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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The extent of George Bush's ties to former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is important in order to determine what the President knew of the secret operation to arm the Contras and whether Contra leaders received money or helped narcotics traffickers import drugs into the U.S.
Panama General Manuel Noriega's ties to the U.S. intelligence service goes back to 1960, when as a young cadet at a Peruvian military academy he provided information on leftist students to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
When Bush became head of the CIA in 1976, he thwarted an army investigation into Noriega's activities code-named "Canton Song" because he feared it would cause further damage to an already discredited CIA. Noriega, then Panama's chief of intelligence, was buying reel-to-reel audiotapes from the Army's 470th Military Intelligence Group.

When Noriega discovered a U.S. wiretap operation against Panamanian officials involved in Canal Treaty negotiations, he bought copies of the tapes for his boss, 6mar Torrijos. Instead of prosecuting Noriega, as the head of the National Security Agency wanted, Bush not only didn't punish either him or the officers, he decided to continue paying Noriega an annual sum of $110,000 for his work on behalf of the agency (Frederick Kempe, Divorcing the Dictator, Putnam's, as reported in Newsweek, November 15th, 1990).

Bush met Noriega in Washington in December 1976. He denied it at first, then acknowledged the meeting took place,but, in what has become somewhat of a George Bush trade-mark, remembers nothing of what transpired. Other guests at the lunch say it was the third meeting between the two since Bush became CIA director.

Although CIA Director (under Jimmy Carter) Stansfield Turner took Noriega off the payroll of the CIA, by 1981 he was back on.

In December 1983 Bush flew to Panama to meet with Noriega. A Bush spokesperson claims the meeting was a "privileged" talk (whatever that means). Bush told reporters:

"What I talked to the Panamanians about was doing what they could to get their banks out of laundering money for the narcotics traffic" (Washington Post, May 8th, 1988). Former U.S. ambassador to Panama Everett Briggs, who also attended the meeting, said that Bush may have sought diplomatic support  (for the Contras) but never requested military help. (Of all countries, why would the U.S. need to solicit diplomatic support from Panama?) (Newsweek, January 15th, 1990).
Noriega interpreted this visit as an appeal for help in arming and training the Contras.

Jose Blandon, a former Panamanian diplomat who was Noriega's top political aide, testified before a Senate investigating committee in February 1988. He says of the same meeting that both Gregg and Bush asked for and got Noriega's commitment to "help secretly arm, train and finance the Contras, which was to begin in early 1984." Gregg denied the meeting ever took place (Newsweek, October 31st, 1988).

Further proof of Bush's knowledge of Noriega's support for the Contras was presented at Oliver North's trial in 1989, where it was revealed that a Southern Front Resistance leader had "received $100,000 from Panamanian Defense Forces Chief Noriega in July 1984." Bush, it was claimed, received copies of these documents, which showed Noriega's financial assistance for the Contras (Newsweek, January 15th, 1990).

Bush has always pleaded ignorance about Noriega's drug-dealing activities. Yet many of the operatives in Black Eagle, one of the Contra resupply operations Bush and Casey devised in 1982, claim that Noriega played a major role in the operation by providing his country's airfields and front companies, as well as allowing Contras to be trained in Panama. In return, he was given the green light to smuggle cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. on behalf of the Colombian cocaine cartel. According to one retired covert operative, one percent of the gross income generated by the drug traffic was set aside to buy additional weapons for the Contras.

Blandon confirms that the CIA and North used Noriega to funnel guns and money to the Contras, and Panama as a training base. He also claims that Noriega's right-hand man, Mike Harari, told him that Casey and Bush were involved in these operations. "Harari told Noriega in front of me that Bush was very grateful for the help Noriega was providing," Blandon testified.

An Argentine arms dealer who was brought into the operation by Noriega, Jorge Krupnik, told Bland6n that everything in the operation had the full backing of Bush and Gregg, including the drug trafficking. Gregg denies meeting Harari or being involved with him (Newsweek, January 15th, 1990).
Noriega meanwhile gathered a dossier on the role of Bush in the operation, which he referred to when he told a former aide, Colonel Roberto Dfaz Hen-era, "I've got Bush by the balls," and that he knew things that "could affect the elections of the U.S."

Although Bland6n was very credible, there was an immediate attempt by the CIA and Defense Department to discredit him, calling him an "untrustworthy leftist."

"Bland6n was the first guy who wasn't a sleazeball who offered evidence against Noriega," says a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer. "He was able to cor-roborate the testimony we'd been getting from convicted drug dealers, but more important, he was able to put it into a larger context" (New York, January 15th, 1990).

It's not as if the administration never realized or discovered what was happening. They tried to block any investigation which might implicate U.S. government officials in any way with Noriega's drug trafficking. Blandon testified that the White House knew Noriega was involved in drug trafficking since the early days of the Administration, but because of the support Noriega gave the Contras, it ignored it.

In the spring of 1988, when the General Accounting Office  (GAO), the investigative branch of Congress, opened an investigation, using Panama as a case study of how drug trafficking by foreign officials influences U.S. foreign policy decisions, the White House ordered the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration not to cooperate.
According to a UPI report on August 18th, 1988, on the stonewall effort, "Democrats and investigators said the White House order was aimed at preventing potentially embarrassing discoveries from rocking the presidential campaign of Republican Vice President George Bush." In August 1988 the White House said that the Justice Department had decided that "the subject matter of the request is beyond the GAO's statutory authority" (Common Cause, September/October 1988).

The report might very well have revealed George Bush's knowledge of the United States' ties with Noriega. Yet the White House, specifically the National Security Council (NSC), intervened. GAO investigators discovered that officials of the State Department, Justice Department, Customs Service and Drug Enforcement Agency were told they couldn't assist the probe until the NSC agreed (Washington Post, March 12th, 1989).

According to a chronology of one of the GAO investigators, the State and Justice officials were instructed by the NSC "not to deal with us until [the] NSC had developed operational guidelines on what to do and what not to do on this assignment" (Washington Post, March 21 st, 1989).

Nancy Kingsbury, who at that time was a senior official in the GAP's National Security and International Affairs Divison, commented on the NSC's coordinating activities, "The NSC would not ordinarily have played that kind of role"  (Washington Post, March 21st, 1989).

The White House effort to protect Noriega may also been because of the useful role the Panamanian dictator played in the Reagan-Bush Administration's Central American foreign policy.

One former national security assistant to President Ronald Reagan claims the U.S. government "conspired" for years to protect Panamanian General Manuel Noriega and "willfully ignored" evidence of his narcotics activities because he had agreed to help the Contras.

Norman Bailey, who served as a director of planning on the National Security Counsel staff and was a former special assistant to President Reagan for national security affairs, doesn't believe Reagan Administration officials when they say they didn't have enough solid evidence of Noriega's narcotics activities to indict him in February 1988, more than eighteen months before President Bush sent U.S. troops into Panama to ouster Noriega. In September 1988, Admiral Daniel Murphy, Bush's top drug aide, declared: "I never saw any intelligence suggesting General Noriega's involvement in the drug trade. In fact, we always held up Panama as the model in terms of cooperation with the United States in the war on drugs" (Convergence, Christic Institute, Fall 1991).

Bailey disagrees. Testifying before the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control in March 1988, he said, "Black and white evidence about Noriega's narcotics activities has been available since at least the mid-1970s. It could have been read by "any authorized official of the U.S. government with appropriate security clearances" (Common Cause, September/October 1988).

The question is: To what extent was the Reagan-Bush Administration's policy on drug trafficking influenced by the help they were getting from people like Noriega?

Senator Kerry says the congressional hearings he chaired showed that "stopping drug trafficking to the U.S. has been a secondary U.S. foreign policy objective. It has been sacrificed repeatedly for other political goals" (Common Cause, September/October 1988).

Francis McNeil, a former senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research, told the Senate in April 1988 that "some government officials looked away when they thought vigorous pursuit of narcotics trafficking conflicted with national security priorities."

Another question which arises is: Because of the Administration's commitment to the Contra effort, and due to the ties Contra supporters had with narcotics traffickers, was the White House's commitment to keeping dangerous drugs out of the U.S. compromised?

As Vice President, George Bush headed two main ad- ministration initiatives to coordinate drug investigations: the South Florida Task Force and the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System (NNBIS). Despite their being created as a clearinghouse for intelligence, former DEA Administrator Francis Mullen and the GAO criticized the two groups for not doing that, but instead establishing an intelligence network which bypassed DEA contacts and "threatened to fragment the narcotics intelligence data base."

In 1987 the GAO said of NNBIS: "Seizures are small compared to the amounts of drugs successfully smuggled into the U.S."

Mullen claimed that these two groups were inflating drug-seizures statistics and that the public was being misled about the two organizatons' successes. "If NNBIS continues unchecked it will discredit other federal drug programs and become the adminstration's Achilles heel for drug law enforcement," he warned.Supporting the Contras also blinded other moral fibers of the Reagan-Bush White House. In 1984, Honduran General Jose Buesco, a supporter of the Contras, was labeled by the Justice Department as an international terrorist, and was indicted in connection with a plot to kill President of Honduras Roberto Suazo Cordova, which was to be financed with profits from cocaine smuggling.

Senior administration officials, including Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, and former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, tried to get leniency for Buesco due to his role in helping set up Contra camps on Honduras' border with Nicaragua. When the plot to kill Suazo Cordova was discovered, Buesco agreed to come to the U.S. to face charges, but officials from the Department of Defense and the CIA started asking for leniency, a full pardon, sentence reduction or deportation. On September 17th, 1986, North sent a message to Poindexter stating that the administration should help Buesco because if not, "he will break his longstanding silence about the Nicaraguan resistance and other sensitive operations."

The Justice Department, particularly Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard, opposed leniency for Buesco.

Richard would later testify to the Iran-Contra Committee that Abrams insisted "we should do what we can to accommodate this man." The Justice Department still refused, and Buesco eventually pleaded guilty to two felony charges in the attempted assassination plot and was sentenced to two five-year jail terms.

McNeil believes that is wasn't only Buesco's support for the Contras that encouraged the Administration to help him, but also what North told Poindexter in a memo was "songs nobody wants to hear."

Hoping perhaps that George Bush was listening at the time, McNeil told the Senate subcommittee: "We're certainly going to have to stop giving these signals that if you have a military or intelligence relationship with the U.S., it's a license to commit major crimes in this country."


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