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, United States
Died February 19, 1986 (aged 46)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States

Adler Berriman "Barry" Seal (July 16, 1939 – February 19, 1986) was an American drug smuggler, and aircraft pilot and dealer who flew flights for the Medellín Cartel.

Early life[edit]

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

As a commercial airline pilot, Seal flew for TWA until 1974, when he was fired by the company.[2]

Drug smuggler[edit]

Seal was employed by the Medellín Cartel as a pilot and drug smuggler.[3] He transported numerous shipments of cocaine from Colombia to the United States and earned as much as $500,000 per flight.[3]

After successful runs into his home base in Louisiana he moved operations to an infamous airport facility in Mena, Arkansas. There he bought, sold, and operated many planes. This includes the C-123 transport plane, supplied to him by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), that was famously used in the Nicaragua sting operation.[citation needed]

Undercover informant and operative[edit]

Seal was eventually arrested in connection with his drug smuggling activities.[3] In a Florida federal court, he was indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.[3] After his sentencing, Seal approached the DEA and offered to cooperate with the government as an informant.[3] Federal officials agreed to use him as an informant 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.[3]

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.[4] 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 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.[5]

"We made sure 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 and was part of a DEA deal because Seal had been indicted on conspiracy to smuggle Quaalude into Florida in 1984.[4]

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.[6] Seal took pictures during the Nicaragua sting operation that purported tshowed Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vásquez, and other members of the Medellín Cartel loading kilos of cocaine onto a C-123 transport plane. Also Frederico Vaughan, whom Seal claimed was an associate of Tomas Borges' of the Interior Ministry of Nicaragua, was photographed with Sandinista soldiers helping load the plane. However, Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitney threw strong doubt on Seal's claims of a Sandinista connection.[7]

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.[8] 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 Seal as the person responsible for this lost shipment.[9]

A story appeared in the Washington Times in 1984 describing the infiltration of the Medellín cartel's operations in Panama and Nicaragua.[10] 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.[11]

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 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.[10]

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

Plot to kidnap or murder Seal[edit]

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.[3] The reward to kidnap Seal was $1 million, and the reward to kill him was $500,000.[3]


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 bargain. On February 19, 1986, Seal was shot to death in front of the site. Seal's shooting abruptly brought the DEA's investigation to an end.

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.[12] In May 1987, Luis Carlos Quinter-Cruz, Miguel Velez, and Bernardo Antonio Vasquez were convicted of first degree murder in the death of Barry Seal and sentenced to life in prison without parole.[13]

On March 3, 1986, Louisiana Attorney General William Guste hand-delivered a letter to US Attorney General Edwin Meese criticizing the government's glaring failure to protect Seal as a witness. "In October, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Narcotics and Drug Interdiction of the President’s Commission on Organized Crime, I had presided over a seminar at which Barry Seal had testified," Guste wrote. "His purpose there was to inform the commission and top United States officials of the methods and equipment used by drug smugglers… and (he) was scheduled to be a key witness in the government’s case against Jorge Ochoa-Vasquez, the head of one of the largest drug cartels in the world. WHY WAS SUCH AN IMPORTANT WITNESS NOT GIVEN PROTECTION WHETHER HE WANTED IT OR NOT?" (all-caps in the original)[14]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mary Seal Obituary - Baton Rouge, LA - The Advocate". The Advocate. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h 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).
  4. ^ a b "frontline: transcripts: the godfather of cocaine". Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  5. ^ "Thirty Years Of America's Drug War - Drug Wars - FRONTLINE - PBS". Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  6. ^ "Drug agent blames leak on key aide". The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon). AP. July 29, 1988. p. 8B. Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  7. ^ Kwitny, Jonathan (April 22, 1987). "Doubts Rise on Report Reagan Cited in Tying Sandinistas to Cocaine". Wall Street Journal. 
  8. ^ Barry Seal Nicaragua Case
  9. ^ "Interviews - Fernando Arenas - Drug Wars - FRONTLINE - PBS". Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Barry Seal: The Leak
  11. ^ "Special Reports - Interview - Drug Wars - FRONTLINE - PBS". Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Trial Opens Today for 3 Accused of Murdering Drug Ring Informer
  13. ^ "Colombians Given Life Terms in Drug Ring Slaying". The New York Times. May 15, 1987. Retrieved October 18, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Barry Seal murder in Baton Rouge 25 years ago helped expose Iran-Contra debacle". Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "Double-Crossed (1991)". The New York Times (New York). 2010. Retrieved May 25, 2013. 
  16. ^ Patrick Hipes. "Jayma Mays Joins Tom Cruise’s ‘Mena'; Tessa Thompson Cast In ‘War On Everyone’ - Deadline". Deadline. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  17. ^ Erik Pedersen. "Sarah Wright Cast In ‘Mena'; Barkhad Abdi Joins ‘The Wolf Who Cried Boy’ - Deadline". Deadline. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 

Further reading[edit]