Magazine article Insight on the News

Arkansas Probe Leads Back to Mysterious Rural Airport

Magazine article Insight on the News

Arkansas Probe Leads Back to Mysterious Rural Airport

Article excerpt

When did Bill Clinton first learn that there was a major drug-running operation linked to Iran-Contra being run from Arkansas? And what did senior Arkansas police officers know of alleged narcotics and weapons shipments in the 1980s? As Congress has focused most of its Whitewater attention on the apparent suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster and the Arkansas financial dealings of the Clintons and their friends and political allies, the murky goings-on a decade ago at the single-runway Mena airport in southwest Arkansas have been virtually ignored by lawmakers.

While a GOP-led Congress continues to turn a blind eye, possibly because some prominent Republicans might be involved, Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is being drawn ever more deeply into the Mena affair in his attempts to trace cash contributions to Clinton's gubernatorial election coffers and his bid to make sense of the complicated financial relationships linking the Clintons and other members of Arkansas' political elite with suspect banks, businessmen and land deals.

Starr's probing of money-laundering activities in the state nicknamed the Land of Opportunity, combined with recent allegations by Arkansas state trooper L.D. Brown, who has testified under oath that Clinton had knowledge of Iran-Contra drug trafficking, are threatening to push Mena center stage. The reluctance on Capitol Hill to investigate claims about Mena is likely to appear increasingly odd as further allegations and disclosures about Arkansas' drug economy emerge, admit congressional aides involved in Whitewater inquiries.

Last month, Starr investigators questioned Brown about his explosive claims that Clinton knew of drug-running based at Mena and did nothing about it. Brown, who served in Clinton's gubernatorial security detail, told American Spectator magazine that he flew on two Mena missions with legendary drug-runner Barry Seal and alleges that Clinton was fully aware both of a Mena-based CIA operation and that cocaine was being ferried into the airport on planes used to transport weapons to Nicaraguan Contras. Brown found himself flying with Seal soon after he applied to join the CIA. He maintains that Clinton told him the cocaine trafficking was "Lasater's deal," a reference to "bond daddy" and Clinton friend Dan Lasater, who in 1986 was convicted of cocaine distribution.

FBI agents also have been probing Insight charges that in 1988 senior officers in the Arkansas State Police destroyed intelligence documents detailing Mena-based narcotics activity. (See "Starr Investigation Targets Law-Enforcement Complicity," May 29.)

Despite state-police insistence that no untoward document shredding took place, further details are beginning to emerge of an intense and extensive destruction of Mena intelligence documents at the state-police headquarters in Little Rock.

Insight has obtained a copy of a 20-page deposition made by the police secretary tasked in the summer of 1988 with destroying state-police intelligence files. In the deposition for a court case involving self-proclaimed Mena pilot Terry Read, Michelle Tudor, who worked for two years as a secretary for the state police's organized-crime unit, relates how she was instructed by her boss, then-Lt. John Morrow, to destroy an enormous number of intelligence files in a two-day binge of shredding.

According to Tudor, whose husband, Jim, is a trooper, the amount of shredding was massive. "Massive enough. That is, that after a certain amount was shredded and there was all this material it was put in black leaves bags. The shredded material was put into these bags and as four or five bags would accumulate inmates would come up and carry them down to dispose of them." Never before had she been asked to get rid of so many documents in one fell swoop, she said, nor was she asked again. "I was told that it was because these were old, unneeded intelligence files that needed to be purged. …

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