Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fast Track for Smart Grid

Despite privacy issues and security concerns, smart meter conversion is proceeding rapidly in Vermont, thanks to federal funding, Bernie Sanders, and a partnership with Lockheed’s Sandia Labs. By Greg Guma (originally posted September, 2011) 

Vermont is frequently touted as a leader in energy innovation, with efforts underway to dramatically improve efficiency, develop renewable sources and convert to smart grid technology. This reputation recently attracted $69.8 million in US Department of Energy funding to promote rapid statewide conversion to smart grid technology, not to mention the interest of Sandia National Laboratories, which launched the Vermont-Sandia Partnership with the University of Vermont, Vermont Law School, and Norwich University.

The relationship with Sandia took shape in 2008 when US Sen. Bernie Sanders began to push for a Vermont satellite lab. By early 2011, it had evolved into a full-fledged public-private partnership that includes educational institutions and leading businesses.  A $1 million grant from Department of Energy funded the initial development, including student internships and visits to Sandia’s home base by UVM professors.

In Burlington, the state’s largest city, smart grid conversion got underway the previous spring, but received a major boost on Sept. 26 with the City Council’s approval of $6.2 million for equipment, software and purchases from various contractors. Burlington’s municipally-owned electric department (BED) is working with other Vermont utilities as well as DOE.
The federal funding represents an estimated 50 percent reimbursement for the project, with the state and local communities kicking in the remainder. The total cost for Burlington should be around $14.3 million. In June 2011, local voters approved $7.15 million in bonds to pay the city’s share. According to Ken Nolan, Manager of Power Resources for BED, the bonds were scheduled to be issued in early October.

Nolan briefed the City Council prior to its unanimous approval of 14 contracts. The largest amounts were $3.49 million to Itron, Inc., mostly for the meters themselves; $1.05 million to Siemens Energy and eMeter for the data management system; and $877,215 to Telvent for upgrading the Utilities Group for Supervisor Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, known as the “brains” of energy distribution.

The new meters will relay electrical use over a two-way system, allowing utilities and customers to monitor energy use without employees who physically read meters. On Sept. 15, the Public Service Board led an interactive hearing in Brattleboro to collect public input on the privacy and security issues raised by installing them in private homes. The Board also assessed a controversial “opt out” policy under which homeowners who don’t want the meters would be forced to pay a monthly fee, estimated at $10, if they stick with traditional electric meters.

UPDATE: The Brave New World of Smart Meters

By the end of 2011 Burlington had so far spent $4.4 million on conversion, mostly on substation improvements, a fiber optics loop and construction of a backup operations center. In order to leap forward from there, BED asked the Council to approve most of the major expenditures as a package. However, some vendors hadn’t been selected yet, and other contracts were expected to follow. The City Council also faced decisions “around future efforts surrounding customer education and phone replacement,” according to BED’s report.

Asked to provide a timeline and describe the benefits, Nolan said that installation of smart meters in Burlington would begin in January. By April 2012, many local homeowners would “start seeing how they use energy.” New rates would be developed, based on use analysis, and presented to the PSB in 2013. Those able to shift their energy use were expected to save money. Beyond that, he also mentioned new appliances that can be turned on and off by the meter. In the long term, utilities will be able to use the data collected by the meters to “work with customers on usage,” he said.

Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power, the state’s two major private utilities, were also gearing up to install the new meters. In Rutland installation was also slated to be underway in January. But some consumers were already concerned about who would have access to the information collected and whether it would be secure. 

Vermont ACLU director Allen Gilbert publicly warned that in the past GPS information, cell phone use and other electronic data have been obtained without proper warrants. He argued that any personal information collected by a smart meter should be protected, and customers should be informed if anyone gains access.

One of the weak links is SCADA, the "brain" that collects data and sends it to a central computer. In 1999, when a pipeline burst in Bellingham, Washington, a SCADA failure was implicated. SCADA network and control systems also run dams, power plants, and gas and oil refineries.

A 2010 study funded by security vendor McAfee Inc and released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, concluded that SCADA systems are being attacked by a variety of methods, individuals and gangs. Two-thirds of those surveyed said their SCADA systems were connected to an IP network or the Internet. About half of those said the connection created SCADA security issues that aren't being addressed.

“BED presently utilizes a SCADA system created by Telvent Utilities Group,” states the memo on Burlington’s smart grid contracts, “but this software is several versions old and is designed to communicate utilizing radio technology.” The local utility plans to upgrade to the latest software, convert most of its communication systems to fiber-optics, and install a “video wall” distribution map. Remote terminals will allow the software to “speak with equipment on the distribution system.”

Security is a major focus for Sandia National Laboratories, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary headquartered in New Mexico with roots in the Manhattan Project during World War II. In fact, Sandia has long called itself a "national security lab." But its 21st century mission also includes "security of the smart grid."

In early August 2011, after more than six months of study and local debate, Burlington’s City Council adopted a resolution on community standards for partnerships with businesses to address energy and climate change. This came largely in response to public criticism of a partnership agreement signed with Lockheed Martin by Progressive Party Mayor Bob Kiss. More than 50 local residents testified on the issue during public meetings, all but a few opposing the deal with the arms maker.

Kiss called the standards that emerged “bad public policy,” questioned whether most city residents actually support what he called a “restrictive and regressive approach,” and vetoed the resolution. In statement issued on Sept. 6, 2011, he said the policy adopted by the Council might have contributed to a decision by Lockheed to pull out of the Burlington agreement. It was “a sorry achievement” that ran contrary to “building respectful municipal partnerships,” he charged. The City Council narrowly upheld his veto.

Local resistance hasn’t affected Sandia’s “partnership” with the state. According to Les Shephard, vice president for energy, resources and nonproliferation, Vermont will be a “test bed” for “how to bring these technologies to bear.” It is appealing to Sandia not only because of its leadership on energy issues, he told the Burlington Free Press in 2010, but also because of its climate. "We could develop, deploy and assess various types of technology in cold weather," Shephard said. "Our test facilities here are in the bright skies of New Mexico, where we have over 300 days of sunshine."
The Energy Department doesn't have a national lab in New England. But Sanders began lobbying for a Vermont-based satellite lab during a visit to Sandia in 2008. "At the end of the day,” Shephard recalled later, “he turned to the laboratory director and said, 'I'd really like to have a set of capabilities like Sandia in New England -- and very much so in Vermont.' And that's how it all evolved."

In July 2011, the Vermont-Sandia project offered a series of short courses on smart grid modernization for Vermont utility staff, energy-tech company management, and others stakeholders to examine and promote conversion.  That fall seminars mainly focusing on the same issues were held in cooperation with the Gund Institute. 

For example, Dr. Rush Robinett III discussed “Integrating Renewables into the Electric Grid” on the UVM campus as part of the series. Sandia’s senior manager in the Grid Modernization and Military Energy Systems Group, Robinett began working with Sandia in the 1980s as part of the staff developing the Star Wars (Ballistic Missile Defense) program. Since then he has concentrated on robotics and power infrastructure.

According to its website, the Sandia-Vermont Partnership was created to “enhance multidisciplinary education and workforce development” related to smart-grid, promote research collaboration, and “form liaisons with private and public stakeholders.” Sandia projects that more than 80 percent of Vermont consumers will be using smart meters by 2015.

Sen. Sanders, who has criticized Lockheed Martin in the past as a profiteer and corporate criminal, nevertheless envisions Vermont transformed “into a real-world lab for the entire nation” through its partnership with Sandia. “We're at the beginning of something that could be of extraordinary significance to Vermont and the rest of the country,” he insists. "This state is leading the country in energy efficiency. Period. We are No. 1.”
Burlington's Top 7 Smart Grid Contractors
1. Itron....................................$3,496,743 
2. Siemens/eMeter....................1,058,100
3. Telvent.................................    877,215
4. Oracle Systems....................    270,000
5. SunGard Public Sector.........    231,300
6. Rugged.com.........................   165,167
     7. Aclara..............................        142,000      

Saturday, July 20, 2013

On the Air: F35s and the Surveillance State

Here's a new interview with Stephen Lendman, host of the Progressive Radio News Hour on PRN.  In this half hour we discuss the controversy surrounding F35s in Vermont, Edward Snowden, government surveillance, and my new book. This fall I'll begin hosting a weekly show on this network. Meanwhile, a few thoughts...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dons of Time: The Adventure Begins in October

"Wherever you look
         …there you are."

The next media breakthrough has just happened. They call it Remote Viewing and Tonio Wolfe is at the center of the storm.

But the research underway at TELPORT's off-the-books lab is even more radical -- opening a window not only to remote places but completely different times. Now unsolved mysteries are colliding with cutting edge science and altered states of consciousness in a world of corporate gangsters, infamous crimes and top-secret surveillance experiments. 

Based on eyewitness accounts, suppressed documents and the lives of world-changers like Nikola Tesla, Annie Besant and Jack the Ripper, Dons of Time is a speculative adventure, a glimpse of an alternative future and a quantum leap to Gilded Age London at the tipping point of invention, revolution and murder.

"a who’s who of 19th-century figures... part Sopranos and part X-files" - Publisher's Weekly

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now at Amazon.com and save 30%
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From Greg Guma, author of The People’s Republic, 
Spirits of Desire, Uneasy Empire, and Inquisitions

Release Date
October 21, 2013
Fomite Press
978-1-937677-51-0 (paper)
978-1-937677-57-2 (epub)
Library of Congress Number
Retail Price

430 pages

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Restless Times, Big Love and Nagging Questions

This is the fourteenth chapter of a series excerpted from “Maverick Chronicles,” a memoir-in-progress. Previous stories can be found at VTDigger. By Greg Guma

Visiting Nicaragua as part of a peace delegation in 1983 was an inspiring experience. But I also noticed that the Sandinista road had some potholes. In bookstores, for instance, I saw only Marxist literature and imports from the Soviet Union. The country’s literacy crusade had made a huge difference, but right-wing propaganda was being replaced by ham-handed left-wing indoctrination.
Paulo Freire teaches
As a student of Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educator whose approach stressed the development of critical consciousness, I concluded that Nicaragua’s revolutionaries were passing up a chance to transform society. "We are unfinished beings in an unfinished reality,” Freire had explained in class. “We become educated every day. But education doesn't have to do with the quantity of information you eat. You are educated to the extent that you are engaged in creating knowledge."
     But how is knowledge created? I had asked.
     “Knowledge is a mixture of thought and action which becomes like a ball in permanent motion,” he said. “It moves in spirals until the 'teachment' comes forth and knowledge appears."
     The process sounded a bit like giving birth, a painful but liberating experience. Knowing demands reflection, action, curiosity, patience, hope to create and taking risks, Freire explained. But in most schools, the acts of knowing and creating new knowledge are divided, so places of education have essentially become shopping centers that sell existing knowledge.
     "In Latin America fatalism is expressed in reliance on God,” he said. “In North America it is the power of the establishment and technology that replaces God. It is as though history is already finished and not being created and growing."
     When I shared my impressions of Nicaragua during a speaking tour, some people in audiences nevertheless objected to my questions about the Sandinistas’ decision to suppress dissent or censor books and newspapers. They have no choice, folks said, pointing to US attempts to overthrown the new regime. They were right. The Reagan administration was funding a violent insurgency and other forms of destabilization. But the Sandinistas weren’t perfect, and support for them need not exclude a bit of constructive criticism.
      Self-criticism was supposedly an aspect of the Left’s approach to process. When it came to “our side,” however, any break from “unity” could be grounds for a charge of disloyalty, perhaps even “collaboration” with the enemy.
     Frustrated with such reactions, I stopped speaking about politics in public for a while and returned to the book business to launch Maverick Bookstore and Gallery in Burlington’s Old North End. The name felt appropriate, philosophically and because the Lloyds, my son’s family on Robin’s side, were related to the Maverick clan in Texas.
     Samuel Maverick was a big Texas personality and the origin of the word’s modern usage. The official story is that he won a ranch in a card game and afterward declined to brand his steers. Unbranded steers became known around San Antonio as mavericks.
     The TV show Maverick was pure fiction, but there was a large maverick family. Robin’s grandfather married Lola Maverick. He became famous briefly as a so-called “Communist millionaire;” she helped organize the Ford Peace Ship before World War I and co-founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Some of their children were activists as well, including Robin’s dad Bill. So, when I thought about an independent enterprise, not to mention my journalism and peace work, the name felt apt.
     Running a local business replaced political arguments with community service, brought in a modest income, and provided the opportunity to create an outlet for new community projects. But I was still restless, and spent considerable time over the next several years in Europe, seeing as much of the world as I could afford.
     At the end of the 1980s I tried to reconnect with Vermont as coordinator of the Burlington Peace and Justice Center and commissioner on the local Library Board. I even made a second run for the City Council, again getting 42 percent of the vote. In that race the local GOP Chair called me a “serious professional revolutionary anarchist,” an attack I turned into a campaign button. But despite some modest successes – forging a connection between the peace and environmental movements, publishing a book about Vermont, bringing the local library under direct city control – I felt disconnected, out of synch with the increasingly gentrified Burlington scene.
One of our Mexican campsites
Fortunately, I was deeply in love at the time. If we are lucky, at some point we experience a great love, one that stirs the soul and rocks the world. Mine was a Danish guitarist who visited Burlington with an international work camp when I was in my mid-30s and she was 20. For the next six years we pursued a trans-continental affair, wintering in my camper on the Mexican coast, mushroom hunting on a remote Danish island, trying to live together in Denmark and Vermont, breaking up and re-uniting and breaking up again. Finally, in 1990, we gave up struggling and married. A year later we picked up stakes and moved to southern California.
     Before arriving we were both offered jobs, she as a music therapist at a state hospital, me as manager of a bookstore in Santa Monica. Gail Stevenson, a successful therapist with celebrity clients and a Frazier Crane-like husband who offered advice on the radio, was about to open a trendy “eco-feminist” bookstore across from the Santa Monica Museum. She’d heard about my Vermont business and hoped to create something similar, a bookstore that was also a center for community activity. She already had a name – Revolution.
     The location was prime, the patrons affluent, sometimes famous, the space large and airy. But Gail was more concerned about what it looked like than how well it functioned as a business. The interior was designed by an architect partial to deconstructionist style, so books were piled on rough crates and lodged on stark metal shelves that made effective display difficult. Six months after the opening, an event heralded by a front page piece in the style section of the Los Angeles Times, the renovations still weren’t complete.
     No matter how much money we made it wasn’t enough. The main reason was Gail’s inability to stop spending on anything but books. The kid’s section had to be a posh playground with toys and designer pillows, the coffee bar had to feature only the best espresso machine and pastries. There were always more ads to place for events, and new ideas for an even better image. Meanwhile, I struggled to make payroll for a large seven-days-a-week staff and keep up with monster bills from our wholesalers.
     When I mentioned the problems to Gail, pleading with her to get a grip on the spending, her gaze would drift away, as if distracted by an invisible marvel somewhere in the distance. When I finished talking she’d turn back and say something like, “We need better biscottis.” It was maddening.
     Eventually, I demanded some changes. Making a comprehensive list of what was essential to get the operation into the black, I presented my case. The next day she introduced my replacement.
     Two weeks later I was unemployed. Three weeks after that I received a call from a member of the bookstore staff. On Gail’s 46th birthday, the staffer recounted, she had purchased a gun, learned how to use it at a shooting range, then driven to her Westwood office and killed herself. She was beautiful, blonde and wealthy, with a young son, an admired spouse and A-list friends. None of it turned out to enough.
    I stayed in L.A. for another year, but after the Revolution disaster I just couldn’t connect with the city’s ephemeral, often narcissistic culture. Three of my screenplays made the rounds – an historical epic on the Haymarket bombing, a film noir take on the CIA’s notorious MK-Ultra mind control program and a contemporary thriller about religious fundamentalists who carry out assassinations for a covert right wing group – but none of them survived the Hollywood meat grinder. After a few years neither did my marriage, although my love never faded and the memories remain.  
     Back in Vermont, the editorship of Toward Freedom opened up at the right moment, so I returned East and tried to recover. Still, the restlessness would not go away.
     In 1995, when an ex-girlfriend got in touch and I learned that she was moving to New Mexico for health reasons, I decided to give the west another try. Fortunately, the Internet had gone public by then, so it was possible to edit Toward Freedom long distance, even increase its immediacy and writer network. Dave Dellinger, who was co-chairing the board with Robin Lloyd, was skeptical but willing to give the idea a chance.
     A few months after arriving I was both editing TF and running yet another progressive non-profit, the Albuquerque Border City Project, an immigrant rights organization that provided legal services. As it happened, the US was just entering one of its periodic bouts with anti-immigrant fever.
     While living in L.A., I had watched the Border Patrol play a key role in the riots of 1992, deployed in Latino communities and arresting more than 1,000 people. Afterward, the INS had begun work with the Pentagon’s Center for Low-Intensity Conflict. The line between civilian and military operations was largely being erased. Human Rights Watch accused the US Border Patrol of routinely abusing people, citing a pattern of beatings, shootings, rapes, and deaths. In response, INS detainees in a private jail rioted in June 1995 after being tortured by guards.
     In many ways Los Angeles embodied the American Dream. The confluence of climate, capital and demographics had made California one of the world’s largest economies, an “international” state that was also the image capital of the world. But it was also rapidly becoming a "third world" state. As David Rieff noted in Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World, the rest of the country – and perhaps the world – might well follow the L.A. model. Rieff considered it, at the very least, a national archetype. The US was no longer an extension of Europe, he argued, becoming instead "an increasingly nonwhite country adrift, however majestically and powerfully, in an increasingly nonwhite world."
     While I worked in Albuquerque, the border became a battlefield, and government strategies for combating undocumented immigration re-militarized the region. The recently-passed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) meshed neatly with more obvious aspects of low-intensity conflict (LIC) doctrine. The definition of immigration and drug trafficking as “national security” issues brought state-of-the-art military approaches into domestic affairs. Just as the projection of a “communist menace” was a smokescreen for post-war expansionism, a “Brown wave,” the “Drug War” and terrorism were being used as pretexts for military-industrial penetration.
     In New Mexico I immersed myself in immigration law and regional race politics, developing a coalition of sympathetic groups to fight back against the most draconian aspects of a new immigration reform law. We staged public rallies in Old Town, and brought Latino and Asian spokesmen to Santa Fe to testify at legislative hearings. Sensing potential, the progressive power structure welcomed such initiatives and offered me a spot on the State Human Rights Commission.
     I remained an outsider, however, one who didn’t fully understand the nature of the local culture or embrace some of its assumptions. The cause was just. But the small, progressive enclave I’d entered was isolated from a larger and essentially conservative community. Neither felt like a place where I could comfortably put down roots.
    What was I, an activist or a writer? A foot soldier in the long progressive march – a movement about which I was having some doubts – or a social critic and observer, always questioning conventional wisdom? Was it possible to be both? Wherever I went such questions followed.
     Maybe my standards were too rigid, or my expectations too high, I thought. Maybe a more practical, less perfectionist approach to life and work would serve me – and whatever came next – a bit better. After years of self-imposed exile it was time to go home and find out.

Maverick Chronicles will continue ...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Contras, Drugs and Money

The Hunt for the Secret Team
By Greg Guma

Death of a Whistleblower

Steven Carr joined the Reagan administration's "secret" war against Nicaragua because he "wanted to fight the Sandinistas." Too young to have served in Vietnam, he was hungry for adventure in an anti-communist crusade.
    As Carr later admitted, he and four other mercenaries met in Miami in March 1985. From there he drove a truck loaded with weapons to the Fort Lauderdale Airport. The weapons -- M-16 rifles, .50 caliber machine guns, and 66-mm mortars -- came from storage facilities belonging to various Cuban exile groups. Some may have been pilfered from National Guard armories.
     The recruits flew with the supplies to El Salvador, where, with official assistance, they transferred the shipment to another plane and went on to Costa Rica. There they found a Contra base coordinated from a ranch owned by John Hull, a US citizen who claimed to have CIA and National Security Council (NSC) connections. 
     Over the next month Carr participated in a raid on a small Nicaraguan town, as well as plans to bomb power lines. He heard about other schemes, including the assassination of enemies and staging attacks that could be blamed on the Sandinistas. These were supposed to provide a pretext for further US involvement, and ultimately an invasion.
     To Carr, it looked like a sanctioned US operation. Hull talked often about his "buddies" in the NSC. When Carr went on a raid, Costa Rican Civil Guard troops accompanied the attacking force, he claimed. He also learned about cocaine shipments flowing through Hull's ranch on their way to the US. For his various services, Hull claimed to be receiving regular $10,000 payments, which he ballooned by trading currency on the black market.
     It seemed like a soldier of fortune's dream come true.
     But in April 1985, the Costa Rican government apparently turned sour on the "expeditionary" force, arresting Carr and his associates (not including Hull) for violating neutrality laws. The once gung-ho 27-year old, bitter about "being made the scapegoat for everybody else," decided to talk. On videotape and later to US investigators, he spoke about moving weapons, assassination plots, and Contra assistance to drug smugglers. He recommended that others do the same.
     In a letter to Jesus Garcia, another witness with details about the Contra network's "dirty tricks," Carr wrote about his plans: "I've put all my marbles in their (the investigators') corner hoping to get to the truth of things and show how our 'wonderful' CIA are a bunch of assholes, liars, cheats and murderers.  I'm an American all the way but I stop at killing other Americans for the sake of CIA war games."
     After his release by the Costa Ricans, Carr came home and began to cooperate with officials in Florida and congressional investigators. He also became paranoid -- with good reason. The US administration wanted to discredit his testimony about the arms shipments and another plot, devised at the urging of Colombian drug lords. The traffickers had offered a $1 million reward to the Contra network in Costa Rica, he claimed, for the murder of Lewis Tambs, former ambassador to Colombia, who had been attempting to crack down on drug smuggling.
     The pressure on Carr was intense. One of his companions, Peter Glibbery, still jailed in Costa Rica, had received a death threat from an employee of John Hull.
     On December 17, 1986 Steven Carr was found dead near Los Angeles. Local authorities were quick to label it suicide. He apparently had stumbled to his car at 2:30 a.m., foaming at the mouth, and dropped dead in the driveway, probably from a cocaine overdose. Medical reports were inconclusive and a coroner's toxicity report failed to resolve the mystery.

The Contra-Cocaine Connection

During a televised speech on March 16, 1986, President Reagan displayed a photograph taken in Nicaragua and claimed that it proved top Nicaraguan officials were involved in cocaine trafficking. As it turned out, there was no real evidence and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) later issued a low-key "clarification." But the smear was effective; it distracted attention from the ongoing investigation of Contra involvement in the drug trade.
     Barry Seal, the only person who might have told the true story about the grainy picture of men loading a plane near Managua, was already dead. A DEA informant and pilot, Seal had been murdered on February 19 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, reportedly on orders from the Colombian cocaine magnate who had arranged the shipments in association with the Contra network. One of the suspects, in federal custody on an unrelated charge, was Jose Coutin, a suspected drug dealer and Miami gunshop owner with links to John Hull's ranch operations.
     Seal's story, and the Contra-cocaine connection, were subsequently the subject of several investigations. In a report by the International Center for Development Policy, directed by former US Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White, Seal emerged as a dangerous pawn who knew too much. For example, he knew that the Colombians were using Hull's ranch as a shipping point.
     He also knew that the famous incriminating photo had been taken on DEA orders, and that other US government figures were aware of the shipments. But when the White House leaked the story about the Sandinistas and drugs, along with the photo, Seal's cover was blown. He’d taken the picture himself. The Colombians, according to White's report, put a $2 million price on his head.
     Dan Sheehan of the Christic Institute, an interfaith law and policy center that independently dug into the private arms network fueling the Contras, concluded that the Seal shipments were merely a small part of the network's deal to transport cocaine in exchange for funds to purchase arms. In 1983, Sheehan revealed, several anti-Castro Cubans and Hull agreed to provide refueling and packaging services on the Costa Rican ranch in exchange for up to $25,000 per shipment from the Colombians.
     "As amazing as it sounds," Sheehan claimed later, "the conspiracy is continuing to bring in about one ton or 1000 kilos of cocaine to the US each week." The street value of such a shipment was more than $25 million. Some of the profits, he added, were deposited in Miami and Central American banks and later withdrawn to purchase weapons.
     The picture that emerged from these overlapping investigations was of an alliance stretching back years and providing smugglers with secure routes to the US in exchange for cash. According to Jesus Garcia, a former Dade County, Florida deputy sheriff who was part of the operation before he went to prison for illegal firearms possession, "It is common knowledge in Miami that this whole Contra operation in Costa Rica was paid for with cocaine. Everyone involved knows it. I actually saw the cocaine and weapons together under one roof, weapons that I helped ship to Costa Rica."
     The same charge was leveled in a civil complaint filed by journalists Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey. They alleged that the network was responsible for a bombing in Costa Rica in which Contra leader Eden Pastora and several journalists were injured. Avirgan was one of those wounded. Several others, including one US reporter, were killed.
     Honey and Avirgan claimed that, in order to fund their operations, a deal had been struck between Hull, some Cuban-Americans, and Contra leaders hostile to Pastora, who refused to merge with other Contra forces. Drugs flowed freely through Costa Rica to various US points; profits paid for weapons from Florida, Israel and South Korea, according to the White Report. When Pastora remained uncooperative, the same group contracted with a Libyan professional assassin, Amac Galil, to eliminate him.
     Citing White House sources, the New York Times reported on January 20, 1987 that the DEA had known since at least the previous fall that US flight crews carrying arms to the Contras were smuggling cocaine on return trips to the US. When told about the investigation one crew member reportedly warned that he was under the protection of Lt. Col. Oliver North.
     "The Contra operation," emphasized White's report, "like all covert operations, breeds criminality, attracts criminals, and results in the cover up of criminal activity. The most profitable criminal activity today is narcotics. It is not surprising to find Contra and Contra-related figures using the opportunities provided by the operation to enrich themselves in the name of a cause nor to find the US officials responsible for the operation either condoning their actions or not taking active measures to stop them."

Bush in the Loop

Various researchers and investigations have established that Vice President George Bush and his national security advisers maintained close ties with the secret air-re-supply operation in El Salvador. In October 1986, a week after the Nicaraguan government shot down a plane carrying supplies for the Contras, front page press reports announced that the operation led to both the CIA and Bush.
      Resupply project Chief Felix Rodriguez met several times with Bush and a key aide, but the VP claimed they did not discuss Nicaragua. The trail also led to the vice president’s son Jeb Bush, who had “long acted as a liaison man with the fiercely pro-Contra, anti-Cuban and Nicaraguan settlers in Miami,” according to the Manchester Guardian.
     Such stories soon vanished, however, and Bush, heir apparent to Reagan, was insulated from further probing questions for the next two years. Nevertheless, he was the one person who connected the CIA, NSA and the mercenary forces on the ground.
     In 1984, when Congress cut off Contra aid, the administration privatized the war. Oliver North designed the plan, NSA chief Robert McFarlane approved it, and the President was briefed. The arrangement was summed up in a Miami Herald report: “The NSC recruited technical and logistical personnel retired from the CIA or the Army Special Forces to establish the network, and Bush’s staff concentrated on organizing Cuban exiles in Miami, many of them veterans of the CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.” Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams became “general strategist,” with CIA Director Bill Casey and North handling operations.
     Elliott Abrams was deeply involved in Contra activities, coordinating between the Department of State, NSC and CIA. But this was only part of a larger inter-agency program masterminded by CIA Director Casey. The Defense Department planned airdrops over Nicaragua and provided troops to build the Contra infrastructure. A private aid network, including John Singlaub's World Anti-Communist League, various non-profit fronts, mercenary groups and CAUSA, the political wing of the Moonies, provided cover for an operation that ultimately led back to the Oval office.
     Rodriguez, both ex-CIA and a Bay of Pigs vet, coordinated the supply route from El Salvador after approaching an old CIA colleague, Donald Gregg, a Bush aide. With administration blessings, he established the Ilopango air base, which involved at least eight planes and hundreds of missions. But the cost was too high for the private organizations coordinated by Gen. John Singlaub, head of the World Anti-Communist League.
     In 1985, after Honduras decided to hold up Contra supplies, Rodriguez met with Bush. Soon after their talk the Contra flights through Ilopango increased, according to witnesses and press reports. It was illegal to supply weapons, yet Rodriguez was able to maintain a direct line with both the US embassy and Don Gregg at the White House. The money, it turns out, was coming from Washington via Israel, Iran and a Swiss bank.
     Money also came from Saudi Arabia as part of a kickback for the sale of AWACs. According to the New York Times, the point man for this was Richard Secord, a retired Air Force general and Pentagon official who eventually led what became known as the Secret Team.
    Secord used money from Iran arms sales and other sources to acquire weapons and channel them to Central America, South Africa, and Angola. The team and the aid network worked with both the Ilopango airlift in El Salvador and the South Front, coordinated from Hull's ranch. Drugs and guns moved back and forth. One beneficiary was the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, led by Adolfo Calero and former Somocistas.
     Over 80 people, in and out of the US government, actively worked in this covert network, with additional financial support from Saudi Arabia and Brunei. President Reagan was aware of and approved most phases of this covert foreign policy.

Private Agents of Chaos

This was only one episode in a longer, even more convoluted tale. An earlier "Contra" war was mounted against Cuba under the direction of Richard Nixon, then vice president, beginning in the late 50s.
     With the cooperation of Mafia don Santo Trafficante, a private "sub-operation" was developed to assassinate Cuban leaders. Members of the "shooter team" included Rafael "Chi Chi" Quintero, who later coordinated arms shipments to the Contras with Secord; Rodriguez, a CIA operative who headed the Ilopango operation and met with Bush; and several of the future Watergate burglers. The Cuban operation was supervised by Secord associates Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines.
     Secord was a key figure in both the Iran and Contra operations. Years before he had flown missions with another Major General, Singlaub, and, as a Pentagon official, embezzled millions while overseeing arms sales. One of his business partners was Shackley, who had been engaged in secret wars since the early 60s, becoming deputy director of covert operations during George Bush's tenure as CIA chief. Clines, another ex-CIA man and a major Contra arms supplier, eventually pleaded guilty to overcharging the Pentagon in 1984.
     The same group had directed CIA secret wars in Southeast Asia between 1965 and 1975. In Laos they backed up Vang Pao, a major opium trafficker. Drug money was used to train Hmong tribesmen in guerrilla war, resulting in the assassination of 100,000 non-combatant "communist sympathizers" in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Shackley and Clines also directed the Phoenix Program in South Vietnam, an effort resulting in the murder of 60,000 Vietnamese civilians. That operation was financed by Vang Pao heroin sold in the US by Trafficante.
     During the early 1970s, they were active in Chile, directing the CIA's "Track II" project to overthrow the Allende government. In 1984, members of the Team recruited Amac Galil through the Chilean military to execute the bombing of Pastora's press conference.
     After Vietnam, the Team moved on to Teheran to conduct private, non-CIA activities like helping the Shah's secret police to identify and assassinate his opponents. Beginning in the mid-70s, Secord, who had become an Assistant Secretary of Defense, supervised the sale of US weapons to Middle East nations. Using middleman Albert Hakim, an Iranian-born US citizen, he purchased weapons at the manufacturer's cost and sold them to countries at a profit, illegally depositing the proceeds into private Team bank accounts. The same practice was used later during the arms sales to Iran.
     The Secret Team's activities stretched around the world. In Australia, they used opium money and weapons profits to help destabilize the Labour government in 1975. In Nicaragua, they assisted Somoza after Carter and Congress stopped further aid; after the dictator's fall, they armed and advised ex-National Guardsmen until the CIA assumed control of the Contra war.
     When Congress cut off aid in 1984, Oliver North, who had worked under Singlaub in Laos, reached out to the Team to illegally recommence funding and re-supply the Contras. During the 1980s operations in Central America, they established major supply bases in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In the meantime, CIA Director Casey developed other Contra operations in Africa. In return for South African assistance in ferrying arms to Central America, for example, he arranged with Saudi Arabian King Fahd to provide aid to the South African-backed UNITA rebels fighting the Angolan government.

Exposing the Team

Before his death, Steven Carr told an aide to Senator John Kerry that he had loaded an arms shipment bound for Costa Rica in broad daylight at the Fort Lauderdale airport. The weapons went to an Air Force base in El Salvador, where military personnel unloaded the plane. In an interview taped after his arrest, he argued that without CIA knowledge "it's improbable that a private charter plane could land at an Air Force base. It's not like we were going on vacation."
     In a video report, "The Costa Rica Connection," Carr and his British associate, Peter Glibbery, alleged their covert work had the full support of Costa Rican officials at first. They said John Hull presented himself as the chief CIA and NSC liaison for the operations. Glibbery claimed to have seen Hull with Robert Owen on the ranch when arms were arriving. Owen, a retired military officer and representative of a Nicaraguan "humanitarian" aid group, was North's contact with the Contra network.
     Predictably, the State Department denied any knowledge of Contra involvement in cocaine deals, and the US Customs Service claimed to know nothing about arms shipments leaving Florida without official clearance. The evidence, however, indicated that the weapons and the drugs did get delivered, and the same network was involved in both operations.
     Avrigan and Honey exposed the private network behind much of this mayhem long before the Tower Commission and Iran-Contra Committee launched their investigations. Working with the Christic Institute, they eventually filed a lawsuit charging 29 US citizens with conspiracy. The specific instance spurring the suit was the bombing of Pastora's press conference. 
     The Secret Team, which helped make that attempted assassination possible, had roots stretching back decades. Including figures such as Secord, Clines, Shackley and an assortment of Cuban exiles and ex-military men, this private military network had long been handling sensitive, often illegal operations at the behest of the US government. In fact, it was an instrument of US policy from the early days of Castro (when some members helped plot the leader's death), in Laos and Vietnam, in the overthrow of Salvadore Allende in Chile, in propping up the Shah of Iran, and throughout Central America.
     After releasing their findings, the journalists were sued for libel in Costa Rica by Hull, the CIA contract agent named in the case. They won. But afterward they were the targets of a police raid, and one of their lawyers was arrested for accepting a package at the post office.
     Police claimed the package contained cocaine from a "T. Borge," a desperate attempt to perpetuate the stale disinformation campaign connecting Sandinista officials such as Tomas Borge with drug smuggling. In reality, the evidence says that the so-called Southern Front, run in the 1980s by John Hull, Oliver North, head Contra Adolfo Calero and Cuban exiles -- and sanctioned at the highest levels of the US government -- was for a while a major shipping point for Colombian cocaine headed to US cities.

Greg Guma's forthcoming novel Dons of Time, to be released by Fomite Press in October, explores the danger of privatized national security and the surveillance state.