INSIDE THE D.E.A.
An Interview with Doug Valentine
Douglas Valentine was a professional tree surgeon until 1981, when he began a career as a writer and investigative reporter. In 1990, he published The Phoenix Program, an account of the CIA-sponsored assassination program during the Vietnam War that resulted in over 26,000 deaths. Some of the characters from the Phoenix Program were later recruited into various drug-enforcement agencies, and Valentine’s research—the basis for two books on the US government’s War on Drugs—has followed the deep political connections among drug overlords, organized crime and the intelligence agencies that secretly support them. In 1994, he uncovered evidence that bolstered actor Woody Harrelson’s efforts to appeal the conviction of his father, Charles Harrelson, for the murder of a federal judge (the appeal was ultimately unsuccessful). Valentine is also proud to have worked for the family of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His latest book is Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues That Shaped the DEA (Trine Day, 2009).
Where does the CIA-Mafia connection begin?
When the United States invaded Italy during World War II, the Mafia paved the way. Narcotics agent George [Hunter] White was instrumental in establishing this link: There were a lot of agents from the Bureau of Narcotics who helped create the OSS during the war. They needed the Mafia in Italy; they needed the Corsicans, who were part of the resistance against the Nazis. So they formed close relationships during the war.
So when the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs [the DEA’s immediate predecessor] was created in 1968, John Ingersoll [the first BNDD head] was put in charge of cleaning up corruption in New York City— and he only got about halfway through the job when they arm-chaired him out of that mission, correct?
it started to become a morale problem—there's inspectors climbing all over the place, and everybody's afraid of bending the rules. Everyone knows when you’re a case-making agent, as soon as you get out on the street, those rules go out the window. And you can’t have all these corruption investigations going on, so Indecides everybody's clean. But at the same time, he goes to the director of the CIA, Richard Helms, and to John Mitchell, the US attorney general, and they decide to secretly hire a group of about 20 CIA agents. The CIA is getting out of Vietnam, and it has a lot of extra guys.
these guys brought in to do “wet work” like Phoenix? They were supposed to assassinate foreign drug dealers?
Well, yeah—but they also create this secret “anti-corruption” program, and they don't tell anybody in the BNDD. They integrate these CIA officers into the BNDD, and they assign one to each of the regions to spy on the big bosses. But it’s a cover for a CIA-BNDD operation to assassinate and capture drug dealers. The Rockefeller Commission found out about it and wrote a little bit about it in 1975. They were supposed to make corruption cases, but they never did. And, of course, [the commission] never talked about the fact that it was a cover for what they were really supposed to do.
Did they actually kill anybody?
I’ve heard of as many as 150 assassinations. I asked Ingersoll about a $150 million slush fund related to this "corruption" unit, and he said, "Yeah, that was an operational part of it." And that’s one example of how the CIA’s influence in drug-law enforcement is pervasive: National-security interests always supersede federal drug-law enforcement. My book follows this corruption unit into the intelligence functions of the DEA.
It took them years to penetrate the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.
One of the guys that was in on that was Terry Burke, who brought Timothy Leary back from Afghanistan. Burke became acting administrator of the DEA. He was a CIA officer in Laos, and he was recruited into this corruption unit. I spent a lot of time talking to Terry Burke.
He was in Laos in ’64 and '65, working for a guy named Tony Poe [Anthony Poshepny], who I also interviewed— Tony Poe ran the base in Laos that the CIA was flying drugs out of. Dennis Dayle ran the CENTAC program [short for "Central Tactic Unit,” the federal anti-drug strike force within the DEA] and said every important case could have been carried further, but the CIA blocked it. The CIA has no idea where the drug money goes, right? They can look through a satellite and see the color of your eyes, but they can't find out where this drug money is going?
How did you get involved with Frank Olson and MKULTRA?
I filed an F0IA [Freedom of Information Act request] with the CIA for its records on MK-ULTRA and, through a fluke, the CIA sent me unredacted documents, including George White's diary. Narcotics agent George White was hired to run an MK-ULTRA subproject.
These documents came and had the names of everybody involved, so I just went out and interviewed them.
Knowing how sneaky intelligence operations are, couldn’t they be planting agents—so-called "whistleblowers”—in order to salt disinfo and put mud in the investigative waters?
Yeah, they are always muddying the water. That's why it’s so important to stick to facts and what you know to be true. [Former CIA head William] Colby liked me, and he introduced me to a lot of guys who were senior CIA officers. And they told me all sorts of incredible inside stuff. After two or three years, I’d walk up and I’d meet a CIA officer, and they'd think I was CIA.
Because you were friends with Colby?
It’s being deceptive, but that’s how you get the story.
So there are agents who think you’re undercover, planting stories?
Probably not any more, ha ha ha. But they did for a long time, and some of them probably think I’m still just maintaining an elaborate cover. &