gonzalez, did.
Gonzalez broke with Pastora, formed his own Contra group called
M-3, and went into business with the Medellin Cartel.  He was
later indicted in Costa Rica for narcotics trafficking and fled
the country.  The interesting aspect of the entire episode is
that he was encouraged by the CIA to break with Pastora.  The
agency become disenchanted with Pastora when he refused to meld
his forces with the Honduran-based Contras -a group that, he
argued, contained too many former members of Anastasio Somoza's
notorious National Guard.  The CIA's solution was to undercut
Pastora by wooing away some of his key supporters, including
Gonzalez.  But Gonzalez had no money, the CIA had none to give
him, and thus there could not have been a doubt in anyone's mind
where Gonzalez got the money to equip his M-3 fighting force.

One man who knew more than anybody else about the direct
involvement of narcotics in the CIA's secret war was, of course,
Barry Seal.  He knew all about Black Eagle and Supermarket, since
once again he was prevailed upon to find the "right" kind of
pilots to run guns.  As Seal understood it, those very same
pilots were running narcotics back home.  Meanwhile, Seal himself
had become the preeminent drug smuggler in the United States.

The sudden police pressure in Louisiana threatened to unhinge
everything, but a few days after his Baton Rouge meeting with
Milan and Crittenden, Seal came back to the police with an
astonishing offer.  He would not turn informant, but he would end
the Louisiana problem by simply abandoning his operation in the
state.  "I'll never do drugs again in Louisiana," Seal vowed.

The police were happy to hear it, but they were not about to take
Seal at his word.  They decided to watch and wait, to see if Seal
would actually commit that most unlikely of all unlikely acts for
a major drug smuggler: walk away from a multi million-dollar
business.  Surprisingly, Seal did appear to have abandoned
Louisiana -but not the business of narcotics smuggling.  In fact,
he moved north to Arkansas, to the small town of Mena, where he
set up business at the local airport.  In no time at all, Seal
had virtually taken over a local aircraft repair-and-modification
operation at the airport, and the good citizens of Mena began to
notice some strange goings on: landings at night, tight security
around Seal's planes, a hangar converted into a virtual
fortress.  The wings of one of Seal's planes were observed to be
scratched with the paint chipped off, as though it had landed at
some jungle airstrip." We're transporting porpoises," one of
Seal's mechanics explained to those curious about the planes
owned by this mysterious fat character from Louisiana.  But
Sheriff Al Hadaway, the local constabulary in that rural part of
Arkansas, wasn't fooled.  He told one of his deputies, Terry
Capeheart, who also ran a small aircraft-repair operation at
Mena, to quietly nose around and find out what was really going
on.  Over the course of several weeks, Capeheart, an extremely
shrewd investigator with the deceptive air of an Arkansas good
ol' boy, began to peel away the layers of security protecting
Seal's operation.  He discovered that cargo doors were being
added to Seal's planes, with a further check revealing that Seal
and his people had never applied for a Federal Aviation
Administration permit to do so, as required by law.  He
discovered that N serial numbers on the tails of some of Seal's
planes had been altered, a common stratagem drug smugglers used
to balk surveillance.  He discovered that extra fuel tanks were
being added to planes, again without the required FAA

Most significantly, Capeheart was able to win the confidence of
one of the secretaries who worked for the aircraft-repair company
Seal had infiltrated.

Although her boss was the nominal head of the company, she
reported that Seal was actually running the place.  She recounted
some other things that disturbed her even more, including being
given shoeboxes stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in
cash and being instructed to make deposits of less than $10,000
in various banks (banks are required to report deposits of
$10,000 or more to the U.S. Treasury).  All in all, there were
clear indications that Mena was now the site of a major
narcotics-smuggling operation, and Hadaway called on federal law
enforcement for help.  Soon FBI, DEA, and U.S. Customs agents
were nosing around Mena.  Almost immediately, they made a
startling discovery.  Eleven miles north of Mena, in a remote
area abutting the Ouachita National Forest, Seal had bought 109
acres, along with another large tract of land not too far away.
A 3,000-feet-long landing strip was built, a construction that
made no sense, since the area is not serviced by any roads and
the nearest phone is 15 miles away in the crossroads town of
Nella.  Agents investigating this curious deal at first assumed
that Seal intended to use the Nella strip as a launchpad for drug
flights, but began receiving reports indicating that perhaps
something much more significant was occurring there.  Local
forest rangers said they had heard automatic-weapons fire coming
from the area, and later discovered shell casings around the
airstrip, some of them 20-millimeter, clearly a military weapon.
Additionally, some residents reported seeing men in camouflage
uniforms in the area.  The general outline of what was happening
became increasingly obvious.  Clearly Seal had made his offer to
Louisiana authorities after he consulted the CIA people with whom
he was working.  He shifted to Arkansas, then arranged to build
the Nella airstrip as a military training base for U.S.-recruited
mercenaries who were to fight with the Contras.  (Several dozen
Americans were recruited by "private" organizations under CIA
aegis to fight with the Contras, and trained at a number of such
camps throughout the United States.)

What was most disturbing to the agents who uncovered this
arrangement was the clear implication that Seal, a known drug
smuggler, was in business with the Central Intelligence Agency
-which could not have been unaware of his primary vocation.  In
other words, Seal was receiving virtual sanction to continue as a
drug smuggler.  The very same thought occurred to authorities in
Louisiana, who made the unsettling discovery that Seal's sanction
apparently extended to their state, for El Gordo was still
running drugs there.  William R.  Reeves, Seal's old
drug-smuggling partner from the early days, had been snared (he
disappeared after his indictment), and police in Louisiana had
also trapped another Seal associate, who agreed to tell all in
return for leniency.  A friend of Seal's since childhood, the
associate filled in many missing details.  Both federal and state
authorities in Louisiana were now certain they finally had enough
to bring Seal to trial.  But before they could move, Seal made a
bad mistake, one that set off a chain of events so bizarre, it
made everything that happened before pale by comparison.

The mistake was made in Florida, where Seal decided to expand his
drug operation.  But he was less sure of his business partners
there, and one of them turned him in.  Early in 1983 he was
caught moving nearly two tons of narcotics into south Florida.
Indicted in March of that year on two charges, and convicted the
following February, he faced 59 years in prison.  That would
appear to have been the end of Seal at last, but he was a man of
some resources, not all of them financial.  After his offer to
become a DEA informant in exchange for leniency was rejected a
similar proposal made to the U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge met
with the same cold shoulder -Seal suddenly appeared before George
Bush's Vice Presidential Task Force on Drugs in Washington.  How
he got there and who brought him there remains a mystery, but
Seal dazzled them with tales of drug smuggling and how he had
made millions in the "trade," as he called it.  What really
caught the panel's attention, however, was the bombshell Seal
dropped during his closed-door testimony: The Sandinista
government was directly involved in drug trafficking to the
United States.  According to Seal, the Medellin Cartel had made a
deal with the Sandinistas, awarding them hefty cuts of drug
profits in exchange for the use of an airfield in Managua as
trans-shipment point for narcotics.  Overnight, Seal was
transformed from drug smuggler trying to wiggle out from under a
crushing legal case to star informant.  Under pressure from the
Task Force, the DEA agreed to enlist Seal as an undercover
informant, with special emphasis on the "Nicaraguan connection."
But did such a connection even exist?  DEA intelligence reports
contained no information on it, and there were a number of DEA
officials who suspected that Seal had been primed to say the one
thing the Reagan administration wanted to hear -that the
Sandinistas, in addition to all the other heinous crimes the
administration was accusing them of, were also drug smugglers.

Set loose into the drug underworld, Seal demonstrated a real
flair for sting operations, ensnaring several top leaders of the
Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean as drug traffickers,
plus a large-scale narcotics ring in Las Vegas.  But the eventual
goal was the "Nicaraguan connection," with Seal hinting that he
would be able to set up the entire Medellin Cartel for arrest.
In April 1984, Seal delivered another bombshell for the DEA,
claiming he was in contact with the Medellin Cartel, which wanted
him to serve as liaison with a man named Frederico Vaughan,
described as a Sandinista government official and close associate
of Nicaraguan Defense Minister Tomas Borges.  According to Seal,
Vaughan was the Sandinista representative chosen to deal with the
Medellin Cartel.  The report was sensational, and when Seal flew
his C-123 southward, it was equipped with two hidden cameras that
were to record the actual movement of narcotics by the
Sandinistas.  Seal made the trip in June, but informed his DEA
handlers that one camera in the plane's nose -which would have
clearly revealed precisely where the aircraft had landed
-regrettably malfunctioned.  A second camera in the cargo bay
snapped pictures of Seal, a man identified as Frederico Vaughan,
and a "Sandinista soldier" in civilian garb loading duffel bags
Seal said contained cocaine onto the plane.  The DEA would have
preferred to keep the pictures quiet for the moment, since its
real objective was the Medellin Cartel, but made the mistake of
telling the CIA about them.  A week later, one of the pictures
appeared in a Washington newspaper, the agency having failed to
resist the temptation of scoring propaganda points against the
Sandinistas.  Seal's cover was irretrievably blown.  (The picture
was later displayed by President Reagan during a national
television address seeking to restore congressional funding for
the Contras.)

Salvaging what it could, the DEA had the shipment Seal
photographed seized, under the guise of a fortuitous local police
bust in Florida, and agents moved against the men that Seal said
were "Cartel representatives" in southern Florida.  Among them
was a man named Carlos Bustamente.  Based in Miami, Bustamente
had advanced money to Colombia to set the "Nicaraguan connection"
deal in motion, an involvement that later resulted in his
conviction on trafficking charges and a 40-year prison sentence.
But the DEA should have dug deeper, for there was something
seriously wrong with the whole "Nicaraguan connection" story.
For one thing, Bustamente was in fact an associate of Seal's, not
the Medellin Cartel, and the money he advanced for the deal was
almost certainly Seal's, not his own.  For another, although Seal
had called Vaughan in Nicaragua in the presence of the DEA,
nobody checked the exact location of the number.  It turned out
that the phone was in a house that for a number of years was
rented by the U.S. embassy in Managua.  Moreover, there was not
a shred of supporting evidence; with Noriega as a business
partner, why would Medellin need the Nicaraguans?

Still it amounted to a major propaganda victory for the U.S.
government, and Seal was to get his reward.  Already his sentence
in Florida had been reduced to ten years.  It was later reduced
further to probation, following lavish testimonials to Seal's
value to the federal government.  But this rosy view of El Gordo
did not extend to Louisiana, where both federal and state law
enforcement had a more realistic grasp of the state's notorious
native son.  They regarded Seal's Nicaraguan caper as a pure
sting, organized and conducted by Seal himself against gullible
Washington and Miami DEA officials, now basking in the glow of
gratitude from the White House.  Unimpressed with Seal's
performance, Louisiana authorities put together a major
drug-trafficking case against him, emerging with a federal
indictment in 1984 charging Seal with moving at least 462 kilos
of cocaine worth $168 million into the state.  It was a strong
case, and there were early indications that Seal would plead
guilty and hope his connections would help him out.

Perhaps emboldened by those connections, Seal began to openly
challenge his persecutors.  He threatened Crittenden with serious
legal trouble if the State Police investigator didn't stop
surveilling him.  He had his lawyer write a letter to police and
the local DEA office warning that Seal had armed body guards,
adding what police considered to be a veiled threat of a "tragic
incident" if the bodyguards were to open fire on agents
investigating Seal.  On a local television-news documentary, he
charged that the investigation of his activities was revenge
organized by the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, the State Police, and
the local DEA because he refused to become an informant.

All the while, as police discovered, Seal was active in the drug
business.  Incredibly enough, while he was ostensibly on parole
in the Florida case, working as a DEA informant and in the
process of pleading guilty to a major narcotics case in
Louisiana, he was busy reorganizing a whole new drug operation
there.  More ominously, that operation seemed to have some form
of legal protection.

Police discovered a 95-foot converted fishing boat with helipad
anchored in a river 180 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.  Their
suspicions heightened by the presence of Hispanics aboard, the
police checked the boat's ownership: It belonged to Seal, who was
indignant that the police would even suspect that his boat would
be used to move narcotics.  Moreover, there was a call from the
DEA in Florida claiming that the boat was to be used by Seal in a
new sting operation on behalf of the government.  The same thing
happened when police uncovered another Seal tentacle, a house in
a rural part of the state, loaded with highly sophisticated
communications gear, with a field nearby for helicopter
landings.  As police moved in to seize the equipment, another
call from the Florida DEA informed them that the communications
setup -capable of reaching any point in Latin America was also
owned by Seal and part of a sting operation he directed on behalf
of the DEA.  Those assertions were news to the DEA in Baton
Rouge, which in formed the police that they knew of no such sting
operations under way in Louisiana.

Things were even worse in Arkansas, where authorities move
against Seal's operation at Mena Airport.  Sheriff Al Hadaway
went after Seal's C-123 with drug-sniffing dogs, intending to
seize the plane if traces of narcotics were detected.  But
Hadaway too received a call from the DEA in Miami: If he seized
the plane, the U.S. government would seize it back.  Infuriated,
Hadaway blew up, yelling into the telephone, "We in Arkansas have
been screwed and Vaselined by the federal government!"

It was worse than he knew.  The DEA in Miami claimed that
everything Seal had been doing in Arkansas and Louisiana was part
of a DEA operation and therefore sanctioned.  The claim was
fatuous on its face, since the Miami DEA had no agents on the
scene to monitor Seal's activities in those two states, and had
not informed either state's local DEA out posts or the FBI (or
the police) that any such sting operations were under way, which
meant, as Louisiana police later estimated, that Seal had been
allowed to move several hundred kilos of narcotics into both
states under official sanction by the U.S. government.  The
alleged "stings" Seal's activities represented were in fact
Seal's own, designed to keep the DEA on a string.

This sequence of events infuriated Louisiana officials.
Determined to put Seal away, they were in no mood to grant him
much leniency on his guilty plea, but there was extraordinary
pressure from the highest levels of the U.S. Justice Department
that Seal be given a sentence in accordance with the one he
received in Florida -ten years reduced to probation, also after
heavy pressure from the Justice Department.  Now Louisiana was
stuck with that "accordance." A sentencing hearing in Louisiana
on Seal's case graphically illustrated just what was wrong with
the alleged "war on drugs." Defense attorneys arguing for
leniency were surrounded by a phalanx of high-level federal
officials, all primed to testify about the invaluable
contributions Seal had made to the crusade against narcotics.  On
the other side, arrayed around the Louisiana prosecutors were
local federal officials who were prepared to testify that Seal
had done no such thing.  Seal refused to enter the federal
Witness Protection Program, proclaiming, "This is my town!"

U.S. District Court Judge Frank Polozola, who presided over this
bizarre tableau, knew all about Seal and was not impressed by all
the talk concerning Seal's contributions.  People like Seal,
Polozola said, "are the lowest, despicable people I can think
of." But his hands were tied.  Seal's plea bargain guaranteed
that he would receive the same sentence he received in Florida.
That meant probation -but, Polozola told a shocked Seal, he had
the authority to set the conditions of that probation.  The judge
then ordered Seal to stay in the Middle District of Louisiana and
spend most of the week in a Salvation Army halfway house in Baton
Rouge, where he had to report every day at 6:00 PM.  Seal was
outraged by this first legal limit on his freedom of movement,
yet Polozola made it clear that he was not about to bend under
any pressure that Seal might summon: "And I can tell you right
now, I don't care if it is the DEA, I don't care if it is the
CIA, I don't care if it is the State Department, I don't care if
it is the U.S. Attorney."

Polozola's surprising mention of the CIA struck a responsive
chord in the law-enforcement establishments of Louisiana and
Arkansas, for they had come to believe that aside from the
incompetence of the Miami office of the DEA in managing Seal, the
real villain in the entire Seal saga was the CIA It was the
Seal-CIA connection, they decided, that was the root cause of
their problem -and the larger problem of narcotics.  The plain
fact was that while one arm of the government was proclaiming a
war against drugs, its intelligence arm was doing business with
people like Seal -at the very least, tacitly allowing him to
smuggle drugs.

The precise CIA-Seal relationship is still not fully known, but
as Seal began to serve his probation at the halfway house, he was
dropping some tantalizing hints in private conversations with
police and federal agents.  "I've only begun to talk," he said,
with suggestions of dark deeds and strange connections, the mere
mention of which clearly made him nervous.

The motive may have been Seal's sense that the intricate game he
had been playing for over ten years was now finally over.  The
CIA's Supermarket operation had been closed down, largely because
of recurring publicity about drug dealing by some of those
involved in the operation.  Supermarket's replacement was the
soon-to-be-infamous Enterprise, managed directly by Lieutenant
Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council.

Seal and the other smugglers he had recruited were eased out of
the Contra operations, but Seal had one last service to perform:
He agreed to "sell" his C-123 to a CIA proprietary (a front
company) in Miami.  It was that plane that was shot down over
Nicaragua in the fall of 1986, unraveling the entire secret
Contra-supply operation.

By then, Seal was dead.  He had spent a few hectic weeks before
his death trying to dispose of his planes and boats in the face
of an assault by the Internal Revenue Service, which determined
that he had made a profit of $30 million smuggling drugs.  He had
not, the I.R.S. noted sternly, declared this income on his
returns.  They wanted it all -now.  On the afternoon of February
19, 1986, Seal paid a visit to his sign-rental company before
checking in at the halfway house.  He seemed unusually nervous to
those who saw him that day.  They heard him make a few phone
calls, including one to a local cable company in which he
demanded to know why they had not yet installed the soft-core
"adult" channel at the halfway house.

Seal then murmured to no one in particular, "I've got some real
problems, some big problems."No one knows what he meant, though
obviously he was not referring to the cable company, and those
were to be the last words he uttered on this earth.  A short
while later he drove into the halfway-house parking lot and was
murdered.  The men who murdered him turned out to be three
Colombian hit men dispatched by the Medellin Cartel (they were
caught, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment).  The motive
for the killing was double-edged: one, that Seal was an informant
and deserved such treatment on general principle, and two, that
he might testify in an attempted U.S. indictment of Jorge Ochoa,
one of the Medellin triumvirate.

Since Seal's death.  very little light has been shed on the dark
secrets he only hinted at.  Almost immediately after his death,
Louisiana police officials and the state's attorney general
prepared a lengthy retrospective report on the case, demanding
that the DEA explain its role in the matter.

The report strongly criticized "the involvement of the CIA and
the corruption of the Drug Enforcement Administration as an
agency." The DEA finally conceded after some months that there
was some "validity" to the Louisiana complaints, but added that
Seal's case had "significant international or national security

Aware of the anger over the Seal case in Louisiana, including
some especially bitter FBI and DEA agents in Baton Rouge -along
with angry police officials -a senior DEA official traveled to
Louisiana and attempted to mollify all those involved." Look," he
said finally, in an explanation he thought served as the
penultimate answer, "everything was done in the name of national
security." Those who heard that answer swore that at that moment
they could hear Adler Berriman Seal roar with that rollicking
laugh, somewhere far beyond the grave.

~END ~


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