Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #503 The Death of Barry Seal

Recorded March 20, 2005
MP3 Side 1 | Side 2
REAL AUDIO

The death of drug smuggler and CIA operative Barry Seal encapsulates much of the secret and unsavory history of American covert operations in the second half of the 20th century. A primary operator in the Contra-related cocaine smuggling of the 1980’s, Seal was gunned down in February of 1986 because he was threatening to “roll-over”—to squeal on his handlers. Had Seal done this, it might have led to the downfall of the Reagan/Bush administration and the curtailment of the Contra-support operation. The material in this program is from the remarkable book Barry and the Boys by Daniel Hopsicker. (Be sure to visit his website and order the book.) Beginning with the account of Seal’s murder being broadcast over the police radio in the Baton Rouge area, the program relates the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the arrest and “prosecution” of the Colombian assassins who killed Seal. Even more extraordinary was the behavior of the FBI, which (contrary to legal procedure) confiscated evidence that had been kept by Seal in the trunk of his Cadillac. That evidence consisted of tapes of Seal talking with his handlers, who apparently included elements of the CIA and then Vice-President George Bush. When one of Seal’s attorneys prodded Seal for more information about whom he was working for, Seal handed him the phone and told him to call a number that he gave to his counsel. When Unglesby (the lawyer) called the number, he got Vice-President Bush’s office. When Seal attempted to prevail on Bush to intervene on his behalf with the IRS, Seal was murdered. Much of the program deals with Seal’s history in the world of covert operations—especially his involvement with the New Orleans milieu involved in the assassination of JFK.

Program Highlights Include: The possibility that Seal may have flown a getaway plane out of Dallas on 11/22/1963; Seal’s involvement with CIA covert operations when he was still in high school; Seal’s participation in a Civil Air Patrol unit commanded by JFK assassination conspirator David Ferrie and including among its members Lee Harvey Oswald; the brutal warning sent to Louisiana State Police Lieutenant Robert Thommasson (his dog was decapitated and left floating in his backyard pool as a deterrent to Thommasson’s talking about Seal; an overview of Seal’s career in the Special Forces; Seal’s involvement with a unit that may have been involved in the assassination of Martin Luther King; allegations that Seal’s murder had been contracted by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North; indications that a number of other people familiar with the details of Seal’s drug-smuggling career may have been murdered to insure their silence; the special negotiations that moved the base of Seal’s smuggling operations from Louisiana to Mena, Arkansas.

1. The show begins with an account of a Louisiana State Police lieutenant’s hearing of Barry Seal’s death. This lieutenant—Robert Thomasson—had long tracked Seal, in a vain attempt to bring the CIA agent extraordinaire to justice. “The white unmarked police car carrying Louisiana State Police Lt. Robert Thommasson, head of a special 21-man narcotics unit tasked solely with stopping Barry Seal, rolled slowly out of New Orleans in the hazy twilight. . . After another long day Thommasson was going home; his car inched through long day Thommasson was going home; his car inched through traffic onto the 24-mile long Causeway across Lake Pontchartrain which connects New Orleans with its leafy northern suburbs.” (Barry and the Boys; by Daniel Hopsicker; Mad Cow Press [HC]; Copyright 2001 by Daniel Hopsicker; ISBN 0-9706-5911-0-5; p. 425.)

2. “Though Thommasson was tired, fatigue has not dulled his vivid recollections of what happened next. . . . A call crackled over his police radio. ‘1018. Repeat: 1018. Immediately call headquarters,’ ordered a grim dispatcher’s voice. A cop who had learned a grudging respect for his elusive quarry, Thommasson heard the news in disbelief. . . ‘What’s white-and-brown-and-red and rolling around in Baton Rouge?’ asked the dispatcher in the mirthless tone cops use to distance themselves from bloody events. ‘Barry Seal. They just gutted him.'” (Idem.)

3. “As he heard the news, in the distance he was still listening to his cruiser’s tires rolling over the causeway’s grating. Thump . . .Thump. . . Thump. . . A $500,000 Medellin cartel murder contract had hung over Seal’s head, upped to a cool $1 million if he was brought alive to Colombia. Still, the chilling brutal and clinical efficiency with which the ‘renegade’ agent had been dispatched was breath-taking. . . especially given that Seal himself, a man with the most impeccable intelligence sources, had not felt threatened. He certainly hadn’t availed himself of the Federal Witness Protection program when it was offered to him.” (Ibid.; p. 426.)

4. There was apparently concern on the part of law officers who had pursued Seal that they might be blamed for his death. “The dispatcher asked, ‘Hey, bud, where you at?’ Thump. . . ‘Middle of the causeway,’ Thommasson replied numbly. ‘Good,’ came the curt rejoinder. ‘Get a bridge ticket on your way back into town, stamped with date and time.’ ‘See, how volatile the whole Seal thing was,’ says Thommasson today, ‘is that they wanted me to have proof of exactly where I had been when Seal was killed, to remove any suspicion that we had played any role in it. It felt very much like ‘where were you when Kennedy was shot?’ It was that big—at least in Louisiana it was—especially since tensions had been running so high since Barry was convicted.'” (Idem.)

5. “In retrospect, Thommasson says, the murder was a shock, but no surprise; Seal had seemingly fallen from favor with whoever had been protecting him. He’d been on a well-documented downward spiral for over a year, losing status, possessions, and immunity from prosecution he had once taken for granted as a member of a ‘protected’ class.” (Idem.)

6. “Most who knew Barry Seal were saddened at his execution, but not surprised. His secretary Dandra Seale (no relation) was typical. . . ‘The day Barry was killed, when he came back from lunch. . .’ she began, then stopped, her throat catching. ‘See, he knew that day that they were killing him. Yes he did. Good lord. And he took it calmly, and continued with what he’d been doing, which was trying to get the Playboy Channel into the Salvation Army, so that he and the rest of the men could watch it while he was locked up there at night.'” (Ibid.; pp. 433-434.)

7. Although the official story of Seal’s murder holds that he was executed by the Medellin cartel, few who knew him believed it. His personal secretary was among the skeptics. “Not surprisingly, Dandra blames the ‘government’ for Seal’s murder, and not the Medellin Cartel ‘tar baby’ of the official version of events. . . ‘The CIA people here allowed it to happen. He had a chart, he had dirt on anybody and everybody.'” (Ibid.; p. 434.)

8. “Bob Thomasson, now a federal drug enforcement official teaching interdiction techniques to state and local police officers, recalled what happened when the state Police learned that Barry Seal had been murdered. . . ‘I immediately put out troops in Baton Rouge. Now, keep in mind, we are the State Police. The murder jurisdiction was in the city/parish. State police go in only when they’re called in, all right? Then I put the crime lab on standby. The city cops took one look at Seal’s bloody body, realized what they had, and requested the state police at the scene. So I immediately put the New Orleans office on standby,’ he continued.” (Idem.)

9. ” ‘At that time we had no idea yet that these guys—the shooters—were like rabbits spreading out in a wildfire. None whatsoever. Thirty-five minutes after the shooting, I had dispatch call the Baton Rouge office of the FBI, and the New Orleans office of the FBI, to give a notification, just because it’s the right thing to do. . . You know, we’ve got a major smuggler murdered, da-da-da-da-da.'” (Idem.)

10. Hopsicker relates that when one of Seal’s executioners was arrested at the airport, the arresting FBI agent accidentally exposed the film the killer had taken of Seal’s murder. “We discovered that one of the killers actually took pictures of the murder-in-progress, but that the FBI agent who nabbed this guy at New Orleans International Airport as he was trying to flee the country that night exposed the film, rendering it useless as evidence.’ Thommasson chooses his words carefully. ‘What you get, when you call the FBI at night,’ he explains, ‘is a duty agent, okay?’ He’s just a kid, usually, just out of the FBI Academy, his standing orders are, ‘Make No Decisions Under Any Circumstances.”” (Ibid.; pp. 434-435.)

11. ” ‘What you don’t get at that time of night is a seasoned agent or a SAC (Special Agent in Charge). You don’t get anybody important. So the apprehension at the airport was made by a kid. It went like this: my headquarters called the New Orleans FBI office. As soon as that phone call was received, the two ‘baby’ agents that had watch that night—they’re called ‘watch supes’—went out to cover the airport.'” (Ibid.; p. 435.)

12. ” ‘Now, never in a thousand years would this ever happen again, but these two lucky guys park their car at the airport, and head into the terminal at the exact same time as this shooter, and they’ve got a physical description over their radio that exactly matches the guy they’re seeing. That’s the only way that guy got caught. So. . . if you’re asking me, did they deliberately expose that film at the airport? I gotta say: look at who these two FBI guys were. Rookies. These are not the Men in Black.'” (Idem.)

13. After Hopsicker braced Thommasson about the involvement of the CIA in Seal’s murder, Thommasson’s demeanor darkened. ” ‘Why was there so much suspicion of the CIA?’ we asked. From his grimace we surmise he feels we’re pushing. He pauses, straightens in his chair, then fixes us with a state felt before, no doubt, by innumerable Southern miscreants. ‘Tell me why you’re doing this,’ Thommasson demands. From the way he says ‘this,’ we know exactly what he means. . . And after we tell him he sits, thinking hard. And then without another word of comment, while staring fixedly out a 12th story window of a hotel room in Daytona Beach, Florida at the blue-green Atlantic, turning now a deeper blue as the sun slowly sets somewhere a million miles away, he starts to talk. . . And the words at first come slowly, but soon enough are pouring out in torrents.” (Idem.)

14. ” ‘This gets really black, okay, and it gets black for a lot of people. . . But I’ll give you a sequence of events: The FBI appears, shows up, on site, at the shooting, okay? And I go, hmmm. . . . it happens. . . .it’s not too fucking extraordinary, but still. . . And then the contents of the car, the trunk, were seized.'” (Ibid.; pp. 435-436.)

15. Apparently, the FBI violated standard operating procedure by confiscating evidence from the trunk of Seal’s car. ” ‘But they can’t just seize material evidence in a capital crime!’ we protested. ‘Isn’t it illegal for anyone but the investigating officers to remove evidence from a crime scene?’ ‘I told you,’ he continued, ‘this gets really black. But some of the contents of the trunk, anyway, made it to my lab. . . our Louisiana State Police lab, which is definitely not a mom and pop shop—they’ve got 60-80 highly-trained employees. . . Here’s the police procedural: if it’s my case and I call the lab, I own the lab, okay? They take orders only from me. It would be the same procedure if a sheriff from Podunk called—they would then own the lab, the lab would work only for them. Understand?'” (Ibid.; p. 436.)

16. ” ‘Now, it would be beyond a breach of ethics, it would be criminal. . . . if, say, I called the lab and said, hey, I hear the city police submitted a report on Joe Schmo, I’m coming by to pick it up. Its called ‘tampering with evidence.’ We’re into criminal acts here. The evidence that went into that lab on Barry Seal went to a guy that won’t talk to you, so don’t ask me for his name or phone number. This has caused a lot of stress in his life. He’s a long-time friend, and a top gun in forensics. And he gets the contents of Barry Seal’s briefcase, and some other contents of the car as lab exhibits. And he brings it into the lab. Our lab had worked the scene, and so had then brought the trunk’s contents back to the lab,’ he continued.” (Idem.)

17. When Daniel inquired about the nature of the contents of the trunk of Seal’s Cadillac (confiscated by the FBI), it became apparent that he was treading on very sensitive turf. Apparently, Seal had taped all his phone calls—including those made to his intelligence handlers—and kept them with him at all times. Lieutenant Thommasson received a pointed warning about the sensitivity of the Seal case—his family’s dog was decapitated and found floating in their backyard pool. “We can’t help ourselves, and blurt out the ‘Big Question.’ ‘What was in the trunk of the Cadillac?’ ‘I’m not trying to be evasive. . . ‘ Thommasson answers somberly. ‘But, I want to make it very clear. . .I only have third-hand reports. Okay?’ ‘Seal’s trunk contained compelling and–again, from 3rd hand data—very very compelling documents and tapes. Several briefcases, boxes—wherever Seal’s Cadillac was, that was where Barry’s instant records were.’ From the way he stressed ‘3rd hand’ we knew he was speaking for the record. Later, we discovered that this man’s family dog was decapitated and left floating in their backyard pool as a warning. . . .fully three months after Seal’s assassination. . .” (Ibid.; pp. 436-437.)

18. ” ‘See, Barry taped his calls. Barry taped all of his calls, including all his calls to his controllers. I suspect that were you to have seen the contents of the trunk, it would certainly validate for whom he was employed, and what his mission was.’ ‘Okay, who has heard those tapes that I could talk to?’ The tension in the room rises. When he speaks his voice is soft, barely above a whisper. ‘That’s living?’ he asks. ‘No one. I told you: this gets really black.'” (Ibid.; p. 437.)

19. Hopsicker’s fascinating narrative gets into the subject of who had Barry Seal killed, and why: ” . . . If Seal was right in being unafraid of Medellin cartel retaliation, then who then was responsible for his murder? There is no better source for this critical information than the three Colombians convicted of the killing, sentenced to life in prison without parole. We interviewed Richard Sharpstein, a prominent Miami criminal defense attorney, and the lawyer for one of the three convicted assassins, who casually revealed the explosive truth about who ordered Barry Seal killed—and why.” (Ibid.; pp. 437-438.)

20. Seal’s killers were under the distinct impression that the US military officer who directed their actions was Oliver North. ” ‘I represented Miguel Velez for the Barry Seal homicide, which was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever been through,’ Sharpstein began. ‘It was an amazing experience. Nobody wanted to think about what any of this meant back in 1986. The implications were just too big. And I’m only speaking with you now because some of this has leaked out. All three of the Colombians who went on trial always told us—their lawyers—that they were being directed, after they got into this country, on what to do and where to go by an ‘anonymous gringo,’ a United States Military officer, who they quickly figured out was Oliver North,’ Sharpstein says.” (Ibid.; p. 438.)

21. ” ‘Say that again?’ we asked. We were sure we’d heard it right the first time; we just needed confirmation. . . ‘Once they rendezvoused together in the States,’ explained Sharpstein, ‘they, the Colombians, were being directed, by phone, by a man who insisted on remaining anonymous, but who did identify himself as being an officer in the American military. . . They were put in touch with this officer through Rafa (a Colombian smuggler) who was the guy my client worked for. And they all believed that it was Oliver North.'” (Idem.)

22. The program broaches the subject of the martial law contingency plans drawn up by Oliver North when he worked for the White House. (For more about this subject, see RFA#32—available from Spitfire.) “What corroborative indications are there to justify the charge of murder against Lt. Col. Oliver North? North, numerous sources stated without prompting, had been running an assassination squad right out of his White House office. So the extra-judicial execution of Barry Seal wouldn’t have made him blink an eye. There are even allegations that he had been tasked with drawing up plans to suspend the US Constitution and declare martial law, in the event the massive drug smuggling taking place ever came to public light.” (Ibid.; pp. 438-439.)

23. “In Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North, author Ben Bradlee, Jr., writes. . . ‘North’s work for FEMA from 1982 to the spring of 1984 was highly classified, and some would say bizarre. He was involved in helping to draft a sweeping contingency plan to impose martial law in the event of a nuclear war or less serious national crises such as widespread internal dissent or opposition to an American military invasion abroad.'” (Ibid.; p. 439.)

24. Moving beyond the Medellin cartel disinformation, the program delves into what actually happened. “But the popular mythology of Seal’s assassination is—not just wrong—but active disinformation. When we began to examine Seal’s assassination more closely, we saw then even basic facts, like how many killers there were, was stated wrong to slant the story. In the official version of events recounted in newspapers, the killers were always described as a ‘three-man hit team of Colombian nationals.’ Even a cursory reading of the headlines revealed, to our amazement, there weren’t, hadn’t been, three men involved. . .there had been eight. Three men may be a hit ‘team. Eight is a hit ‘squad.’ So this is clearly active disinformation; even newspaper reporters can count to ten. . .unaided.” (Idem.)

25. In addition to the Colombian execution team, Jose Coutin was implicated in the murder. (For more about Coutin, see RFA#’s 29, 30—available from Spitfire.) “Six men had been arrested at various stages of attempting to flee the scene. A seventh, Rafa Cardona, who had dispatched the team, was safely ensconced in Colombia. . . at least for a while. He was charged in absentia for planning the hit, but was himself mowed down, in a spray of automatic gunfire inside his antique car dealership, in Colombia later that year. Then there was the ‘eighth man,’ Miami CIA ‘asset’ Jose Coutin, who had supplied the machine gun. More on him in a moment. . .” (Idem.)

26. “Richard Sharpstein’s client, Miguel Velez, aka ‘Cumbabamba,’ has been described as a ‘CIA hit man’ in the New York press, where he was wanted for murder. It was a total fluke that he was caught. He was done in by a deer. Earlier, Velez had been spotted, questioned, and then released at the airport, by those sharp dressers at the FBI. After escaping the feeble clutches of the FBI at the airport, Velez had hired a cab to drive him from New Orleans to Miami.” (Ibid.; p. 440.)

27. “In the middle of the night, in Meridian Mississippi, the cab hit a deer at a lonely gas station on the interstate. While waiting for repairs, a highway patrolman happened by, and noticed that the surgical outfit worn by the cab’s passenger fit the description released by Baton Rouge police of one of the triggermen. Officers immediately put Velez in handcuffs. The cabbie, irate at losing such a big fare, professed to the cops that he couldn’t understand why the police were making such a fuss over a dead deer. . . .” (Idem.)

28. “Police then raided two ‘safe’ houses in Algiers, a seamy suburb of New Orleans, and nabbed Bernardo Vasquez and Louis Quintero-Cruz, the other two men later convicted, as well as John Cardona, brother of the man fingered at the trial, Rafa Cardona Salazar. Eliberto Sanchez was caught trying to flee at the New Orleans International Airport. Jose Renteria was nabbed the next day while waiting to board a plane in Miami. The ‘eighth man’ in the assassination is Jose Coutin, who had supplied the weapons for the hit. He is thus, by law, guilty of murder; or, at the very least, of conspiracy to murder. But being connected means never having to say you’re sorry. . .” (Idem.)

29. “Coutin was never even charged with a crime. He went on to testify before the Kerry Committee, saying, no doubt, anything his ‘benefactors’ wanted him to say. Coutin was the proprietor of the Broadway Boutique, a Miami fashion shop with a unique inventory: ladies clothing in the front, and military gear in the back. According to Lesley Cockburn in ‘Out of Control,’ he was a well-known CIA asset, FBI informant, and Contra weapons supplier. Why Sanchez and Cardona were simply deported and never charged with murder has never, unsurprisingly, been satisfactorily explained. . .” (Idem.)

30. “But what happened to Jose Renteria is revealing. Testimony at the trial of the three accused of killing Seal revealed that Renteria had been the cut-out between Coutin, known to be linked to Oliver North, and the shooters, to whom he delivered the weapons from Coutin. . . So Jose Renteria’s case was severed from the trial of the other three.” (Ibid.; p. 441.)

31. “It was the strangest thing,’ says attorney Sharpstein. ‘He was severed on some odd theory that he wasn’t at the murder scene. What really happened is he had indicated that he might, in exchange for a deal, be willing to talk. . . . Someone on the government side was clearly not very eager for that to happen. According to trial testimony, it was Renteria who took pictures of the murder. When his camera was confiscated by an FBI agent at the New Orleans airport, it was opened and the film inside exposed. Renteria was sent to Miami to face (minor) pending charges. His bosses must have felt that his was a job well-done.” (Idem.)

32. ” ‘They cut him a deal, they made a fast plea and he was in and out, serving a bit of time and then being deported,’ states Sharpstein. ‘The result was we never got to hear the story he was ready to sing at the trial.’ And Coutin? ‘Same thing,’ Sharpstein said. ‘They made a deal with him; he testified at the trial, and then later before the Kerry hearings in Washington. I was the lawyer who brought up his CIA and Contra connections in the trial, because I felt that there were lots of reasons why the CIA might want to murder Barry. . . .'” (Idem.)

33. ” ‘And Coutin went crazy on the stand when I did. You’d have thought he’d been zapped with a ray gun.’ Had the Colombians discussed motive with their lawyers? ‘They were just soldiers,’ Sharpstein stated. ‘They did what they were told. But in testimony at the trial given by one of Seal’s attorneys, Lewis Unglesby, we did finally hear about motive. . .'” (Idem.)

34. “Lewis Unglesby is today a prominent and very well-connected Louisiana lawyer. At the time his name was daily on the front page of the state’s newspapers, defending his long-time client and associate, Governor Edwin Edwards. Unglesby had told us about a confrontation he had with Barry over the fact that Seal was keeping him in the dark about matters Unglesby considered crucial to defending him. . . .” (Ibid.; pp. 441-442.)

35. One of the most dramatic of the disclosures in Barry and the Boys concerns what Seal’s lawyer Lewis Unglesby revealed about who was controlling Barry Seal’s operations—then Vice-President George Bush! ” ‘Barry pushed the phone across the desk to me and said, ‘You wanna know what’s going on? Here. Dial this number. Tell ’em you’re me,’ Unglesby related. ‘When I did what he requested,’ he continued, ‘A female voice answered the phone, saying, ‘Vice President Bush’s office, may I help you?’ ‘I said, ‘This is Barry Seal.’ She asked me to wait while she transferred the call, which was immediately picked up by a man who identified himself as Admiral somebody or other, who said to me, ‘Barry! Where you been?'” (Ibid.; p. 442.)

36. Seal was trying to get George H.W. Bush to get the IRS off his back. He allegedly threatened to blow the whistle on the whole Contra scheme, including the complicity of the US government and the Reagan administration in the massive cocaine influx that bedeviled the US in the 1980’s. ” ‘That’s when I told him that I wasn’t Barry Seal, I was his lawyer,’ said Unglesby. ‘Immediately he slammed down the phone.’ ‘So why was Barry Seal murdered?’ we asked Sharpstein. ‘Unglesby said he had been with Seal when the IRS came and seized all his property,’ Sharpstein related. ‘The IRS man said, ‘You owe us $30 million for the money you made in drug dealing.’ ‘Hey, I work for you,’ was Seal’s reply. ‘We work for the same people.’ ‘You don’t work for us,’ the IRS agent stated. ‘We’re the IRS.'” (Idem.)

37. ” ‘Unglesby was with Seal when he retired to a back room,’ Sharpstein. ‘He watched as Seal placed a call to George Bush. He heard Barry Seal tell Bush: ‘If you don’t get these IRS assholes off my back I’m going to blow the whistle on the Contra scheme.’ Sharpstein spoke solemnly, aware of the gravity of his words. . . ‘That’s why he’s dead,’ is what Unglesby said.'” (Idem.)

38. “One week after the phone conversation between Barry Seal and George Bush, Seal was sentenced to a half-way house. Two weeks later he was dead. ‘Barry Seal, you mean that agent that went ‘bad?’ Gordon Novel had casually inquired, when we’d posed the question of his associations with Seal. An agent that ‘goes bad,’ as we understand intelligence industry trade jargon, is one who contemplates talking. ‘Seal was gunned down, supposedly by those Colombians,’ says Sharpstein. ‘But they were fed information by the assholes in our government who wanted him dead.'” (Ibid.; pp. 442-443.)

39. More about the alleged role of the CIA in Seal’s death: “The assassination of Barry Seal was very likely not even the first attempt on Seal’s life by North, we were told by CIA electronics expert Red Hall, on the ground in Nicaragua with Seal on the Sandinista drug sting. . . ‘The only thing I knew was the CIA had to do a lot with it (Barry’s murder.) The killers were being directed by Oliver North at the time. It was the same thing Oliver North pulled on us down in Nicaragua. Then, I didn’t know yet that Oliver North had it for Barry Seal, because he was working with Oliver at that particular point. We was undercover, and we were still down there (Nicaragua), when Oliver North blew the whistle on us.'” (Ibid.; p. 443.)

40. “Chip Tatum, another covert operative who had known Seal and shared confidences with him, listened with amusement the first time we breathlessly relayed what we’d discovered: that Oliver North is guilty in the assassination of Barry Seal. . . ‘No shit, Sherlock,’ he replied, laughing. ‘It ain’t exactly the secret of the century, I can tell you.'” (Idem.)

41. The IRS wound up on Barry Seal’s case for reasons similar to the ultimate apprehension of Al Capone: “Barry Seal had threatened George Bush over the IRS trouble he was having. Why couldn’t Bush have ‘taken care’ of the IRS? Perhaps he could have. But there were other Seal ‘problems’ as well, like state police so disgusted they were threatening to go to the media with damning evidence of official corruption in Seal’s case, should the biggest drug smuggler any of them had ever seen receive no ‘time’ at all. ‘Al Capone killed over five hundred people. What did he go to prison for?’ asked one former state police official. We remembered. ‘Tax evasion?'” (Ibid.; pp. 443-444.)

42. “Exactly. Tax evasion. Get the picture? I beat on desktops in IRS offices all across the United States to find somebody that would take the case, till I found a criminal investigator for the IRS named Earl Buck Holmes, willing to come down and set up a warroom in my office.’ Some ‘wised-up’ local and state cops had figured out that Barry Seal had been too valuable to certain people in the federal government of the United States of America to ever go to prison for his crimes. . . .” (Ibid.; p. 444.)

43. “Knowing this, local law enforcement had done an end-around on them, and taken their case to the IRS, where they hatched a plan to at least strip Seal of some of his ill-gotten goods. Remarkably, in the court proceedings in neither Miami nor Baton Rouge had Seal’s organizational assets—like his fleet of planes—been confiscated, although this is standard operating procedure in drug cases. Why not? Because they were still being used . . .” (Idem.)

44. “Local and state cops, we found, to our amazement, had tracked a shipment of cocaine to one of Seal’s ocean-going vessels, the Captain Wonderful, just weeks before Seals’ murder. There they were met—and dissuaded from boarding—by DEA and CIA agents. State and local cops in the South often appear to know the score. . . When we told one Louisiana law enforcement source what we had learned from Miami attorney Richard Sharpstein, about how the hit team had been getting orders from Oliver North, he said simply, ‘That doesn’t surprise me at all.'” (Idem.)

45. Seal was murdered because he was indeed getting ready to spill the beans about some of the unsavory events with which he had been involved and who was directing these events: “Then we discovered why Seal had been so unconcerned about being killed by the Medellin cartel. . . ‘I asked Barry why he wasn’t worried about the Colombians killing him,’ stated close associate, Mob pilot Rene Martin. ‘He said he had told the Colombians he was going to pull a fast one, and testify for Ochoa against the US government.’ Two weeks before he died, Barry Seal had hired a private investigator in Miami, Steve Dinerstein, to run FAA title searches on 15 different airplanes he had used in his smuggling Enterprise. . .Seal was getting ready to talk about who had owned his smuggling fleet fifteen years ago.” (Ibid.; pp. 444-445.)

46. “Barry Seal was assassinated because he was getting ready to talk. . . He had even contacted a Paramount Studios production vice-president about making a movie. While the killers approached Barry Seal’s Cadillac in the Baton Rouge twilight, Seal had been on his car phone with a CIA aircraft procurement executive in Arizona, Bill Lambeth, who will himself be murdered in Phoenix seven years later. Suddenly cut off, and fearing the worst, Lambeth frantically dialed Barry’s home phone, where his wife Debbie answered. ‘I think something’s wrong with Barry,’ Lambeth said ominously.” (Ibid.; p. 445.)

47. “Debbie, unable to reach her husband, bundled her three small children into the car and frantically headed for the Salvation Army half-way house where he had been sentenced to sleep for six months. On the way she stopped at a pay phone to make another attempt to reach her husband, and learned he was now ‘unreachable.’ ‘He’s not going to the hospital she remembers being told. ‘He’s dead. Don’t come here Debbie. Don’t.'” (Idem.)

48. “As she returned to her car, she could see through her tears, her three small children’s heads barely peeking over the car seats. And though Barry Seal is anything but blameless, his three small children were. . . .they symbolize the millions of lives ruined by a phony drug war whose only purpose is to line-still-more the pockets of a crew of elite deviants who took over our country. ‘All I could think of was my poor little babies. . . .my poor babies,’ Debbie Seal told us, choking back tears. ‘I didn’t know how I was going to tell them that their Daddy was dead.'” (Idem.)

49. We will take a break from the account of Seal’s death in order to review some of his professional history—a history that winds through the CIA’s anti-Castro wars, the assassination of President Kennedy and decades of covert operations work on behalf of the government. After examining some of this, it will be apparent why the powers that be were so alarmed that Seal might begin talking. Daniel Hopsicker had CIA pilot and Seal associate Gary Eitel interpret Seal’s military history. “. . . Nor are these the only gaps in Barry’s early flying history. During two separate four-month stretches in 1962 and early 1963 he leaves no records at all in his log books of where he is flying, and with whom . . . at the exact same time the Agency was training exiles and ‘soldiers of fortune’ for a second invasion in Guatemala, on No-Name Key in Florida, and on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana.” (Ibid.; p. 136.)

50. “His pilot’s logs then begin to drop all pretense to accuracy, and every other day, month in and month out, Barry’s logs state that he is ‘banner-towing,’ always for precisely five hours. For example, on a day for which we have photographic proof that he was in Mexico City, January 22, 1963, his pilot’s logs read ‘banner towing in Baton Rouge. Five hours.’ When we showed his friend and fellow flying instructor Cliff Rice these pilot logs his face showed dismay. ‘His flight logs raise a lot of red flags,’ Rice told us slowly. ‘He made a lot of flights to Dallas, and to Florida, I see. As well as to Waco. Pretty irregular.'” (Idem.)

51. “We asked former CIA pilot Gary Eitel to inspect Barry Seal’s official military records for us. Eitel’s recent career includes a stint as an attorney, where his court testimony helped convict two CIA miscreants in Arizona in the mid-’90’s, who were selling C-130 military cargo planes to Mexican drug cartels. ‘It says Barry was 1st Special Forces from Baton Rouge, La., assigned to duty that’s been ‘redacted.’ His duty specialty codes are redacted, so that won’t tell us anything. . .’ Eitel started, reading the records aloud.” (Idem.)

52. ” ‘On 31 Aug 61, he joined a reserve Special Forces group,’ he continued. ‘Then on 15 Dec 62, he’s assigned to the 21st Special Forces Group—Airborne, and goes to Fort Benning Jump School. And then in January of 63, he’s transferred to Company ‘B’ of the 21st Special Forces group.’ That would be the same month of the picture we saw in Mexico City. We had questions. Could the people in that nightclub somehow constitute Company B? And why had Seal joined the Special Forces reserve?” (Ibid.; pp. 136-137.)

53. ” ‘You get a little more freedom in the reserves, a little more cowboy style,’ Eitel replied. ‘You can take a leave of absence without losing your service number. See, in the military, once you prove yourself once, the juicy opportunities start to come your way. And once you’re into that club. . . you’re okay. The gravy train rolls in.'” (Ibid.; p. 137.)

54. “Has someone, or some organization, smoothed Seal’s progress? ‘Barry found a little niche in the Special Forces reserves,’ Eitel stated. ‘One reason might be that good pilots often flunk out of flight school, because of the discipline. In 1960, he was 20. In 1962 Seal would have been 22 years old. The draft was big time then. He could have gone to Vietnam.'” (Idem.)

55. Seal’s military career had been deeply involved with covert operations. “Indeed, Seal had flunked out of his one semester of college, at LSU. Could the CIA have smoothed his way into the Special Forces Reserve? ‘It’s highly possible,’ stated Eitel. ‘In 1962, remember, Special Forces wasn’t well-known yet at all. Army Rangers didn’t have the bad-ass reputation they developed later. There wasn’t a ‘Ballad of the Green Berets’ yet . . . What is clear is that Barry was in some kind of unit that had a special ops focus.'” (Idem.)

56. In the spring of 1963, Seal was assigned to the 20th Special Forces Group. ” ‘Here’s something . . . on 1 May 63 he’s assigned to company D Special Ops Detachment of the 20th Special Forces Group Airborne. Now he goes up to the next grade of Special Forces—Special Detachment Special Ops. The CIA could easily have recruited him right out of the service,’ Eitel concluded. ‘If he wasn’t already working for them.'” (Idem.)

57. The 20th Special Forces Group was a rather extraordinary unit. (For more about the unit and its alleged role in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, see FTR#46.) “Was there anything unusual about Barry Seal’s 20th Special Forces Group? Yes . . . When it was discovered that the Birmingham-based 20th had sent a detachment of Green Berets to Memphis to carry out an unknown mission on the day Martin Luther King was assassinated, the local paper, The Memphis Commercial Appeal had investigated. They discovered that the 20th was chockfull of veterans of CIA assassination ops in Southeast Asia. The paper quoted a former army counterintelligence major as stating that the 20th had even had a domestic intelligence network, operated for them by the Ku Klux Klan and ‘Klan Special Forces.’ The major said, ‘The rural South was ‘in-country’ to these guys, and at times things got out of hand.'” (Ibid.; pp. 137-138.)

58. “Barry’s reserve service continues until his release in November of 1966. For the last two years of his 6-year hitch he was assigned to headquarters of 245th Engineer battalion based in Saint Louis. ‘That fits,’ Eitel told us. ‘Engineers and Special Forces just go hand-in-hand. Engineers are the first guys in, they’re road maintainers. They build airstrips where covert ops can go in the dark. Barry was an owner/operator. The CIA contracted him for work. They said, hey Seal . . . we’re gonna pay you.’ Gary Eitel was also a CIA pilot, a lifelong member of the same fraternity of flyers to which Seal belonged. He knew him only slightly, but, living in neighboring Texas, he heard quite a bit about him. . .” (Ibid.; p. 138.)

59. Hopsicker broaches the subject of Seal’s having flown a getaway plane out of Dallas on 11/22/1963. (For more about this subject, see FTR#288.) ” . . . We asked Gary Eitel, ‘Have you heard anything about Seal flying a getaway plane out of Dallas?’ ‘It would have had to be an awful damn big plane,’ he replied slowly. ‘There were so many people involved in that thing, they’d have needed a 747 to get ’em all out. Its downright embarrassing.'” (Ibid.; p. 139.)

60. In Barry and the Boys, Daniel Hopsicker exposes Seal’s involvement in covert operations in the mid and late 1950’s, when Seal was still a teenager. Seal’s smuggling activities drew the attention of the FBI even in that early time period. ” . . . During exactly this same time period there was also quite a bit of FBI interest in the young Barry Seal as well. According to Jerry Chidgey, who was Barry’s roommate and friend, he became aware—in early 1960—that the FBI was following Barry.” (Ibid.; p. 70.)

61. ” ‘When I met Barry, I owned ‘The Amber Bottle,’ a folk club in Baton Rouge. We were capitalizing on the folk craze,’ Chidgey recalls. ‘And that was where Barry used to hang, and we became good friends and ended up living together. And one day I remember two FBI guys showed up asking questions about him, while Barry was gone on a trip.'” (Idem.)

62. Next, Hopsicker relates Barry Seal’s involvement with the milieu of the assassination of President Kennedy, including David Ferrie—the original target of Jim Garrison’s probe. Like Ferrie, Seal had a photographic memory. (For more about JFK’s assassination, see—among other programs—FTR#’s 19, 47, 54, 62, 63, 76, 108, 120, 158, 168, 188, 190, 253, 288.) ” ‘Another time that same year (1960) I flew to Dallas, and two men in black suits followed me there and back, and the only reason I could ever figure out was because of Barry,’ says Chidgey. ‘Unless, that is, they were making a practice of surveilling folk club owners.’ Barry Seal and Dave Ferrie share yet-another highly unusual trait, we discovered, a trait which is a big plus for any secret agent. Both men had photographic memories.” (Idem.)

63. “When we interviewed Ferrie intimate and CIA ‘asset’ Layton Martens, he had attempted to dispel the belief that Ferrie had been plotting the Kennedy assassination during the two weeks prior, while Ferrie had been staying at Churchill Farms, Marcello’s Louisiana countryside estate. Many have wondered why Marcello would have used a mere pilot on his legal team. ‘Dave Ferrie had a photographic memory,’ Martens told us. ‘That’s why Carlos used him. He was useful because he had sat down and memorized the Louisiana Napoleanic Code in six weeks—in its entirety!'” (Idem.)

64. “Barry Seal went Dave Ferrie one better. ‘Barry not only had a photographic memory,’ his widow Debbie Seal says, ‘but he was also able to read upside down. He could go into an office and sit down in front of somebody’s desk and, while still carrying on a normal conversation, read what they had in front of them and remember it completely later.'” (Ibid.; p. 71.)

65. “A photographic memory . . . the ability to surreptitiously read upside down. . . being as good a pilot as any alive. . . These are all clearly useful traits in the world of clandestine services. But they don’t explain why the FBI was so interested in both David Ferrie and Barry Seal. What were Seal and Ferrie doing which warranted FBI surveillance back in the early ’60’s? The answer opens what’s been called ‘an endless can of worms.'” (Idem.)

66. Next, the program places Seal’s career and personal and professional acquaintances in the context of the assassination of President Kennedy. In turn, many of the principles in the JFK assassination were involved in the murky underworld of drug and gun smuggling. ” . . . What activity do Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Barry Seal, Guy Banister, David Ferrie, Gordon Novel, Michael McLaney, and Meyer Lansky all share in common? Under normal circumstances, would homosexual and pedophile Dave Ferrie hang out with cigar-chomping commie-hating Guy Banister? What would they find to talk about? And what did violence-loving Jack Ruby—he enjoyed being his own bouncer in his strip clubs—share in common with supposed ‘Marxist intellectual’ Lee Oswald?” (Ibid.; p. 124.)

67. “They worked together. They all saw each other at the office, at the airport, or at the odd Klan cross-burning that functioned as ‘cover’ for some of them. Its not that they’re personally close. . . they’re like people who see each other maybe once a year at some Gift Show Convention.” (Idem.)

68. “As it happens, the industry these men were in was enjoying a major boom at the time. Their business is weapons and narcotics, which together comprise just one industry. . . because who controls the one inevitably controls the other. Jack Ruby, to cite just one example . . . Professor [Peter Dale] Scott shows him to be involved in narcotics trafficking as far back as the late 1940’s. Talk about being ahead of the curve!” (Idem.)

69. “We were amazed to learn that by 1956, Ruby was doing so well in narcotics that he was showing training films to potential recruits into the organization. When a pimp named James Breen met with Ruby to discuss collaborating in running three prostitutes, he found Ruby bursting with ‘loftier’ ambitions. . . Ruby showed Breen an early narco-industry training and recruiting film, exciting enthusiasm in his new recruit in ‘an extremely efficient operation in connection with narcotics traffic.’ Typical loads were valued at over $300,000. In 1956, that was real money.” (Ibid.; pp. 124-125.)

70. “The other big action is in weapons. This perhaps explains why—to a startling degree—the lead characters in our story are almost all involved in smuggling weapons, as if they all worked for a giant superstore called ‘Guns R’ Us.'” (Ibid.; p. 125.)

71. “This is why they all know each other: our US Customs agent friend was right about there not being all that many players. Lee Oswald knows Jack Ruby, based on too many witnesses for even the FBI to ignore. Oswald also knows Dave Ferrie, Oswald knows Barry Seal, Seal knows Ferrie, and, based on flight plans in his pilot logs, may have also known Jack Ruby. And everybody knows Guy Banister.” (Idem.)

72. Hopsicker’s account concludes with discussion of a stunning negotiation between the Attorney General of Louisiana—William J. Guste, Jr. and then Vice President George H.W. Bush. They were arranging for Seal to escape prosecution for drug smuggling in Louisiana and for Seal to move his operation to Mena, Arkansas. ” . . . We were to make one final discovery. After Barry Seal had threatened to roll on Richard Ben-Veniste, and while he was still in possession of those ‘two briefcases’ filled with incriminating information he had ‘liberated’ from Ben-Veniste’s office, Ben-Veniste had interceded for Seal and set up a meeting with the then-Vice President of the United States, George Bush.” (Ibid.; p. 445.)

73. “We learned that Seal had not attended this meeting. Instead, he sent the Attorney General for the state of Louisiana., William J. Guste, Jr., to argue on his behalf. The Vice President of the United States, George Bush, sat down and cut a deal with the Attorney General of the State of Louisiana—in what amounted to state-to-state-negotiations—about the fate of a Louisiana native CIA agent with a ‘little problem,’ Barry Seal.” (Ibid.; p.446.)

74. As it turned out, Guste had been an intimate of the Guy Bannister/David Ferrie milieu in New Orleans. That milieu was deeply involved with the assassination of President Kennedy. “The result, which we already knew, was that Seal had moved his operation to Mena in the Spring of 1982, and went to work for Oliver North. But who was William Guste? Why had seal placed such faith in him? And the answer, when we found it, brought our story of Barry and ‘the boys’ full circle. . . William Guste, Jr., in addition to involvement with Edwin Edwards in shady casino deals—standard Louisiana fare—had been, way back in 1956 and ’57, when our story began, the head of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, where he had been instrumental in bringing to town Guy Banister, the agent who had helmed the entire New Orleans operation from its inception. Small World.” (Idem.)

75. Seal’s widow took note of a contingent of federal government agents who attended Barry’s funeral: “At the Baton Rouge funeral home where mourners gathered for Barry Seal’s wake, the newly-widowed Debbie Seal’s oldest childhood friend noticed with curiosity an entire line of men in sleek dark suits hovering at the back of the room. ‘Who are they?’ she asked Debbie. ‘They’re with the government,’ Debbie replied. ‘They’ve come to make sure that he’s dead.'” (Idem.)

76. The program ends with the passage with which Hopsicker concludes his book: “This has been the story of Barry Seal, the biggest drug smuggler in American history, who died in a hail of bullets with George Bush’s private phone number in his wallet.” (Idem.)

Discussion

2 comments for “FTR #503 The Death of Barry Seal”

  1. I wonder how much of an impact Barry Seal had on our retirement system considering his history of narcotics smuggling and money laundering? All that money had to be “washed clean” somehow.

    Posted by Bruce Allen | December 8, 2013, 7:41 pm
  2. Remember the severed head of Hollywood Hills that Hopsicker wrote so much about in 2012? The presumed beheader has been charged, although it’s unclear if he has a lawyer:

    Los Angeles man charged in severed head case
    By TAMI ABDOLLAH, Associated Press | March 10, 2014 | Updated: March 10, 2014 10:46pm

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County prosecutors have charged a man with killing his live-in boyfriend and dumping his severed head, hands and feet near the Hollywood sign two years ago.

    Police announced the arrest of Gabriel Campos-Martinez, 38, on suspicion of killing Hervey Coronado Medellin, 66, of Los Angeles. Campos-Martinez was arrested in San Antonio on Sunday with the help of local authorities and was being held on $1 million bail pending an extradition hearing.

    Campos-Martinez was charged Monday with one felony count of murder with malice aforethought in the slaying of Medellin, who had been dating Campos-Martinez and was living with him at the time of his disappearance, Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace said.

    It wasn’t clear if Campos-Martinez was represented by an attorney. San Antonio police said they didn’t know, Bexar County Sheriff’s officials said they don’t disclose that information, and a message with the San Antonio Central Magistrate Office was not returned.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 10, 2014, 8:32 pm

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