Henry Hyde's Moral Universe ©1999 by the authors
Published by Common Courage Press, Monroe, ME 04951
Chapter 5 of Henry Hyde's Moral Universe
has been reproduced in The Psychedelic Library
with the kind permission of the Publisher.
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|"There was no information developed indicating any U.S. government agency or organization condoned drug trafficking by the Contras or anyone else."|
from a memo endorsed by Henry Hyde, 1987
|"Fourteen million to finance [Contra arms] came from drugs."|
July 12, 1985 entry in a notebook kept by Oliver North.
The involvement of Nicaraguan Contras and their American support system in drug trafficking to raise funds for war is a matter still hotly debated over a decade after the Iran-Contra scandal came to light. Henry Hyde played a significant role in creating public confusion about Contra trafficking and ultimately steering the IranContra Committees away from a serious investigation of this highly volatile subject that goes right to the heart of U.S. national security. The suppression of the Contra drug investigation was crucial in keeping Ronald Reagan and George Bush from being run out of office for a policy which both fueled America's cocaine pandemic and greatly advanced the mission of narco -terrorists who were busy moonlighting as Contra captains. In deflecting the Contra drug investigation, Hyde also shielded himself and other pro-Contra cheerleaders from the onslaught of bad press which would have inevitably followed public revelations about this very serious issue.
According to the CIA's own documents, Reagan's first attorney general, William French Smith, gave the CIA written permission in 1982 to work with traffickers who were also bringing cocaine into the U.S. without having to report their trafficking activities. By 1985, journalists, law enforcement officials and congressional investigators had a plethora of leads that the Contra operation was riddled with traffickers. "The government made a secret decision to sacrifice a part of the American population for the Contra effort," testified Washington attorney Jack Blum before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1996. Blum was Special Counsel to Senator John Kerry's Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations which investigated Contra trafficking in the 1980s even before the Iran-Contra committees commenced their work. Blum told the Intelligence Committee that U.S. officials were "quietly undercutting law enforcement and human-rights agencies that might have caused them difficulty ... policy makers absolutely closed their eyes to the criminal behavior of the Contras."
"I put cops in jail for a lot of years for just knowing about a trafficking operation and failing to report it," says former Drug Enforcement Agent, Michael Levine, who served more than two decades in the DEA. "Imagine this, here you have Oliver North, a high-level government official in the National Security Council running a covert action in collaboration with a drug cartel. That's what I call treason," said the seasoned former federal agent. "We'll never know how many kids died because these so-called patriots were so hot to support the Contras that they risked several generations of our young people to do it." Henry Hyde was a "real insider," said Levine, "a member of the House Intelligence Oversight Committee and a good friend to the CIA... Whether Hyde knew about and supported the policy" to work with traffickers "from the start is not clear, but as a key member of the joint committees, he certainly played a major role in keeping the American people blindfolded about the story."
How to Lie on Drugs: A Hyde Primer
Hyde played a key role in blocking the investigation of the Contra drug connection, not only by consistently refusing to ask hard questions of the Contra plotters, who had substantial knowledge of the trafficking, but by championing a false document that claimed the committee had conducted a wide-ranging investigation into the drug allegations and come up empty.
In a 900-word memorandum of July 23, 1987 to Iran-Contra House Committee Chair Lee Hamilton and Committee Counsel John Nields, which bears Hyde's signature, Robert A. Bermingham, a House Iran-Contra Committee investigator, claimed that an exhaustive investigation by the Iran-Contra Committees turned up no evidence that the Contra leadership was involved with narcotrafficking.
One got the first impression from reading the memo that all the committees did was to investigate the Contra drug allegations:
During the course of our investigation, the role of U.S. government officials who supported the Contras and the private resupply effort, as well as the role of private individuals in resupply, were exhaustively examined. Hundreds of persons, including U.S. government employees, Contra leaders, representatives of foreign governments, U.S. and foreign law enforcement officials, military personnel, private pilots and crews involved in actual operations were questioned and their files and records examined... There was no information developed indicating any U.S. government agency or organization condoned drug trafficking by the Contras or anyone else.
While this certainly sounds thorough and impressive, the memo provided virtually no documentation from the hundreds of people who were allegedly interviewed during the investigation. There were no excerpts from the depositions in the memo, no names of the Contra leaders or private pilots and crews supposedly interviewed. Furthermore, there were no quotes from the files, no specific references to which records were examined, nor was there even a reference as to which foreign governments had cooperated in the Hyde-championed Robert Bermingham investigation.
"During the course of our investigation," the fraudulent three-page memo stated, "we examined files of State, DOD, NSC, CIA, DEA, Justice, Customs and FBI, especially those reportedly involving newspaper allegations of Contra drug trafficking. We have discovered that almost all of these allegations originate from persons indicted or convicted of drug smuggling."
Contrary to the memo, all the aforementioned government agencies had information and substantial leads regarding Contra trafficking, at the time of Bermingham's wide-ranging investigation.
Consider what was going on at the NSC and the state department in 1985 and 1986. Oliver North had teamed up with four companies owned and operated by drug traffickers. According to government documents, the companies included SETCO Air, owned and operated at the time by the notorious Honduran drug trafficker, Ramon Matta Ballesteros; DIACSA, the Miami-based headquarters for major traffickers, Floyd Carlton and Alfredo Caballero; Vortex, an air service and supply company that was partly owned by drug trafficker and pilot, Michael Palmer; and Frigorificos de Puntarenas, a firm established by the Medellin Cartel and operated by Cuban-American drug traffickers who also ran the Florida-based sister outfit, Ocean Hunter.
At the strong urging of Oliver North, all four shell companies were put on the U.S. payroll as part of what was then known as the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO), which was officially run out of the U.S. State Department but closely supervised by North at the NSC. Among those in charge, working simultaneously for the Medellin Cartel, North, the State Department and the CIA, was Francisco Chanes. Also working closely with the network was another long-time CIA contract agent named Felipe Vidal. Vidal had been arrested at least a half-dozen times in the U.S. for drug and weapons violations by the time Bermingham and company prepared their flimsy 1987 memo. Former CIA station chief in Costa Rica, Joe Fernandez, testified before Congress that Vidal had a problem with drugs.
The CIA's Contra-op supervisor, Alan Fiers, and Rob Owen, who worked for the NHAO at the behest of North, were acutely aware in 1986 that the NHAO had hired major traffickers. Among them was Michael Palmer, a former commercial airline pilot, who according to federal court records, "was working for the largest marijuana cartel in the history of the country." When Palmer's DC4 was hit during secret supply drops in Nicaragua, he ended up making an emergency landing off the coast on San Andreas Island, a known haven for cocaine traffickers. Rob Owen wrote to North in 1986 saying, "No doubt you know that the DC4... was used at one time to run drugs and part of the crew had criminal records. Nice group the boys chose."
Not a hint of any of this was mentioned in the memo on the "exhaustive" investigation by Bermingham and signed by Hyde.
In September 1986, Senator John Kerry personally provided the justice Department with the name of a credible eyewitness who testified to seeing large quantities of cocaine being loaded onto a CIA-connected, Southern Air Transport plane by a man named Wallace "Buzz" Saywer. Saywer would later make history posthumously as the CIA operative shot down with Eugene Hasenfus over Nicaragua in October 1986, tearing the lid off the secret North network. Wanda Palacio, a trusted FBI informant, had provided a detailed statement to Senator Kerry that Pilots for Southern Air were flying cocaine out of Barranquilla, Columbia as part of a Contra "drugs for guns" exchange. Palacio said on two occasions in 1983 and 1985 that she witnessed the operation in the presence of Medellin Cartel king-pin, Jorge Ochoa. But what evidence is there that Palacio was telling the truth about the use of this plane that was also in the hire of the CIA? First, Palacio passed a lie detector test. But even more convincing, Sawyer's flight logs, obtained by Robert Parry at AP, confirm that the CIA/contract employee had flown a Southern Air Transport plane into Barranquilla in October 1985, just as Palacio had claimed.
It appears that in his "investigation," Bermingham was interviewing a different set of government officials and Contra leaders than those that had caught the attention in 1985 and 1986 of Senator Kerry and various criminal investigators from a variety of agencies. Jack Blum, while working for Kerry's Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Communications, obtained substantial information as early as 1986 about Contra connections to drugs, which he forwarded to the justice Department for follow-up. The subcommittee's final Report states that it had "uncovered considerable evidence relating to the Contra network which substantiated many of the initial allegations laid out before the Committee in the spring of 1986. On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking. It is also clear that the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring or immediately thereafter."
In stark contrast, the Hyde/Bermingham memo of 1987 declares, "Contra leaders have been interviewed and their bank records examined." It continues: "They denied any connection with or knowledge of drug trafficking. Examination of Contra financial records, private enterprise business records, and income tax returns of several individuals failed to find any indication of drug trafficking." Again, no specific mention of which Contra leaders were deposed under oath or exactly what records were evaluated.
But Contra-leader Octaviano Cesar was a direct recipient of aid from notorious cartel trafficker, George Morales, and even testified before Kerry to that fact. Morales, with his own little air force of drug planes and stash of ready cash, was the perfect player in the guns for drugs operation. The payoff for Moralesbesides striking a blow against the communistswas a bit of legal help on a few drug busts. "It was a marriage of convenience made in heaven," said a former Kerry investigator, interviewed by one of the authors in the fall of 1986, again a year before Bermingham was tasked to concoct his memo exonerating the Contras and the U.S. government from involvement in drug trafficking. The Contra leader, for his part, adopted Hyde's moral stance and roundly blamed Congress for forcing him to team up with a notorious trafficker such as Morales. Cesar said when he dealt with Morales, he "was thinking in terms of the security of my country. It just didn't enter my mind that I would become involved in such a mess... I'm not proud of it, but I just didn't have any choice. I mean, the U.S. Congress didn't give us any choice" but to deal with traffickers.
One didn't even need subpoena power from Congress, to be a DEA agent in El Salvador or a U.S. Attorney in Miami, to start unraveling the Contra drug connection. Several respected journalists had been following the story since 1984. One of the authors of this book first interviewed George Morales in 1986. Morales, who was also a world-class speedboat racer, was in Miami's Metropolitan Correctional Center at the time. He identified himself as a Contra supporter and a network operative. At the time, Morales was being held without bond on charges that he conspired to smuggle as much as 1,500 kilograms of cocaine into South Florida. In the 1986 interview, Morales said that he was "supplying aircraft and training pilots" for the Contra network as well as flying supplies and materiel to the Contras in Costa Rica. "On some particular days we were loading the planes...and there were U.S. officials around and aware of it and never the planes were touched. Never."
Meanwhile, Morales wasn't the only one doing business with the Contras. Alarm bells were going off all over Florida about illegal Contra activities with drug links. George Kiszynski was a FBI agent with the Miami Office's antiterrorist squad. According to Congressional testimony, Kiszynski communicated with North through FBI channels. According to a City of Miami Police Intelligence Report dated September 26, 1984, Kiszynski was informed about Contra-related drug activities. A report stamped, "Record furnished to George Kiszynski, FBI," couldn't be clearer. It states that one Contra supporter was "giving financial support to anti-Castro groups and Nicaraguan guerrillas. The money comes from narcotics transactions."
The Miami police document also placed Costa Rica-based, CIA operative, John Hull, and his ranch in southern Costa Rica, on the Contra supply map.
It states that two Cuban-American Contra supporters "are associated with an American who owns a ranch in southern Costa Rica... The owner of the ranch is John Hull and the ranch has an airstrip. In October 1983, a load of ammunition was unloaded on that airstrip..."
Bermingham's brief memo makes no reference whatsoever to Morales, or Wanda Palacio, says nothing about Octaviano Cesar and John Hull or the four drug shell companies hired by the State Department, or the FBI memo, or any of the scores of leads from Congress, law enforcement or dogged journalists. Bermingham does not even attempt to discredit a single source by name. But no matter. He concludes his fraudulent memorandum by stating that "additional investigation of these allegations is unwarranted in view of the negative results to date..."
Using the Washington Post
The exact date of the Bermingham memo, July 23, 1987, is crucial, according to Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, authors of Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America. The memo appeared the day after a story in the Washington Post reported that Congressman Charles Rangel's Select Committee on Narcotics conducted a thorough investigation into Contra-related trafficking and found nothing. But the Post story was false, so incorrect that it was retracted just days later after written complaints by Rangel and others. In fact, Rangel immediately refuted the claims of the Post article, but his response was never printed.
No matter. The memo's use of the false article "helped generate the parallel myth, that an exhaustive Congressional investigation... developed no evidence which would show that the Contra leadership was involved in drug smuggling... The date of that memo is important," write Scott and Marshall, because "it suggests witting exploitation of a lie that had been floated in the July 22 Washington Post and that the Post itself had retracted on July 24."
Instead of interviewing Rangel directly, Bermingham cited the Post story, which was based on leaks from unnamed congressional sources who had been present during a closed door meeting of Rangel's Select Narcotics Committee on July 21, the day before the Post story appeared. So important was the Post article to supporting the memo's assertion that an in-depth investigation had been conducted, that Bermingham cited a quote appearing in it from Rep. Rangel. He is quoted in the Washington Post, July 22, 1987, as stating "his investigation," which started in June of 1986 and includes reams of testimony from hundreds of witnesses, "developed no evidence which would show that Contra leadership was involved in drug trafficking."
Again Bermingham is pumping up the illusion that hundreds of witnesses had been interviewed and no credible information exists to implicate the Contra leadership in trafficking, without naming a single witness who was interviewed. In fact, Peter Dale Scott happened to be a witness at the Rangel committee meeting referred to in the Post story that was memorialized by Bermingham. Scott had been invited to testify at the July 21, 1987 closed-door executive session of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. According to Cocaine Politics, he and a colleague "submitted a written brief on this subject, as did witnesses from two other groups. They gave instances of Contra leaders and supporters who had been indicted and/or convicted on drug charges."
Bermingham could have gone straight to Rangel, but he didn't. It would seem obvious that face-to-face interviews with congressional colleagues would be infinitely more reliable than second-hand news reports that were refuted and swiftly retracted the day after they were published. In fact, Robert Weiner, counsel for Rangel's House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, had complained publicly about the incident at the time and was quoted in the Boston Globe saying that the Rangel committee, "did indeed find that there is substance to many of the allegations [about Contra drug smuggling]. Mr. Bermingham is wrongly prejudging a congressional committee investigation."
Material submitted to the Rangel committee and boldly referenced in a syndicated Newsday article, coauthored by Polk Award-winning journalist, Robert Knight, is an eight-page document from the Rangel's Narcotics Committee Counsel, Ronald A. LeGrand, dated June 25, 1986drafted more than a year before the Bermingham memo. According to the June 1986 memo to the Rangel Committee's Chief of Staff, John T Cusack, "A number of individuals who supported the Contras and who participated in Contra activity in Texas, Louisiana, California and Florida as well as in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, have suggested that cocaine is being smuggled into the United States through the same infrastructure which is procuring, storing and transporting weapons, explosives, ammunition and military equipment for the Contras from the United States."
The 1986 Rangel memo lays out with some specificity key aspects of the Contra drug operation as they would later be confirmed by the CIAs own Inspector General's Report. And it even alludes to the operations of the seafood importing companies later hired by North and the NHAO to assist the Contra resupply operation. "One conspiracy described by these sources involves members of Brigade 2506 in Miami [Cuban-American veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion] and unidentified Colombian drug traffickers smuggling drugs to the United States using two mechanisms.
"The first is to blast-freeze cocaine in seafood at processing plants in Limon, Costa Rica, and then to smuggle the cocaine in through Miami. The second is to use airstrips on the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border, controlled or managed by American supporters of the Contras, for refueling of drug planes on the way to the United States from Colombia," stated the memo.
The narcotics committee document also refers to the now widely reported 1983 "Frogman Case" in which federal agents seized hundreds of pounds of cocaine and tens of thousands of dollars in drug monies as divers for the traffickers attempted to unload the contraband from a freighter at San Francisco's Pier 96. "Three years after their convictions, two defendants said they had been working for the Contras and had in the past provided Costa Rican-based Contra groups with about $500,000 in funds, the majority of which came from cocaine sales. One of the two, Julio Zavala, obtained the release of the seized $36,020 after producing letters from the Contra-connected Conservative Party of Nicaraguans in Exile and Nicaraguan Democratic Union-Nicaraguan Revolutionary Armed Force."
Also according to the syndicated Newsday article, Jonathan Winer, now a high-level narcotics official in the State Department and a former aid to John Kerry, stated in May of 1987 that he was "confident" that drug money was used to help finance the Contras and that North could be involved. "We have received a variety of allegations about drug connections to the Contras and to parts of the North network," said Jonathan Winer, "As to whether Oliver North is involved in that, I cannot say. But members of the North network allegedly were, and that needs to be looked at very seriously."
The article also referenced the fact that former ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, told the House Subcommittee on Western Hemispheric Affairs in October 1986 that "the Contras have been involved in a wide range of criminal activities that violate U.S. law. These activities include narcotics trafficking, arms smuggling, various currency offenses and other crimes up to and including murder."
As Scott and Marshall report, "Rangel promptly wrote a four-point letter of denial [of the July 22 Washington Post story], but the Post declined to publish it; the paper merely corrected the false claim about hundreds of witnesses being interviewed." Thus "the 'hundreds of witnesses' and the false quotation from Congressman Rangel were enshrined" in the fraudulent memo about Contra drug trafficking.
In short, the issue of drugs and the Contras had massive evidence indicating further investigation was warranted. But Bermingham makes no specific reference in his memo to having investigated any of the material referenced in the 1986 Rangel memo and syndicated by Newsday. Hyde was apparently not interested in any of this either. For his part, he highlighted the fraudulent memo in the minority section of the final Iran-Contra report that was not released until November of 1987several months after the document had already been shown to be false. Unabashedly repeating the lie, Hyde scolded members of Congress and attacked the largely bipartisan majority for not giving the false memo more prominence in the final Iran-Contra report, despite the fact that it had been discredited. Hyde stated that Contra drug allegations were created out of whole cloth to damage the esteemed reputation of the Nicaraguan anti-Communist resistance.
"[T]he fact is that the Committees' staff left no stone unturned in its efforts to obtain information that might be politically damaging to the Resistance…," stated Hyde and the others in a footnote to the final Iran-Contra report. "The Committees' investigators reviewed major portions, if not all, of the Contras' financial records; met with witnesses who alleged the Resistance was involved in terrorism or drug-running; investigated the financial conduct of the NHAO program... received no credible evidence of misconduct by the Resistance. It came as little surprise, of course, that the Committees' majority does not explicitly acknowledge this... For this reason, suggestions that the Committees have not investigated such matters, and other Committees of Congress should, ought to be seen for what they are: political harassment by Congressional opponents of the Resistance."
While more is now known about the drug traffickers that collaborated with North and the CIA in funding and running the Contra operation, there was more than enough information back in the mid-'80s to give Hyde and other Contra supporters pause.
Among the most troubled and vocal critics of Hyde's actions are members of the law enforcement community. Former DEA cop, Michael Levine, strongly believes North, and those who shielded him such as Hyde, should have been tried for trafficking and treason for their role in the Contra drug operation and the cover-up.
Levine starts to fume when he considers various entries in North's diaries from his heady days as chief gringo Contra commander. He rattles off a cite from North's notebooks: July 12, 1985, "Fourteen million to finance [Contra arms] came from drugs," Levine quotes North. "What the hell does that mean, and where does Congressman Hyde think the drugs went that paid for the Contra's weapons? Into kids' bodies," says Levine.
"If I was working North's case," said the experienced drug warrior, "I would have tracked him and the rest of them, from the time they got up in the morning until the time they went to bed at night."
"There was plenty of hard evidence," says Levine who has written several books on the subject and has testified regularly as a court-certified expert witness in drug-related cases. "The totality of the whole picture is very compelling; this is very damning evidence. We had informants who testified before Kerry, the agents testified. Even in my book, Big White Lie, I testified that the CIA stopped us from indicting the Bolivian government at the same time Contra assets were going down there to pick up drugs. When you put it all together you have much more evidence to convict Ollie North, [former high level CIA official] Dewey Claridge and all the way up the line, than they had in any John Gotti case."
"I had my own evidence," said Levine, "a DEA report that states that the CIA stopped us from indicting the same people who were selling the Contras drugs. That's direct evidence, you cannot get better than that. That is a smoking gun. I know this as an investigator [who] put thousands of Americans in jail personally and then indirectly tens of thousands, because of all the investigations I handled as supervisor for seventeen years. I know there was far more evidence already documented, already testified to in secret and open session in Congress. Put it together with Ollie North's notebooks and with his email you have more than enough to put that man away."
Hyde may not have taken Levine's concerns seriously, but the entire Costa Rica Justice Department did, not to mention the Country's former President, Nobel Laureate, Oscar Arias. Oliver North, former Reagan NSC chief, Admiral Poindexter, John Hull, Richard Secord and former Costa Rican CIA Chief of Station, Joe Fernendez, were banned from ever setting foot on Costa Rican soil again, as a result of their Contra activities. Hull, whose ranch was a major transshipment point for Contra drugs and guns, was arrested and indicted in Costa Rica on trafficking charges in 1989. But before he was forced to stand trial, he was secretly flown out of the country on a flight arranged by U.S. officials. Perhaps no one feels the frustration more deeply than Celerino Castillo III. The one-time police officer and Vietnam veteran joined the DEA in 1979. "Cele" Castillo served as a top DEA agent in Central America from 1985 to 1991. Working undercover in El Salvador, Castillo learned about the Contra operation at Ilopango, the El Salvadoran military airport in 1986. "They were running narcotics and weapons out of Ilopango to support the Contras," said Castillo during more than a dozen interviews between 1993 and 1997. "We're talking about very large quantities of cocaine and millions of dollars... There's no doubt about it; we saw the cocaine and the boxes full of money." Castillo said the operation was run out of "hangars four and five controlled by North and the CIA with Felix Rodriguez. The cocaine was trans-shipped from Costa Rica through El Salvador and into the United States..."
The DEA veteran agent detailed how known traffickers with multiple DEA files used Hangars Four and Five in Ilopango for drug smuggling. Despite their backgrounds, stated Castillo, the traffickers had obtained U.S. visas. Castillo said that his reports were very thorough and included "not only the names of traffickers, but their destinations, flight paths, tail numbers and the date and time of each flight."
According to Castillo, the drug planes flown by Contra pilots came from Costa Rica and sometimes the drugs came on military aircraft from Panama. The top drug pilot flying for the Contra network at that time was Francisco Guirola Beeche. Guirola's name was all over DEA databases, according to Castillo, and their aircraft was on a watch list for drug trafficking. Guirola was arrested with nearly six million dollars in drug money by federal agents in Texas, according to Castillo and numerous public reports. Yet Guirola was immediately set free. Authorities kept the money but sent the drug trafficker on his way in his drug plane. Soon after, Guirola joined the Contra operation as a key pilot. According to Castillo there were eleven separate DEA files regarding Guirola's trafficking, yet he receives no mention in Bermingham's memo.
Felix and Henry
Henry Hyde took particular pride in welcoming Bay of Pigs veteran, Felix Rodriguez to the Iran-Contra hearings. Hyde was proud to stand side-by-side with such a legendary anti-Communist patriot and freedom fighter. Rodriguez was a paramilitary specialist and a CIA agent who was credited with tracking down and executing Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara.
With few questions and only praise for his witness, Hyde showed little interest in what Rodriguez might know about the drug-connected operation he was supervising at Ilopongo. When it came to Rodriguez, Hyde was ready to justify anything he might do to beat back the Communists and prevent them from attacking over the "land bridges" to North America. "I know there is a zeal among some to confine this inquiry to who did what, and ignore why. And I just want to make the point that I think why some of these things were done contributes to a fuller understanding of who and what [was done], and that the nonfeasance of Congress may well turn out to be every bit as important as the misfeasance or malfeasance of certain individuals."
Rodriguez, a.k.a. Max Gomez, was in charge of the day-to-day operations at Ilopango where the Contra's illegal supply network was based. Rodriguez was placed in the field through George Bush's Office and then CIA Central American task-force chief Allan Fiers. Rodriguez was essentially the CIA cutout, running the day-to-day operations of the Contra resupply network after the CIA involvement was formally forbidden by Boland. It would later be Rodriguez who called Bush's office to alert the VicePresident that Eugene Hasenfus had been shot down over Nicaragua on October 5, 1986. Working alongside Rodriguez as "number two man" at Ilopango, was Luis Posada Carrilles. Posada was credited with the 1976 terrorist attack on a Cubana Airlines jet carrying seventy-three people. The plane exploded soon after takeoff, killing all the passengers, including the entire Cuban national fencing team.
Besides being an anti-Cuban terrorist, Posada had a long history with the Mafia in South Florida. In the early 1970s, the DEA had received documentary evidence that Posada was smuggling narcotics into the U.S. CIA and DEA files are full of references to Posada's connections to major drug traffickers and mobsters. As early as 1974, the DEA was aware that Posada was trading weapons for cocaine. In fact, Posada began working with Rodriguez at Ilopango right after his escape from a Venezuelan prison where he was being held for the attack on the Cuban airliner.
There was not a mention in the false Bermingham memo to Posada's checkered past that had been documented by U.S. government officials starting twenty-five years before the Iran-Contra committees were formed.
Hyde was not interested in pursuing any of the leads with Rodriguez regarding Contra narco-terrorism, despite Rodriguez's obvious links and knowledge. Hyde seemed to be much more interested in what happened at the Bay of Pigs than what a CIAcreated terrorist network of traffickers and assassins were doing in the name of U.S. democracy. "Now, Mr. Rodriguez, you participated in the Bay of Pigs fiasco?" "Yes, sit," Rodriguez answered proudly. One of the few truths Rodriguez would tell Congress.
According to subsequent testimony before Congress and later in U.S. federal court at the trial of Manuel Noriega, Rodriguez was also the conduit for a $10 million contribution from the Medellin cartel to the Contras. According to testimony before Senator John Kerry's Subcommittee on Narcotics and International Terrorism, the $10 million in drug money was laundered through Frigorificos. The $10 million in drug money was also confirmed at the Noriega trial by Carlos Lehder, the Medellin cartel's former transportation chief, and Ramon Milian Rodriguez, the former accountant for the Medellin cartel.
Nicaraguan pilot, Marcos Arguado, also worked with Rodriguez at Illopango. Arguado, was the chief pilot for Contra forces in Costa Rica, but after being deported from Costa Rica on drug- trafficking charges, Arguado became a colonel in the Salvadoran Air Force and a key operative in the Contra supply operation. He planned flights from Ilopango that flew to the U.S., according to Cele Castillo.
Songs for Henry
In 1984, Honduran General José Bueso Rosa was indicted for a plot to assassinate President Roberto Suazo Cordova of Honduras and stage a cocaine-funded coup. Bueso Rosa was determined to terminate President Cordova because he had fired Army Chief General Gustavo Alvarez, a key Contra supporter. The coup plotters were arrested in Florida in a FBI sting. The Feds seized over 700 pounds of cocaine during the bust at a tiny, remote airport.
After Bueso Rosa, one of the CIA's key Contra operatives in Honduras, was arrested for plotting the drug-funded assassination of a foreign head of state on U.S. soil, North himself leapt into action, leaving a trail of documentary evidence that any serious joint Senate/House investigation could have tracked. His mission, as he noted in a memo to Admiral Poindexter, was to take measures to assure that Bueso Rosa would not "start singing songs that nobody wants to hear."
"I want to hear those songs," said Levine, "and I think the American people have a right to hear those songs so they don't get ripped-off by government officials who are committing treason, by participating in and turning a blind eye to international drug trafficking in the name of national security." Levine said he is still outraged by North's outspoken defense of Bueso Rosa, "even after he was convicted for the cocaine plot... It was surreal and indefensible."
Despite the fact that Bueso Rosa had participated in five FBI-monitored meetings during which the assassination was discussed, North worked studiously behind the scenes to have Bueso Rosa released and deported without fanfare. North told justice Department officials repeatedly that Bueso Rosa was essentially misled and didn't know what was going on.
For his part, Henry Hyde never asked North a single question about the sordid Bueso Rosa affair, despite the fact that the story surfaced in the press and bounced around Washington between the justice Department and Congress and had an extensive paper trail. Again there was no mention of Bueso Rosa in the Bermingham investigation that included hundreds of key Contra supporters and endless documents.
The Seal of Approval
A mountain of evidence now exists to back up the fact that the Contras were connected with major cartel trafficking operations, according to the CIA's own Inspector General. The evidence shows that from its very inception, the CIA knew the Contras were involved in wide-ranging "criminal activities," including terrorist bombings, hijackings and narcotics trafficking to advance the Contra cause. According to the 1998 CIA Inspector General's Report, by 1981 Contra operatives had already brought their first shipments of cocaine into the U.S. for distribution. Even more dramatically, the report confirms that dozens of drug traffickers and trafficking entities associated with the Medellin drug cartel were involved in a secret collaborative effort with U.S. officials to keep the Contras in bread and bullets.
In fact, based on the Inspector General's report, citizens from Oakland and Los Angeles, California filed two federal class action suits on March 15, 1999 against the CIA for protecting Contra traffickers. According to attorneys on the lawsuits, "Each lawsuit concerns two classes of people affected by the crack cocaine epidemic: plaintiffs, largely African American, who experienced harms on an individual basis (babies born addicted; deaths in driveby shootings); and plaintiffs who experienced injuries suffered by the community as a whole (emergency rooms inundated; business districts gutted). If it had not been for the... policy of deliberate silence, the commencement of the crack cocaine epidemic in South Central Los Angeles during that era could have been avoided or greatly reduced."
Yet, because of the early cover-up by Hyde and other pro-Contra forces in Congress and the executive branch, not only did North, the CIA and other key officials escape serious investigation and prosecution on drug charges, but the former Lieutenant Colonel almost won a Senate seat and more recently was given a talk show on CNBC. Hyde to this day has yet to disavow his relationship with North, despite what is now known.
On March 4, 1991, Henry Hyde was awarded a CIA Seal Medallion by then Director of Central Intelligence, William Webster. Hyde was granted the high honor for his "tremendous service" and "sustained outstanding support" to the CIA. Hyde characterized his own daring-do with the spy agency, as "a rare adventure." Hyde did render a tremendous service to the agency by helping to keep the lid on some of its darkest secrets, including its illicit relationships with drug traffickers and terrorists during the Contra war. Unlike his Iran/Bosnia investigation when Hyde complained bitterly about the Clinton administration's refusal to declassify documents, based on claims of national security, Hyde cherished secrecy during Iran-Contra.
It was executive claims of secrecy and national security that prevented a full airing of Iran-Contra. Such claims ultimately protected the CIA and the Chief Executive for jumping into bed with narcotics traffickers and terrorists. Secrecy and claims of national security, according to former Independent Counsel Walsh, were the CIA's best allies against prosecution.
Walsh made this point in an urgent October 19, 1989 hand-delivered letter to the White House. "Unless different standards for the release of information to the courts are adopted by the intelligence agencies," stated Walsh, "we face the likelihood that former high officials cannot be tried for crimes related to their conduct in public office." Walsh told Bush that as the executive branch continues "to withhold this information we lose a much more important national valuethe rule of law. In summary, I believe that concern for the preservation of secrets relating to national security is being used in exaggerated form and will defeat necessary prosecutions of high government officers."
Walsh was right on the money. Despite the CIA's huge role in the illegal war and its direct involvement with drug traffickers throughout the war, not a single officer or high level official served a single day behind bars. Those who were indicted, such as former CIA Deputy Director, Claire E. George, and former CIA Costa Rican Station Chief, Joe Fernandez, either had their cases dismissed for lack of (unclassified) evidence or were simply pardoned.
The Iran-Contra committees never asked serious questions or even sought out some of the information that was on the public record, says Robert Parry. The former AP reporter now edits I.F. Magazine and The Consortium on the Internet. Parry wrote the first story with Brian Barger on Contra-related trafficking in 1985. Parry says the fraudulent Bermingham memo that Hyde used had a "significant impact" in the suppression of the Contra-drug investigation. "It was significant because a big part of Iran-Contra should have been an investigation of Contra drug trafficking," said Parry. "There are several points when the investigation could have taken place and a key point was right then when they pushed the fraudulent memo on Hamilton who was so easily dissuaded from doing anything, because he was such a wimp."
Parry recalled the day two men were dragged out of the Senate hearing room when they stood up during North's testimony and demanded an end to the silence on the Contra drug connections. "They said, 'ask about the cocaine' and they were dragged off," said Parry. "One of the reasons nobody asked about the cocaine was because they had supposedly 'investigated' the cocaine, had hundreds of interviews and found no evidence. Of course, there was no real investigation," said Parry, because anytime investigators from several other committees besides Iran-Contra tried to raise the topic they were "absolutely clobbered and the media was being used to put them down" every time they came near the subject. "The Washington Times, the Washington Post, New York Times, everybody was being enlisted to kind of beat up on anyone who was looking for the truth." Parry himself took a clobbering, and was pushed out of the mainstream because he refused to back off the story. "We now know," he said, "based on the CIA's report that it was true. The Medellin cartel and the Reagan administration were in it very tight."
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