Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

SMUGGLER: Barry Seal

"The Nicaragua Case"

On June 24, 1984, Seal flew The Fat Lady to Los Brasiles Airport in Managua. He was carrying with him $200,000 in supplies for Escobar and $454,000 in cash, just a little spending money for the fugitive cocaine king.

The CIA had equipped Seal's plane with hidden cameras.

The next day, Seal, using a remote switch to operate the cameras, shot pictures of Pablo Escobar and Federico Vaughan, assisted by Sandinista soldiers, loading cocaine onto the airplane. The photos were the first evidence of Nicaraguan complicity in cocaine smuggling.

When Seal landed the C-123 at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida the next day, with the cocaine and the photographs, the DEA agents were ecstatic. To them, it was a straightforward drug case, probably the biggest one in their agency's history, but still just a drug case. They had evidence to indict Pablo Escobar.

To the White House, tipped to the existence of the photos by the CIA, the pictures represented an opportunity to discredit Nicaragua's Marxist regime and gain needed Congressional support for the administration's covert military support for the Contras.

Oliver North, a top staffer on the president's National Security Council, wanted to go public with the photos right away to drum up support for the Contras. The DEA said no. Its agents wanted to use Seal and his camera-rigged plane to gather more evidence on the Medellin cartel. With the turmoil in Colombia over the Lara assassination and the cartel's leaders in hiding outside the country, the DEA agents thought they might be able to lure Escobar and the Ochoas to a meeting with Seal where they could be arrested, possibly Mexico.

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