Leaked Memo: Corrupt DEA Agents in Colombia Help Narcos and Paramilitaries
Internal Justice Dept. Document Alleges Drug Trafficking Links, Money Laundering and Conspiracy to Murder
By Bill Conroy
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
January 9, 2006
The drug war is supposed to follow a very clear script: According to the official screenwriters, the U.S. justice system is pitted against corrupt players in foreign countries who are trying to flood American streets with illicit drugs. The narco-traffickers, crooked cops, and thieving politicians in the drug war are always over there, in Latin America, and elsewhere, and U.S. law enforcers and government officials are always the good guys battling these forces of evil.
But what happens when evidence surfaces that turns that script on its ear? What happens if proof emerges that it is the U.S. justice system that is corrupt? A document obtained recently by Narco News makes those questions more than hypothetical queries. In this document, Department of Justice attorney Thomas M. Kent claims that federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Bogotá, Colombia, are the corrupt players in the war on drugs. (The DEA is part of the larger Justice Department.)
The information in that document is also corroborated by a number of other sources that spoke directly to Narco News, including former government officials who are familiar with the DEA’s Bogotá operations
Kent’s memorandum contains some of the most serious allegations ever raised against U.S. antinarcotics officers: that DEA agents on the front lines of the drug war in Colombia are on drug traffickers’ payrolls, complicit in the murders of informants who knew too much, and, most startlingly, directly involved in helping Colombia’s infamous rightwing paramilitary death squads to launder drug money.
The memo further claims that, rather than being simply a few “bad apples” who need to be reported to their superiors, these allegedly dirty agents are being protected by an ongoing cover-up orchestrated by “watchdog” agencies within the Justice Department.
These charges blow away the smoke concealing the pretense of the war on drugs. If they are true, there will be no brushing them aside at pre-scripted press conferences; everyone who becomes aware of these allegations will be forced to consider where we go from here in that so-called war.
The Kent Memo
On Dec. 19, 2004, Thomas M. Kent, an attorney in the wiretap unit of the Justice Department’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs Section (NDDS), sent off a memo to his section chief. Law enforcement sources tell Narco News that a number of other high-level officials within Justice and the DEA soon received copies of the same memo. In it, Kent raised a series of corruption allegations centering on the DEA’s office in Bogotá.
Kent says his claims are supported by a number of DEA agents in Florida who the agency muzzled and retaliated against after they tried to expose the corruption. Specifically, Kent contends that the DEA’s Office of Professional Responsibility (or OPR, essentially the agency’s Internal Affairs department) and elements of DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) have worked to keep a lid on the corruption charges. According to Kent, these offices – which are supposed to serve as watchdog agencies that investigate corruption – sabotaged investigations being carried out by the Florida DEA agents and by one of the OIG’s own agents.
From Kent’s memo:
As discussed in my (prior) memorandum dated December 13, 2004, several unrelated investigations, including Operation Snowplow, identified corrupt agents within DEA. As further discussed in my memorandum, OPR’s handling of the investigations into those allegations has come into question and the OIG investigator who was actively looking into the allegations has been removed from the investigation. As discussed in my email, dated December 17, 2004, I want to speak directly with the (DOJ) Public Integrity Section because I want to ensure that the allegations are fully investigated and acted upon if true.
As promised, I am providing you with further information on the allegations and evidence that is already in files at OPR and OIG. Agents I know were able to vouch for my credibility and several individuals close to the prior investigations that uncovered corruption agreed to speak with me. I had a limited time frame in which to speak with them and ask questions. They were able to provide me with some of the highlights, but certainly not all of the information that is sitting at OPR and OIG. Such a debriefing, based on what I learned in a few hours, would take days.
Having been failed by so many before and facing tremendous risks to their careers and their safety and the safety of their families, they were understandably hesitant to reveal the information I requested, including the names of those directly involved in criminal activity in Bogotá and the United States. They agreed to reveal the names to me on the condition that I not further disseminate these for the time being. They are prepared to provide the Public Integrity Section with those names and everything in the files at OPR and OIG, and then some, if called upon to do so.
Why is an attorney within Justice afraid to reveal the names of the DEA whistleblowers out of fear that it might jeopardize their law enforcement careers and the lives of their families? And why, as Kent contends, is it all being covered up?
What do Glenn Fine, the head of the DOJ’s OIG, and Rogelio E. Guevara, who currently oversees the DEA’s OPR, know about Kent’s charges, which were brought forth in his memo more than a year ago?
A look at the nature of the alleged corruption may give us some clues.
(Remember that all of these allegations come strictly from the Kent memo, though law enforcement sources have corroborated much of this information on condition of anonymity.)
Kent alleges that one of the corrupt agents from Bogotá was caught on a wiretap some time in 2004 discussing criminal activity related to the huge right-wing paramilitary group known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in its Spanish initials). The group is widely recognized to be involved in narco-trafficking and arms dealing at the highest levels. Working closely with various sectors of the Colombian military, it has fielded death squads responsible for murdering thousands of Colombians.
The following is from a 2004 report prepared for Congress by the Congressional Research Service:
The AUC targets real and perceived supporters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as political activists, police officials and judges. The group is known for its brutality and has killed more civilians than the leftist insurgencies have killed: in 2001, the AUC killed at least 1,015 civilians, compared to the 197 civilians killed by the FARC. The AUC also committed over 100 massacres in 2001, a tactic it used to displace large portions of the peasant population in order maintain firmer control over the major coca-growing lands.
Kent contends, in the memorandum, that during the wiretap, the corrupt Bogotá DEA agent “discusses his involvement in laundering money for the AUC.” But despite being caught on tape admitting to helping the most murderous political force in the hemisphere today to launder the money from their extensive drug trafficking operations, the agent faced no punishment. In fact, says Kent, the agent was essentially promoted: “That call has been documented by the DEA and that agent is now in charge of numerous narcotics and money laundering investigations.”
Kent, in the memorandum, also alleges that DOJ officials shut down a money laundering investigation because they discovered that it was linked to the alleged DEA corruption in Bogotá. He claims that the nail in that coffin was driven in by OPR after it discovered that an OIG agent was investigating the Bogotá corruption and related money laundering operation
“In June 2004, OPR and DEA, the two agencies embarrassed by the prior allegations (involving the Bogotá agents) and likely to come under tremendous scrutiny for their own actions in response, demanded that my case agent turn all of the (investigation) information … over to OPR,” Kent states in the memorandum. “One week after submitting the (information) to OPR, the money laundering investigation was shut down.”
Kent details three further cases of extreme corruption in his memo, all involving Bogotá DEA agents persecuting or conspiring to kill Colombian informants who threatened to bring down their activities. Sources told Narco News that these corruption allegations involve cases launched in 1999 or 2000, but which resulted in investigations that carried on for months or years.
(Kent wrote his memo in late 2004 only after he became aware of the alleged corruption and then had exhausted other internal channels within DOJ for addressing the problems.)
During the course of an investigation into a Colombian narco-trafficking operation, a group of DEA agents in Florida had zeroed in on several targets, with the help of several Colombian informants. Once the targets were identified as being part of the drug ring, they began to cooperate with the Florida-based agents.
“… They made startling revelations concerning DEA agents in Bogotá,” Kent writes. “They alleged that they were assisted in their narcotics activities by the [Bogotá] agents. Specifically, they alleged that the agents provided them with information on investigations and other law enforcement activities in Colombia.”
The traffickers eventually gave the Florida agents copies of confidential DEA reports, which the Bogotá agents allegedly had handed over to the traffickers. After the Florida agents turned these documents over to the OPR and OIG, one of them was put on “administrative leave” — the first sign that a cover-up was underway.
While the Florida agent was out on leave, the Bogotá agents set up a meeting with one of the informants.
“As the informant left that meeting, he was murdered,” Kent states. “Other informants … who also worked with the DEA group in Florida were also murdered. Each murder was preceded by a request for their identity by an agent in Bogotá.”
A separate DEA group, also based in Florida, ran into trouble with the same DEA office in Bogotá while investigating another Colombian narco-trafficking operation. Informants tipped off the Florida agents that that this drug ring had developed an ingenious method for smuggling cocaine into the United States, a method that seems to have been lifted right out of the script of the drug-war movie Traffic.
“Specifically, the narcotics traffickers in Colombia were infusing acrylic with cocaine and shaping it into any number of commercial goods,” Kent states. “The acrylic was then shipped to the United States and Europe where, during processing, the cocaine was extracted from the acrylic.”
Informants working for the Florida agents sent samples of the cocaine-laced acrylic to the DEA, but the agency’s chemists couldn’t figure out how to extract the cocaine. As a result, the Florida agents decided to have the informants come to the United States with a sample of the acrylic, so they could walk DEA’s chemists through the extraction process.
“Agents contacted the Bogotá Country Office to discuss the informants’ planned travel and their bringing cocaine out of Colombia infused in acrylic,” writes Kent. “They were advised that the best tact was for the informants to carry it out themselves.”
But when the informants got to the airport to leave for the U.S., they were arrested. A DEA agent in Bogotá, it turns out, had told Colombian officials to “lock them (the informants) up and throw away the key,” according to Kent. The Bogotá agent then claimed that he had no idea the Florida agents had given the informants permission to transport the cocaine.
“His misrepresentations were backed by another agent in Bogotá,” Kent states. “The informants were imprisoned for nine months while the accusations flew back and forth. Once it was determined that the agents in Bogotá were lying, the informants were released. One of the informants was kidnapped and murdered in Bogotá where he had gone into hiding.”
In yet another case outlined in Kent’s memorandum, the second Florida DEA group was working with an informant in Colombia who claimed to have made contact with a FARC guerilla while in prison. Sources told Narco News that the informant is a wealthy Colombian businessman with investments in high-tech firms and ties to narco-trafficking. The FARC (Spanish initials for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest leftist insurgent group in that country’s civil war, accused by U.S. officials of drug and arms trafficking) was supposedly interested in buying communications equipment from him.
While this investigation eventually ended up in the hands of the National Security Agency, from the beginning it appeared to be related to drug trafficking and the Florida DEA agents decided to investigate. Agents from the Bogotá office promised to help, one of them assuring the Florida agents that the informant’s release from prison could be arranged. But when the Florida agents arrived in Colombia, another Bogotá DEA agent told them that the informant was going to stay in prison.
The Bogotá agents seemed obsessed with stopping the informant from working with the Florida agents, and began doing everything in their power to prevent the investigation from moving forward. “As the two sides argued back and forth, the informant was challenged by the Bogotá agents to prove his allegations,” the memorandum states. “He did so by making a videotape of a conversation he then had with a member of the FARC in jail in which they discussed their desire for him to provide them with communications equipment. When confronted with the actual tape that confirmed the informant’s story, the agents in Bogotá complained that what the informant and DEA group from Florida had done was illegal and they would be unable to obtain the informant’s release (from prison).”
The Florida agents kept trying to revive the investigation, but Bogotá agents continued to thwart it one way or another. Eventually, the informant was released from prison and tried to start working with the Florida agents again, but an agent from the Bogotá office traveled to Washington, D.C., and managed to convince DEA brass to derail the investigation.
When the informant approached the DEA once again with information, writes Kent, “the Bogotá agent that traveled to Washington, D.C., now claimed that the informant was a pedophile. The investigation was halted. The Bogotá agent was called on his claim and could not provide any evidence.” The agent then switched tactics, arguing that the DEA could not work with the informant because the FARC might end up with the communications equipment. He also claimed that one of the targets of the FARC-related investigation was not involved in narco-trafficking — even though the Bogotá office had previously identified that individual as a narco-trafficker.
“The (Bogotá) agent was unable to dissuade those involved in the investigation, and it finally took off with the assistance of the NSA,” the memo states. “The investigation continued until the informant was faxed a document that identified him as a DEA informant on the FARC. The document mirrored information the DEA group in Florida provided the corrupt agents in Bogotá previously.”
In other words, someone outed the Florida group’s informant, making him into a target for many dangerous people including the FARC guerrillas, and the tool used to expose him was proprietary DEA information that appeared to have come out of the Bogotá DEA office. The DEA agents in Florida looked further into the source of that information and followed the trail to several other DEA informants. The Florida agents then set up a wiretap and recorded conversations between their own informants and the other DEA informants who were tied to the leaked DEA information. The recordings revealed that a narco-trafficker had indeed obtained the internal DEA information that was used to expose the Florida group’s informant.
“That person (the narco-trafficker) is also a DEA informant,” the memorandum states, “and is believed to have been controlled by the Bogotá Country Office. Among other things, it was alleged that the informant (the narco-trafficker) had several agents on his payroll who provided him with classified information. The agents were believed to work in Colombia and Washington, D.C.”
The tape recordings that revealed this damning information were turned over to both the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General, Kent states in the memorandum. The agents in the Florida DEA office also tried to set up a sting targeting the allegedly corrupt agents from Bogotá and Washington, D.C.
“The meeting (the sting) was called off when it was learned the agents likely knew of the trap,” the memorandum states. “… The informant who was identified … as the narcotics trafficker with several agents on his payroll was eventually brought to Florida to take a polygraph test on the allegations that he was obtaining classified documents from agents in Bogotá and elsewhere.”
Kent says that the narco-trafficker passed the lie detector test in Florida, at which he was asked whether agents had passed him classified documents and he claimed that they hadn’t. But the OPR mysteriously ordered the polygrapher not to report on the test: “He was instructed (to say) that the test never took place.”
[UPDATE 1/17/06: Narco News has found that the narco-trafficker did in fact admit to recieving confidential information; he “passed the test” because he did not “lie” about receiving secret DEA documents. See more at this link.]
The corruption allegations raised in Kent’s memorandum are startling, but agents in the Bogotá DEA office are not the first to have been accused of participating in a narco-trafficking conspiracy. Similar tales of corruption involving overseas DEA agents have surfaced in the past. And although the charges raised by Kent in his 2004 memorandum have now passed before many eyes, they have still not been addressed in the light of day. Instead, as in similar past cases, they have been buried in the contorted layers of the Justice Department bureaucracy.
Kent is no longer with the Washington, D.C.-based wiretap unit of NDDS. He has been transferred to Nashville, according to sources familiar with the memorandum. Ironically, the NDDS chief to whom Kent addressed the memorandum, Jodi L. Avergun, is now the chief of staff for DEA.
In addition, Kent’s request to send the Bogotá corruption allegations to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section was denied, and his memorandum deep-sixed — until now.
A full investigation of his allegations may well prove that the DEA’s Bogotá office is clean as a whistle. But if that is indeed the case, then why has Justice chosen to silence and punish the whistleblowers in this case rather than look into their claims?
From Kent’s memorandum:
If we are unable to arrange for a sit-down between the reporting agents and those attorneys within the Department of Justice who are tasked with ensuring that corrupted agents and officials are held accountable, then I firmly believe that we will watch from the sidelines as the allegations play out in a courtroom, on the news, and/or on Capital Hill. The reporting agents have placed their trust in me. … I have assured them that I will lay the issue before you with a much more detailed accounting of the allegations and how the DEA and OPR, and now seemingly OIG, have failed to fully investigate the allegations and hold those responsible accountable.
If we can put them together with the Public Integrity Section, they assured me that other agents who have to this point remained silent for fear of retaliation will come forward. Those agents have additional evidence not in the files maintained by OPR and OIG. I believe, based on their representations, that that new evidence alone would put the corrupt agents in prison.
Given the pretense that defines the war on drugs, Kent’s memorandum (which basically rewrites the script of that war) is not likely to be a hot seller in Washington, D.C., anytime soon—absent pressure from a major media blitz.
And what of the mainstream-media guardians of our liberty? Will they step up to the plate on this story, given their penchant for adhering to the standard drug-war script? The fact that Narco News is breaking this story first may tell us all we need to know on that front.
But the truth, like water, always brings the scum to the surface. And in this case, the dam holding back the truth in the so-called war on drugs may be close to breaking. For how much longer will nations in Latin America and around the world accept U.S. drug warriors’ imposing presence in their lands, when those same agents and bureaucrats get neck-deep in the very drug trade they are supposedly trying to wipe out, with complete impunity and protection from their superiors back home?
“The agents who reported the … allegations (of corruption) did so to correct wrongs committed by other members of the DEA and OPR,” Kent states in the memorandum. “Their attempts to do so led to retaliation. … The cracks in the lid DEA and OPR has attempted to place on this problem are getting bigger.
“It is only a matter of time before this thing explodes. …”
To read Kent’s memorandum for yourself, go to this link.
Click here for more from Narco News on “The Bogotá Connection”
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