It’s hard to credit anything about a movie whose ruthless Medellin Cartel Drug Lords wear powder-blue leisure suits.

Still, when a “based on a true story” movie spreads egregious falsehoods about a man who will someday be of vital interest to future historians,  attention must be paid.

Because of that, the “Sex and videotape” promised in today’s headline will have to wait anther day, just until we can get through the lies.


In-flight turbulence in the Zeitgeist 

Reports DAILY VARIETY, “Tom Cruise (as Barry Seal) is a devil-may-care playboy in TWA uniform… bored of his domestic flight path, keeping himself amused with the odd bit of cigar smuggling and faked in-flight turbulence, when he’s approached in 1978 by the CIA.”

Everything about this statement is wrong.  The big questions is: why?

Were filmmakers Tom Cruise, director Doug Liman, and screenwriter Nicholas Spanelli just being stupid or careless? Or were they acting in pursuit of a hidden—and possibly more insidious—motive?

Start here: Today Barry Seal is famous for being a CIA pilot. Full stop.

Do current Agency honchos find that fact uncomfortable?  Probably only if they were still controlling drug trafficking into the U.S., right ?

When the movie finishes tanking—its already more than halfway there, placing 4th in Australia, just behind the comedy ‘Girl Trip,’ which is probably not an indication of sizzling box office—maybe one of them will talk.

But  a number of earlier “escapades” of Barry Seal’s would have called him to the attention of the CIA long before he got desperate enough to  fly Cuban cigars into the U.S.

Here’s a (brief) look at two.


Centurions of ‘The American Century’  

Ten American men were out on the town in a night club in Mexico City’s Zona Rosa that night—January 22, 1963—wearing black suits, black skinny ties, drinking, smoking, and generally slouching around at ringside. At some point, probably later in the evening, the nightclub’s photographer wandered over to their table.


When I first showed this photo to someone who should have been there, but wasn’t, his response was sharp and immediate.  “There weren’t—there aren’t supposed to be any pictures.”

Yet there they are, ten men, wearing loopy grins and raising their glasses at the camera like they’re posing for a picture at a Senior Prom. Maybe its almost closing time. Most of the other tables are empty. It looks like the kind of night which began much earlier in a restaurant whose name no one now remembers.

The shutter snaps. The flash-gun goes off. The moment—even as it happened—probably means nothing to anyone there. But today it is the only-known photograph of the CIA’s super-secret assassination squad known as Operation 40.

There’s Barry Seal, plain as day, you can’t miss him, sitting third from left. And right beside him, second from the left, that’s Porter Goss, future head of the Central Intelligence Agency under George W. Bush.

And front left, leaning on the stage, that’s Felix Rodriguez, famous for a dozen reasons, like killing Che Guevara in the mountains of Bolivia in 1967, or helping out his friend, then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, twenty years later doing ‘God-knows-what’ at Illopango Air Base in El Salvador.

Does it look like Barry Seal will have to resort to cigar smuggling to catch the eye of the CIA?


Barry Seal & The Mexican Connection

FAST FORWARD to July 1, 1972.

It’s a Saturday.  It’s just ten days after the arrest of burglars in Washington’s Watergate Complex.

The musical “Hair” is closing on Broadway, and Sammy Davis Jr’s single “Candy Man” and “Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond are fighting it out for No.1 on the charts.

The TV series Bewitched is airing it’s final episode. And, as if by magic, also on that day, because of the brewing Watergate scandal,  Attorney General John N. Mitchell will resign as chairman of President Nixon’s re-election committee.

It’s still six years before the ‘based on a true story’ movie “AMERICAN MADE” says Barry Seal first caught the eye of the CIA… for smuggling cigars.

And then this happens: Pilot Barry Seal is arrested in Shreveport and indicted in New Orleans for conspiracy to export enough C4 plastic explosive to blow the island of Cuba half-way up the Florida Keys.


“That’s now what transpired”

From Barry & ‘the boys'”:


“It was,” pilot James Miller, who was busted with Barry, explains, “part of an ongoing CIA plot to overthrow Castro in the 70’s.”

“Barry Seal,” Miller begins, picking his words carefully, “was led by someone that he obviously had a lot of faith in to believe that Cuba was going to be overthrown with the backing of the United States Government, through the CIA.”

“We were offered support from the Mexican Air Force. We flew in to an Air Force Base in Mexico. We met with some people who had uniforms on–I had no idea what their rank was–and we were assured by them that we would have their full support if we needed it and wanted it.”

“Then we returned to the United States with the understanding that we had the full support of the U. S. and the CIA. But….that’s not what transpired.”

Authorities swoop in as Barry Seal’s DC-4 is being loaded in Shreveport and arrest everyone involved in the operation.  Seal is very publicly busted, for illegally attempting to fly  C4 plastic explosives to Mexico.

Authorities don’t know it, but they have just temporarily shut down what will soon be known, with the release of the Nixon tapes, as “The Mexican Connection.”


Seal was flying a specialty airline:  weapons-for-heroin 

Barry Seal’s 1972 arrest occurred during the Watergate summer of 1972.

On July 3, 1972, The New York Times reported:

“Federal officials have arrested seven men in Texas and Louisiana on charges of conspiring to smuggle munitions to Mexico. A DC-4 was seized at the Shreveport Regional Airport loaded with almost seven tons of plastic C-4 explosive, 7,000 feet of explosive primer cord, and 2,600 electric blasting caps.

Among those arrested were Richmond C. Harper, 48, the brother of Tito Harper, a rancher and Director of the Frontier State Bank of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Marion Hagler, a former Inspector with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Murray Kessler and Alder B. Seal were also arrested. Kessler, who was a house guest at the Harper ranch last June, had a record of six convictions in Federal and state courts on charges of interstate theft, transporting stolen property, bookmaking and conspiracy to possess heroin. Federal authorities described him as an associate of the Gambino organized-crime family.


The CIA v. Richard M. Nixon

It was part of a larger war between the CIA and Richard Nixon over the newly-created apparatus the President had devised to bring control of all drug intelligence into the White House. The CIA, to put it mildly, did not approve.

Former military pilot James Miller, who was arrested with Seal that day,  described it as a weapons-for-heroin flight.


In an interview for “Barry & ‘the boys'” Miller stated it was by no means the first such CIA-sponsored mission that he and Barry Seal had flown.   Had Miller, an ex-military pilot,  known he was involved in a weapons-for-heroin transaction?

He did.  “This was not the first time this pipeline had been used,” said Miller, matter-of-factly.  “That was why it was such a shock when we were arrested.”


Seven tons of plastic explosive buys a lot of heroin

Barry’s co-conspirators were a rich assortment of people connected with everything from organized crime to the White House’s new drug enforcement czar.

Murray Kessler  was an associate of the Gambino Family. He was also a “known associate” of Barry Seal, Guy Banister and David Ferrie in the 1960’s.  And he was a frequent house guest  of another defendant, Richmond Harper, at his ranch on the Mexican border.

Richmond Harper, the trial showed ,was the middle-man in the weapons-for-heroin deal.

“Harper,” Barry Seal told James Miller,  had “deep deep ties right in to the White House.”

Richmond Harper was described as a “tall lean guy wearing a cowboy shirt with the monogrammed initials “RCH,” a string tie and cowboy boots,” according to author Pete Brewton.

Kessler’s rap sheet included six convictions on charges of interstate theft, transporting stolen property, bookmaking and conspiracy to possess heroin.  A Customs agent tailing him through an airport described Kessler in his report as “50-ish and Jewish-looking, wearing a open-collar gray shirt with a gray sports suit, accompanied by a “bleached blond in white slacks and a red polka-dotted jacket.”

She must have made quite an impression.

So how far back does Murray Kessler go?  “Murray Kessler had been an anti-Castro guy, since his days with Guy Banister,”  according to retired DEA agent Dick Gustafson, who knew him. “It was like a mantra he carried around with him.”

The explosives, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisiana, “were headed to Cuban exiles in Mexico, who were going to use them in an effort to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro.”

And no one was the wiser.

Barry Seal’s 1972 bust was big news only in Texas and Louisiana. And it was never connected to Watergate in the press.

How deep into the “deep state” did Barry Seal go?  Listen to the clip from the actual White House tapes below, and draw your own conclusion.

From what it sounds like, Barry Seal didn’t need to impress the CIA because he was bored with TWA, partly because he was already one their most valued assets, and also by 1978, Barry Seal hadn’t been working for TWA for years.


How much money do you need?”

Reported the The Washington Post on May 1 1974:

One transcript, which later became known as the ‘smoking gun,” shows Nixon and Dean discussing accommodating blackmail demands by the Watergate burglars.

“The transcript reveals, Mr. Nixon repeatedly discussed different methods by which as much as $1 million could be paid to the burglars without the payments being traced to the White House. The purpose of such payments, in the President’s own words, would be “to keep the cap on the bottle,” to “buy time,” to “tough it through.”

“How much money do you need?” the President asked Dean early in the March 21 conversation, according to the transcript.

“I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years,” Dean replied.

“We could get that,” the President continued. “On the money, if you need the money you could get that. You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. It is not easy, but it could be done.”

When Nixon tells John Dean that he knows how to get a million dollars,  it is probably Barry Seal’s operation he is talking about. 









Daniel Hopsicker

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

3 Responses

  1. JB says:

    Excellent job on this Daniel. I’m glad there are at least some people like you out there who realize what a pile of BS this movie is.

  2. Frank T says:

    Are you offering the paperback (2nd) edition of Barry and the Boys on your website?