"Alexander vows to find answers to Seal story" By Jeffrey Stinson THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE December 22, 1990 WASHINGTON U.S. Rep. Bill Alexander is blunt about the case of Barry Seal. "Basically what you have here is a massive cover-up," Alexander, D-Ark., charged Thursday. He has vowed to unravel the complicated story behind the drug kingpin and his operations at the Mena airport. In the five years since Seal was assassinated by a Colombian hit squad in Baton Rouge, the web of allegations surrounding his name has grown. Federal and state authorities, as well as former associates, have connected Seal to everything from cocaine smuggling to arming the Nicaraguan rebels. And accounts of all those activities mention the same location: Mena. But a series of investigations into the case have simply been stalemated or were shut down when "national security" was invoked. And court cases that looked like they would produce evidence have been summarily dismissed. One remaining federal avenue for solving the case the ongoing Iran-Contra investigation run by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh apparently will not consider the matter. A source inside the investigation said neither Seal nor Mena has figured in the office's prosecutions of those involved in the secret scheme to sell arms to Iran in return for the release of U.S. hostages held in the Middle East. The profits were used to buy arms for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Walsh is expected to wrap up his investigation in the spring. While the tentacles of that investigation haven't touched Arkansas, the Barry Seal case has gotten plenty of attention. A federal grand jury in Arkansas in 1985 was asked to investigate drug-smuggling operations involving Seal at the Mena Airport but came up empty three years later. That fueled charges from local law-enforcement officers that it was intentionally scuttled by higher-ups in Washington. Alexander and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. asked for a General Accounting Office investigation into Mena, but it has languished since 1988, when the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency refused, on the orders of the White House, to turn over information The House subcommittee on crime, chaired by Rep. William J. Hughes, D-N.J., shed light on Seal's operation and how he was killed after the CIA or possibly even the White House blew his cover and revealed him as an informant. The subcommittee, however, never followed up on money-laundering allegations involving Seal in Mena. A lawsuit brought by the left-wing Christic Institute's in which Mena played a part was dismissed. It alleged the existence of a 25-year conspiracy of covert operations involving the Iran-Contra players. The institute was slapped with a $1 million in court costs to cover lawyers fees in what the court determined was a frivolous suit. The institute is appealing the verdict. Terry Reed, who claimed to have trained Contra pilots near Mena for Seal, last month was acquitted of mail fraud charges just as his his trial was scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Kansas. Reed had threatened to lay out his tale of covert operations in open court as part of his defense. Reed recently said he trained 24 Nicaraguan pilots at an airstrip north of Mena for 15 months in 1984 and 1985 in an operation set up by Seal, who told him he was a "CIA asset." During that time, Reed said he saw two shipments of arms go out from Mena to resupply the Contras. An act of revenge "The fat man," "El Gordo," or "Thunder Thighs," as the almost 300-pound Adler Berriman Seal was known, was gunned down by three Colombian hit men on the evening of Feb. 19, 1986. It was an act of revenge for crossing the Medellin Cartel chieftains for whom he ran drugs. Testimony before Hughes' subcommittee revealed that Seal had turned informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration after he was arrested on federal drug charges. Seal managed to get photos from his CIA-equipped airplane allegedly showing the Sandinistas' role in drug smuggling, the subcommittee found. The photos were leaked to the press by either the CIA or Oliver North to gain congressional support for the Contras, the subcommittee found. That leak blew Seal's cover to the Medellin Cartel and the DEA case against the Colombians. Alexander insists he isn't giving up on the Seal case. Together with incoming Arkansas Attorney General Winston Bryant, he has promised again to launch another investigation into Mena. "It is a serious subversion of the system of justice and government as most Americans know it," Alexander charged. "It's been extremely difficult to get the evidence to the appropriate authorities." Bryant accused his political opponent, former U.S. Attorney Asa Hutchinson, of bowing to pressure from Washington and not pursuing the Mena case when he was a federal prosecutor at Fort Smith. Mena Mayor Jerry Montgomery said Friday that Bryant didn't pick up a lot of points in the city by harping on what most people there consider to be a dead issue. He said the continuing controversy has hurt some legitimate aircraft businesses in the city. Montgomery said Alexander's continued poking at the situation was even more vexing. Few counties in the state lie farther from Alexander's Northeast Arkansas district than Polk County, and Montgomery said people in Mena feel pretty well represented by their own congressman, Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt. "That's the one that baffles us more than anything else," he said. In any case, it won't be easy for Alexander and Bryant to find another venue to investigate the affair. One possibility is the drug trial of former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, who is languishing in a Miami jail. Seal allegedly made stops in Panama while running drugs for the Colombians. As part of his defense, Noriega is expected to claim that he was a CIA "asset" and a key element in U.S. efforts to supply and nourish the Contras. Alexander doesn't know yet where he will try to pursue the Mena case. "But," he said, "action must be taken to restore the credibility of a system of government that has been seriously subverted."
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