Amazon Streaming ‘Disturbing,’ False Pseudo-documentary on DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena

Chivis Martinez Borderland Beat  Source 

The Last Narc attempts to portray
Berrellez as a hero—the hero—of the case.

Fact is, Berrellez didn’t come
near the murder case until 1989, when it was in wrap-up mode. He didn’t crack
the case, as Russell and Amazon now claim. He was not on the street, working on
the murder investigation, during the first four years, when it was at its most
urgent and when critical breakthroughs were made.

I would know. I was there, and I
have the nightmares to prove it. So do the agents who were on the ground during
those terrible times……

Note: Borderland Beat
Followers:  What do other former agents
think?  To read two Op-Eds by former
agents check back tomorrow when both will be posted.  Steve Duncan and Mike Chavarria authored
op-eds for Borderland Beat.  

The Last Narc’ docudrama peddles
a conspiracy theory that the CIA had a hand in the murder of DEA agent Kiki
Camarena.

By Elaine Shannon

Does the world need another Deep
State conspiracy theory? 

Amazon Studios obviously thinks so.

In these grim times, with tens of
millions of Americans frightened, angry and ready to believe the worst about
their government and each other, Amazon Studios and Amazon Prime have
inexplicably chosen to stream a disturbing pseudo-documentary that falsely
claims that the CIA and the DEA conspired with Mexican drug kingpins to torture
and murder a brave American.

The Last Narc, produced by Texas
filmmaker Tiller Russell, is a cynical reimagining of the 1985 death of DEA
agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was dragged into a car outside the U.S.
consulate in Guadalajara on February 7, 1985. DEA and FBI agents assigned to
Operation Leyenda, as DEA called the murder investigation, plunged deep into
Mexico. They didn’t find every fact, but they got enough of them to be sure
that the horrendous crime was orchestrated by Guadalajara cartel kingpins and
corrupt Mexican officials at all levels.

As a correspondent for Newsweek,
then Time, I followed the investigators as they pounded the streets of
Guadalajara, the dirt tracks along the border, the sterile hallways of the FBI
forensics lab and government executive suites in Washington. I broke dozens of
stories about the murder and the growth of the Latin cartels. I wrote a
best-selling book, Desperados, published in 1988, about the Camarena case and
the narcokleptocracy that killed him.

Along the way I met dozens of
heroes—honest men and women, badge-wearers and civilians, citizens of several
countries, who turned up truths deemed inconvenient by much of official
Washington, Mexico City, Wall Street and international banks addicted to drug
money.

One hero was U.S. Customs
Commissioner Willy von Raab, who, a week after Camarena disappeared, ordered
100 percent inspections of all people and vehicles attempting to cross from
Mexico. He effectively slammed the border shut and unrepentantly incurred the
wrath of his  boss, Treasury Secretary
(and future secretary of state) James Baker, one of the most formidable humans
ever to park his wingtips under a mahogany desk in the nation’s capital. But
Von Raab’s bold move worked. On March 5, after merchants on both sides of the
border howled in financial pain, the Mexican police “discovered” Camarena’s
body, exhumed from a shallow grave in Guadalajara and dumped on a roadside in
the next state.

Another hero was the CIA officer
who alerted the DEA office in Mexico City that the agency had stolen the
darkest, most valuable secret of all: The Mexican government appeared to have
obtained, or perhaps itself made, tapes of Camarena’s torture. The CIA man
shared a snippet of a transcript with the cover name of an informant. Nobody
but Jaime Kuykendall, Camarena’s close friend, and Camarena himself used that
handle. Its inclusion convinced Kuykendall that the whole transcript was genuine.

The CIA man could have gotten in
trouble for burning a good source—somebody in government, possibly in the
Mexican interior ministry, which controlled the Federal Security Directorate
(DFS), a secret police agency that was the CIA’s counterpart and proxy. Often,
DFS officers moonlighted as counter-surveillance agents and enforcement for the
Guadalajara cartel, and traffickers carried DFS badges. Exposing a dirty source
in the security apparatus could have disrupted the agency’s mission, which was
not to solve murders or chase drug traffickers. But the CIA officer must have
acted out of a belief that the American people had a right to the truth, no
matter how ugly.

The CIA tip enabled another hero,
DEA chief Jack Lawn, to confront Mexican officials and demand the torture
tapes. Lawn got five of them. (Two more were thought to exist and are missing
to this day.) Listening to tapes was a terrible but necessary task for
Camarena’s bereaved friends and partners. They would eventually identify the
interrogator through voice prints as a former commander of the Political and
Social Investigations (IPS), a secret police element that, like the DFS, was
part of the interior ministry. The interrogator was after the identities of DEA
informants and what Camarena and his partners knew about corrupt Mexican
politicians, military and police figures.

I’ve recently talked to many of
the people I met while on the trail of Camarena”s killers. These include two
DEA administrators, Jack Lawn and Rob Bonner; 
the first Leyenda supervisors, Bill Coonce, Carlo Boccia and Jack
Taylor; and numerous other senior investigators who did ground-breaking work.
But you won’t hear them in The Last Narc.

Real documentaries dig up facts,
air all sides of a story, feature dissenting voices  as well as those in agreement, and tell
viewers what they don’t know and need to know. Instead, the “Everything Store,”
as Amazon likes to call itself, is streaming to its 150 million (as of January
2020) pandemic-fatigued Prime subscribers a clichéd CIA-did-it yarn dreamed up
by a bitter retired DEA agent named Hector Berrellez, now 73. Producer Russell
has told interviewers that he was put onto the story by Chuck Bowden, a
freelance journalist, now deceased, who in 2014 published a series of
interviews with Berrellez on the online outlet Medium.

Berrellez disagrees with nearly
everything other agents concluded about who killed Kiki Camarena and why. The
real question is, who’s right?

Zero Dark Evidence

 Berrellez claims, without hard substantiation,
that a retired CIA officer, Felix Rodriguez (a Cuban-American famed for his
roles in the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War and the CIA’s covert war in
Nicaragua) had Camarena tortured and executed to protect an agency drug-running
scheme that was financing the Nicaraguan Contras, the anti-Communist jungle
fighters supported by the Ronald Reagan White House. Berrellez says he has
learned, from cartel bodyguards-turned-informants whom he recruited and paid
that “Felix Rodriguez…interrogated Kiki Camarena and was there at the scene
where Kiki was killed,” and that unnamed officials at DEA headquarters forced
him to keep silent—committing multiple felonies, if true.

Three current or former DEA
agents who debriefed the informants in the early 1990s, when the investigation
was active, say the snitches never mentioned Rodriguez, or “Max Gomez,” his cover
name, or a Cuban, or the CIA or the Contras.

Berrellez also charges, also
with  risible “evidence,” that DEA
higher-ups helped the CIA cover up the alleged murder plot by destroying
Berrellez’ reports and also telling him not to write reports about the spy
agency’s involvement.

Both things can’t be true.

The Last Narc attempts to portray
Berrellez as a hero—the hero—of the case.

Fact is, Berrellez didn’t come
near the murder case until 1989, when it was in wrap-up mode. He didn’t crack
the case, as Russell and Amazon now claim. He was not on the street, working on
the murder investigation, during the first four years, when it was at its most
urgent and when critical breakthroughs were made.

I would know. I was there, and I
have the nightmares to prove it. So do the agents who were on the ground during
those terrible times.

“By the time Berrellez got
involved in it, the case was all solved,” 
Coonce, the senior DEA investigator who led the investigation for the
crucial first year, told me. “He solved nothing.”

“Hector was always into
aggrandizement, as can be seen in the many and varied ways that he has chased
the dollar, fame, and played very loose with the facts,” says Dale Stinson, who
worked with both Berrellez and Camarena and served as Operation Leyenda agent
in Mexico City. (Among other achievements, he elicited an admission of guilt
from the flamboyant Guadalajara cartel kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero.)

“It’s shameful,” says Stinson,
“that Hector would build his reputation on the death of a good man who
sacrificed more than any of the rest of us.”

Beyond Berrellez and his small
circle—consisting of two other disaffected ex-agents who were also not there
during the important first years; three informants, all paid generously at
Berrellez’ direction, and Berrellez’ mother—I haven’t found a single
active-duty or former DEA agent who confirms Berrellez’ conspiracy theory. I
can’t even find an agent who says that Berrellez related the theory back in
1989 through the early 1990s, when he was working the case. I asked Berrellez
exactly when he came up with it, and who he told about it. He has not answered.

I believe Berrellez concocted the
theme only within the past few years, knowing that conspiracy theories about
the CIA and so-called Deep State sell.

“Amazon has created a cruel and
unfeeling interpretation of a tragedy that struck at the heart of the Camarena
story and every employee of the DEA,” says Larry McElynn, president of the
Association of Federal Narcotics Agents. In a statement, McElynn called the
production a “shoddy fictional enterprise” and “cheap entertainment.”

Russell did not respond to
detailed questions about the production, among them: why the production did not
include interviews with numerous current and former DEA agents who disagree
with Berrellez’ allegations.

Shipra Gupta, a spokesperson
for  Amazon Studios, responded to our request
for comment by asking for names of our sources and the focus of our story; she
did not address the specific questions emailed to Russell and Berrellez.

“I believe that Hector is
delusional,” says Lawn, DEA administrator from March 1985 to March 1990.
“Berrellez is trying to enhance his self-image as a gunslinger and to
mythologize his years as a special agent.”

“Some of the things Berrellez
says are so ridiculously outrageous, it would be amazing that anybody would
give him any credit,” says Bonner, who succeeded Lawn from August 1990 to
November 1993. Bonner served as U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles from 1984 to
early 1989, overseeing the prosecution of defendants charged with the Camarena
murder. He sat as a  federal judge from
February 1989 to  August 1990, leaving
the post to take the helm of DEA.

“I wrote and debriefed most of
the informants in the Leyenda investigation,” says ex-agent Sal Leyva, who
worked on the Leyenda case from the day Camarena was reported missing and who
was later transferred to Los Angeles to work on the Leyenda group, when it was
supervised by Berrellez. Leyva says that he wrote most of the informant
debriefing reports that Berrellez signed. Three of those informants are shown
in The Last Narc, claiming that they saw Felix Rodriguez at the house where
Camarena was tortured.

My question for  Berrellez and others at DEA is, what did the
informants say in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Berrellez first
recruited them? Did they say then what they’re saying now, on camera—that they
saw a CIA man, an American, someone speaking with a Cuban accent, or someone
using the names Felix Rodriguez or Max Gomez at the murder scene?

No, says Leyva. “I was always
with Hector almost 24/7 I would have known.”

Easy Company

From 1985 to 1988 the Leyenda
investigation was supervised  by
Bill  Coonce, Carlo Boccia and Jack
Taylor, all senior supervisors at DEA headquarters, with teams of investigators
in Washington, Guadalajara, Mexico City, San Diego and Los Angeles feeding them
data. Bonner’s office filed the first conspiracy indictment, unsealed on
January 6, 1988, charging the three Guadalajara kingpins, three high-ranking
Mexican police officials and the former secret police interrogator. The
kingpins—Rafael Caro Quintero, Ernesto Fonseca and Miguel Felix Gallardo—remain
In Mexico to this day. In 1989, as several cases of marginal figures charged in
the Los Angeles case were going to trial, the DEA investigative team was
consolidated in the agency’s Los Angeles office. Berrellez was assigned to that
team.

Doug Kuehl, a highly respected
agent in Los Angeles, supervised the team until he asked for a demotion to
avoid a transfer to DEA headquarters, because of family obligations. The
supervisor’s job went to Berrellez, on account of his seniority.

Berrellez was known as a good
undercover agent because of his facility with Spanish and swagger, a plus when
meeting with traffickers nose-to-nose. He was not known for the kind of
methodical fact-finding and critical thinking at which Kuehl excelled.

The Leyenda group, reduced to
five or six agents, sat in a common area, and Berrellez had an office adjoining
them. According to Leyva, they shared information freely. Would they have kept
quiet if they had learned of new and explosive evidence that an American
citizen or a CIA operative was involved in the murder of Camarena?

“Impossible,” says Leyva.

“There was never ever a CIA
connection to the case,” says another former agent who was part of the Leyenda
group in Los Angeles in those years. “We never had any informant say anything
about a Cuban or Felix Rodriguez or Max Gomez.” 
This man asked not to be named because he still works in a sensitive
position.

The Amazon film contends that
senior DEA officials in Mexico and Washington conspired with the CIA and the
Guadalajara cartel to murder the agent. That is a breathtaking charge that, if
proven, would confirm conspiracy theorists’ worst suspicions, that
balaclava-clad U.S. government assassins liquidate innocents at will.

Berrellez’ informants are shown
in The Last Narc claiming that they witnessed a DEA official accepting bags of
cash from kingpin Ernesto Fonseca, and that they saw that DEA official at
meetings where the traffickers were planning the Camarena abduction.

Agents who worked on the case in
the 1980s and 1990s say that Berrellez did not report these allegations when he
was in the DEA. They say that there’s a grain of truth in them: Early on, some
Mexican cops spread rumors that Camarena was kidnapped because he was on the
take and wasn’t delivering.

These suspicions were never
confirmed by any of the hundreds of DEA informants and sources, according to
the agents on the case at the time. The torture tapes contain nothing to
suggest that Camarena or his partners were corrupt.

“If that [DEA corruption] would
have been on the tapes, the Mexicans would have plastered it all over because
they were trying to get an alibi,” says a Spanish-speaking  agent who worked on the case, before and
during Berrellez’ tenure.

Starstruck

I met Berrellez on a film set in
1989, shortly after he was assigned to the Leyenda team. At the time, the
acclaimed writer-director-producer Michael Mann and his team were shooting an
NBC docudrama based on my book. Mann’s production, Drug Wars: The Camarena
Story, won an Emmy. His sequel, Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel, also based on my
book, was nominated for a second Emmy.

Berrellez seemed starstruck. He
was hanging about, hoping, I thought at the time, to be discovered. “Next movie
Michael Mann makes, it’s gonna be about me,” he boasted.

That would never happen.
Berrellez tried hard to attract others in Hollywood. In March 1990, he made
worldwide headlines with a flashy gambit in which he paid Mexican
bounty-hunters $250,000 to abduct Humberto Alvarez Machain, a Guadalajara
physician, and fly him to El Paso so Berrellez could arrest him for drugging
Camarena to prolong his torture. Problem was, Berrellez and his team had plenty
of suspicions but not enough proof to satisfy federal trial judge Edward
Rafeedie, who threw the case out in 1992 for lack of evidence, freed the doctor
and chastised the prosecutors and agents for organizing a kidnapping on a
“hunch” and “wildest speculation.”

Alvarez Machain promptly sued the
U.S. Department, DEA administrator Jack Lawn, Berrellez and several
supervisors. Berrellez tried to fix blame for the kidnapping elsewhere. In the
Amazon production, Berrellez describes a colorful scene in which Lawn
personally summons him to Washington, sits him down, and asks, “How much would
he cost?” When a reluctant Berrellez says $250,000, Lawn snaps, “Okay, do it. I
want it done.”

But that’s not what Berrellez
told me when I interviewed him the day after the kidnapping arrest. He never
mentioned Lawn, who had retired a month earlier. He said the authority came
from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

And it’s not what Berrellez
testified under oath as the doctor”s lawsuit ground through the courts over the
next 14 years. According to court records, he claimed his authority came from
the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles and from Pete Gruden, the deputy DEA
administrator, now deceased. During the civil suit, Justice Department lawyers
defending Berrellez’s version of the authorization presented as evidence an
anonymous memorandum entitled, “Operation Leyenda: Chronology” that claimed
Lawn “was advised” of the kidnap plan. Since Lawn denied even being “advised,”
and there was no other evidence supporting the agent’s version, an appeals
court judge wrote, “The assertions contained in Berrellez’s testimony and in
the memorandum are therefore unsupported by the evidence.”  

Significantly, the court record
shows that  neither Berrellez nor anybody
else told the  story that’s now in The
Last Narc—that Lawn initiated the idea of a kidnapping and commanded Berrellez
to carry it out.

“I was unaware of any
investigative efforts to kidnap the doctor, who had been kidnapped after my
retirement,” says Lawn. “We had been aware of his alleged involvement during
the interrogation of  Kiki Camarena.He was
one piece of a very complicated puzzle.”

“Lawn is a liar and a fraud,”
Berrellez said when contacted last week. “He continues to deny that he ordered
me to kidnap the doctor.” In response, I asked him for documentation of his
alleged trip to Washington and meeting with Lawn. A day later, he had  not responded.

While the kidnapped physician was
in court, Berrellez tried another route to stardom by recruiting some cartel
bodyguards as informants and witnesses. He arranged for them to get green cards
and millions of taxpayer dollars from DEA funds. In some cases, he helped them
extricate themselves from legal problems. Not surprisingly, some of them named
prominent Mexican politicians, including two former Mexican presidents, as
co-conspirators, but the informants’ tales were apparently unverifiable. The
prosecutors declined to file indictments against the ex-presidents and other
VIPs.

At trials of lesser figures in
the early 1990s, the bodyguard-witnesses’ inconsistent  statements and absence of corroboration
created at least as many problems as they resolved. The Los Angeles Times ran a
series sharply questioning their veracity. Privately, many agents also doubted
them. Some told me they believed Berrellez was encouraging his snitches to tell
sexy false stories.

Wise guys

“You have to be very careful how
you handle those people,” says Leyva, one of several agents who  helped handle and debrief the informants.
“They can read you. They say, ‘Oh, he wants me to say this.’ And they’ll say
it. I think you have to be able to handle informants and know when they’re
telling you the truth, or what they think you want to hear, and then that’s
only the beginning.”

In 1993 then-DEA administrator
Bonner shut down the DEA Leyenda team. “We’d done everything we could in terms
of evidence,” says Bonner. “We’d indicted all the major figures of the
Guadalajara cartel and also some major figures in the Mexican government. We’d
exposed major corruption at both the state and federal level.” Officially, the
case remains open. Today, eight people, including the kingpins, are officially
wanted as fugitives. But there is no longer a 
large, dedicated  investigative
team.

Berrellez was transferred to
Washington in 1994. He retired in 1996.

Around 2013, in interviews with
freelancer Bowden and others, Berrellez promoted his conspiracy theory that the
CIA killed Camarena because Camarena was about to reveal that the agency was
working with the Guadalajara cartel to run drugs to the United States. The
arrangement supposedly was that the cartel got protection from U.S. authorities
and the CIA got drug money for the Contras. This theory was a Mexicanized twist
on a 1996 series, Dark Alliance by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb,
who committed suicide after his work was discredited. (Webb’s photo appears in
a few frames of The Last Narc, apparently in homage.) Producer Russell  has told interviewers he was inspired by
articles published in 2014  by freelancer
Bowden recounting Berrellez’ claims.

To be sure, allegations have been
lodged over the years that people linked to the CIA and the Contras were
involved in the drug trade. During a 1986 investigation led by then-Senator
John Kerry, a Colombian cartel money launderer testified that he channeled
about $10 million to the Contras through Felix Rodriguez. Even the CIA’s
internal watchdog concluded that, while the spy agency didn’t deal in drugs, it
ignored hundreds of allegations contained in nearly a thousand cables that
Contra officers, contractors and supporters engaged in trafficking. But no
convincing evidence exists that Camarena was murdered because he knew too much,
much less that he was about to blow the whistle on it.

No cloaks, no daggers

Kuykendall, Camarena’s boss in
Guadalajara, says the CIA had no motive to silence Camarena.

“The DEA-Guadalajara office had
no information about a CIA drug-running operation and that includes Kiki,” he
says. “The drug traffickers had all the assistance they needed [to traffic in
drugs] through the Mexican government.”

Pete Hernandez, another agent in
the Guadalajara office, backs Kuykendall, saying  he never heard Camarena talk about CIA
drug-running or the Contras.

Also, according to several agents
who have heard them, the torture tapes contain no mention of the CIA, Contras,
or any other transnational political issue. They’re strictly about the drug
business.

Felix Rodriguez himself has said
that he was not in Mexico at the time and could not have been present in
Guadalajara.

“The Intel community helped in
providing information,” says Lawn, “but at no time did the investigation take
us to Nicaragua, or to the Contras. The fanciful narrative outlined in The Last
Narc makes interesting viewing but is without historic merit.”

Berrellez’ response to me: “It is
sad how you were mislead [sic] from the truth by Kuykendall and Lawn.”

Bonner says Berrellez never
raised allegations about CIA involvement to him. He says he would never have
told Berrellez or anyone else that the DEA could not investigate a CIA
operative for murder. Bonner, who publicly tangled with the CIA in other cases,
says he would have done battle if the DEA had tried to protect anyone
implicated in the Camarena matter. “It just wasn’t there,” Bonner says. “If it
had been there, we would have investigated it until we ran it to ground…The CIA
never contacted me when I was U.S. Attorney or at DEA. If a CIA guy tried, I
would have gone through the roof.”

Not to mention that, as everyone
with experience in Washington knows, the CIA, DEA and FBI fight like alley
cats. It’s impossible to believe any of these turf-jealous, aggressive
bureaucracies would let a rival agency get away with expense account cheating, much
less murder and drug smuggling.

Part of the complicated
conspiracy theory portrayed by the film is that Camarena was set up by an
unnamed DEA agent based in Guadalajara who had been feeding information to the
cartel for years in exchange for bags of cash. Current and former DEA agents
dismiss that out of hand: If cartel leaders already had a pipeline into DEA,
why would they disrupt it, especially if, as the film shows, the dirty agent
was senior, with access to more and better information than Camarena?

“If a DEA official was providing
confidential DEA sources and other intelligence,” says Bonner, “why were they
interrogating Kiki? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Berrellez’ claim that he knows
too much and is marked for death looks like puffery to me.

“I’m not fearful that the
traffickers are going to kill me,” he says in the film. “I’m fearful that my
own government is going to kill me.”

Fear, from a man who once told an
interviewer that he prided himself on being a “gunslinger” and didn’t know how
many people he had killed? No, it looks more like a boast.

Qanon’s Raves

Meanwhile, the Amazon-Russell
film has won some good reviews. Unfortunately, some are from QAnon.

As Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic
observed, “If the internet is one big rabbit hole containing infinitely
recursive rabbit holes, QAnon has somehow found its way down all of them,
gulping up lesser conspiracy theories as it goes.”

Sure enough, recently, a Qanon
adherent who calls himself Kevin Collins posted a glowing account of The Last
Narc on a 6,000-member Facebook page called “Deep State Mapping Project:

This documentary series on Amazon
Prime is the story of one such Patriot. His name was Kiki Camarena and he was
murdered by Bush family allies while fighting for us….in this series you will
learn about heroes like DEA Agent Hector Berrellez and honest members of
Mexican law enforcement who have risked their lives fighting to get the truth
out.

A site called BitChute praised the Amazon
project as an “old take on the deep state, and in particular the old deep state
headed by the WASP Rockefellerist CFR faction.” (The CFR, or Council on Foreign
Relations, an elite, middle-of-the-road organization originally funded by the
Rockefeller family, has long been a favorite target of both the far right and
far left.)

The DEA is slowly, belatedly
pushing back. Sources say DEA headquarters recently authorized a team of
internal investigators to conduct an inquiry into Berrellez’s allegations of
corruption. Some retired agents are quietly exploring the possibility of legal
action.

If Amazon, Russell and Berrellez
are as shameless as I think they are, they’ll enjoy the publicity. For my money,
The Last Narc is just a cheesy hoax. It won’t destroy Kiki Camarena’s sacrifice
and his legacy. It cheapens Amazon. If that’s possible.