The CIA's Dope-Smuggling 'Freedom Fighters'
The belated admission last November by the CIA's Inspector General that in fact the Agency has always worked hand-in-glove with international narcotics kingpins caught the mainstream media with their pants down and butts up in the air. Despite last spring's orgy of coordinated condemnation of Gary Webb's Dark Alliance series on CIA-connected drugrunning contras in the 1980s, media prostitutes from the Washington Post to the New York Times to Face The Press were reduced to purveying the truth for once, after the CIA copped to it at last. But of course they didn't tell all the truth, not out loud. A typical NY Times `expose' of one of the Agency's most hallowed Cuban `freedom fighters,' for example, somehow omitted to mention all the dope-running he's been involved with over the generations. HIGH TIMES' faithful chronicler of the CIA's drug wars, JERRY MELDON, fills in the blanks the Times found unfit for print: First Of An Occasional Series.
After 37 years of disappearing like the Cheshire Cat, and consuming most of his nine lives, notorious anti-Castro bomber Luis Posada Carriles reappeared "somewhere in the Caribbean" for a New York Times interview last summer. The resulting two-part series, published July 14-15, adds interesting details to Posada's bloodstained bio--notably his patronage by Jorge Mas Canosa, the late head of the Cuban-American National Foundation, and a frequent White House guest.
But as is the newspaper of record's wont in covering "intelligence" matters, narcotics went unreported. Readers unaware of the drug-related charges that have long adhered to Posada Carriles remain in the dark.
In fact, declassified government files cited by Gary Webb in his Dark Alliance series reveal that in January of 1974, the CIA turned down a Posada request to provide one of his associates with a Venezuelan passport, because the Agency "cannot permit controlled agents to become directly involved with drug trafficking," they said with a straight face. That same year, the DEA was told that Posada had been trading weapons for cocaine with a person "involved with political assassinations." Despite those and earlier reports, Posada would remain on the CIA payroll until February of 1976.
The CIA's Nursery of Narco-Terrorists
The CIA's nexus with Cuban exiles and narcotics originated, of course, with the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion attempt on the Cuban mainland, for which the CIA trained a thousand Cuban exiles, and was assisted by Florida gangsters eager to retrieve the halcyon days when Havana was an open city under dictator Fulgencio Batista.
A top-secret element of the invasion plan was "Operation 40," whose personnel included Posada Carriles, future Watergate burglar Felipe de Diego, and sundry Mafia hitmen. Its objective was to secure the island by eliminating both local politicians and members of the invasion force deemed insufficiently in favor of bringing back Batista as dictator.
Operation 40 remained intact following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, in which 114 brigadistas died, and was deployed later on in sporadic raids on Cuba. An Operation 40 task force led in 1967 by Carriles' CIA classmate Felix Rodriguez ( later to find immortality as "Max Gomez," running guns to the dope-trading Contras in Nicaragua and then testifying about it in 1987 before the Senate Iran-Contra investigators ) supervised Bolivian police in the capture and murder of Che Guevara.
Operation 40 had to be officially disbanded in 1970 after one of their planes crashed in southern California with kilos of heroin and cocaine aboard. But this did not interfere with business., even though later the same year, federal narcs busted 150 suspects in "the largest roundup of major drug traffickers in the history of federal law enforcement." President Nixon's Attorney General, John Mitchell, celebrated the destruction of "a nationwide ring of wholesalers handling about 30 percent of all heroin sales and 70 to 80 percent of all cocaine sales in the United States." Mitchell did not mention all the Operation 70 heroes who had been netted in this grand operation.
Prominent among these defendants was Juan Restoy, an Operation 40 alum who had served as a Cuban congressman under Batista's regime. Restoy's dope network had grown out of the organized-crime empire of Florida godfather Santo Trafficante, whose gambling and black-market empire had flourished in Havana before Castro's takeover ruined it. ( Trafficante, needless to say, patriotically assisted the CIA in numerous attempts to assassinate Castro over the years. ) Although Juan Restoy ultimately broke out of jail and was slain in a shootout with federal agents, his narcotics network would remain true to the anti-Castro cause.
Two of Restoy's drugrunners in particular, Ignacio and Guillermo Novo, belonged to the Cuban Nationalist Movement, a far-Right outfit with cells in Miami and Union City, NJ. It was Guillermo who fired a bazooka across the East River at the United Nations building while Che Guevara was addressing the General Assembly in '64. Then Ignacio did the same thing at the Cuba pavilion at the Montreal World's Fair in '67.
Lighting Up The Skies
The anti-Castro hard core met in June 1976 in the Dominican Republic and combined forces to become the Commando of United Revolutionary Organizations, known by its Spanish acronym as CORU. Numerous dope-linked terrorists were in attendance--Luis Posada Carriles, Guillermo Novo, and so on--who would later assist the Reagan White House in running its contra re-supply operations in Central America. There was also Frank Castro, the Bay of Pigs vet running the militant Cuban National Liberation Front. Castro would be indicted in 1983 for smuggling over 500 tons of marijuana, and then have the charges magically dropped after setting up a contra training camp in the Florida Everglades.
At this June 1976 convention in Santo Domingo, the CORU mob laid out a plan for major bloodshed, and that fall its myrmidons carried out two of the most sensational terrorist acts ever witnessed in the Western hemisphere. On September 21, 1976, a car-bomb exploded in broad daylight in Washington, DC, killing Orlando Letelier--formerly foreign minister of Chile, before the CIA helped Gen. Augosto Pinochet topple the government there and initiate a generation of mass murder and torture. Pinochet's secret police paid CORU thugs to plant the car-bomb and detonate it in Washington, where it also killed human-rights pioneer Ronnie Moffett.
Two of the CORU thugs on Pinochet's terror budget turned out to be the Novo brothers. Though then-CIA director George Bush stonewalled the investigation to the best of his patriotic ability, Guillermo was eventually busted in Miami with a pound of coke; he was ultimately found guilty of the Letelier-Moffitt terror homicides, but the conviction was overturned on appeal when his confession was thrown out. Ignacio's conviction for perjury in the same case was likewise voided on appeal.
Then on October 6, 1976, barely a fortnight after the Washington, DC car-blast, a Cubana Airlines flight out of Miami blew up in the sky over Barbados, killing all 73 on board. The authors of the bombing were busted in Venezuela: former pediatrician Orlando "Dr. Death" Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles.
Posada had nominally remained a CIA agent only from 1965 to '67, at which point he became the assistant director of DISP, the CIA's sister spook-shop in Venezuela, and later on became director. After a 1974 run-in with the President there, though, Posada was canned and replaced with a CIA classmate, Cuban exile Ricardo Morales--who claimed to have been an FBI informant when he attended that June '96 CORU session in Santo Domingo.
Salvation In El Salvador
Upon leaving the DISP, Posada opened a private-detective agency in Caracas. But then after two of his associates were nabbed for planting the bomb on that Air Cubana flight in October '76, Posada also wound up in jail there. He stayed in jail there, despite Cuban extradition requests, until bribing his way out in 1985. The CIA's contra-resupply operation was in full swing then, and Posada promptly found employment at the notorious Salvadoran air-force base at Ilopango--where DEA agent Celerino Castillo painstakingly traced contra shipments of cocaine out to the States, and watched his reports being suppressed by his political masters in Washington.
It was Posada Carriles who managed those contra-resupply flights under the direction of his old comrade-in-arms Felix "Max Gomez" Rodriguez, until October 1986, when an old dope plane from the fleet of CIA freedom-fighter Barry Seal was blown out the sky over Nicaragua, exposing the Reagan White House and its whole Iran-Contra operation.
Not coincidentally, the $26,000 with which Posada had bribed himself out of that Venezuelan prison had arrived courtesy of the Cuban-American National Foundation. It was not until his Times interview last July that Posada acknowledged his gratitude to CANF founder Jorge Mas Canosa for this bribe money.
Mas Canosa, Posada's lifelong CIA compatriot, was a remarkably successful entrepreneur who built a $100 million empire somehow. But his hiring policies at CANF, which had been set up in 1981 by the Reagan administration to channel support for its Central-American policies, left something to be desired. After helping defray the Novo brothers' legal fees in the matter of the Letelier murders, Mas Canosa hired them as CANF public-relations flacks.
Mas Canosa similarly underwrote the defense costs of Jose Dionisio Suarez, a codefendant with the Novo bazooka brothers. Suarez pled guilty to killing Letelier, but jumped bail and continued with what he knew best, blowing up a TWA airliner and firebombing Moscow's UN mission, before becoming the contras' instructor in sabotage and demolition techniques. At last report, Suarez was a hit man for Colombian dope cartels.
Last fall, as Mas Canosa lay on his deathbed from cancer at 58 ( still successfully lobbying for the Helms-Burton bill that intensified the US trade embargo on Cuba ), his longtime beneficiary Luis Posada Carriles was still going strong after three and a half decades in the shadows. A Salvadoran arrested in Havana for a string of 1997 Havana hotel bombings designed to stifle Cuba's tourist trade told authorities there that Posada Carriles had been his benefactor.
Pretty impressive loyalty for someone who, according to a CIA report, was investigated by them in 1967 for supplying explosives, silencers and grenades to Santo Trafficante's organized-crime hoods. And not bad considering that the Agency six years later supposedly warned that "Posada may be involved in smuggling cocaine from Colombia through Venezuela to Miami."
But that's one of the advantages of having an employer like the CIA, always ready to overlook such indiscretions--and of talking to a newspaper of record like the New York Times.