Chapter X: Celerino Castillo

Former DEA Special Agent Celerino Castillo III has alleged that the Contras used Ilopango Airport in El Salvador to traffic in drugs, with the full knowledge of the CIA. He has also alleged that, when he was assigned to the DEA Guatemala City Country Office (GCCO), he was ordered not to investigate these drug trafficking operations. Castillo has further alleged to High Times magazine that his drug enforcement efforts in Central America were stymied by the "Reagan White House secret 'Contra' war in Nicaragua." According to Castillo, money from Iranian weapons sales to fund the Contras was a "drop in the bucket" and that, "to the best of my knowledge, most of the [Contras'] money came from drug trafficking." Finally, Castillo has alleged that the DEA later retaliated against him for pursuing these matters by launching a series of disciplinary investigations against him.

The OIG has attempted to investigate Castillo's claims, but has faced several major impediments. First, Castillo refused to be interviewed by the OIG unless he was able to tape record the interview and have Congresswoman Maxine Waters present at the interview. The OIG agreed to tape the interview and provide it to him at the conclusion of the investigation. The OIG also agreed to allow Castillo to have a personal representative with him in the interview, but the OIG told Castillo that it was inappropriate for Congresswoman Waters to be involved in the investigation being conducted by the OIG. At our request, Congresswoman Waters attempted to convince Castillo to meet with the OIG because of the importance of his allegations, but she was unable to persuade him to do so.

Another obstacle to the OIG investigation of Castillo's allegations was the refusal of several retired government personnel be interviewed by the OIG. The former DEA Country Attache for Costa Rica, the former CIA Chief of Station for Costa Rica, and the former CIA Chief of Station for El Salvador refused to be interviewed by the OIG. While former DEA Country Attache Robert Stia agreed to an initial interview with us, he did not make himself available for a second interview to clarify certain issues that arose concerning his role in these matters. Also our attempts to locate and interview former Salvadoran Air Chief General Juan Rafael Bustillo, who commanded the Ilopango military airbase, and former DEA informant STG-86-0006 (STG6), who worked with Castillo in El Salvador, were not successful.

We have, however, been able to gather information relevant to Castillo's allegations from a number of sources, review DEA files, and interview many persons who had information relevant to Castillo's claims. As we discuss below, we did not find significant evidence suggesting that the core of Castillo's claims concerning drug trafficking by the Contras and the CIA were substantiated.

A. Background

Castillo grew up in Edinburg, Texas, and served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. After he returned from Vietnam, he was a police officer in Edinburg from 1973 until 1979. While a police officer, he earned a degree in criminal justice from Pan-American University in 1975. In 1979, he joined the DEA as a special agent. Castillo's first DEA assignment was in New York City, where he remained until 1984, when he was transferred to Peru.

Castillo told High Times magazine that, despite his successful work in Peru, his supervisor, a non-Spanish speaker, felt threatened by him and transferred him to Central America without a promotion, which Castillo originally had been promised. However, according to DEA Special Agent Russell Reina, who worked with Castillo in Central America, Castillo allegedly was transferred from Peru to Guatemala after a picture of him posing in camouflage clothing with two machine guns in his hands appeared on the front page of a Peruvian daily newspaper. The DEA believed that this photograph compromised Castillo's identity and ability to work undercover, as well as his credibility in Peru.

DEA records confirm that in October 1985, Castillo was transferred from Peru to the DEA's office in Guatemala City. The Guatemala office was responsible for four countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, and Honduras. Castillo had primary responsibility for El Salvador. Castillo remained in Guatemala from August 1986 until 1990, when he was transferred to the San Diego DEA office and then to the San Francisco DEA office. In 1992, he resigned from the DEA under circumstances which we describe in section J.

B. Castillo's Allegations

Because Castillo would not agree to an interview by the OIG, we had to collect Castillo's allegations from media reports quoting him, from allegations made in his book, Powderburns (published in 1994), and from previous interviews of Castillo, such as a 1991 interview by a FBI agent Michael Foster as part of the Iran-Contra Office of Independent Counsel's (OIC) investigation. Castillo's main allegations collected from these sources that relate to our review were:

-- the covert United States operation that supplied the Contras also smuggled drugs to help finance the war;

-- pilots working for the Contras did their own trafficking on the side and could smuggle with impunity because they flew on "the same airline as Oliver North" and were helping the Contras;

-- Castillo met with a "wall of resistance" from the CIA, the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, and the DEA when he attempted to investigate drug smuggling at Ilopango Airport;

-- Castillo documented drug flights out of Ilopango -- listing pilot names, tail numbers, dates and flight plans -- and sent them to DEA Headquarters but no action was taken;

-- A CIA employee told Castillo that the only way for the Contras to receive money was through the sale of drugs and the CIA employee asked Castillo to discontinue his investigation at Ilopango; and

-- the DEA retaliated against Castillo for looking into the CIA-Contra connection by launching internal investigations of him.

We reviewed these claims, focusing particular attention on his allegations that his investigations were hindered by various government entities. We describe the reports he filed concerning his investigation of two pilots at Ilopango Airport, as well as the evidence we gathered and interviews we conducted concerning his other allegations. As we describe below, there is some factual support for several of Castillo's claims, but we found that the broad inferences drawn by Castillo about these facts were unsupported by the evidence.