Kiki Camarena's Murder and Torture Described: CIA's Felix Rodriguez and Mexican Government Officials Involved in DEA Agent's Death

ISGP section(s): Suspicious deaths index | Four dozen CIA drug trafficking cases



1. Details of Camarena's torture
2. Camarena's abduction and torture described: Mexican government officials present
3. CIA-trained DFS "eyes and ears of the cartels"
4. Murders of journalists Manuel Buenda and Javier Juarez for looking into CIA-Mexican government complicity in the drug trade
5. Drug lord who murderded Kiki Camarena and the DFS in cahoots with the CIA
6. Camarena gruesomely tortured to death on CIA orders and by CIA agents for trying to stop Contra drug trafficking
7. CIA's Felix Rodriguez ordered Camarena's abduction and oversaw his torture; Mexican officials and Mexico's Interpol director all involved
8. The Camarena trial: More details on CIA relationship with Guadalajara Cartel and DFS - the latter controlled by Mexico interior minister
9. For more prespective: four dozen historical cases of CIA drug trafficking summarized and sourced

Netflix's Narcos series

Countless people visit this page in relation to Netflix's Narcos series. The torture of Kiki Camarena in this series is not accurately described.

As for the CIA working with the drug cartels to arm "anti-communist" militias (and the "anti-communist" cartels themselves), this is perfectly historically accurate. The only thing left out of Narcos is that the U.S. national security advisor and other top officials, including elected U.S. presidents, actively or passively sanctioned these operations.

Already back in the 1970s national security advisor and secretary of state Henry Kissinger, vice president Nelson Rockefeller and President Gerald Ford tried to paint the inaccurate picture to congressional investigators and the media that the CIA, headed for a long time by their good friend Richard Helms, had gone "rogue". In reality, these men were directing global CIA operations of the legal and illegal kind, including global drug trafficking, Gladio terrorism in Europe and countless corporate coups and bloody death squads in Latin America. In short, the idea of a "rogue" CIA is a purposely-created myth to uphold people's confidence in our tightly-managed democracy, in which only mixed security state / superclass assets are able to become presidential candidates.

Also in foreign countries elected (but pre-selected) presidents and prime ministers generally are sanctioning the drug trade. Successive Mexican governments have been particularly notorious in this regard. In other words, generally Latin American leaders were not interested in stopping "the CIA's" drug trade, at least not for altruistic reasons: everybody at the top is corrupt or at the varied least pressured into alliances with the U.S. or another superpower.

More information can be found in ISGP's article A History of CIA Drug Trafficking: How Drug Cartels and Drug-Dealing Death Squads Have Been the CIA's Best Friends for Many Decades.

~Joël v.d. Reijden, founder of ISGP.


October 21, 2013

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. State Department
Washington, DC   20521

Dear Mr. Secretary: 

I write to express my deep concern regarding Mexico’s release of drug lord and murderer, Rafael Caro Quintero.  Quintero ordered and participated in the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.  His premature release gives all the appearance of a grave injustice to the sacrifice Agent Camarena made in service to the United States.   

Quintero’s henchmen kidnapped Agent Camarena at gunpoint outside the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara on February 7, 1985.  They blindfolded him and brought him to Quintero’s hacienda five miles away where they brutally tortured him for over thirty hours.  The torture Quintero perpetrated shocks the conscience of all decent human beings.  Quintero and his associates crushed Camarena's skull, jaw, nose, cheekbones and ribs with a tire iron.  They used a power tool to drill a hole in Camarena’s head and repeatedly stuck him with a cattle prod.  As Camarena lay bloody and dying, Quintero summoned a cartel doctor to keep him alive so the cartel could torture him longer.  The doctor injected the anesthetic lidocaine directly into Camerena’s heart and the torture endured for several more hours.  Camarena’s battered and bloodied body was discovered in a shallow grave 70 miles north of Guadalajara several weeks later. ...  


Camarena's Abduction and Torture Described: Courts: Former bodyguard says ranking Mexican officials were at the house where U.S. drug agent was killed.


A former Mexican policeman who became a bodyguard to a drug kingpin testified Wednesday that two defendants, along with an array of high-ranking Mexican government officials, were at the Guadalajara house where an American drug agent was being tortured and killed in 1985.

The witness, Rene Lopez Romero, also testified that he saw two Mexican Cabinet members and the governor of the state of Jalisco enter or leave two meetings where another witness said the kidnaping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique Camarena was planned. Those alleged meetings were first detailed in testimony Tuesday and sparked an angry denial from the Mexican government.

Wednesday's allegations, however, are potentially even more damaging to defendants Ruben Zuno Arce and Humberto Alvarez Machain, and to a host of prominent Mexican political figures. Zuno and Alvarez are being tried in federal court in Los Angeles on charges that they participated in Camarena's abduction and murder.

Lopez admits to playing a role in abducting Camarena from a city street Feb. 7, 1985, and his testimony marked the first time that a witness described the kidnaping and torture.

While Lopez's testimony held jurors rapt almost all day, his credibility has been severely questioned by defense lawyers and Mexican officials, and it is likely to be tested as cross-examination continues today.

Lopez, who is receiving government payments of $3,000 a month, acknowledges that he was present during much of the torture and murder of four American Jehovah's Witnesses in 1984--a crime that remains unsolved. And he said Wednesday that he watched as another couple was tortured at the home of Ernesto Fonseca, the drug trafficker who employed him.

During cross-examination Wednesday, Lopez struggled to recall facts such as how much money he was paid by Fonseca or how much he earned in subsequent years. But his account of several meetings closely parallels testimony by another witness, and that could bolster the credibility of both accounts.

Speaking in a soft voice and through an interpreter, Lopez testified for nearly six hours. He meticulously detailed the events surrounding Camarena's abduction, describing how an employee of the American Consulate pointed out the drug agent for the traffickers, who accosted him. One of the men showed Camarena a pistol, Lopez said, and the agent was escorted to a waiting car and driven to 881 Lope de Vega, the Guadalajara residence where previous witnesses have said the torture took place.

Camarena was blindfolded before being led inside the grounds of that home, Lopez added, and once inside was greeted by Rafael Caro Quintero, one of Mexico's most notorious drug traffickers.

Embracing the agent, Caro declared: "I told you I was going to have you in my hands, you son of a bitch," according to Lopez.

From there, Camarena was led to a small bedroom where he was pummeled and burned with cigarettes, Lopez said. The torture continued for hours, he added, though he said he had only witnessed a short bit of it.

As Camarena and his DEA pilot were being tortured, a group that included defendants Zuno and Alvarez gathered in the living room of the house, Lopez said. They were joined by dozens of others, including Mexico's leading drug traffickers and some of the country's highest-ranking political and law enforcement officials, he testified.

Among those in the living room, according to Lopez, were Defense Minister Juan Arevalo Gardoqui, Interior Minister Manuel Bartlett Diaz, Jalisco Governor Enrique Alvarez del Castillo, Mexican Federal Judicial Police Director Manuel Ibarra Herrera and Mexican Interpol Director Miguel Aldana Ibarra.

Zuno and Alvarez listened impassively as Lopez testified, sometimes scribbling notes to their attorneys.

Lopez testified that he only heard snatches of the conversation in the living room as Camarena was being tortured, but he said he recalled Zuno telling the traffickers that he had wanted them to hear Camarena's words themselves.

He also said he heard Gen. Arevalo, the defense minister, demanding that the bodies of the two men be "properly buried."

"He wanted the job to be done right," Lopez said.

In addition, Lopez said he overheard Caro congratulating Bartlett Diaz, then the interior minister and now the governor-elect of the Mexican state of Puebla.

"Don't worry," Caro allegedly told Bartlett Diaz. "You're going to go as far as we want you to. We need you up there."

During a news conference in Puebla on Tuesday, Bartlett Diaz vehemently rejected any suggestion that he had ties to drug traffickers.

Lopez said that at some point during the evening when Camarena was tortured and murdered he saw Humberto Alvarez Machain in the kitchen of the house washing out a syringe. That testimony could prove damaging to Alvarez because it places him at the scene of the crime and tends to support the prosecution's contention that the physician gave Camarena an injection to revive him so that he could be tortured further.

According to Lopez, the gathering at 881 Lope de Vega continued until late on the night of Feb. 7, 1985. The following morning, he added, Caro called the home of Fonseca and told him that Camarena had died.

The bodies of Camarena and DEA informant Alfredo Zavala-Avelar were discovered a month later in a neighboring state. Forensic experts have testified that the bodies were first buried near Guadalajara and later moved.

Cross-examination of Lopez will continue today. The trial, which had been expected to last four to six weeks, is moving more quickly than anticipated and prosecutors say they expect it to conclude before Christmas.


2002, Charles Bowen, 'Down by the river: drugs, money, murder, and family', pp. 147-149:

After his body is removed, agents of DFS [Direccion Federal de Seguridad (Federal Security Directorate)], the internal security agency revitalized by then president Luis Echeverrfa in the 1970s, ransack his office and take his files. DFS is an evolving force. Recently, it had been a terror squad sent out to kill guerrillas and disappear dissidents. But lately its commanders, generally trained by the CIA in suppressing leftist radicals, have ventured into a new area: being drug merchants. When he dies, [Manuel] Buendia is rumored to be looking at the links between the drug business, the CIA, and the contra war in Nicaragua.

Enrique "Kiki" Camarena is a gung-ho agent. Born in Mexico, he exhibits a patriotic feeling for his adopted country, the United States, that has the fire of the converted. A high school football star, he then serves in the Marines, becomes a cop along the border in California, is recruited into DEA, and now is stationed in Guadalajara ... the very heart of the Mexican drug cartels.

Camarena is frustrated. He keeps finding links between the drug business and the government and he is never allowed to really pursue these links. He deals with corrupt Mexican officials, can trust no one, and is about to transfer back to the United States before he dies or his wife and children are murdered. That is what he thinks.

In May 1984, he picks up Phil Jordan at the airport in Mexico City. Jordan has been sent down from the Dallas bureau to do a routine inspection of the Mexico City and Guadalajara stations. And he's specifically requested Kiki as his escort. In part, because they've known each other for years and feel a bond from being raised on the border. But mainly because Jordan thinks Kiki [Camarena] can get him out of any kind of jam and is the man he wants watching his back when trouble arrives. They are both armed in violation of the diplomatic agreement between the United States and Mexico for stationing DEA agents inside the country.

In Mexico City, Jordan notices that they are tailed everywhere by DFS agents. He thinks, What's going on? DFS is supposed to be snuffing radicals, not interested in narcotics. Camarena brushes off Jordan's alarm by noting that DFS is trained by the CIA and is functionally a unit in their mysterious work. And he says they are also functionally "the eyes and ears of the cartels." Jordan is stunned at his complacency about the surveillance. Jordan asks idly, "Goddamnit, aren't we all on the same side against the bad guys?" Kiki answers softly, "They have a different mission." Wherever the two go in Mexico City, a car tails them in an obvious manner so that they will know they are watched. Jordan finds it unnerving in a subtle way.

Like anyone in DEA, he knows that drug investigations always come in second to concerns of foreign policy and to the appetites of trade. DEA is a bastard agency fathered by politicians seeking to respond to the soft and easy target of something called the drug problem. It has been rapidly expanded by bringing in people from the FBI, Customs, and other narc groups. It lacks a core identity and a kind of group morale. And in the United States it is widely detested by local police agencies as a bunch of showboats hogging busts and running roughshod over rules.


1990, Information Services Latin America (ISLA), Volume 41, Issues 1-3, p. 5 (column of Jack Anderson):

The DEA reports reveal agency interviews with an American, Laurence Victor Harrison, who set up radio communications for Mexican drug barons in the mid-1980s. ... In an interview last February, Harrison said he knew as an insider that [murdered journalist Manuel] Buendia was investigating links between the drug trade and Mexican officials. Among the officials he was asking questions about was Manuel Bartlett Diaz, then Zorilla's boss as interior minister. Bartlett now is education minister.

Harrison told the DEA that Buendia got some leads from Javier Juarez Vasquez, then-editor of the newspaper Primera Plana. Vasquez's tortured body was found a day after Buendia's murder. Vasquez had told Buendia about a ranch allegedly owned by drug traffickers and used by the CIA to train guerrillas. Apparently Buendia's source also had turned up information about airstrips owned by drug lords and used by the CIA to fly arms to contras. The DEA report says pilots who flew arms were allowed to make the return trip more profitable by picking up cocaine in Colombia. They would refuel at the airstrips en route to Miami.

When we asked CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield about the allegations, he insisted the "CIA never used Mexican drug traffickers or territory as a conduit for support of any type to the contras."

But contra sources told our associate Dean Boyd that Mexican airstrips had figured into the arms effort. Senate investigators confirmed they were the same ones run by drug traffickers. Buendia had gotten it all, but what could have been his greatest scoop never made it into print.


July 5, 1990, Los Angeles Times, 'Informant Puts CIA at Ranch of Agent's Killer'

The Central Intelligence Agency trained Guatemalan guerrillas in the early 1980s at a ranch near Veracruz, Mexico, owned by drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, one of the murderers of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration report made public in Los Angeles.

The report is based on an interview two Los-Angeles based DEA agents conducted with Laurence Victor Harrison, a shadowy figure who, according to court testimony, ran a sophisticated communications network for major Mexican drug traffickers and their allies in Mexican law enforcement in the early and mid 1980s.

On Feb. 9, according to the report, Harrison told DEA agents Hector Berrellez and Wayne Schmidt that the CIA used Mexico's Federal Security Directorate (DFS) "as a cover, in the event any questions were raised as to who was running the training operation."

Harrison also said that "representatives of the DFS which was the front for the training camp were in fact acting in consort with major drug overlords to ensure a flow of narcotics through Mexico into the United States."

At some point between 1981 and 1984, according to Harrison, "members of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) arrived at the ranch while on a separate narcotics investigation and were confronted by the guerrillas. As a result of the confrontation, 19MFJP agents were killed. Many of the bodies showed signs of torture; the bodies had been drawn and quartered."

In a separate interview on Sept. 11, 1989, Harrison told the same two DEA agents that CIA operations personnel had stayed at the home of Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, one of Mexico's other major drug kingpins and an ally of Caro. The report does not specify when this occurred.

Harrison testified at the Camarena murder trial that he lived at Fonseca's house for several months in 1983 and 1984 when he was installing radio systems for the drug lord. He also has told the DEA that on several occasions he served as a guard on Fonseca's drug convoys, "using his \o7 Gobernacion \f7 (Mexico's Interior Ministry) credentials."

The DEA report, which was completed in February, does not state specifically whether CIA officials knew who owned the ranch where the Guatemalans were being trained, why Guatemalans were being trained or whether marijuana was being grown there.

Asked about the allegations, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Wednesday: "The CIA does not engage in drug-running activities."

Caro had vast marijuana plantations in other parts of Mexico. He also is known to have had close ties with officials of various Mexican law enforcement agencies, including the DFS, a police agency that was riddled with drug-related corruption, One of the primary interrogators of Camarena when he was tortured at Caro's Guadalajara home in February, 1985, was Sergio Espino Verdin, a former DFS commander.


This is not the first time that questions about the CIA have been raised in the Camarena case. During the first trial, defense lawyers attempted unsuccessfully to introduce evidence about alleged links between the CIA and Mexican drug kingpin Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo.

Last month, a lawyer for defendant Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros was spurned by Rafeedie in his efforts to obtain a report he claims was compiled by the DEA on the relationship between Felix and the CIA. Rafeedie said defense lawyer Martin R. Stolar was engaged in "a fishing expedition."

In light of the newly released reports, Stolar vowed Wednesday to renew his request to Rafeedie this week.

Also last month, defense lawyer Mary Kelly tried to question Harrison over his knowledge of any ties between Mexican traffickers and the CIA. But Rafeedie prohibited Harrison from answering. Kelly contends that if the traffickers were acting with CIA license, it could provide a possible defense for her client, Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez, a Fonseca bodyguard.

Harrison also told the DEA agents in September that in June or July, 1987, he was asked by an American man in Guadalajara--who he believed worked for the CIA--what information he had given the DEA about CIA operations in Mexico. Harrison said he told the man "you guys (CIA) are working with the traffickers . . . We (Gobernacion and the Mexican intelligence community) know that the CIA are supplying guns to Nicaragua."



“The CIA helped kill DEA agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena,” say witnesses

Former US law enforcement officials admit that the drug agent’s 1985 murder wasn’t just the work of Rafael Caro Quintero

Juan Diego Quesada
El País
Mexico City / Madrid
15 OCT 2013 - 19:53 CEST

Surprising allegations concerning the enigmatic murder of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent in Mexico three decades ago may have turned the tide against Washington.

Two former US law enforcement agents and an ex-CIA contractor have told an American television network that Enrique “Kiki” Camarena – the undercover DEA agent whose 1985 torture and murder in Mexico rocked Washington and opened the largest federal homicide inquiries ever – was actually killed by CIA operatives. Camarena’s murder is considered the most heinous crime ever committed against the DEA in Latin America, and it took place at the height of the US drug war of the 1980s.

For years, there had been rumors that the CIA was involved in the murder. The popular Mexican norteño folk band Los Broncos de Reynosa had alluded to this allegation 25 years ago in one of their well-known narcocorridos – drug ballads that are played in local nightspots – but many dismissed it as another legend made up over shots of tequila.

Rafael Caro Quintero, one of the founders of the so-called Guadalajara cartel, was given a 40-year-sentence for Camarena’s murder, but on August 9 he was freed on a legal technicality after only serving 28 years. The now 62-year-old Caro Quintero is still wanted by US authorities, but has since disappeared.

Before his death, Camarena, 37, had broken a gigantic marijuana ring operating from a ranch called Rancho El Búfalo, where Mexican soldiers destroyed some 1,000 hectares of cannabis in 1984.

In retaliation, the drug cartel ordered his capture and murder. He was kidnapped at gunpoint in Guadalajara, blind-folded and taken to a ranch house outside the city where he was tortured over a three-day period; his skull, jaw, nose and cheekbones were crushed with a tire iron. As he lay dying, a cartel doctor was ordered to keep him alert by administering drugs.

But new revelations suggest that Caro Quintero may have not been the only one responsible for the gruesome murder. Another figure has surfaced in the case, Félix Ismael “El Gato” Rodríguez, a Cuban exile who participated in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. El Gato has also been linked to the 1967 ambush of Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia.

These CIA-connection claims are now being brought to light by Phil Jordan, the former director of DEA’s powerful El Paso Intelligence Center in Texas; former DEA agent Héctor Berrellez; and Tosh Plumlee, who maintained he was hired to fly covert missions on behalf of US intelligence. The three men spoke to Fox News in exclusive interviews broadcast last Thursday.

They claimed that Mexican police and agents working for the CIA participated in Camarena’s torture and murder.

“I know and from what I have been told by a former head of the Mexican federal police, Comandante [Guillermo Gónzales] Calderoni, the CIA was involved in the movement of drugs from South America to Mexico and to the US,” said Jordan, according to a transcript of the broadcast.

“In [Camarena’s] interrogation room, I was told by Mexican authorities, that CIA operatives were in there – actually conducting the interrogation; actually taping Kiki,” Jordan claims.

Berrellez explained that Camarena was kidnapped and murdered “because he came up with the idea that we needed to chase the money not the drugs.”

“We were seizing a huge amount of drugs. However, we were not really disrupting the cartels. So he came up with the idea that we should set up a task force and target their monies,” said the former DEA agent.

Plumlee added that the CIA was also involved in helping run weapons and drugs from Caro Quintero’s ranch to Central America at the time that the Reagan administration was helping to arm the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

After Camarena’s body had been found about a month later in a rural area, DEA agents surrounded Quintero Caro at the Guadalajara airport but, according to Berrellez, Mexican drug officers pointed their guns and told them to hand over the cartel leader.

Plumlee claims that Caro Quintero was later flown to Costa Rica with the help of El Gato.

A CIA Spokesman told Fox News that “it’s ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a US federal agent or the escape of his killer.”

In its own investigation this week, the Mexican news magazine Proceso delved even further by reporting that El Gato [CIA operative Felix Rodriguez] introduced a Honduran, Juan Matta, to the Guadalajara cartel. Matta served as a middle-man between Colombian traffickers and Caro Quintero, who was the “head of all the heads” in the Mexican cartel.

Matta, according to Proceso, was given the go-ahead by the CIA – or at least the US intelligence agency turned a blind eye – to run cocaine and marijuana to Mexico for eventual distribution in the United States. In return, he would share the profits with the CIA which would use the money to finance the Contras.

Camarena discovered this secret web of intelligence operatives mixed with drug traffickers, according to the three men interviewed by Proceso’s Washington correspondent Jesús Esquivel. “The CIA ordered Kiki Camarena’s abduction and torture, and when they killed him, they led us to believe that it was Caro Quintero as part of the cover up of the illegal activities in Mexico,” Jordan told the magazine.

In an interview, Esquivel said the case – although largely forgotten – “holds importance relevance” in the United States. “Only a solid court investigation can clear all doubts, but there is little chance of that happening,” the correspondent said.

The Camarena investigation has never been officially closed in the United States; the DEA still has Caro Quintero at the top of its most wanted list of international fugitives.

Following his release from jail two months ago, the White House issued a statement saying it was “extremely disappointed” and that federal authorities would continue to search for him. Technically, he cannot be retried for the Camarena case in Mexico, but in California he still faces charges for the former DEA agent’s kidnapping and murder as well as drug and various organized-crime violations, according to the agency’s website. At the same time, the US Treasury Department has applied economic sanctions against Caro Quintero’s businesses and families.

In 1990, the DEA took justice into its own hands and its agents kidnapped a Mexican physician, Humberto Álvarez Machain, for allegedly helping keep Camarena alive while he was being tortured.

According to Berrellez, a doctor working for the cartel “administered Lidocaine into his heart to keep him alert and awake during the torture.”

After Álvarez Machain was taken across the border to face charges in El Paso, Texas, the Mexican government formally protested his detention. He was finally released in 1992 when a federal judge dropped the charges.


How a Dogged L.A. DEA Agent Unraveled the CIA's Alleged Role in the Murder of Kiki Camarena

By: Jason McGahan | LA Weekly | Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at 6:30 a.m.

In January 1989, Hector Berrellez reported to Los Angeles, handpicked by the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to get to the bottom of a 4-year-old murder investigation that was a top agency priority. This wasn't just another killing in the seemingly endless bloodshed in the Mexican drug wars; the victim, like Berrellez, was a DEA agent. Enrique "Kiki" Camarena had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered at the hands of a Mexican drug cartel four years earlier. The identity of the killers was clear enough; two cartel bosses had been convicted of the killings and were imprisoned in Mexico. But the DEA had reason to believe there were many more guilty parties in addition to the two capos behind bars.

Berrellez was 42 at the time. A former homicide cop, he'd joined the DEA more than a decade earlier as a prized recruit, a thrill-seeker and trained investigator who spoke Spanish without a trace of an American accent — a natural-born undercover narc. He was posted to DEA operations in Colombia and Mexico, living under assumed identities, infiltrating the Medellín cartel, the Cali cartel, the Guadalajara cartel. " I was good," he says. "I could penetrate cartels as Mexican. When I was asked if I was a cop, I'd tell them, 'Yo ni tengo papeles!'"

One retired fellow agent called him the Wyatt Earp of the DEA. His supervisor in the Los Angeles office said Berrellez had better sources than the CIA. But of the 200 investigations Berrellez had run in his 12 years with the administration, the Camarena case would be the one where he got more information than he bargained for. ...

The DEA had a list of men in power in Mexico it believed were involved, but the agency had been unable to gain traction with the government in Mexico. The killers had recorded the torture of the agent, and after much diplomatic wrangling the CIA obtained copies; eventually the DEA was able to listen to the voices of the interrogators — not the voices of angry druglords but rather trained Mexican officials with ice in their veins. Berrellez says he was ordered to find out who those voices belonged to.

One of those voices, he recalls Lawn telling him, belonged to a Mexican physician named Humberto Álvarez Machaín. Dr. Machaín was believed to have injected Camarena with amphetamines to keep him awake and alert to questions even though he was dying. Berrellez says Lawn wanted him to kidnap Dr. Machaín and bring him before a judge in Los Angeles [and they did]. ...

The story of the Camarena investigation should by now be ancient history, but the story keeps changing — new facts are added, old facts are taken away. Last year, Lawn denied ever having had direct contact with Berrellez during Operation Leyenda and claimed Berrellez was never in charge of it. Those claims, made to journalists Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy and published in the online magazine Matter, run contrary to the lengthy public record of the Camarena investigation, including the trials of the four suspects Berrellez eventually helped convict for the murder.

Even the mementos Berrellez keeps on display in the office of his private security firm in Riverside appear to contradict Lawn's statement: A signed letter of commendation from Lawn hangs in a frame in the reception room, and a nameplate engraved with "Hector Berrellez" and "Leyenda Supervisor" rests atop the large oak desk in his office. ...

The plan was simple. Berrellez would have a budget of $3 million a year and a team of 20 agents. From the DEA office in Los Angeles, he would track down the insiders willing to trade privileged information for cash.

He began by reaching out to people of importance he knew in Mexico — higher-ups in law enforcement, lifers in the underworld — and, with their guidance, he built up a network of informants that his then-supervisor in Los Angeles still regards with a sense of awe. Berrellez had informants at Los Pinos (the Mexican White House), informants at the Mexican attorney general's office and informants who were lieutenant colonels in army intelligence. They told him who in the government was protecting the drug cartels. Berrellez was paying some of them as much as $10,000 a month.

He also was matching wits with organized crime in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Twenty-three informants from Operation Leyenda were murdered while Berrellez was supervisor or shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, he managed to bring over to the United States as many as 200 informants and place them in witness protection, quarantined from one another — indeed, unaware of who was in this country — as a precaution to prevent them from comparing notes. Ten of the informants were eyewitnesses to the kidnapping and murder of Kiki Camarena.

Of the 10, three agreed to be interviewed for this story. They are old men living humble, ordinary lives in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The DEA paid them between $3,000 and $5,000 a month to be debriefed and then sit tight and wait to testify. Once they had outlived their use as witnesses, they had to earn a living on their own. One worked as a contractor repairing washers and dryers. Another clocked in at a factory at 6 a.m. and manufactured metal siding for 10 hours a day. A third worked as a security guard. They were cops in Mexico, cops turned bodyguards for the most powerful narcos who ever lived. Nothing of their lives in Mexico remains, not even their names.

Another of the witnesses, the deputy director of the Federal Police, was killed in Texas in 2003. Before he died, though, he warned Berrellez to get far away from the Camarena case. "The whole case stinks, and if you don't step away you'll stink, too," Berrellez recalls him saying. "Your own government killed Camarena."

At the time, Berrellez didn't believe him.

When two Mexican state police kidnapped Camarena in broad daylight across the street from the United States Consulate on Feb. 7, 1985, it signaled a change in Mexico. ... By the time Camarena's badly decomposed corpse turned up several weeks after his abduction, U.S. agents in Mexico had exposed the ballyhooed success of the drug war as a farce perpetrated by Mexican authorities in league with the traffickers. The Federal Security Directorate (DFS), a Mexican police agency modeled on the FBI and in part created by the CIA, dismissed a fifth of its personnel in the wake of the Camarena murder; 19 of the 31 state-level commanders were replaced.

In its first weeks, the Camarena investigation zeroed in on two prime murder suspects, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero, prototypes of the Mexican druglords eventually referred to simply as narcos: roughneck, mustachioed, steely-eyed billionaires. Fonseca, 54 at the time of the Camarena murder, was the elder. Nicknamed Don Neto, he was the last word in the Mexican drug trade, the Mexican equal of Pablo Escobar. A bodyguard of Fonseca's interviewed for this story said he saw his boss answer a call from the Mexican Navy relaying a request from Escobar for permission to dock a boatload of cocaine on the Yucatán Peninsula. ("And Escobar came to Guadalajara and they settled their business and there was a party for the next three days," the bodyguard says.)

Caro Quintero, 21 years younger than Fonseca, was the enfant terrible of the Mexican drug trade, an overnight billionaire who was initially staked by Fonseca and later became his partner in the Guadalajara cartel. Caro Quintero's ambitions were the biggest of all the narcos. Those who worked for him recall a man given to brutality, who did whatever he felt like doing the moment the impulse hit him — he bragged to one of Fonseca's bodyguards about tying up a commander in the Federal Police and beating him to a pulp for neglecting to protect a load of marijuana that ended up confiscated....

Like the other members of the security detail, [witness Ramon] Sánchez [a pseudonym] was introduced to Fonseca by his supervisor in the homicide division of the Jalisco State Police. Sánchez stood guard over Fonseca at meetings and parties. On occasion late at night, Fonseca would get the notion to go for a drive, and would take Sánchez along for company: "Him getting high the whole time, behind the wheel of a convertible gray Mustang, smoking a cigarette of freebase cocaine. Me in the passenger seat with my AK-47 and a grenade on my hip."

Fonseca revealed secrets to Sánchez, secrets Sánchez revealed to no one else, convinced it was a test of his discretion. "I heard about things when we were alone and he was high and no one else was around." Fonseca told him about trips he made to see the contras in Honduras and Nicaragua. He described a military barracks full of cocaine. "He told me when he went there he had the base all to himself as a warehouse for cocaine while the contras slept outside in the field. He used to laugh and say, 'How will they ever catch us?'"

Sánchez was with Fonseca on Feb. 7, 1985. "I was in the house on Hidalgo, and he told me, 'You're coming with me. We're going to grab an agent with DEA. They're going to point him out to us.'" They parked on a side street two blocks away from the U.S. Consulate. Gangsters and crooked federal cops had set up a perimeter around the exit; once Camarena stepped out, there would be no escape.

Fonseca handed Sánchez a two-way radio and instructed him to listen for a message: "The doctor has seen the patient."

René López Romero, another bodyguard of Fonseca's who would later become an informant, approached Camarena and held a gun to the agent's abdomen, forcing him into a waiting car: "The comandante wants to see you." López recalls that an American in the front seat of that car had pointed out Camarena to his abductors. Says López: "This white guy came by in the morning. And he told Don Neto and Caro, 'I have the information you asked for. Nothing has changed from what I told you before.' And it all worked out exactly as he said it would."

The decision to kidnap Camarena resulted from meetings in Guadalajara in November and December of 1984. Something was amiss in the drug traffickers' paradise. The narcos were aggrieved. A marijuana plantation of theirs had been raided in the central state of Zacatecas. Millions of dollars in cocaine had been seized in Arizona. Bank accounts in Texas had been frozen.

All of this was a prelude to the Buffalo.

On Nov. 7, 1984, Camarena led Mexican authorities in a world record-setting drug raid on the Buffalo Ranch in the northern state of Chihuahua. The Buffalo was a 1,300-acre marijuana plantation with an estimated labor force of 7,000 and a 10-ton yield of high-grade sinsemilla valued at $2.5 billion — the largest field ever put to the torch by law enforcement.

The Buffalo was Caro Quintero's pride and joy, and the narco took its immolation as a personal affront. The name of the DEA agent responsible wasn't mentioned in the meetings, but there could be no mistaking what they were prepared to do when they found him. The Buffalo raid also set off fear of a security breach in the Guadalajara organization, since the Federal Police and army officers who'd been paid to protect the plantation hadn't managed to issue a warning.

Another bodyguard, Jorge Godoy, was at several of the meetings. Godoy was born in Mexico but grew up in L.A. and graduated from Bell High School. He moved back to Guadalajara with his family after the U.S. Army rejected him because he had no papers. Godoy begins to perspire as he recalls the events of 30 years ago. He licks his lips, his knee bounces, his hands tremble, his eyes widen. He served four years in Mexico as an accessory to the Camarena murder — which he says he took no part in. He credits Berrellez with saving his life by pulling him out of Mexico to become an informant.

At the meetings in Guadalajara in 1984 [with cartel bosses Ernesto Fonseca Carillo and Raphael Caro Quintero], [bodyguard Jorge] Godoy moved around the room amid the lively discussions emptying ashtrays, refilling glasses of cognac and serving freshly rolled cigarettes of freebase cocaine. The bodyguards recall a list of attendees that lent the seedy gathering the air of a state summit: Jalisco governor Enrique Alvarez del Castillo; secretary of the interior Manuel Bartlett Díaz; secretary of defense Juan Arevalo Gardoqui; director of Interpol Mexico, Miguel Aldana Ibarra; DFS director Sergio Espino Verdin; General Vinicio Santoyo Feria; and a man they knew as "the Cuban with the CIA."

Sánchez says he saw the Cuban for the first time at Fonseca's house in May or June of 1984, but never caught his name. Fonseca had ordered Sánchez to receive a delivery that would be brought by two important guests: one a captain in the Mexican army, the other the Cuban with the CIA. The two men opened the crate of AK-47s in the living room, and the one in the canary yellow polo held one of the rifles in his arms and remarked in a Cuban accent: "These are what the Vietnamese carried in the war." The captain said his companion had been a combatant in the war.

"It was the way he talked," López says. "The accent. We called him cubano, since we hardly ever referred to anyone by name."

Godoy says he first met the Cuban at a safe house near the Autonomous University of Guadalajara. "It's an unbelievable estate, with a golf course out back and a cabana and everything. Ernesto Fonseca stuck us there because some VIPs were on their way. That was where we saw this guy take away duffel bags and suitcases filled with dollars given to them by Don Ernesto [Fonseca]."

López says the last time he saw the Cuban was on the afternoon he delivered Camarena bound and blindfolded to Fonseca's house on Lope de Vega. The group of distinguished guests was gathered in the living room, as though for a social occasion. The air carried the coconut scent of freebase cocaine. "That was the biggest meeting, the last one. Everyone was there. All of them, all of the bosses, the politicians. That was the biggest meeting of all."

Sánchez draws a floor plan of the house on Lope de Vega: off the main foyer to the left, a spacious living room where the guests were being entertained; to the right a hallway leading to the driveway behind a tall gate and the modest visitors quarters where Camarena was questioned and beaten. "It wasn't that they beat him," Sánchez says. "They broke him physically."

Behind a closed door in the visitors quarters, Camarena sat bound and blindfolded. His torturers were calling through the door for a towel to clean up the mess they had made shooting a mix of carbonated water and chili pepper up Camarena's nose. López brought them towels and stayed inside the room to watch. He says the Cuban was the one asking the questions.

López thickens his consonants in imitation of a Cuban accent: "'Hey, muchacho, just tell us what we want to know and you can leave. Tell us what you're investigating. What is all of this about? I'll tell the boys here to lay off so you and I can talk.'"

What did the Cuban want to know? "Which narcos, which politicians was DEA investigating for ties to drug traffickers. He wanted him to reveal the details of the investigation he was working on. 'Give us names.' They seemed to assume the United States already knew about them. Like all they needed was for him to say it to confirm their worst fear."

But Camarena didn't seem to have the information. They hit him, kicked him, broke his ribs, his jaw. He groaned in pain. "He kept saying, 'We investigate drug trafficking and drug traffickers. We investigate where they plant drugs." López says eventually the Cuban washed his hands of the prisoner and returned to the living room. Before he left, López heard him tell Camarena, "'Now you're going to get your head kicked in, for being a fool.'"

Berrellez knew the capos from Guadalajara. In the late 1980s he'd been stationed not far away in Mazatlán for an eventful two years, until the DEA evacuated him and his family. Several retired agents who know Berrellez speak with a note of reverence about a two-hour gun battle he and a joint task force of DEA and Mexican Federal Police waged against a team of cartel gunmen; Berrellez rescued three wounded Federal Police officers and had them airlifted to a hospital in San Diego, an act that earned him the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Heroism.

When Berrellez returned his focus to Mexico in 1989 to investigate the larger forces behind the Camarena killing, Fonseca and Caro Quintero already had been convicted and sentenced. A third capo, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, had assumed control of the crime syndicate until he, too, was captured and likewise convicted and sentenced in 1989.

Berrellez tracked down Sánchez, López and Godoy and offered them an escape from the purgatory their lives had become since the day they witnessed the Camarena murder. He gave each of the men his word that he wouldn't arrest them. He flew them to L.A., where federal prosecutors required each of them to sign an official letter acknowledging that the penalty for false statements was the relinquishment of immunity and prosecution for the Camarena murder.

One day Berrellez spread 10 photographs across his desk and called the witnesses in one at a time. "I used to work homicide," he says. "I know how to do a police lineup." Most of the photos were of people with no connection to the Camarena murder. Which of the men in these photos was in the room with Camarena? One after another, the witnesses pointed to the same photo.

"I picked out the Cuban right away," López recalls. "I didn't forget a face so easily."

The Cuban's name was Felix Rodríguez. He was retired CIA.

(Rodríguez could not be reached for comment. He has denied to Matter any involvement in the attack on Camarena.)

The three informants and several others who were close to the drug traffickers in Guadalajara also mentioned to Berrellez an intriguing figure, a gringo who worked with DFS. He was very tall (they nicknamed him Torre Blanca, or White Tower) and very blond. Considering the company he kept, they said, he must have information about Camarena's murder. It took almost a year for Berrellez's team in Mexico to track down Lawrence Harrison in the Native American village where he'd been hiding in the mountains of southern Mexico. Harrison was frightened; the DEA wasn't the only organization looking for him.

Once in the safety of Berrellez's office in L.A., Harrison told his story. He said he was a CIA agent who was trained in Virginia and assigned to pose as an English instructor at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara. He was to infiltrate the leftist student groups on campus and point out their leaders to the Mexican authorities. He said the students he identified invariably disappeared. Harrison found he didn't have the stomach for the political espionage, so his control agent reassigned him to handle radio communication between DFS and the drug traffickers in Guadalajara they were assigned to protect.

Berrellez was perplexed. "I thought he was 5150," he says. "Which is, I thought Larry was crazy. I said, I got a crazy guy here on my hands."

But a crazy person doesn't have two identities — at least not two that are recognized by the federal government. And Harrison had two identities. After his fingerprints revealed him to be Lawrence Harrison, he had Berrellez run them under a different name, George Marshall Davis. That name also was a match. The man sitting in Berrellez's office existed in the federal database under two separate but legal identities. "Now do you believe I work for the CIA?" Harrison asked him. Berrellez replied, "I believe you, dude. Now I believe you."

Berrellez got on a secure phone line and called Pete Gruden, a DEA administrator in Washington, D.C. "I said, 'Pete, this guy is telling me some incredible shit. He's talking like a crazy man but he doesn't look crazy.'" Gruden told Berrellez not to report anything the witness said until Harrison could be flown to headquarters to complete a battery of lie-detector tests with the DEA's top examiner.

Berrellez's first interview with Harrison was 25 years ago, but one wouldn't know from the wonder still audible in his voice as he tells the story. "It wasn't like I just believed all this crap at first. I was as incredulous as anybody else." Harrison talked about Nicaragua. He talked about drug money being used to support the contras. Death squads being trained at Caro Quintero's ranch in Mexico. The murder of a Mexican journalist. He said things that offended Berrellez's sense of patriotism, his sense of loyalty to the government he served. "Hector," the witness told him, "the CIA killed Camarena."

Gruden sent Harrison back to Los Angeles after three days of polygraph testing in D.C. The results struck Berrellez with the force of an ill omen. Little did he know they would usher in the end of his decorated career and lead to his alienation from his family. He would become an outcast from the agency to which he'd devoted half his life: "Three days of polygraph testing, no deception indicated," Berrellez says. "He was telling the fucking truth."

At DEA headquarters, the report Berrellez filed on Lawrence Harrison was stamped SECRET and NOT FOR FOREIGN DISSEMINATION. According to Berrellez, Harrison's statement, filed March 9, 1990, has the distinction of being the only official mention of CIA involvement in the Camarena killing. The reason for the secrecy was a matter of protocol: Neither Berrellez nor DEA had the jurisdiction to investigate charges made against a separate federal agency.

Headquarters was going to notify the Office of the Inspector General, and Berrellez says he was instructed to file all future information pertaining to the CIA on secret memoranda — not official DEA investigative reports, which are accessible through court discovery and information requests — for the agency to forward to the Inspector General. Berrellez complied. "I believed them. I had no reason to doubt anything. I was a good soldier."

Felix Rodríguez officially retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 1976. Little of what he did in his two decades with the agency is public knowledge, a fact alluded to in the title of his 1989 memoir Shadow Warrior: The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles.

Born in Cuba, Rodríguez was part of a movement of young anti-Castro exiles who joined the CIA in 1960, the year after Fidel Castro's revolution succeeded in overthrowing Fulgencio Bautista. In his late teens, Rodríguez trained at a CIA-run paramilitary camp in Guatemala in preparation for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. He told The National Review he volunteered to assassinate Castro in 1960 and that the agency supplied him a German rifle with a telescopic sight for the job, but the mission went awry and was abandoned.

Rodríguez resurfaced with the agency in Bolivia in 1967, assisting the Bolivian army in the capture of Ernesto "Che" Guevara; Rodríguez was present for Guevara's summary execution in Bolivia. He worked on the Phoenix Project, a counterinsurgency mission in South Vietnam, from 1970 to 1972. In Vietnam, he formed a close bond with his station chief, Donald Gregg, who would later serve as national security adviser to Vice President George Bush.

Even after he was no longer on the agency payroll, Rodríguez remained active in covert operations. In 1983, six years after Rodríguez had officially retired, Gregg introduced him in a memo to then–National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane as the person who "now is in charge of what is left of the paramilitary capability at CIA."

Rodríguez testified at the Iran-Contra hearings in 1988 that his support for the contras consisted of the delivery of medical supplies. He was called to answer for his activities again the following year, this time before the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations. He maintained that he supported the contras as a private citizen and denied working in conjunction with the U.S. government: "No, sir, it was with donations that were given in Miami, and there was a collection made by the Cuban community who strongly support them."

Private citizen or not, Rodríguez didn't conceal his powerful friends in Washington. He met with the vice president at the White House on Jan. 22, 1985. The purpose of meeting with Rodríguez, Bush noted in his diary, was "to inform the Vice President that Mr. Rodríguez wanted to work in El Salvador against the insurgency."

In February 1985, Gregg assigned Rodríguez to Ilopango Air Base in El Salvador as an adviser in antiguerrilla operations to the Salvadoran air force. Iran-Contra Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh later found Rodríguez also was acting as a liaison between the Salvadoran air force and Oliver North's private arms supply to the contras.

The first public accusation that Rodríguez's aid to the contras involved drug trafficking came in a 1987 Miami Herald story. A money-laundering accountant for the Medellín cartel in Miami, Ramón Milian Rodríguez, told congressional investigators he funneled drug money to the contra cause on behalf of the CIA. Milian claimed to have paid a cash donation of $10 million to Rodríguez. Milian, who was under federal indictment, said his payment was an attempt to curry favor with the Justice Department.

For all of Rodríguez's activity in Latin America in support of the contras, there was no mention of him having been in Mexico — at least not until Terry Reed, an ex–contract pilot for the CIA's contra supply effort, published his memoir Compromised in 1996. In the book, part of a subgenre of confessional autobiography from high-flying pilots of the era, Reed writes about how he met in secret with Rodríguez in Veracruz, Mexico, in August 1985.

Reed alleges he was recruited by the CIA to run a business front for a weapons warehouse and trans-shipment point in Guadalajara. He recalls that Rodríguez was one of several "key CIA assets in Miami, fanatic exile Cubans who helped the Agency carry out its black and dirty operations around the world and were being resurrected." According to Reed, Rodríguez boasted of being "'hand-selected by the White House' to set up and oversee this operation" and "prided himself on his ability to 'purchase' services for the Agency, which included 'bribes to Mexican ex-presidents on down.'"

Berrellez's investigation into the Camarena killing resulted in four convictions in U.S. federal court in 1992. Ruben Zuno Arce, a wealthy Mexican businessman and son-in-law to a former Mexican president, was convicted of kidnapping, as were Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros, a Honduran drug trafficker, and Juan Jose Bernabe Ramirez, a former Mexican policeman. Javier Vasquez Velasco was convicted of murdering two American tourists in Guadalajara on the orders of druglords who mistook them for DEA agents.

Another man allegedly involved in the Camarena killing got off far easier: the doctor who was believed to have injected him with adrenaline to keep him coherent while being tortured — the doctor who'd been kidnapped in April 1990 by Mexican bounty hunters working on Berrellez's orders.

"The shit hit the fan because it was all over the news that this doctor had been kidnapped by the DEA out of Mexico," says Berrellez, whose name was leaked as the orchestrator of the kidnapping. The Mexican government protested the kidnapping as a violation of national sovereignty and issued a warrant for Berrellez's arrest. They also demanded that Machaín be returned to Mexico. A district judge in Los Angeles dismissed the charges and ordered the doctor released.

Newly elected President Bill Clinton objected to the Machaín kidnapping, publicly apologized for it and negotiated with his Mexican counterpart, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, to ban cross-border kidnappings of Mexican citizens. In an op-ed in the L.A. Times, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Mexico project wrote of Clinton: "He has taken it on the chin for the North American Free Trade Agreement."

Machaín returned to a hero's welcome in Mexico — and promptly filed a civil lawsuit against Berrellez, winning a multimillion-dollar judgment. It took a decade for Berrellez to get it overturned. "I couldn't buy a freaking car on credit," he says. And the financial distress speeded the dissolution of his marriage.

Throughout all of this, Berrellez felt crushed by the burden of what else he knew. He wanted to keep climbing the ladder. He believed that cabinet members of the Mexican government were involved in Camarena's murder. And he continued to file secret memos on possible CIA involvement.

Months went by without word from the Office of the Inspector General about an investigation. Berrellez's impatience did not win him favor with the DEA's new acting administrator, Terry Burke. Burke had 12 years in paramilitary operations with the CIA in Laos and trained Cuban exiles in Florida in preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Phil Jordan was one of a few friends Berrellez had at headquarters. Jordan warned Berrellez to keep his head down. The bosses were discussing extraditing him to Mexico on the Machaín warrant.

The DEA did not have the ability to investigate a separate federal agency, but it could investigate one of its own. Burke sent a team of investigators from internal affairs to interview Berrellez's informants, Godoy, Sánchez and López. They say they were asked if Berrellez coached them to lie, if he withheld payment from them, if he let them get together and get their stories straight. They said no, and internal affairs withdrew from Los Angeles. But Berrellez got the message.

Operation Leyenda had run its course. "The new administration was convinced it was time to shut it down," says Holm, the L.A. office's supervisor at the time. "But as long as Hector was in the field, he was going to continue with the investigation."

Berrellez was on his own but decided to press on anyway. And he caught one last big break.

The deputy director of the Federal Judicial Police in Mexico, a top-ranking insider named Guillermo González Calderoni, had run afoul of the powers that be in Mexico and wanted to jump ship. Calderoni's hands were dirty; he was another criminal with a badge and a rank that made him privy to secrets. He contacted Berrellez, who offered him an escape. "I had just saved his life," Berrellez says. "I pulled him out of Mexico, I got him a clean identity here, and I hid him in Palm Springs. He wanted to hide there because he was an avid golfer and there's a lot of golf courses out there."

Berrellez and Calderoni knew each other. The three federal agents Berrellez rescued in Mexico in that 1988 gun battle had been Calderoni's men. As a token of appreciation for saving his life, Calderoni gave Berrellez some advice: Get the hell out of the Camarena case. "The order to kill Camarena came from Felix Rodríguez of the CIA," Berrellez claims Calderoni told him. "Your own government killed Camarena."

The Mexican government charged Calderoni with embezzlement and consorting with drug cartels, and forced an extradition hearing for him to be sent back. Berrellez says he had evidence that the case against Calderoni was fabricated — and he disobeyed a direct order from headquarters not to testify on Calderoni's behalf. He told the judge an extradition was equivalent to a death sentence. Calderoni was spared extradition; Berrellez was transferred off Operation Leyenda to a desk job in Washington. He retired a year and a half later.

The Mexican government charged Calderoni with embezzlement and consorting with drug cartels, and forced an extradition hearing for him to be sent back. Berrellez says he had evidence that the case against Calderoni was fabricated — and he disobeyed a direct order from headquarters not to testify on Calderoni's behalf. He told the judge an extradition was equivalent to a death sentence. Calderoni was spared extradition; Berrellez was transferred off Operation Leyenda to a desk job in Washington. He retired a year and a half later.

Calderoni was murdered in McAllen, Texas, in 2003.

In retirement, Berrellez remained silent — because the Machaín warrant remained enforceable and because he had enough problems in his personal life. Three decades of single-minded devotion to the DEA had left a gulf between he and his family. His personal life was a shambles. His first wife left him during the Machaín controversy. Then in 2006, his son, suffering through his own marital problems, committed suicide, leaving Berrellez to raise his two grandchildren.

"I felt like maybe if I had been closer to him or I could have advised him or would have been a father... I was always gone. I was a very dedicated agent. Birthdays I would be gone. I wouldn't be with him," Berrellez says. "So when that happened, that's when I went through a very depressive point in my life."

He did not consider going public with his views on the CIA's alleged role in the Camarena murder until Rafael Caro Quintero was unexpectedly released from a maximum-security prison on Aug. 9, 2013. The infamous capo had served 28 years of a 40-year prison sentence for the murder of Camarena when a state appeals panel ordered his release on a technicality. Caro's release brought things to a head for Berrellez, and he went public about Operation Leyenda two months later, in October 2013.

After the years it took for him to finally speak out, Berrellez found the media reaction anticlimactic. Fox News sent a film crew to interview Berrellez and other sources, but 90 percent of what he said was cut from the report that aired. Southwest newspapers such as the El Paso Times printed the story, and the drug-war journalist and author Charles Bowden penned a novelesque version for Matter — published in November 2014, after his death — titled "Blood on the Corn."

A CIA spokesman told Fox News: "It's ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a U.S. federal agent."

After Berrellez went public, Felix Rodríguez was invited to respond publicly by a Miami Spanish-language TV program. Retired senior DEA administrator Phil Jordan was invited to join the program by phone. "The guy threatened me that I would be hearing from his attorneys," Jordan says of Rodríguez. "And I told him on the air he can get my number from the interviewer, because there is nothing I would like more than to get him in a deposition. But I never heard from him."

Every year during the last week of October, the DEA and the National Family Partnership observe Red Ribbon Week to honor Kiki Camarena and to promote a drug-free lifestyle. Red Ribbon Week 2013 featured a panel on the Camarena investigation with former DEA administrator Lawn. Two weeks prior to the event, Berrellez had broken his decades-long silence about the CIA's alleged role in Camarena's murder. A retired agent in the audience at the DEA Museum asked Lawn to comment on Berrellez's claim. "As a youth I read Aesop's Fables," Lawn said. "This is another fable not worthy of individuals who would serve in DEA."

Berrellez's story found no such lack of interest in Mexico. The magazine Proceso ran a series of articles that singled out the political figures alleged to have been in the room while Camarena was tortured. Proceso ran a photo of Manuel Bartlett Díaz on its cover. Bartlett, who since the Camarena murder has been the governor of the state of Puebla and is currently a Mexican senator, denied the charges, calling the case "a settled matter." He denounced the allegations as "enormous lies" by three ex–police officers "who don't exist" and "won't show their faces."

Bartlett, an elder statesman in Mexican politics, dismisses the allegations made against him by corrupt policemen. U.S. Ambassador John Gavin, asked by journalist Dolia Estevez if he thought Bartlett was present during the Camarena incident, replied: "Do you really think the second most powerful official in the Mexican government would fly up to Guadalajara from Mexico City to have a drink with a notorious and sadistic narco-trafficker while they tortured and killed an American agent?

I repeat the question to [bodyguard and witness] Sánchez. "I saw him from as close as you and I are sitting," he says.

I pose the same question to [bodyguard and witness] López. "He has to defend himself," he says. "They'll never admit what we're saying is true."

López continues: "There is no alternate version to what I lived. This is my story. I'm not embellishing or adding the names of people who weren't actually there.

"It's like when I met Berrellez, I asked him, 'What do you expect to get out of this investigation?' He says, 'Heads will roll, come what may.' I told him I don't think so. He got upset and asked me if I thought I was still in Mexico. I told him, 'They're not going to let you get to the bottom of this. Wherever you go, it's the same story.'"


Mexican kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero's release fuels anger

El Paso Times | 08/18/2013 12:05:01 AM MDT>

The release of Rafael Caro Quintero convicted in the torture-killing of Special Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena continues to cause anger, disbelief and is fueling demands for Mexico to re-arrest him and extradite him to the United States.

DEA sources and the White House are concerned that a second drug-trafficker convicted of killing Camarena could be released soon on the same basis that a Mexican court set kingpin Caro Quintero free, said Phil Jordan, former director of the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center.

"According to my DEA sources, Miguel Felix Gallardo, whom the DEA investigated and whose organization was found to be laundering money through Texas financial institutions, appears to be the next in line to be released from prison," Jordan said. "After that, Ernesto Fonseca also could get out of prison. The three of them were convicted of ordering 'Kiki' Camarena's death."


U.S. authorities were taken by surprise when a Mexican judge ordered the release of Caro Quintero from prison after he had been convicted of helping to orchestrate the 1985 abduction and brutal slaying of Camarena in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Mexican court that released him said that Caro Quintero should never have been tried in a federal court because Camarena was not a diplomat or consular officer, and therefore the kingpin should have been in a state court. Caro Quintero's conviction was dismissed, and he walked out of jail a free man on Aug. 9.



Washington Post
By William Branigin
July 16, 1990

The trial in Los Angeles of four men accused of involvement in the 1985 murder of a U.S. narcotics agent has brought to the surface years of resentment by Drug Enforcement Administration officials of the Central Intelligence Agency's long collaboration with a former Mexican secret police unit that was heavily involved in drug trafficking.

According to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sources and documents, the Mexican drug-trafficking cartel that kidnapped, tortured and murdered DEA agent Enrique Camarena in the central city of Guadalajara in February 1985 operated until then with virtual impunity -- not only because it was in league with Mexico's powerful Federal Security Directorate (DFS), but because it believed its activities were secretly sanctioned by the CIA.

Whether or not this was the case, DEA and Mexican officials interviewed for this article said that at a minimum, the CIA had turned a blind eye to a burgeoning drug trade in cultivating its relationship with the DFS and pursuing what it regarded as other U.S. national security interests in Mexico and Central America.

"The CIA didn't give a damn about anything but Cuba and the Soviets," said James Kuykendall, a DEA agent -- now retired -- who worked with Camarena in Guadalajara. "Indirectly, they [the CIA] have got to share some of the blame" for DFS excesses. The CIA "protected that agency for so long. They didn't want their connection with the DFS to ever go away, and the DFS just got out of hand."

A spokesman for President Carlos Salinas de Gortari expressed concern that a "fight" between the DEA and CIA -- arising from the current trial -- was dragging Mexico through the mud. ...

More than a dozen persons connected to the Camarena case have been killed in mysterious circumstances in Mexico since 1985, including three of the 19 defendants in the latest U.S. indictment and several former key police commanders. Others have been jailed on unrelated charges, effectively silencing them. ...

The DFS, an elite agency founded in 1946 under the powerful interior ministry known in Mexico as Gobernacion, cooperated with the CIA for years in monitoring Soviet, Cuban and other East Bloc agents and diplomats in Mexico, according to former CIA agents and Mexican officials.

CIA protectiveness of the DFS surfaced publicly in 1981, when the chief of the Mexican agency at that time, Miguel Nazar Haro, was indicted in San Diego on charges of involvement in a massive cross-border car-theft ring. The FBI office at the U.S. Embassy here cabled strong protests, calling Nazar Haro an "essential contact for CIA station Mexico City."

San Diego U.S. Attorney William Kennedy disclosed in 1982 that the CIA was trying to block the case against Nazar Haro on grounds that he was a vital intelligence source in Mexico and Central America. Kennedy was subsequently fired by President Reagan. At the time, Nazar Haro also was heavily involved in drug trafficking, witnesses in two U.S. trials have testified.

By the early 1980s, the DFS also had gained a reputation as practically a full-time partner of the Mexican drug lords. In 1985, after the Camarena murder, the government disbanded it in an effort to root out corruption and repair Mexico's image. But many former DFS agents remain active, especially in the Mexico City police department.

Currently being tried in a Los Angeles federal court on charges of involvement in the Camarena murder are convicted Honduran drug trafficker Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros and three Mexicans, including Ruben Zuno Arce, the brother-in-law of former Mexican president Luis Echeverria [1970-1976] and an alleged protector of the Guadalajara drug cartel. The jury is to begin deliberations Monday. Three other Mexicans were convicted of involvement in the Camarena murder in an earlier trial.

Seven men named in the latest indictment are currently in jail in Mexico. They include renowned drug kingpins Rafael Caro Quintero, Ernesto Fonseca and Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, former Guadalajara secret police commander Sergio Espino Verdin and former top Federal Judicial Police officer Miguel Aldana. Caro Quintero, Fonseca and Espino Verdin have been convicted here of involvement in the Camarena murder, while Felix Gallardo and Aldana are being held on unrelated drug charges. ...

One of the most controversial witnesses in Los Angeles has been Lawrence Victor Harrison, 45, an American who testified that he installed communications equipment, including electronic eavesdropping devices, for both the DFS and the Guadalajara drug cartel in the early 1980s.

His allegations, in testimony and DEA documents, of gunrunning and guerrilla training in Mexico and the involvement of top government, police and military officials in crimes ranging from drug trafficking to murder, have prompted angry denials from the Mexican government.

For U.S. law enforcement, especially frustrating has been the role of a potential witness who vanished before the trial, a 47-year-old former police official in Mexico named Sergio Saavedra Flores. He is suspected by the DEA of involvement in the Camarena murder coverup.

According to a senior DEA official familiar with the Camarena investigation, the CIA had infiltrated the Mexican drug organizations. "Of course they have. They look at it from the standpoint that narcotics is [related to] national security."

"The traffickers were monitoring the DEA, and the CIA knew about it but didn't tell us," he added angrily. "They {the traffickers} knew everything we were doing. The only thing they didn't know was the information we had on corruption." As proof of the monitoring, after the murder the DEA received a voice-activated tape recording of DEA radio communications that Mexican authorities said was seized from the traffickers.

Angered by heavy losses in DEA-instigated raids on huge marijuana plantations, the Guadalajara cartel kidnapped Camarena to interrogate him on what the DEA knew about the traffickers' operation and high-level Mexican corruption, DEA officials have said.

The CIA declined as a matter of policy to address whether it had any relationship with specific persons, or address questions about drug and arms trafficking in Mexico.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield would say only, "I want to emphasize in the strongest possible terms that the CIA neither engages in nor condones drug trafficking. Nor did we participate in any coverup of the Camarena case."

The senior DEA official said Saavedra is a Cuban who came to Mexico and rose to a high position in the DFS. Under the administration of Salinas's predecessor, Miguel de la Madrid, he became a special assistant to Manuel Ibarra, then director of the Federal Judicial Police. Ibarra was indicted in Los Angeles in January in the Camarena case and has dropped out of sight.

After the DEA complained that Mexican investigators were treating Caro Quintero with kid gloves following his arrest in April 1985, Saavedra was brought in for interrogation. A police source who witnessed the scene said the drug lord was tortured by various means, including spraying carbonated water up the nose. "We almost lost him a couple times," he said.

By this account, Caro Quintero gave up the names of top military and police officials he was paying off, including the head of the DFS, Jose Antonio Zorrilla Perez, a protege of the interior secretary at the time, Manuel Bartlett.

Alarmed that the DEA investigation was pointing to top Mexican officials, Saavedra then joined the coverup, helping Matta Ballesteros, the Honduran, to flee Mexico, the DEA official said. Zorrilla was arrested a year ago on charges of ordering the murder of a Mexican investigative journalist in 1984.

"Saavedra got scared because he felt the rules of the game had changed," the official said. The investigation "was no longer contained. . . . Now we were attacking the DFS. The gringos were going beyond the bounds of looking at the traffickers."

Saavedra left Mexico and took a job in Los Angeles in 1987 with the U.S. subsidiary of Mexico's pro-government private television network, Televisa. When the DEA contacted him last November about cooperating in the Camarena case, he abruptly quit his job, packed up his family and moved out of his Orange County home.

"He just disappeared," a friend in Los Angeles said. Asked why, she said, "We related it to Camarena."

Colleagues at the television company said Saavedra claimed to come from Veracruz, a port on the Gulf of Mexico where customs and accents are similar to Cuba's.

Saavedra's name appears on a list prepared by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles of persons linked to the Camarena case. But the chief government prosecutor, Manuel Medrano, refused all comment on Saavedra.

Certainly, only a part of the Camarena story has emerged from the courts. Judges in both trials rejected defense lawyers' attempts to introduce evidence about alleged links between the CIA and Felix Gallardo.

In June, U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie barred defense lawyers from questioning Harrison about the CIA, but relented this month after ordering the prosecution to give the defense two secret DEA summaries of Harrison's statements on the subject.

Testifying in the absence of the jury July 6, Harrison said Felix Gallardo had told him personally that he thought his drug trafficking network was secure because he was supplying arms to the U.S.-backed contras. Harrison quoted the drug lord as saying he had persuaded unspecified other people to fund the Nicaraguan rebels.

Harrison said he had no direct knowledge of CIA involvement with the traffickers but believed that contras had been trained in Mexico. He said the DEA had misquoted him in a February report as having said that the CIA, using the DFS as cover, had trained leftist Guatemalan guerrillas on a Mexican drug lord's ranch.

Rafeedie criticized Harrison's testimony as "based on hearsay, gossip and speculation." The judge did not allow the jury to hear that testimony.

Last month, Harrison, who said he was born George Marshall Leyvas in 1944, testified that he had audited classes under two assumed names during the late 1960s at the University of California at Berkeley and joined the leftist anti-Vietnam war group, Students for a Democratic Society.

Harrison said that after moving to Guadalajara in 1971 and working as a law clerk for a Mexican attorney, he served as a lawyer for a branch of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party and defended leftist university students accused of subversion.

After these activities led to his arrest by the DFS, he said, he offered electronics services to the DFS and other police agencies in Guadalajara. He said he had had "no formal training" in electronics, which was "just a hobby."

Between 1981 and 1984, he said, he installed sophisticated radio communications systems for the DFS and a secretive sister agency under the Interior Ministry known as the Department of Political and Social Investigations, or IPS. Senior DFS and IPS commanders soon introduced him to the drug lords who operated in partnership with these police agencies, he said.

On orders from the police commanders, Harrison said he set up communications systems for drug lords Fonseca and Caro Quintero and moved into Fonseca's house from July 1983 to January 1984.

"As the system engineer, I listened to the system and had full control of it 24 hours a day during the entire time that it was installed and operated," Harrison testified.

He said he overheard thousands of conversations among traffickers and their police partners by both monitoring the drug lords' radios and tapping their telephones.

Harrison also installed a device to monitor the DEA's radio communications in Guadalajara, he said, but did not tap the agency's phones -- a job he indicated was done by someone else from the Interior Ministry.

The 6-foot-7 Californian, who was nicknamed "Torre Blanca" (White Tower) by his Mexican cohorts, said that after he completed work on Fonseca's system around September 1984, he was shot nine times in an ambush by rival state police, effectively ending his career with the traffickers. While he was hospitalized in a prison infirmary, Camarena was killed and both Caro Quintero and Fonseca were arrested.

Describing a series of large arms seizures in Mexico around that time, including cases of AK-47 assault rifles, the senior DEA official said that at first, "we thought it was for the traffickers. Naive us. We thought, my God, they're arming the whole damn country."

A former U.S. drug trafficker and gunrunner who turned government informant in a separate case said in an interview that he smuggled weapons to Mexico for delivery not only to traffickers but to various guerrilla groups in Central and South America. In the interview, he also confirmed that Harrison had worked for Fonseca and lived in his house.

"The CIA obviously was cultivating a very powerful and efficient arms transport network through the cartel, and they didn't want DEA screwing it up," Gregory Nicolaysen, one of the defense lawyers in the trial, said outside the court.

Nicolaysen said that Harrison "basically was the liaison between the agency and the cartel." Aside from certain "embellishments," he said, "Harrison does have a fair amount of credibility." Harrison has denied in court that he ever worked for any U.S. government agency.

The lanky American testified that he left Mexico permanently in February because of death threats. He is currently a paid informant of the DEA.

Starting around six months before Camarena was killed, which coincides with the time that Harrison said he finished installing the traffickers' communications, the DEA lost several informants in Guadalajara, DEA sources said. Among those that Camarena called most frequently, court testimony indicated, was his pilot, Zavala.

In a DEA debriefing last Sept. 20, a transcript of which was given to defense attorneys at the start of the trial, Harrison said Fonseca had told him in 1983 that "there couldn't be any trouble with the Americans because they [the traffickers] were together with the Americans. . . . There was some kind of a secret understanding."

Harrison added that Javier Barba Hernandez, another member of the Guadalajara cartel who was killed by federal police in December 1986, "told me that it was a political thing that I shouldn't get involved in."

Among several foreigners who visited Fonseca, apparently to discuss drug deals, were two Americans who said they were "working with the contras," Harrison said. He said that when he warned one of the men against flying too close to the U.S.-Mexican border because of U.S. radar, "he said he was the U.S., that he didn't have any problem."

Sometime in 1984, the DEA transcript quoted him as saying, he realized that Fonseca was "mad at the Americans." He added, "I got the feeling that he felt betrayed."

A report attached to the transcript said Harrison identified Theodore Cash, a former CIA pilot [note: July 7, 2007, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Cash obituary: "Captain Theodore Cash, a helicopter pilot, served for the U.S. Marines for 12 years and flew for Air America 7 years."], as an American who flew guns and drugs for the Guadalajara cartel. Cash acknowledged that he had flown for the CIA for 10 years when he testified in the previous Camarena trial under a grant of partial immunity.

According to a secret DEA report of a Sept. 11, 1989, interview with Harrison, another American, who identified himself only as "Dale," arranged a meeting with Harrison in Guadalajara in 1987 and asked him "what information {he} had supplied to DEA concerning CIA operations in Mexico."

Harrison said "Dale" told him he was "not DEA" and worked at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the report said. Taking "Dale" for a CIA agent, Harrison "stated that you guys {CIA} are working with the traffickers in Mexico. We {Gobernacion and the Mexican intelligence community} know that the CIA are supplying guns to Nicaragua," the report said. In response, it said, " 'Dale' nodded his head in an affirmative manner."

Defense lawyers said the report's description of the American matched that of Dale Stinson, a DEA agent now based in Phoenix who had testified earlier on a separate matter. Reached in Phoenix, Stinson declined all comment.

Antonio Garate Bustamante, 51, a former high-ranking Guadalajara police officer who became a DEA operative after the Camarena murder, orchestrated the abduction in April of a Guadalajara doctor wanted in the Camarena case. He said several potential Mexican witnesses had died mysteriously, landed in jail or disappeared since he began trying to recruit them on behalf of DEA investigators.

He also said that former Federal Judicial Police major Aldana, indicted in Los Angeles in January, had agreed to cooperate, but was arrested in Mexico on drug-possession charges three days after their last phone conversation.

Garate said at least three others sought by the DEA were gunned down by Mexican police.

"They didn't want us to have anybody alive," he said.


Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
pp. 348-349

Two witnesses were rounded up who reported that as he left the consulate [DEA agent Kiki] Camarena was surrounded by five gunmen and shoved him into the back seat of a waiting car. The witnesses said the gunmen appeared to be members of the Mexican secret police, the DFS. Another informant told the DEA that he had heard talk that the Gallardo-Quintero cartel was planning to kill "a lawman."

Two days later, the DEA learned that Rafael Caro Quintero was at the Guadalajara airport ready to board a private plane bound for Mexico City. The agents contacted the Mexican Federal Judicial Police and converged on the airport. The jet was surrounded by ten men carrying AK-47s, and Caro Quintero was approached by police Commandante Armando Pavon. To the astonishment of the DEA agents, Pavon and Caro Quintero shook hands, talked warmly and the plane was permitted to depart. Pavon told the American agents that everything was under control, because the armed guards were actually DFS agents who had been assigned to Caro Quintero by the secretary of the interior [Manuel Bartlett at the time]. The DEA later learned that Caro Quintero had offered Pavon $300,000 to permit his plane to take off. ...

By some counts, the Felix Gallardo/Fonseca/Caro Quintero network was making $5 billion a year. In 1982, the DEA learned that Felix Gallardo himsefl was moving $20 million a month through a single account at the Bank of America in San Diego. The drug agency asked for the CIA's help in investigating the money-laundering scheme, but the Agency refused.

Indeed, the DEA was soon convinced that the forces behind the Camarena murder went far beyond the drug traffickers and corrupt Mexican police to include the CIA itself.