Barry Seal & AMERICAN MADE’S Cigar Store Indians

(Want to see why the new movie “based on a true story” AMERICAN MADE is an insult to America?   READ “Deep Watergate, a chapter from “Barry & the boys.’)

The most interesting thing about the new movie ‘AMERICAN MADE’—assuming you’re immune to gape-jawed curiosity at an obviously-smitten director unspooling an $80 million love letter  to Tom Cruise’s sunglasses— is its Pollyanna treatment of the drug trade, turning Barry Seal, one of America’s most important covert operatives of the 20th Century , into a Cigar Store Indian.

Today Cigar store Indians are seen as depictions that perpetuate stereotypes, like African-American lawn jockeys.

The movie “AMERICAN MADE” is consciously perpetuating another stereotype, that of the footloose and happy-go-lucky “soldier of fortune.”   The single funniest lie in the “based on a true story” movie AMERICAN MADE is that the CIA became interested in recruiting Barry Seal in 1978 based on his success in smuggling—wait for itcigars.

From Daily Variety

“Seal, a devil-may-care playboy in a TWA uniform, is keeping himself amused with the odd bit of cigar smuggling and faked inflight turbulence when he’s approached by a CIA man to fly undercover for them skimming Central America to take surveillance photos.”

From the Hollywood Reporter:

“Back in the ’70s, when you could still smoke in the cockpit and cocktail waitresses would ‘bang anything in a uniform,’ Seal was a pilot for TWA with a nice little smuggling business on the side, bringing Cuban cigars into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.”

And from The Adelaide Review:

“After a cool credit sequence that features Jimmy Carter speeches and tricks with the aspect ratio, we’re introduced to Barry Seal (Cruise), a TWA pilot back in 1978 with a sideline in cigar smuggling and a tendency to do damn stupid things (like pretend planes are being hit by turbulence just to frighten the passengers).”

It goes without saying that the above is all CIA disinformation,  and demolished with a single quote from someone who was there:

“Barry was not a soldier of fortune or a mercenary—he was a covert operative,” stated Seal’s lifetime-long friend Homer Red Hall, the only American still alive who was on the ground in Nicaragua during Barry’s famous Sandinista  sting.”


Meet The Mighty Wurlitzer

While an immediate rejoinder is in order, before responding let’s look at a few other amusing examples of lies writ large from AMERICAN MADE.

It would be nice— ‘isn’t it pretty to think so?’— to think the surrealistic cigar smuggling trope is just the left-over fever dream of a screenwriter who was an awe-struck adolescent when Monica Lewinsky exploded on the scene,  AMERICAN MADE’s own press kit swells with the drumbeat of enough bad memes   to fill a Nuremberg rally.

Fighting the CIA’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” is much like “Taking arms against a sea of troubles.”  If your “arms” aren’t nuclear-tipped, the waves don’t give a damn.

Still, attention must be paid. So turn with me, briefly,to the  IMDB movie database’s collection of press materials on AMERICAN MADE.

Here’s the STORYLINE:

“A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.”

See how they slipped the innocuous little connecting word “and” in there?  As if working for the CIA and as a drug -runner were separate occupations? That’s your tax dollars at work.

Also on the PLOT page is this:

Clearly based on “Barry & ‘the Boys’ : The CIA, the Mob and America’s Secret History.”

I would be remiss in not mentioning that this refers to my book.

However, I took no money from the producers, nor was any offered.


“The story has great energy”

Here’s a bit of Tom Cruise biographical trivia, guaranteed to make the sensitive gag:

 “This marks Tom Cruise’s third biographical film, along with Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Valkyrie (2008).”

Comparing Tom Cruise and Barry Seal to a role he played almost thirty years ago, as Vietnam Vet and American hero Ron Kovacs is a prescription for incurable pessimism, and highly ill-advised. Don’t do it.

From the PRESS KIT, which must have been written by one of Donald Trumps dreamers:

“What makes AMERICAN MADE so enjoyable is its authenticity. For much of the movie, it’s feels like a documentary, as the story has great energy and the performances feel organic and spontaneous.”

Something of an explanation for the overall cluster-fuck nature of the movie, from the Trivia page:

“The film went back into Production in 2016 for Additional Photography and 2017 for Reshoots.”

Finally, because every movie fan wants to be in the know, here’s the SPOILER:

“They decided to imply the character of three future American presidents: George H. W. Bush, William “Bill” Clinton and George W. Bush by small clues.”


The REAL Barry Seal

Barry Seal’s career is an inside look at the secret history of our life and times—that history, in other words, in which lone gunmen play no role.   Even though he was assassinated in 1986, he was one of America’s most important covert operators in the second half of the 20th century in America.

Barry Seal  and Lee Harvey Oswald were both recruited at a summer camp of the Louisiana Civil Air Patrol, by CIA pilot, pedophile, and CAP leader David Ferrie.


Barry Seal flew guns into the mountains of Cuba to Fidel Castro—while the CIA still supported him— in 1958, at the tender age of 17. Three years later, Barry Seal flew at the Bay of Pigs invasion.


Barry Seal was a member of the super-secret CIA assassination squad known as Operation 40.

Frank Sturgis, a member of the team that broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in 1972, later admitted to having been part of Operation Forty.  So was Barry Seal. “Yeah, Barry was Op 40,” Gerald Hemming confirmed to us. “He flew in killer teams inside the island (Cuba) before the invasion to take out Fidel.”

Richard Nixon is generally given credit for planning Operation 40 during his 1959 campaign for President. After Batista was kicked out by the people of Cuba, and Fidel Castro came to power, the American corporations which Castro had nationalized—Pepsi, Ford, Big  Oil, the Syndicate–asked then Vice-President Nixon to remove Fidel.  Nixon started planning Operation Forty.  Its “him” all over.

Barry Seal flew into the Golden Triangle during America’s Secret War in Laos.

There is strong but less-than-conclusive evidence that Barry Seal flew a get-away plane out of Redbird Airfield in Dallas after the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Later, five years BEFORE AMERICAN MADE has the naughty Seal coming to the CIA’s attention for flying loads of Cuban cigars into the U.S., the real Barry Seal was an actor in the drama surrounding the Watergate Scandal.

Ans all of this before  Barry Seal became famous for importing tons of cocaine—at least $5 billion’s worth– through Mena in the 1980’s.

In other words, Barry Seal didn’t just get lucky. Mena  was no accident.

“Say hello to my little friend…in a powder–blue leisure suit.”

AMERICAN MADE IS de-evolution in action. It’s Idiocracy meets Dumb and Dumber;’  ‘The Wizard of Oz’ meets ‘Scarface.’   American popular entertainment’s depiction of drug traffickers has degenerated from Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s Scarface to Latin American drug kingpins wearing powder blue leisure suits.


A “smoother” Forrest Gump? 

The movie’s reviews are generally way hipper than the movie itself.  The efforts of a handful of courageous journalists trying to smuggle the concept of “CIA drug trafficking” into the American lexicon have had an effect.

From Variety again:

“To go by the film’s account, Seal simply winked and smiled his way into becoming a critical player in the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s.  His blithe detachment from the political specifics of the scandal brings to mind a smoother-operating Forrest Gump.”

Apparently drugs and high-powered firearms are just part of a light-hearted boys’ game when there’s money to be made. One of the better films I’ve watched on the subject matter of the Contras and the CIA recently is the movie Kill the Messenger (2014), which explored the journalistic investigation tying the Reagan administration to the drug trafficking in San Francisco—it’s a damaging angle that is largely left astray here in a mediocre retelling of a wild story.

From Impulse Gamer (!)

“Apparently drugs and high-powered firearms are just part of a light-hearted boys’ game when there’s money to be made. Yet one of the better films I’ve watched on the subject matter of the Contras and the CIA recently is the movie Kill the Messenger (2014), which explores Gary Webb’s journalistic investigation tying the Reagan administration to the drug trafficking in San Francisco, a damaging angle that is largely left unstated in this mediocre retelling of a wild story.”

AMERICAN MADE is a movie that shamelessly stretches the meaning of “based on a true story” until it snaps. And not by accident. But by design.

But why?  

As we’ll see next time, ‘it’s a family affair. 



Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

1 Response

  1. DEDSTIK says:

    Howard Hughes and the CIA had a very close and long-lasting relationship, you may recall that he had designed and built the Glomar Explorer (named after the designer) that recovered the sunken Japanese submarine in the Pacific. In the mid-1960s Howard began hiring new pilots for his Trans-World Airline as the new jets were coming in and the older ex-WW11 pilots were retiring. I was hired 3 years before Berry Seal and there was a rumor that Howard had agreed to add several (no one guessed how many) CIA pilots to the payroll, with the privilege of taking Personal Leave as needed, which would give them an excuse to be anywhere, anytime. We never really knew who they were, although we had suspicions. My best friend on the airline for forty years lived in So. Nevada and on a visit to his home, around the time we retired, I noticed a picture on his desk of two nice looking children. I asked if they were his grandchildren and said: “No, I’m their Godfather, they’re my friend Terry Reed’s kids.” Not too long before I had read a new book ‘Compromised – Bush, Clinton & the CIA’ written by a Terry Reed. Just to be sure I asked: “Terry Reed the author?” He realized immediately that I knew then why he’d done such extensive traveling, especially time in Costa Rica, on ‘Personal Leave’. Turned out he too had been a CIA pilot since his teenage years.