Barry Seal

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For the Member of the European Parliament, see Barry Seal (politician).
Barry Seal
Barry Seal.JPG
Born Adler Berriman Seal
July 16, 1939
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Died February 19, 1986 (aged 46)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Cause of death
Gunshot
Nationality American
Occupation Pilot, Drug Smuggler
Criminal charge
Conspiracy to smuggle narcotics

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 covert flights for the Central Intelligence Agency and the Medellín Cartel.

Early life[edit]

Seal was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and began flying at the age of 15. In 1955, he received his pilot's license at the age of 16 and joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP)[citation needed]

Military/CIA work[edit]

Seal was later linked through a dated photograph to Operation 40, a covert CIA operation.[citation needed] He also joined US Army Special Forces to continue flight training. In 1966, Seal went to work for TWA as a flight engineer and later became the youngest 747 pilot in the nation. He flew transcontinental flights for TWA until he was fired after he agreed to fly plastic explosives from Miami to Mexico for an anti-Castro group. The buyer turned out to be a Federal Agent and he was arrested. He lost his job with TWA and became a private aviation consultant for groups in Latin America, which led to a career in drug trafficking.[1]

Drug smuggler[edit]

According to the Frontline documentary on the "drug war" Seal began his drug smuggling career in 1976 after he lost his job with TWA. He initially worked with South American cannabis growers. Then he began to move cocaine shipments along with his general smuggling business. In 1979 he was arrested in Honduras and spent nine months in jail. After being released in 1980 he met another contract pilot, William Roger Reaves, who agreed to introduce him to the Ochoa family. The Ochoas, with Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez as their leader, headed the Medellín Cartel.[2]

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 which was used famously 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 Quaaludes into Florida in 1984.[3] While operating for the Medellín Cartel, Seal went by the alias, "Ellis Mackenzie McPickles."[4]

Undercover informant[edit]

In order to avoid a long prison sentence, Seal contacted law enforcement authorities. He was turned down initially by local prosecutors and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Miami. He flew to Washington D.C. and contacted agents in the Vice President's drug task force. After some deliberation, they decided to use Seal as a high-level informant against the Medellín Cartel.[5]

According to the Frontline Godfather of Cocaine Investigation, Enrest "Jake" Jacobson was Seal's DEA handler during this period. Jacobson claims he still has the high-tech message encrypter which Seal gave him.[3] 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.[6]

Using a concealed camera installed by the CIA, 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.[7] 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.[2]

A story appeared in the Washington Times in 1984 describing the infiltration of the Medellín cartel's operations in Panama and Nicaragua.[8] 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.[9]

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 the pictures taken during the trip showed 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.[8]

DEA officials in Washington denied the claim a few days later, pointing out that the Nicaraguan was a local fixer. Regardless, the publicity accorded the sting, combined with Seal's assassination, led to years of speculation that the smuggler had close ties to the CIA.[6]

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;[10] and by theater director Thaddeus Phillips in the 2013 TV series Alias El Mexicano.[citation needed]

Death[edit]

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, making him an easy target for retaliation. A Colombian hitman Luis Quintero crouched out of sight beside the metal drop box in the parking lot of the Salvation Army center on Airline Highway. Just a few feet away, a big Cadillac Fleetwood was backing up to park. Quintero cradled a MAC-10 machine gun in his hands. Screwed onto the end of the barrel was a black silencer, the size of a half-used roll of paper towels. As soon as the driver pushed the car door open, Quintero sprang to his feet and rushed across the open space between the drop box and the car. He pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. The .45-caliber MAC-10 spit out a short burst of fire and lead. Quintero fired a dozen rounds in less than a second. Three struck the driver in the head. Three more punched through his chest. The driver slumped over the backrest of the passenger seat, almost as if he'd fallen asleep. [11] The DEA's investigation brought to a violent end. Colombian assassins sent by the Medellín Cartel were apprehended while trying to leave Louisiana soon after Seal's murder.[12]

In 1987, Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz (the trigger man), Miguel Velez, and Bernardo Antonio Vasquez, were convicted of the slaying of Barry Seal and sentenced to life in prison.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]