Have you ever noticed how the CIA never gives up, on certain things, even if there’s no chance they’re going to change anyone’s mind? How they’re still pushing the Oswald-acted-alone meme, for example, or the phony war on drugs?
MCA-Universal has prepared a preemptive strike against crucial bits of America’s recent history— the part that’s got to do with drugs—in a new movie starring the world’s most famous Scientologist.
Fit at fifty-year old Tom Cruise portrays Barry Seal, a man who outweighed him by more than a hundred pounds, in a movie that was at first called “Mena,” before recently changing its name to “American Made” while pushing back its release date a year.
The movie is being directed by director Doug Liman, who also just happens to be the son of the lawyer for the Kerry Commission Iran Contra investigation in the late 1980’s, which did a reasonably effective job at keeping a lid on the contra cocaine scandal until Republicans were no longer in office.
It was me who dragged those ‘crucial bits’ about America’s biggest and most famous drug smuggler into the light. It was me who discovered that drug smuggler Seal —and probably not coincidentally—had also been a life-long CIA pilot, going back to the mid-50’s.
My book, “Barry & the boys,” the only full-length biography of Seal, is by far the go-to book on Seal. And it’s also the uncredited basis for Doug Liman and Tom Cruise’s Barry Seal movie.
Unless, of course, it isn’t. The following is a true story, which appears only on my website. There is no other source for it. If the story turns up in someone else’s book, is it plagiarism?
A lot going on beside just The Wedge
In the 10 years I spent living in Newport Beach I had never met a spook, a spy, or anyone in intelligence, until one day an occasional associate producer working on the business news show I was producing at the time brought a tanned, older but still vigorous man into our offices to meet me. He had an interest—in a puttering offhand way, he indicated, in a documentary I’d begun shooting on drug smuggler Seal.
He was the president of one of Newport Beach’s service clubs, like the Exchange Club, he explained. He thought I might want to come to speak to one of the Club’s weekly lunch meetings about my adventures.
Later I would learn that the man who stood in front of me with a genial smile had been young pilot Barry Seal’s boss at the Bay of Pigs. Or that he had overseen development of a portable radar-defeating device while he was at e-systems in the early 1980’s that pilots of twin engine planes like Barry Seal used while flying contraband into the U.S. with near-absolute impunity.
He didn’t tell me any of that stuff then, though, or for a long time afterward. Some people can be a little slow to warm up.
Bodyguard to the stars
I learned of my new friend’s secret past from the professional bodyguard in Los Angeles who my new friend insisted I take along on my final shoot trip into the murky swamps of South Louisiana. There had been a few vague death threats wafting in from remnants of the Carlos Marcello organization in New Orleans. Nothing super-serious, but enough to make me lock all the windows.
“Nick” turned out to be a former Special Forces operative. Not just Special Forces, but Special Ops Special Forces, he told me, like I knew the difference. (I didn’t.)
When I finished the aforementioned two hour documentary, called “The Secret Heartbeat of America,” (which I thought was a killer title) I couldn’t sell it. My one big dog friend, a founder of HBO, told me he maybe could set it up somewhere, but only if they took me out.
I was less than thrilled. Anyway, one day while having lunch in Newport Beach with my friend, who I now “knew” to be retired NSA (he wasn’t, retired, that is), I was grousing about the change in my financial condition owing to my poorly-thought through Barry Seal expedition.
If he had ONLY told me, I intimated, before I spent all that money, “Kid, you’re in over your head,” I could have picked up my marbles and gone home.
In truth, he didn’t owe me anything, and it was a pretty shitty kind of emotional blackmail. But it worked. Over lunch, he said the same thing, using the same words, and with the same intonation, three separate times.
Watch my eyes. listen to the message
Genius that I was, I thought, maybe he’s trying to tell me something. Okay. I got it. If they ever ask me what I want I’ve got to be ready and willing to tell them.
One day a few weeks later he called and said he wanted to come by our little studio that afternoon. He had someone he wanted me to meet, who wanted to see a little bit of my Barry Seal show. Can he swing by after lunch?
Of course he could. That afternoon, when he came by, the sky was grey and leaden, and it was raining. It was February. That’s when it rains in Southern California.
His introduced his companion, a tall distinguished-looking older man, as the “Special Advisor to the President of a large Midwestern institution.” I was aware the description lacked a certain specificity, but let it pass.
Meet Mr Trenchcoat
And while I was mulling that over I also noticed that, of all things, he was wearing—and this is the part you’re going to have to trust me on—a trenchcoat. Fully equipped. Epaulettes, the works. A zippered compartment, in case you’re wearing a wire.
Of course, it was raining. I told myself. Still, even so. (Later I learned he was had been the long-time CIA station chief in Madrid.)
Mr. London Fog sat quietly watching my Seal documentary for 15 minutes. When he said he’d seen enough, I got nervous.
I was thinking— because I can be a real genius sometimes— ‘this guy’s probably from the CIA. He’s not going to like my show. He’s probably really going to let me have it. What the hell have you been smoking, boy, saying the CIA smuggles drugs?”
(In retrospect, it probably went a little too indignantly on and on and on about retired Lt. Colonel Oliver North. But such were the times.)
But no. Trenchcoat Guy was genius in action. Mr. Nonchalant. And what he said was unexpected:
“Hey. Everybody already knows about this. It’s old news. Everybody knows the government smuggles drugs. Its no big deal. Hey, I’ve loaded drugs onto planes. I was just down in Costa Rica, and they were loading drugs onto planes while I was there.”
He might have been looking deeply into my eyes over his glasses. Or maybe I just imagined it. But there was no mistaking what he said next.
He said, “What do you want?”
Mr Donkey Kong
Maybe I paused. But I know I never paused long enough to consider an answer before, in fact, blurting out what I wanted, in a way that identifies me for all time as just another donkey on the planet of the apes.
What I said was, “Everybody doesn’t know. If everybody knew, drugs would be legal, or at least there wouldn’t be two million people in prison for selling small amounts of what you guys are bringing in by the ton.”
I was just winding up. “AND,” I continued, “if its no big deal—tell you what—put me in charge of cocaine distribution in North America next year… and I’ll choose your next fucking commander-in-chief!”
It was not my most charming moment.High dudgeon is not an attitude to bring to every party. Nonetheless, something very strange and illuminating happened.
My friend and Mr Trenchcoat exchanged a wordless look.
And in that instant I realized the conversation we were having has taken place behind closed doors many times. Even so— how often do you ever get to spout off to a distinguished-looking CIA agent in a trenchcoat?— I wasn’t done…
Too late to stop now
“When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to play baseball in the backyard with a hardball, only a rubber ball. And one day I was back there, I was eight or nine, playing with a hardball, even though I wasn’t supposed to, and I hit the ball right through the kitchen window of our neighbor’s house, the one who didn’t like kids.
“And when I told my dad, he made me march next door and ring the front bell, and tell the householder it was me broke his window, and I would pay to fix it.”
“That’s what I want.”
I had just blown my chance of getting any compensation for being roadkill for the powers that be. Of all the things I could have asked for, I wanted them to say they were sorry.
The two men stared at me incredulously. I began a long slow slide towards oblivion that seemed to last forever. But maybe that was just me.