A secret history of the United States government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.
The 600-page report, which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years, provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi cases of the last three decades.
It describes the government’s posthumous pursuit of Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death at Auschwitz, part of whose scalp was kept in a Justice Department official’s drawer; the vigilante killing of a former Waffen SS soldier in New Jersey; and the government’s mistaken identification of the Treblinka concentration camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible.
The report catalogs both the successes and failures of the band of lawyers, historians and investigators at the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which was created in 1979 to deport Nazis.
Perhaps the report’s most damning disclosures come in assessing the Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement with Nazi émigrés. Scholars and previous government reports had acknowledged the C.I.A.’s use of Nazis for postwar intelligence purposes. But this report goes further in documenting the level of American complicity and deception in such operations.
The Justice Department report, describing what it calls “the government’s collaboration with persecutors,” says that O.S.I investigators learned that some of the Nazis “were indeed knowingly granted entry” to the United States, even though government officials were aware of their pasts. “America, which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted, became — in some small measure — a safe haven for persecutors as well,” it said.
The report also documents divisions within the government over the effort and the legal pitfalls in relying on testimony from Holocaust survivors that was decades old. The report also concluded that the number of Nazis who made it into the United States was almost certainly much smaller than 10,000, the figure widely cited by government officials.
The Justice Department has resisted making the report public since 2006. Under the threat of a lawsuit, it turned over a heavily redacted version last month to a private research group, the National Security Archive, but even then many of the most legally and diplomatically sensitive portions were omitted. A complete version was obtained by The New York Times.
The Justice Department said the report, the product of six years of work, was never formally completed and did not represent its official findings. It cited “numerous factual errors and omissions,” but declined to say what they were.
More than 300 Nazi persecutors have been deported, stripped of citizenship or blocked from entering the United States since the creation of the O.S.I., which was merged with another unit this year.
In chronicling the cases of Nazis who were aided by American intelligence officials, the report cites help that C.I.A. officials provided in 1954 to Otto Von Bolschwing, an associate of Adolf Eichmann who had helped develop the initial plans “to purge Germany of the Jews” and who later worked for the C.I.A. in the United States. In a chain of memos, C.I.A. officials debated what to do if Von Bolschwing were confronted about his past — whether to deny any Nazi affiliation or “explain it away on the basis of extenuating circumstances,” the report said.
The Justice Department, after learning of Von Bolschwing’s Nazi ties, sought to deport him in 1981. He died that year at age 72.
The report also examines the case of Arthur L. Rudolph, a Nazi scientist who ran the Mittelwerk munitions factory. He was brought to the United States in 1945 for his rocket-making expertise under Operation Paperclip, an American program that recruited scientists who had worked in Nazi Germany. (Rudolph has been honored by NASA and is credited as the father of the Saturn V rocket.)
The report cites a 1949 memo from the Justice Department’s No. 2 official urging immigration officers to let Rudolph back in the country after a stay in Mexico, saying that a failure to do so “would be to the detriment of the national interest.”
Justice Department investigators later found evidence that Rudolph was much more actively involved in exploiting slave laborers at Mittelwerk than he or American intelligence officials had acknowledged, the report says.
Some intelligence officials objected when the Justice Department sought to deport him in 1983, but the O.S.I. considered the deportation of someone of Rudolph’s prominence as an affirmation of “the depth of the government’s commitment to the Nazi prosecution program,” according to internal memos.
The Justice Department itself sometimes concealed what American officials knew about Nazis in this country, the report found.
In 1980, prosecutors filed a motion that “misstated the facts” in asserting that checks of C.I.A. and F.B.I. records revealed no information on the Nazi past of Tscherim Soobzokov, a former Waffen SS soldier. In fact, the report said, the Justice Department “knew that Soobzokov had advised the C.I.A. of his SS connection after he arrived in the United States.”
(After the case was dismissed, radical Jewish groups urged violence against Mr. Soobzokov, and he was killed in 1985 by a bomb at his home in Paterson, N.J. )
The secrecy surrounding the Justice Department’s handling of the report could pose a political dilemma for President Obama because of his pledge to run the most transparent administration in history. Mr. Obama chose the Justice Department to coordinate the opening of government records.
The Nazi-hunting report was the brainchild of Mark Richard, a senior Justice Department lawyer. In 1999, he persuaded Attorney General Janet Reno to begin a detailed look at what he saw as a critical piece of history, and he assigned a career prosecutor, Judith Feigin, to the job. After Mr. Richard edited the final version in 2006, he urged senior officials to make it public but was rebuffed, colleagues said.
When Mr. Richard became ill with cancer, he told a gathering of friends and family that the report’s publication was one of three things he hoped to see before he died, the colleagues said. He died in June 2009, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. spoke at his funeral.
“I spoke to him the week before he died, and he was still trying to get it released,” Ms. Feigin said. “It broke his heart.”
After Mr. Richard’s death, David Sobel, a Washington lawyer, and the National Security Archive sued for the report’s release under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Justice Department initially fought the lawsuit, but finally gave Mr. Sobel a partial copy — with more than 1,000 passages and references deleted based on exemptions for privacy and internal deliberations.
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the department is committed to transparency, and that redactions are made by experienced lawyers.
The full report disclosed that the Justice Department found “a smoking gun” in 1997 establishing with “definitive proof” that Switzerland had bought gold from the Nazis that had been taken from Jewish victims of the Holocaust. But these references are deleted, as are disputes between the Justice and State Departments over Switzerland’s culpability in the months leading up to a major report on the issue.
Another section describes as “a hideous failure” a series of meetings in 2000 that United States officials held with Latvian officials to pressure them to pursue suspected Nazis. That passage is also deleted.
So too are references to macabre but little-known bits of history, including how a director of the O.S.I. kept a piece of scalp that was thought to belong to Dr. Mengele in his desk in hopes that it would help establish whether he was dead.
The chapter on Dr. Mengele, one of the most notorious Nazis to escape prosecution, details the O.S.I.’s elaborate efforts in the mid-1980s to determine whether he had fled to the United States and might still be alive.
It describes how investigators used letters and diaries apparently written by Dr. Mengele in the 1970s, along with German dental records and Munich phone books, to follow his trail.
After the development of DNA tests, the piece of scalp, which had been turned over by the Brazilian authorities, proved to be a critical piece of evidence in establishing that Dr. Mengele had fled to Brazil and had died there in about 1979 without ever entering the United States, the report said. The edited report deletes references to Dr. Mengele’s scalp on privacy grounds.
Even documents that have long been available to the public are omitted, including court decisions, Congressional testimony and front-page newspaper articles from the 1970s.
A chapter on the O.S.I.’s most publicized failure — the case against John Demjanjuk, a retired American autoworker who was mistakenly identified as Treblinka’s Ivan the Terrible — deletes dozens of details, including part of a 1993 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that raised ethics accusations against Justice Department officials.
That section also omits a passage disclosing that Latvian émigrés sympathetic to Mr. Demjanjuk secretly arranged for the O.S.I.’s trash to be delivered to them each day from 1985 to 1987. The émigrés rifled through the garbage to find classified documents that could help Mr. Demjanjuk, who is currently standing trial in Munich on separate war crimes charges.
Ms. Feigin said she was baffled by the Justice Department’s attempt to keep a central part of its history secret for so long. “It’s an amazing story,” she said, “that needs to be told.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 14, 2010
An earlier version misspelled the given name of Adolf Eichmann as Adolph.
C.I.A. and Former Nazis
Published: November 18, 2010
To the Editor:
“Secret Papers Detail U.S. Aid for Ex-Nazis” (front page, Nov. 14) cites the Central Intelligence Agency’s interaction with former Nazi officials in the early years of the post-World War II era.
We would like to make clear that the agency at no time had a policy or a program to protect Nazi war criminals, or to help them escape justice for their actions during the war. It is unfortunate that the article suggests otherwise.
The C.I.A. has cooperated for decades with the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations.
Director of Public Affairs
Central Intelligence Agency
Langley, Va., Nov. 17, 2010
In his approach to National Security Agency surveillance, as well as CIA renditions, drone assassinations, and military detention, President Obama has to a surprising extent embraced the expanded executive powers championed by his conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. This bipartisan affirmation of the imperial executive could “reverberate for generations,” warns Jack Balkin, a specialist on First Amendment freedoms at Yale Law School. And consider these but some of the early fruits from the hybrid seeds that the Global War on Terror has planted on American soil. Yet surprisingly few Americans seem aware of the toll that this already endless war has taken on our civil liberties.
Don’t be too surprised, then, when, in the midst of some future crisis, advanced surveillance methods and other techniques developed in our recent counterinsurgency wars migrate from Baghdad, Falluja, and Kandahar to your hometown or urban neighborhood. And don’t ever claim that nobody told you this could happen — at least not if you care to read on.
Think of our counterinsurgency wars abroad as so many living laboratories for the undermining of a democratic society at home, a process historians of such American wars can tell you has been going on for a long, long time. Counterintelligence innovations like centralized data, covert penetration, and disinformation developed during the Army’s first protracted pacification campaignin a foreign land — the Philippines from 1898 to 1913 — were repatriated to the United States during World War I, becoming the blueprint for an invasive internal security apparatus that persisted for the next half century.
Almost 90 years later, George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror plunged the U.S. military into four simultaneous counterinsurgency campaigns, large and small — in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and (once again) the Philippines — transforming a vast swath of the planet into an ad hoc”counterterrorism” laboratory. The result? Cutting-edge high-tech security and counterterror techniques that are now slowly migrating homeward.
As the War on Terror enters its ninth year to become one of America’s longest overseas conflicts, the time has come to ask an uncomfortable question: What impact have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the atmosphere they created domestically — had on the quality of our democracy?
Every American knows that we are supposedly fighting elsewhere to defend democracy here at home. Yet the crusade for democracy abroad, largely unsuccessful in its own right, has proven remarkably effective in building a technological template that could be just a few tweaks away from creating a domestic surveillance state — with omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nano-second biometric identification, and drone aircraft patrolling “the homeland.”
Even if its name is increasingly anathema in Washington, the ongoing Global War on Terror has helped bring about a massive expansion of domestic surveillance by the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA) whose combined data-mining systems have already swept up several billion private documents from U.S. citizens into classified data banks. Abroad, after years of failing counterinsurgency efforts in the Middle East, the Pentagon began applying biometrics — the science of identification via facial shape, fingerprints, and retinal or iris patterns — to the pacification of Iraqi cities, as well as the use of electronic intercepts for instant intelligence and the split-second application of satellite imagery to aid an assassination campaign by drone aircraft that reaches from Africa to South Asia.
In the panicky aftermath of some future terrorist attack, Washington could quickly fuse existing foreign and domestic surveillance techniques, as well as others now being developed on distant battlefields, to create an instant digital surveillance state.
The Crucible of Counterinsurgency
For the past six years, confronting a bloody insurgency, the U.S. occupation of Iraq has served as a white-hot crucible of counterinsurgency, forging a new system of biometric surveillance and digital warfare with potentially disturbing domestic implications. This new biometric identification system first appeared in the smoking aftermath of “Operation Phantom Fury,” a brutal, nine-day battle that U.S. Marines fought in late 2004 to recapture the insurgent-controlled city of Falluja. Bombing, artillery, and mortars destroyed at least half of that city’s buildings and sent most of its 250,000 residents fleeing into the surrounding countryside. Marines then forced returning residents to wait endless hours under a desert sun at checkpoints for fingerprints and iris scans. Once inside the city’s blast-wall maze, residents had to wear identification tags for compulsory checks to catch infiltrating insurgents.
The first hint that biometrics were helping to pacify Baghdad’s far larger population of seven million came in April 2007 when the New York Times published an eerie image of American soldiers studiously photographing an Iraqi’s eyeball. With only a terse caption to go by, we can still infer the technology behind this single record of a retinal scan in Baghdad: digital cameras for U.S. patrols, wireless data transfer to a mainframe computer, and a database to record as many adult Iraqi eyes as could be gathered. Indeed, eight months later, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon had collected over a million Iraqi fingerprints and iris scans. By mid-2008, the U.S. Army had also confined Baghdad’s population behind blast-wall cordons and was checking Iraqi identities by satellite link to a biometric database.
Pushing ever closer to the boundaries of what present-day technology can do, by early 2008, U.S. forces were also collecting facial images accessible by portable data labs called Joint Expeditionary Forensic Facilities, linked by satellite to a biometric database in West Virginia. “A war fighter needs to know one of three things,” explained the inventor of this lab-in-a-box. “Do I let him go? Keep him? Or shoot him on the spot?”
A future is already imaginable in which a U.S. sniper could take a bead on the eyeball of a suspected terrorist, pause for a nanosecond to transmit the target’s iris or retinal data via backpack-sized laboratory to a computer in West Virginia, and then, after instantaneous feedback, pull the trigger.
Lest such developments seem fanciful, recall that Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward claims the success of George W. Bush’s 2007 troop surge in Iraq was due less to boots on the ground than to bullets in the head — and these, in turn, were due to a top-secret fusion of electronic intercepts and satellite imagery. Starting in May 2006, American intelligence agencieslaunched a Special Action Program using “the most highly classified techniques and information in the U.S. government” in a successful effort “to locate, target and kill key individuals in extremist groups such as al-Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias.”
Under General Stanley McChrystal, now U.S. Afghan War commander, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) deployed “every tool available simultaneously, from signals intercepts to human intelligence” for “lightning quick” strikes. One intelligence officer reportedly claimed that the program was so effective it gave him “orgasms.” President Bush called it “awesome.” Although refusing to divulge details, Woodward himself compared it to the Manhattan Project in World War II. This Iraq-based assassination program relied on the authority Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld granted JSOC in early 2004 to “kill or capture al-Qaeda terrorists” in 20 countries across the Middle East, producing dozens of lethal strikes by airborne Special Operations forces.
Another crucial technological development in Washington’s secret war of assassination has been the armed drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, whose speedy development has been another by-product of Washington’s global counterterrorism laboratory. Half a world away from Iraq in the southern Philippines, the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted an early experiment in the use of aerial surveillance for assassination. In June 2002, with a specially-equipped CIA aircraft circling overhead offering real-time video surveillance in the pitch dark of a tropical night, Philippine Marines executed a deadly high-seas ambush of Muslim terrorist Aldam Tilao (a.k.a. “Abu Sabaya”).
In July 2008, the Pentagon proposed an expenditure of $1.2 billion for a fleet of 50 light aircraft loaded with advanced electronics to loiter over battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, bringing “full motion video and electronic eavesdropping to the troops.” By late 2008, night flights over Afghanistan from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt were using sensors to give American ground forces real-time images of Taliban targets — some so focused that they could catch just a few warm bodies huddled in darkness behind a wall.
In the first months of Barack Obama’s presidency, CIA Predator drone strikes have escalated in the Pakistani tribal borderlands with a macabre efficiency, using a top-secret mix of electronic intercepts, satellite transmission, and digital imaging to kill half of the Agency’s 20 top-priority al-Qaeda targets in the region. Just three days before Obama visited Canada last February, Homeland Security launched its first Predator-B drones to patrol the vast, empty North Dakota-Manitoba borderlands that one U.S. senator has called America’s “weakest link.”
While those running U.S. combat operations overseas were experimenting with intercepts, satellites, drones, and biometrics, inside Washington the plodding civil servants of internal security at the FBI and the NSA initially began expanding domestic surveillance through thoroughly conventional data sweeps, legal and extra-legal, and — with White House help — several abortive attempts to revive a tradition that dates back to World War I of citizens spying on suspected subversives.
“If people see anything suspicious, utility workers, you ought to report it,” said President George Bush in his April 2002 call for nationwide citizen vigilance. Within weeks, his Justice Department had launched Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), with plans for “millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees and others” to aid the government by spying on their fellow Americans. Such citizen surveillancesparked strong protests, however, forcing the Justice Department to quietly bury the president’s program.
Simultaneously, inside the Pentagon, Admiral John Poindexter, President Ronald Reagan’s former national security advisor (swept up in the Iran-Contra scandal of that era), was developing a Total Information Awareness program which was to contain “detailed electronic dossiers” on millions of Americans. When news leaked about this secret Pentagon office with its eerie, all-seeing eye logo, Congress banned the program, and the admiral resigned in 2003. But the key data extraction technology, the Information Awareness Prototype System, migrated quietly to the NSA.
Soon enough, however, the CIA, FBI, and NSA turned to monitoring citizens electronically without the need for human tipsters, rendering the administration’s grudging retreats from conventional surveillance at best an ambiguous political victory for civil liberties advocates. Sometime in 2002, President Bushgave the NSA secret, illegal orders to monitor private communications through the nation’s telephone companies and its private financial transactions through SWIFT, an international bank clearinghouse.
After the New York Times exposed these wiretaps in 2005, Congress quickly capitulated, first legalizing this illegal executive program and then granting cooperating phone companies immunity from civil suits. Such intelligence excess was, however, intentional. Even after Congress widened the legal parameters for future intercepts in 2008, the NSA continued to push the boundaries of its activities, engaging in what the New York Times politely termed the systematic “overcollection” of electronic communications among American citizens. Now, for example, thanks to a top-secret NSA database called “Pinwale,” analysts routinely scan countless “millions” of domestic electronic communications without much regard for whether they came from foreign or domestic sources.
Starting in 2004, the FBI launched an Investigative Data Warehouse as a “centralized repository for… counterterrorism.” Within two years, it contained 659 million individual records. This digital archive of intelligence, social security files, drivers’ licenses, and records of private finances could be accessed by 13,000 Bureau agents and analysts making a million queries monthly. By 2009, when digital rights advocates sued for full disclosure, the database had already grown to over a billion documents.
And did this sacrifice of civil liberties make the United States a safer place? In July 2009, after a careful review of the electronic surveillance in these years, the inspectors general of the Defense Department, the Justice Department, the CIA, the NSA, and the Office of National Intelligenceissued a report sharply critical of these secret efforts. Despite George W. Bush’s claims that massive electronic surveillance had “helped prevent attacks,” these auditors could not find any “specific instances” of this, concluding such surveillance had “generally played a limited role in the F.B.I.’s overall counterterrorism efforts.”
Amid the pressures of a generational global war, Congress proved all too ready to offer up civil liberties as a bipartisan burnt offering on the altar of national security. In April 2007, for instance, in a bid to legalize the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretaps, Congressional representative Jane Harman (Dem., California) offered a particularly extreme example of this urge. Sheintroduced the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, proposing a powerful national commission, functionally a standing “star chamber,” to “combat the threat posed by homegrown terrorists based and operating within the United States.” The bill passed the House by an overwhelming 404 to 6 vote before stalling, and then dying, in a Senate somewhat more mindful of civil liberties.
Only weeks after Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, Harman’s life itself became a cautionary tale about expanding electronic surveillance. According to information leaked to theCongressional Quarterly, in early 2005 an NSA wiretap caught Harman offering to press the Bush Justice Department for reduced charges against two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of espionage. In exchange, an Israeli agent offered to help Harman gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee by threatening House Democratic majority leader Nancy Pelosi with the loss of a major campaign donor. As Harman put down the phone, she said, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”
How wrong she was. An NSA transcript of Harman’s every word soon crossed the desk of CIA Director Porter Goss, prompting an FBI investigation that, in turn, was blocked by then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. As it happened, the White House knew that the New York Times was about to publish its sensational revelation of the NSA’s warrantless wiretaps, and felt it desperately needed Harman for damage control among her fellow Democrats. In this commingling of intrigue and irony, an influential legislator’s defense of the NSA’s illegal wiretapping exempted her from prosecution for a security breach discovered by an NSA wiretap.
Since the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House, the auto-pilot expansion of digital domestic surveillance has in no way been interfered with. As a result, for example, the FBI’s “Terrorist Watchlist,” with 400,000 names and a million entries, continues to grow at the rate of 1,600 new names daily.
In fact, the Obama administration has even announced plans for a new military cybercommandstaffed by 7,000 Air Force employees at Lackland Air Base in Texas. This command will be tasked with attacking enemy computers and repelling hostile cyber-attacks or counterattacks aimed at U.S. computer networks — with scant respect for what the Pentagon calls “sovereignty in the cyberdomain.” Despite the president’s assurances that operations “will not — I repeat — will not include monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic,” the Pentagon’s top cyberwarrior, General James E. Cartwright, has conceded such intrusions are inevitable.
Sending the Future Home
While U.S. combat forces prepare to draw-down in Iraq (and ramp up in Afghanistan), military intelligence units are coming home to apply their combat-tempered surveillance skills to our expanding homeland security state, while preparing to counter any future domestic civil disturbances here.
Indeed, in September 2008, the Army’s Northern Command announced that one of the Third Division’s brigades in Iraq would be reassigned as a Consequence Management Response Force (CMRF) inside the U.S. Its new mission: planning for moments when civilian authorities may need help with “civil unrest and crowd control.” According to Colonel Roger Cloutier, his unit’s civil-control equipment featured “a new modular package of non-lethal capabilities” designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals — including Taser guns, roadblocks, shields, batons, and beanbag bullets.
That same month, Army Chief of Staff General George Casey flew to Fort Stewart, Georgia, for the first full CMRF mission readiness exercise. There, he strode across a giant urban battle map filling a gymnasium floor like a conquering Gulliver looming over Lilliputian Americans. With 250 officers from all services participating, the military war-gamed its future coordination with the FBI, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and local authorities in the event of a domestic terrorist attack or threat. Within weeks, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an expedited freedom of information request for details of these deployments, arguing: “[It] is imperative that the American people know the truth about this new and unprecedented intrusion of the military in domestic affairs.”
At the outset of the Global War on Terror in 2001, memories of early Cold War anti-communist witch-hunts blocked Bush administration plans to create a corps of civilian tipsters and potential vigilantes. However, far more sophisticated security methods, developed for counterinsurgency warfare overseas, are now coming home to far less public resistance. They promise, sooner or later, to further jeopardize the constitutional freedoms of Americans.
In these same years, under the pressure of War on Terror rhetoric, presidential power has grown relentlessly, opening the way to unchecked electronic surveillance, the endless detention of terror suspects, and a variety of inhumane forms of interrogation. Somewhat more slowly, innovative techniques of biometric identification, aerial surveillance, and civil control are now being repatriated as well.
In a future America, enhanced retinal recognition could be married to omnipresent security cameras as a part of the increasingly routine monitoring of public space. Military surveillance equipment, tempered to a technological cutting edge in counterinsurgency wars, might also one day be married to the swelling domestic databases of the NSA and FBI, sweeping the fiber-optic cables beneath our cities for any sign of subversion. And in the skies above, loitering aircraft and cruising drones could be checking our borders and peering down on American life.
If that day comes, our cities will be Argus-eyed with countless thousands of digital cameras scanning the faces of passengers at airports, pedestrians on city streets, drivers on highways, ATM customers, mall shoppers, and visitors to any federal facility. One day, hyper-speed software will be able to match those millions upon millions of facial or retinal scans to photos of suspect subversives inside a biometric database akin to England’s current National Public Order Intelligence Unit, sending anti-subversion SWAT teams scrambling for an arrest or an armed assault.
By the time the Global War on Terror is declared over in 2020, if then, our American world may be unrecognizable — or rather recognizable only as the stuff of dystopian science fiction. What we are proving today is that, however detached from the wars being fought in their name most Americans may seem, war itself never stays far from home for long. It’s already returning in the form of new security technologies that could one day make a digital surveillance state a reality, changing fundamentally the character of American democracy.
Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of A Question of Torture, among other works. His most recent book is Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (University of Wisconsin Press) which explores the influence of overseas counterinsurgency operations throughout the twentieth century in spreading ever more draconian internal security measures here at home.
Billy Joya, security adviser to Honduras’s post-coup-d’etat President Roberto Micheletti, offered the following explanation for the armed forces’ June 28 insurrection ousting democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya:
Joya said Zelaya had been following the same “Marxist-Leninist strategy” for tightening his grip on power that Chilean President Salvador Allende had in 1973 when Gen. Augusto Pinochet toppled Allende.
At least, Joya is right about this much: The assault on Honduras’s fragile democracy was reminiscent of Pinochet’s 1973 putsch. But Joya’s justification says more about where he and Micheletti are coming from than it does about Zelaya, whose real offense was to run afoul of the Honduran oligarchs.
The Organization of American States and United Nations have condemned the coup and demanded Zelaya’s reinstatement. But the Obama administration has been characteristically cautious, expressing displeasure and suspending military ties, but stopping short of economic sanctions that might lead to some second thoughts among the coup leaders.
Does the White House’s chariness reflect fear that a reinstated Zelaya might take some revenge by releasing records revealing Reagan-era CIA collaboration with brutal Honduran generals and their drug kingpin partners?
Does Obama prefer, as he does regarding George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, to never look backwards even when the history involves serious crimes?
Pleasing the Putschists
Obama’s disinterest in history would please Micheletti and his fellow putschists, not least Billy Joya, who in the early 1980s was a captain in Battalion 3-16, a brutal Honduran intelligence unit that was trained and equipped by the CIA.
A 1995 Baltimore Sun investigation of Reagan-era crimes documented the battalion’s use of shock and suffocation devices and its murder of 184 victims. The U.S. Embassy knew what was going on, but continued to work closely with Battalion 3-16’s leaders.
The CIA got into bed with homicidal uniformed Hondurans because the Agency – Washington’s primary tool for achieving goals antithetical to American values – has always operated that way.
Indeed, the story of how Nazi-like tactics spread across Latin America and other parts of the world can be traced back to the days just after World War II. Washington – in the name of “fighting communism” – recruited fugitive Nazi war criminals like SS Capt. Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief of Lyon, France, who escaped across so-called “rat lines” to South America and helped organize right-wing intelligence services.
In those years, the newly formed CIA embraced not only ex-Nazis but their methods. Nazi war criminals smuggled to South America taught Nazi torture techniques to the region’s intelligence services.
“Butcher of Lyon” Barbie did it in Bolivia. SS Col. Walter Rauff, developer of mobile gas vans and answerable for some 90,000 deaths during World War II, did likewise in Chile for Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The Carter-Reagan Divide
Breaking with this collaboration in the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter embargoed arms sales to South America’s more flagrant human rights violators. However, when Carter left the Oval Office, the old ways returned with a vengeance under Ronald Reagan.
Even before the 1980 election, members of the ruling elite in Guatemala – where death squads had been operating with impunity for decades – were confident that Reagan’s victory would revive Washington’s holy war against communism.
They were confident because two pillars of the American far right, Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea until Carter sacked him for insubordination, and retired Gen. Daniel Graham, a former senior official at the CIA who advised the Reagan campaign, had assured them.
As if to underscore the message, the Republicans invited Guatemalan Mario Sandoval Alarcon, “Godfather” of Central American death squads, to Reagan’s inaugural ball.
In the years that followed Guatemala’s bloodbath would get even bloodier where more than 100,000 would die. Ditto for El Salvador, where some 75,000 lives would be snuffed out as the CIA helped another right-wing military crush peasant and labor uprisings.
In Nicaragua, the Reagan administration would go on the offensive because leftist Sandinista guerrillas had defeated the ruthless and corrupt Somoza dynasty in 1979, some 43 years after Washington had installed it.
Determined not to let Nicaragua become another Cuba, the Reagan administration went to work countering the revolution by reorganizing the remnants of the Somoza dictatorship’s National Guard, which was blamed for slaughtering some 50,000 Nicaraguans in 1978 and 1979.
In the early 1980s, Reagan hailed this ragtag army as “freedom fighters.” To the rest of the world, they were the “contras” and were widely regarded as drug-tainted terrorists. (In a private conversation with senior CIA officer Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, even Reagan accepted some of that reality, calling the contras “vandals.”)
Right-wing Argentine intelligence units and the CIA began whipping the contras into shape in Honduras, which had the misfortune of bordering Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua – the three hot spots for Reagan’s determination to draw a line against leftist gains in the region.
Honduras would trade in its traditional “Banana Republic” moniker for “Pentagon Republic.”
In establishing the contra operation, the CIA collaborated with Argentine instructors whose prior work had included organizing a “dirty war” that had tortured and killed tens of thousands of dissidents in Argentina.
On March 17, 1981, President Reagan hosted Gen. Roberto Viola of Argentina, who was about to be sworn in as president. Extending the general his best wishes, Reagan promised Viola that he would lift the embargo that Jimmy Carter had imposed on U.S. arms sales to Buenos Aires.
Though Argentina’s hand in training the contras is well known, its broader role in the CIA’s Central America “counterinsurgency” operations is not as well appreciated, nor is the price Hondurans paid for the fact that the Honduran Army officers with whom the CIA worked most closely made the murderous Argentines their role models.
Initially, the Argentine dirty warriors taught Honduran soldiers and the contras how repression was handled in Buenos Aires, including, torture, high-profile assassinations and “disappearances,” the secret murder of political targets.
According to J. Patrice McSherry, author of Predatory States, “Some of the Argentine officers involved were key Condor figures … Condor was extended to Central America.”
What was Condor?
In Operation Condor, South American intelligence teams joined forces to operate across borders to kidnap and assassinate their countries’ political exiles, essentially denying them safe haven anywhere in the world.
That explained how corpses of Bolivian refugees would turn up in Buenos Aires garbage dumps in August 1974. One month later, in that same city, a car bombing claimed the lives of Chilean Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife. Prats had opposed the 1973 coup d’etat led by Gen. Pinochet that overthrew Chile’s progressive president, Salvador Allende.
Despite release of historical documents about this right-wing international terror campaign, the mainstream U.S. media has devoted little attention to Operation Condor, in part it would seem because of the background roles of respected American leaders such as former CIA Director George H.W. Bush and ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
A 1978 State Department document, discovered by Prof. McSherry in 2001, provides evidence that the U.S. government facilitated communication among the intelligence chiefs who were collaborating in Operation Condor.
In the document, a cable from U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Robert E. White to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance says Washington’s link to Condor might be exposed by an ongoing investigation into the Sept. 21, 1976, assassination of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt in broad daylight in Washington, D.C.
Letelier, like Prats, had been an outspoken critic of Chilean strongman Pinochet. And like Prats, Letelier was murdered in a car bombing that Pinochet’s intelligence agency, DINA, had assigned to Michael V. Townley, an American expatriate closely linked to CIA-trained anti-Castro Cuban exiles and European neo-fascist terrorists.
Notably, George H.W. Bush was CIA director at the time of the Letelier murder and Agency informants had attended a meeting three months earlier at which the terror operations were discussed. Bush then helped stonewall the ensuing FBI investigation. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Disrupting the Peace
Prior to the Argentines’ arrival in Honduras, the country had enjoyed relative peace, isolated from the violence across the country’s borders with Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. Soon, however, the Honduran police and armed forces would begin their own murderous campaign against a tiny group of domestic guerrillas and their suspected sympathizers.
In 1979, Honduran chief of police Amilcar Zelaya Rodriguez formed the secret Grupo de los 14, a goon squad that specialized in the disappearance and torture of state enemies. After President Reagan and Vice President Bush took office in 1981, the violence in Honduras escalated.
Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez assumed control of Grupo de los 14. In Inside the League: The Shocking Expose of How Terrorists, Nazis, and Latin American Death Squads have Infiltrated the World Anti-Communist League, Scott and Jon Lee Anderson characterized the Honduran officer as follows:
“General Alvarez did not invent Honduran paramilitary squads, but he was the man who streamlined them, integrated them into the armed forces, and allowed them to conduct a dirty war.”
A vitriolic anticommunist who graduated from Argentina’s Colegio Militar in 1961, Alvarez would maintain contact with his instructors there, most notably Jorge Rafael Videla, who would head the Argentine junta during the Argentine dirty war’s bloodiest period.
In addition, Alvarez received advanced training at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone, where he attended the School of the Americas, known to critics as the “School of the Assassins.”
With his ambition, ruthlessness and sleaziness, Alvarez was just the man the CIA was looking for. Alvarez had Grupo de los 14’s members undergo counterinsurgency training by U.S., Argentine and Chilean instructors. The group expanded over time and was renamed Batallion 3-16.
One of the group’s instructors, Ciga Correa, had been a member of the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (“Triple-A”), a death squad that operated on the front lines of Argentina’s dirty war. One of his Triple-A missions was the 1974 Operation Condor assassination of Gen. Prats.
In an offshoot of Operation Condor, Correa joined an Argentine unit in Guatemala City that targeted suspected Argentine guerrillas who had fled to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Under the tutelage of Correa and his associates, Alvarez’s thugs kidnapped, tortured, murdered and “disappeared” Honduran guerrillas and their supporters, whose numbers had swelled following the Sandinista triumph next door in Nicaragua.
Flash Forward to 2001
In 2001, Society of Helpers Sister Laetitia Bordes read that President George W. Bush planned to nominate John D. Negroponte to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. At the time, she recalled a face-to-face meeting in 1982 with Negroponte in his office as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.
She had made the journey to ask a nagging question: What had happened to 32 women who had fled to Honduras to escape El Salvador’s death squads in the months following the March 24, 1980, assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador?
Sometime after arriving in Honduras, the women had been forcibly taken from their living quarters and shoved into vans, never to be seen again. Negroponte, who had worked closely with Gen. Alvarez, dissembled, disavowing knowledge of the women’s whereabouts and insisting that the U.S. Embassy kept its hands out of Honduran government affairs.
Twelve years after that encounter, Sister Laetitia realized that Negroponte had lied to her. She read a Honduran Human Rights Commission report on the torture and disappearance of political prisoners. It specifically mentioned Negroponte’s complicity in human rights violations.
In 1996, Sister Laetitia read a Baltimore Sun interview with Jack Binns, Negroponte’s predecessor in Tegucigalpa. Binns recalled that a group of Salvadorans, including the women about whose whereabouts Sister Laetitia had inquired, had been captured on April 22, 1981, tortured by members of the Honduran Secret Police, placed aboard Salvadoran military helicopters and, after taking off, thrown out of the helicopters.
Binns added that U.S. authorities had been informed about the incident.
The Honduran government eventually recognized 184 disappearances in that era: 39 Nicaraguans, 28 Salvadorans, five Costa Ricans, four Guatemalans, one American, one Ecuadoran, one Venezuelan and 105 Hondurans. Human rights organizations believe the numbers were considerably higher.
(Ultimately, President George W. Bush selected Negroponte for a string of important assignments: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador to Iraq, the nation’s first “Intelligence Czar” and, finally, in 2007, Deputy Secretary of State.)
In early 1982, Honduran President Roberto Suazo Cordova promoted Negroponte’s sidekick, Grupo de los 14 leader Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, to the rank of general. Before the year was over, Alvarez had decimated Honduras’s tiny guerrilla movement and was promoted to Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
The appointment bred resentment in more senior officers – and as Hondurans grew fed up with their country’s exploitation by Washington as a base for the Nicaraguan contras, the resentment among Gen. Alvarez’s enemies grew.
The boil burst in March 1984, when Honduran Air Force commander Gen. Walter Lopez Reyes spearheaded an internal military coup that drove Alvarez into exile in the United States. The violence in Honduras soon tapered off.
CIA Tegucigalpa station chief Donald Winters, who had asked Alvarez to be the godfather to his adopted daughter, was reassigned elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the contras – a brutal and ineffective fighting force – were becoming a headache for the White House. Reports of the CIA mining of Nicaragua’s harbors and a CIA training manual that sanctioned the assassination of civilians undermined support for Ronald Reagan’s Central American proxy wars.
Anticipating congressional cutoff of funding for the contras, the White House convened a National Security Planning Group meeting on June 25, 1984. The meeting was marked by heated debate about whether seeking third-country support for the contras would expose President Reagan to impeachment.
Vice President Bush asserted that soliciting the contra aid would be lawful unless the United States promised to give the third parties something in return. Nonetheless, Reagan personally approved, with Bush’s active involvement, special aid for Honduras as an implicit quid pro quo for helping the contras.
According to the minutes of a Feb. 7, 1985, meeting of high-level Reagan administration officials, which were released at the later trial of Reagan’s point man for the contras, Lt. Col. Oliver North, the “principals agreed … to provide several enticements in exchange for … continued support” of the contras.
Twelve days after the meeting, Reagan released millions of dollars in economic aid to Honduras.
The Drug Connection
The Reagan administration also did what it could to protect its Honduran friends who ran afoul of the law.
On Nov. 1, 1984, the FBI arrested eight men in Miami and charged them with plotting to overthrow the Honduran government and assassinate President Suazo. The alleged aim of the scheme, which was financed by $40 million in cocaine profits, was to reinstate Gen. Alvarez as Chairman of Honduras’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Honduran government asked Washington to hand over Alvarez, but he remained safe within U.S. borders, even benefiting from a $50,000 Pentagon contract for a six-month study of “low-intensity conflict” in Central America.
Alvarez also reportedly spent time as the house guest in Miami of international arms trader Gerard Latchinian, one of the richest men in Honduras, where he was known as the “ambassador of death.” Latchinian got 30 years in prison for his role in the drug-financed coup/assassination plot.
What made the stench even worse was Washington’s treatment of Alvarez’s chum, Gen. Jose Bueso-Rosa. Bueso had served as Army Chief of Staff and was an avid supporter of the contras until Alvarez’s March 1984 ouster – following which Bueso was demoted to military attaché in Santiago, Chile.
For his role in the assassination plot, Bueso turned himself in to federal authorities in Miami. In June 1986, he pleaded guilty to two federal counts of “traveling in furtherance of a conspiracy to plan an assassination” and was sentenced to five years at a minimum security prison.
The light sentence must have been related to Oliver North’s appeals to State and Justice Department officials for intervention on Bueso’s behalf. Two U.S. government officials, one serving and one retired, testified as character witnesses at Bueso’s sentencing hearing, and the Reagan administration submitted an appeal for leniency that read in part:
“General Bueso-Rosa has always been a valuable ally to the United States. As chief of staff of Honduras’s armed forces he immeasurably furthered U.S. national interests in Central America. He is primarily responsible for the initial success of the American military preserve in Honduras. For this service he was awarded the Legion of Merit by the President of the United States, the highest award that can be presented to a foreign military officer.” [See Scott and Marshall’s Cocaine Politics.]
Reagan also had awarded the Legion of Merit to Gen. Alvarez.
The presiding judge decided that the additional information trumped the Justice Department’s description of the assassination conspiracy as “the most significant case of narco-terrorism yet discovered.” A senior Justice Department official called the five-year sentence meted out to Bueso “lenient.”
But it wasn’t lenient enough for Oliver North. As authors Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall reported, North sent a note to his then boss, National Security Adviser John Poindexter, saying there remained one “problem.”
The general was the man with whom North and three other senior U.S. officials had “worked out arrangements” for contra support, and Bueso had entered a guilty plea on the assumption that he would be given time at a minimum security prison “for a short period [days or weeks] and then walk free.”
“Our major concern,” North wrote, “is that when Bueso finds out what is really happening to him, he will break his longstanding silence about the [contras} and other sensitive operations.” [Emphasis added.]
North and some of his colleagues were therefore going to “cabal quietly … to look into options: pardon, clemency, deportation, reduced sentence. Objective is to keep Bueso from feeling like he was lied to in legal process and start spilling the beans.”
Poindexter reassured North: “You may advise all concerned that the President will want to be as helpful as possible to settle this matter.” In the end, the Justice Department blocked clemency or deportation, and Bueso-Rosa served his time and kept his mouth shut.
But the late 1984 timing of Bueso’s drug-financed assassination plot suggests that it may have been one of those other sensitive operations that Oliver North cagily referred to in his note to Poindexter. The Honduran general’s drug/assassination conspiracy may have been part of the Reagan administration’s elaborate plans to sustain the contras.
A revitalized Honduran connection would have guaranteed Tegucigalpa’s crucial support. The coup’s failure led to Plan B: economic leverage with President Suazo. And because a congressional ban on aiding the contras, known as the Boland Amendment, made that impeachable, it became a top priority to conceal Reagan’s and Bush’s roles.
The Bush family name was further protected by President George H.W. Bush’s Christmas Eve 1992 pardons to six key Iran-Contra defendants, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. To save his own skin, Weinberger was expected to incriminate Bush in the Iran-Contra cover-up.
Bill Clinton’s opposition to the Iran-Contra investigation when he assumed the presidency in 1993 also helped spare Bush from having to answer a new round of questions from special prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh.
Walsh’s truncated investigation had touched on – but failed to pursue – the contra-cocaine aspect of the Iran-Contra Affair, of which the Bueso-Rosa/Latchinian conspiracy was just the tip of a narcotics-filled iceberg.
Consortiumnews.com’s Robert Parry, the late Gary Webb and others – with no help, indeed with resistance from the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times – have painstakingly established that the contras were the beneficiaries of and in some cases in cahoots with drug traffickers. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]
So let’s delve a bit further into the Honduran Connection.
A 1983 US Customs report noted that the Honduran cargo firm SETCO Air was headed by Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, a Class I DEA violator in partnership with “American businessmen who are … smuggling narcotics into the United States.”
Six years later, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, headed by John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, issued a multi-volume report, “Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy.”
The report noted, among other sensational findings, that SETCO Air was “the principal company used by the Contras in Honduras to transport supplies and personnel for the FDN [Nicaraguan Democratic Force], carrying at least a million rounds of ammunition, food, uniforms and other military supplies for the Contras from 1983 to 1985.”
In other words, unfazed by the 1983 Customs report that had identified Matta Ballestero as a Class I violator – which meant drug kingpin, top of the food chain – the Reagan administration retained his airline for another two years as the contra’s chief mover of supplies.
Yet what makes Matta’s case special is just how far Washington would go to keep him in business. In 1970, Matta marked himself as a big-time trafficker when he was arrested at Dulles Airport outside Washington for importing 54 pounds of cocaine. But he was sentenced to five years at a minimum security prison, and a year later he tiptoed out the door and didn’t come back.
By 1973, the DEA considered Matta important enough to entrap in a sting operation. But either the narcs blew it or someone told them not to try.
Two years later, the DEA learned that Matta had teamed up with Mexican drug kingpin Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, a tonnage supplier to El Norte with Colombian and Peruvian connections. The partnership would make Matta a billionaire.
A 1978 DEA intelligence report cited by James Mills in his penetrating study, The Underground Empire, noted that Matta had financed a coup d’etat in his native Honduras that was led by his partner, Gen. Policarpo Paz Garcia.
Even before that coup, Honduras had been the transfer point for half a billion dollars worth of northbound drugs. In the three years following the coup, Matta Ballesteros and President Paz Garcia made Honduras an even bigger cocaine trafficking center.
As Scott and Marshall note in Cocaine Politics, when these events unfolded, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and it was his administration that overlooked Matta Ballesteros’s behind-the-scenes role in Honduran politics.
However, unlike the Carter administration, the incoming Reagan team didn’t simply turn a blind eye. It found Honduras’s corruption an ideal environment for nourishing the contra war.
Matta’s number one Honduran government enabler after President Paz was Col. Leonidas Torres Arias, the head of military intelligence and a key figure in making the necessary arrangements for opening contra training camps.
In August 1981, Col. Torres met secretly in Guatemala City with Argentine intelligence officer Mario Davico, the CIA’s Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, Honduran Gen. Alvarez Martinez and President Paz Garcia.
A tripartite agreement emerged for waging the contra war on Nicaragua. Argentine intelligence would handle organization, administration and training; the CIA would supply the funds; and Honduras would provide the territory for operational bases.
At the time, Davico was second in command of Argentine Army Intelligence and a graduate of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas. He would soon relocate to Honduras to teach Alvarez’s Batallion 3-16 the Argentine “dirty war” techniques of arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial executions and disposal of cadavers.
All three Hondurans – Torres Arias, Alvarez Martinez and Paz Garcia – were considered to be in the pockets of the drug lords. As Scott and Marshall put it: “The CIA relied totally on the cocaine-trafficking military in Honduras to back its plans to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.”
But concerns about drug trafficking did little to dissuade the Reagan administration from teaming up with the Honduran military. That, however, meant that the CIA and Drug Enforcement Administration would be operating at cross purposes.
The DEA agent in charge of its recently opened Tegucigalpa office, Thomas Zepeda, had documented the complicity of Col. Torres Arias and other high-ranking Honduran officers in Matta Ballesteros’s drug operations.
But DEA needed the Honduran military’s assistance to arrest Torres and his cronies, and the CIA needed them to support the contras. To avoid a showdown with the CIA, the DEA’s Zepeda proposed that a grand jury be empanelled to investigate corruption in the Honduran armed forces.
But the CIA nixed the idea, no doubt to protect its collaborators. As one high-level diplomat later noted: “Without the support of the Honduran military there would have been no such thing as the contras. It’s that simple … So they got rid of the DEA station.”
The DEA Tegucigalpa station was shut down – in June 1983, just as the CIA station was doubling in size – in a naked move to preclude a serious drug investigation. That same month, Customs asked Zepeda to investigate Matta’s airline, SETCO, which would soon be flying supplies to the contras.
But the worst was still to come. Shortly after noon on Feb. 7, 1985, DEA undercover agent Enrique (Kiki) Camarena walked out of the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico for a lunch date with his wife.
Two Jalisco state policemen, two hired killers and a drug lord’s lieutenant drove up alongside, told Camarena “the commandante wants to see you,” and shoved him into their car. They sped to a house that was owned by drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero.
Camarena was questioned and tortured there for the next 30 hours. His interrogator, a captured tape would reveal, was a commander in the Federal Security Directorate (DFS), Mexico’s FBI. One month later, Camarena’s mutilated body was discovered next to that of his Mexican pilot.
First it was assumed that the motive for the murders had been raids Camarena had led on vast marijuana plantations, which had cost Cara Quintero and his partners an estimated $5 billion. But the interrogation, it turned out, focused on what Camarena knew about corruption in Mexico’s political hierarchy.
That would explain why the men who attended the meeting at which Camarena’s abduction reportedly included future Mexico City police chief Javier Garcia Paniagua, and Manuel Ibarra Herrera, the former head of Mexico’s Federal Judicial Police.
That same year, Newsweek would describe another attendee as the “boss of bosses of Mexico’s cocaine industry,” a man whose organization was believed to supply “perhaps one third of all the cocaine consumed in the United States.”
A DEA agent described the man as “the kind of individual who would be a decision maker of last resort. He is at the same level as the rulers of Medellin and Cali cartels.” That man was Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, and at the planning meeting he reportedly announced “we will soon have the identity” of the DEA agent and he will be silenced.
Matta Ballesteros kept his promise. Camarena was silenced. The method, a forensic specialist determined, was the application of a Phillips-head screwdriver to the skull.
Hair sample analysis would establish Matta’s presence at the silencing. But it was only in 1990 that federal prosecutors in Los Angeles would finally put Matta away for life for cocaine trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy.
Significantly, a witness in the Camarena murder case told the DEA that the CIA had trained Nicaraguan contras on a ranch near Veracruz that was owned by Rafael Caro Quintero, the same drug kingpin who owned the house outside Guadalajara where Enrique Camarena was murdered.
Matta would be arrested in 1986 in Colombia. But he bought his way out of jail with a $2 million bribe and made his way back home to Honduras. That same year, which was three years after Customs had identified Matta as both a Class I DEA violator and the owner of SETCO Air – and after Matta had become a prime suspect in the Camarena murder – the State Department renewed SETCO’s contract to supply the contras.
For two more years Matta would live in luxury in Hondruas, seemingly unconcerned by any prospect of arrest since he still had many friends in high places. His generosity would endear him with Honduras’s abjectly poor masses. They called him Honduras’s “Robin Hood.”
But in March 1988, after the Iran-Contra scandal had devastated political support for the contra war in Washington, a truce was declared in Nicaragua. That eliminated Washington’s use for Honduras, and its need for drug kingpins like Matta and his partner, Mexican drug kingpin Felix Gallardo, who once told a DEA informant that he was “protected” because his drug profits were bankrolling the contras.
Only then were Felix Gallardo and Matta Ballesteros arrested and flown to the United States.
When CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz belatedly investigated the contra-cocaine connection in the late 1990s, he documented the depth of CIA knowledge of drug traffickers and money-launderers connected to the contra war – and explained the key reason for protecting these criminals.
According to Hitz’s report, the CIA had “one overriding priority: to oust the Sandinista government. … [CIA officers] were determined that the various difficulties they encountered not be allowed to prevent effective implementation of the contra program.”
One CIA field officer explained, “The focus was to get the job done, get the support and win the war.”
The CIA’s manipulation of Honduran politics in pursuit of that goal was another part of the contra war’s legacy.
Besides the drug lords, other key players also ran afoul of the law or met their own rough justice.
The Argentine military junta self-imploded in the wake of the disastrous 1982 war with Great Britain over the Falklands/Malvinas islands, leading to a restoration of civilian rule and a judgment by an Argentine court denouncing the military government for genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Reagan’s guest, Gen. Viola, was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Honduran Gen. Alvarez Martinez returned to Honduras in 1987 and was silenced by an assassin on Jan. 25, 1989.
The CIA’s Clarridge was indicted for perjury and lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal but was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992.
But the ghosts of Tegucigalpa continue to hover over Honduran politics. As Hondurans protest the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, many believe that Washington encouraged and supported the coup. Can anyone blame them?
They haven’t forgotten that during the Reagan era, the CIA and Argentine dirty warriors ran roughshod over their country. They also know that Roberto Micheletti’s security adviser, Billy Joya, was a member of one of those Reagan-era death squads.
They know, too, that Zelaya had been bucking Honduras’s powerful upper class with reforms like a 60 percent minimum wage increase and rejecting Washington’s “free trade” policies. Zelaya also challenged U.S. foreign policy by befriending Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
However badly President Barack Obama may want to look forward not backwards, Washington’s unacknowledged crimes of the past few decades keep intruding on the present.
Jerry Meldon is an Associate Professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Dedicated to the memory of Penny Lernoux.
Leading liberal intellectual Noam Chomsky just told Press TV:
“The explicit and declared motive of the [Afghanistan] war was to compel the Taliban to turn over to the United States, the people who they accused of having been involved in World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist acts. The Taliban…they requested evidence…and the Bush administration refused to provide any,” the 81-year-old senior academic made the remarks on Press TV’s program a Simple Question.
“We later discovered one of the reasons why they did not bring evidence: they did not have any.”
The political analyst also said that nonexistence of such evidence was confirmed by FBI eight months later.
“The head of FBI, after the most intense international investigation in history, informed the press that the FBI believed that the plot may have been hatched in Afghanistan, but was probably implemented in the United Arab Emirates and Germany.”
Chomsky added that three weeks into the war, “a British officer announced that the US and Britain would continue bombing, until the people of Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban… That was later turned into the official justification for the war.”
“All of this was totally illegal. It was more, criminal,” Chomsky said.
As Wired wrote on September 27, 2001:
President Bush has said he has evidence that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, so it would seem obvious that the FBI would include him and other suspects on its 10 most wanted fugitives Web page.
Bin Laden is listed, but only for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. There is no mention of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing or the attacks on the USS Cole in October 2000, both of which he is widely believed to have orchestrated. And forget about Sept. 11.
The reason? Fugitives on the list must be formally charged with a crime, and bin Laden is still only a suspect in the recent attacks in New York City and Washington.
“There’s going to be a considerable amount of time before anyone associated with the attacks is actually charged,” said Rex Tomb, who is head of the FBI’s chief fugitive publicity unit and helps decide which fugitives appear on the list. “To be charged with a crime, this means we have found evidence to confirm our suspicions, and a prosecutor has said we will pursue this case in court.”
Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer who was deputy director of the U.S. State Department Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993, said in a Sept. 12 interview conducted by Frontline that there is no concrete proof that bin Laden is responsible for the USS Cole and the 1993 WTC attacks, but bin Laden celebrates those attacks and associates himself with people who are responsible for it.
President Bush promises to reveal evidence linking bin Laden to the suicide hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bin Laden has applauded the attacks but denies direct involvement.
* A d v e r t i s e m e n t
The Bush administration never provided such evidence.
As I wrote last December:
President Obama said Tuesday night as justification for the surge in troops in Afghanistan:
We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people.
Al Qaeda’s base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban”, who refused to turn over Osama bin Laden.
Is that true?
On October 14, 2001, the Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden to a neutral country if the US halted bombing if the Taliban were given evidence of Bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11.
Specifically, as the Guardian writes:
Returning to the White House after a weekend at Camp David, the president said the bombing would not stop, unless the ruling Taliban “turn [bin Laden] over, turn his cohorts over, turn any hostages they hold over.” He added, “There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty” …
Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, told reporters that the Taliban would require evidence that Bin Laden was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
“If the Taliban is given evidence that Osama bin Laden is involved” and the bombing campaign stopped, “we would be ready to hand him over to a third country”, Mr Kabir added.
However, as the Guardian subsequently points out:
A senior Taliban minister has offered a last-minute deal to hand over Osama bin Laden during a secret visit to Islamabad, senior sources in Pakistan told the Guardian last night.
For the first time, the Taliban offered to hand over Bin Laden for trial in a country other than the US without asking to see evidence first in return for a halt to the bombing, a source close to Pakistan’s military leadership said.
And yet … the U.S. turned down the offer and instead prosecuted war.
And in 2006, FBI agent Rex Tomb told reporter Ed Haas that the FBI still did not have enough evidence:
The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Usama Bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.
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In fact, many leading liberals have expressed doubts about 9/11, including Daniel Ellsberg, Ray McGovern, William Blum, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, Lewis Lapham, Dan Hamburg, Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, Amy Goodman, Thom Hartmann, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Marc Crispin Miller, Howard Zinn, Robert McChesney, Gore Vidal, Chris Floyd, Robert Fisk, Medea Benjamin, Doris “Granny D” Haddock, Paul Hawken, David Cobb, Randy Hayes, Ernest Callenbach, Dennis Bernstein, Paul H. Ray, Michael Franti, Janeane Garafalo and Ed Asner.
As Haiti struggles to avert a new disaster, Haitians and U.S. public health experts are warning that U.N. troops may in fact be responsible for the deadly cholera outbreak. The strain of the disease matches strains found in Southeast Asia, and a Nepalese contingent is based near the infected Artibonite River. Experts say the strain is uncharacteristic of Haiti and the Caribbean but closely matches the Nepalese troops’ home region.