Daniel Sheehan on Iran-Contra and the “Secret Team” (1987) (mp3 file)
A related discussion regarding Ted Shackley and the Secret Team:
In the past I have argued that there are connections between the JFK assassination and Watergate. Recent research has suggested that there are a series of events that are linked together. The key figure in this seems to be Ted Shackley and what has been called his “Secret Team”.
The start of this story begins before JFK took power. On 11th December, 1959, Colonel J. C. King, chief of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division, sent a confidential memorandum to Allen W. Dulles, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. King argued that in Cuba there existed a “far-left dictatorship, which if allowed to remain will encourage similar actions against U.S. holdings in other Latin American countries.”
As a result of this memorandum Dulles established Operation 40. It obtained this name because originally there were 40 agents involved in the operation. Later this was expanded to 70 agents. The group was presided over by Richard Nixon, the vice president at the time. Tracy Barnes became operating officer of what was also called the Cuban Task Force. The first meeting chaired by Barnes took place in his office on 18th January, 1960, and was attended by David Atlee Phillips, E. Howard Hunt, Jack Esterline, and Frank Bender (Gerry Droller).
On 4th March, 1960, La Coubre, a ship flying a Belgian flag, exploded in Havana Bay. It was loaded with arms and ammunition that had been sent to help defend Cuba’s revolution from its enemies. The explosion killed 75 people and over 200 were injured. Fabian Escalante, an officer of the Department of State Security (G-2), later claimed that this was the first successful act carried out by Operation 40.
Operation 40 was not only involved in sabotage operations. In fact, it evolved into a team of assassins. One member, Frank Sturgis, claimed: “this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate, and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents… We were concentrating strictly in Cuba at that particular time.”
Over the next few years Operation 40 worked closely with several anti-Castro Cuban organizations including Alpha 66. CIA officials and freelance agents such as William Harvey, Porter Goss, Gerry Hemming, E. Howard Hunt, David Morales, Carl E. Jenkins, Thomas Clines, Bernard L. Barker, Barry Seal, Frank Sturgis, Tosh Plumlee, and William C. Bishop also joined the project.
Cuban figures used by Operation 40 included Antonio Veciana, Luis Posada, Orlando Bosch, Raphael Quintero, Roland Masferrer, Eladio del Valle, Guillermo Novo, Carlos Bringuier, Eugenio Martinez, Antonio Cuesta, Hermino Diaz Garcia, Barry Seal, Felix Ismael Rodriguez, Juan Manuel Salvat, Ricardo Morales Navarrete, Isidro Borjas, Virgilio Paz, Jose Dionisio Suarez, Felipe Rivero, Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo, Nazario Sargent, Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz, Jose Basulto, and Paulino Sierra.
After the Bay of Pigs disaster JFK created a committee (SGA) charged with overthrowing Castro’s government. The SGA, chaired by Robert F. Kennedy (Attorney General), included John McCone (CIA Director), McGeorge Bundy (National Security Adviser), Alexis Johnson (State Department), Roswell Gilpatric (Defence Department), General Lyman Lemnitzer (Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Maxwell Taylor. Although not officially members, Dean Rusk (Secretary of State) and Robert S. McNamara (Secretary of Defence) also attended meetings.
At a meeting of this committee at the White House on 4th November, 1961, it was decided to call this covert action program for sabotage and subversion against Cuba, Operation Mongoose. Robert F. Kennedy also decided that General Edward Lansdale (Staff Member of the President’s Committee on Military Assistance) should be placed in charge of the operation.
The CIA JM/WAVE station in Miami served as operational headquarters for Operation Mongoose. One of Lansdale’s first decisions was to appoint William Harvey as head of Task Force W. Harvey’s brief was to organize a broad range of activities that would help to bring down Castro’s government. This of course included the assassination of Castro and other leaders of his government.
In early 1962 Harvey brought Ted Shackley into the project as deputy chief of JM WAVE. In April, 1962, Shackley was involved in delivering supplies to Johnny Roselli as part of the plan to assassinate Fidel Castro. Later that year he became head of the station that served as operational headquarters for Operation Mongoose. In doing so, he gained control over Operation 40 or what some now called Shackley’s Secret Team.
In 1963 Shackley and Carl Jenkins were using members of Operation 40/Secret Team in attempts to kill Castro. According to the interview he gave in 2005 Gene Wheaton, it was Jenkins who redirected this team to kill JFK. However, it is unlikely that Shackley would have been unaware of this decision. In fact, when Wheaton and Jenkins were informing Daniel Sheehan about this in 1986 they were naming Shackley as the man in charge of the operation.
According to AMWORLD documents it would seem that Shackley and Jenkins continued to use the “Secret Team” against Castro. In his book, The Crimes of a President, Joel Bainerman argues that during this period “Theodore Shackley headed a program of raids and sabotage against Cuba. Working under Shackley was Thomas Clines, Rafael Quintero, Luis Posada Carriles, Rafael and Raul Villaverde, Frank Sturges, Felix Rodriguez and Edwin Wilson.” This operation was closed down in 1965 and several of its participants became involved with smuggling narcotics from Cuba into the United States (New York Times, 4th January, 1975).
In 1966 Shackley was placed in charge of CIA secret war in Laos. He appointed Thomas G. Clines as his deputy. He also took Carl Jenkins, David Morales, Rafael Quintero, Felix Rodriguez and Edwin Wilson with him to Laos. It was at this point that Shackley and his gang became involved in the drug trade. They did this via General Vang Pao, the leader of the anti-communist forces in Laos. Vang Pao was a major figure in the opium trade in Laos. To help him Shackley used his CIA officials and assets to sabotage the competitors.
Eventually Vang Pao had a monopoly over the heroin trade in Laos (Edith Holleman and Andrew Love, Inside the Shadow Government). In 1967 Shackley and Clines helped Vang Pao to obtain financial backing to form his own airline, Zieng Khouang Air Transport Company, to transport opium and heroin between Long Tieng and Vientiane. The following year Shackley and Clines arranged a meeting in Saigon between Santo Trafficante and Vang Pao to establish a heroin-smuggling operation from Southeast Asia to the United States (Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade).
Shackley also used Quintero and Rodriguez to train men to kill rival opium warloards and supporters of the Pathet Lao (Edith Holleman and Andrew Love, Inside the Shadow Government).
In 1969 Shackley and Clines were posted to Saigon. They took charge of Operation Phoenix, a program that was based on what Shackley had been doing in Laos. This involved the killing of non-combatant Vietnamese civilians suspected of collaborating with the National Liberation Front. In a two year period, Operation Phoenix murdered 28,978 civilians (Fred Banfman, South Vietnam’s Police and Prison System: The US Connection).
Shackley also brought others into his operation. This included Richard Armitage, a US Navy official based in Saigon’s US office of Naval Operations by the name of Richard Armitage and Major General Richard Secord. According to Daniel Sheehan: “From late 1973 until April of 1975, Theodore Shackley, Thomas Clines and Richard Armitage disbursed, from the secret, Laotian-based, Vang Pao opium fund, vastly more money than was required to finance even the highly intensified Phoenix Project in Vietnam. The money in excess of that used in Vietnam was secretly smuggled out of Vietnam in large suitcases, by Richard Secord and Thomas Clines and carried into Australia, where it was deposited in a secret, personal bank account (privately accessible to Theodore Shackley, Thomas Clines and Richard Secord). During this same period of time between 1973 and 1975, Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines caused thousands of tons of US weapons, ammunition, and explosives to be secretly taken from Vietnam and stored at a secret “cache” hidden inside Thailand. (Daniel P. Sheehan’s affidavit).
This money, with the help of Chi Chi Quintero, found its way into the Nugan Hand Bank in Sydney. The bank was founded by Michael Hand, a CIA operative in Laos and Frank Nugan an Australian businessman.
Saigon fell to the NLF in April, 1975. The Vietnam War was over. Richard Armitage was dispatched by Shackley and Clines, from Vietnam to Tehran, Iran. In Iran, Armitage, set up a secret “financial conduit” inside Iran, into which secret Vang Pao drug funds could be deposited from Southeast Asia. According to Sheehan: “The purpose of this conduit was to serve as the vehicle for secret funding by Shackley’s “Secret Team,” of a private, non-CIA authorized “Black” operations inside Iran, disposed to seek out, identify, and assassinate socialist and communist sympathizers, who were viewed by Shackley and his “Secret Team” members to be “potential terrorists” against the Shah of Iran`s government in Iran. In late 1975 and early 1976, Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines retained Edwin Wilson to travel to Tehran, Iran to head up the “Secret Team” covert “anti-terrorist” assassination program in Iran.”
Richard Helms, as head of CIA covert operations, must have been aware of the activities of the “Secret Team”. However, during the Watergate Scandal, he came under considerable pressure from Richard Nixon to help with the cover-up. It is possible that Nixon knew about the activities of Shackley’s Secret Team. After all, he had chaired the early Operation 40 meetings. Going by the messages that Nixon sent to Helms via H. R. Haldeman suggested that he knew about the CIA involvement in the assassination of JFK.
Helms refused to help Nixon and was sacked in February, 1973. James Schlesinger now became the new director of the CIA. Schlesinger was heard to say: “The clandestine service was Helms’s Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size.” This he did and over the next three months over 7 per cent of CIA officers lost their jobs.
On 9th May, 1973, James Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees: “I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about “activities outside the CIA’s charter”.
This posed a serious threat to all those involved in illegal activities. Nixon and Schlesinger had to be removed as quickly as possible. This was done via Deep Throat (Richard Ober/Robert Bennett) and CIA assets, Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee. The new director of the CIA was William Colby. Once again the CIA had someone from covert operations as head of the service.
After Nixon resigned Gerald Ford brought in George H. W. Bush as Director of the CIA. This was followed by Shackley being appointed as Deputy Director of Operations. He therefore became second-in-command of all CIA covert activity.
Shackley was hoping to eventually replace Bush as director of the CIA. However, the election of Jimmy Carter was a severe blow to his chances. Carter appointed an outsider, Stansfield Turner, as head of the CIA. He immediately carried out an investigation of into CIA covert activities. Turner eventually found out about Shackley’s “Secret Team”. He was especially worried about the activities of Edwin Wilson and the Nugan Hand Bank. Shackley was called in to explain what was going on. His explanation was not satisfactory and it was made clear that his career at the CIA had come to an end (David Corn, Blond Ghost).
Shackley now left the CIA and joined other former mates in the arms trade. Thomas Clines, Raphael Quintero, and Ricardo Chavez (another former CIA operative) had established API Distributors. According to David Corn (Blond Ghost) Edwin Wilson provided Clines with “half a million dollars to get his business empire going”. Shackley also freelanced with API but found it difficult taking orders from his former subordinate, Clines. Shackley also established his own company, Research Associates International, which specialized in providing intelligence to business (in other words he sold them classified information from CIA files). He also formed another company, TGS International.
According to Daniel Sheehan: “In 1976, Richard Secord moved to Tehran, Iran and became the Deputy Assistant Secretary of defense in Iran, in charge of the Middle Eastern Division of the Defense Security Assistance Administration. In this capacity, Secord functioned as the chief operations officer for the U.S. Defense Department in the Middle East in charge of foreign military sales of U.S. aircraft, weapons and military equipment to Middle Eastern nations allied to the U.S. Secord’s immediate superior was Eric Van Marbad, the former 40 Committee liaison officer to Theodore Shackley’s Phoenix program in Vietnam from 1973 to 1975.”
From 1977 until 1979, Richard Armitage operated a business named The Far East Trading Company. This company was, in fact, from 1977 to 1979, merely a “front” for Armitage’s secret operations conducting Vang Pao opium money out of Southeast Asia to Tehran and the Nugen-Hand Bank in Australia to fund the ultra right-wing, private anti-communist “anti-terrorist” assassination program and “unconventional warfare” operation of Theodore Shackley’s and Thomas Cline’s “Secret Team”. (Daniel P. Sheehan’s affidavit).
The Secret Team still used the Nugan Hand Bank to hide their illegal profits from drugs and arms. The President of the Nugan Hand Bank was Admiral Earl F. Yates, former Chief of Staff for Strategic Planning of US Forces in Asia. Other directors of the bank included Dale Holmgree (also worked for Civil Air Transport, a CIA proprietary company) and General Edwin F. Black, (commander of U.S. troops in Thailand during the Vietnam War). George Farris (a CIA operative in Vietnam) ran the Washington office of the Nugan Hand Bank and the bank’s legal counsel was William Colby (Joel Bainerman, The Crimes of a President).
The bank grew and had offices or affiliates in 13 countries. However, the bank did little banking. What it did do was to amass, move, collect and disburse great sums of money (Jonathan Kwitny, Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA, Crimes of Patriots).
However, in 1980 Frank Nugan was found dead in his car. His co-founder, Michael Hand had disappeared at the same time. The Australian authorities were forced to investigate the bank. They discovered that Ricardo Chavez, the former CIA operative who was co-owner of API Distributors with Thomas Clines and Raphael Quintero. The Corporate Affairs Commission of New South Wales came to the conclusion that Chavez was working on behalf of Clines, Quintero and Wilson. They blocked the move but they were unable or unwilling to explore the connections between the CIA and the Nugan Hand Bank.
The Secret Team (Shackley, Clines, Secord, Chavez, Quintero, Hakim, Wilson, and Armitage set up several corporations and subsidiaries around the world through which to conceal the operations of the “Secret Team”. Many of these corporations were set up in Switzerland. Some of these were: (1) Lake Resources, Inc.; (2) The Stanford Technology Trading Group, Inc.; and (3) Companie de Services Fiduciaria. Other companies were set up in Central America, such as: (4) CSF Investments, Ltd. and (5) Udall research Corporation. Some were set up inside the United States by Edwin Wilson. Some of these were: (6) Orca Supply Company in Florida and (7) Consultants International in Washington, D.C. Through these corporations the “Secret Team” laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of secret Vang Pao opium money.
Shackley had still not given up hope that he would eventually be appointed director of the CIA. His best hope was in getting Jimmy Carter defeated in 1980. Shackley had several secret meetings with Bush as he campaigned for the Republican nomination (his wife, Hazel Shackley also worked for Bush). Ronald Reagan won the nomination but got the support of the CIA by selecting Bush as his vice president. According to Chi Chi Quintero, during the presidential campaign, Shackley met Bush every week (David Corn, Blond Ghost).
Shackley helped organize October Surprise which resulted in the American hostages in Iran being held until Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter at the 1980 elections. Soon after Reagan was elected the hostages were released.
In October, 1985, Congress agreed to vote 27 million dollars in non-lethal aid for the Contras in Nicaragua. However, members of the Ronald Reagan administration decided to use this money to provide weapons to the Contras and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
Gene Wheaton and Carl Jenkins were recruited to use National Air to transport these weapons. However, for some reason, this never happened. Wheaton and Jenkins now began to feed information about the Secret Team’s involvement in this illegal trade.
Wheaton also contacted Newt Royce and Mike Acoca, two journalists based in Washington. The first article on this scandal appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on 27th July, 1986. As a result of this story, Congressman Dante Facell wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger, asking him if it “true that foreign money, kickback money on programs, was being used to fund foreign covert operations.” Two months later, Weinberger denied that the government knew about this illegal operation.
On 5th October, 1986, a Sandinista patrol in Nicaragua shot down a C-123K cargo plane that was supplying the Contras. Eugene Hasenfus, an Air America veteran, survived the crash and told his captors that he thought the CIA was behind the operation. He also provided information on two Cuban-Americans running the operation in El Savador. This resulted in journalists being able to identify Raphael Quintero and Felix Rodriguez as the two Cuban-Americans mentioned by Hasenfus. It gradually emerged that Thomas Clines, Oliver North, Edwin Wilson and Richard Secord were also involved in this conspiracy to provide arms to the Contras.
It was eventually discovered that President Ronald Reagan had sold arms to Iran. The money gained from these sales was used to provide support for the Contras, a group of guerrillas engaged in an insurgency against the elected socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Both the sale of these weapons and the funding of the Contras violated administration policy as well as legislation passed by Congress.
However, except for Wilson and Clines, who were imprisoned for offences not directly connected to the Iran-Contra scandal, all the major figures involved escaped punishment. This included Shackley who remained free to sue Daniel Sheehan. The Secret Team, whose existence dated back to the assassination of JFK, remained undetected. It is therefore important to hold in mind this history when you consider Gene Wheaton’s testimony to the ARRB and in the filmed interview earlier this year.