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Dark Alliance [Transcript, Pt. 2]

Tran­scripts from Gary Web­b’s orig­i­nal San Jose Mer­cury News series.

August 22, 1996
Sal­vador air force linked to cocaine flights, Nicaraguan con­tras, drug deal­er’s sup­pli­er
by Gary Webb
San Jose Mer­cury News

One thing is cer­tain: There is con­sid­er­able evi­dence that El Sal­vador’s air force was deeply involved with cocaine flights, the con­tras and drug deal­er Oscar Dani­lo Bland­ón Reyes’ cocaine sup­pli­er, Nor­win Mene­ses.

Mene­ses said one of his old­est friends is a for­mer con­tra pilot named Mar­cos Agua­do, a Nicaraguan who works for the Sal­vado­ran air-force high com­mand.

Agua­do was iden­ti­fied in 1987 con­gres­sion­al tes­ti­mo­ny as a CIA agent who helped the con­tras get weapons, air­planes and mon­ey from a major Colom­bian drug traf­fick­er named George Morales. Agua­do admit­ted his role in that deal in a video­taped depo­si­tion tak­en by a U.S. Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee that year.

His name also turned up in a depo­si­tion tak­en by the con­gres­sion­al Iran-con­tra com­mit­tees that same year. Robert Owen, a couri­er for Lt. Col. Oliv­er North, tes­ti­fied he knew Agua­do as a con­tra pilot and said there was “con­cern” about his being involved with drug traf­fick­ing.

While fly­ing for the con­tras, Agua­do was sta­tioned at Ilopan­go Air Base near El Sal­vador’s cap­i­tal.

In 1985, the DEA agent assigned to El Sal­vador — Celeri­no Castil­lo III — began pick­ing up reports that cocaine was being flown to the Unit­ed States out of hangars 4 and 5 at Ilopan­go as part of a con­tra-relat­ed covert oper­a­tion. Castil­lo said he soon con­firmed what his infor­mants were telling him.

Start­ing in Jan­u­ary 1986, Castil­lo began doc­u­ment­ing the cocaine flights — list­ing pilot names, tail num­bers, dates and flight plans — and sent them to DEA head­quar­ters.

The only response he got, Castil­lo wrote in his 1994 mem­oirs, was an inter­nal DEA inves­ti­ga­tion of him. He took a dis­abil­i­ty retire­ment from the agency in 1991.

“Basi­cal­ly, the bot­tom line is it was a covert oper­a­tion and they (DEA offi­cials) were cov­er­ing it up,” Castil­lo said in an inter­view. “You can’t get any sim­pler than that. It was a cov­er-up.”