Drugs / DEA

Castillo, Celerino III and Harmon, Dave. Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras and the Drug War. Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press (Sundial), 1994. 240 pages.

There were a number of semi-suppressed stories during the Iran-contra scandal concerning the link between the contras and cocaine. Celerino Castillo knows about it first-hand. An all-American true believer, Castillo fought in Vietnam from 1971-1972, where he saw the effects of drugs on U.S. troops. By 1975 he was a Texas cop, later a detective working drug cases. In 1980 he joined the Drug Enforcement Administration and worked the streets of New York. Then it was off to Peru in 1984-1985, and Guatemala from 1985-1990. While stationed in Guatemala, Castillo was the DEA agent in charge of anti- drug operations in El Salvador from 1985-1987. This is when he discovered that Oliver North's contras were running cocaine from the Ilopango airport.

He did his best to bust them, but they were protected by the CIA. "By the end of 1988," he writes, "I realized how hopelessly tangled DEA, the CIA, and every other U.S. entity in Central America had become with the criminals. The connections boggled my mind" (page 208). His life was in danger, and he got out in a hurry in 1990. DEA, meanwhile, was increasing the pressure with an internal investigation of Castillo. His career was over and he resigned. Lawrence Walsh's office extensively debriefed Castillo, but when Walsh released his massive report in 1993, the narcotics connection was nowhere to be found. End of story -- until this obscure book was published.


Levine, Michael. Deep Cover: The Inside Story of How DEA Infighting, Incompetence, and Subterfuge Lost Us the Biggest Battle of the Drug War. New York: Delacorte Press, 1990. 319 pages.

Michael Levine was a supervisor in the New York office of the Drug Enforcement Administration when he retired. By then he could brag of a 25-year career that put at least 3,000 criminals behind bars and seized several tons of illegal drugs; he even penetrated the Bolivian cartel. But ultimately he despaired of an even more difficult enemy -- the "suits" from DEA and other agencies in their air-conditioned offices, who were more interested in self-serving career moves than in locking up dealers.

Levine has a low opinion of the CIA. This is not uncommon in the DEA, whose agents often suspect the CIA of following its own agenda and protecting those drug dealers considered to be intelligence assets. But Levine is especially upset over the behind-the-scenes mismanagement, disorganization, negligence, and bureaucratic rivalry that is typical of the much-ballyhooed war on drugs. It might be comical if the stakes weren't so high. For Levine, who spent much of his career as an international undercover agent trying to nail some very nasty people, they stakes were about as high as they can get. By the time he retired in 1989, Levine felt that he had won the battle but lost the war.


Levine, Michael. The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic -- An Undercover Odyssey. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993. 472 pages.

Michael Levine's earlier book, Deep Cover, occasionally mentioned CIA double-dealing in the war against drugs. Now this theme is his central thesis. Levine is a 25-year veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration, whose career included undercover work in Argentina at the time of the 1980 "Cocaine Coup" in Bolivia. In this book Levine places his anti-drug war in its proper context, and concludes that it was futile. In Argentina the CIA was assisting a brutal junta, which was responsible for "disappearing" its own citizens, and in Bolivia the scheming of longtime CIA asset Klaus Barbie helped put Luis Arce Gomez into power. To top it off, the well-connected Argentinean and Bolivian fascists behind it all just happened to be some of the same people that boy scout Levine was trying to bust. Needless to say, he didn't get his merit badge, and was ordered back to headquarters.

Back in the U.S. by early 1982, working out of DEA headquarters, Levine was disillusioned. DEA was harassing him with a nit-picking internal affairs investigation while drug lords were running governments. Levine settled for working a sting to entice Bolivia's queen of cocaine, Sonia Atala, into a U.S. prison. But she too was CIA-protected, and ended up in the witness protection program, waiting to return to Bolivia with all of her vast property holdings intact.


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