Daniel Hopsicker is a journalist, author and television producer. He is the author of Barry and the Boys: The CIA, the Mob and America's Secret History (2001) a book about the CIA asset, Barry Seal, and Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta & the 9-11 Cover-Up in Florida (2006) and Bushfellas: When the Mob Went Republican, All Hell Broke Loose (2008).
Hopsicker has also produced several videos including Secret Heartbeat of America - The CIA and Drugs, Masters of the Universe - The Secret Birth of the Federal Reserve, In Search of the American Drug Lords and The Big Fix - 2000.
Lucien Conein was organizing an assassination program. Once we got it underway in 1974, with a bunch of anti-Castro Cuban assets, I went down to Colombia. The big thing then was sailboats and a small planes and Conein jumped in and the Quantum Corporation and Stewart Mott was around.
See, the people who control intel nets and have palace access are gun dealers and drug dealers. When I met Barry in 1974, his 'cover' was as an ex-coast guard pilot. But Barry was primarily just a plane-mover back then. He's moving planes around, gunrunning, hauling cars and cigarettes and stuff...
First of all, we figure, who's using this dope? Leftists! This is not a fact that messes up my chess game. This is not a fact that messes up my chess game. You cannot allow that kind of capability to remain freelance. There is too much money. Some tinhorn asshole can come in, take over, and end up ruling a subcontinent. We were always looking for signs of foreign intelligence and military penetration of the South American drug trade, signs of Soviet or Cuban presence.
"Seal's lawyer, Lewis Unglesby, testified that when they told Barry he had to report to the halfway house, Barry told them it was a death warrant. Seal went back to Unglesby's office, where they called George Bush directly, who was then both Vice President and coordinator of the Drug Task Force. Barry threatened to blow the whistle on the Contra guns-for-drugs deals. Barry had openly said to many people that he had hired and trained a lot of the pilots on that operation, and he had the goods on Bush and others. IRS agents showed up at his house, and claimed there was a $30 million lien on him because he'd made $60 million in the drug business. Barry told them to go to hell. He called Bush again and told him to get the IRS off his ass. He wouldn't let the IRS agents in the house, so they came back with a warrant. He was burning things in the toilet. This testimony came from IRS agents in the sentencing phase when we were trying to prove the government was involved. Shortly before he was killed, they were threatening to take away his house." The IRS was able to seize most of Seal's aircraft, while his million-dollar offshore bank accounts were also mysteriously emptied out.
"An interesting thing came up from the local cops," Sharpstein continues. "When it went out on the honk as to who it was that was killed at the halfway house, the FBI showed up and cleaned out Seal's car. There was almost nothing left. We finally made them give us a couple of boxes. They claimed they gave us what they had, like a phony passport from Honduras, but nothing heavy."
When HT pointed out that didn't sound legal, seizing evidence from a murder scene under investigation, Sharpstein replied ruefully, "Right. But there were a lot of funny things that went on. The Colombians got a life sentence instead of the death penalty, because we showed government complicity." The most important item retrieved from Seal's car was George Bush's private phone number.
Hopsicker is the first researcher to note there were other murders that same day, including top people in the Medellin cartel. Pablo Carrera, the number-two man, was gunned down in Colombia, as was Pablo Ochilla, the brother-in-law of Jorge Ochoa. The murders took place simultaneously in Colombia, Miami and Baton Rouge.
"Barry Seal wasn't assassinated by the Medellin cartel," says Hopsicker, who alleges that up to 30 cartel soldiers were also murdered that same evening. "Seal's murder may have been the opening salvo in the cleanup of Operation Black Eagle, a network of 5,000 people who made possible the export of arms in the direction of Central America, and the import of drugs back."
"The biggest drug smuggler in American History was a CIA Agent."
That's the mind-boggling conclusion of a 6-month investigation into the life and death of Barry Seal, a pivotal figure of the Iran/Contra '80s. Seal's C123 military cargo plane figured prominently in two of the biggest and least-understood events of the decade, the Sandinista 'drug-sting' operation, designed to be the 'Gulf of Tonkin Incident' in a US-Nicaragua war, and the downing, six months after Seal's assassination, of his beloved Fat Lady cargo plane over Nicaragua, with Eugene Hasenfus onboard, precipitating what came to be known, mistakenly, as Iran/Contra.
We have learned that the official cover-up of Seal's CIA affiliation began before his body was cold.
Until now, the 'official version of events' retailed the popular legend of Barry Seal's assassination, with Seal being gunned down by Colombians on a Medellin cartel hit.
Three Colombians were convicted of his murder, and while their cartel connections have been revealed to the world, their connection to Oliver North's Enterprise has not. The 'shooter team' was armed by somebody with long experience with shooter teams, Miami CIA asset Jose Coutin, whose Miami gun shop also supplied weapons to the Contras.
They are part of what we call the Secret History; that is, that history of our life and times in which lone gunmen do NOT play any significant role.
Speculation has long been that Seal was assassinated, not on cartel orders, but at the behest of the CIA. But unless the Medellin cartel was giving orders to the FBI, which confiscated and then withheld evidence in Seal's capital murder investigation in Baton Rouge Louisiana of February 1986, the 'conspiracy theorists' among us may turn out to be right: the CIA ordered the hit on Seal.
The Medellin 'hit' story has always had one big flaw: who would dare to kill one of the CIA's own? Recall, for example, what the KGB did in Lebanon in the 80's when one of their agents was kidnapped in the Bekaa Valley: if you didn't hear that grisly story of Russian-retaliation-via- human-dismemberment, you were fortunate.
So a cartel hit on a CIA Agent is a dubious proposition. But the Medellin Cartel fulfilling the contract has always made a certain sense, at least to those who understand that the most important doctrine of American Foreign Policy is not the Monroe Doctrine, but the Doctrine of Plausible Deniability.
When, for example, the Gambino Family (to cite another organized crime syndicate) finds it necessary to enforce discipline by 'splashing' one of their own, they may contract it out to another 'outfit.' But woe betide the organization that takes it on itself to kill one of their own without permission.
Our investigation, with some of its evidence presented here for the first time, proves that the biggest cocaine smuggler in American History, Barry Seal, was a CIA Agent. So, would the Medellin Cartel risk the wrath of the CIA to kill Seal?
Other than those whose cars get waved through the checkpoints at Langley Virginia, there has been only one person until today in a position to find out. And he had his doubts about the cartel-hit cover story, as well.
His name is Sam Dalton, and he was the New Orleans attorney who represented the Colombian hit men who killed Seal in the penalty phase of their trial. Sam Dalton subpoenaed the CIA about what he suspected was its complicity in Seal's assassination in a court of law.
The "conspiracy theorists" among us (you know who you are) were right.
"We were trying to subpoena the CIA because we felt like they had documents, exhibits, and evidence that would indicate complicity in Seal's assassination," Dalton says slowly.
Through discovery, his investigation gained access to something more valuable than gold, the contents of the trunk of Barry Seal's Cadillac on the night he died, and discovered that a cover-up was underway before Seal's body had grown cold in the Baton Rouge morgue.
"The FBI went into the Baton Rouge Police Department and literally and physically seized the contents of that trunk from the Baton Rouge Police. In fact, the Baton Rouge Police probably would have had to draw their guns to keep possession of that trunk," Dalton says today, in an explosive interview on the just-released 2-hour TV special "The Secret Heartbeat of America."
His voice slows further, his words growing more deliberate. "And, actually, by law, the Baton Rouge Police should have done that, but they didn't."
Why didn't they? What was there about Barry Seal that led the FBI and the CIA to refuse to cooperate with state officials in the most publicized assassination in Louisiana history?
Dalton wanted to know. And so he began a legal battle to gain access to the evidence seized. Even he sounds surprised that he was, eventually, at least partly successful.
"They (the CIA and FBI) wouldn't even honor the subpoena," he states, about the demands of the trial judge for the return of the seized evidence.
But then a wild card entered the picture, as wild cards often do in America, even today, in the form of a courageous state judge. "It wasn't until a state judge really backed them up, and threatened to hold them in contempt, that they partially complied."
Dalton described the brinkmanship necessary to gain access to what the defense should have had as a matter of course during discovery.
"If it hadn't been for a good state judge, with enough courage to back the federal government up," Dalton stated, "we'd have never gotten inside that trunk. He (the judge) made them give us that trunk back."
And when the FBI finally did turn over the contents of the trunk they had obviously ransacked it first, Dalton says. "Some of the things that had been in it we didn't get back."
Then Dalton's voice turns positively gleeful. "But they had missed a few things that indicated just how valuable that trunk was. Because that's where that phone number was. That's where we found George Bush's private phone number. "
"They were regularly talking to each other very seriously over what was probably a secure phone," he states.
"Barry Seal was in direct contact with George Bush."
Barry Seal and George Bush? Could they have been, secretly, one of Washington's Fun Couples of the '80's?
Lewis Unglesby is today one of the most powerful and well-known attorneys in Louisiana. But back in 1986, he was just a 36-year-old lawyer who represented Barry Seal, and who, Unglesby himself admits, was made by Seal to operate on a "need-to-know basis."
"I sat him down one time," recalls Unglesby, talking about his relationship with Seal, "and said: I cannot represent you effectively unless I know what is going on. Barry smiled, and gave me a number, and told me to call it, and identify myself as him (Seal.)
I dialed the number, a little dubiously, and a pleasant female voice answered: 'Office of the Vice President.'"
"This is Barry Seal," Unglesby said into the phone.
"Just a moment, sir," the secretary replied. "Then a man's voice came on the line, identifying himself as Admiral somebody, and said to me, 'Barry, where have you been?'"
"Excuse me, Sir, "Unglesby replied, "but my name is Lewis Unglesby and I'm Barry Seal's attorney."
There was a click, Unglesby relates. The phone went dead. "Seal just smiled when I looked over at him in shock, and then went back to treating me on a need-to-know basis."
(The Admiral in question might well have been Admiral Daniel Murphy, assigned to work in the Office of the Vice President, from which numerous reports state Contra operations were masterminded.)
But this is not just a case of (yet another) official cover-up of the murder of a quasi-public official, Barry Seal. There is strong evidence that the murder was not just covered-up, but orchestrated by the very same people who later trooped dutifully up Capital Hill to lie to the United Stages Congress about what became known as the Iran/Contra. Scandal.
Consider, for example, the simple mathematics of the hit team. Seven people were arrested in connection with Seal's assassination. But only four men were charged with the crime, and only three were convicted. The fourth Colombian charged, although presumably guilty at the least of conspiracy to commit murder, was extradited to Columbia.
And what are we to make of the evidence of George Bush's personal phone number in Seal's possession at the time of his death? Is this some historical anomaly, upon which experts will eternally disagree? What was George Bush's knowledge and involvement in cocaine smuggling under the pretext of national security carried out in Mena Arkansas?
The complete answer waits another day, but consider this: pretend that your unlisted phone number had been found with the body of the biggest drug smuggler in American History. What sort of questions might the police ask you?
The story of Barry Seal, drug smuggler, is well known today, at least in its outlines. What hasn't been known before now is much about the story of Barry Seal, CIA Agent.
We spoke with one of the three government witnesses in the penalty phase of the Colombians' trial whose testimony was so damning about Seal's activities on behalf of the federal government that two jurors attempted to change their verdict to 'not guilty.'
In our television special, Sam Dalton has this to say about this man: "If all our government people were as courageous as he was, we wouldn't have the problems today in this country that we have."
Ten years ago, this man knew as much about Barry Seal's drug-smuggling activities as anyone alive. Today this man holds an important and sensitive government position requiring anonymity, and thus requested anonymity when we interviewed him.
Attorney Sam Dalton offers another bombshell. "Lieutenant ______ caught Seal smuggling drugs red-handed at the docks, and the DEA and the CIA showed up, and told the state police to butt out, and took over the operation." Its not known if the DEA or CIA ever made efforts to charge Seal for this crime, but we wouldn't bet on it.
"Barry's involvement in Contra re-supply began way before the commonly accepted date of 1983," this source told us in a matter-of-fact tone.
We asked him of his knowledge of Seal's CIA connections. "Barry's been a spook since 1971," he stated calmly. "In fact, Barry goes all the way back to the Bay of Pigs."
Ten years ago, honest state law enforcement officials in affected states like Louisiana and Arkansas were outspoken in their condemnation of what they saw as officially-sanctioned drug smuggling in Mena Arkansas.
Yet, ten years ago, the cocaine continued to flow.
Today, courageous San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb has been relegated to writing obituaries in Cupertino, California for his refusal to "get with the program."
But others have stepped forward to continue the fight to expose the scandal that swirls around the CIA, the Contras, and cocaine, and particularly on the Mena, Arkansas front on this battleground to know the truth.
Today, new sources like Sam Dalton are coming forward with forthright testimony to add to the voluminous evidence and testimony that already exists, testimony ranging from US Congressmen (former Ark. Rep. Bill Alexander) to state police (Arkansas State Criminal Investigator Russell Welch), to former drug pilots, that have testified that the CIA operation Barry Seal set up in Mena was used, and is still being used, to smuggle drugs with official sanction into the United States of America.
Today, all this is already known.
And today, the cocaine continues to flow.