Tom Cruise’s new movie, American Made, is based on the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot and CIA informant. But does it pull its punches?

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by Chris Summers                                                                                                  1 March 2017

Later this year Tom Cruise will star in a new film, American Made, based on the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot of CIA informant who was gunned down by Colombian assassins more than 30 years ago.

It is not the first barrysealcruisetime a film has been made about the case.

In 1991 Dennis Hopper starred as Seal in a made-for-TV movie, Doublecrossed.

That film came out while George H W Bush was President and only a year before he was replaced by Bill Clinton.

But a lot more has emerged about Seal’s death since 1991 – especially about the involvement of Presidents Bush and Clinton – and it seems strange that Cruise’s film skirts around some of these issues.

British author Shaun Attwood, who himself spent time in jail in Nevada for drug offences, has just published his own book on the Barry Seal story, which claims to be the “full story untold by the Tom Cruise movie”.

In it he claims George H W Bush was implicitly involved in the handling of Seal and also alleges Clinton – then Governor of Arkansas – took cocaine and turned a blind eye to what was going on at an airstrip in Mena, Arkansas, where Seal operated.

In the new film the script appears to play it straight – Cruise plays Seal (left) as a fairly heroic, if flawed, character who puts his own life at risk in an effort to expose Pablo Escobar’s infamous Medellin Cartel.

In both the film and the book there is little doubt that Seal was an outrageous character who was addicted to adrenaline and almost appeared to have a death wish.

The son of a Ku Klux Klan member from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Seal had loved flying from a very young age.

He joined the Civil Air Patrol as a youngster and came into contact with David Ferrie, a sinister character from New Orleans who was later linked to the assassination of JFK.

barrysealIn 1966 Seal (left) began working as a pilot for TWA – then one of the biggest airlines in the world – but he was fired in 1974 and sought out private work.

By the early 1980s he had realised the big money was in flying drugs into the US from South America.

He made it big when he was introduced to key players in the Medellin Cartel, who were then the biggest drug traffickers in the world.

But after Seal was busted in Louisiana he was persuaded to work as an informant for both the DEA and the CIA.

It was the two agencies’ conflicting interests which ultimately led to his death.

The DEA wanted to take down Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, while the CIA at the time – under President Ronald Reagan and his Vice President, former CIA chief George H W Bush, were obsessed with bringing down the communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

Seal discovered that Escobar was flying drugs to the US via Nicaragua and a Sandinista official, Federico Vaughan, was implicated.

Reagan, Bush and their oily acolyte Colonel Oliver North, were trying to step up support for the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua and believed exposing Sandinista involvement in drug smuggling would help with their efforts to persuade Congress to approve more funding for the Contras.

barrysealattwoodWhen Seal’s plane – specially kitted out with secret cameras – landed in Managua in June 1984 he managed to take covert photographs of Vaughan handling a shipment of cocaine.

But when the CIA leaked details of the Sandinista involvement in drugs, the Medellin Cartel twigged that Seal was not to be trusted.

From that day on he was a dead man walking.

Seal’s DEA handlers realised he could not go back to Colombia but he was employed as an undercover agent, helping to snare several major domestic drug dealers.

But in February 1986, after being given community service as part of a plea bargain in Baton Rouge, Seal turned up to work for the Salvation Army. Three assassins, sent from Colombia by Escobar (below), were waiting for him and he was gunned down in cold blood.

Luis Quintero-Cruz, Miguel Velez, and Bernardo Vasquez were later jailed for life without parole for the murder.

The DEA were furious that he had been effectively “left out to dry” by the CIA.

Cruise’s film, which is due out in September, apparently glosses over the role of Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

barrysealescobarThe producers, Universal Pictures, were also sued by one of Seal’s children, Lisa Seal Frigon, who claimed the family were not paid for their rights to the story.

She also claimed the film misrepresented his marital history, made out he had three and not five children, portrayed him as a drunkard and as a reckless pilot.

That lawsuit is believed to have been settled out of court.

American Made is unlikely to be nominated for next year’s Oscars but who is to say that there are not more Barry Seals out there right now risking their lives for the CIA and the DEA and maybe even being doublecrossed like him too.

American Made: Who Killed Barry Seal? Pablo Escobar or George H W Bush, is published by Gadfly Press and available on Amazon.


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