Both men who died in the crash of a twin-engine plane in Colombia last week on the shoot for Tom Cruise’s new “Mena” movie have backgrounds more like those of spies, spooks, drug movers or clandestine agents than pilots on a film shoot.
One owned offshore entities in the Netherland Antilles that controlled even more offshore entities, very useful for money laundering; owned a $2 million home on the Intracoastal Waterway with a dock handy for unloading knick-knacks and bric-a-brac from cruises in the Caribbean; and once lived in a small town in Texas next to a secret CIA base.
The other was even more mysterious.
He owned a company selling black helicopters and aerial surveillance packages to urban police departments and military clients around the world.
Still, it's important to speak only good about the dead—especially the recently dead. Had news reports from Colombia about the plane crash contained more than tiny grains of truth, or had not an associate of one of the men eulogized him as a great "philanthropist," the news would not have been released so soon after their tragic deaths.
But, hey, this is hardball. So—whomp—there it is.
"One non-Colombian dead"
Media coverage over the weekend of the plane crash last Friday in Colombia that killed members of the crew shooting "Mena," an upcoming movie starring Tom Cruise, concealed more than it revealed.
Even so, what it concealed was revealing, like the fact that anyone hoping for a public airing of the CIA’s involvement in the drug trade will be bitterly disappointed.
News of the aviation tragedy could be boiled down to a one-line 'official story.'
"One American and a Colombian were dead after a small plane crashed due to bad weather."
Even told this simply, the story was mostly false, except for the one American casualty. That the second fatality hadn't been Colombian was a baffling reporting error that seemed odd in a story which occurred in Colombia.
The second dead man was Venezuelan, a fact which evaded everyone in the media except, God save us, Perez Hilton. Everyone also had his name wrong. As late as Sunday night on CNN his name was still being consistently—and suspiciously—mis-spelled as "Brel," Carlos Brel, the Mysterious Man Whose Name Defies Spelling.
Then, too, as other puzzling details piled up, the fact the crash wasn’t due to bad weather, as had been publicized, seemed to become less earthshattering.
"Mena" the movie had originally been announced as a biopic. “Ron Howard to Direct MENA, Based on the True Story of Gun-Runner and Drug Trafficker Barry Seal.”
Directed by All American boy Ron Howard, it was to be the story of lifelong CIA pilot Barry Seal, who became America’s most infamous drug smuggler during the cocaine-fueled Iran Contra era, the go-go '80’s.
When the movie was first announced, back in the Spring of 2012, things seemed simpler.
Later that changed. The film would now become a collaboration between so-called “Edge’ Guys” Tom Cruise & Doug Liman, based on a million dollar spec script by a virtual Hollywood unknown.
When the plane crashed, production was just wrapping in… Medellin Colombia? Who shoots major motion pictures in Colombia? Nobody, till now. "Mena” was the first international production to tap film incentives offered by the city of Medellin, which offered cash rebates of up to 15%.
Even this became controversial. “The savings were to avoid (God forbid) using California union workers, and paying for California salaries, taxes and permits,” wrote an industry worker in Los Angeles. "The only people to benefit will be hotels in the wealthy Poblado neighborhood."
Hold that thought.
In Baton Rouge, it was another story
Residents in Seal’s hometown of Baton Rouge Louisiana might be expected to have standards slightly more exacting. Plus, they knew a lot about Barry.
In the comments section of a story in Seal’s howtown Baton Rouge Advocate about the film, one wrote:
“I knew and dated Barry when I was a student at BRHS – about 1954/1955. He was already flying small airplanes!”
Other comments that would have been helpful to Limon’s production:
“Our business was at 23rd and North St. Directly across from a stash house he owned. I can tell u chit U wouldn't believe!”
“Wonder if all players and possible connections will be included in the movie like the CIA, DEA and the Iran-Contra connections?
But the real reason the production couldn't bring themsleves to shoot on locations where Seal's story was known first-hand can be gleaned from this sad comment:
“Just hope the truth comes out once and for all. He was my brother-in-law.”
What really happened
A twin engine Piper Aerostar (N164HH) flew what was expected to be a brief 10-minute flight to Medellin over a spine of the Andes after finishing a dubbing session in Santa Fe de Antioquia.
Then…something that-wasn't-the-weather happened. To date, that's all we know.
In the aftermath, the one consistent assertion was that, "Tom Cruise Avoids Death by Minutes" Cruise was unhurt. He hadn’t been onboard the doomed plane.
"An official with (Colombia's) aviation agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter, said Cruise was not on the aircraft."
This information was deemed absolutely necessary to disseminate quickly, because publicity stills released when Cruise arrived in Medellin showed him exiting the same plane that had just crashed.
There was much talk of “bad weather” being the cause of the crash.
"Attempting to explain what happened, aviation officials said the plane ran into bad weather," the Associated Presss reported.
“The twin engine Aerostar encountered bad weather on Friday afternoon after taking off,” reported London’s Guardian.
Later, as we'll see, there would be a half-hearted attempt to walk the bad weather story back a bit.
Not bad weather, precisely. But conditions were rough
“Although there were no reports of bad weather in Santa Fe de Antioquia when the plane took off, the official described the normally 10-minute flight as a 'bungee jump' or 'roller coaster,"admitted the Associated Press.
"It required a skilled pilot to quickly take the plane from near sea level to a height of 9,800 feet to clear the Andes before descending sharply for the approach into the steep valley surrounding Medellin.”
Unless you were willing to sift through Spanish language newspapers and follow the story into its second or third day, that excuse—bad weather—was the full story of what happened.
Most of what follows has not appeared in any English-language reports. In fact, the media coverage was as vague and inaccurate as the upcoming Doug Limon-directed drama promised to be.
It was as if an invisible hand steered them both.
The plane was smoking, before it went down
It wasn’t bad weather that caused the aircraft to crash. According to eyewitnesses, the plane was already on fire, or at least smoking, when it went down.
It came out of the clouds into the clear,” said dairy farmer Jairo Munoz, who witnessed the accident in a mountainous rural village outside Medellin. “My wife saw the plane flying low. It was smoking.”
”Then we heard the crash.”
The eyewitness testimony—that the plane was smoking before it went down—was immediately spotted by savvy Spanish language newspapers like Mexico City’s El Universal, which despite immediate danger remains one of the best news sources about the ongoing drug war in Mexico.
Farmer Munoz and his wife were among the first to reach the scene of the downed plane, which crashed through trees then plunged down a ravine. By the time the first rescuers arrived at about 5:30 Friday evening, it was just a jangle of twisted metal.
Disinfo City, next exit
The Associated Press reported, “Actor Tom Cruise flew in a helicopter across the Colombian Andes just 10 minutes before a small plane on the same flight path crashed into a jungled mountain…civil aviation authorities said.”
Only, according to the first responders who witnessed the crash, that’s not what happened.
Said farmer Munoz, “The plane circled over a mountain, just as a helicopter flew by.”
“I thought they were looking for something because they were flying very low."
There is nothing to indicate Cruise’s helicopter had anything to do with the plane crash. So, why were news reports insisting on specifying, while remaining vague on everything else, that Cruise took off ten or 15 minutes before the doomed plane?
The answer may be that the "first responders"— not emergency personnel responding to the crash site, but the public relations crisis responders—were unaware there were eyewitnesses that saw the helicopter and the plane flying together.
Or were worried there might be.
"Somebody doth protest too much”
“Cruise left in one of two helicopters transporting crew from the colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia at around 5 p.m. local time,” reported the AP.
“When they arrived at Medellin's Olaya Herrera airport with nightfall approaching, and the plane didn't show up, they alerted air traffic controllers, the official said.’”
The AP reported, “A plane overhead located the downed aircraft just below a high ridge thanks to a distress signal, allowing rescuers to arrive to the crash site quickly and rush Garland to a hospital in Medellin, where he was in critical but stable condition.
"We were very lucky to get there so quickly," said the official.
Or maybe Tom Cruise's helicopter saw the accident, and phoned it in.
"Cue up the eyewitnesses at the site"
Then he heard what was later described as “a cry of hope.”
An overlooked third passenger was still alive. “He didn’t understand anything (speak Spanish)” said Munoz. Girando understood the man, with almost non-existent Spanish, was pleading to be taken out of the plane.
So, despite their fear that they may have been doing more harm than good by trying to move him, the two men crawled into the wreckage to attempt a rescue. The man couldn’t move. His legs were wedged underneath the controls.
"I ripped the wires and straightened his foot,” said Girando. “The others took his waist, we placed him on a blanket, and carried him from the plane.”
There was a badge hanging around his neck. “Are you Jimmy Lee?” one of them asked, He said, “I am.”
“Black Helicopters To Go”
The second area where the truth appeared to be suffering a bit in the aftermath of the crash was in the matter of —not just the men's names—but their identities.Two men—Alan Purwin and Carlos Berl-not-Brel—were dead. The third, the plane’s pilot, a Georgian named Jimmy Lee Garland, received multiple serious injuries in the crash, but survived. He was rushed to a hospital in Medellin, where he is in intensive care.
One owned an aviation company that sold black helicopters crammed with state of the art aerial surveillance gear to the military. Since he was in Colombia, a U.S. (or CIA) clent state with lots of drug-related intrigue, he "might could" be there on more than movie business. This was potentially a bit of a sticky wicket.
Time to go on the attack.
"Alan Purwin was described by friends as "one of the top film pilots of his generation" with a list of credits from television and major Hollywood movies such as "Transformers," ''Pearl Harbor" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," reported the Associated Press.
Less visibly— and no doubt more lucratively—Purwin founded Los Angeles-based Helinet Technologies. The company features black helicopters on its website.
They've helped entities like the Swedish National Police to, in their words, "Implement Airborne Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Solutions."
Purvin's company is involved in aerial surveillance “for law enforcement, government and military markets.”
Well, that's that then, mate, 'inn't?
No black helos, but a huge new facility
S & S was founded and owned by Coleman Sutton, a retired–what's this? A retired United States Air Force pilot. He flew fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft.
Well, that's that then, mate, 'inn't?
The Third Man
Poor Carlos Berl has not just robbed by his unfortunate pre-mature death. He's also lost his (posthumous) 15 minutes of fame, his brief moment in the international spotlight ruined by people who couldn't spell his name. There were no prayer vigils announced. No encomiums from former employers or employees.
Even four days later, there have been no tentative attempts to explain who he was, and what he was doing in Colombia.
The reason cannot be because Berl is uninteresting.
Eyewear is Fun!
During Iran Contra, in the mid-Eighties, he owned retail optical care stores in Washington D.C. The Washington Post did a lifestyle piece on him. Carlos liked "eyewear that's fun."
Carlos was also a man of at least several names. “Carlos Berl” was the simplest. He was also “Carlos Eduardo Berl,” and, in Venezuela, "Carlos Eduardo Berl Kohn.”
There, Berl and his extended family owned optical plant facilities, and sued each other regularly, perhaps just for sport.
“I was born in Venezuela but have lived most of my adult life in U.S.A,” he wrote. “I am a semi retired businessman. and read and fly for pleasure.”
He and wife Alice used to live in a six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom home at 1585 Windjammer Way on the Intracoastal Canal in Hollywood, Florida worth $2.3 million. More recently home was a pleasant $1.3 million split-level in Dobb’s Ferry New York.
So, eyewear must really be fun.
What else we know about Carlos
Before that, in what surely must just be a coincidence, he kept a residence in Boerne Texas, the town of 15,000 adjacent to what was only recently been revealed to be the CIA’s largest base domestically, Camp Stanley.
For those with a conspiratorial bent, Doug McLain Sr. lived there too.
At one time he lived in Camp Wood, a quick 40 mile hop from Piedras Negras, at one time the home of Mexico’s Lord of the Skies, Amando Fuentes.
Finally, when it seemed there was no longer anyone looking, it came out that Carlos "We Hardly Knew Ye" Berl wasn’t Colombian. He hailed from Venezuela.
Pass me the yellow cake
The film, accounts agreed, was about famous drug smuggler and CIA pilot Barry Seal, who was assassinated for helping the DEA try to capture cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.
“Called 'Mena,' the film stars Cruise as American pilot Barry Seal," the AP reported, "a drug runner recruited by the CIA to try and capture the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Seal was shot and killed in 1986 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, allegedly by assassins sent by Escobar's Medellin cartel.”
"Actor Tom Cruise is filming in several regions of Colombia his film "Mena", which focuses on the character of Barry Seal, DEA informant killed by Pablo Escobar.”
Nobody even blinked, even though that's been conclusively proven to be a lie ( by me! shameless plug: See Barry & the boys.)
Tell a Big Lie often enough and no one will notice. Or care.
Right. At least they used “allegedly.”
Springtime for Hitler… but not Barry Seal
I already knew of the production's deep flaws. I took an hour-and-a-half meeting with director Doug Limon and screenwriter Nicholas Spinelli, where I gladly let them pick my brain for information about Barry Seal.
At the end, Limon, to his credit, paid me the courtesy of being honest about where the movie was going. They would not, he told me, be assigning any blame for the climactic moment in their film, the assassination of Barry Seal.
He said, "We're leaving it deliberately ambiguous."
Oliver North need not worry. Nor George Herbert Walker Bush.
I was talking to two guys who can't wait to make a buck off the lurid and bloody assassination of Barry Seal, while at the same time deliberately keeping their audience—the American people—in the dark about who murdered Barry Seal and why.
It doesn't get any sleazier than that.
Their movie will leave undisturbed America's notion about who the real drug lords are, which is the Big Lie of all time. Because characters like Limon and Spanelli (or what ever his name is) care nothing for the human misery caused by an obscene 40-year long war on (other people's) drugs.
Theirs is a plan so vastly self-serving as to defy comprehension. It could never happen… anywhere but here.
They are shooting a Holocaust movie that forgets to mention the Nazis.
Hooray for Hollywood.
Back in Judy's Jungle
Those responsible for Seal's assassination were long ago fingered, with irrefutable evidence, in Barry & the boys." So "deliberately ambiguous" doesn't cut it.
"Deliberately ambiguous" is a lie. And a lot of people know it. The January 2017 release of Doug Limon’s paean to disinformation will prove that, and turn into a “teachable moment.”
We are back in the world of professional disinformation. Where Bill Cosby is America’s Dad. Where Oswald acted alone. Where Iraq is a threat to acquire nuclear weapons. And where Barry Seal was murdered by assassins from the Medellin Cartel as revenge for his setting up Pablo Escobar.
There's only one word for it. It's icky.
And, for some reason, an old sing-song-y song of Brian Eno's comes to mind.
These are your orders,
Seems like it's do it or die,
So please read them closely,
When you've learnt them be sure that you eat them up
Drifting about through the cauliflower trees
With a cauliflower ear for the birds
The Squadron assembled what senses they had
And this is the sound that they heard…
Somebody should cue the kazoos.