John Connolly

SPY Magazine - Sept 1992 - Volume 6


What? A big private company - one with a board of former CIA, FBI and
Pentagon officials; one in charge of protecting Nuclear-Weapons facilities,
nuclear reactors, the Alaskan oil pipeline and more than a dozen American
embassies abroad; one with long-standing ties to a radical ring-wing
organization; one with 30,000 men and women under arms - secretly helped
IRAQ in its effort to obtain sophisticated weapons? And fueled unrest
in Venezuela? This is all the plot of a new best-selling thriller,
right? Or the ravings of some overheated conspiracy buff,right? Right?



In the WINTER OF 1990, David Ramirez, a 24 year-old member of the Special
Investigations Division of the Wackenhut Corporation, was sent by  his
superiors on an unusual mission. Ramirez a former Marine Corps sergeant
based in Miami, was told to fly immediately to San Antonio along with three
other members of SID-a unit, known as founder and chairman George
Wackenhut's "private FBI," that provided executive protection and conducted
undercover investigations and sting operations. Once they arrived, they
rented two gray Ford Tauruses and drove four hours to a desolate town on the
Mexican border called Eagle Pass. There, just after dark, they met two truck
drivers who had been flown in from Houston. Inside a nearby warehouse was an
18 -wheel tractor-trailer, which the two truck drivers and the four
Wackenhut agents in their rented cars were supposed to transport to Chicago.
"My instructions were very clear," Ramirez recalls. "Do not look into the
trailer, secure it, and make sure it safely gets to Chicago." It went
without saying that no one else was supposed to look in the trailer, either,
which is why the Wackenhut men were armed with fully loaded Remington 870
pump-action shotguns.

The convoy drove for 30 hours straight, stopping only for gas and food. Even
then, one of the Wackenhut agents had to stay with the truck, standing by
one of the cars, its trunk open, shotgun within easy reach. "Whenever we
stopped, I bought a shot glass with the name of the town on it," Ramirez
recalls. "I have glasses from Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis."

A little before 5:00 on the morning of the third day, they delivered the
trailer to a practically empty warehouse outside Chicago. A burly man who
had been waiting for them on the loading dock told them to take off the
locks and go home, and that was that. They were on a plane back to Miami
that afternoon. Later Ramirez's superiors told him-as they told other SID
agents about similar midnight runs-that the trucks contained $40 million
worth of food stamps. After considering the secrecy, the way the team was
assembled and the orders not to stop or open the truck, Ramirez decided he
didn't believe that explanation.

Neither do we. One reason is simple: A Department of Agriculture official
simply denies that food stamps are shipped that way. "Someone is blowing
smoke," he says. Another reason is that after a six-month investigation, in
the course of which we spoke to more than 300 people, we believe we know
what the truck did contain-equipment necessary for the manufacture of
chemical weapons-and where it was headed: to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And the
Wackenhut Corporation-a publicly traded company with strong ties to the CIA
and federal contracts worth $200 million a year-was making sure Saddam would
be geting his equipment intact. The question is why. In 1954, George
Wackenhut, then a 34-year old former FBI agent, joined up with three other
former FBI agents to open a company in Miami called Special Agent
Investigators Inc. The partnership was neither successful nor
harmonious-George once knocked partner Ed Dubois unconscious to end a
disagreement over the direction the company would take-and in 1958, George
bought out his partners.

However capable Wackenhut's detectives may have been at their work, George
Wackenhut had two personal attributes that were instrumental in the
company's growth. First, he got along exceptionally well with important
politicians. He was a close ally of Florida governor Claude Kirk, who hired
him to combat organized crime in the state; and was also friends with
Senator George Smathers, an intimate of John F. Kennedy's. It was Smathers
who provided Wackenhut with his big break when the senator's law firm helped
the company find a loophole in the Pinkerton law, the 1893 federal statute
that had made it a crime for an employee of a private detective agency to do
work for the government. Smathers's firm set up a wholly owned subsidiary of
Wackenhut that provided only guards, not detectives. Shortly thereafter,
Wackenhut received multimillion-dollar contracts from the government to
guard Cape Canaveral and the Nevada nuclear-bomb test site, the first of
many extremely lucrative federal contracts that have sustained the company
to this day.

The second thing that helped make George Wackenhut successful was that he
was, and is, a hard-line right-winger. He was able to profit from his
beliefs by building up dossiers on Americans suspected of being Communists
or merely left-leaning-"subversives and sympathizers," as he put it-and
selling the information to interested parties. According to Frank Donner,
the author of "Age of Surveillance", the Wackenhut Corporation maintained
and updated its files even after the McCarthyite hysteria had ebbed, adding
the names of antiwar protesters and civil-rights demonstrators to its list
of "derogatory types." By 1965, Wackenhut was boasting to potential
investors that the company maintained files on 2.5 million suspected
dissidents-one in 46 American adults then living. in 1966, after acquiring
the private files of Karl Barslaag; a former staff member of the House
Committee on Un-American Activities, Wackenhut could confidently maintain
that with more than 4 million names, it had the largest privately held file
on suspected dissidents in America. In 1975, after Congress investigated
companies that had private files, Wackenhut gave its files to the
now-defunct anti-Communist Church League of America of Wheaton, Illinois.
That organization had worked closely with the red squads of big-city police
departments, particularly in New York and L.A., spying on suspected
sympathizers; George Wackenhut was personal friends with the League's
leaders, and was a major contributor to the group. To be sure, after giving
the League its files, Wackenhut reserved the right to use them for its
clients and friends.

Wackenhut had gone public in 1965 ; George Wackenhut retained 54 percent of
the company. Between his salary and dividends, his annual compensation
approaches $2 million a year, sufficient for him to live in a $20 million
castle in Coral Gables, Florida, complete with a moat and 18 full-time
servants. Today the company is the third-largest investigative security firm
in the country, with offices throughout the United States and in 39 foreign

It is not possible to overstate the special relationship Wackenhut enjoys
with the federal government. It is close. When it comes to security
matters, Wackenhut in many respects *is* the government. In 1991, a third of
the company's $600- million in revenues came from the federal government,
and another large chunk from companies that themselves work for the
government, such as Westinghouse.

Wackenhut is the largest single company supplying security to U.S. embassies
overseas; several of the 13 embassies it guards have been in important
hotbeds of espionage, such as Chile, Greece and El Salvador. It also guards
nearly all the most strategic government facilities in the U.S., including
the Alaskan oil pipeline, the Hanford nuclear-waste facility, the Savannah
River plutonium plant and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Wackenhut maintains an especially close relationship with the federal
government in other ways as well. While early boards of directors included
such prominent personalities of the political right as Captain Eddie
Rickenbacker; General Mark Clark and Ralph E. Davis, a John Birch Society
leader, current and recent members of the board have included much of the
country's recent national-security directorate: former FBI director Clarence
Kelley; former Defense secretary and former CIA deputy director Frank
Carlucci: former Defense Intelligence Agent director General Joseph Carroll;
former U.S. Secret Service director James J. Rowley; former Marine
commandant P. X. Kelley; and acting chairman of President Bush's foreign-
intelligence advisory board and former CIA deputy director Admiral Bobby Ray
Inman. Before his appointment as Reagan's CIA director, the late William
Casey was Wackenhut's outside legal counsel. The company has 30,000 armed
employees on its payroll.

We wanted to know more about this special relationship; but the government
was not forthcoming. Repeated requests to the Department of Energy for an
explanation of how one company got the security contracts for neariy all of
America's most strategic installations have gone unanswered.

Similarly, efforts to get the State Department to explain whether embassy
contracts were awarded arbitrarily or through competitive bidding were
fruitless; essentially, the State Department said, "Some of both. "
Wackenhut's competitors-who, understandably, asked not to be quoted by
name-have their own version. "All those contracts;" said one security-firm
executive, "are just another way to pay Wackenhut for their clandestine
help. And what is the nature of that help? "It is known throughout the
industry," said retired FBI special agent William Hinshaw, "that if you want
a dirty job done, call Wackenhut." We met George Wackenhut in his swanky,
muy macho offices in Coral Gables. The rooms are paneled in a dark, rich
rosewood, accented with gray-blue stone. The main office is dominated by
Wackenhut's 12-foot-long desk and a pair of chairs shaped like elephants-
"Republican chairs," he calls them-complete with real tusks, which, the old
man says with some amusement, tend to stick his visitors. The highlight of
the usual collection of pictures and awards is the Republican presidential
exhibit: an autographed photo of Wackenhut shaking hands with George Bush
(whom Wackenhut, according to a former associate, used to call "that pinko")
as well as framed photos of Presidents Reagan, Nixon and Bush, each
accompanied by a handwritten note. The chairman looks every inch the
comfortable Florida septuagenarian. The day we spoke, his clothing ranged
across the color spectrum from baby blue to light baby blue, and he wore a
iot of jewelry-a huge gold watch on a thick gold band, two massive goid
rings. But Wackenhut was, at 72, quick and tough in his responses. Near the
end of our two-and-a-half hour interview, when asked if his company was an
arm of the CIA, he snapped, "No!"

Of course, this may just be a matter of semantics. We have spoken to
numerous experts, including current and former CIA agents and analysts,
current and former agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration and current
and former Wackenhut executives and employees, all of whom have said that in
the mid-197O's, atter the Senate Intelligence Committee's revelations of the
CIA's covert and sometimes illegal overseas operations, the agency and
Wackenhut grew very, very close. Those revelations had forced the CIA to do
a housecleaning, and it became CIA policy that certain kinds of activities
would no longer officially be performed. But that didn't always mean that
the need or the desire to undertake such operations disappeared. And that's
where Wackenhut came in.

Our sources confirm that Wackenhut has had a long- standing relationship
with the CIA, and that it has deepened over the last decade or so. Bruce
Berckmans, who was assigned to the CIA station in Mexico City, left the
agency in January 1975 (putatively) to become a Wackenhut
international-operations vice president. Berckmans, who left Wackenhut in
1981, told SPY that he has seen a formal proposal George Wackenhut submitted
to the CIA to allow the agency to use Wackenhut offices throughout the world
as fronts for CIA activities. Kichard Babayan, who says he was a CIA
contract employee and is currently in jail awaiting trial on fraud and
racketeering charges, has been cooperating with federal and congressional
investigators looking into illegal shipments of nuclear-and-chemical-weapons- 
making supplies to Iraq. "Wackenhut has been
used by the CIA and other intelligence agencies for years," he told SPY.
"When they [the CIA] need cover, Wackenhut is there to provide it for them."
Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau was said to have rebuffed Wackenhut's
effort in the 1980's to purchase a weapons propellant manufacturer in Quebec
with the remark "We just got rid of the CIA-we don't want them back."
Phillip Agee, the left-wing former CIA agent who wrote an expose' of the
agency in 1975, told us, "I don't have the slightest doubt that the CIA and
Wackenhut overlap."

There is also testimony from people who are not convicts, renegades or
Canadians. William Corbett, a terrorism expert who spent 18 years as a CIA
analyst and is now an ABC News consultant based in Europe, confirmed the
relationship between Wackenhut and the agency. "For years Wackenhut has been
involved with the CIA and other intelligence organizations, including the
DEA," he told SPY. "Wackenhut would allow the CIA to occupy positions within
the company [in order to carry out] clandestine operations." He also said
that Wackenhut would supply intelligence agencies with information, and that
it was compensated for this- "in a quid pro quo arrangement," Corbett
says-with government contracts worth billions of dollars over the years.

We have uncovered considerable evidence that Wackenhut carried the CIA's
water in fighting Communist encroachment in Central America in the 1980s
(that is to say, during the Reagan administration when the CIA director was
former Wackenhut lawyer William Casey, the late superpatriot who had a
proclivity for extralegal and illegal anti-Communist covert operations such
as Iran-contra). In 1981, Berckmans, the CIA agent turned Wackenhut vice
president, joined with other senior Wackenhut executives to form the
company's Special Projects Division. It was this division that linked up
with ex-CIA man John Phillip Nichols, who had taken over the Cabazon Indian
reservation in California, as we described in a previous article
["Badlands," April 1992], in pursuit of a scheme to manufacture explosives,
poison gas and biological weapons-and then, by virtue of the tribe's status
as a sovereign nation, to export the weapons to the contras. This maneuver
was designed to evade congressional prohibitions against the U.S.
government's helping the contras. Indeed, in an interview with SPY, Eden
Pastora, the contras' famous Commander Zero, who had been spotted at a test
of some night-vision goggles at a firing range near the Cabazon reservation
in the company of Nichols and a Wackenhut executive, offhandedly identified
that executive, A. Robert Frye, as "the man from the CIA. " (In a subsequent
conversation he denied knowing Frye at all; of course, in that same talk he
quite unbelievably denied having ever been a contra.)

In  addition  to  attempted weapons supply, Wackenhut seems to have been
involved in Central America in other ways. Ernesto Bermudez  who was
Wackenhut's director of international operations from 1987 to '89, admitted
to SPY that during 1985 and '86 he ran Wackenhut's operations in El
Salvador, where he was in charge of 1,500 men. When asked what 1 ,500 men
were doing for Wackenhut in El Salvador, Bermudez replied coyly, "Things."
Pressed, he elaborated: "Things you wouldn't want your mother to know about."
It's worth noting that Wackenhut's annual revenues from government
contracts--the alleged reward for cooperation in the government's
clandestine activities-increased by 150 million, a 45 percent jump, while
Ronald Reagan was in office. "You've done an awful lot of research, George
Wackenhut said to me as I was leaving. "How would you like to run all our
New York operations ? "

If that was the extent of Wackenhut's possible involvement in a government
agency's attempt to circumvent the law, then we might dismiss it as an
interesting footnote to the overheated, cowboy anti- Communist 1980s.
However, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida has been
conducting an investigation into the illegal export of dual-use
technology-that is, seemingly innocuous technology that can also be used to
make nuclear weapons  to Iraq and Libya. And SPY has learned that
Wackenhut's name has come up in the federal investigation, but not at
present as a target.

Between 1987 and '89, three companies in the United States received
investments from an Iraqi architect named Ihsan Barbouti. The colorful
Barbouti owned an engineering company in Frankfort that had a $552 million
contract to build airfields in Iraq. He also admitted having designed
Mu'ammar Qaddafi's infamous German-built chemical-weapons plant in Rabta,
Libya. According to an attorney for one of the companies in which Barbouti
invested, the architect owned $100 million worth of real estate and
oil-drilling equipment in Texas and Oklahoma. He may also be dead, there
being reports that he died of heart failure in Hospital in London on July 1,
1990, his 63rd birthday. Barbouti, however, had faked his death once before,
in 1969, after the Ba'ath takeover in Iraq which brought Saddam Hussein to
power as the second-in-command. That time, Barbouti escaped Iraq;
resurfacing several years later in Lebanon and Libya. There are no  reports
that he is living in Jordan -or, according to other reports, in a CIA safe
house in Florida. Those reports can be considered no better than rumor; what
follows, though, is fact.

As reported  on ABC's "Nightline" last year, the three companies in which
Barbouti invested were TK-7 of Oklahoma City, which makes a fuel additive;
Pipeline Recovery Systems of Dallas, which makes an anti-corrosive chemical
that preserves pipes; and Product Ingredient Technoiogy of Boca Raton, which
makes food flavorings. None of these companies was looking to do business
with Iraq; Barbouti sought them out. Why was he interested? Because TK-7 had
formulas that could extend the range of jet aircraft and liquid-fueled
missiles such as the SCUD; because Pipeline Recovery knows how to coat pipes
to make them usable in nuclear reactors and chemical-weapons plants; and
because one of the by-products in making cherry flavoring is ferric
ferrocyanide, a chemical that's used to manufacture hydrogen cyanide, which
can penetrate gas masks and protective clothing. Hydrogen cyanide was used
by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in the Iran-Iraq war.

Barbouti was more than a passive investor, and soon he began pressuring the
companies to ship not only their products but also their manufacturing
technology to corporations he owned in Europe,  on which, he told the
businessmen, it would be sent to Libya and Iraq. In doing so, Barbouti was
attempting to violate the law. First, the U.S. forbade sending anything to
Libya, which was embargoed as a terrorist nation. Second, the U.S. specified
that material of this sort must be sent to its final destination, not to an
intermediate locale, where the U.S. would risk losing control of its
distribution. According to former CIA contract employee Richard Babayan, in
late 1989 Barbouti met in London with Ibrahim Sabawai, Saddam Hussein's half
brother and European head of Iraqi intelligence, who grew excited about the
work Pipeline Recovery was doing and called for the company's technology to
be rushed to Iraq, so that it could be in place by early 1990. And the owner
of TK-7 swears that Barbouti told him he was developing an atom device for
Qaddafi that would be used against the U.S. in retaliation for the 1986 U.S.
air strike against Libya. Barbouri also wanted the ferrocyanide from Product

Assisting Barbouti with these investments was New Orleans exporter Don
Seaton, business associate of Richard Secord, the right-wing U.S. Army
general turned war profiteer who was so deeply enmeshed in the Iran-contra
affair. It was Secord who connected Barbouti with Wackenhut. Barbouti met
with Secord in Florida on several occasions, and phone records show that
several calls were placed from Barbouti's office to Secord's private number
in McLean, Virginia; Secord has acknowledged knowing Barbouti. He is
currently a partner of Washington businessman James Tully (who is the man
who leaked Bill Clinton's draft-dodge letter to ABC) and Jack Brennan, a
former Marine Corps colonel and longtime aide to Richard Nixon both in the
White House and in exile. Brennan has gone back to the White House, where he
works as a director of administrative operations in President Bush's office.
He refused to return repeated calls from SPY. Interestingly, Brennan and
Tully had previously been involved in a $181 million business deal to supply
uniforms to the Iraqi army. Oddly, they arranged to have the uniforms
manufactured in Nicolae Ceaucescu's Romania. The partners in that deal were
former U.S. attorney general and Watergate felon John Mitchell and Sarkis
Soghanalian, a Turkish-born Lebanese citizen. Soghanalian, who has been
credited with being Saddam Hussein's leading arms procurer and with
introducing the demonic weapons inventor Gerald Bull to the Iraqis, is
currently serving a six-year sentence in federal prison in Miami for the
illegal sale of 103 military helicopters to Iraq. According to former
Wackenhut agent David Ramirez, the company considered Soghanalian "a very
valuable client."

Unfortunately for Barbouti, none of the companies in which he made
investments was willing to ship its products or technology to his European
divisions. That, however, doesn't necessarily mean that he didn't get some
of what he wanted. In 1990, 2,000 gallons of ferrocyanide were found to be
missing from the cherry-flavor factory in Boca Raton. Where it went is a
mystery; Peter Kawaja, who was the head of security for all of Barbouti's
U.S. investments, told SPY, "We were never burglarized, but that stuff didn't
walk out by itself."

What does all this have to do with Wackenhut? Lots: According to Louis
Champon, the owner of Product Ingredient Technology, it was Wackenhut that
guarded his Boca Raton plant, a fact confirmed by Murray Levine, a Wackenhut
vice president. Champon also says, and Wackenhut also confirms, that the
security for the plant consisted of one unarmed guard. While a Wackenhut
spokesperson maintains that this was the only job they were doing for
Barbouti, he also says that they were never paid, that Barbouti stiffed

This does not seem true. SPY has obtained four checks from Barbouti to
Wackenhut. All were written within ten days in 1990: one on March 27 for
$168.89; one on March 28 for $24,828.07; another on April 5 for $756; the
last on April 6 for $40,116.25. We asked Richard Kneip, Wackenhut's senior
vice president for corporate planning, to explain why a single guard was
worth $66,000 a year; Kneip was at a loss to do so. He was similarly at a
loss to explain a fifth check, from another Barbouti company to Wackenhut's
travel-service division in 1987, almost two years before Wackenhut has
acknowledged providing security for the Boca Raton plant .

Two former CIA operatives, separately interviewed, have the explanation.
Charles Hayes, who describes himself as "a CIA asset " says Wackenhut was
helping Barbouti ship chemicals to Iraq, "Supplying Iraq was originally a
good idea," he maintains, "but then it got out of hand. Wackenhut was  just
in  it  for  the money." Richard Babayan the former CIA contract employee,
confirmed Hayes's account. He says that Wackenhut's relationship with
Barbouti existed before the Boca Raton plant opened: "Barbouti was placed in
the hands of Secord by the CIA, and Secord called in Wackenhut to handle
security and travel and protection for Barbouti and his export plans."
Wackenhut, Babayan says was working for the CIA in helping Barbouti ship the
chemical- and-nuclear-weapons-making equipment first to Texas, then to
Chicago, and then to Baltimore to be shipped overseas. All of which makes
the story of the midnight convoy ride of David Ramirez, recounted at the
beginning of this article rather less mysterious. SPY has learned that this
shipment is now the subject of a joint USDA- Customs investigation.

When we asked George Wackenhut what was being shipped from Eagle Pass to
Chicago, the sharp, straightforward chairman at first claimed they were
protecting an unnamed executive. He then directed an aide to get back to me.
Two days later, Richard Kneip did, repeating the tale that had been passed
on to David Ramirez-that the trucks contained food stamps. We told him that
we had spoken to a Department of Agriculture official, who informed us that
food stamps are shipped from Chicago to outlying areas, never the other way
around, and that food stamps, unlike money, are used once and then
destroyed. All Kneip would say then was, "We do not reveal the names of our

Wackenhut's connection to the CIA and to other government agencies raises
several troubling questions:

First, is the CIA using Wackenhut to conduct operations that it has been
forbidden to undertake? Second, is the White House or some other party in
the executive branch working through Wackenhut to conduct operations that it
doesn't want Congress to know about? Third, has Wackenhut's cozy
relationship with the government given it a feeling of security-or worse, an
outright knowledge of sensitive or embarrassing information-that allows the
company to believe that it can conduct itself as though it were above the
law? A congressional investigation into Wackenhut's activities in the
Alyeska affair last November began to shed some light on Wackenhut's way of
doing business; clearly it's time for Congress to investigate just how far
Wackenhut's other tentacles extend.

Additional reporting by Erzc Reguly, Margie Sloan and Wendell Smith

** End of article **