Barry Seal

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Barry Seal
Barry Seal.JPG
Seal in 1982
Adler Berriman Seal

(1939-07-16)July 16, 1939
DiedFebruary 19, 1986(1986-02-19) (aged 46)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
Cause of deathGunshot
OccupationPilot, drug smuggler, gun smuggler
Parent(s)Mary Lou Seal (née Delcambre)
Benjamin Curtis Seal
Criminal chargeConspiracy to smuggle narcotics, guns

Adler Berriman "Barry" Seal (July 16, 1939 – February 19, 1986) was a Trans World Airlines (TWA) pilot who became a major drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel. When Seal was convicted of smuggling charges, he became an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration and testified in several major drug trials. He was murdered in 1986 by contract killers hired by Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellín Cartel.

Early life[edit]

Seal, born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was the son of Mary Lou (née Delcambre) and Benjamin Kurtis Seal, a candy wholesaler. Seal began flying as a teenager. According to his flight instructor, he was a naturally gifted pilot. He earned his student pilot certificate at 16 and a private pilot's certificate at 17.[1]

In 1961, Seal enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard for six years, serving with the 20th Special Forces Group. He graduated from United States Army Airborne School but never completed United States Army Special Forces selection and training. Seal later served in the 245th Engineer Battalion with his MOS being radio telephone operator.[2]

Early career[edit]

Seal joined TWA as a flight engineer in 1964 and was soon promoted to first officer, then captain, flying a Boeing 707 on a regular Western Europe route. He was one of the youngest 707 command pilots in the TWA fleet.[3]

Seal's career with TWA ended in July 1972, when he was arrested for involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle a shipment of plastic explosives to Mexico using a DC-4. The case was eventually dismissed in 1974 for prosecutorial misconduct, but TWA in the meantime fired Seal, who had falsely taken medical leave to participate in the scheme.[4]

Drug smuggling career[edit]

According to statements Seal made after becoming a DEA informant, he began smuggling small quantities of cannabis [5] By 1978, he had begun flying significant loads of cocaine, because pound-for-pound it was more profitable.[5]

In December 1979, Seal was arrested in Honduras after returning from a drug smuggling trip to Ecuador. Although the Honduran police did not find any cocaine, they did find an M-1 rifle, and Seal was imprisoned until July 1980.[6] Undeterred by his arrest, Seal expanded his operations upon returning to the United States. He hired William Bottoms, his ex-brother-in-law, as a pilot, and from 1980 on Bottoms was the main pilot in Seal's smuggling enterprise, while Seal oversaw planning and operations.[7]

Seal later began working for the Medellín Cartel as a pilot and drug smuggler. He transported numerous shipments of cocaine from Colombia and Panama to the United States, and earned as much as $1,300,000 per flight.[8]

After successful runs at his home base in Louisiana he moved operations to Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport, in Mena, Arkansas. There he bought, sold and operated many planes.[citation needed]

Undercover informant and operative[edit]

Seal was eventually arrested in connection with his drug smuggling activities.[when?] In a Florida federal court, he was indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.[when?] After his sentencing, Seal approached the DEA and offered to cooperate with the government as an informant. Federal officials agreed to use him in that capacity and mentioned his cooperation during hearings in which Seal sought a reduction of his sentence. With an agreement reached, Seal began working as a federal informant in March 1984.[8]

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 he gave Seal.[9] "We made sure all of his aircraft were equipped with the most expensive cryptic radio communications we had ever seen at that time," said Jacobson.[9]

In order to mitigate his 1984 arrest in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for money laundering and Quaalude smuggling, Seal agreed to testify against his former employers and associates in the drug trade, and thereby contributed to putting several of them in jail. Among those against whom Seal testified 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.[10]

Jacobson, testifying in 1988, 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.[11] Seal took pictures during the Nicaragua sting operation that showed Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vásquez, and other members of the Medellín Cartel loading kilos of cocaine onto a C-123 transport plane. Federico Vaughan, the Sandinista Minister of the Interior, who Seal claimed was a top aide of Tomas Borge's, was also photographed with Sandinista soldiers helping load the plane.

Seal was both a smuggler and a DEA informant/operative 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.[12] This cocaine was seized by the DEA and was never received by the cartel's distribution handlers in Florida, which in Medellín caused suspicion to fall upon Seal as the person responsible for this lost shipment.[13]

Edmond Jacoby's report in the July 17, 1984 issue of the Washington Times linked officials in the Sandinista government to the Medellín cartel and discussed Seal's mission to Nicaragua.[14][2] The public disclosures jeopardized Seal's life and quickly brought an end to the sting operation designed to capture the cartel's leaders.

Questioned about the identity of the source, Jacobson replied, "I heard that the leak came from an aide in the White House". He stated that Iran–Contra figure Oliver North had attended two meetings about the sting operation and had motivation to release the information. UPI reported: "By linking the Sandinistas with drug traffic ... aid to the rebels accused of human rights violations might seem more palatable".

Subcommittee chairman William J. Hughes strongly suggested that North was the source of the leak, but Representative Bill McCollum said, "...we don't know who leaked this. No one has been able to tell us".[14] Citing testimony of DEA Administrator John C. Lawn, the report of the Kerry Committee released in December 1988 pinned the leak on North stating he "decided to play politics with the issue".[15] In an interview with Frontline, North said he was told by his superiors on the National Security Council to brief Senator Paula Hawkins about the operation, but he denied leaking the report.[16][17] Hawkins told Frontline that neither she nor her staff leaked the information after the briefing.[16] Jacoby later denied that North was the source of his story and attributed it to a deceased staff member for Representative Dan Daniel.[2]

The Wall Street Journal also printed the story, contributing to media coverage that indirectly exposed Seal's involvement in the operation. The articles also exposed the Colombian cartel leaders and Nicaraguan Interior Minister who had been photographed moving cocaine onto Seal's 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.[18]


Seal was sentenced to work in public service at the Salvation Army facility on Airline Highway (U.S. 61), in Baton Rouge, as a modification by the judge to Seal's original plea deal.[19] On February 19, 1986, Seal was shot to death in front of the site. His murder abruptly brought the DEA's investigation to an end.[citation needed]

Colombian assassins sent by the Medellín Cartel were apprehended while trying to leave Louisiana, soon after Seal's murder. Authorities thus concluded Seal's murderers were hired by Ochoa. The killers were indicted by a state grand jury on March 27, 1986.[20] In May 1987, Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz, Miguel Vélez (died in custody 2015)[21] and Bernardo Antonio Vásquez were convicted of first degree murder in Seal's death, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.[22]

Louisiana Attorney General William Guste wrote to United States Attorney General Edwin Meese criticizing the government's failure to protect Seal as a witness. At Guste's request, Meese launched an investigation to determine whether or not attorneys in Louisiana, Miami, and Washington had mishandled the case, and to determine whether or not Seal should have been forced into protective custody. Government attorneys stated that Seal placed himself in danger by refusing to move his family and enter a witness protection program.[23]

On March 16, 1986, one month after Seal's assassination, President Reagan sought to bolster Congressional support for the Contras, by showing on television one of the photographs Seal had taken. He suggested that a top ranking Sandinista official was involved in drug smuggling.[18][citation needed]

In 1991, cartel member Max Mermelstein testified that he had been instructed in December 1984 either to kidnap Seal and return him to Colombia, or to murder him. The reward to kidnap Seal was $1 million, and the reward to kill him was $500,000.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Seal married three times; the first to Barbara Dodson from 1963 to 1971 and to Lynn Ross from 1971 to 1972 - ended in divorce. His marriage to Deborah DuBois, in 1973, ended with his death in 1986. Seal had 6 children, 2 from his first wife, one child from a relationship he had in between marriages and three more with Debbie. [24][25]

In popular culture[edit]


  • Seal is portrayed by Dennis Hopper in the docudrama Doublecrossed (1991),[26] which prominently features Seal's co-pilot and collaborator Emile Camp[27][28] (portrayed by G. W. Bailey), although some of the Camp plotlines stand in for actual events involving William Roger Reeves, who met Seal in jail and introduced him to the Medellín Cartel.[29]
  • Seal is portrayed by Michael Paré in the American crime drama film The Infiltrator (2016), in two brief, historically inaccurate scenes that exercise dramatic license to depict the film's title character, Robert Mazur, as a passenger in a car being driven by Seal who is killed in a motorcycle drive-by shooting.
  • Seal is portrayed by Tom Cruise in the crime drama-comedy film American Made (2017), loosely based on Seal's life, produced by Imagine Entertainment. Only the most basic details are historically accurate, while major plot points of the film - like a brother-in-law who is assassinated - were invented for purposes of the film.[30][31]


  • Seal is portrayed by theater director Thaddeus Phillips in the 2013 TV series Alias El Mexicano.[citation needed]
  • Seal is portrayed by Dylan Bruno in Season 1, Episode 4, of the Netflix series Narcos (2015).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hahn (2016), p. 25.
  2. ^ a b c Hahn (2016).
  3. ^ Hahn (2016), p. 28-29.
  4. ^ Hahn (2016), p. 31-37.
  5. ^ a b Hahn (2016), p. 61.
  6. ^ Hahn (2016), p. 49–50.
  7. ^ Hahn (2016), p. 64–65.
  8. ^ a b c STATE of Louisiana v. Miguel VELEZ, Bernardo Vasquez, and Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz, 588 So.2d 116 (Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit. 1991).
  9. ^ a b "Transcripts". FroFrontline: The Godfather of Cocaine. PBs. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  10. ^ "Thirty Years Of America's Drug War - Drug Wars - FRONTLINE - PBS". Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  11. ^ "Drug agent blames leak on key aide". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. AP. July 29, 1988. p. 8B. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  12. ^ "Barry Seal Nicaragua Case". TruTV. Archived from the original on 2009-01-22.
  13. ^ "Interviews - Fernando Arenas - Drug Wars". FRONTLINE. PBS. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  14. ^ a b Zentz, Wendy (July 29, 1988). "North's name bandied about on news leak". UPI. UPI. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  15. ^ "Drugs, law enforcement, and foreign policy :a report /". 10 May 1989.
  16. ^ a b "Transcripts - Drug Wars". Special Reports. FRONTLINE. PBS. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  17. ^ "Special Reports - Interview - Drug Wars". FRONTLINE. PBS. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  18. ^ a b "Barry Seal: The Leak". TruTV. Archived from the original on 2009-01-22.
  19. ^ State of Louisiana v. Velez, et al, 588 So. 2d 116, 122 (La. App. 3d Cir. 1991)
  20. ^ "Trial Opens Today for 3 Accused of Murdering Drug Ring Informer". The New York Times. January 12, 1987.
  21. ^ Lau, Maya; Wold, Amy. "Drug informant Barry Seal's killer dies at Angola following stay in penitentiary's hospice". The Advocate.
  22. ^ "Colombians Given Life Terms in Drug Ring Slaying". The New York Times. May 15, 1987. Retrieved October 18, 2015.
  23. ^ Kozol, Ronald (April 13, 1986). "Informants murder puts head on authorities". Nation/world. Chicago Tribune. 139 (103) (Final ed.). Section 1, page 5. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  24. ^ Gyan, Joe (2015-10-16). "Slain drug smuggler Barry Seal's daughter sues to halt movie on her father's life". The Advocate.
  25. ^ "Family of murdered drug smuggler sue Universal over Tom Cruise film Mena". The Guardian. 2015-10-16.
  26. ^ "Double-Crossed (1991)". The New York Times. 2010. Retrieved May 25, 2013.
  27. ^ Haddigan, Michael (June 27, 1988). "The Kingpin and his many connections". THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE.
  28. ^ Denton, Sally & Morris, Roger (July 1995). "The Crimes of Mena". Penthouse.
  29. ^ Wells, Tomas (February 14, 2011). "Barry Seal murder in Baton Rouge 25 years ago helped expose Iran-Contra debacle". Louisiana Voice. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  30. ^ Patrick Hipes. "Jayma Mays Joins Tom Cruise's 'Mena'; Tessa Thompson Cast in 'War on Everyone'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  31. ^ Erik Pedersen. "Sarah Wright Cast In 'Mena'; Barkhad Abdi Joins 'The Wolf Who Cried Boy'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 15 April 2015.

Further reading[edit]

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