In a week which began with the dubious Pentagon assertion that video footage of a missile launch shot by a KCBS news helicopter over Los Angeles was a vapor trail from a commercial jet distorted by light on the horizon at sunset, the notion that another federal agency could come up with a more ridiculous claim before the week was out seemed well-nigh impossible.
But that’s just what happened…
Just months after Wachovia Bank was assessed a record $160 million fine for laundering drug money used to buy a fleet of drug planes for Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, the curious case of an American-registered airliner busted in the Yucatan carrying a massive multi-ton load of cocaine has burst back into the news… with a vengeance.
The U.S. claims to have identified the global narcotics trafficker and “king among kingpins” who “coordinated the transportation to Mexico” of the now-famous last flight of a DC9 which took off from St. Petersburg FL on April 5 2006 before being busted, five days later, carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.
In an indictment unsealed this week in Manhattan, Federal prosecutors fingered Syrian-born Walid Makled-Garcia, 43, a former crony of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, as the man behind the flight.
The meaning of the massive drug bust on an American-registered plane, in which the American owners suffered no consequences for having their plane caught with 5.5 tons of cocaine, has ignited controversy and been the subject of an ongoing investigation reported almost exclusively by this website for the past four years, and is the subject of a just-released 2-hour documentary.
"King of Kingpins"
And it is now becoming even more contentious, if anything, in Venezuela and much of Latin America, where it is dominating headlines in a growing scandal which, for very different reasons than in the U.S., it is becoming as hot as a five-alarm fire.
Last year Mackled was called the world's third leading drug kingpin by President Obama, who named him under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
Known as “El Turco” (The Turk) and “El Arabe” (The Arab), Makled was arrested in Colombia two months ago near the border with Venezuela.
Since then he has been talking from prison to anyone who will listen. He has dirt on top figures in the Venezuelan government and military, he says, citing fifteen top Generals receiving pay-offs, a $2 million campaign contribution to Hugo Chavez two years ago, and a million dollar bribe to the head of Venezuela's Anti-Drug Czar yearly… to make sure he didn't somehow come un-bribed.
At a news conference to announce the arrest, an unnamed DEA Agent and Colombia General Óscar Naranjo asserted that Mackled was responsible for shipping 10 tons of cocaine a month to Europe and the U.S.
The news conference was followed by the traditional “perp walk,” an event carried off in Latin America with a panache unmatched by the U.S., which appears to be becoming one of Latin America’s premiere sporting events.
"The Lord of the Pies"
But instead of ton tons amonth, the superseding indictment just unsealed, when closely examined, appears only to accuse Mackled of importing a relatively measly 5 kilos of cocaine into the U.S… not even three lbs, and then only once.
Meckled looked off his game, heavy and disheveled, more like The Lord of the Pies than El Señor de los Cielos ("The Lord of the Skies"), the nickname of the now-dead Mexican drug kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
By contrast, Guyanese pilot Michael Francis Brassington, currently awaiting the jury’s verdict in his trial in Federal Court in New Jersey, had been the co-pilot on a Lear jet belonging to the owner of terror flight school Huffman Aviation in Venice FL busted by DEA Agents at Orlando Executive Airport in July of 2000 carrying 43 lbs. of heroin.
And Brassington wasn’t even detained.
Does the discrepancy conceal an unexplained weakness in the U.S. case? Only time will tell…
But the U.S. Attorney gave no hint of weakness in comments circulated with the unsealing of the indictment.
"As the allegations make clear, even among global narcotics traffickers, Makled-Garcia is a king among kingpins, who allegedly coordinated a vast international narcotics trafficking organization,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
“These charges emphasize our commitment to pursue those who flood the United States with poison for their own financial gain. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in Colombia and elsewhere to bring Makled-Garcia to justice in the U.S.”
The DEA Enters the Twilight Zone
But not so fast… Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez plans to get there first.
And there-in lies the rub.
Mackled's wanted in Venezuela in connection with the murder of several rivals as well as a journalist. And the U.S. and Venezuela are now engaged in an unseemly tug-of-war over which nation gets to pick over Makled’s carcass first.
In fact, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“Due to the outstanding work with our partners in Colombia and elsewhere, Makled-Garcia is behind bars and awaiting extradition to the United States for the crimes in this indictment,” ventured DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart.
More than most career government bureaucrats, Leonhart, a veteran of more than 20 years in the U.S. War on Drugs, has had an experience of the surreal which is unique in government service.
But in her zeal to acquire drug trafficker Walid Mackled, a $25 chip in a high stakes game of Liar's Poker pitting the U.S.’s ongoing propaganda onslaught against stubborn and recalcitrant Venezuelan strongman Chavez, Leonhart has stepped blindly into the Twilight Zone.
The Arithmetic of Corruption
“His (Mackled’s) arrest will impact worldwide supplies of drugs,” she stated.
“We are committed to ensuring he faces justice in the United States.”
The idea that arresting a drug trafficker responsible for shipping ten tons of cocaine a month U.S. in any way equates with taking ten tons of cocaine off the street’s of America is so absurd as to be almost beneath comment.
In reality, all it does is create a marketing opportunity for someone else’s ten tons of cocaine. As Leonhart well knows, this is the Drug War’s big dirty secret.
Leonhart is currently awaits Senate hearings to confirm her appointment by President Obama to head the DEA.
Back in what no would argue were the more open days of the Bush Administration, then-White House drug czar John Walters stated that a gram of pure cocaine in 1981, the year the U.S. government began collecting data, fetched $600.
By contrast, the price of pure cocaine in 2007, Walters acknowledged to Sen. Charles Grassley, citing data from the DEA, was about $135 per gram, and it had hovered near the same level since the early 1990's.
The consenus cost of the War on Drugs, a senior Harvard economist recently told CNN, is $44 billion a year.
Meaning we as a nation spent more than $700 billion dollars… for nothing.
But given the fervor of U.S. efforts in Colombia and elsewhere, there is clearly something going on.
Meanwhile back at the mysteriously unexplained missile launch in Los Angeles so inconveniently caught on tape by a KCBS cameraman, a Pentagon spokesman was busy telling anxious Californians that they didn’t see what they thought they saw.
"There is no evidence to suggest that this (the missile launch) is anything else other than a condensation trail from an aircraft," said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.
In a crowd that had gathered in Palisades Park in Santa Monica to peer out over the Pacific, an unidentified man in a rain coat was re-assuring frightened citizens.
Claiming to be a rocket scientist, he told onlookers, “It was nothing. A vapor trail, maybe. Or a cloud. Sometimes I see clouds that look like cartoons and stuff . This was nothing.”