Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999
Subject: 60 Minutes: Secret Colombian Drug War Could Evolve Into New
DrugSense FOCUS Alert #128 September 27,1999
60 Minutes: Secret Colombian Drug War Could Evolve Into New Vietnam
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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #128 September 27,1999
It’s common to think of the “war on drugs” as more of a metaphor than
a real war, but for the people of Colombia it is terribly real.
Colombia has long been a major producer and exporter of cocaine. Now
many U.S. leaders say that fact should make Colombia a target for
Actually, as 60 Minutes II revealed last week, the U.S. has been
orchestrating a covert war in the country since 1992. Representatives
of the U.S. military and other agencies have advised Colombians during
hundreds of commando raids against what was once Colombia’s biggest
drug cartel. These American military leaders claim the raids were
successful since the head of the cartel was eventually killed. But
drugs continue to flow through Colombia unimpeded.
Now some in Washington want war on an even larger scale. About $1
billion in additional U.S. military aid has been proposed for
Colombia. Supporters of the plan present the situation in Colombia as
an easy-to-understand fight between “good” government forces and “bad”
rebels financed by drug money. However, a closer look at the country
shows something infinitely more complex: the Colombian Army has ties
to paramilitary squads that kill because of politics, not drugs; much
of the U.S. aid sent to fight drugs has been used to decimate enemies
of the government; and even the DEA questions how much involvement
major rebel groups have with drug cartels.
History should remind us that mixing heavy U.S. fire power into the
ambiguous motives and allegiances of a civil war fought in jungle
terrain is a recipe for disaster. Please write a letter to 60 Minutes
II to say that America could do much more to solve drug problems by
overhauling its own counterproductive policies at home than by adding
to the violence in Colombia.
Thanks for your effort and support.
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Source: 60 Minutes II
Pubdate: Tue, 21 Sep 1999
Source: 60 Minutes II
Copyright: 1999 Burrelle’s Information Services CBS News Transcripts
Note: Video from this is currently available at:
AMERICA’S SECRET WAR
United States Trains Commandos To Fight In The War On Drugs In Colombia
DAN RATHER, co-host: The United States is on the verge of a dramatic
escalation in a war that you probably know nothing about. The
proposal is to spend at least another $ 1 billion to fight an army of
old-line Marxist guerrillas in Colombia who now have gone into the
drug trade. The president of Colombia is in Washington this week to
push for the whole amount. This may sound like the start of a new
war, but it’s actually only the latest battle in a secret war America
has been fighting in Colombia for most of the ’90s, a war that was
started to take out Colombia’s drug lords and a war fought by secret
warriors trained by the United States.
(Footage of commandos; helicopter; Major Gil Macklin and commandos;
Rather exiting plane)
RATHER: (Voiceover) They’re called Copes commandos, a small US-trained
strike force of deadly warriors. Since 1992, they have been fighting
America’s secret war on drugs in the jungles of Colombia. And one of
the men who trained them in the art of killing is former US Marine
Major Gil Macklin. We met up with him in Colombia recently to meet
America’s secret allies and to learn details of a mission about which
he has never spoken publicly before.
When we say Copes, in brief, what are we talking about?
Maj. MACKLIN: The Copes are the–the direct action forces of the
Colombian National Police. They’re like the Delta Force. Their
skills are honed on a regular basis to go at a moment’s notice, to do
anything at any time.
(Footage of commandos; vintage footage of Pablo Escobar and others on
motorcycles; Escobar and others on boat; Escobar and others on beach;
assassination of presidential candidate; aftermath of bombed plane;
footage of Ambassador Morris Busby)
RATHER: (Voiceover) But to understand the significance of the Copes
today, we have to go back to the early ’90s, to when the United States
started backing them for one mission and one mission alone: to take
down the Colombian drug lords, wipe out the cartels. And chief among
their targets was this man, Pablo Escobar. It was widely reported
that he was killed in 1993, but details of how he was killed have
never been revealed. Escobar was a larger-than-life character,
colorful, ruthless and seemingly unstoppable. Eighty percent of the
cocaine consumed in America came from him. His assassins murdered
anyone who got in his way, even taking out a presidential candidate at
a nationally televised rally. But when he reportedly ordered the
bombing of this Avianca passenger plane with five Americans on board,
Escobar’s reign of terror suddenly hit home. Morris Busby was the US
ambassador to Colombia.
Now that bombing was an Escobar bombing to do what?
Ambassador MORRIS BUSBY (Colombia): As near as we were ever able to
piece together, it was a bombing to kill one particular individual on
RATHER: That Escobar wanted taken out?
Amb. BUSBY: Yes. And so they killed everybody else on the
RATHER: But who would kill 120-some-odd people to get one
Amb. BUSBY: A monster.
(Vintage footage of George Bush exiting plane; footage of Busby; US
Embassy; vintage footage of Macklin and commandos; Jesuit mission;
RATHER: (Voiceover) President Bush was so outraged, he ordered the
beginning of a secret war to take Escobar down. And Ambassador Busby
was the man he chose to do it. A former Navy SEAL, Morris Busby, like
Major Macklin, has never spoken publicly about his role in the secret
war. It all began when he turned the US Embassy into a war command
and dispatched Macklin, among others, to start forming the small army
that is now known as the Copes commandos. Macklin and a team of
Marine trainers set up shop at this ancient Jesuit mission at the foot
of the Andes. Their job was to find a few good men, young,
uncorrupted and prepared to die for their country.
Maj. MACKLIN: At the tip of the spear were these young farm boys from
the valleys, the hills, the mountains and jungles of Colombia who came
(Footage of commandos training)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Once he assembled enough men, Macklin gave them a
crash course in the dark arts of killing–day and night, the kind of
training only Special Forces do, exercises like this one: shooting
live ammunition inches from each other’s heads.
Maj. MACKLIN: See this guy here? He’s very dead.
(Footage of commandos training)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Macklin taught them his philosophy, kill or be
killed, and he taught them how to fight, to take down the drug lords
by surprise, to take them at a time and a place when they would least
Maj. MACKLIN: (Voiceover) These men kill without compunction and die
without complaint. There is–there is one solution, and their solution
is to accomplish the mission and come out in one piece.
RATHER: Marines are trained to kill people and break things. Is that
what you trained these Copes commandos to do?
Maj. MACKLIN: Yes.
(Footage of commandos; ambulance; fires; General Rosso Jose Serrano
RATHER: (Voiceover) It’s a chilling idea: Americans training killers
with ski masks. But that’s exactly what Gil Macklin set out to do.
And back in 1992, with Colombia being terrorized by the drug lords,
the stakes were never higher. Macklin trained them, and this
Colombian police commander was chosen to take them into battle. At a
time when thousands of cops were on cartel payrolls, General Rosso
Jose Serrano was considered to be incorruptible. And for him and his
120 commandos, all of them devout Catholics, the mission against the
drug lords was a moral crusade.
General ROSSO JOSE SERRANO: (Through Translator) We know that God is
going to protect us and help us. We with faith have been able to move
(Footage of Serrano and commandos; Air Force airplane)
RATHER: (Voiceover) They may have relied on their faith that God was
watching over them, but they also believed in something else:
high-tech weaponry that Ambassador Busby delivered courtesy of the
most powerful war machine on Earth.
Amb. BUSBY: We spared nothing in trying to use all of the
intelligence we could find on a worldwide basis to pass to the
Colombians to try and find him.
RATHER: And your assets? DEA, CIA, FBI, Special Forces, Delta
Amb. BUSBY: All of the above.
RATHER: Has there been any other occasion which you know of in which
the United States said right from the top, ‘This is what we’re going
to do, and we’re going to commit whatever assets are necessary to do
it, and we’re going to have the determination and the staying power
that it takes to get it done’?
Amb. BUSBY: I can’t think of anything that–that we went into that we
stayed with the way we stayed with this. We never wavered.
(Vintage footage of commandos; dead soldiers; helicopter; gunners on
RATHER: (Voiceover) In the summer and fall of 1992, the mission began
and they moved systematically. To get to Escobar, the Copes had to
first eliminate each and every one of his lieutenants. These are the
pictures of what they left behind, dead and injured soldiers of the
drug cartels. The search for Escobar, spanning a period of a year and
a half, was one of the most intense manhunts ever mounted.
Amb. BUSBY: Well, the strategy that was followed was strip away his
lieutenants, strip away all of his money, go after his infrastructure,
take down everything that protects him. And that was done on a very
systematic and organized basis.
RATHER: Now we’re not talking about one or two or three raids here,
are we? Or are we?
Maj. MACKLIN: No. We’re talking about a whole series of raids that
were conducted to take out the–the central nervous system of the cartels.
RATHER: We’re talking about tens of raids, dozens of raids, hundreds
Maj. MACKLIN: Hundreds.
RATHER: And what were they up against?
Maj. MACKLIN: The best that money could buy. Escobar reportedly
hired some of the best mercenaries in the world–British, Israeli,
RATHER: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Working for Pablo Escobar were
some of the best special operations people who were British and Israeli?
Maj. MACKLIN: Exactly.
(Vintage footage of commandos in vehicles)
RATHER: (Voiceover) But the Copes gradually eliminated those
surrounding Escobar, nearly 100 lieutenants in his private army.
Maj. MACKLIN: (Voiceover) In the dead of night, they’d come like
darkness, and they’d bust through a door or a window or go through the
roof. And they’d capture these arrogant, narcissistic animals, the
drug lords, and they’d bring them to justice. And that’s what they
(Vintage footage of funeral)
RATHER: (Voiceover) The Copes took heavy casualties themselves, many
of them killed by Escobar’s hit men.
Maj. MACKLIN: (Voiceover) The price they paid in flesh and blood is
tremendous; it’s enormous. If we lose two cops who get killed in the
US Capitol, like we did last summer, Washington ground to a halt.
They lose two cops before breakfast every morning.
(Vintage footage of commandos; footage of Rather and Busby at scene of
RATHER: (Voiceover) It took two years from the time they began
training for American intelligence to finally corner Escobar. We went
with Ambassador Busby back to the scene of the final showdown.
BUSBY: In the final moments, what happened was that Pablo Escobar was
talking on a phone to his son, and he was standing at one of these
windows and the police van rolled up the street here; they–they were
monitoring the conversation. And he said to his son, ‘There’s
something wrong. I have to go.’
(Footage of roof of building; vintage footage of Escobar’s body;
footage of commandos throwing Macklin into pond)
RATHER: (Voiceover) Escobar tried to escape up the stairs. He got as
far as the roof. That’s where the commandos gunned him down. For Gil
Macklin and his Copes commandos, it will always be remembered as their
finest hour. But it was a triumph that could only be shared in
private. Of the 120 Copes he trained, half of them died in action.
As Macklin sees it, they died fighting America’s war.
Maj. MACKLIN: Copes!
RATHER: But the American public didn’t know about this.
Maj. MACKLIN: No.
RATHER: Have any second thoughts about that? Secret operation
overseas, training young men to break and enter and kill and…
Maj. MACKLIN: None whatsoever. Not now. I just wish we’d done
RATHER: I think most Americans think we always lose in the drug wars.
In fact, the record shows that if we don’t always lose, we lose nearly
all the time.
Amb. BUSBY: But that’s not true. That’s not true. We scored a great
RATHER: But it’s hard to talk about success when today more drugs are
coming into America from Colombia than ever before. The sad truth
about the drug war is that getting rid of one enemy seems only to
bring on another even more menacing one. After Pablo Escobar came the
drug lords of the Cali cartel. And the man who led the Copes
commandos, General Serrano, became a national hero when he wiped them
out. But by the time we met up with him last month, he was facing yet
(Footage of Rather and Serrano in vehicle with security vehicles;
RATHER: (Voiceover) When we travel with the general through Colombia
today, this is how he moves, escorted by an army of security. He is a
living symbol of the war against the drug trade in his own country and
a lot of people would like to see him dead, especially his new
enemies. They are armed guerrillas. Led by old-style Marxists, the
guerrillas began moving into the drug trade after the urban cartels
were taken out. And today drug money has transformed that guerrilla
army as it pursues its age-old war against the government of Colombia,
according to US drug czar General Barry McCaffrey.
General BARRY McCAFFREY (Drug Czar): These insurgent forces are fueled
by massive amounts of money that produce shiny new uniforms, planes,
helicopters and more automatic weapons in their battalions than in the
Representative DAN BURTON (Republican, Indiana): A blind person could
have seen there’s a problem.
(Footage of Dan Burton at House of Representatives; McCaffrey;
RATHER: (Voiceover) For two years now, Republican congressmen like Dan
Burton have been accusing McCaffrey and the Clinton administration of
ignoring the mounting threat posed by Colombia’s narcoguerrillas.
Last month the drug czar joined this chorus, saying that he, too, is
alarmed and now wants the US to intervene with $ 1 billion to counter
this new and growing enemy in America’s war on drugs.
What’s the single most important thing for Americans to
Gen. McCAFFREY: The Colombians are involved in a situation of
incredible violence. The situation’s veering out of control, and we
need to step in and stand with the forces of democracy in Colombia.
(Footage of Capitol; guerrillas; commandos)
RATHER: (Voiceover) The $ 1 billion McCaffrey wants would inevitably
put the United States into the position of taking on a full-scale
guerrilla army, and that’s an escalation many in Washington don’t
want. Whether we choose to ante up or not, the Copes commandos have
already started to move in on key guerrilla positions. For them, the
war on drugs never ends.
SAMPLE LETTER (sent)
The report on the secret war in Colombia (Sept. 21) was quite
disturbing. The fact that the Cali cartel was destroyed but the drug
trade remains active should indicate escalating violence in the region
isn’t going to stop any drugs from coming to the United States.
Recent history shows how drug traffickers thrive on the chaos of civil
war. Further U.S. intervention might put some current traffickers out
of business, but they would quickly be replaced by more traffickers,
leaving an increasingly fragmented drug trade that would even be
harder to fight. As the battle intensifies, drug-running just becomes
more profitable and more attractive to desperate people.
And when increased military aid fails to stem the flow of drugs or
bring more order to Colombia, U.S. troops can’t be far behind. And
there’s no reason to believe those troops will be any more successful
at eradicating drugs. Increased militarization won’t make the drug
trade die, but many Colombian citizens and American soldiers can
expect to lose their lives in the fight.
IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone
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