-Caveat Lector-

an excerpt from:
High Times, January 1999, No. 281
Trans-High Corporation©1999
235 Park Avenue South, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10013
ISSN #0362-630X
12 issues/$29.95US
12 issues/$37.45Foreign
Michael Levine - The DEA's Exiled Dissident

the high times interview


Michael Levine is a veteran of 25 years of undercover work with four federal
agencies an three continents. He is now the Drug Enforcement Administration's
most prominent and outspoken critic. From the Golden Triangle to the Andes, he
claims his efforts to snare the dope trade's biggest bosses were sabotaged by
the DEA "suits"—and CIA pressure. The story of his operations against the
Bolivian coke mafia is detailed in his books DEEP COVER (Delacorte, 19901 and
THE BIG WHITE LIE (Thunder's Mouth Press, 19931. His newest book, TRIANGLE OF
DEATH (Dell, 19961, coauthored with his wife, Laura Kavanau, is a thriller
based on his real-life experiences. He also hosts the weekly EXPERT WITNESS
radio show an New York's WBAI-FM, in whose studios this interview took place.

HT: So why is an ex-DEA agent doing talk radio?

Michael Levine: Because we're seeing the complete abdication of the media from
any role whatsoever as a watchdog. I was the senior US law-enforcement officer
in the Southern Cone, and you can't imagine a greater betrayal of the trust of
the American people than what I observed. And that is the support by CIA and
their assets of the takeover of Bolivia by drug dealers and escaped Nazis.

The "Cocaine Coup" of 1980, which turned the South American drug trade into a
major industry.

Right. I mean, it happened right under the nose of the media. Newsweek wrote
an article that was so far off-base on the Bolivian revolution that I did what
was probably one of the dumbest things of my life. I wrote a letter to them on
embassy letterhead saying, "You missed the whole story, the story was the CIA
betrayed us."

Why was it a mistake?

They never called me, and I was put under investigation. And, lo and behold,
who seized that something was really wrong with the Bolivia coverage? HIGH
TIMES. Dean Latimer. I'm gonna paraphrase his article [August 1981]: He said,
"The government did this incredible, giant sting operation, and they don't
want any credit for it. Something is wrong."

And that was a reference to...

The Roberto Suarez case, which was sabotaged all around me. And HIGH IMES was
actually the only member of the media that was on the right track. I should
have written HIGH TIMES instead of Newsweek' It would've got out!

Let's start at the beginning. How did you become a DEA agent?

A guy stuck a gun in my stomach when I was in the military police and pulled
the trigger over a three-dollar hat. It misfired. I was amazingly lucky. The
event inspired a profound change in me. I was in a rush to live. I thought I
could become this James Bond type of undercover agent.

I was very good at undercover. I could speak fluent Spanish. I knew the
streets—I was a bad kid, I had been arrested twice before I was sixteen. I was
getting paid to hang out in the Bronx like when I was a kid. With IRS
intelligence, in '65, I was one of the few guys who could go down in the
street and get bolita, Spanish numbers. I could pass as anything. But it was a
meaningless game to me, it was just a lot of thrills. And then I found out
that my brother David was a heroin addict.

Suddenly, the whole thing seemed to come home. I believed all the rhetoric,
you know? I believed that the drug dealer was the lowest. And I decided I was
saved for a reason, and that was to get into narcotics enforcement.

So you were with the DEA from the inception of the agency?

 Yeah. In '70, I transferred from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
into the hard-narcotics-smuggling unit of Customs. And that was my first run-
in with the CIA.

It was US v. Liang-Sae Tiw, et al. It began with a July 4, 1971 heroin arrest
at JFK airport. He became my informer.

He made heroin runs from Bangkok, Thailand. We busted his pick-ups, who were
distributing nationwide, in a Florida swamp. I go undercover to meet their
connection in Bangkok.

These guys loved me, they wanted to take me up to Chiang Mai. But the case
started coming apart. I wasn't getting operational funds—I'm this Mafia guy
and I'm lying like hell and they're getting ready to kill me. So I started
really screaming to my superiors, and I was brought into the American Embassy
at midnight. I meet the boss of Customs there, Joe Jenkins, and a bald guy in
a guayabera shirt who tells me, "You're not going to Chiang Mai." When we
left, Jenkins turns to me and says [sotto voce], "That guy is CIA."

So I followed my orders to bust the guy I was dealing with, and close the
case. I was given a special Treasury Department award. But I didn't go to
Chiang Mai and get the suppliers. Years later, I was put on the DEA desk
tracking tribal factions in the Golden Triangle, and learned that the people
who I had been stopped from penetrating were the source for the case in which
they were smuggling heroin in the dead bodies of GIs. But at the time, all I
knew was I was stopped from getting the biggest heroin bust ever.

The DEA was formed in 1973, and I was inducted from Customs. The next time I
ran into the CIA was in South America. And that's when I really flipped out
and risked myself.

Meanwhile, your brother killed himself.

 Yeah, in '77. He left a note saying, "I can't stand the drugs anymore." He
was 34. It doubled or trebled in me the drive of, you know, "I'm gonna get
these motherfuckers."

In South America, you targeted Roberto Suarez, Bolivia's reigning "King of

Oh yeah, he loved me. We only spoke on the phone, but he was calling me
"comandante," which was his title.

He was busted years later, but my case was sabotaged. Our fictitious mafia was
set up in a Miami house. We claimed we had all this money, and we didn't have
a nickel, it was all acting. We had $2,500 to run the whole operation, and we
spent it fast.

A DEA report, Operation Hun: A Chronology, says we had enough to indict the
Bolivian government, and CIA stopped us, because it would jeopardize their
ongoing programs.

They call them "another agency," the standard euphemism.

I passed myself off as a half-Sicilian, half-Puerto Rican Mafia don, "Miguel
Luis Garcia," and they ate it up. I pay $9 million to Jose Gasser and Alfredo
"Cutuchi" Gutierrez in a Miami bank vault while our plane flies into the
jungles of Bolivia and picks up their 900 pounds of coca paste. I set up the
deal with Roberto Suarez from Buenos Aires, then fly to Miami. We count out $9
million in cash. It took two hours.

So we busted them, but they were released immediately. Gasser had all his
charges dropped by Michael Sullivan, US prosecutor in Miami. Gutierrez was
released on bail, went back to Bolivia and put a contract out on me. Sullivan
called the case unwinnable. I said, "We have so much less against so many
Americans sitting in prison than we have against Gasser." It was bullshit. I
started calling it the "Obstruction of Justice Department."

Operation Hun ends with me under investigation, force-transferred out of
Argentina. There's an attempt on my life in Buenos Aires by people who were
working for CIA: Argentine murderers. Mass murderers. Serial killers. They
qualify under any definition.

The ones responsible for the "disappeared"?

Yeah. I can't tell you how badly I hated these guys. But I was a survivor, I
was no dope.

So even before the Contra war in Nicaragua, the CIA was protecting the South
American cartels?

I was trying to figure it out. I found out Jose Gasser's father was one of the
founders of the World Anti-Communist League. He was CIA-connected back to the
early '60s.

For my first sting operation in Bolivia, which Penthouse called the greatest
sting ever done, we needed the help of the Bolivian government. And at the
time, in '80, it was Lidia Gueiler. She had a liberal government, and she was
a truly anti-drug-dealer influence, and she helped us. So the drug dealers
went to their CIA connections and sold them on the idea that Lidia Gueiler was
a leftist. So the US government supported this revolution-by sending in
Argentines, providing secret funds, everything.

Drug dealers are notorious capitalists. They're always anti-Communist!

Who went to prison as a result of Operation Hun?

The main one was "Papo" Mejia, one of the most prolific murderers to ever come
out of Colombia.

This very beautiful woman, Sonia Atala, Bolivia's "Queen of Cocaine," was
selling more cocaine than any living human being. She had Nazi stormtroopers
at her command. She could order people dead anywhere. When the Bolivian
revolution comes about in 1980, she is in full power.

By 1982, I am totally immobilized by investigations and the attempts on my
life. I'm brought into DEA headquarters, I'm being followed, my phone's
tapped. The next thing, I'm asked if I want a deep-cover assignment. I would
have made a deal with the Devil just to get out of DEA headquarters. I said,
"What is it?" He says, "This woman Sonia Atala. We want you to live with her."

She'd become an informer. She got so powerful that the Bolivian "Minister of
Cocaine," Luis Arce Gomez [Roberto Suarez's cousin], got crazed and tried to
shut her down. After she had passed on two million up front from Papo Mejia,
her suppliers refused to deliver. Papo said, "Either you pay me or I kill your
whole family." So now both the Colombians and the Bolivians want to kill her.
She goes to DEA. They bring me in to be her undercover partner.

We lived together in Tucson, Arizona, posing as boyfriend and girlfriend. We
were gonna start making payments-and target every Colombian and Bolivian drug
dealer that we dealt with. I was building a really good case against Roberto
Suarez, Arce Gomez, Klaus Barbie, all of 'em.

The government started picking and choosing who they were gonna indict. But we
did get Papo. He's doing 35 years. Sonia's back in Bolivia, she had all her
property returned to her.

What do you mean she had "Nazi stormtroopers" at her command?

Paramilitaries from Europe who had been trained by Klaus Barbie [escaped
Gestapo officer, "The Butcher of Lyons"]. Her house in Santa Cruz, Bolivia,
was called the "torture house." It had thick walls and all this equipment.

And you lived with this woman in Tucson?

Yeah. She was dealing drugs at the same time. She sold to two undercover DEA
agents in Texas, and they had to un-arrest her. That's in The Big White Lie.
Name, date, place and time.

Did you have sex with her?

No. I had to be prepared to take a polygraph at any time.

Operation Trifecta was your next attempt, to shut down the Bolivian mafia.

Right. We targeted La Corporacion—the organization that was born as a result
of the revolution. We also targeted the entire Mexican government up to the
incoming Carlos Salinas administration. And once again, we found that the
Justice Department was doing everything possible to kill the case—including
Attorney General Edwin Meese telephoning the attorney general of Mexico and
warning him!

Once again, why?

Incoming President Salinas was telling our politicians he was gonna deliver
NAFTA. At the same time, his people were telling me"Luis Miguel Garcia," half-
Sicilian Mafia chief-that when Salinas is in, Mexico's wide open.

And it turned out to be.

Exactly! And that's on video. But if the American people knew this, no NAFTA.

You did bust Col. Jorge Carranza, son of the founder of the modern Mexican

Right, son of Venustiano Carranza, the George Washington of Mexico! He sat in
uniform and told me I could have the whole Mexican government. On camera.

Where are they all today?

They're all free. Carranza won on appeal. I wrote a memo on how the government
had done everything it could to destroy the case. If we had gone through with
my next deal, my next meeting would have been with all the ruling bosses of La
Corporacion and the Mexican secretary of defense, Arevalo Guardoqui. I was
promised a meeting with him, on camera!

So why didn't it happen?

You have to ask them. I went on McNeil-Lehrer, and the acting head of DEA,
Terry Burke, refused to address my charges on the air. He said, "Well, he's
involved in a commercial enterprise," probably a reference to my book

Today, Luis Arce Gomez and Roberto Suarez are both in prison.

Yeah, Arce Gomez here and Roberto Suarez in Bolivia-if you can call it a
prison! He lives a life of luxury.

In your novel, Triangle of Death, many of the characters are recognizable as
real-life figures from your earlier books.

It's not really fictional. The "Triangle of Death" is a real name. It was the
organization run by escaped Gestapo agent Auguste Ricord. He was sentenced to
death in absentia by France. With the help of CIA, he set up operations in

You want proof of the power of this organization? Our Customs investigation
started with New York Italian Mafia receiving Triangle of Death heroin, but
led to indictments all around the world. But Paraguay would not give Auguste
Ricord up until Nixon threatened invasion. Then we got him. The first thing we
did was offer him to France. They didn't want him! They said, "You got him,
you keep him!" We convicted him, he was sentenced to prison. He didn't serve
more than two years before he was quietly released. He went back to Paraguay
and died a free man.

If all this is documented, what's the point of fictionalizing it?

Nobody reads nonfiction. People believe Tom Clancy is real. I saw people in
the theater crying at Clear and Present Danger. I was almost screaming, "It's
a lie, it's propaganda!" But people believe these images. So we decided to
make a thriller with the real image of CIA-which I know now they're more
afraid of than all the nonfiction in the world!

Your son Keith was a New York City cop killed in the line of duty.

December 28, 1991. He tried to stop a robbery. The man who killed my son was a
crack addict who had killed two other men and been convicted twice, and was
out on the street.

You've actually published an offer to the Costa Rican government to kidnap
Oliver North for them to face drug charges there?

Our Supreme Court has ruled that our agents can go into other countries and
kidnap people who have violated our laws. Well, Oscar Arias, the Nobel Prize-
winning president of Costa Rica, banned Oliver North from entering Costa Rica
for life for conspiracy to traffic drugs through his country to our country!
My logic was, being that the US has ruled kidnapping legal, and I've done
kidnapping for the DEA, I'd be happy to do it for Costa Rica!

I was just trying to make a point. I'm a guy who spent most of my adult life
on the inside, going from somebody who really believed that the ends justify
the means to somebody Who learned that that's the worst thing we can believe
in, that that kind of thinking will destroy our freedoms.

pps. 72-74
Aloha, He'Ping,
Om, Shalom, Salaam.
Em Hotep, Peace Be,
Omnia Bona Bonis,
All My Relations.
Adieu, Adios, Aloha.
Roads End

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