Costa Rica, Past & Present

Part 4: The Onion Model of National Security

by Zola

North to Honduras

To begin with, we need to go, not south to Panama, but to the north, to the mountains of Honduras. Deep inside Honduras, between two mountain ranges, lies a key, highly-classified telemetry station in the U.S. Air Force-operated Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite network. The function of this network is to detect missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations. Signals received by the network of satellites are transmitted to Honduras to be collated into a real-time picture of the earth's surface and ambient space below 22,000 miles.

That such a critical function is not performed within the territorial U.S. is a simple consequence of the fact that no U.S. territorial point is sufficiently near the equator.

After collation into a real-time space picture, the signal is transmitted to Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, from where it is funneled to the 721st Support Group and U.S. Space Command at the NORAD defense post in Cheyenne Mountain, as well as to other relevant centers. The 21st Space Wing at Peterson is backed up by the Space Warfare Center and the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, which runs the Air Force Satellite Control Network. (Signals from satellites pertaining to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), whose functions overlap, but are not identical, with those of Space Command are forwarded to the 21st Space Operations Squadron at Onizuka Air Station in Sunnyvale, California.)

The 5,000-pound DSP satellites are built by TRW and Aerojet Electronics Systems (the same Aerojet started by Jack Parsons, as described by The Magician in his fictional account of the facts of Jack Parsons' life).

The classified mission of Joint Task Force Bravo, stationed at Enrique Soto Cano Air Base (previously known as Palmerola Air Base) in Honduras, is to annihilate any threat to this key U.S. defense communication post in Honduras. (Click for Honduran air base map.)

If you consider that the Germans, last century, were looking for Lebensraum, then you could say the U.S. military is looking for Signalsraum.

This was the secret within a secret of the "Iran-Contra" conflict. (The totally misleading term "Iran-Contra" was created by Attorney General Edward Meese to cover up the fact of the U.S. policy of arming Saddam Hussein's Iraq (see Alan Friedman, Spider's Web: The secret history of how the White House illegally armed Iraq). As Oliver North was to put it later, "even the cover-up was a cover-up.") At the onion's core in the Central American conflict was a legitimate U.S. national security concern: protection of the vital Honduran hub in the U.S. defense satellite network.

If you've ever wondered why Honduras is often treated like the 52nd state of the U.S. (considering Puerto Rico the 51st), this is the reason why. Nicaragua can fall to the Communists. But Honduras can't be allowed to.

Onion Layers

The second layer of the onion, the one around the core, was, at least in the 1980s, Oliver North's arming of the groups arrayed against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. North appealed to private donors in the U.S. under the standard rubric of "stopping the Communists in Central America." This also appealed to the military instinct to build a "buffer zone" around critical installations.

In Part 2 of this series I pointed to the uncertain relationship between Oliver North, at the National Security Council, and Joe Fernandez, CIA Chief of Station in Costa Rica. This uncertainty in lines of authority is only apparent, however, for President Reagan had by Executive Order consolidated all Central American Contra operations under the Vice-President, George Herbert Walker Bush. George Bush was at the apex, seeing it all, controlling it all.

On Dec. 14, 1981, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive Number 3 (NSDD-3) which authorized the Vice President to chair a Special Situation Group (SSG). The Special Situation Group received support from the staff of the National Security Council, and consisted of the Secretary of State, the Counsellor to the President, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and others designated by the Vice President. A second entity formed to support the SSG was the Terrorist Incident Working Group (TIWG), established on April 10, 1982 by NSDD-30. This group included representatives of the State Department, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Department of Defense, the FBI, FEMA, the NSC staff and others as required. Any "terrorist incident" would result in the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs convening the SSG, if directed to do so by the Vice President.

The third layer of the onion consists of the private, extra-national deals that take advantage of the first two layers to make as much money as possible. The third layer, in the 1980s, consisted of the drug deals that financed the Contra operation. It is, of course, hard to separate what was "official" here from what was only private profit. But with George H. W. Bush in charge, it probably didn't make much difference. For Bush throughout his career had a habit of setting up "an operation within an operation."

The first Bush operation we know about is Bush's role as a money launderer for the CIA. He laundered payments through his Zapata Oil Company to the CIA pilots who were flying arms to Castro in the hills of Cuba in 1957-8. (Many have forgotten that the U.S. originally supported Fidel Castro.) Because the work was highly dangerous, the pilots were paid ahead of their flights, so a pilot's family would have the money in the event of his death. George H. W. Bush was the paymaster.

Sometimes payments would not arrive, and of course the pilots flew their missions anyway. But some of them became suspicious, noting that flights made prior to payment had an inordinate number of problems from Batista's air force. Those pilots did their own investigation and discovered that on those occasions (1) the CIA payments had actually arrived on time; and on those occasions, (2) George H. W. Bush was calling up Fulgencio Batista and giving him the flight plans. It was blood money indeed.

A young hot-headed pilot of 23 named Charles Lawson put a .357 magnum down George Bush's throat and made him sign a confession to the whole set of misdeeds. (The pilot has become better known in recent years as Charles S. "Chuck" Hayes.) It is safe to say that no group hates George H. W. Bush more than the surviving members of this group of CIA pilots.

We will return to the principle of "operation within an operation" later. Using the onion model will make clear, for example, that the "War on Drugs" even in its origin never corresponded to public perception. Beneath the PR aspects (the second layer of the Drug War onion) was the core which will be discussed later in this series, and wrapped on top of the second PR layer was again the money-making deals the Drug War provided and still provides.

Nicaragua Today

Still keeping in mind our goal, which is to explain what is happening in Costa Rica today, let us move south from Honduras to Nicaragua.

Nicaragua 2001 is not the Nicaragua of the 1980s. True, some things look similar. Having been voted out of power in 1990, the ex-Sandinista Daniel Ortega appears poised to regain power in the next election.

A Daniel Ortega win in Nicaragua cannot be viewed as a major threat to U.S. interests, however. This is not simply because Ortega has softened his rhetoric, has made friendly sounds about the U.S., and has indicated that socialist economics is perhaps not entirely the way to go. We have reliable information that Ortega has made a deal with the family of Anastasio Somoza to share power and represent their interests. In addition, Ortega has received an entourage of influential people from Central America, including a visit from the drug kingpin who is the U.S.'s main man in Costa Rica. All this suggests that Enrique Bolanos, the candidate of the incumbent Liberal Party, will lose to the Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega Saavedra.

A Substitute for Howard Air Force Base

Now let us return to Panama. It is clear that much of the U.S. military interest in a base in Costa Rica was initiated by the pull out from Howard Air Force Base in Panama.

Howard Air Force Base (click here for picture; click here for a map) in Panama was considered the "jewel in the crown" of U.S. Southern Command. But the base ceased operations on May 1, 1999. (The headquarters of Southern Command moved from Panama to Miami, Florida in 1997.) Howard Air Force Base had an 8,500 foot runway used by the Air Force's 24th Wing. By the time the base closed, it had also become a center for U.S. "counternarcotics" detection, monitoring, communications, and intelligence-gathering.

Howard Air Force Base had a distinguished history. The site was selected in 1939 by General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, head of the Army Air Corps (the same "Hap" Arnold who gave the Suicide Club its first $10,000 contract for the development of jet-assisted take-off, as described by The Magician in the Jack Parsons series).

In the 1990s the base became the headquarters of Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South (JITF-S), which was supposed to focus on the drug "source zone" (meaning, of course, Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru), while JITF-East (in Key West, Florida) was to focus on the "transit zone" of the Caribbean (the corridor to the US). When Howard closed, JITF-S was folded into JITF-East in Key West.

When the U.S. pulled out of Howard AFB, it immediately announced that it was replacing it with three locations—temporary sites in the Dutch protectorates of Aruba and Curacao; in Manta, Ecuador; and was searching for a third site. According to the following Washington Post article, the U.S. was negotiating with Costa Rica, looking for a third base (near Liberia, Costa Rica) supposedly to wage the drug war.

Handover of Panama Base Hinders Anti-Drug Efforts

Pubdate: Sun, 30 May 1999
Source: The Washington Post Page: A19
Author: Douglas Farah, Washington Post Foreign Service

The turnover of a U.S. military base to Panama earlier this month has left a gaping hole in American counter-drug efforts in Central America and the Caribbean, forcing the Clinton administration to scramble for new facilities that can be used to track drug shipments from South America.

All U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Panama, formerly headquarters for the U.S. Southern Command, by the end of the year under terms of the Panama Canal treaties. On May 1, Howard Air Force Base was turned over to Panama, depriving the United States of a base for 22 surveillance aircraft and causing a sharp drop in anti-drug coverage of the region.

To maintain a presence in the area, the Clinton administration has hastily negotiated a short-term agreement with the Netherlands to station aircraft at the airports in the Dutch Caribbean protectorates of Aruba and Curacao. It negotiated a similar agreement with Ecuador to station airplanes in the Pacific coast city of Manta.

Washington is seeking a third such agreement in Central America and, to that end, is currently negotiating with Costa Rica. All of the new airfields, however, will require substantial improvements -- including new maintenance facilities and housing -- that will cost more than $100 million, Pentagon officials said.

U.S. aircraft flew about 2,000 surveillance missions out of Howard last year, gathering intelligence for the United States and for counter-drug forces in other countries in the region, officials said. Pentagon officials said that even under ideal circumstances it will take two to three years to regain the surveillance capability that existed in Panama.

All the cocaine and most of the heroin used in the United States is produced in South America and moved north by airplane or ship through Central America and Mexico or through the Caribbean.

In a May 20 letter to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, four Republican congressmen warned that the loss of Howard has presented the United States with "one of the worst disasters in our U.S. counterdrug history."

"These counterdrug flights are essential for information sharing with other countries in the region, for eradication and narcotics interdiction," said the letter from representatives John L. Mica (Fla.); Benjamin A. Gilman (N.Y.); Mark Edward Souder (Ind.); and Robert L. Barr Jr. (Ga.). "Without these essential flights the department is creating a wide open door to drug traffickers and destroying the first line of defense against illegal narcotics traffickers."

The letter said that "failed negotiations" with Panama and "the absence of adequate advance planning" had endangered the drug war.

Barry R. McCaffrey, the administration's national drug policy director, said he was "worried" by the loss of Howard but blamed the delay in getting the new bases operational on then-Panamanian President Ernesto Perez Balladares, who, he said, had agreed privately to extend the U.S. presence in Panama, then backed out last September.

"I'm very disappointed," McCaffrey said. "It has put us in a scramble."

Ana Maria Salazar, deputy assistant secretary of defense for drug enforcement policy, said at a congressional hearing May 4 that the Pentagon could not approach other countries about hosting U.S. surveillance aircraft until after the talks with Panama formally ended. This left very little lead time to put other agreements together, she said.

The opening of the centers in Aruba and Curacao will eventually allow the United States to fly about 65 percent of the surveillance missions flown out of Howard last year, Pentagon officials said. That level will increase to 110 percent following the opening of the center at Manta and a third location in Central America, the officials said.

The agreement with the Netherlands runs through September, and the agreement with Ecuador expires next May. But U.S. officials expressed confidence that the host countries would agree to long-term arrangements because each of the new locations would require only eight U.S. soldiers, although that number would fluctuate as air crews rotate through the bases on temporary assignments.

"We think we have a good strategy," said one Pentagon official. "While the arrangement is different, it's a more productive way of engaging other countries."

What makes the Drug War explanation suspect, however, is the simple fact that the only reason the U.S. military wasn't allowed to maintain a presence in Panama was that it insisted on being able to conduct ordinary non-drug-related missions.

True, the U.S. military had originally envisioned staying in Panama by turning Howard Air Force Base into a "Multilateral Counternarcotics Center". But these negotiations fell through when the U.S. insisted that such a base be allowed to perform other military functions besides counter-narcotics. As testified Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Peter Romero before a House subcommittee, "our needs for a cost-effective presence—by which we meant one that permitted a full range of missions at Howard—could not be reconciled with Panama's political requirements."

Meanwhile, the search to return to Panama goes on, as indicated by a secret visit made to Panama by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in at the end of August 2001. Among other places, Powell visited the former site of Howard Air Force Base.

Collin Powell realiza discreta visita a Panamá

El Panamá América
September 3, 2001

El secretario de Estado de Estados Unidos, Collin Powell, realizó una visita "discreta" a Panamá la semana pasada y mantuvo breves, pero importantes reuniones con funcionarios panameños, según informó una fuente gubernamental.

No se dieron detalles de los temas de las reuniones. Sin embargo, de acuerdo con la información, el canciller estadounidense se trasladó algunas de las antiguas instalaciones militares de Estados Unidos en Panamá, entre las cuales resaltó su visita a lo que fue la base aérea de Howard.

El Panamá América dejó un mensaje en el buzón del teléfono celular del vicecanciller, Harmodio Arias, para conocer la versión oficial sobre la supuesta presencia de Powell en Panamá. Pero, el funcionario no respondió. Por su parte, la Embajada de Estados Unidos negó que Powell haya estado en territorio panameño durante la semana pasada. "Si podemos confirmarte que el señor Powell no estuvo en Panamá", dijo un portavoz de la embajada estadounidense.

De acuerdo con los informes iniciales, la visita de Powell puede estar relacionada con el viaje que realizará a Colombia para reiterar el continuado apoyo del gobierno estadounidense a los esfuerzos colombianos para combatir el narcotráfico, fortalecer las instituciones democráticas y promover el desarrollo social y económico.

Cabe señalar que Powell no estará presente en la conferencia sobre racismo que la Organización de Naciones Unidas (ONU) realiza en Durban, Suráfrica, desde el viernes pasado, debido a las críticas contra Israel.

The Political Show in Costa Rica

Powell isn't the only Bush (GHWB) man to be replayed in Central America. There are others still here, and even more coming.

They're coming to enjoy the political show.

The current Costa Rican President, Miguel Angel Rodriquez, of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) won a narrow victory over the National Liberation Party (PLN) in 1998. He did not, however, win a majority in the legislature.

The current PUSC candidate, for the election coming in February 2002, Abel Pacheco, won an easy victory over his party rival Rodolfo Mendex Mata. Pacheco's running mate is Luis Fishman, the former President of the Legislative Assembly. (In Costa Rica there are two vice-presidential running mates. The second one has not been selected.) The PUSC has no objection to American soldiers in Costa Rica.

Rolando Araya won the National Liberation Party primary. The PLN does not want American soldiers in Costa Rica.

Monitoring all this from the sidelines is the corrupt U.S. Embassy in San Jose. Now there has been no U.S. Ambassador in Costa Rica since Thomas Dodd left March 1, 2001. Thomas Dodd, appointed by President Clinton in 1997, is the brother of Democratic Senator Chris Doss of Connecticut. The interim envoy has been Linda Jewell, the Embassy's Charge d'Affaires.

U.S. President Bush has announced his intention to nominate one of his father's men—John Danilovich—to the post. Danilovich was appointed by the former President George Herbert Walker Bush to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Commission, and was Chairman of the Commission's Transition Committee. Yes, Costa Rica is now surrounded by the Panama Canal.

Meanwhile, Danilovich may fact a show in his own house.

A "notorious alien smuggling kingpin", a woman named Gloria Abigail Nino Canales, was arrested in Costa Rica on November 1, 2000, on corruption and fraudulent document charges. Gloria Canales, a native Peruvian, had been previously arrested in Ecuador in December 1995, and deported to Honduras to be tried for smuggling immigrants. (Honduras was the only Central American country where smuggling immigrants was illegal.) According to CNN, Gloria had smuggled as many as "10,000 people a year into the United States from India, China and Latin America, charging as much as $6,000 per person." But Gloria, using her own network, escaped while waiting trial in Honduras, and continued her operations until her recent arrest in Costa Rica.

Naturally there was (or should have been) some curiosity how she managed to move people across national borders, including into the United States. How did Gloria get the visas and passports? The answer, in the case of Costa Rica, appears to be corruption at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. But the U.S. Embassy doesn't want to hear about it. Neither does the local "Regional Security Officer", which is what they now call the CIA Chief of Station.

This could turn out to be embarrassing for the new Bush man coming to town, not to mention the one running for office in Costa Rica.

(to be continued)