Remember Tosh Plumlee? He was the star of my Sept. 2006 cover story, “Cocaine Airways,” which detailed his colorful career as a contract pilot for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. In that story, I wrote about how Plumlee, a Texas native, found work for the CIA in the 1950s flying weapons to Castro, back when the agency and the beard were still on talking terms. However, the article primarily focused on his allegation that he flew guns and drugs back and forth between the U.S. and Latin America during the 1980s.
One name that came up in my interview of Plumlee was Enrique Camarena, the DEA agent who was kidnapped and murdered in Guadalajara after getting too close to the marijuana smuggling operation of Rafael Caro Quintero. Now, in a recent interview with Fox News, Plumlee is adding his name to a list of people including former DEA agents, who are claiming that CIA operatives were present when Camarena was tortured to death in Mexico, and that a CIA contract pilot such as himself helped Quintero escape Mexico shortly after the murder.
“The United States government played both ends against the middle. We were running guns. We were running drugs. We were using the drug money to finance the gun running operation,” Plumlee told Fox, which reported that he flew for an airline called SETCO which the CIA has since admitted carried “military supplies to Contra forces inside Nicaragua.”
Much of what is contained in the Fox News article is old news to anyone familiar with the reporting of Gary Webb in his 1996 Dark Alliance series for the San Jose Mercury News, and in fact, one of the ex-DEA agents quoted in the story, Hector Berellez, was a source of Webb's. (Another source for the story is Phil Jordan, who used to run the DEA's operations in El Paso, and who is the main character of Down by the River, a book on drug war corruption by Charles Bowden, who wrote the introduction to my biography of Gary Webb, Kill the Messenger).
I also reported for the LA Weekly back in 1998 that the DEA later monitored massive shipments of cocaine that came across the border, busting U.S. dealers who were on the receiving end, but not following up on evidence that the smugglers were working for former Mexican drug czar General Juan Arevalo Gardoqui, about whose role in the drug trade Camarena's murderers were allegedly asking the agent about when they tortured him.
But the Fox story is still timely because Quintero, after his prison sentence was overturned on a technicality in Mexico, has just disappeared. Call it deja vu all over again: the same thing happened right after Camarena's murder, and Plumlee, Jordan and Berellez, are certain the CIA has something to do with the mystery.
“[A]ll three men say it was an American pilot–who worked for the CIA as well as the Contras and drug cartels–who flew Quintero to freedom from Guadalajara, the Fox report states. “You have the CIA employees, which are your badge, carrying CIA personnel and then you have all of these subcontract employees that work with these intelligence agencies,” Berrellez told the news outlet. “Some of them are pilots, some of them run boats, but they are contract employees. Now, the pilot that flew Caro Quintero to Costa Rica was a contract employee.”
“Absolutely,” Jordan told Fox. “That's a fact.”
“That's absolutely right,” chimed in Plumlee, who Fox quotes as saying that the pilot who helped Quintero escape the last time “now lives in New Mexico and regrets that flight.”