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Chapter 20 – The Phony War On Drugs

George Bush - Unauthorized Biography
Tout le monde me prend pour un homme de bien; Mais la verite pure est que je ne vaux rien.

Moliere, Le Tartuffe

An indispensable component of the mythical media profile which George Bush has built up over the years to buttress his electoral aspirations has been his role as an anti-drug fighter. His first formally scheduled prime time presidential television address to the nation in September, 1989 was devoted to announcing his plans for measures to combat the illegal narcotics that continued to inundate the sreets of the United States. During his 1988 election campaign, Bush pointed with astounding complacency to his record as President Reagan’s designated point man in the administration’s war on drugs.

In his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in 1988, Bush stated: “I want a drug-free America. Tonight, I challenge the young people of our country to shut down the drug dealers around the world….My Administration will be telling the dealers, “Whatever we have to do, we’ll do, but your day is over. You’re history.'”

Indeed, Bush has an impressive resume of bureaucratic titles to back up his claim to be America’s top anti-drug fighter. On January 28, 1982, Reagan created the South Florida Task Force under Bush’s high-profile leadership to coordinate the efforts of the various federal agencies to stem the tide of narcotics into Bush’s old family bailiwick. On March 23, 1983, Bush was placed in charge of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System, which was supposed to staunch the drug flow over all US borders. In August, 1986 US officials presented to their Mexican counterparts a scheme called Operation Alliance, a new border enforcement initiative that was allegedly to do for the US-Mexican border area what the South Florida Task Force had allegedly already done for the southeastern states. George Bush was appointed chief of Operation Alliance, which involved 20 federal agencies, 500 additional federal officers, and a budget of $266 million.

To crown all these efforts, Bush sought to obtain a cameo role for a brief appearance on the television series Miami Vice. He was perhaps inspired by his mentor, Kissinger, who had walked through a cameo of his own on Dynasty. But Bush was unable to accomplish his dream.

The drug plague is an area in which the national interest requires results. Illegal narcotics are one of the most important causes of the dissolution of American society at the present time. To interdict the drug flows and to prosecute the drug money launderers at the top of the banking community would have represented a real public service. But Bush had no intention of seriously pursuing such goals. For him, the war on drugs was a cruel hoax, a cynical exercise in demagogic self-promotion, designed in large part to camouflage activities by himself and his networks that promoted drug trafficking. A further shocking episode that has come to light in this regard involves Bush’s 14-year friendship with a member of Meyer Lansky’s Miami circles who sold Bush his prized trophy, the Cigarette boat Fidelity.

Bush’s war on drugs was a rhetorical and public relations success for a time. On February 16, 1982, in a speech on his own turf in Miami, Florida, Bush promised to use sophisticated military aircraft to track the airplanes used by smugglers. Several days later, Bush ordered the US Navy to send in its E2C surveillance aircraft for this purpose. If these were not available in sufficient numbers, said Bush, he was determined to bring in the larger and more sophisticated AWACS early warning aircraft to do the job. But Bush’s skills as an interagency expediter left something to be desired: by May, two of the four E2C aircraft that originally had been in Florida were transferred out of the state. By June, airborne surveillance time was running a mere 40 hours per month, not the 360 hours promised by Bush, prompting Rep. Glenn English to call hearings on this topic. By October, 1982 the General Accounting Office issued an opinion in which it found “it is doubtful whether the [south Florida] task force can have any substantial long-term impact on drug availability.” But the headlines were grabbed by Bush, who stated in 1984 that the efforts of his task force had eliminated the marijuana trade in south Florida. That was an absurd claim, but it sounded very good. When Francis Mullen. Jr., the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) criticized Bush for making this wildly inaccurate statement, he was soon ousted from his post at the DEA.

In 1988, Democratic Congressman Glenn English concluded that Bush’s “war on drugs” had been fought with “little more than lip service and press releases.” English wrote: “There has been very little substance behind the rhetoric, and some of the major interdiction problems have yet to be resolved. The President assigned…Bush to coordinate and direct federal antidrug-abuse programs among the various law enforcement agencies. However, eight years later it is apparent that the task has not been accomplished.” [fn 1] No observer still stationed in reality could dispute this very pessimistic assessment.

But the whole truth is much uglier. We have documented in detail how the Iran-contra drug-running and gun-running operations run out of Bush’s own office played their role in increasing the heroin, crack, cocain, and marijuana brought into this country. We have reviewed Bush’s relations with his close supporters in the Wall Street LBO gang, much of whose liquidity is derived from narcotics payments which the banking system is eager to recycle and launder. We recall Bush’s 1990 meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad, who is personally one of the most prolific drug pushers on the planet, and whom Bush embraced as an ally during the Gulf crisis.

Bush’s “soft on drugs” profile went further. In the Pakistan-Afghanistan theatre, for example, it was apparent that certain pro-Khomeini formations among the Afghan guerillas were, like the contras, more interested in trafficking in drugs and guns than in fighting the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul and the Red Army forces that maintained it in power. There were reports that such activities on the part of such guerilla groups were seconded by parts of the Pakistani secret intelligence services, the Inter-Service Intelligence, and the National Logistics Cell. According to these reports, Bush’s visit to Pakistan’s President Gen. Zia ul-Haq in May, 1984 was conducted in full awareness of these phenomnena. Nevertheless, Bush chose to praise the alleged successes of the Zia government’s anti-narcotics program which, Bush intoned, was a matter of great “personal interest” to him. Among those present at the banquet where Bush made these remarks were, reportedly, several of the officials most responsible for the narcotics trafficking in Pakistan. [fn 2] But there is an even more flagrant aspect of Bush’s conduct which can be said to demolish once and for all the myth of the “war on drugs” and replace it with a reality so sinister that it goes beyond the imagination of most citizens.

Those who follow Bush’s frenetic sports activities on television are doubtless familiar with Bush’s speedboat, in which he is accustomed to cavort in the waters off his estate at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. [fn 3] The craft in question is the Fidelity, a powerboat capable of operating on the high seas. Fidelity is a class of boat marketed under the brand name of “Cigarette,” a high-priced speedboat dubbed “the Ferrari of the high seas.” This detail should awaken our interest, since Bush’s profile as an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat would normally include a genteel predeliction for sailing, rather than a preference for a vulgar hotrod like Fidelity, which evokes the ethos of rum-runners and smugglers.

The Cigarette boat Fidelity was purchased by George Bush from a certain Don Aronow. Bush reportedly met Aronow at a boat show in 1974, and decided to buy one of the Cigarette boats Aronow manufactured. Aronow was one of the most celebrated and successful powerboat racers of the 1960’s, and had then turned his hand to designing and building these boats. But according to at least one published account, there is compelling evidence to conclude that Aronow was a drug smuggler and suspected drug-money launderer linked to the Genovese Purple Gang of New York City within the more general framework of the Meyer Lansky organized crime syndicate. Aronow’s role in marijuana smuggling was reportedly confirmed by Bill Norris, head of the Major Narcotics Unit at the Miami US Attorney’s office and thus the top federal drug prosecution official in south Florida. [fn 4]

Aronow numbered among his friends and acquaintances not just Bush, but many international public figures and celebrities, many of whom had purchased the boats he built. Aronow’s wife was said to be a former girlfriend of King Hussein of Jordan. Aronow was in touch with King Juan Carlos of Spain, Lord Lucan (Billy Shand-Kydd, a relative of Princess Diana’s mother), Sir Max Aitken (the son of British press baron Lord Beaverbrook), Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, Eastern Airlines chairman and former astronaut Frank Bormann, Kimberly-Clark heir Jim Kimberley, Alvin Malnik (one of the reputed heirs to Meyer Lansky) and Charles Keating, later the protagonist of the Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal. Some of these exalted acquaintances are suggestive of strong intelligence connections as well.

In May of 1986, Aronmow received a letter from Nicolas Iliopoulos, the royal boat captain to King Hussein of Jordan expressing on behalf of the King the latter’s satisfaction with a powerboat purchased from Aronow, and conveying the compliments of King Juan Carlos of Spain and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who had recently been the Jordanian sovereign’s guests on board. Aronow sent a copy of this letter to Bush, from whom he received a reply dated June 6, 1986 in which Bush thanked him “with warm regards” for forwarding the royal note and added: “I can repeat that my old Cigarette, the “Fidelity” is running well too. I’ve had her out a couple of weekends and the engines have been humming. I hope our paths cross soon, my friend.” [fn 5]

Aronow was reportedly a close friend of George Bush. In his book-length account of the life and death of Aronow which is the basis for the following analysis, Thomas Burdick quotes an unnamed Justice Department official relating the comments of one of his friends on the Bush-Aronow relation: “My friend said, ‘I guarantee you I know what the connection was between him and Bush. It’s the boats. The guy loves fucking boats.” A Secret Service agent also referred to Bush as a “boat groupie.” [fn 6] But does this exhaust the topic?

Over the years, Bush had apparently consulted with Aronow concerning the servicing and upkeep of his Cigarette boat. During 1983, Bush began to seek out Aronow’s company for fishing trips. The original engines on Bush’s Cigarette boat needed replacement, and this was the ostensible occasion for renewing contact with Aronow. Aronow told Bush of a new model of boat that he had designed, supposedly a high-performance catamaran. Bush planned to come to Florida during the New Year’s holiday for a short vacation during which he would go bonefishing with his crony Nick Brady. During this time he would also arrange to deliver an antidrug pep-talk.

On January 4, 1984, George Bush rendezvoused with Don Aronow at Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Earlier in the day, Bush had delivered one of his “war on drugs” speeches at the Omni International Hotel in Miami. Bush and Brady then proceeded by motorcade to Islamorada, where Aronow was waiting with his catamaran. Accompanied by a flotilla of Secret Service and Customs agents in Cigarette boats that had been seized from drug smugglers, Bush, Brady, Aronow, and one of the latter’s retainers, the catamaran proceeded through moderate swells to Miami, with White House photographers eternalizing the photo opportunity at every moment. Bush, who had donned designer racing goggles for the occasion, was allowed to take the wheel of the catamaran and seemed very thrilled and very happy. Nick Brady, sporting his own wrap-around shades, found the seas too rough for his taste.

After the trip was over, Bush personally typed the following letter to Don Aronow on his vice presidential staionery, which he sent accompanied by some photographs of Bush, Aronow, Brady and the others on board the catamaran:

    January 14, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Here are some pretty good shots which I hope will bring back some pretty good memories. I included one signed shot in your packet for [Aronow’s pilot] Randy [Riggs]. Also am enclosing a set of picture [sic] for Willie not having his address or knowing how he spells Myers? Will you please give them to him and thank him for his part in our wonderful outing. He is quite a guy and I learned a lot from him on the way up to Miami from the Keys.

    Again Don this day was one of the greatest of my life. I love boats, always have. But ever since knowing you that private side of my life has become ever more exciting and fulfilling. Incidentally, I didn’t get to tell you but my reliable 28 footer Cigarette that is, still doing just fine…no trouble at all and the new last year engines.

    All the best to you and all your exciting ventures. May all your boats bee [sic] number one and may the hosres [sic] be not far behind.

At the end of this message, before his signature, Bush wrote in by hand, “My typing stinks.” [fn 7]

As a result of this outing, Bush is said to have used his influence to see to it that Aronow received a lucrative contract to build the Blue Thunder catamarans at $150,000 apiece for the US Customs Service. This contract was announced with great fanfare in Miami on February 4, 1985, and was celebrated a week later in a public ceremony in which Florida Senator Paula Hawkins and US Customs Commissioner William von Raab mugged for photographers together with Aronow. The government purchase was hyped as the first time that the Customs would receive boats especially designed and built to intercept drug runners on the high seas, a big step forward in the war on drugs.

This was the same George Bush who in March, 1988 had stated: “I will never bargain with drug dealers on US or foreign soil.”

As one local resident recalled of that time, “everyone in Miami knew that if you needed a favor from Bush, you spoke to Aronow.” [fn 8] It was proverbial among Florida pols and powerbrokers that Aronow had the vice president’s ear.

The Customs soon found that the Blue Thunder catamarans were highly unseaworthy and highly unsuitable for the task of chasing down other speedboats, including above all Aronow’s earlier model Cigarette boats, which were now produced by a company not controlled by Aronow. Blue Thunder was relatively slow class, capable of a top speed of only 56 miles per hour, despite the presence of twin 440-horsepower marine engines. The design of the catamaran hulls lacked any hydrodynamic advantages, and the boats were too heavy to attain sufficient lift. The stern drives were too weak for the powerful engines, leading to the problem of “grenading” : when the drive shafts severed, which was often, the engines began to rev far beyond their red line, leading to the explosion or disintegration of the engines and the sharpnel-like scattering of red-hot steel fragments through the boat. This meant that the boats had to be kept well below their maximum speed. Most Blue Thunders spent more time undergoing repairs than chasing drug runners in the coastal waters of Florida. Blue Thunder was in boating parlance “wet,” a complete lemon, useful only for photo opportunities and publicity shots.

Documents found by Burdick in the Dade County land records office show that USA Racing, the company operated by Aronow which built the Blue Thunder catamarans for the Customs service was not owned by Aronow, but rather by a one Jack J. Kramer in his capacity of president of Super Chief South Corporation. Jack Kramer had married a niece of Meyer Lansky. Jack Kramer’s son Ben Kramer was thus the great nephew and one of the putative heirs of the top boss of the US crime syndicate, Meyer Lansky. Ben Kramer was also a notorious organized crime figure in his own right. On March 28, 1990 Jack Kramer and Ben Kramer were both found guilty of 23 and 28 counts (respectively) of federal money laundering charges. In the previous year, Ben Kramer had also been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for having imported half a million pounds of marijuana. Bush had thus given a prime contract in waging the war on drugs to one of the leading drug-smuggling and money-laundering crime families in the US.

Don Aronow was murdered by Mafia-style professional killers on February 3, 1987. During the last days of his life, Aronow is reported to have made numerous personal telephone calls to Bush. Aronow had been aware that his life was in danger, and he had left a list of instructions to tell his wife what to do if anything should happen to him. The first point on the list was “#1. CALL GEORGE BUSH.” [fn 9] Lillian Aronow did call Bush, who reportedly responded by placing a personal call to the MetroDade Police Department homicide division to express his concern and to request an expeditious handling of the case. Bush did not attend Aronow’s funeral, but a month later he sent a letter to Aronow’s son Gavin in which he called the late Don Aronow “a hero.”

When Lillian Aronow suspected that her telephone was being tapped, she called Bush, who urged her to be calm and promised to order an investigation of the matter. Shortly after that, the suspicious noises in Mrs. Aronow’s telephone ceased. When Lilian Aronow received reports that her husband might have been murdered by rogue CIA operatives or other wayward federal agents and that she herself and her children were still in danger, she shared her fears in a telephone call to Bush. Bush reportedly later called Mrs. Aronow and, as she recalled, “He said to me, ‘Lillian, you’re fine.’ He said that ‘ex-CIA people are really off.’ That’s the truth.” [fn 10] Later, Mrs. Aronow heard that Gen. Noriega of Panama was interested in buying some of her boats, and she began to prepare a trip to Panama in the hope of generating some orders. Before her departure, she says she called Bush who advised her against making the trip because of Noreiga’s involvement in “bad things.” Mrs. Aronow cancelled her reservations for Panama City. But in the summer of 1987, Bush snubbed Mrs. Aronow by pointedly avoiding her at a Miami dinner party. But during this same period, Bush frequently went fishing with former Aronow employee Willie Meyers, whom he had mentioned in the letter cited above. According to Thomas Burdick’s sources, Willie Meyers was also a friend of Secretary of State George Shultz, and often expressed concern about damaging publicity for Bush and Shultz that might derive from the Aronow case.

According to Thomas Burdick, Meyers says that Bush talked to him about how the vice president’s staff was monitoring the Aronow investigation. Bush lamented that he did not have grounds to get federal agencies involved. “I just wish,” said Bush to Meyers, “that there was some federal aspect to the murder. If the killers crossed state lines. Then I could get the FBI involved.” [fn 11] The form of the argument is reminiscent of the views expressed by Bush and Tony Lapham during the Letelier case.

In May or June of 1987, several months after Aronow had been killed, Mike Brittain, who owned a company called Aluminum Marine Products, located on “Thunderboat Alley” in the northern part of Miami (the same street where Aronow had worked), was approached by two FBI special agents, Joseph Usher and John Donovan, both of the Miami FBI field office. They were accompanied by a third FBI man, whom they presented as a member of George Bush’s staff at the National Drug Task Force in Washington DC. The third agent, reportedly named William Temple, had, according to the other two, come to Miami on a special mission ordered by the Vice President of the United States.

As Brittain told his story to Burdick, Special Agent Temple “didn’t ask about the murder or anything like that. All he wanted to know about was the merger.” [fn 12] The merger in question was the assumption of control over Aronow’s company, USA Racing, by the Kramers’ Super Chief South, which meant that a key contract in the Bush “war on drugs” had been awarded to a company controlled by persons who would later be convicted for marijuana smuggling and money laundering. Many of the FBI questions focussed on this connection between Aronow and Kramer. Later, after Bush’s victory in the 1988 presidential election, the FBI again questioned Brittain, and again the central issue was the Aronow-Kramer connection, plus additional questions of whether Brittain had divulged any of his knowledge of these matters to other persons. A possible conclusion was that a damage control operation in favor of Bush was in progress.

Tommy Teagle, an ex-convict interviewed by Burdick, said he feared that George Bush would have him killed because information in his possession would implicate Jeb Bush in cocaine smuggling. Teagle’s story was that Aronow and Jeb Bush had been partners in cocaine trafficking and were $2.5 million in debt to their Columbian suppliers. Dr. Robert Magoon, a friend of Aronow, is quoted in the same location as having heard a similar report. But Teagle rapidly changed his story. [fn 3] Ultimately, an imprisoned convict was indicted for the murder of Aronow.

But the circumstances of the murder remain highly suspect. Starting in 1985, and with special intensity during 1987-88, more than two dozen persons involved in various aspects of the Iran-contra gun-running and drug-running operation met their deaths. At the same time, other persons knowledgeable about Iran-contra, but one or more steps removed from eyewitness knowledge of these operations, have been subjected to campaigns of discrediting and slander, often associated with indictments on a variety of charges, charges which often stemmed from the Iran-contra operations themselves. Above and beyond the details of each particular case, the overall pattern of these deaths strongly suggests that they are coherent with a damage control operation by the networks involved, a damage control operation that has concentrated on liquidating those individuals whose testimony might prove to be most damning to the leading personalities of these networks. The death of Don Aronow occurred within the time frame of this general process of amputation and cauterization of the Iran-contra and related networks. Many aspects of Aronow’s life suggest that his assassination may have been a product of the same “damage control” logic.


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NOTES:

1. For Bush’s “war on drugs”, see Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta, “How Bush Commanded the War on Drugs,” Washington Post, June 20, 1988; Lawrence Lifschultz, “Bush, Drugs and Pakistan: Inside the Kingdom of Heroin,” The Nation, November 14, 1988; “Drug Czars We Have Known,” The Nation, February 27, 1989; and Robert A. Pastor and Jorge Castaneda, Limits to Friendship: The United States and Mexico (New York, 1988), p. 271.

2. “Bush, Drugs, and Pakistan,” The Nation, November 14, 1988.

3. See the cover of Newsweek, October 19, 1987 “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor,'” which portrays Bush at the controls of Fidelity. A similar photo appears facing p. 223 in George Bush and Vic Gold, Looking Forward (New York, 1987).

4. See Thomas Burdick and Charlene Mitchell, Blue Thunder (New York, 1990), p. 229. The following account of the relations between Bush and Aronow relies upon this remarkable study.

5. Blue Thunder, p. 182.

6. Blue Thunder, p. 235.

7. Blue Thunder, p. 18.

8. Blue Thunder, p. 34.

9. Blue Thunder, p. 71.

10. Blue Thunder, p. 95.

11. Blue Thunder, p. 103.

12. Blue Thunder, pp. 326-327.

13. Blue Thunder, pp. 351, 357.