Chapter VII: Enrique Miranda-Jaime
The San Jose Mercury News found some support for its allegations of Contra drug trafficking and CIA complicity in such trafficking in testimony during Norwin Meneses' 1991 trial in Nicaragua by another defendant in the case, Nicaraguan national Enrique Miranda-Jaime. Miranda's long drug-trafficking career, his complex relationship with the United States government, as well as his unsubstantiated claims of government improprieties will be addressed here, roughly in chronological order.
According to DEA's database, Enrique Miranda-Jaime is an accountant who has lived in Managua, Nicaragua as well as in Bogota and Medellin, Colombia. When providing information to DEA agent Jose Delgado in 1996 as a confidential source, Miranda stated that he had once been an intelligence officer with the rank of Major in the Nicaraguan Army, and that, during the Sandinista/Contra War, his job had been to raise money for the Sandinistas by trafficking in narcotics.
Miranda also told Delgado that in 1977, Miranda joined the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion (FSLN) to fight against the government of General Somoza. Until May 1979, he worked to acquire weapons for the Sandinistas, largely from the governments of Panama, Cuba, Venezuela, and Mexico. However, Miranda related, he had become disenchanted with the Sandinistas, thinking the leadership had become dominated by communists. His request to resign from the Sandinista group was denied, and he was sent to Bulgaria and Cuba to study military intelligence. Upon his return to Nicaragua, he was named the head of Sandinista military intelligence operations, and later promoted to Sub-Commandante, charged with evaluating the Nicaraguan troops. In 1980, the Sandinista command put Miranda in charge of operations for a new special operations unit (the Buro de Operaciones Especiales or "BOE"). In that capacity, he procured weapons and arranged logistical assistance for guerilla movements throughout Latin America, including the FMLN in El Salvador and guerrillas in Guatemala. According to Miranda, he coordinated weapons procurement through the Cuban government, and delivered large sums of money to officials at the highest levels of government in Mexico and Panama to pay for their assistance to guerilla movements.
As will be discussed below, Miranda was arrested with Meneses on drug charges by Nicaraguan authorities in November 1991 and sentenced to 14 years in prison in August 1992. In November 1995, Miranda failed to return from a furlough from his Nicaraguan prison and fled to Miami. There, he became a DEA informant until he was arrested by the INS in December 1995 for being in the country illegally, and voluntarily agreed to return to Nicaragua. Back in Nicaragua, Miranda was returned to prison.
B. Miranda's Drug Trafficking for the Sandinistas
Miranda told DEA SA Delgado in 1996 during debriefings that from 1982 until the United States economic blockade on Nicaragua in 1985, the Sandinista government directed Miranda to participate in the smuggling of cocaine into the United States. Miranda said that after flying out of Colombia from clandestine airstrips, cocaine-laden planes would refuel in Panama, then land at BOE airstrips in Nicaragua. There, the cocaine would be off-loaded and replaced with weapons, for the return trip to Colombia. In this debriefing, Miranda did not explain how the cocaine was transported from Nicaragua to the United States.
When interviewed by OIG investigators in 1997, Miranda recalled that, in 1981, the Sandinistas had told him to recruit Norwin Meneses Cantarero for the Sandinista drug operation, but Meneses had refused to help because he was already trafficking for the Contras (see section D below). Miranda was then asked to take over the Sandinista drug operation, and did so from 1981 to 1985, sometimes getting advice from Meneses. As in his DEA interview, Miranda told how cocaine from the Medellin cartel was exchanged for weapons in Nicaragua, but he also related that the drugs were then taken from Nicaragua to Miami by plane and boat, with the profits returning to the Sandinista government.
When OIG investigators interviewed Norwin Meneses, he agreed with several points in Miranda's account. According to Meneses, Miranda told him that the Sandinistas had smuggled up to 200 kilos of cocaine at a time in refrigerated meat containers shipped from Nicaragua to Miami. According to Meneses, Miranda had noted that his contact in Nicaragua was a Cuban, and that the organization had been infiltrated by the Cuban government. After a disagreement with his superior, Miranda had denounced the drug operation to the U.S. Ambassador in Panama in 1985. Meneses denied that Miranda ever asked him to sell drugs.
The OIG did not conduct a full scale investigation concerning Miranda's allegations about Sandinista drug trafficking, because those allegations were outside the scope of our review. During the last decade, however, there have been many allegations of Sandinista drug trafficking. It appears from these reports that, at a minimum, Nicaragua was a cocaine trafficking transhipment point from Colombia to the United States during the period of Sandinista rule.
C. Miranda's First Contact with United States Government
In his 1996 DEA debriefing, Miranda stated that in 1985, soon after being transferred from the BOE to regular military duties, he resigned from the army. He then made contact with the CIA in Nicaragua, where he was extensively interviewed. According to Miranda, for about eight months, he was paid approximately $3,500 a month for his expenses and for the information he provided. Miranda said that when he refused, out of fear for his family, to go to Washington, D.C. to declare in a public forum all that he had told the CIA officers about the Sandinistas, the CIA terminated its relationship with him. Upon Miranda's return to Nicaragua in September 1985, he was arrested by Sandinista security forces, charged with treason, interrogated over a period of three months in inhumane conditions, and incarcerated until 1989. Miranda said he was released from prison in 1989 for health reasons, returned to civilian life and began selling and buying vehicles.
Miranda told the OIG a substantially similar story, although he identified different persons from the CIA with whom he dealt. Miranda stated that, when he refused to go to the United States and give a press conference saying that the Nicaraguans had MIG-23 planes, when in fact they had only Soviet helicopters, the CIA accused him of being a double agent. This accusation, according to Miranda, had led FBI agents to target him when he had visited the United States in September 1985.
In August 1985, the CIA received information that Miranda was in Los Angeles and wanted to provide information on Sandinista arms and drug smuggling in return for assistance in settling in the United States. Because the CIA believed Miranda was in the United States as a Sandinista agent sent to penetrate Contra groups in the United States, the CIA informed the FBI and INS that Miranda was in the country illegally. We located no FBI or INS records concerning this contact. But according to CIA records, Miranda then fled the United States to Costa Rica.
In September 1985, Miranda was jailed by the Sandinistas for treason. According to CIA information, Miranda escaped from a Nicaraguan prison in 1987.
D. Allegations of Contra Drug Trafficking
1. Miranda's Version
In the 1991 trial in Nicaragua that followed the arrest of Miranda, Meneses, and others in connection with the seizure of 764 kilograms of cocaine and one kilogram of Colombian heroin bound from Managua to the United States (see Chapter III above), Miranda testified that Meneses had financed the Contras with cocaine proceeds, and that Colombians had used the Salvadoran Air Force to land Meneses' cocaine shipments at a Texas Air Force base. The San Jose Mercury News reported Miranda's testimony as corroboration for the allegations raised in the "Dark Alliance" series.
OIG investigators interviewed Miranda in the presence of his attorney, in a Granada, Nicaragua, prison where Miranda was serving his prison sentence. He stated that in 1981 his Sandinista superior, Bayardo Arce Castana (Arce), whose lover, Blanca Castana (a niece of Meneses) had given Meneses' name and telephone number in San Francisco to Miranda. Arce told Miranda to see if Meneses would use his drug network in the United States to sell drugs for the Sandinista government. According to Miranda, when he proposed this plan to Meneses in San Francisco, however, Meneses had refused, explaining that he was already selling drugs for the Contras, with the support of the CIA. Meneses said he was working with Oliver North, that Adolfo Calero and Enrique Bermudez were aware of this arrangement, and that some of the drug profits were going to buy weapons and supplies for the Contras on the United States black market.
Miranda said that at either this or later encounters, Meneses told Miranda he got his drugs from the Medellin cartel through brothers Fabio and Jorge Ochoa. According to Miranda's account of what Meneses told him, Colombian planes would land in Costa Rica with cocaine, which would then be transferred to other planes that had brought in weapons for Nicaraguan Contras. Those planes would fly to the United States and land in Fort Worth, Texas, where Meneses would pick up the cocaine and arrange for its transport to California. There, Meneses would supply Danilo Blandon and Julio Zavala.
Miranda also reported that Meneses had never told of working with the DEA, but said only that he was working with the CIA arranging flights that carried guns, and that he worked for the Contras with the support of the CIA. In September 1985, according to Miranda, Meneses told Miranda that he stopped selling drugs for the Contras. Miranda said that, at this time, Meneses seemed to be keeping drug profits for himself instead of buying weapons and supplies for the Contras. Meneses also reportedly told Miranda that he would be moving to Costa Rica because the FBI was looking at him. Meneses did not say how he knew this. Miranda assumed that Meneses had good law enforcement contacts.
Miranda told the OIG that his knowledge of all these matters was based only on what Meneses had told him. At one point during the interview, he said he had witnessed some of Meneses' operations but, when pressed, was unable to give even the barest details.
Miranda told the OIG that he had also heard about Contra drug trafficking from pilot Marcos Aguado, who claimed he had used Salvadoran military planes to fly Contra drugs from the Ilopango military air base in El Salvador to a military airport in Texas. Miranda said Aguado frequently talked about how he flew to Colombia with weapons and returned with cocaine to Ilopango. Aguado told Miranda that American planes would then come to El Salvador with weapons and return to the United States with drugs.
2. Documentary Evidence
The OIG was informed by representatives of the American Embassy in Managua that the Nicaraguan courts do not routinely record or transcribe courtroom testimony. Therefore, details of Miranda's allegations regarding CIA involvement in drug trafficking are limited to Miranda's accounts to the OIG.
While incarcerated in Nicaragua's Granada prison Miranda was interviewed by Congresswoman Maxine Waters. The interview was tape recorded and a transcript of the interview was provided to the OIG by journalist Georg Hodel, who was present during the interview.
During that interview, Miranda asked Representative Waters to arrange for him to testify if his information were of any use to her investigation, and asked whether he would be able to collect his documents, handwritings, and tapes that he had left in Miami (after his arrest in 1995), which had been returned to his wife by the FBI. When asked by Representative Waters if the materials showed a direct link between himself, Meneses, and the CIA, Miranda replied:
I have no tapes that would clearly evidence the relationship Norwin Meneses had with the CIA. But there are a number of documents that support suggestions that there was a direct link. Personal notes I wrote on a number of opportunities while working with Norwin Meneses and a copy of a letter Norwin Meneses sent to his wife with personal instructions for her to contact two individuals that worked for the CIA at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, urging to intervene on his behalf.
Miranda elaborated later in the interview that Meneses had written a letter soon after his arrest in Nicaragua, asking his wife to seek help from two CIA agents at the U.S. Embassy in Managua. During the interview, Hodel stated that a police officer he knows has the letter but that it would be difficult to retrieve. As we discuss later in this section, we found no such letter among the contents of Miranda's papers and documents, which we received from the DEA.
3. OIG Conclusions as to Miranda's Credibility
Whether viewed alone or in the context of other people's accounts (as discussed earlier in this section), Miranda's allegations regarding Meneses' drug trafficking activities with the Contras and CIA involvement lack substantial force. Everything he has said is at least second-hand, mostly from Meneses. Moreover, Miranda could not provide the names of anyone who had allegedly witnessed his conversations with Meneses. Miranda claimed that Meneses invited him to watch Meneses' drug smuggling operation at the airbase in Texas, but, when pressed for details by OIG investigators, Miranda said he had not actually seen it occur. It was also clear that much of what Miranda told the OIG had been previously printed in the newspapers. No one has been able to produce a copy of the letter that Miranda claims Meneses wrote to the CIA, which, according to Miranda, was written six full years after Miranda says Meneses had stopped trafficking for the Contras. It is similarly noteworthy that Miranda never raised his allegations about Contra trafficking when interviewed by the DEA in 1996, although he did speak of his involvement in Sandinista trafficking. Miranda told the OIG that he had reported to the DEA Aguado's travel to the United States, but said nothing about military planes being used to transport drugs. The failure to report such important information in 1996 makes it difficult to credit Miranda's account in 1997.
E. Miranda's 1991 Arrest
As discussed above, after his arrest for treason in Nicaragua in September 1985, Miranda was incarcerated until his release in 1989 for health reasons. Miranda told the OIG that he then returned to civilian life and began selling and buying vehicles. When interviewed by the OIG, Meneses said that, when he had returned to Nicaragua in 1991, Miranda had told him that he had been expelled from the Nicaraguan army and was now the enemy of the Sandinistas. Meneses gave Miranda a job buying construction materials.
However, as discussed in Chapter III, above, numerous reports filed by federal law enforcement agencies indicate that Meneses was actively trafficking in cocaine in 1991. In 1990, the Mexican police seized a shipment of approximately 42 kilograms of cocaine from Managua. Miranda was implicated in the shipment, and the Nicaraguan police launched an investigation that led to him, Meneses, and three Colombians.
In July 1991, a DEA confidential informant was introduced to Miranda. While agents from the Houston and Los Angeles Field Divisions and the Guatemala City Country Office of the DEA monitored his activities, the informant spent the next five months arranging with Miranda and Meneses for large amounts of cocaine to be shipped from Managua to the United States. This investigation was not coordinated with that of the Nicaraguan police, and was closed after the Nicaraguan arrests.
In November 1991, the Nicaraguan police arrested Meneses and Miranda in connection with a conspiracy to smuggle more than 764 kilograms of cocaine into southern California inside cars equipped with secret compartments. Seized in that arrest by Nicaraguan authorities were weapons, vehicles, $6,500, and one kilogram of heroin. Miranda was charged with cocaine trafficking and possession.
During the Nicaraguan trial Miranda provided testimony, including the statements that have given rise to the allegations addressed in this report. Miranda was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years in prison in August 1992.
F. Miranda Escapes From Prison and Obtains a Visa
The San Jose Mercury News article "U.S. Gave Visa to Nicaraguan Drug Trafficker Fugitive: Man Who Was Linked To U.S. Cocaine Ring Had Fled Prison," which appeared on December 31, 1996, reported that Miranda escaped from a Nicaraguan prison and obtained a 10 year visa to live in the United States. The OIG investigation into this matter confirmed that Miranda did indeed fail to return to prison in Nicaragua from a furlough and came to the United States.
According to Nicaraguan police records, Miranda escaped from Nicaragua's Granada National prison in November 1995. Nicaragua National Police (NNA) Sub-Director Eduardo Cuadra Ferrey explained to the OIG that Miranda had received the normal gradual increase of liberties by working in a carpentry shop. He began receiving medical passes to visit an oncologist in Granada, and he also visited his family, always returning to the prison within the allotted 72 hours. On November 13, after Miranda failed to return on time on one such medical pass, the prison declared him an escapee.
When interviewed by the OIG, Miranda said that, near the end of his sentence, he had gone on leave and had not returned to prison. He then went to the U.S. Consulate and applied to renew his expired B1/B2 visa, which he had received 30 years earlier.
It appears that U.S. Consulate officials were not aware that Miranda had been in prison. Miranda told the OIG that, when filing out the visa application, he had simply left blank the part asking if he had a criminal record. However, the OIG obtained a copy of Miranda's application from the State Department, which showed that Miranda answered in the negative to questions regarding whether he had a criminal history. The application also has a notation that Miranda had claimed to be a writer going to see a publisher in Pennsylvania.
Somehow Miranda obtained a passport from the Nicaraguan authorities when he was out of prison on a pass on July 21, 1995, and then received a B1/B2 nonimmigrant visa on November 13, 1995, from the U.S. Embassy in Managua. The B1/B2 visa is issued to nonimmigrants who wish to travel to the United States for business and travel. Receiving a B1/B2 visa requires some documentation but is not difficult to obtain. The adjudicating office requires some evidence that the traveler has a residence, is employed, or has some other reason to return to his or her native country. Although a B1/B2 visa allows multiple applications for admission, each visit may not be longer than six months without an approved application for extension, a request for which may be made through the mail. A request for the first six-month extension for a B1/B2 visa is normally granted if the request is received before the traveler is in "overstay" status, and if no derogatory information is found. However, as noted above, Miranda's passport with visa appeared to be valid until May 1996 without applying for a six month extension. But because Miranda made a false statement on the visa application, he was in the United States illegally.
State Department documents also reflect that the visa was issued to Miranda based on the information available to the interviewing officer. Procedures for adjudicating visa applications include a computerized background check to verify some of the information on the visa application and to determine if the applicant had been deemed ineligible for a visa. According to the State Department, on December 8, 1992, Miranda had been entered into their databases as ineligible to receive a United States visa, based on Miranda's Nicaraguan conviction in March 1992 for drug trafficking. However, State Department records also indicate that on the day of Miranda's visa issuance, the primary name check database was not working. When the backup name check database was queried for Miranda's name, it also was not properly working and automatically queried the local Managua database, which indicated no records on Miranda. This computer system failure resulted in the adjudicating officer's issuing Miranda a visa without accessing the Department of State name check system, which would have alerted him that Miranda was ineligible to receive a visa. The Department of State has informed the OIG that subsequent legislation and upgraded equipment and software implemented by the Department of State do not allow a visa to be issued without a proper name check.
Although it has been suggested in the Nicaraguan press that the DEA had some involvement in assisting Miranda to escape and/or enter the United States, we have found no evidence that any government official deliberately assisted Miranda in this regard. And Miranda has denied having received any such assistance.
G. Miranda's Entry into the United States and Return to Nicaragua
After receiving his visa, Miranda first traveled to Costa Rica, and from there flew to Miami, where his family lives. He told the OIG that, upon his arrival, INS agents detained him and, after doing a computer check, asked if he had ever been arrested in Nicaragua on drug charges. He told them that he had, and said he was in Miami to contact the DEA. Although Miranda was told that he would be strip-searched and his luggage would also be searched, he stated that he was later permitted to leave.
The OIG was unable to locate anyone at INS who recalled Miranda's entry into the United States. According to INS officials, if Miranda had admitted to officials at the port of entry that he had once been arrested on drug charges, the INS inspectors would have been alerted that his visa was probably fraudulently obtained and taken appropriate steps to ensure that he did not enter the United States. According to INS records, no records existed in the databases that INS uses that would have alerted United States officials to Miranda, prior to the date that the DEA reported contact with Miranda in the United States.
Miranda told the OIG that, soon after his arrival in Miami, he approached the DEA with an offer of information regarding narcotics trafficking in Central and South America. He thereafter met with DEA SAs Jose Delgado and Joseph Evans and told them that he had escaped from prison in Nicaragua and showed them newspaper articles about it. Evans said Miranda's background was of interest to the DEA agents, and they asked him to be a confidential informant for them in Colombia. Miranda agreed on the condition that the DEA would provide him protection.
According to our interviews and review of DEA files, the DEA began to use Miranda as an active informant soon after he came to Miami. The DEA sent Miranda to various countries in Central and South America to work on DEA cases there, but his efforts were not successful, partly because his information was old and his ability to infiltrate drug trafficking enterprises had been diminished because of his arrest in Nicaragua.
In 1996, the Nicaraguan police tracked down Miranda to Miami, and asked the United States authorities to return Miranda to Nicaragua. The INS, in coordination with the FBI, arrested Miranda for being in the United States illegally, based on Miranda's fraudulently obtained visa. Miranda elected to return to Nicaragua voluntarily, and was sent back to Nicaragua on December 2, 1996, to finish his prison term there.
Miranda has alleged that he was coerced to return to Nicaragua. He said that he was told that if he did not agree to go voluntarily, his wife and children would also be deported and he would never be allowed to reenter the United States.
We reviewed Miranda's claim that he was coerced into returning to Nicaragua. The INS, DEA, and Nicaraguan authorities deny any coercion, and we found their denials credible. Because these allegations were not central to the issues of Contra drug trafficking that were the focus of our review, we have included the facts about Miranda's use as a DEA informant while a fugitive from Nicaragua, and his eventual return to Nicaragua, in Appendix E of this report.
Upon Miranda's return to Nicaragua, he received a 15-month prison sentence on the escape charge, which was added to the year he had left on his initial sentence. While in a Managua prison, Miranda was visited on December 23, 1996, by DEA SAs Vance Stacy and Glenn Schneider, assigned to the Costa Rica Country Office, who had traveled to Managua to explain the DEA's involvement with Miranda to the NNP. According to Stacy, Miranda described for them how he escaped and obtained the United States visa. Stacy told the OIG that he has had no contact with Miranda since that meeting, and to the best of his knowledge, no DEA agent in his office, or in the Managua office, has had subsequent contact with Miranda.
NNP Sub-Director Cuadra told the OIG that a journalist had been attempting to get Miranda released to "house arrest" because of his poor health. According to a communication from INTERPOL Managua, the Deputy Criminal Prosecutor of Managua requested that Miranda be examined by a doctor. After the doctor had diagnosed Miranda as being in poor health, a local judge ordered Miranda's release on July 4, 1997. This release order was later blocked by Miranda's original sentencing judge, and Miranda remains in prison.
In his long career as a major drug trafficker, Miranda has doubtless accumulated substantial information regarding illegal drug operations and traffickers in South, Central and North America. Some of his allegations with respect to the matters that are the subject of this investigation have been corroborated, but the majority of his claims, particularly the allegations regarding Norwin Meneses' connections to the Contras and the CIA, could not be corroborated.
Miranda has admitted that he had no direct knowledge of, or ever witnessed, any of the events on which he based his allegations. He also admitted that he has no evidence to support his claimed direct link between himself, Meneses, and the CIA. He claimed that he has documents that "support suggestions that there was a link." Even those documents have not been produced.
However, Miranda's background and reputation do not bolster the credibility of his claims. Miranda was at one time suspected by the CIA of being a double agent and is a convicted major drug trafficker. Each law enforcement officer interviewed by the OIG shared the same opinion of Miranda: he has provocative information, has made intriguing proposals, but he was never able successfully to follow through. Asked to assess Miranda's credibility, NNP Sub-Director Cuadra said that Miranda was creating stories, with much detail but without any supporting evidence, hoping that the attention to his claims will help him return to the United States to be reunited with his family.
Miranda's attempts to bring attention to his plight in prison have been quite successful. His claims of knowledge of Contra and CIA involvement in drug trafficking to the United States were printed in newspapers in Central and North America.