Barry Seal, the son of a candy wholesaler, was born in Baton Rouge on 16th July, 1939. Seal's father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Seal became obsessed with aircraft and took his first solo flight at the age of fifteen and was soon making a living towing advertising banners. In 1955 Seal joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in Baton Rouge. Soon afterwards Seal took part in a CAP joint training mission with the New Orleans unit that was run by David Ferrie. According to John Odom, a fellow CAP member, Seal met Lee Harvey Oswald during this training.
Tosh Plumlee claims that Barry Seal began working for the Central Intelligence Agency in the mid 1950s: "Barry Seal was involved with military intelligence in the early days... Military intelligence was the real game, with the CIA just acting as logistical people. Barry was a peripheral player back then, but he was a CIA 'contract' pilot all the way back to 1956 or 1957."
In 1958 Seal began ferrying weapons to Fidel Castro fighting against the the Fulgencio Batista regime in Cuba. At the time a section of the CIA was supporting the overthrow of Batista. However, the policy changed soon after Castro gained power and Seal is said to have taken part in air attacks on the new government.
The following year Barry Seal became a CIA pilot in Guatemala. It is also believed that Seal was involved in training Cuban exiles on No-Name Key in Florida and on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. He also ran a couple of companies based in Baton Rouge: Seal Sky Service and Aerial Advertising Associates and had an office in the International Trade Center run by Clay Shaw.
Gerry Hemming claims that Barry Seal was a member of Operation 40 in the early 1960s. Hemming told author, Daniel Hopsicker: "Yeah, Barry was Op 40. He flew in killer teams inside the island (Cuba) before the invasion to take out Fidel."
In December, 1962, Seal joined the 21st Special Forces Group and attended the Fort Benning Jump School. In May 1963 he was assigned to company D Special Operations Detachment of the 20th Special Forces Group Airborne. Seal also seems to have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. According to his wife, Deborah, "Barry Seal flew a getaway plane out of Dallas after JFK was killed."
In 1964 Seal joined the 245th Engineer Battalion based in St. Louis. He left in 1966. Soon afterwards he went to work for Howard Hughes and the TWA Corporation. According to his biographer, Daniel Hopsicker (Barry and the Boys), Seal "becomes first the youngest 707 Captain, and then later the youngest Captain of a 747."
Tosh Plumlee claims that Barry Seal also worked for Ted Shackley and the CIA: "Barry Seal did a lot of damn good stuff in the late 60s. In 67 and 68 he was with Air America in South Vietnam and Laos during Search and Destroy and Special Ops with Ted Shackley's boys. He'd been recruited for Special Ops because of the Cuban thing."
On 1st July, 1972, Barry Seal was arrested in New Orleans and accused of sending C4 explosives to anti-Castro Cubans in Mexico. A DC-4 was seized at the Shreveport Regional Airport loaded with almost seven tons of plastic C-4 explosives, 7,000 feet of explosive primer cord and 2,600 electric blasting caps. James Miller, Richmond Harper, Marlon Hagler and Murray Kessler were also arrested with Seal. Kessler's partner, Manny Gambino, was kidnapped around the same time the others were arrested. His corpse was later found in a New Jersey garbage dump.
The DC-4 was owned by James Boy, a known associate of the CIA. Boy's aircraft were later used to fly Oliver North's mercenaries in and out of Honduras. The man who organized the entrapment of Seal and his friends was Cesario Diosdado, an official with the United States Customs.
It took the authorities over two years to bring Barry Seal to trial. When the trial finally got underway in June, 1974, government prosecutors promptly introduced into evidence an automatic weapon that had nothing at all to do with the charges against the defendants. A mistrial was declared and Seal and his fellow defendants were released. According to Pete Brewton (The Mafia, CIA & George Bush), as soon as Seal was freed he "began working full-time for the CIA, travelling back and forth from the United States to Latin America." Daniel Hopsicker claims Seal was now "sheep-dipped" into the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as an agent for the Special Operations Group. Seal worked under Lucien Conein, who ran secret missions for the DEA. Egil Krogh, who was employed by Richard Nixon as liaison to the FBI and the DEA, later admitted that he placed Cronein in the Office of Narcotics in the White House.
According to Deborah Seal, her husband became involved in drug smuggling in 1975. On 10th December, 1979, Barry Seal and Steve Planta were arrested in Honduras, after arriving from Ecuador with 40 kilos of cocaine. Newspapers reported that $25 million worth of cocaine was confiscated and the men were charged with having 17 kilos of cocaine in their possession. Seal spent nine months in prison before being released without charge.
While in prison, Barry Seal met William Roger Reeves, a fellow drug smuggler who worked for the Ochoa family of Medellin. In 1981, Reeves, Ochoa's business manager in New Orleans, introduced Seal to Felix Bates. As a result Seal began a close relationship with the Colombians and became part of what became known as the Medellin Cartel. Established in 1980, the Medellin Cartel began when Jorge Ochoa convinced the major cocaine families to contribute $7 million each for the formation of a 2,000-man army in order to destroy the Marxist revolutionary group M-19, that was causing the drug barons problems in Colombia.
Drug barons such as Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar now began working together. It has been estimated that the cartel made up to $60 million per month and its leaders joined the list of the world's richest men. The CIA watched this development with interest. It decided that the Medellin Cartel could be used to help defeat communism throughout Latin America. According to Leslie Cockburn, CIA agent, Felix I. Rodriguez, persuaded the Medellin Cartel to make a $10 million contribution to the Contras.
By 1982 Barry Seal was bringing in drugs to the United States on behalf of the Medellin Cartel. Seal moved his base of operations from Louisiana to Mena, an obscure airport in the secluded mountains of western Arkansas. Seal told friends that he once made $1.5 million on a single cocaine flight. Seal worked directly for Sonia Atala, the CIA protected drug baron (Michael Levine, The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic). It is also claimed that Seal's fleet of planes to ferry supplies to Contra camps in Honduras and Costa Rica. His planes also made return trips to airstrips in the mountains of Colombia and Venezuela. According to Roger Morris (Partners in Power): "His well-connected and officially-protected smuggling operation based in Mena accounted for billions in drugs and arms".
Seal also obtained two new multi-million dollar Beech Craft King Air 200s. According to Daniel Hopsicker, these aircraft were purchased by a Phoenix-based corporation that acted as a "front" for John Singlaub. This company also owned Southern Air, a CIA proprietary connected to William Casey, Richard Secord, Felix I. Rodriguez and George H. W. Bush.
Seal also owned a Lear jet. It had previously been owned by Reggie and Bill Whittington. In 1981 the brothers were arrested and charged in Florida with importing 400,000 pounds of marijuana and evading taxes on $73 million. The Lear jet was then passed on to Seal. It was registered as being owned by Intercontinental Holding, a CIA front company in the Cayman Islands that had been established by Paul Helliwell.
In March, 1984, Seal was indicted at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for smuggling Quaaludes and laundering money. Former undercover narcotics investigator Stan Hughes told Daniel Hopsicker (Barry and the Boys) that: "When Barry got busted on the Quaalude thing, and I heard about their being government intervention to save his ass, I didn't believe it at first. But talk to any smuggler, and they'll tell you: they can always buy their way out of a dope deal."
In an attempt to avoid an expected 10 year sentence, Seal made contact with George H. W. Bush. He then appeared before a secret session of Bush's Task Force on Drugs in Washington where he testified that the Sandinistas were directly involved in drug trafficking into the United States. Seal claimed that the Medellin Cartel had made a deal with the Sandinistas, awarding them cuts of drug profits in exchange for the use of an airfield in Managua as a trans-shipment point for narcotics.
This news was welcomed by President Ronald Reagan who wanted to launch an all out war on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was now put under pressure to enlist Seal as an undercover informant with a special emphasis on the "Nicaraguan connection".
Seal agreed to organize a sting operation where he managed to get a photograph of Pablo Escobar helping Nicaraguan soldiers to load 1,200 kilos of cocaine on a C-123 military cargo plane. Soon afterwards Reagan went on television with the photograph to denounce the "Sandinistas as drug smugglers corrupting American youth".
As a result of Seal's cooperation in setting up this sting, the judge in Florida reduced his sentence from ten years to six months probation. The judge praised Seal for his work against the Sandinistas and pointing out that "when an informant puts his life on the line to help the forces of law and order, they deserve just compensation".
Seal also offered to provide information to the DEA implicating federal officials in the Iran-Contra scandal. This included Richard Ben-Veniste, a Watergate prosecutor who played a crucial role in the successful fight to secure the secret Richard Nixon White House tapes. Ben-Veniste represented both Barry Seal and Bill Clinton in the early 1980s. Ben-Veniste served as chief counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee. However, the authorities were not interested in this information.
In December 1984, Seal was arrested in Louisiana after flying in a cargo of marijuana. After paying a $250,000 bond, Seal was released and returned to drug smuggling. In return Seal provided information that resulted in the US government obtaining 17 criminal convictions. According to Daniel Hopsicker: "Seal told investigators that between March 1984, and August 1985, he made a quarter-million dollars smuggling up to 15,000 kilos of cocaine while working for the DEA, and another $575,000 when the DEA let him keep the money from one shipment."
Barry Seal appeared before Judge Frank Polozola in Baton Rouge on 20th December, 1985. Found guilty of two drug felony convictions, Seal was sentenced to six months supervised probation. A condition of the sentence was that he had to spend every night, from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m., at the Salvation Army halfway house on Baton Rouge's Airline Highway strip. Judge Polozola barred him from carrying a gun or hiring armed guards. Barry Seal told his friends "they made me a clay pigeon".
Barry Seal was asked by his close friend, Rene Martin, if he feared being killed by the Ochoa family. Barry Seal replied that he was not afraid of the Colombians because he had not implicated senior members of the organization. Seal was more worried about his contacts within the US government. This view is supported by Lewis Unglesby, Seal’s lawyer. He confirmed that the man Seal was willing to testify against was George H. W. Bush.
On 19th February, 1986, Barry Seal returned to his Salvation Army hostel at 6.00 p.m. As he parked his white Cadillac he was approached by a man carrying a machine-gun. Two quick bursts hit Seal's head and body. One of Seal's friends, Russ Eakin, observed the killing. "I saw Barry get killed from the window of the Belmont hotel coffee shop. The killers were both out of the car, one on either side, but I only saw one shoot, cause Barry saw it coming and just put his head down on the steering column."
Over the next few days the police received information that enabled them to arrest several men for the killing of Barry Seal. This included Miguel Velez, Bernardo Vasquez, Luis Quintero-Cruz, John Cardona, Eliberto Sanchez and Jose Renteria. A seventh, Rafa Cardona, managed to escape back to Colombia. He was murdered later that year. Eliberto Sanchez and John Cardona were deported and never appeared in court for the crime. Nor did Jose Coutin who supplied the weapons for the killing of Seal. However, he was not charged with any crime and instead testified in court against Miguel Velez, Luis Quintero-Cruz and Bernardo Vasquez. According to Leslie Cockburn (Out of Control) Coutin was a CIA asset.
One of those originally arrested, Jose Renteria, took photographs of the dead Seal in the car. When his camera was confiscated by an FBI agent at New Orleans airport, it was opened and the film inside exposed. While being interrogated, Renteria claimed that Jose Coutin was linked to Oliver North. However, this information was never produced in court as Renteria was not charged with the murder and was instead deported to Colombia.
Miguel Velez, Luis Quintero-Cruz and Bernardo Vasquez were found guilty of Barry Seal's murder and sentenced to life terms without parole. The official story was that Jorge Ochoa had murdered Seal in order to stop him testifying at his U.S. trial. Yet Ochoa never stood trial in the U.S. Nor did Seal appear to be afraid of Ochoa. His concern was with George H. W. Bush and the CIA. For example, Barry Seal's secretary, Dandra Seale (no relation) does not believe the Medellin Cartel carried out the assassination. "The CIA people here allowed it to happen. He had a chart, he had dirt on anybody and everybody."
Further evidence comes from Dee Ferdinand. She told Daniel Hopsicker that her father, Al Carone, was a CIA paymaster and a Colonel in Army Intelligence, had been sent to Dallas to pay off Jack Ruby before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Se also claimed that 33 years later Carone performed the same function for the killing of Barry Seal. According to FAA investigator, Rodney Stich, Carone was Oliver North's bagman.
Richard Sharpstein, defense attorney for one of Seal's assassins, Miguel Velez, says: "All three Colombians who went on trial always said they were being directed, after they got into this country, on what to do and where to go by an ‘anonymous gringo,' a US military officer, who they very quickly figured out was Oliver North,"
There was apparently another reason why George Bush wanted Seal dead. According to friends, Seal had a copy of a videotape of a 1985 DEA cocaine sting which had netted George Bush's two sons, George and Jeb, picking up kilos of cocaine at a Florida airport.
After his death, his widow, Debbie Seal, received a $29 million dollar jeopardy assessment from the Internal Revenue Service. It has been claimed that this was a strategy to keep her from talking to reporters. While defending herself from the IRS charge, she discovered a frequently-called phone number in Barry's records. When she dialed it she discovered it belonged to the Defense Intelligence Agency. She was told to "never call it again". Later that day, the DIA phoned her back. "Debbie, you're young, you have a whole life ahead of you, and you have your kids to think about... Don't call anyone in Washington again."
On 5th October, 1986, a Sandinista patrol in Nicaragua shot down a C-123K cargo plane that was supplying the Contras. That night Felix Rodriguez made a telephone call to the office of George H. W. Bush. He told Bush aide, Samuel Watson, that the C-123k aircraft had gone missing. Eugene Hasenfus, an Air America veteran, survived the crash and told his captors that he thought the CIA was behind the operation. He also provided information that several Cuban-Americans running the operation in El Salvador. This resulted in journalists being able to identify Rafael Quintero, Luis Posada and Felix Rodriguez as the Cuban-Americans mentioned by Hasenfus.
It was the beginning of the Iran-Contra scandal. The C-123K cargo plane that had been shot down had previously been owned by Barry Seal. Eugene Hasenfus, later claimed it was sheer coincidence that a plane once owned by Seal was now part of a secret network led by Oliver North.