A five-year long
struggle to penetrate the mysteries of two huge drug busts
in Mexico on American-registered planes may soon receive
answers, courtesy an unlikely source: a Congressional
investigation into Operation Gunwalker, an ATF program with
no discernible law enforcement purpose that allowed arms
traffickers to smuggle 2000 weapons across the border to
Mexican drug lords.
If the CIA is
arming Mexican drug cartels, might they not also have been
behind the otherwise-puzzling effort to supply these same
drug lords with top-quality American-registered airplanes
Were the two
now-infamous American-registered planes busted in Mexico's
Yucatan carrying almost ten tons of cocaine part of this
same so-far unnamed Operation behind the ATF's Operation
The operation first came to light last December, when guns
the ATF allowed to go to Mexican drug cartels were used to
murder Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Last week it was
clear that Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has apparently chosen
acting ATF director
Kenneth Melson to
take the fall.
Melson seems understandably reluctant to go down for a
program which he had little or nothing to do with
evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility
that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to
smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other
agencies may have financed those engaging in such
activities," said embattled
acting ATF director
Melton dropped a dime on the CIA.
In secret testimony late last week to a Congressional
Committee investigating the 4-year old program, Melton, in
addition to naming the DEA and the FBI as the Agencies
behind the operation of which the ATF's "Operation
Gunwalker" is but a small part, alluded to "shadowy other
government agencies,"the very definistion of the CIA.
There's also this: Operation Gunwalker
has no discernible law enforcement purpose which can be
explained without snickering. So what was its purpose?
Cold dead citizen's hands just twitching for a fight
"thinkers" lean heavily towards the purpose being a plot
which somehow results in more firearm restrictions on U.S.
Unless you think there are people out
there who drool while contemplating tearing rifles from the
hands of cold dead citizens (or vice versa) the suggestion
is ludicrous without people eager to
destroy their careers in vain efforts to achieve it.
There are no such people. A much better
guess at it's purpose is this:
The purpose of Operation Gunwalker is
to do exactly what it has now been proven to have been
successful in achieving: placing large quantities of
high-quality lethal weaponry in the hands of Mexican drug
This raises a
question: If the CIA is arming Mexican drug cartels, might
they not also have been behind the otherwise-puzzling effort
to supply these same drug lords with top-quality
American-registered airplanes and jets?
the two now-infamous American-registered planes busted in
Mexico's Yucatan carrying almost ten tons of cocaine part of
this same so-far unnamed Operation behind the ATF's
It's a revelation I
was planning to save for my upcoming book. But it especially
pertinent now. Without a shadow of a doubt I can report that
the DC-9 from St. Petersburg whose mysterious flight to
South America was cut short by its seizure in the Yucatan
while making its way back was owned and controlled at all
times pertinent to this discussion by the Central
The DC-9 belonged
to the CIA. And I have the documents to prove it.
A kicker from
Wisconsin, not far from Wally Hilliard
It is the
emblematic drug story of our times...
Nothing like it has
been seen since the day Eugene Hasenfus broke the rules and
parachute with him when he went to work, one day in March of
1986, aboard a C-130 military cargo plane, dropping supplies
to the Contras over Nicaragua.
Hasenfus was a
‘kicker.’ His technical specialty in flight was kicking
cargo pallets out the open cargo door of the lumbering
four-engined plane as it made low passes over the jungle.
soldier on the ground got off a lucky shot with a
shoulder-fired missile. As the plane began to fall out of
the sky Hasenfus grabbed his parachute and leaped out the
Everyone else on
the flight perished. Hasenfus was supposed to have done what
they did. The reason became clear minutes later when he's
captured by the Sandinistas. Shortly thereafter, Hasenfus
tells his captors he is working for the CIA.
And boom! The Iran
Contra Scandal began.
You are here. It is now.
are here," said H. L. Mencken, famous American muckraking
journalist, "and it is now. Further than that all human
knowledge is moonshine.”
It is April 10
2006, late afternoon, almost sunset, in the jungle in the
Yucatan, approaching the Airport in Ciudad del Carmen,
in the State of Campeche, Mexico. The plane's journey began
in St. Petersburg. It flew to Colombia and Venezuela. Now it
is on the way back, carrying a load of 5.5 tons of cocaine.
Veteran drug pilot
Carmelo Vasquez Guerra is bringing the American-registered
(N900SA) DC-9 down gingerly onto the runway. His
plane has a serious mechanical problem, which has already
caused him to return to
Maiquetia International Airport in Caracas twice,
apparently wasn't fixed after a serious incident the year
before where it ran off a runway in Tallahassee.
The mechanical problem wasn't addressed at Maiquetia either.
And it is a well-known fact among drug pilots that most
busts occur after mechanical difficulties force changes in a
pre-planned itinerary while in transit.
"Maiquetia is to narco-pilots what Memphis is to Federal
Express: home port, place of business, and Mothership," a
pilot in Fort Lauderdale told us. It is probably true. Drug
pilots are often asked to fly dangerous routes in seriously
"The emblematic drug flight of our times."
is the second largest shipment of cocaine ever seized in
This record that
will later be eclipsed many times. In April of 2006, the
idea of railroad box-car-sized loads of cocaine flying
through the skies overhead was still a novelty.
But what makes it
an emblematic drug flight isn't the size of the load, but
the fact that ripples from what happens here will change
dozens of lives. Like the downing of Eugene Hasenfus' CIA
plane, it will become a game-changing event in the U.S., in
Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Guinea-Bissau on the west coast
of Africa... and across the Sahara Desert.
Fast-forward through the bust, and we are face-to-face with
what comes next:
Country by country,
the list of those who, because of repercussions from this
one flight, have been assassinated, or murdered, or
implicated, or charged, or arrested and imprisoned—just
It is an impressive
STILL HERE. STILL NOW.
day after the crash of the Gulfstream II, the
afternoon of April 11, 2006.
government wheels out senior officials at a formal press
conference celebrating the seizure. They field
heavy-hitters: Defense Minister Ricardo Clemente Vega
García, and Attorney General Luis Santiago Vasconcelo.
Inside the press center in Mexico City of the Government of
Mexico’s Ministry of National Defense, Gen. Carlos Gaytan,
head of the Mexican military in the Yucatan, tells reporters
who should get the credit for the seizure of 5.5 tons of
cocaine yesterday in Ciudad del Carmen.
"It was the
product of military intelligence,” General Gayton is saying.
“What gave it away was who paid to keep the airport open
past normal business hours to allow the DC-9 to make an
allegedly emergency landing.”
Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, head of the Attorney-General
of Mexico's drug command, begs to disagree. He wants to
Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) office.
discovered that the two pilots, the crew of the Falcon
business jet that flew in earlier,
who wanted to pay
for the extension of services to the DC-9, were
arrested together in 1999 for flying
an aircraft with drugs. They were released a year later
under an injunction.”
We are at The Press Conference Claiming Credit,
one event in a five-stage Latin American ritual. The best part
is usually The Perp Walk.
Almost always the Perps look suitably chastened. Often they
look noticeably bruised as well. It is part of the ritual.
They are harvesting the wages of sin.
Standing in front of hot white TV lights, expressing
remorse... it is part of their penance.
There will be more. But in the end, it will be all right.
Did you hear how much time the two pilots caught with 70
kilos did? They were out within a year.
It is the system.
“Don’t touch my bags if you
please, Mr. Customs Man.”
But...listen! General Guyton is saying something odd...
“It was a legitimate flight with an airline in the U.S.
legally established, an authorized flight,"
after many years it has returned to its old ways,
transferring drugs from South America to Mexico."
The DC-9 airliner,
the cause of the current unpleasantness, was painted like
aircraft from the Department of Homeland Security. It
looks for all the world like its been carrying potentates
from the US Department of Homeland Security to a conference
on drug interdiction at some posh hotel in Cancun.
But it wasn’t.
Despite being a flight with no passengers, the plane
nonetheless boasted 128 identical black
leather suitcases in the hold, each one bursting with
cocaine. And each suitcase had been stenciled on one side,
with a slightly-surreal single word injunction:
do not rummage through other gentlemen’s cocaine-filled
the U.S., Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of state for
narcotics and law enforcement, blames "the permissive and
corrupt environment in Venezuela” under Chavez (natch!) for
the big DC-9 bust.
She mentions nothing about what the environment in
St. Petersburg Florida might be like.
So far, in a few countries, here is some of what's happened.
In the United States.
is easy. Let's do it first: Nobody did anything wrong.
Nobody went to jail.
The Cartel of the Sun welcomes you to Venezuela
Venezuelan military controls drug trafficking “hot spots” in
the border region where cocaine crosses from Colombia, and
at the international airport of Maiquetia, which was the
last stop for the St. Petersburg DC-9 before it flew off to
infamy in Mexico’s Yucatan carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.
Walid Makled, drug
trafficker, former Chavez crony, and, according to DEA
Administrator Michele Leonhart—a “Kingpin of Kingpins” in
the drug trade, has previously accused
The "Cartel of the Suns", a corrupt clique in the
Venezuelan Armed Forces, named for the gold stars Venezuelan
generals wear on their epaulettes.
That was when he
was incarcerated in Colombia. But he wasn't extradited to
the U.S., as was expected, but to Venezuela. There may be
little talk of the "Cartel of the Suns' from Makled now, by
while he was talking he implicated serving or former members
of the military, including Army Chief General Henry Rangel
Silva, former Director of Military Intelligence Hugo
General Dalal Burgos, and former captain Ramon Rodriguez
Chacin, now the Minister of Interior and Justice.
implicated more than a handful of members of the National
Assembly, and Hugo Chavez’s political party, the PSUV, whose
friendship Makled says he purchased through a gift of more
than two million dollars in campaign cash.
Murder. Mayhem. Madness.
In Mexico, a dozen
Federal agents in Ciudad del Carmen go to jail. Four airport
policemen serve time. The company running the airport, ASUR,
is considered too big and powerful to even bother
pilots—Fernando Poot Perez and Marco Perez de Gracia—who
work for the Government of Mexico in Mexico City, for
Conagua, the National Water Commission, are convicted of
drug trafficking. They both go to prison, where Perez de
Gracia hangs himself in his cell… with a sock.
Four other drug
pilots are somehow apprehended, are convicted and sent to
prison. Omar Alfredo Jacomé del Valle, Julio César Sánchez
Martell, Bermúdez Felipe Flores Duran, and Cesar Antonio
José Luis Santiago
Vasconcelos, Mexico's top anti-drug prosecutor, the face of
the anti-drug effort, and head of the Organized Crime
Specialized Investigation Office (SIEDO)
dies in a plane crash in November 2008.
With him on the
plane was the top aide to Mexico’s President Felipe
Juan Camilo Mouriño, who took over for Santiago
Vasconcelos as the leader of the fight against the drug
trade in Mexico when the former abruptly left his job as
Mexico’s top drug cop. He's killed, too.
people are killed aboard the luxury Learjet 45 (XC-VMC)
belonging to the Mexican Government that violently crashed
to earth at the worst possible time and place: the crash
took place in the heart of the financial district during
rush hour. A fireball rose as high as the tops of the
surrounding office buildings, torching a number of cars, and
injuring 40 people.
Body parts were
strewn everywhere about the wreckage.
Another one of 'just one' of those things
Luis Soladana Ortiz, Director of Civil Aviation in the
Yucatan, is assassinated on his way towork.
Soladana is in
direct radio contact with the pilots on the day of the
unfortunate incident. For reasons unknown, he denies the
DC-9 permission to land at Cancun International. Reports
suggest the men previously appeared to have had an agreeable
and mutually-beneficial relationship. Piloted by Carmelo
Vasquez-Guerra, the DC-9 had landed there before, many
times, without incident.
The plane, a
Gulfstream II (N987SA) business jet, makes an emergency
crash-landing in the jungle near Tixkokob, a hamlet 50 miles
from Merida. It's fuselage is torn wide open. As if to add
insult to injury, when authorities finally show up, they are
little help. In fact, they insist on seizing the plane,
arresting everyone in the vicinity, and then unloading the
load of cocaine in the wreckage.
adjudged responsible for the second American-registered
plane from St. Petersburg
to come to a bad end in the Yucatan in just eighteen months.
His body is found on the side of the road,
face down, holding his cell phone with both hands in front
of his chest.
As authorities examine the body, the phone begins ringing,
eerily, repeatedly. His killers are still nearby, mocking
from the Gulfstream’s broken fuselage. Soladana Ortiz paid
for it with his life.
An airplane carrying 5.5 tons cocaine? A CIA plane?
All that's left of
the plane is its colorful history. An airplane with any kind of
colorful history, let alone this one, might seem to be the
wrong plane to have picked—at least publicity-wise—for a job
where one possible outcome leaves you stuck south of the
border, murmuring through broken teeth the words to "Lawyers
Guns & Money, an old Warren Zevon song.
DC-9's FAA registration records alone make it painfully
clear it has been a CIA plane for a number of years,
specifically in Colombia, and in extraordinary renditions.
There is no reason
to suspect the plane changed hands.
It has been flying tons of cocaine.
But this has nothing to do with any long-term previous
relationship with the CIA the plane may have had, if any.
When six DEA agents fly down from Mexico City to get a look
at the wreckage two days after the Tikkobob crash, Mexican
soldiers turn them away from the site. There is nothing to
just one of those things.
dead rats, Iran-Contra, & The Order of the White Elephant