Reports: CIA present during U.S. drug agent’s torture, murder

Explosive new reports aired in the United States and Mexico link U.S. government intelligence agents to the 1985 murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena.

A Fox News report contended that U.S. Central Intelligence Agency assets were present during 30 hours of torture administered to Camarena before he died, and that a CIA contract pilot flew his alleged killer, Mexican drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, to Costa Rica. 

Caro Quintero was nabbed in a raid on his San Antonio de Belén mansion by Costa Rican cops and DEA agents on Easter Week of 1985, and he was summarily deported to Mexico. Fox News incorrectly reported that the Mexican government nabbed Caro Quintero.

The drug kingpin was recently released from a Mexican prison on a legal technicality after serving 28 years of a 40-year sentence and has since vanished. He is once again a fugitive and is being sought for extradition to the United States.

According to Fox, CIA agents were present at Camarena’s torture by virtue of having infiltrated the Mexican government’s now-defunct Federal Security Directorate (DFS by its Spanish acronym), which at the time was so corrupt that it served as a protector of drug trafficking cartels.

“Our intelligence agencies were working under the cover of DFS. And as I said it before, unfortunately, DFS agents at that time were also in charge of protecting the drug lords and their monies,” said former DEA officer Héctor Berrellez, in charge of investigating Camarena’s murder.

“Berrellez says two informants from the Mexican state police, who witnessed Camarena’s torture, independently and positively identified a photo of one man, a Cuban, who worked as a CIA operative who helped run guns and drugs for the Contras,” said the Fox report.

Enrique Camarena

DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was tortured and murdered in 1985. Courtesy of U.S. Justice Department.

A CIA spokesman roundly denied the accusations of involvement in Camarena’s murder, telling Fox News that, “It’s ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a U.S. federal agent or the escape of his killer.”

The Mexican magazine Proceso, which interviewed the same three U.S. drug enforcement sources as Fox, went further, saying that the U.S. government ordered Camarena’s murder because he had stumbled upon the effort to run cocaine into the United States and use the proceeds to help arm Nicaraguan Contra rebels fighting to unseat the Sandinista government. 

Proceso identified Camarena’s killer as the legendary Cuban CIA operative Felix Rodríguez, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and someone at the scene of the 1967 execution of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia.

According to Proceso, Rodríguez introduced the drug trafficker Juan Matta into Mexico to act as a link between Colombian drug traffickers and Caro Quintero’s Guadalajara cartel with part of the proceeds from the trafficking going to the CIA to help fund the Contras. The CIA ordered Camarena kidnapped because he had come across Rodríguez’s operation, Phil Jordon, former director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center told El Proceso’s Jesús Esquivel.

Jordon confirmed to Fox News that CIA assets were in on Camarena’s interrogation.

“In [Camarena’s] interrogation room, I was told by Mexican authorities, that CIA operatives were in there. Actually conducting the interrogation. Actually taping Kiki,” Jordon told Fox.

A former pilot for the CIA, Tosh Plumlee, told Fox that he was hired by U.S. intelligence to fly covert missions and that “he flew C-130s in and out of Quintero’s ranch and airports throughout Central America during the 1980s.”

“The United States government played both ends against the middle. We were running guns. We were running drugs. We were using the drug money to finance the gun running operation,” Plumlee said, Fox reported.

The reports revive old accusations that the CIA was somehow involved in running cocaine between South America and the U.S. in order to raise funds for the Contras, at a time that the U.S. Congress had prohibited the CIA from arming the Contras.

In response to an outcry over the publishing of a three-part series in San José Mercury News that linked Contra drug money to the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles, in the United States, the CIA’s Inspector General issued a report that denied agency responsibility in the drug trafficking, but acknowledged that the CIA-contracted pilots and other “assets” used by the CIA were involved in drug trafficking.

According to Fox News, “In 1998, CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz told Congress he ‘found no evidence … of any conspiracy by CIA or its employees to bring drugs into the United States. However, it worked with a variety of … assets [and] pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity.’

“Hitz said the ‘CIA had an operational interest’ in the Contras. And while aware the rebels were trading ‘arms-for-drugs’ the CIA ‘did nothing to stop it.’ ”

The author of the San José Mercury News series, Gary Webb, drew widespread criticism for linking the CIA to the proliferation of crack cocaine in the United States, and three major newspapers, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post published stories ostensibly debunking the series.

Webb’s editors acknowledged flaws in the reporting and assigned the reporter to a lesser post covering a northern Californian suburb.

Webb eventually quit the newspaper and, unable to find a job with any other major news outlet, committed suicide in December 2004.