Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

SMUGGLER: Barry Seal

The Leak

On July 17, 1984, The Washington Times ran a story that blew the secret of Barry Seal's undercover role. Without naming Seal, the newspaper said the DEA had a pilot working undercover who had recently produced evidence that Nicaraguan officials were involved in smuggling drugs to the United States. The article also mentioned that the undercover pilot had been accidentally shot down by Sandinista soldiers during a recent drug run.

As soon as the story broke, the investigation phase of the Nicaragua case was finished.

"Seal's viability, operationally, was over," said Ron Caffery, head of DEA's cocaine desk. "He was now a witness, not an operator."

Gonzalo Rodriguez-Gacha
Gonzalo Rodriguez-Gacha
DEA did the best it could. Agents rounded up the cartel's distributors in Miami, but the big fish the Ochoas, Escobar, Lehder, Rodriguez-Gacha had slipped away.

Although no one has ever been able to identify the source of the leak, many point the finger of blame at Oliver North.

"I heard from my supervisors that the leak came from an aide in the White House," said Ernest Jacobsen, one of Seal's DEA handlers.

Retired DEA agent and best-selling author Michael Levine, who spent 25 years working undercover in the U.S. and in Central and South America, said he spoke to one of Barry's DEA agent handlers in the Nicaragua case. According to the agent, "Ollie North blew Barry Seal's cover," Levine said.

Frank Monastero, then DEA's No. 2 official, said North called him the day the Times story ran, claiming he was not the source. North said the small inaccuracies in the story proved it.

"I told him that to my knowledge that was a standard way to cover your tracks," Monastero said. "I didn't accept that explanation from him. It was a heated conversation. As a matter of fact, every conversation I've ever had with Ollie has been heated."

North has always maintained that he was not the source of the leak.

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'