By Gustavo Arellano
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Someone was not amused. CNN got a call from the CIA. The Agency said Ken Bucchi was an impostor. The Agency said Ken Bucchi never worked for the CIA. The Agency said Ken Bucchi never was a CIA contractor. Van Susteren went on the air April 25. "I have a secret agency of the government telling me one thing and a citizen telling me another. I've seen and heard falsehoods from both before. Both positions are aired on CNN." Bucchi says that after Van Susteren read the statement, he got a call from a guy he knew from a secret CIA base in Arkansas who offered to confirm their shared experiences with CNN. Bucchi says he told him not to bother because his life would be turned upside down.
April 26. CIA spokesman Bill Harlow released what was apparently an unprecedented statement ("Apparently" because Harlow did not return phone calls seeking clarification):
On April 23, 2001, CNN aired a program during which they interviewed an individual named Kenneth Bucchi, whom CNN described as a "former CIA narcotics agent." During the program, Bucchi alleged that the CIA "basically had a complicit operation, a quid pro quo, if you will, with the drug lords of Colombia and essentially, what we [the CIA] did is put the lion's share of the market in small cash in drug lords' hands. . . .
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said the following in response to this allegation:
"Bucchi never worked for or was affiliated with the CIA in any way; he was neither an employee nor a contractor at any time. Bucchi's account of an operation supposedly working with the drug lords of Colombia is complete and utter nonsense—it is fiction."
Harlow added that while the CIA usually declines to say whether or not a person has ever worked for the Agency, "this one has just gone too far."
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz pounced on the story. "CNN's Very Secret Agent: CIA says man's story is phony." Kurtz played up Harlow's prime directive while introducing Bucchi's defense this way: "In a rambling interview . . ." He quoted Bucchi saying he can't prove he worked for the CIA, that he can't prove he wasn't delusional. Then the coup de grace: Bucchi used an "expletive."
Fucking Kurtz! Lockwood was livid. How could the Washington Post—the vaunted Washington Post—put out such one-sided trash? How could they take the CIA response at face value while ignoring Bucchi's facts? Hal Lockwood checked those facts. Fox News checked those facts. They were solid. Bucchi says Kurtz snipped his quotes. Bucchi says Kurtz ignored his documents. Bucchi says the great Howard Kurtz—who loves going on TV to blast TV for rushing to put people on the air without thorough background checks—relied on just one source for his story: the most secretive spy agency in the world.
Those Bucchi facts? The Air Force branded him delusional for running around and talking about Pseudo Miranda. So Bucchi sought Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) documents to back up his claims. Turns out the DEA was in on the operation. Bucchi filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. But the DEA's initial response in November 1990 says the DEA has no records on a Kenneth C. Bucchi nor an Operation Pseudo Miranda. Then Bucchi showed up on the witness list for Manuel Noriega. The pock-marked Panamanian dictator was being tried in this country for drug trafficking. Bucchi filed another FOIA request in 1991. This time, the DEA responded with seven reasons it could not release information on Bucchi or Pseudo Miranda, including "national security."
More facts? Noriega's flamboyant lead attorney Frank Rubino was on Larry King Live around this time. The host asked about the connection between Pseudo Miranda, the Panamanian leader, the Bush administration CIA and some fellow named Ken Bucchi. "Oh, if we had about two hours, I'd love to sit down and tell you what the connection is, but obviously, this is something we've discussed with our client," Rubino said. "It's an area of great interest to us."
More: Carlos Lehder was the Colombian transport guru of the Medellin cartel. He's at a theater near you. In Blow, he's the basis for the fictional character who partnered with George Jung, the American coke dealer portrayed by Johnny Depp. Bucchi says he wrote to Lehder seeking confirmation of the CIA's quid pro quo drug operation. Bucchi produced a letter whose return address says it's from Lehder inside an Illinois prison. "The topics and Pseudo Miranda program are very much intelligence affairs of the United States anti-drug proyects [sic]. I, Carlos Lehder, as a foreigner, shall not and must not involve myself in any internal affairs of your great nation, just as I disaprove [sic] of foreigners doing so in my country."
That "delusional" tag? Bucchi says Carl Bernstein called his air base for an interview about Pseudo Miranda. Air Force brass caught wind of it. They're still picking the shit out of the fan. Bucchi was hauled before the Top Guns. He offered to dodge any sensitive questions from the legendary journalist who helped break Watergate. Command reasoned that would be interpreted as "he's hiding something." Plausible deniability was in order. Trash the source. Bucchi's a nutbar. Wrap him up in a mental condition. The government would have to pay Bucchi, then just 30 years old, a full medical retirement for life. But it was a small price to pay to keep his records forever sealed due to a medical condition. Bucchi fought back. He could be the first person in history to try to prevent the military from doling out full retirement benefits. To Bucchi, it was a small price to keep from being forever labeled "delusional." His attorney, Major Miles D. Wichelns, got it in the official record that an Air Force psychiatrist refused to diagnose Bucchi as delusional. The same psychiatrist ordered the Office of Special Investigations to look into Bucchi's claims about Pseudo Miranda. The top dogs would not be denied. They took the case to D.C., where (Bucchi claims) a military board was supposed to determine whether his constitutional rights had been violated. Instead, the board reinstated his classification as "delusional." Case closed. No appeal. And just to make sure, the government tied it up in a bow: national security.