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The second escape from a Mexican maximum security prison of feared Sinaloa drug cartel chieftain Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as El Chapo, has re-focused attention of the ties between the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and drug manufacturing and smuggling syndicates around the world.
Drug smuggling planes used by the Sinaloa and other Mexican cartels and linked to the CIA have been interdicted in Mexico. One, a Gulfstream used by the CIA to rendition suspected Al Qaeda members, crash landed in Yucatan in September 2007. On board the aircraft were 3.3 metric tons of cocaine bound for the Sinaloa cartel from Colombia.
In 2006, Mexican police, acting on a tip from INTERPOL, seized a DC-9 aircraft carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $100 million. The plane had made an emergency landing at Ciudad del Carmen in Campeche state. The DC-9 was painted in the familiar blue and white colors of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
In addition, the Zetas cartel, with support from Mossad cells operating in Guatemala and Costa Rica have used weapons smuggled from the United States and drugs smuggled from Mexico and other locations to launch major CIA-sponsored destabilization efforts aimed at toppling the Sandinista government from power in Nicaragua and seeing the leftist National Unity of Hope (UNE) government of Guatemala ousted in the 2012 election.The ouster of the leftist government in Guatemala was accomplished.
The CIA’s ties to El Chapo follow a long history of CIA links to drug smuggling war lords in Third World nations. During the Indochina War, the CIA’s ties with General Khun Sa in Burma’s opium-producing Golden Triangle and General Vang Pao’s drug smuggling operations in Laos, provided Langley which substantial “off-the-books” revenues for clandestine activities around the world. The CIA’s Golden Triangle smuggling operations continue to exist with CIA fronts, mostly shipping companies based in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao, smuggling pure morphine into the United States.
Ever since the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA has been at the center of Afghanistan’s opium and heroin smuggling operations. Most of the smuggling was carried out under the regime of President Hamid Karzai, an old CIA operative since the CIA-led mujaheddin war against the Soviets in the 1980s. When the Taliban banned opium production in 2000, the CIA stepped up its anti-Taliban operations through proxies in the Afghan Northern Alliance and anti-Taliban elements living in Pakistan.
Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a kingpin in the Afghan heroin trade, has also been on the payroll of the CIA. This was even reported by The New York Times in 2009.
During the 1980s, two Nicaraguan contra operatives, Carlos Cabezas and Julio Zavala, were convicted by the U.S. Justice Department of drug trafficking in Miami, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Another drug smuggler, Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero, was an operative for the two leaders of the contras, Adolfo Calero and Enrique Bermudez. In 1982, the CIA requested the Justice Department to return $36,800 in cash seized from a Meneses operative who was busted in San Francisco. The CIA said the money had to be returned in order to protect an “operational equity.” That equity was the Contra leadership.
The CIA also cooperated with the Israeli Mossad in drug running in the 1980s. Eric Arturo Del Valle, the man Panamanian General Manuel Noriega selected to serve as Panama’s President from 1985 to 1988, was not only a leading member of Panama’s Jewish community but Mossad’s number one asset in Central America. The CIA used the Del Valle family’s sugar export business to smuggle cocaine into the United States. In 1988, the United States exfiltrated Del Valle from Panama City to Miami. Del Valle had broken with Noriega and was replaced as president after the Panamanian junta leader’s indictment by the U.S. Justice Department for drug smuggling. Del Valle arrived at Miami International Airport with several pieces of luggage, some suspected of containing nothing but cash. U.S. Secret Service agents accompanied Del Valle and his wife Marianella to an “undisclosed location.”
The CIA also used Steadman Fagoth Muller, the leader of MISURA, a coalition of Nicaraguan Atlantic coast Indian tribes, the Miskito, Sumo and Rama, to help facilitate the CIA’s Caribbean off-shore narcotics smuggling activities. Miskito Indians began harvesting what became known as “white lobster” — floating packages of cocaine jettisoned from ships originating in Colombia — later picked up by CIA aircraft from small landing strips in Nicaragua and delivered to Mena airport in Arkansas; Marianna airfield, near Memphis; and Marana airport in Arizona.
The Miskito and other tribes received weapons from the CIA in return for the cocaine. Also used to smuggle drugs into the United States was the old CIA proprietary company, Zapata Off-Shore, which was once “owned” by George H W Bush, the vice president of the United States when most of the CIA’s drug smuggling activities were taking place. The shrimp trawlers of another CIA front, Pacific Seafood, was used to transport drugs from Zapata oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to the U.S. mainland. One important destination for the contraband was John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the drugs were delivered into the hands of Italian mafia boss John Gotti’s men. The link between Gotti and the CIA was known to Jeh Johnson, the Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The CIA links were covered up after the Mafia don’s arrest in 1989. Today, Johnson is Secretary of Homeland Security.
The Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico smuggling operations primarily involved the co-founders of the Medellin cartel in Colombia, Carlos Lehder and Pablo Escobar. As with Noriega who served time in a Florida federal prison, Lehder is housed in a minimum-security Florida federal correctional center. Noriega, who is now in a Panamanian prison, after serving time in a French prison, and Lehder are being kept on ice because of the knowledge they have of the Bush family’s and CIA’s involvement in drug smuggling. Escobar was killed by the Colombian National Police in 1993 after his location was determined through triangulation of his communications signals. The operation was assisted by the U.S. National Security Agency. Escobar was shot in the head, torso, and leg.
When Noriega’s American lawyers threatened to expose videotapes showing Noriega and George H W Bush conspiring to smuggle drugs into the United States, the trial judge, William M. Hoeveler, merely ruled that the CIA could not be brought up by the defense during Noriega’s trial in Miami. Hoeveler, a Jimmy Carter nominee, served on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida until his retirement last year. Although he obviously took his orders from Langley, Hoeveler is praised by his colleagues as a shining star of American jurisprudence. One of his clerks, Kevin Martin, later became a member of the Bush-Cheney recount team in Florida in 2000 and chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under George W. Bush.
There have been appeals for Noriega’s release in Panama and Lehder’s release to his father’s native Germany. As long as the Bush family has anything to do with such decisions, both will remain in prison indefinitely.
Waller County, Texas, has had a complicated racial history since the days when it was a part of Mexico. At one of its first settlements, Bernardo Plantation, about 100 slaves grew cotton on a large farm on the banks of the Brazos. Yet in the years before Texas fought Mexico for its independence, the area became a magnet for free blacks from elsewhere in the South who sought a welcoming home.
The messy, confusing double legacy of that history has persisted to the present, most recently embodied in the death of Sandra Bland in a Waller County jail cell. Bland, a 28-year-old from Chicago, was on a road trip to start a new job at her alma mater, historically black Prairie View A&M University, when she was pulled over by a state trooper for failing to signal a turn. Somehow, that apparently routine stop escalated and ended with Bland with an arm injury, under arrest for assaulting an officer. She was found dead in her cell three days later, on July 13, of what police say was suicide by asphyxiation. Her family disputes that account, saying she had no inclination to suicide and was upbeat about her new job.
We’ll need more information to understand what happened to Bland. As Radley Balko notes, jailhouse suicide is disturbingly common. Regardless of the circumstances of Bland’s death, however, a routine stop for failing to use a blinker should not end in several days of imprisonment and death. That has brought a natural focus on Waller County and the figures involved.
After Walter Scott was shot and killed by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer, advocates noted that traffic stops are often a pretext for searching or questioning citizens of color. Scott, who was pulled over for having a taillight out, was wanted for failing to pay child support, and it’s speculated that led him to run away. He was shot in the back as he ran. In North Charleston, police made traffic stops involving African Americans far out of proportion to their percentage of the population. That isn’t the case in Waller County. Statewide, stops and citations for black people in Texas are actually lower than their share of the overall population, and the same holds true for stops by the Waller County sheriff and police in the towns of Hempstead and Prairie View.
But this might be one of the few areas where there isn’t evidence of racially disparate outcomes in Waller County, a place with a grim history of discrimination and tension—“racism from the cradle to the grave,” as DeWayne Charleston, a former county judge, put it to The Guardian.
The history is especially painful because Waller County was for a time a beacon of black progress. During Reconstruction, an office of the Freedmen’s Bureau opened in the county seat of Hempstead, and federal troops—including, for a time, some commanded by George Custer—occupied to keep the peace. Not coincidentally, the Ku Klux Klan also set up shop. Nonetheless, Hempstead became a locus of black political activity and hosted the Republican Party’s statewide convention in 1875. In 1876, the predecessor of Prairie View A&M was established, and in the 1880 Census, the county was majority black.
But the last two decades of the century saw an influx of white immigrants from Eastern Europe, and that dilution of the black vote, along with the end of Reconstruction, reduced blacks to a minority and slashed their political power. After a 1903 law established “white primaries,” African Americans were effectively shut out of politics—such that in a county with some 8,000 black voters, only 144 Republican votes were cast in 1912, according to The Handbook of Texas. Waller County, as Leah Binkovitz notes, had among the highest numbers of lynchings in the state between 1877 and 1950, according to a comprehensive report by the Equal Justice Initiative.
This may seem like distant history, but it set something of a pattern for the county’s race relations through to the present—and as the events of the last year have made clear, a place’s history is often an effective predictor of how it treats its black residents, from St. Louis County to Cuyahoga County. In fact, the disenfranchisement of black voters in Waller County has continued to be a source of contention.
In 2004, students at Prairie View A&M fought and won a battle over their right to vote in the country. District Attorney Oliver Kitzman claimed the students were ineligible to vote in Waller County and could only cast ballots in their home counties, despite clear Supreme Court precedent showing they were allowed to register. Kitzman threatened to prosecute any student who voted. It wasn’t his first clash with black residents, who accused the district attorney of deploying a range of intimidation tactics. Kitzman denied any racism, and told the Los Angeles Times that any racial issues in the county could be solved “ if we took several of the players and sent them to Los Angeles.”
The students, with the support of conservative Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott, triumphed in the battle. Kitzman resigned his post, a moment local black leaders compared to the Emancipation Proclamation. But four years later, PVAMU students again found themselves fighting for their fight to vote. A judge ruled against Waller County , and demanded that county officials justify every rejected voter registration to the U.S. Department of Justice for four years. The county has seen a variety of other accusations of voting irregularities in recent years.
In the early 2000s, Hempstead was embroiled in a dispute over cemeteries in town, which had historically been divided between white and black. Black residents complained that the city had devoted much lesser resources to black burial grounds. In the midst of litigation, the white mayor of Hempstead offended the city’s African American residents by refusing to attend a parade to mark Juneteenth, the day of emancipation of slaves in Texas. The lawsuit was ultimately settled, with Hempstead agreeing to spend more on upkeep of the black cemeteries.
The interment question wasn’t entirely settled: In 2007, DeWayne Charleston, the judge, ordered a black funeral home to bury the body of an unknown white woman found dead in the county. (Charleston was later removed from the bench for accepting bribes.) Officials balked, as the Associated Press reported:
When activists started raising questions about the county’s hesitation at burying the woman in a black cemetery, the commissioners asked a white-owned funeral home to handle arrangements—adhering to what community activists say is a long-standing tradition of cemetery segregation in the county .… Had the unidentified woman been buried in a black cemetery, she would have been the first known white person buried in a black cemetery in the county.
In 2007, the chief of police in Hempstead, Glenn Smith, was accused of racism and police brutality during an arrest. Council members opted to suspend Smith for two weeks, a sanction that disappointed civil-rights leaders in town. The following year, amid more allegations of police misconduct, Smith was fired. He promptly ran for county sheriff and won, and is now charged with investigating Bland’s death in the jail he oversees. At a news conference about Bland’s death, Smith vowed , “Black lives matter to Glenn Smith.”
It may not come as a surprise if Waller County’s African American residents don’t buy that. And they may not feel any better about the prosecutor who would handle any case. Elton Mathis, who holds Kitzman’s old job, has also been accused of pursuing racially disparate prosecutions. Last June, a black clergyman alleged that Mathis has threatened him over such accusations.
Almost as soon as Bland died, her family and many black Americans assumed the worst. They were skeptical of official explanations and pessimistic about the odds of a thorough and fair investigation. A popular hashtag, #IfIDieInCustody, became a forum to express that skepticism and the fear of being disappeared into a jail—or, like Freddie Gray, a police wagon—and emerging dead or near death, with no explanation and little evidence to explain what happened beyond the official account. To those Americans more accustomed to trusting the judicial system to deliver fair outcomes, this outpouring may come across as baffling at best—and as a hasty, unwise leap to conclusions at worst, short-circuiting the due process of the justice system. But the local history explains those deep wells of skepticism. Waller County has given African Americans more than a century’s worth of evidence that it is not in the habit of protecting their interests.
Police discovered signs of a meth lab in a government building on Saturday after an explosion injured a federal security officer and threw a blast shield 25 feet. The explosion occurred in a small lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where the Department of Commerce conducts experiments.
The particular lab that exploded wasn’t supposed to be hosting any experiments over the weekend. But NBC Washington sayspseudoephedrine, drain cleaner, and a recipe for meth were all found there, leaving little mystery to what happened. In addition, the officer who was injured had burns on his hands and arms, the type of injuries consistent with a meth cook gone bad. Not coincidentally, the officer resigned on Sunday.
Congress has taken an active interest in the case of the government-housed meth lab. Along with local police and the DEA, the House Science, Space & Technology Committeeis gathering information about the incident. No one has been arrested.
A powerful pro-Israel lobby is backing a new political group that on Friday launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to oppose the nuclear pact the United States recently made with Iran.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is supporting an independent action committee called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, dedicated to preventing Iran from obtaining the capacity to obtain nuclear weapons.
Spokesman Patrick Dorton said Friday that the group is launching a national TV and digital ad campaign in many media markets around the country.
“Democrats should be especially concerned because the deal increases the chances of war, will spur a nuclear arms race and rewards an Iran with a horrific human rights record,” Dorton said.
The group’s website lists an advisory board of five former Democratic and independent lawmakers — one-time Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut along with former Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada.
On the other side of the issue, liberal groups, such as the Jewish Middle East lobby known as J Street, also are buying national ads to shore up congressional support for the deal.
Those for and against the agreement, which gives Tehran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program, are lobbying lawmakers who have not yet decided whether or not to support the deal. A vote in Congress is expected after the August recess.
German newspaper Bild found that the US military used deadly anthrax spores in chemical weapons defense training on a military base in Germany.
In an article with the headline “US Army operated biological weapons in Germany,” Berlin daily Bild revealed that the US military used deadly live anthrax spores in military exercises.
The investigation revealed that several of the US military exercises on German soil involved “incidents” in which live anthrax spores were released. The incidents took place in the town of Landstuhl, near France, Luxembourg and the Ramstein military base. The US military previously sent live anthrax spores to South Korea.
The German defense ministry told the newspaper that the spores were not sent to any German military laboratories. The US military previously admitted that since 2005 it sent anthrax spores to South Korea, Australia and Canada, but not Germany.
“According to current information, Bundeswehr servicemen were not put in danger,” the German defense ministry claimed in an inquiry to Bild.
The spores were supposed to be neutralized at the Dugway Proving Ground in the US state of Utah before being sent to the exercises, but the incident made “some spores even more active,” according to the newspaper.