from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


For most of his life, Manuel Noriega got along very well with the CIA. As far back as 1959, he was reporting on Panamanian leftists to the Americans; by 1966, he was on the CIA payroll. Despite-or maybe because of-Noriega's "perverse" treatment of prisoners, he was deemed worthy to be trained at the notorious School of the Americas (also known as the "School of Dictators" or the "School of Assassins" ), run by the US Army in Panama City (it's since moved to Ft. Benning, Georgia).

As early as 1972, reports of Noriega's drug trafficking irked the DEA, and the State Department complained of his dealings with other intelligence services, notably those of Israel and Cuba. Don't worry, said the CIA-he's our boy.

In 1976, Noriega paid a visit to CIA Director George Bush in Washington. Bush's successor was less comfortable with Noriega and took him off the CIA payroll, but when Bush became vice-president in 1980, Noriega went back on, with a six-figure annual salary.

In 1981, Panama's popular head of state, Omar Torrijos, was killed in a plane crash; by 1983, Noriega had consolidated his control. In 1987, a close Noriega aide corroborated what many suspected-Noriega had sabotaged Torrijos' plane. (The CIA has also been linked to the assassination, in 1955, of Panama's president, allegedly with the approval of then-Vice-President Nixon).

Nothing Noriega did seemed to upset the CIA. If he smuggled cocaine on contra supply planes ...well, he wasn't the only one. If he beheaded a political opponent who accused him of drug running...well, he was just being firm.

If he used violence and fraud to steal the 1984 Panamanian elections...well, we couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome.

By 1989, however, the love affair was over. Noriega had angered his handlers by waffling on his opposition to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and he was showing other disquieting signs of disobedience. In December 1989, US troops invaded Panama to "arrest" Noriega, slaughtering 2,000 - 4,000 innocent civilians in the process.

What changed after the invasion? Violence, fraud and drug trafficking continued unabated. But, unlike Noriega, Panama's new rulers knew how to follow orders, and agreed to reconsider the Torrijos treaties, under which all US military bases in Panama would be shut down by the year 2000. (In 1994, Torrijos' and Noriega's old party was voted back in-so look for more CIA sabotage.)

CIAs Greatest Hits

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