Whistleblowers Reveal How Time Magazine Dropped the Ball on the “Bogota Connection”
The Backstory to How a Mainstream Media Powerhouse Was Beaten to the Punch on the Story by Narco News
By Bill Conroy
Special report from Sibel Edmonds
June 11, 2009
REPORTER’S NOTE: Narco News in early January 2006 broke the story about an alleged ring of corruption involving the DEA’s office in Bogota, Colombia; North Valley Cartel narco-traffickers; Colombian paramilitary forces; and the Colombian National Police. The story was based on a memo drafted by a U.S. government lawyer named Thomas Kent. That memo was leaked to Narco News by sources who have faith in authentic journalism.
After publishing the initial story based on the Kent memo, Narco News continued to follow and develop the story, resulting, to date, in some 20 stories in the series now dubbed the “Bogota Connection.”
Now, for the first time, a group of whistleblowers have stepped forward to discuss part of the backstory to the original Kent memo story — specifically their efforts to get a major mainstream media outlet, Time Magazine, to publish a story about the memo even as Narco News was in the midst of doing the investigative reporting necessary to put its own story together on the corruption revelations.
As it turned out (a sign of the times we live in, I suppose) Time Magazine, with all of its resources, dropped the ball — allowing Narco News to break the story, which offers readers a major insight into the nature of the drug war and why it is doomed to failure.
Whether due to embarrassment at being beat by a nonprofit, scrappy online newspaper, or due to some other political concerns pegged to their arrangements with the power structure, Time Magazine has not to date printed a word about the Kent memo — nor has any other mainstream publication other than to seek, ineffectively, to discredit Kent’s allegations (many of them since documented as accurate by Narco News). [See link here.]
So, for those of you who have followed the story, or for those of you interested in digging into it for the first time, what follows is the exclusive report — shared with Narco News by national security whistleblower Sibel Edmonds [cross-posted on her new blog, 123 Real Change] — that lays out the backstory to Time Magazine’s fumble on the Bogota Connection.
— Bill Conroy
Project EXPOSE MSM Reports
Major DEA Scandal & Time Magazine
By Sibel Edmonds
Project Expose MSM
As noted in the announcement, 123 Real Change invites all members of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, other active (covert or overt) government whistleblowers, and reporters, to publish their experiences in regard to their own first-hand dealings with the media, where their legit disclosures were either intentionally censored/blacked out, tainted, or otherwise met with a betrayal of trust.
This second project report is based on the first-hand documented experience of Mr. Sandalio Gonzalez, retired Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agent in Charge. Time Magazine reporters Tim Burger and Tim Padgett had an opportunity to speak at length with Mr. Gonzalez and several other veteran DEA agents with direct knowledge of a major corruption case involving several DEA agents on drug traffickers’ payrolls in Colombia. The involved corrupt US officers were also directly involved in helping Colombia’s paramilitary death squads launder drug proceeds. Further presented was the documented cover up of this major scandal by the DEA and DOJ IG offices. Despite corroboration by a number of other sources, including several veteran DEA agents and other government officials with first-hand knowledge of the case, and documented evidence disclosed and provided, and despite being given an ‘exclusive’ to the story as insisted on by them, Time Magazine never published the story, and no reasons were ever provided.
Name, Title, and /or Background
Name: Sandalio Gonzalez
Title: Special Agent in Charge (Ret.), DEA
Background: Mr. Gonzalez retired from the DEA as Special Agent in Charge of the El Paso, Texas Field Division in January 2005 after 32 years in law enforcement. He began his career in 1972 at the local level in Los Angeles, California and joined the DEA in 1978.
For more detailed background information see here.
Name of Publication and/or Editor and/or Reporter
Publication: Time Magazine
Reporter: Tim Padgett & Tim Burger
Complete blackout. No reason provided. The disclosure was supported and corroborated by three other highly credible veteran DEA agents, officials, and documents.
Description of Disclosure & Significance
Statement by Sandalio Gonzalez
In late fall of 2005, Time Magazine’s DC Office was provided with detailed information and documents regarding a major story involving the DEA. The story had not been broken publicly before, and several publishers were competing to get what they referred to as an ‘Exclusive Scoop’, since they had been briefed generally and shown sample documents. Time Magazine seemed anxious to see and hear it all, and we were told they’d run it ‘big time’ if they were given documents, provided with access to witnesses, and all this ‘exclusively.’ Well, Time Magazine was in fact given everything they asked for; exclusively.
After Time’s DC office reporter Tim Burger received the initial/sample documents and statements (with NSWBC acting as coordinator and third party), they sat on the story for more than a month. Later we were told that the story was transferred to their Miami Office. After follow ups and pressure by NSWBC on the status of this ‘exclusive story’ with Time, one last meeting was set up with Tim Padgett, Time’s Miami bureau reporter.
The meeting with the Time reporter in Miami was attended by several other current and former DEA agents as sources and witnesses. Some of these witnesses had to travel to attend the meeting and provide the Time reporter with their reports. The three agents disclosed their account and documented information involving the never-public-before scandal and the subsequent cover up by the US government. Sibel Edmonds, Director and Founder of NSWBC, and Professor William Weaver, Senior Advisor for NSWBC, had also flown to Miami to attend and monitor the interview.
The center of the report dealt with ‘never-before-public’ documents and first hand witness statements, the Kent Memo, and related subjects and information. This case and its facts, statements, and documents, given to Time Magazine before and during that meeting, involved one of the most serious allegations ever brought against DEA officers.
On Dec. 19, 2004, Thomas M. Kent, an attorney in the wiretap unit of the Justice Department’s Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs Section (NDDS), submitted his memo to his section chief Jody Avergun, who would soon thereafter leave the DOJ to become the Executive Assistant to DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, with full knowledge of the reported corruption and cover up, and did nothing to correct it. The copies of this memo were forwarded to several high-level officials within DOJ and DEA.
In his memo, Mr. Kent reported several corruption allegations involving the DEA’s office in Bogotá, Columbia. The allegations in the memo were supported by several credible DEA agents in Florida with impeccable records. These agents – witnesses – were muzzled and retaliated against after they attempted to expose the corruption. Based on Mr. Kent’s report, supported by other DEA agents, the DEA’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) covered up the report and the corruption charges and sabotaged investigations by the Florida DEA office.
Here are the major points covered by Mr. Kent in the memo:
* Several DEA agents in Colombia are in fact on drug traffickers’ payrolls.
* Some of these corrupt US officers are directly involved in helping Colombia’s paramilitary death squads launder drug proceeds.
* The implicated agents have been protected by “watchdog” agencies within the Justice Department.
Here is an excerpt from Mr. Kent’s Memo:
“As discussed in my (prior) memorandum dated December 13, 2004, several unrelated investigations, including Operation Snowplow, identified corrupt agents within DEA. As further discussed in my memorandum, OPR’s handling of the investigations into those allegations has come into question and the OIG investigator who was actively looking into the allegations has been removed from the investigation.”
And here is another regarding other agents and witnesses who had come forward:
“As promised, I am providing you with further information on the allegations and evidence that is already in files at OPR and OIG. Agents I know were able to vouch for my credibility and several individuals close to the prior investigations that uncovered corruption agreed to speak with me… Having been failed by so many before and facing tremendous risks to their careers and their safety and the safety of their families, they were understandably hesitant to reveal the information I requested, including the names of those directly involved in criminal activity in Bogotá and the United States. They agreed to reveal the names to me on the condition that I not further disseminate these for the time being. They are prepared to provide the Public Integrity Section with those names and everything in the files at OPR and OIG, and then some, if called upon to do so.”
According to the report, one of the corrupt agents from Bogotá was actually caught on a wiretap in 2004 while he was discussing criminal activity related to the paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The group is known to be involved in narco-trafficking and arms dealing at the highest levels, and has been involved in death squads responsible for murdering thousands of Colombians. Kent reports that during the wiretap, this DEA agent discusses his involvement in laundering money for the AUC. However, despite being caught on tape the agent faced no reprimand. Just the opposite, according to Kent, the agent was promoted: “That call has been documented by the DEA and that agent is now in charge of numerous narcotics and money laundering investigations.”
The memo also alleged that DOJ officials shut down a money laundering investigation because they knew it was connected to the DEA corruption case in Bogotá:
“In June 2004, OPR and DEA, the two agencies embarrassed by the prior allegations (involving the Bogotá agents) and likely to come under tremendous scrutiny for their own actions in response, demanded that my case agent turn all of the (investigation) information … over to OPR,” Kent states in the memorandum. “One week after submitting the (information) to OPR, the money laundering investigation was shut down.”
In addition to the facts included in Kent’s reports, Time Magazine was also provided with corroborated reports on related cases, including a case of major leaks from the US Embassy in Bogotá that contained extremely sensitive intelligence.
That meeting gave Time Magazine one last chance, and the benefit of the doubt, to live up to its word given to us previously; to expose this major case and even more serious cover up by the Justice Department’s IG. We made it clear that after waiting for Time Magazine for months they had to give us a response within a day or two as to whether they were running the story, and if so when. The reporter, Tim Padgett, did seem genuinely interested, and made it clear that he had to persuade the editors and magazine management. He appeared to have his reservations as to the magazine’s willingness and or courage to ‘touch’ a story of this magnitude. We never heard back from him, or Tim Burger, or anyone else from the magazine. Time Magazine never delivered the ‘exclusive scoop’ given to them, all packaged with credible DEA witnesses and envelopes containing official documents. In fact, the MSM has never thoroughly covered this story. The only coverage of Kent Memo was given by web-based publisher, Narco News.
Comments in response by Mr. Tim Padgett, reporter, Time Magazine, Miami Office:
I contacted Mr. Padgett twice via e-mail. To my second request he provided me with the following reply:
For the record, I had no reservations about Time Magazine’s “willingness
and or courage to ‘touch’ a story of this magnitude.” Time regularly takes on controversial stories; we simply decided in the end, after examining the material at hand, not to pursue this one.
Miami & Latin America Bureau Chief
Comments in response by Mr. Tim Burger, reporter, Time Magazine, DC Bureau:
Despite several requests for response, Mr. Burger did not reply.
Comments in response by Time Magazine:
Despite several requests for response, Time Magazine editor(s) did not reply.
Statement from Professor William Weaver, Senior Advisor, NSWBC:
This disheartening episode is, unfortunately, very familiar, and the story of DEA corruption and entanglement with Colombian drug cartels appears to have been ignored after initial interest for a variety of reasons. First, it is not easily digestible and therefore runs afoul of editors’ and reporters’ prejudice toward stories that may be quickly and simply related to the public. Emphasis on simplicity instead of on what the public should know about cuts down on research and reporter time, which are expensive, and feeds into the common belief that the public is largely incapable of understanding, or uninterested in, complicated stories. Second, running such a story may anger sources of information from government that reporters have come to rely upon. As great as any one story may be, a reporter’s career in these areas often depends on keeping friendly relations with cultivated sources. Ultimately, sometimes these sources end up dictating what shall and shall not be published. Finally, a story must make it past editors and staff who have interests that conflict with the goal of getting important news to the public. Considerations of effects on advertisers, sources of information, how shareholders and management will view decisions to publish particular stories, and other matters unrelated to “newsworthiness” affect a potential story’s fate. We need only look to The New York Times’ decision to delay reporting the existence of the probably unconstitutional Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) for an example of how forces inside MSM may outflank the newsworthy nature of a story. The story concerning the Bush Administration TSP was set to break just before the presidential election in 2004, but apparent appeals by Bush Administration officials and President Bush himself to The New York Times delayed publication until December 2005. And the story only came to light because of a whistleblower and the fact that the matter appeared destined to emerge in other forums. The refusal of The New York Times to publish the story in 2004 very possibly is the only reason that Bush prevailed over John Kerry. Time magazine’s failure to investigate the events outlined in the Kent Memo and by veteran, decorated DEA agents concerning wide-ranging government corruption is another abysmal example of how the public is ill-served by the MSM.
Statement from Sibel Edmonds, Founder and Director, NSWBC:
Our organization, NSWBC, persuaded these government sources and witnesses to come forward and provide the American people with this major report exposing corruption and cover-ups – which sheds light on the ‘real’ story of our government’s so-called ‘War on Drugs.’ Despite their reservations and the risks they faced, these witnesses agreed to disclose their first-hand accounts and documented facts, and to do so only once through what they considered to be a ‘major publication.’ During the interview, while listening to these agents and reviewing the sets of documents put in front of him, Time reporter, Tim Padgett, appeared flabbergasted and excited. At the end of the meeting he expressed it verbally and concluded that the story was incredible and highly explosive. This was a journalist’s dream: to have four veteran agents with impeccable career records as sources, to have tons of printed documents (official letters, IG reports, and more), and a major scandal contradicting the illusion of the War on Drugs – which has been costing lives and billions of dollars. I also have to add: Mr. Padgett expressed his reservations and pessimism regarding his editor(s) and Time’s management having the resolve and or willingness to run this ‘explosive’ story. Sibel Edmonds, Narco News