The CIA's Secret Drug Wars

1997 David Guyatt

Part One

The narcotics industry has a turnover, estimated to be in excess of $1 trillion per annum. Put more simply, it is the largest industry in the world. Ongoing international measures to eradicate this industry have largely proved futile, despite the billions spent. For example, the death in Columbia - at the hands of law enforcement officers - of drug baron, Pablo Escobar, and the US capture of Panamanian middle-man, Manuel Noriega, didn't interrupt the flow of Columbian cocaine one iota. On the contrary, shipments to the United States and elsewhere, increased sharply in the wake of these so called Drug Enforcement "victories."

Meanwhile, information has surfaced that paints a damning picture of intelligence agency involvement in the narcotics industry. Sworn affidavit's in this writer's possession finger the Central Intelligence Agency for engaging in narcotics trafficking on an almost industrial scale. Some observers - perhaps with an element of merit - have, meanwhile, opined that the CIA's long-term involvement with the narcotics industry resulted from their support of nations that strongly adhered to the anti communist philosophy.

Under this rubric, drug barons the world over were aided and assisted in the production, transportation and distribution of narcotics, and the proceeds were used to arm resistance movements. So long as there was a "red menace" to fight, those dope peddlers - large and small - who co-operated with the CIA's cold war strategy, remained immune to prosecution. With the collapse of communism in the late nineteen eighties this rationale evaporated. Curious then, that the narcotics industry has not declined along with communism? One the contrary, all the indications point to continued growth and profits.

Drugs have become a self-perpetuating industry that continues to create billionaire's overnight. It is, by far, the most Laissez Faire enterprise of them all, enjoying spectacular financial returns for relatively modest investment. Arguably, reason enough, to ensure that continuing calls to legalise some types of soft drugs remain doomed to failure at the political level. Why kill the Golden Goose that effortlessly lays so many golden eggs?

History increasingly suggests that the hidden reality was that it was not so much a "war on drugs," as a "war for drugs." A war, moreover, aimed at winning the hearts and minds of those who live in embattled regions of the globe, by silently impoverishing, stupefying and killing those at home. The innocent,, as always, are the major casualties of any war:


What follows is drawn from an affidavit signed by Col. Edward P. Cutolo; a letter written by his close friend, Paul Neri - an employee of America's huge National Security Agency; and an additional supporting affidavit signed by PFC William Tyree - a soldier under Cutolo's command.1 Collectively, they amount to a powerful indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency and senior Pentagon officers who knowingly engaged in large scale narcotics trafficking.

More alarming still, are Cutolo's and Tyree's allegations concerning a black operation suitably named "George Orwell" - that utilised US Special Forces to spy on well-known American politicians, members of the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the Catholic church in New York and Boston. The "product" of this covert surveillance was used for the purpose of blackmail.

Colonel Edward P. Cutolo was commanding officer of the US 10th Special Forces (airborne), 1st Special Forces stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Possessing a distinguished record as a military officer, Cutolo doubtless had seen many peculiar things and undertaken numerous classified missions. Despite this, he would rue the day, in December 1975, he was approached by the CIA's Edwin Wilson and Frank Terpil.

The two CIA officers introduced Cutolo to two highly sensitive missions unlike anything he had undertaken previously. According to his close friends and comrades, Cutolo's later investigation into the legality of these missions would lead to his death under suspicious circumstances. Other senior military officers who investigated Cutolo's death also soon died under questionable circumstances. As we shall see, all were believed to have been murdered by Mike Harari, an alleged Israeli assassin who is known to have headed Mossad Assassination Operations in the early 1970's against the terrorists who massacred athletes at the 1972 Olympics2, and  would come to prominence a decade later for his role in the now infamous Contragate affair.

Frank Terpil

Frank Terpil

Cutolo begins his sworn affidavit by saying: "In December, 1975, I spoke with Colonel "Bo" Baker concerning a classified mission he commanded during that month, inside Columbia. The mission was known as "Watch Tower." Continuing, he states "Following a lengthy discussion with Col. Baker, I was introduced to Mr. Edwin Wilson and Mr. Frank Terpil. Both Wilson and Terpil were in the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both Wilson and Terpil inquired if I was interested in working for short periods of time in Columbia, and I acknowledged that I was."

Cutolo thereafter commanded the second and third Watch Tower missions. The second mission took place in February 1975 and lasted a total of 22 days. The purpose of the mission was to "establish a series of three electronic beacon towers beginning outside of Bogata, Columbia, and running northeast to the border of Panama." With the beacons in place and activated, aircraft could fix on their signal and fly undetected from Bogata to Panama, landing at Albrook Air Station. All told. 30 "high performance aircraft" flew the covert route to Allbrook.

The aircraft were met by Panama's Colonel Manuel Noriega - who would later become head of state, prior to experiencing a US invasion tasked to arrest and imprison him for laundering drug money. Accompanying Noriega were a number of officers of the Panama Defence Forces (PDF), CIA agent, Edwin Wilson, and Israeli agent Mike Harari. Cutolo adds that Harari had the authority from the "U.S. Army Southern Command in Panama to be in the A.O (Area of Operations)." Nor does Cutolo beat around the bush when explicitly stating "The cargo flown from Columbia into Panama was cocaine."

Cutolo continues his affidavit by outlining the third Watch Tower mission which he commanded. This occurred during March 1976, and lasted 29 days, safely cycling 40 cocaine carrying aircraft through to Panama. On this occasion members of one of his Special Action Teams (SATs), located at Turbo, Columbia were attacked by a large gang of local bandits and were extracted by helicopters that entered Columbian airspace without authority. Cutolo adds that the third mission was "met in the previously related fashion by those named - Noriega, Edwin Wilson, Mike Harari et al.

William Tyree's affidavit dated 6 September 1990, powerfully corroborates Colonel Cutolo's statements. Tyree, however, was able to provide additional direct testimony on the First Watch Tower mission, which he participated in. At that time he was assigned to the 1st/17th Air Cavalry Division located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In Tyree's own words, the mission was to "insert three SPECIAL ACTION TEAMS (SATs) inside Columbia. Once the SATs were in place they would activate electronic beacons which aircraft could follow through a specific corridor out of Columbia and into Panama where the aircraft, which were loaded with cocaine, would land at Albrook Air Station." Tyree adds the "mission lasted 24 days and approximately 37 aircraft of various descriptions flew out of Columbia and into Panama, all following the SATs electronic beacons."

Tyree goes on to state "I personally witnessed members of the Panamanian Defence Force (PDF) help unload the bales of cocaine from the aircraft onto the tarmac of Albrook Air Station. Among the PDF officers were Colonel Manuel Noriega, Major Roberto Diaz-Herrera, Major Liz del CID, and Major Ramirez.3 These men were always in the company of an American civilian identified to me by other personnel involved in the operation as Edwin Wilson, of the CIA. Another civilian in the company of Wilson, I have since learned, was Israeli Mossad agent Michael Harari.4"

Of additional interest are Tyree's comments regarding Edwin Wilson providing (presumably classified?) military style mustard coloured files to Noriega and his fellow PDF officers. Tyree states the files originally belonged to the CIA, Naval Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). The information contained in the folders appeared to have come from all over the world and included: a) Coastal defences of other countries, some of which appeared to be allies of the U.S. b) written information, diagrams, naval charts and reconnaissance photo's etc. Tyree judged the information was of a type and quality required to "institute a major naval operation anywhere in the world." Other folders related to the "US Navy and various battle groups, including number of personnel, number of aircraft, type of armaments and whether a vessel had conventional or nuclear capability."

It is impossible to say with any authority why Wilson handed over this type of sensitive information to Noriega. Panama is not famous for its Navy, which, in any event, certainly does not possess the capability to project itself around the world. One can only speculate that such information was to be sold or bartered by Noriega to foreign powers, and may have constituted part payment for assistance with the cocaine trafficking? On this aspect, we are unlikely to ever know.


In any event, after the Watch Tower missions, Col. Cutolo returned to normal duty, and Tyree was later reassigned to another location and command. There the matter would have rested for evermore had not a curious sequence of events occurred two years later.

By 1978, Colonel Cutolo assumed command of the 10th Special Forces Group (airborne) at Fort Devens, where he recognised two soldiers - PFC William Tyree and Sgt. John Newby - both of whom had operated under his command during Watch Tower, and who now were assigned (in Tyree's case re-assigned) to his command. 1978 also saw the return of Edwin Wilson with another deep black covert operation on offer. This was known as Operation George Orwell.

During a meeting with Cutolo, Edwin Wilson explained that "it was considered that Operation Watch Tower might be compromised and become known if politicians, judicial figures, police and religious entities were approached or received word that U. S. troops had aided in delivering narcotics from Columbia into Panama." Based on that possibility, Cutolo, formed twelve separate Special Action Teams (SATs). Their mission was to implement Army regulation 340-18-5 (file number 503-05). Cutolo's authority for this action came directly from FORSCOM via Wilson.

In effect, Operation Orwell was tasked with implementing intense "surveillance of politicians, judicial figures, law enforcement agencies at the state level and of religious groups." The underlying purpose was to provide the "United States government and the Army" with advance warning of the discovery of Watch Tower to enable them to "prepare a defence." Cutolo further states that he "was under orders not to inform Colonel Forrest Rittgers, commanding officer of Fort Devens," of this mission. The reason was to give Colonel Rittgers a "margin of plausible deniability" in the event that Fort Devens personnel were "caught in the act of implementing surveillance."

Cutolo goes on to reveal that he instituted surveillance against "Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Edward King, Michael Dukakis, Levin H. Campbell, Andrew A Caffrey, Fred Johnson, Kenneth A. Chandler, Thomas P. O'Neil, to name a few of the targets." Additionally surveillance was placed on "...the Governors residences of Massachusetts, Manine, New York and New Hampshire. The Catholic cathedrals of New York and Boston were placed under electronic surveillance also. In the area of Fort Devens, all local police and politicians were under some form of surveillance at various times." As part of the operation, Cutolo recruited "a number of local state employees who worked within the ranks of local police and court personnel.

Private Tyree, in his sworn affidavit, confirms what Cutolo has revealed about Operation George Orwell, including that it was initiated under Army regulation number 340-18-5, file number 503-05. He states that "I was involved in 10 separate surveillance missions in the New England area, all under this same operation." He adds "... surveillance was instituted to monitor civilian targets to determine: a) if Operation Watch Tower had been discovered. B) the probability that an investigation or governmental inquiry would be requested as a result of such a discovery." Tyree goes on to reveal that he, personally, participated in surveillance against the Mayor of Lunenbourg, Massachusetts, a community close to Fort Devens. A second local target was "John Droney, District Attorney, Middlesex County, Massachusetts." Tyree continues by providing detailed information about criminal wrongdoing by Droney, together with details of his sexual proclivities and indiscretions.

Moreover, Tyree additionally states that his friend, Sergeant John Newby, had engaged in surveillance against "...Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. Sgt. Newby also stated to me just prior to his death in October 1978, that he had been involved in some surveillance of 'some judges' in the New Englad area." These included "... Levin H. Campbell, Andrew A Caffrey and Fred Johnson." He then goes on to reveal that Major Arnett, who was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina (home of the Green Berets) had "commanded a team that allegedly maintained surveillance on Senator Jesse Helms." The connection betwee, Kennedy, Kerry and Helms, Tyree states, was that "all three were critical of the U. S. involvement in Latin America." Had they learned of Watch Tower "they would undoubtedly use that information to pull the U.S., out of Latin America, which in turn might effect the security of that area and eventually the U.S."

Meanwhile, Cutolo states that " Sgt. Newby "had received threats just prior to his parachuting accident that claimed his life in October 1978. It was at that time that (then) SP4 Tyree began to report threatening phone calls. I saw a pattern and still believe a pattern exists." Clearly, by this time, Col. Cutolo was fearful for his own life, too. "I gave Colonel Baker the original copy of this affidavit. I gave true copies to Hugh B. Pearce, and to Paul Neri of the national Security Agency and instructed each person to deliver the affidavit to the authorities in the event that something occurs to me."

It did. According to the Paul Neri's accompanying letter, in 1980, Colonel Cutolo died "while on a military exercise in England. Just prior to his death he notified me that he was to meet with Michael Harari, an Israeli Mossad agent. It is my belief, though unsubstantiated, that Harari murdered Col. Cutolo because of the information Col. Cutolo possessed." Neri then reveals that in the event of Cutolo's death, he was to discretely contact Col, Bo Baker. In turn, Col. Baker enlisted the aid of Col. Nick Rowe - all three were Special Forces officers with exemplary records. The three of them thereafter set out to "prove that Harari murdered Col. Cutolo..." Colonel Nick Rowe was killed soon afterwards. On 21 April 1989 he was shot to death by automatic fire from an M-16 assault rifle in Manilla, Phillippines. Neri reveals that "Harari was in the Phillippines for three days just prior to and after Col. Rowe's murder."

Chief Warrant Officer (WCO) Hugh Pearce, who also received a copy of Cutolo's affidavit, also died in June 1989, as a result of a helicopter accident. Pearce had commenced to help the others with their enquiries. Prior to his death he had directed Col. Rowe to an address at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and state politican, Larkin Smith. Both Col. Rowe and CWO Hugh Pearce died prior to a scheduled meeting with Smith - both having previously agreed to "go public" and call for a "full investigation into the events described in Col. Cutolo's affidavit" following the arranged meeting. Smith, died in August 1989 - in an airplane accident. Others to conveniently die included Colonel Bo Baker and Colonel Robert Bayard - who was murdered in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1977, just prior to his meeting with Israeli Mossad officer David Kimche.

Clearly, protecting the big secret of Operation Watch Tower has assumed priority. This is, in fact, hinted at in Cutolo's affidavit, when he earlier speaks of El Salvadoran Archbishop Romero. Cutolo states that Romero "... is in receipt of physical evidence supporting several allegations that the United States is currently with Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama covertly training and sponsoring freedom fighters attempting to overthrow the current regime in Nicaragua." Cutolo's then states that "... these freedom fighters are also being supported from funds arising from Operation Watch Tower in part." Cutolo closes this paragraph by saying "This information made it necessary to protect Operation Watch Tower and Operation Orwell regardless of the cost." Needless to say, he was at that time, unaware that he and his closest colleagues would form part of that "cost."

But soon he would grow aware of the threat on his own life. "I have detailed pertinent events in this affidavit should something happen to me. The lug nuts have been loosened on my car tires twice in the past week. I have had someone tamper with my car and I have received telephone calls at my home where no one answered at the other end. I have seen other men involved in Operation watch Tower meet accidental deaths after they were also threatened."

Cutolo simply had too much direct knowledge of Operation Watch Tower to survive, especially since he began having doubts about its legality. During an earlier meeting with the CIA's Edwin Wilson, Cutolo states::

"Edwin Wilson explained that Operation watch Tower had to remain secret and gave these reasons:

    1. If it becomes public knowledge it would undermine present governmental interests as well as those in the future.
    2. There are similar operations being implemented elsewhere in the world: Wilson named the 'Golden Triangle' of Southeast Asia and Pakistan. Wilson stated in both areas of the world the CIA and other intelligence agencies are behind the illegal narcotics flow to support forces fighting to overthrow communist governments, or governments that are not friendly towards the United States. Wilson named several recognised officials of Pakistan, Afganistan, Burma, Korea, Thailand and Cambodia as being aware and consenting to these arrangements, similar to the ones in Panama.

Wilson cited the military coup in Argentina in 1976, the coup in Peru in 1978, the fall of the Somaza government in Nicaragua in 1979 and the growing civil war in El Salvador as examples of the need for Operations like Watch Tower. As these operations funded the ongoing efforts to combat Terrorism and defeat actions directed against the United States or matters involving the United States."

In any event, Wilson hadn't yet concluded his narcotics lecture to Cutolo, as he "... explained that the profits from the sale of narcotics was laundered through a series of banks. Wilson stated that over 70% of the profits were laundered through the banks in Panama. The remaining percentage was funnelled through Swiss banks, with a small remainder being handled by banks within the United States." Cutolo adds "Wilson indicated that a large portion of the profits are brought into the banks of Panama without being checked. I understood that some of the profits in Panamanian banks arrived through Israeli couriers. I became aware of that fact from normal conversations with some of the embassy personnel assigned to the embassy in Panama."

Cutolo then reveals that an associate of Wilson's also "aided in overseeing the laundering of funds, which was then used to purchase weapons to arm various factions that the CIA saw as friendly towards the United States. The associates name is Tom Cline." Wilson then tells Cutolo that "most of Operation Watch Tower was implemented on the authority of Clines." Tom Clines worked under Theodore Shackley - both of whom were heavily implicated in gun running activities during Iran-Contra; itself a notorious drugs-for-money-for-guns operation under President Ronald reagan and Vice President George Bush.

In fact, Cutolo later reveals in his affidavit that the illegal activities of Mike Harari were protected by a number of U. S. VIP's. Cutolo was told by Pentagon "...contacts, of the record..." that these VIP's included Director of CIA, Stansfield Turner and former CIA Director George Bush. Both, in Cutolo's words "shielded" Harari from "public scrutiny." The same contacts also told Cutolo that "Watch Tower" was a sanctioned mission and that "United States military authorities confirmed to me that Operation Watch Tower occurred and gave their approval." Cutolo, also learned that "... Harari was a known middleman for matters involving the United States in Latin America," adding that the Israeli assassin "acted with the support of a network of Mossad personnel throughout Latin America and worked mainly in the import and export of arms and drugs trafficking."

Motivation in this regard is a contentious issue. Paul Neri stated his belief that Wilson, Clines and Terpil were acting without authority and for their own personal enrichment. Clearly, this is not the case. Cutolo is certain that both operations were sanctioned at the highest level. Of course, this does not hinder some of those involved with these missions from profiting on the side. The indications are that so long as "skimming" was kept at reasonable levels, no questions would be asked by those higher up the chain of command.

Indeed, Cutolo's affidavit reveals an intriguing sidebar to Operation George Orwell that is only too believeable in regard to the big bucks world of black budgets. The surveillance product garnered by Operation George Orwell had uses other than keeping loose mouths shut. According to Cutolo, he "...was notified by Wilson that the information forwarded to Washington D.C., was disseminated to private corporations who were developing weapon systems for the Dept. of Defense. Those private corporations were encouraged to use the sensitive information gathered from surveillance on U.S. Senators and Representatives as leverage to manipulate those Congressmen into approving whatever costs those weapon systems incurred."

Three weapon systems were mentioned to Cutolo in this respect: "1) Am Armored vehicle. 2) An aircraft that is invisible to radar. 3) A weapon system that utilises kinetic energy." He adds that he got the impression all three were for "...use by NASA or for CIA purposes." Wilson also informed Cutolo, that "Operation Orwell would be implemented nationwide by 4 July 1980."5 He then adds that as of the date of this affidavit [11 March 1980], "2,400 police departments, 1,370 churches, and approximately 17,900 citizens have been monitored under Operation Orwell. The major churches targeted have been Catholic and Latter Day Saints." Others targeted included "suspected members of the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group," including former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and George Bush. Cutolo notes that he did not have personal knowledge "that Ford, Carter or Bush were under surveillance."

Anyone who took an active interest in these operations were soon to experience extreme rigor mortis. In his covering letter, Paul Neri mentions the death of Supergun builder and "Pentagon Scientist" Dr. Gerald Bull, who was shot dead outside his apartment in 1990 - as an example of the deadliness of Mossad officer Mike Harari. Neri also casts dark glances at the role of President George Bush in this whole affair, noting that Bush "knew or should have known about Operation Watch Tower." He then adds that "With Mr Noreiga no longer in power, the Bush Administration has helped install one president and two Vice-Presidents in Panama who will continue to launder the drug money the CIA receives from drug operations world wide...""

Neri continues "How much longer, and how many more will be murdered, die accidentally or be discredited through incarceration so that poppies and cocca leaves can fund the secret war of the CIA? Will Latin America be the next secret CIA war as was the case in Vietnam? And how many of our service people will die there?"

Neri's allusion to Vietnam was not without meaning in terms of massive narcotics trafficking by the CIA. Colonel Bo Gritz,6 the most decorated Special Forces officer from the Vietnam era, received a copy of Cutolo's affidavit. Some years later he would travel to Burma and meet with warlord Khun Sa - the leading producer of Heroin in Southeast Asia. What Gritz discovered was fully documented and recorded on video camera. Gritz' story will form part two of this article, along with the associated story of U.S. Prisoners of War. In this case, the term "Missing in Action" has far more sinister connotations in the view of many, who believe that the POWs/MIAs are used a "drug mules" by an unscrupulous CIA, engaged in its global dope and guns business. Many of the names you have come across above will be reappear in part two.


  1. Cutolo's affidavit runs to 15 pages and 86 paragraphs. Dated 11 March 1980, it is witnessed by a notary. PFC William Tyree's affidavit runs to 13 pages and 41 paragraphs. Dated 6 September 1990, it is witnessed by a notary. Paul Neri's accompanying 5 page letter is undated and unsigned and was prepared prior to his death on 29 April 1990, from a long illness. Cutolo's affidavit and Neri's death-bed letter were forwarded by a friend who wished to remain anonymous. The friend sent an accompanying type-written letter consisting of one paragraph, neither signed nor dated. All documents are in this writer's possession. Copies of Cutolo's affidavit were given to Colonels A. J. "Bo" Baker, Hugh B. Pearce and James "Bo" Gritz.
  2. Calahan, Alexander B. Countering Terrorism: The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the Development of Independent Covert Action Teams; Master's Thesis at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College; April, 1995.
  3. Cutolo names the same individuals in his affidavit.
  4. Extracted from the Third Edition of Defrauding America by Rodney Stich (1998, Diablo Western Press, Inc) page 359.
  5. My italics
  6. The major film, "First Blood" starring Slyvester Stallone was modelled on Col. Bo Gritz.

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