Contra Organizations: The Contra Story
What drug trafficking allegations was CIA aware of, and when, involving Contra organizations? How did CIA respond to this information, and how was this information shared with other U.S. Government entities?
15th of September Legion--Justiniano Perez/Manuel Porro/Juan Francisco Rivera/Hugo Villagra/Fernando Brautigan/Felix Alcides Espinoza/Edwin Hoocker
- Background. The military arm of the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Democratic Alliance (ADREN) was known as the 15th of September Legion. It was formed in 1980 and its principal leaders were Enrique Bermudez and Justiniano Perez Sala. Other leaders included Guillermo Mendieta Chaves, Alcides Espinoza, Ricardo "Chino" Lau, Manuel Porro, Manuel Villalobo, and Hugo Villagra.
- In May 1981, a Central American Station reported that the ADREN, Nicaraguan Democratic Union (UDN) and MISURASATA had agreed in principle to combine forces in a new organization. They would continue to use the name 15th of September Legion for the organization's military arm. The new organization, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), was established in September 1981. The FDN General Staff included Enrique Bermudez, Justiniano Perez, Ricardo Lau, and Juan Francisco Rivera. The merger of the UDN and the ADREN, including its 15th of September Legion, into the FDN was completed in early 1982. Former ADREN leader Guillermo Mendieta Chaves was excluded from the new organization because he was suspected of being a Sandinista spy.
- The 15th of September Legion included a unit called the Special Secret Operations Command (OES). The Coordinator of the OES was Justiniano Perez. Other members included Fernando Brautigan, Alcides Espinoza, Edwin Hoocker, Ricardo Lau, and Gerardo Martinez Gutierrez. The unit was organized to increase ADREN's operational capabilities both within and outside Nicaragua.
- The ADREN to some extent engaged in kidnapping, extortion and robbery to fund its operations. A June 1981 Central American Station draft field intelligence report stated that ADREN leaders "see themselves as being forced to stoop to criminal activities in order to feed and clothe their cadre." The ADREN also engaged in the bombing of Nicaraguan civilian airliners and airliner hijackings as methods of attacking the Sandinista Government. The Station reporting from June 1981 through March 1982 identified the following 15th of September Legion members as having been involved in criminal activities: Brautigan, Hoocker, Lau, Martinez, Perez, Porro, Rivera, and Villagra.
- A September 1981 cable to Headquarters (discussed in more detail later in this section) indicated that ADREN had decided to engage in drug trafficking to the United States to raise funds for its activities. ADREN members Alan Downs and Edwin Hoocker reportedly had been involved in an initial delivery of drugs to Miami in July 1981.
- The leader of the ADREN/OES, Justiniano Perez, resigned from the FDN in November 1981. Perez wrote a resignation letter in which he stated that he was leaving because of internal dissension and mistrust within the FDN leadership. A June 1982 cable to Headquarters reported that Enrique Bermudez, Chief of the FDN General Staff, had stated that the OES was involved in armed assaults and thefts to collect funds. According to Bermudez, Perez disclaimed responsibility but admitted he had lost control of the group.
- According to a March 1982 Headquarters cable, the FDN had ceased using the name "15th of September Legion" by early 1982. The name had become associated with a small splinter group led by Perez, Porro, Rivera, and Villagra. Its personnel were principally former members of the ADREN/OES. The group reportedly continued to conduct criminal activities to support its operations against the Government of National Reconstruction (GRN) and identified itself as the 15th of September Legion.
- Justiniano Perez Sala. In June 1982, Headquarters requested an assessment as to whether Perez "could be influenced to employ tactics other than those used by terrorists," if he were to be re-integrated into the FDN. In November 1982, with the support of MISURASATA leader Stedman Fagoth Mueller and the concurrence of the FDN, Perez re-joined the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) as the Military Advisor to the MISURASATA.
- A January 1984 cable reported that "Perez is the only person in Honduras and in the entire FDN with the leadership, charisma, and military tactical ability to make the movement go forward in the manner CIA would like." However, beginning in December 1983, two Stations reported that Perez became involved in a disinformation scheme, along with Francisco Rivera, Hugo Villagra and a Cuban-American U.S. citizen that was directed against the political and military leadership of the FDN. In May 1984, Perez withdrew from active service with the MISURASATA, returned to Miami, and had become associated with a dissident Nicaraguan exile group led by Hugo Villagra and the Cuban-American citizen that eventually became known as the Nicaraguan Coalition of Opposition to the Regime (CONDOR).
- Manuel Porro Rubiales. A June 1982 cable identified Manuel Porro as a member of the FDN General Staff support unit. He was identified as an instructor at the FDN NCO School in an October 1982 cable. A September 1986 cable discussed Adolfo Calero's hiring of Porro as an assistant. A September 1987 cable indicated that Porro also reportedly handled Adolfo Calero's funding transactions between Miami and San Jose, Costa Rica, banks.
- Juan Francisco Rivera Aguirre. In a May 1982 cable to Headquarters, Rivera was identified as FDN Chief of Logistics. A February 1983 cable reported that an FDN investigation had found Rivera guilty of misappropriating funds. According to a March 1983 cable, Rivera had contacted Carol Prado and indicated that he would leave the FDN and travel to Miami. In May 1983, a Station reported that Rivera was alleging that the FDN was "coming apart" due to internal conflicts, cliques and lack of control by CIA.
- A June 1983 cable indicated that Rivera moved to Miami where he became one of the leaders of the dissident Nicaraguan exile group that eventually became known as the CONDOR group. According to a December 1984 Headquarters report, Rivera was active, along with Perez, Villagra and the Cuban-American citizen, in a disinformation campaign that attempted to ferment distrust between the Honduran military leadership and the FDN in Honduras. The CONDOR group's ultimate goal was to supplant the FDN leadership with its own members.
- Hugo Villagra Gutierrez. A November 1982 cable identified Hugo Villagra as the FDN Chief of Operations. In August 1983, he was appointed as the Tactical Field Commander of FDN Forces in Nicaragua.
- A December 1983 cable reported that Villagra had resigned from the FDN, claiming that he was not being supported by the FDN political and military leadership. Villagra moved to Miami and, according to a June 1984 Headquarters cable, became one of the leaders of the dissident Nicaraguan exile group that eventually became known as the CONDOR group.
- Other 15th of September Personalities: Fernando Brautigan. No information has been found to indicate that Brautigan joined the FDN after the demise of the 15th of September Legion in 1982. However, an April 1983 Central American Station cable to Headquarters concurred in his appointment as a Military Advisor to Emery Hudson's Miskito Resistance organization in Costa Rica as requested by Miskito leader Norman Campbell. Brautigan was identified as a member of the dissident Nicaraguan exile CONDOR group in a May 1986 cable to Headquarters.
- Felix Alcides Espinoza Rodriguez. According to a June 1983 cable to Headquarters, Alcides Espinoza was FDN Commander of Sagitario Base in June 1982. A November 1984 cable indicated that Espinoza was senior Military Adviser to MISURA.
- Edwin Hoocker Coe. No record has been found to indicate that Hoocker joined the FDN after the demise of the 15th of September Legion in 1982. However, an April 1983 Central American Station cable to Headquarters concurred in his appointment as a Military Adviser to Emery Hudson's Miskito Resistance organization in Costa Rica as requested by Miskito leader Norman Campbell. A June 1984 FBI name trace request to CIA indicated that Hoocker had recently immigrated from Nicaragua and had taken up residence in Texas.
- Allegations of Drug Trafficking. In September 1981, a report to Headquarters relaying information obtained from an asset stated that the ADREN leadership had made a decision to engage in drug smuggling to the United States in order to finance its anti-Sandinista operations. Reportedly an initial trial run had taken place in July 1981 when ADREN member Alan Downs carried drugs in a suitcase on a flight to Miami. Once the drugs were delivered and paid for, Downs reportedly turned over the proceeds to Edwin Hoocker in Miami. No other information concerning Downs has been found. Reportedly the drugs belonged to an unidentified Honduran who was a native of the Bay Islands and who operated out of San Pedro Sula.
- A May 1982 cable from the FBI to CIA stated that reportedly "Justiniano Perez is a close friend of 'Paisa' (nickname) who is a Drug Trafficker." According to the cable, Perez told Paisa that "if [Perez] received financial assistance from Paisa he would make business concessions to him when and if Nicaragua were to be liberated."
- A February 1982 Headquarters cable, in response to a name trace request, indicated that members of the splinter group of the 15th of September Legion Group who had refused to join the FDN were using the Legion name in conducting robberies, drug smuggling and hijacking.
- CIA Response To Allegations of Drug Trafficking. No information has been found to indicate any action to follow-up or corroborate the allegations concerning ADREN/15th of September Legion drug smuggling into the United States. However, the September 1981 and February 1982 information against ADREN/15th of September Legion stemmed from a single source, and in October 1982, Headquarters issued a cable indicating that the source was thought to be untrustworthy and a possible agent of the Government of Nicaragua. A January 1982 Headquarters cable noted that an Agency asset should not meet Justiniano Perez and Francisco Rivera "who represent the 'Renegade' splinter group of the 15th of September Legion."
- No information has been found to indicate that the Agency pursued any action to follow-up or corroborate the May 1982 FBI information concerning Justiniano Perez's alleged close friendship with a reputed drug trafficker named Paisa and Perez's alleged promise to help Paisa later in return for financial assistance. No record of any individual named Paisa has been found in CIA records.
- Information Sharing with Other U.S. Government Entities. The September 1981 report that the ADREN intended to engage in drug smuggling to the United States was disseminated as an intelligence report on October 28, 1981 to the Departments of State and Treasury, FBI, U.S. Customs, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and NSA. The report also was disseminated to the Ambassador and DEA representative in Tegucigalpa and to USCINC South. Several intelligence reports concerning the ADREN/15th of September Legion's criminal, non-drug trafficking, activities also were disseminated to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence community organizations between June 1981 and March 1982. No information has been found that this reporting was shared with Congress.