Barry Seal

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For the Member of the European Parliament, see Barry Seal (politician).
Barry Seal
Born Adler Berriman Seal
July 16, 1939
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
Died February 19, 1986 (aged 46)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
Nationality American

Adler Berriman Seal (July 16, 1939 – February 19, 1986), better known as Barry Seal, was a United States drug smuggler and aircraft pilot who flew flights for the Medellín Cartel.

Early life[edit]

Seal was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of Mary Lou (Delcambre) and Benjamin Curtis Seal.[1] He began flying at the age of 15. In 1955, he received his airman certificate at the age of 16 and joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP).[citation needed]

Drug smuggler[edit]

After successful runs into his home base in Louisiana he moved operations to an infamous airport facility in Mena, Arkansas. There he owned and operated many planes and helicopters and advanced radar equipment. This includes the C-123 transport plane that was famously used in the Nicaragua sting operation. "All of his aircraft were equipped with the most expensive cryptic radio communications we had ever seen at that time," said DEA Agent Ernest Jacobsen. The operation was very successful until Seal was indicted on conspiracy to smuggle Quaalude into Florida in 1984.[2]

Undercover informant[edit]

According to the Frontline: Godfather of Cocaine investigation, Ernst "Jake" Jacobson was Seal's DEA handler during this period. Jacobson claims he still has the high-tech message encrypter which Seal gave him.[2] In order to mitigate his 1984 arrest in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for money laundering and Quaalude smuggling, he agreed to testify against his former employers and associates in the drug trade, putting several of them in jail. Among those Seal testified against were Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands Norman Saunders and members of the Medellín Cartel. Seal also testified before the President's Commission on Organized Crime in October 1985.[3]

In 1988, Jacobsen told a House Judiciary Committee that Seal had flown to an airstrip in Nicaragua in an airplane that had cameras installed by the Central Intelligence Agency.[4] Seal took pictures during the Nicaragua sting operation that clearly showed Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vásquez, and other members of the Medellín Cartel loading kilos of cocaine on to a C-123 transport plane. Also Frederico Vaughan, an associate of Tomas Borges of the Interior Ministry of Nicaragua, was photographed with Sandinista Soldiers helping load the plane.

Seal was both a smuggler and an informant for the DEA in this sting operation against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In 1984, Seal flew from Nicaragua to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida with a shipment of cocaine that had been allegedly brokered through the Sandinista government.[5] This cocaine was seized by the DEA, and was never received by the cartel's distribution handlers in Florida, which immediately caused suspicion in Medellín pointing to Barry Seal as the person responsible for this lost shipment.[6]

A story appeared in the Washington Times in 1984 describing the infiltration of the Medellín cartel's operations in Panama and Nicaragua.[7] The alleged purpose was to prove the Nicaraguan Sandinistas' involvement in the drug trade and to build support for the Contra war effort. This leak and subsequent controversy eventually led to the Iran Contra Affair which unraveled a year later.[8]

The Wall Street Journal also printed the story. The media coverage indirectly exposed Seal's involvement in the operation. Also the articles exposed Colombian cartel leaders and a Nicaraguan Interior Minister who were photographed moving cocaine onto an aircraft. Despite these pressures, Seal went ahead and testified with the pictures taken during the trip showing Sandinista officials in Nicaragua brokering a cocaine deal with members of Colombia's Medellín Cartel. One month after Seal's death on March 16, 1986, President Reagan showed one of the photographs Seal took on national television, to bolster Congressional support for the Contras. He suggested that a top ranking Sandinista official was involved in drug smuggling.[7]

DEA officials in Washington denied the claim a few days later, pointing out that the Nicaraguan was a local fixer.

As part of his plea agreement, Seal was ordered to a halfway house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was murdered by hired Colombian assassins for the Medellín Cartel.

Seal was portrayed by Dennis Hopper in the 1991 docudrama Doublecrossed;[9] and by theater director Thaddeus Phillips in the 2013 TV series Alias El Mexicano.[citation needed]


On February 19, 1986, Barry Seal was shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in front of a branch of the Salvation Army on Airline Highway (U.S. 61), where he was required to stay as a condition of his plea bargain. Seal's shooting brought the DEA's investigation to a violent end. Colombian assassins sent by the Medellín Cartel were apprehended while trying to leave Louisiana soon after Seal's murder.[10] In 1987, Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz (the trigger man), Miguel Velez, and Bernardo Antonio Vasquez, were convicted of the murder of Barry Seal and sentenced to life in prison.[11][12]

In popular culture[edit]

Imagine Entertainment is currently getting set to film a biopic of Seal's life entitled Mena. Tom Cruise is set to play Seal, Brian Dennehy will play Bill Clinton, in a cast with Jesse Plemons, Sarah Wright, Jayma Mays and Lola Kirke. Doug Liman will direct with Brian Grazer producing.[13][14]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]