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Agency of Fear

Opiates and Political Power in America

By Edward Jay Epstein

Chapter 16 - Bureau of Assassinations


Even in the most enlightened Hollywood films (not to mention Transylvanian folklore) it is perfectly justifiable to execute vampires summarily-or even their victims, when they're transformed into vampires-without the benefit of any legal process, presumably because they embody an evil so easily transmittable to others and destructive to society that there is no time for a fair trial. For similar reasons It is generally accepted in more contemporary dramas for heroin pushers (often cast as updated versions of Dracula) to be disposed of summarily by extralegal means. In the early seventies a number of films and television dramas centered around the execution of pushers by vigilantes reenacting the role of crusaders against the vampire. For example, in the movie Hit a former CIA agent puts together an assassination team for the express purpose of murdering a dozen or so heroin dealers in France, which the film justifies as appropriate action.

The unconventional liquidation of those suspected of participating in the narcotics business was not limited to films or fiction. When Ingersoll continued to report that "our enforcement agencies are not getting the top traffickers," Krogh demanded an explanation. Ingersoll replied that although his agency was able to identify the top traffickers in foreign nations, the local police in those countries were unwilling to move against these wholesale dealers, apparently because they had their protection. The only way to get immediate results, he suggested defensively, was to assassinate the traffickers. He assumed, at the time, that such an alternative would be "completely unthinkable"-at least, that is how he explained it to me two years later.

Unknown to Ingersoll, the Ad Hoc Committee on Narcotics, also under the aegis of Egil Krogh, was receiving information that made such an alternative "less unthinkable." The CIA reported that there were only a handful of kingpin traffickers in Latin America, who could be eliminated very swiftly. Two new advisors to Krogh, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, were also pressing for unconventional actions. Liddy told William Handley, then our ambassador to Turkey, that he was for liquidating top traffickers by any means available. By mid-May, Ingersoll was asked by the White House to prepare a plan for "clandestine law enforcement"-as if law enforcement could be clandestine. What Ingersoll suggested was a fund which could be used for various clandestine activities and "which would be set up along the lines of the CIA," meaning that only a few Congressmen-the majority and minority members of the appropriate subcommittees-would know the actual details of the expenditures of this fund. Ingersoll subsequently explained to me that he intended to use this fund mainly for "disruptive tactics," such as planting misinformation among various drug-dealing factions and purposely misidentifying informants in the hope of inciting some kind of gang warfare. But at the time, at the White House, at least, assassination was "a very definite part of the plan," according to Jeffrey Donfeld, who drew up most of the memoranda concerning the "clandestine law enforcement" program. 

The fund also grew in White House planning to assume proportions far beyond the original plans, according to Ingersoll. A May 27 memorandum for the president from John Ehrlichman (written by Krogh) noted that one decision the president would be required to make would concern -$50 million for overseas operations in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, for such clandestine enforcement." Later that week, John Ehrlichman met with President Nixon. According to Krogh's detailed "Outline of Discussion with the President on Drugs," the president agreed to "forceful action in [stopping] international trafficking of heroin at the host country." Specifically, the memorandum of the meeting noted, "It is anticipated that a material reduction in the supply of heroin in the U.S. can be accomplished through a $100 million (over three years) fund which can be used for clandestine law enforcement activities abroad and for which BNDD would not be accountable. This decisive action is our only hope for destroying or immobilizing the highest level of drug traffickers." (Emphases added.) Though the word "assassination" was never used by the president, it is clear from the context of the "Outline of Discussion" that clandestine operations in the host country could accomplish the destruction of drug traffickers, who were assumed to be under the protection of police and politicians abroad. As one of Krogh's young assistants facetiously explained when I showed him the outline of the presidential discussion, "one hundred million dollars would buy a lot of contracts on a lot of major heroin dealers." Ingersoll doubted that such a "staggering sum" was ever intended to be used for any sort of narcotics enforcement, but was possibly some sort of clandestine slush fund. In any case, it was clear that this fund was not meant to be controlled by the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. (indeed, the $100 million proposed for unaccountable clandestine activities abroad was more than the bureau had received in its entire budget in 1970 for overt and legal law-enforcement activities.) Ehrlichman suggested that an executive order be issued establishing a "Domestic Council-National Security Council Joint Action Group" on drugs which, among other things, would "set policies which relate international considerations to domestic considerations," In the accompanying decision paper the president tentatively approved the "flexible law enforcement fund ... for clandestine activities," for which there would be no accountability. According to Krogh, this would be used for Underworld contacts and disruptive tactics, with the eventual goal of destroying those deemed to be heroin traffickers.

Whatever happened to this clandestine fund is not entirely clear. Ingersoll recalls that the amount appropriated "without accountability" was far less than the $100 million, three-year program, and was used mainly to buy informants and information abroad. Egli Krogh recalled in 1973 that after the secret fund was approved by the president, Ingersoll, who by then had lost favor with the White House, was no longer trusted to disburse it. Krogh claimed that the only narcotics assassinations actually carried out were in Southeast Asia, where the CIA arranged to have various traffickers lured into traps by their enemies. Krogh's assistants, however, strongly intimated that a great deal more was done with the program and that it resulted directly in disrupting the Latin American connection. At the suggestion of Howard Hunt, a part-time consultant to Krogh on narcotics, Lucien Conein, a CIA colonel of Corsican origin who had been deeply involved in the coup that resulted in the assassination of Premier Diem of South Vietnam, was brought into the BNDD as the head of its strategic intelligence.* That fall, Hunt also approached the Cuban exile leader Manuel Artimes in Miami and, according to Artimes, asked him about the possibility of forming a team Of Cuban exile hit men to assassinate Latin American traffickers still operating outside the bailiwick of United States law. The idea of assassinations also became quite popularly applied to the French connection in Marseilles. In September, 1972, for example, the idea was broached to members of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse during their "heroin trip" through Europe. Dr. J. Thomas Ungerleider, a member of that commission, reported in a memorandum of his conversations with BNDD officials: 

There was some talk about establishing hit squads (assassination teams), as they are said to have in a South American country. It was stated that with 150 key assassinations, the entire heroin refining operation can be thrown into chaos. "Officials" say it is known exactly who is involved in these operations but can't prove it. 

* Ingersoll believed that Conein had access to the files and modus operandi of Corsicans involved in heroin traffic. At the time he did not suspect that the White House had placed Conein there for a purpose of its own-although he considered this a possibility later.

If "150 key assassinations" were actually being considered by the BNDD or others in the Nixon administration. then the $100 million fund would be more easily explained. (At the time, Professor Ungerleider and other members of the commission were being shepherded through Marseilles by BNDD and embassy officials in what became a regular packaged tour for Congressmen, journalists, and other VIPs interested in narcotics.)

Meanwhile, back at the BNDD, Colonel Conein was being briefed on assassination equipment. The now-defunct B. R. Fox Company,  which was then incorporated in Virginia and which provided such lethal equipment, sent a salesman to see Colonel Conein and demonstrate a wide range of devices.* Colonel Conein subsequently denied that any of this equipment was used for narcotics assassinations, saying, "That stuff is only good a war and who's got a war?" 

* On January 23, 1975, the New York Times printed excerpts from a photostat of one of the company's spring, 1974, catalogues. Available items included: 

Telephone handset insert. Miniature activator with time delay ... use inside telephone handset. Automatic charge fired at-SEC following lifting of instrument handpiece. 

Cigarette pack-antidisturbance explosive. Electronics and explosive module packed inside cigarette pack. When the pack is lifted or moved in any manner, the explosive is set off. 

Modified flashlight ... antidisturbance unit. Standard Everready 2D cell flashlight has antidisturbance electronics concealed inside where batteries have been removed. Remainder of the batteries have been removed. Remainder of the battery space is packed with explosive. 

Remote-controlled, light-activated sensor. Unit delivers a predetermined charge from a remote location according to its pre-set code. Use with explosive for firing upon the occurrence of certain conditions relating to light intensity. 

Booby--trapped, M-16 explosive clip. Use: A mechanically activated electronic charge circuit is built into a common military item. Upon removal of the single round in the magazine, either by firing or by hand removal, the explosive concealed in the magazine is detonated. 

Fragmentation ball-anti-disturbance unit. Unit is similar in its operation as the anti-disturbance flashlight, BRF model FD-2. The exception is in the type of explosive charge.... 

Explosive black box modules. . - ' . Flat black finish on metal rectangular modules. One screw at each end secures top on unit. Top is removed to pack inside with explosive.

 ** Colonel Conein was used in a character assassination. E. Howard Hunt, after forging a State Department telegram implicating President Kennedy in the murder of Diem, showed the forged document to Conein, who then appeared on an NBC documentary and divulged its contents. (Hunt also briefed the producer of the program, Fred Freed, on the secret telegram, which shaped the program in such a way as to imply Kennedy's complicity in the murder.)

 However, in an interview with the Washington Post on June 13, 1976, Conein acknowledged that he had been brought to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to superintend a special unit which would have the capacity to assassinate selected targets in the narcotics business.


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