The DEA as a coordinator of drug trafficking in Latin America

November 3, 2012
The DEA as a coordinator of drug trafficking in Latin America
Inspector Franklin Brewster Chase, aged 39, the head of investigation of particularly important cases of drug trafficking in Panama, was poisoned on July 3, 2006. Brewster, like many other members of staff, kept food brought from home in the fridge, which stood in one of the staff rooms. After having lunch and drinking water from a plastic bottle, he fell ill, began to complain of shortness of breath, fever, dizziness, and nausea. Half an hour later, still conscious, he asked to be taken to the National Hospital. Two weeks later he died in excruciating pain. Panamanian investigators told the press that, in all probability, Brewster had been poisoned by organophosphate pesticides…

Brewster was a successful operative, a brilliant graduate from the DEA Academy (Drug Enforcement Administration – Office of the Department of Justice of the USA). He specialized in the Colombian drug cartels, and conducted several successful operations to expose channels for the laundering of drug dollars, and participated in the exposure of the accomplices of Panamanian drug kingpin Pablo Rayo Montano. Brewster had not been involved in any discrediting relations. He highly valued his career and was an exemplary family man. You would think that killing the leading expert on counter-narcotics would mobilize all police structures in Panama, and alarm the DEA agency, which operates at least a hundred operatives “under cover”. None of this happened. Brewster's death was seen as something routine. Two days later, his body was cremated.

The investigation into the murder was carried out in violation of many investigative procedures, which distorted the evidence and, in fact, confused the trail. A demonstration of the indifference of the DEAto the Brewster case was the analysis in a laboratory at FBI headquarters of his skin tissue samples, blood, gastric fluid, etc. Brewster`s passport details had been incorrectly listed on the sample tubes, and some tubes actually contained the biomaterials of another person. According to some Panamanian journalists, representatives of the DEA deliberately created the conditions for the recognition of any findings to be unsuitable for examination.

Joseph Evans was «in charge» of the DEA investigation and Legal Attaché David Vatli represented the FBI. It was he who sent to the investigating authority of Panama, Brewster`s biomaterial documents from the FBI medical laboratory: «No trace of organophosphate pesticide was detected, atropine was identified, oximes and lidocaine.» The first drugs show evidence of treatment at the National Hospital, lidocaine is a dissonant element, and does not fit into the treatment. The document was sent by fax, without proper legalization in the U.S. Embassy. The original toxicological conclusions were not made available to the Panamanian authorities. It is important to note that later, in an official letter to the newspaper “Panama America”, the FBI denied the existence of such a document, saying, you never know who might send a fax as a hoax. The day after Brewster`s death a certain criminal organization spread a communiqué on «the success of operation Factura Roja” making threats to Panamanian officials working with the FBI and the DEA.

Immediately after Brewster`s death, Americans who identified themselves as FBI agents, «took» without a warrant, three of his closest associates from the Division for the investigation of particularly important cases. They were brought to specially equipped rooms in a luxury hotel in Panama City and interrogated using a polygraph. Everything was done to intimidate them: threats, assault and blackmail. During the interrogations it became clear to the Panamanians that were not the FBI. They recognized one of them - John Warner, as an officer of the U.S. Navy. When Giaconda Velez («one of the suspects») told the American that he was not with the FBI, but in the navy, Warner immediately left the room and did not reappear. The interrogations were unsuccessful. Perhaps the Americans were trying to create the impression that they were responding to the murder of Brewster, on whom the successful work of the DEA in Panama largely depended.

Based on the materials of this sensational case, the Mexican journalist Adela Coryate, who worked for many years in Panama, in 2011 wrote and published the book «On the trail of drug trafficking.» As a reporter for the newspaper “Panama America” she had to cover the events surrounding the death of Inspector Brewster. Everything pointed to the fact that his removal was by interested influential political forces in Panama, funded by drug lords, and the U.S. Embassy, which had tried to use Brewster to collect dirt on some of the Panamanian ruling elite. In particular, using the latest equipment Brewster`s Department was engaged in wiretapping hundreds of mobile phones (“operation matador”). The task was specifically formulated: the materials must be so convincing as to allow the recruitment of promising politicians as influential agents. Even though Panama has in recent years been systematically «integrated» into U.S. geo-strategic projects, however, you should always take care of continuity, and prepare for a reliable change in Panamanian leadership that would continue to be focused on Washington. Apparently, Brewster refused to work against his own government. With that he signed his own death warrant.

It was in Washington that the journalist went to get some missing information for her book. In the U.S. she came across opposition from the authorities. She was threatened with arrest and prosecution for allegedly trying to obtain state secrets. Coryate was forced to flee the United States. But she did not give up, and continued to collect materials and found many inconsistencies in how the investigation was conducted, facts were concealed and the circumstances surrounding Brewster`s death were falsified. She also drew attention to the statistics of DEA drug seizures in Panama and other Latin American countries. The numbers did not match up; it seemed that hundreds of tons of seized cocaine, heroin, and synthetic hallucinogens had disappeared into thin air. If they really existed, what happened? Which markets? Under what brand?

New versions of the reasons behind Brewster`s elimination are emerging all the time. In response to newspaper articles by Adela Coryate I came across statements (citing police sources) that Brewster was killed for refusing to participate in the operations of the «internal Mafia” of the DEA, the smuggling of cocaine from Colombia to Panama, and then into the U.S. and Europe. U.S. intelligence techniques involved in drug trafficking are well known: merciless attacks on competitors and the creation of safe channel s for the transfer of hallucinogens to users. Increasingly, drug trafficking - in closed discussions on this issue –is seen in leading circles in the United States as a strategic source of revenue for the treasury in a situation of imminent financial and economic collapse.

DEA and FBI employees Involved in the «investigation» of the Brewster murder were prematurely withdrawn from the country. FBI agent David Vatli returned to the USA. In Panama, a rumor was spread that he had been fired, but on this point, there are serious doubts. Joseph Evans was assigned to Mexico, where until recently he coordinated the operations of his department with the Mexican police. One does not scatter proven personnel. All subsequent leaders of the DEA in Panama followed the strategic policy of Central Office.

Lance Heberle was involved in a multi-pass operation against Bolivian General Rene Sanabria, who through military counterintelligence oversaw the fight against drug trafficking in his country. He is often called «the DEA`s best student”. However, he could not resist the temptation to get rich quick. In the Chilean city of Arica, Sanabria met with «drug traffickers from Colombia.» He agreed to cooperate with them. As a deposit he received a case containing 170 thousand dollars. The entire conversation was recorded by Chilean and U.S. operatives. The first shipment of cocaine to the United States was sent via the «green corridor», organized by the General. Inspired by this success, and to continue business Sanabria went to Panama, where he was arrested by Heberle`s staff and immediately transferred to the United States. After a short trial with irrefutable evidence the former general was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Of course, Sanabria largely framed the government of Evo Morales, for which the fight against drug trafficking is a matter of principle. The cultivation of coca leaves is a thousand-year tradition of the people, but the production and traffic of cocaine is a crime! In Bolivia, Sanabria`s closest associates were arrested or under investigation. Those around the President are in no doubt: in the near future the DEA will use Sanabria to discredit the government, as revenge for the expulsion of Bolivia agency staff.

Panama often appears in DEA reports on the struggle against drug trafficking, in part because of its geographical position, and increasing traffic through the Panama Canal. The Free trade zone creates favorable conditions for banks for the laundering of drug dollars. As ever the relevant task for the DEA in Panama is to capture the financial reserves of the drug cartels. Therefore, more and more operations of a regional character are conducted without sufficient preparation, with elements of improvisation and risk to employees. In May of this year, at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Two Hondurans and one Columbian were arrested on a plane with two American pilots. On board were found bags containing millions of dollars. The crew and passengers were arrested, and the investigation began, during which they had to explain the DEA presence in the Americans plane. The operation failed, because for obvious reasons, no one claimed their rights to the bags. Similar episodes in the activities of the DEA are occurring more and more often. Increasingly the U.S. Congress is questioning the nature of the DEA: does it fight against money laundering or conversely encourage criminal activity of this kind?

Using the already established DEA scheme – to protect staff - Heberle, chief of the agency in Panama, was sent to a new job: political adviser to the command of the U.S. Navy fourth fleet whose range includes Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Heberle will formally communicate between the State Department and the command of the fleet, giving analytical recommendations for various operations of the fleet in the region.

In practice Heberle`s operations through the DEA will not be stopped. The debate over the use of the fourth fleet Navy ships for the transportation of drugs from Latin America to the ports on the eastern coast of the U.S. continues in the blogosphere. The appointment of Heberle is another important confirmation that drug trafficking, coordinated by the State (including «under the cover» of the Navy) really exists and is coordinated by the DEA.