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The DEA and its predecessor federal drug law enforcement organizations have always been infiltrated and, to varying degrees, managed by America’s intelligence agencies. The reason is simple enough: the US Government has been protecting its drug smuggling allies, especially in organized crime, since trafficking was first criminalized in 1914. Since then drug law enforcement has been a function of national security in its broadest sense; not just protecting our aristocracy from foreign enemies, but preserving the Establishment’s racial, religious and class prerogatives.
The glitch in the system is that while investigating traffickers, federal drug agents are always unearthing the Establishment’s ties to organized crime and its proxy drug syndicates. US intelligence and security agencies recognized this problem early in the early 1920s and to protect their Establishment patrons (and foreign and domestic drug smuggling allies fighting communists), they dealt with the problem by suborning well-placed drug law enforcement managers and agents.
They have other means at their disposal as well. In 1998, for example, in a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News, reporter Gary Webb claimed that the CIA had facilitated the flow of crack cocaine to street gangs in Los Angeles. After the Agency vehemently denied the allegations, Webb was denounced by the CIA’s co-conspirators: the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. Frightened into submission by the growls of its biggers and betters, the Mercury News retracted Webb’s story and sent the reporter into internal exile. The CIA's Inspector General later admitted that Webb was partially right. But being unjustly discredited is the price one pays for tearing the mask off the world’s biggest drug trafficker.
It’s always been that way. Case in point: in 1960 MacMillan published Russ Koen’s book The China Lobby. In it Koen said the Nationalist Chinese were smuggling narcotics into the US, "with the full knowledge and connivance" of their government in Taiwan. He said that "prominent Americans have participated and profited from these transactions." The idea of prominent Americans profiting from drug trafficking was unthinkable and quick as a flash, Harry J. Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), denounced Koen as a fraud. Within weeks Koen’s book was remaindered into obscurity by MacMillan.
Professor Al McCoy’s seminal book The Politics of Heroin, published in 1972, is another example. The CIA knew about McCoy’s research and approached his publisher, demanding that it suppress the book on grounds of national security. Harper Row refused, but agreed to allow the CIA to review the book prior to publication. When McCoy objected, Harper Row said it would not publish the book unless McCoy submitted.
Examples of federal drug law enforcement’s complicity with the CIA also abound and many are recounted in my first book on the subject, The Strength of the Wolf: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics 1930-1968. In my new book, The Strength of the Pack: The Politics, Espionage Intrigues, and Personalities that Defined the DEA, I explain how the CIA infiltrated the DEA and how, under CIA direction, the war on drugs became a template for the war on terror. One example shall be presented in this essay.
The Merry Pranksters
My new book, Strength of the Pack, begins in April 1968, when, in the wake of a huge corruption scandal, the Johnson Administration folded the FBN into a new organization called the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD). Attorney General Ramsey Clark announced the appointment of thirty-eight year old John E. Ingersoll as the BNDD’s director. In a letter to me Clark said that Ingersoll "offered a clean break with a past that had ended in corruption and, I hoped, a new progressive, scientific based approach to drug control in a time of deep social unrest."
Clark appointed Ingersoll while Johnson was president and after the elections, in an attempt to preempt the in-coming Nixon Administration, Clark held a news conference to proclaim the Johnson Administration’s success in cleansing the BNDD of any lingering corruption. "32 Narcotics Agents Resign in Corruption Investigation Here," read the headline in the 14 December 1968 New York Times. Clark noted that five of the bad agents had been indicted, and that additional prosecutions and resignations would soon be forthcoming.
The Democrats had lost the election, largely because the "law and order" candidate Richard Nixon had promised to win the war on drugs. Ironically, once he was elected president, this vow would pit Nixon against the CIA, which was aiding and abetting the major politicians and generals commanding America’s allies in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, many of whom were part of a huge Kuomintang drug smuggling network. In order to defeat the Communists, their drug smuggling activities had to be protected. But in order for Nixon to make good on his promise to win the war on drugs, they had to be stopped. Thus began the CIA’s infiltration of the BNDD, and its struggle with Nixon’s anti-Establishment, felonious minions for control over targeting of major traffickers as a mean of managing the war on drugs.
BNDD Director John Ingersoll was totally unprepared for the political tug-of-war he found himself in the midst of. He had joined the Oakland police department in 1956, serving as a motorcycle cop and later as an administrative assistant to the chief. In the mid-1960s he became the police chief in Charlotte, North Carolina where he earned a reputation as a straight arrow and fighter against corruption. But within a year of taking control of the BNDD, Ingersoll realized he was no match for the wily federal drug agents he inherited. They were a cunning and dangerous wolf pack, and the organization’s top officials were among the worst offenders.
As one agent explains, "Most were corrupted by the lure of the underworld. They thought they could check their morality at the door–go out and lie, cheat, and steal–then come back and retrieve it. But you can’t. In fact, if you’re successful because you can lie, cheat, and steal, those things become tools you use in the bureaucracy. You’re talking about guys whose lives depended on their ability to be devious and who become very good at it. So these people became the bosses. Meanwhile the agents were losing their simplicity in subtle ways."
Ingersoll knew this, but he was also aware of the high priority Nixon placed on winning the war on drugs. Rather than generate a scandal, Ingersoll decided to go outside of the organization, to the CIA, for help in quietly rooting out corruption. The 1975 Rockefeller Commission Report On CIA Activities Within The United States stated that the joint CIA-BNDD anti-corruption program began when Ingersoll became "vitally" concerned that some of his employees might have been corrupted by drug traffickers. Lacking the necessary security apparatus to expunge these corrupt agents, Ingersoll in early 1970 asked the Director of Central Intelligence, Richard Helms, for help building a "counter-intelligence" capacity. The request was "apparently" supported by President Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell.
The man Ingersoll appointed chief inspector of BNDD, Patrick Fuller, had served with IRS investigations for nearly 20 years in California. Fuller was Ingersoll’s close friend, but apart from that, he was incapable of mounting internal security investigations against federal drug agents. When Ingersoll proposed that they turn to the CIA, Fuller readily agreed. The plan, known as Operation Twofold, involved the hiring of CIA officers to spy on ranking BNDD officials suspected of corrupt practices, past and present. As Pat Fuller recalls, "We recruited the CIA officers for BNDD through a proprietary company. A corporation engaged in law enforcement hired research consultants, and three CIA officers posing as private businessmen were hired to do the contact and interview work."
The principle recruiter was Jerry Soul, assisted by CIA officers John F Murnane, Joseph Cruciani, and Chick Barquin. Then a personnel officer at CIA headquarters, Soul had managed Cuban exiles during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and later directed the CIA’s exile Cuban mercenary army and air force in the Congo.
Apart from one exile Cuban, the CIA officers hired for Operation Twofold were, typically, Anglo paramilitary officers whose careers had stalled due to the gradual reduction of CIA forces in Vietnam and Laos. Those hired were put through the BNDD training course and assigned by Fuller to spy on a particular regional director and his trusted subordinates. According to Fuller, no records were kept and some participants will never be identified because they were "cut-outs" who never went to a BNDD office, but spied from afar and reported clandestinely. Some were not even known to Fuller. All were supposed to be sent overseas but most remained in the US.
Much of Twofold remains a mystery because, as the Rockefeller Commission reported, it "violated the 1947 Act which prohibits the CIA’s participation in law enforcement activities."
No one was ever prosecuted.
Twofold Case Studies
Twofold was aimed at the BNDD’s top managers. One target was Joseph J. Baca, the assistant Regional Director in Los Angeles. The cousin of a top Mexican cop, Baca in July 1969 was charged by the New Mexico State Police with trafficking in drugs and stolen property. He was accused of arranging burglaries and holdups, and allegedly sold heroin to a drug smuggler. But the local investigations were closed without any adverse action against Baca, so Twofold torpedo Charles "Chuck" Gutensohn was asked to investigate.
Gutensohn had served with the Special Forces in South Vietnam. He left the army in 1964, earned a college degree, and in 1968 joined the CIA. For the next two years, Gutensohn served in Pakse, Laos, one of the major drug transit points between the Golden Triangle and Saigon. He had drug experience and upon returning to the US, Gutensohn was given the choice of being the CIA’s liaison to the BNDD in Laos, or joining Twofold. Gutensohn’s brother Joel, also a Vietnam veteran, had joined the Twofold program six months earlier in Chicago. That being the case, Chuck joined too.
"After meeting with Jerry Soul," Gutensohn recalls, "I met Fuller at a hotel near Tyson’s Corner. He said that when we communicated, I was to be known as Leo Adams, for Los Angeles. He was to be Walter De Carlo, for Washington, DC."
Fuller recruited Gutensohn and the other CIA officers because they did not have to be trained in the "tradecraft skills" required for the job of spying on their bosses. But Gutensohn’s cover was blown before he got to LA. As he recalls, "Someone at headquarters was talking and everyone knew. About a month after I arrived, one of the agents said to me, "I hear that Pat Fuller signed your credentials."
A similar situation occurred in Miami, where Fuller’s targets were Regional Director Ben Theisen and Group Supervisor Pete Scrocca. Terry Burke, who would cap his career as the DEA’s acting administrator in 1990, was one of the Twofold agents assigned to investigate Theisen and Scrocca. Tall and handsome, Burke’s background is fascinating. After serving as a Marine guard at the US Embassy in Rome, he joined the CIA and served as a paramilitary officer in Laos from 1963-1965, working for legendary CIA officer Tony Poshepny at the 118A base near Ban Houei Sai–the epicenter of the Golden Triangle’s opium and heroin trade. Burke received the CIA’s highest award, the Intelligence Star, for gallantry in combat in Laos. He served his next tour in the Philippines but in 1969 was assigned to a dead-end job at CIA headquarters. Knowing his career had stalled, Burke contacted a friend from Italy, Customs Agent Fred Cornetta. Then the agent in charge at Dulles airport, Cornetta persuaded Burke to join the BNDD.
Burke applied and was hired in December 1970. Fuller recruited him into the Twofold operation and assigned him to Pete Scrocca’s group. But instead of spying on his new colleagues, Burke set about proving that he was tough and smart enough to work "undercover cases on bad guys with shotguns in motel rooms." Burke never sent any negative reports to Fuller, and Theisen and Scrocca eventually accepted him.
Gutensohn and Burke’s experience was not unusual, and Twofold never resulted in a single dismissal of any corrupt BNDD agent. The astonishing reason for this is quite simple. Little did Ingersoll or Fuller know that the CIA never initiates a program unless it is deniable and has "intelligence potential." Twofold conformed to these criteria: it was deniable because it was, ostensibly, a BNDD program; and it had intelligence potential in so far as it was perfectly suited for Angletonian style "operations within operations."
As the BNDD’s chief inspector Pat Fuller told me, "There was another operation even I didn’t know about. Why don’t you find out who set that one up, and why?"
Boxes Within Boxes
Well, I did find out about this operation. Quite by accident, while interviewing a DEA agent in Miami, I was introduced to Joseph C DiGennaro, a member of the CIA’s secret facet of Operation Twofold, its unilateral drug operations unit. Hidden behind Fuller’s "inspections" program, the purpose of the CIA’s unilateral drug unit was to identify drug-dealers worldwide, and selectively kidnap and/or assassinate them. As DiGennaro explains, his entry into the program began when an eminent surgeon, a family friend, suggested that he apply for a job with the BNDD. Then working as a stockbroker in New York City, DiGennaro in August 1971 met Fuller at a Howard Johnson’s near the Watergate complex. Fuller told him that if he took the Twofold job, he would be given the code name Novo Yardley. The code name was based on DiGennaro’s posting in New York, and a play on the name of the famous American spy, Herbert Yardley.
DiGennaro took the job and was sent to a CIA security officer to obtain the required clearances. That’s when he was told that he and several other recruits were being "spun-off" from Fuller’s inspection program into the CIA’s unilateral "operational" program. He was told that he had been selected because he had a black belt in Karate and the uncanny ability to remember lists and faces. The background check took 14 months, during which time DiGennaro received intensive combat and tradecraft training. In October 1972 he was sent to BNDD regional headquarters in New York and, as a cover, was assigned to a compliance group that mostly inspected pharmacies. His paychecks came from official BNDD funds, though the program was funded by the CIA through the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Mines. The program had been authorized by the "appropriate" Congressional committee.
DiGennaro’s special group was managed by the CIA’s Special Operations Division (then under Evan Parker, first director of the CIA’s Phoenix Program) in conjunction with the military, which provided assets within foreign military services to keep ex-filtration routes open. Ex-filtration routes were air corridors and roads. The military also cleared air space when captured suspects were brought into the US. DiGennaro spent most of his time on operations in South America, but served in Lebanon and other places too.
Within the CIA’s special anti-drug unit, which numbered about 40 men, were experts in printing, forgery, maritime operations, and telecommunications. The operatives knew one another by first name only. DiGennaro, however, was aware that other BNDD agents, including Joseph Salm and Paul Seema, were in the program. No one else in the BNDD, however, knew about the program. When the call to duty came, DiGennaro would check with Fuller and then take sick time or annual leave to go on missions. There were lots of missions. As his group leader in New York, Joe Quarequio, told me: "Joey was never in the office."
The job was tracking down, kidnapping, and if they resisted, killing drug dealers. The violence was the result of the "limited window of opportunity" needed to get the job done. Due to the need for plausible deniability, there was minimal contact with the American Embassy where the mission was conducted. DiGennaro had "a Guardian Angel" who "assembled intelligence, developed routines, and contacted informants." But the host country and its uniformed police and military services were rarely aware of his presence, and there was little coordination with the local BNDD outpost.
The operations were extremely dangerous. As DiGennaro recalls, "There was a case in Colombia. There was seventy-two to ninety-six hours to get it done. I was flown to Colombia where I contacted my Guardian Angel. He had paid someone off and that someone had led him to a cocaine lab. The operators of the lab had been surveilled and followed to their hideout. In order to capture them, we had to work with a local military unit, which we contacted by two-way radio. In this particular instance, someone intercepted the call, and the next thing we know there’s a woman on the radio alerting the suspects. She was an agent of the traffickers inside the local military unit. We hear her screaming at the soldiers. Then she’s shot. We didn’t know who she was calling," he continues, "so we had to leapfrog by helicopter and military truck to where we thought the subjects were. That time we happened to be right. We got the violators back to the United States. They were incapacitated by drugs and handcuffed in various men’s’ rooms in Chicago and Miami."
As one DEA Agent recalls, "We’d get a call that there was ‘a present’ waiting for us on the corner of 116th St and Sixth Avenue. We’d go there and find some guy who’d been indicted in the Eastern District of New York, handcuffed to a telephone pole. We’d take him to a safe house for questioning and, if possible, turn him into an informer. Sometimes we’d have him in custody for months. But what did he know?" If you’re a Colombian or a Corsican drug dealer in Argentina, and a few guys with police credentials arrest you, how do you know it’s a CIA operation?
Expendable operative DiGennaro did not see the management apparatus that was directing him. He never knew much about the people the CIA unit was snatching and snuffing either; only that people were prosecuted and that defendants screamed.
DiGennaro’s last operation in 1977 involved the recovery of a satellite that had fallen into a drug dealer’s hands. By then he had all the CIA tradecraft skills required to fly solo; he learned who owned satellite, negotiated for it in good faith, and purchased it back on the black market. Such was the extent of the "parallel mechanism" the CIA had with the BNDD; a mechanism the CIA obviously used not only for anti-drug purposes, but for counter-terror reasons as well.
By 1977, some 125 "former" CIA officers had been infiltrated into the DEA at every level of the organization, especially in intelligence units, making everything possible–from black market arms exchanges, to negotiations with terrorists, to political assassination. It also put the CIA in total control of targeting.
However, as the CIA’s influence became pervasive, more and more DEA agents felt its adverse impact on their cases. First the CIA demanded a list of all overseas DEA informants, as well as copies of all its intelligence reports. They got both. Next they began recruiting traffickers the DEA was working on. These recruits were subtracted from the DEA target list. In Chile in 1973, for example, the CIA allowed five drug traffickers to leave the soccer stadium in Santiago where dissidents were being tortured en masse. These traffickers fled to Colombia where they helped form the cartel that would eventually supplied crack cocaine to street gangs in Los Angles, through other CIA assets in Latin America.
As one DEA agent puts it, "The relationship between the CIA and DEA was not as it was originally intended. The CIA does not belong in any type of law enforcement activity, unless it can result in a conviction. Which it rarely does. They should only be supportive, totally."
In February 1977, as he was about to resign in dismay, this agent and a group of other senior DEA officials felt compelled to document a litany of CIA misdeeds.
The CIA was causing so many problems that in early 1977, outgoing Assistant Administrator for Enforcement Dan Casey sent a three page, single-spaced memorandum to DEA Administrator Peter Bensinger expressing his concern "over the role presently being played by the CIA relative to the gathering of operational intelligence abroad." Signing off on the memo were six enforcement division chiefs. "All were unanimous in their belief that present CIA programs were likely to cause serious future problems for DEA, both foreign and domestic." Unilateral CIA programs in foreign countries were a "potential source of conflict and embarrassment and which may have a negative impact on the overall U.S. narcotic reduction effort." He referenced specific incidents, citing CIA electronic surveillance and the fact that the CIA "will not respond positively to any discovery motion." Casey foresaw more busted cases and complained that "Many of the subjects who appear in these CIA promoted or controlled surveillances regularly travel to the United States in furtherance of their trafficking activities." The "de facto immunity" from prosecution enables the CIA assets to "operate much more openly and effectively."
Casey was especially upset that the CIA demanded that DEA provide telephone numbers for its operations. "This practice is most disturbing because, in effect, it puts DEA in the position of determining which violators will be granted a de facto immunity." Considering the seriousness of the problem, he recommended that "all DEA support for CIA electronic surveillance be suspended at once." He asked DDEA Administrator Peter Bensinger to insist that the CIA adhere to guidelines set by the Carte White House Domestic Council, which limited the CIA to gathering strategic intelligence. He advised that DEA personnel not request CIA support "which might end to prejudice the domestic prosecution of any drug trafficker."
Alas, Bensinger suffered the CIA at the expense of the DEA’s integrity. He ignored Casey and his division chiefs. The Strength of the Pack features examples of how this accommodation with the CIA emasculated the DEA. One major example is the CIA’s Contra Connection, as revealed by Gary Webb. There is also the fact that Manuel Noriega was a CIA asset and that his DEA file was destroyed by CIA infiltrators, paving the way for the invasion of Panama. There was also the Pan Am 103 case in December 1988, in which a bomb was planted by enemy agents who had penetrated a protected CIA drug ring, which was making a "controlled delivery."
This huge crack in the CIA’s protective shield led to the formation of the CIA’s Counter-Narcotics Center, and business continued as usual. In December 1989, as reported in the 4 May 1990 issue of Newsday, "a small US special operations team both planned and carried" out a raid that resulted in the death of drug lord Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, his 17 year old son, and several bodyguards. Pablo Escobar in 1994 was similarly assassinated by a CIA led execution squad.
The Gacha and Escobar hits, and many more like them which the public knows little or nothing about, are extrapolations of those performed by Joey DiGennaro. And the beat goes on. Shortly after he resigned in 1993, DEA chief Robert Bonner revealed that the CIA in 1990 had shipped a ton of pure cocaine to Miami from its Counter Narcotic Center warehouse in Venezuela. The Orwellian "controlled delivery" was accidentally lost.
With Bush’s war on terror, the situation has only gotten worse. In Afghanistan and South West Asia, the DEA is entirely infiltrated and controlled by the CIA and military. DEA headquarters is basically an adjunct of the Oval Office. And the Establishment continues to keep the lid on the story. After sending my manuscript to two reviewers–one with CIA connections, the other with DEA connections–my publisher has stopped communicating with me. I think my editor just wants me to go away.
One can only wonder how deeply America will descend into this vortex of fear and subservience to state security before it vanishes altogether.