PARTNERS IN POWER
by Roger Morris
Early in 1984, a twenty-nine-year-old Arkansas trooper named Larry Douglass
Brown was eagerly applying for work with the Central Intelligence Agency.
As he told the story with impressive substantiation from other accounts a decade
afterward, Brown had been privy to some of the Clintons' most personal liaisons,
their biting relationship with each other, their behind-the-doors bigotry toward
"redneck" Arkansas, and other intimacies; he and a stoic Hillary had even talked
earnestly about problems in their respective marriages. At one point in the early
1980s, Brown had come in contact with Vice President Bush during an official
gathering. Th e"rather conservative' young officer, as one friend described him,
had been impressed by Bush. Afterward Clinton has twitted him about his
Republican "hero," though the two remained close. Regarded as among the better
state police officers, Brown received some of the most sophisticated training that
national law enforcement agencies offer regional police officers, including
advanced courses provided by the DEA and Customs in intelligence gathering,
drug importation, and conspiracy cases. Because of Brown's extensive training,
Clinton handpicked him to serve of a state committee studying the drug epidemic
to help develop educational programs in Arkansas, and Brown wrote several of
the panel's position papers later cited as evidence of the state government's fight
By Brown's repeated accounts, including hundreds of pages of testimony under
oath and supporting documentation, the sum of the story was stark: The
governor had clearly been aware of the crimes of Mena as early as 1984. He
knew the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible, knew that there was
major arms and drug running out of western Arkansas, believed the smuggling
involved not only Barry Seal but also a cocaine dealer who was one of Clinton's
most prominent backers, and seemed to know that approval of the Mena flights
reached as high as Vice President Bush. Brown remembered how Bill Clinton
had encouraged him to join in the operation -- "Clinton got me into this, the
governor did," he would testify -- and how Clinton had then dismissed his
repugnance at the evidence that Seal was trafficking cocaine under CIA auspices.
The state policeman watched in "despair," his brother recalled, while the
governor did nothing about the drug smuggling. Brown would still think a
decade later that Bill Clinton "was surprised only in that I had found out about it."
Clinton had urged him to answer a newspaper ad for CIA employment that ran
in the NEW YORK TIMES on April Fool's Day, 1984. "L.D., I've always
told you you'd make a good spy," Clinton remarked to him when Brown
showed him the paper and asked "if this is for real?" "Well, you know that's
not his name," Clinton said of a personnel officer listed in the ad, "but you need
to write him a letter." Brown did just that two days later. "Governor Clinton
has been an inspiration for me to further my career in government service," he
wrote, " and in particular to explore the possibilities of employment with your
Clinton proceeded to show an avid interest in Brown's application. He urged
Brown to study Russian for an intelligence career, and Brown characteristically
took the advice to heart, practicing the foreign script in a copybook and artlessly,
proudly informing the CIA of his "understanding the Cyrillic alphabet." He and
Clinton talked, too, of the role of an operations officer, with Clinton explaining
the CIA's diplomatic cover abroad and the recruitment of informers. "It was
strange, you know. He was into the fiction aspect of it and intrigue," Brown
At one point Clinton told him he would personally call the CIA on his behalf.
"He, obviously, from all our conversations, knew somebody," Brown recounted
in a sworn deposition. "I don't know who he called, but he said he would. He
said he did. I made a note one day that he made a phone call for me." But in a
private conversation Brown would go even further with the story of the call.
Clinton, he said, had not bothered to go through any officeholder's liaison or
other formal CIA channel in Washington but had simply telephoned someone
directly at the agency, someone whom he knew on a first-name basis and with
whom he talked for some time. As usual, Brown was impressed with his boss's
knowledge and contacts. Early in the process the governor had begun to greet him
whenever they met with a grinning question they both understood to refer to
Brown's relationship with the CIA. "You having any fun yet?" Clinton would ask.
By the end of the summer of 1984 -- four months after taking and passing a CIA
entrance examination -- Brown had met with a CIA recruiter in Dallas, someone
named Magruder, an "Ivy League looking guy" who spoke "admiringly of Clinton,"
and whom Brown would later recognize in photographs and identify to congressional
investigators in 1996 as a onetime member of Vice President Bush's staff. This was
the man who asked him if he would be interested in "paramilitary" or "narcotics"
work as well as "security." Brown said he wanted to be considered for such
assignment and, in the course of the interview, duly signed a secrecy agreement.
Somebody, he was told, would be giving him a call.
On September 5 he received formal notification of his nomination for employment.
Scarcely a month later the expected CIA call came to his unlisted number at home.
As Brown testified, the caller "talked to me about everything I had been through in
the meeting in Dallas, ... made me very aware that he knew everything there was to
know." He asked Brown to meet him at Cajun's Wharf in Little Rock, a popular
restaurant and bar off Cantrell Road in the Arkansas River bottoms just below the
white heights. His name, he said, was Barry Seal.
At their meeting, the corpulent Seal was memorable for the athletic young state
trooper. "Big guy. He had one of those shirts that comes down ... outside your
pants, big-guy kind of thing." Seal was cryptic but again seemed clearly to know
details Brown had provided on his CIA application. "He knew about the essay
and everything I had done, so absolutely there was no question in my mind,"
Brown testified. Seal also spoke vaguely about working for the CIA: "He'd been
flying for the agency, that's all I knew." In comnversations over the next few
weeks, Seal referred casually to Clinton as "the guv" and "acted like he knew
the governor," Brown recalled. He invited Brown to join him in an "operation"
planned to begin at Mena Intermountain Regional just before sunrise on Tuesday,
October 23, 1984.
Arranging his shifts at the mansion to make time for the flight, Brown met Seal at
the Mena airport in the predawn darkness and was surprised to find them boarding
not a small private craft but a "huge military plane" painted a dark charcoal with
only minimum tail markings, its engines roaring with a "thunderous noise," he
remembered. "Scared the shit out of me just taking off."
Seal ordered him matter-of-factly to leave behind all personal identification,
including his billfold, keys and jewelry. Along with Seal at the controls sat a
copilot whose name Brown never learned, and in the back of the aircraft sat two
men, "beaners" or "kickers" the trooper called them. Though he did not know it,
Brown was aboard the FAT LADY, and his later account marked the flight as
on of Mena's routine gun-and-drug runs.
After a refueling stop in New Orleans and the flight to Central America, the
C-123K dived below radar, then climbed and dipped again for the "kickers" to
roll out on casters large tarp-covered palettes, which were swiftly parachuted
over what Brown could see out the open cargo door was a tropical, mountainous
terrain. Later Sal told Brown the loads were M-16s for the Contras. On the
return they landed in Honduras, where Seal and the "kickers" picked up four
dark green canvas duffel bags with shoulder straps, which Brown did not see
Back at Mena Seal handed Brown a manilla envelope with $2,500 in small bills,
presumably as payment for his time -- "used money just like you went out and
spent," Brown recalled -- and said he would call him again about another
"operation." As the ambitious young trooper testified later, he was diffident
about this apparent audition with his CIA employers, reluctant to ask questions,
even about the cash. "This guy (Seal) obviously knew what he was doing and
had the blessing and was working for the agency and knew everything about me,
so I wasn't going to be too inquisitive."
At the mansion on Brown's next shift following the run to Central America,
Clinton greeted him with the usual "You having any fun yet?" though now
with a pat on the back. With a "big smile" Brown answered, "Yeah, but this
is scary stuff," describing "a big airplane" which he thought "kind of crazy."
But Bill Clinton seemed unsurprised and unquestioning, casual as always
about what Brown told him about the CIA, Seal and Mena. "Oh, you can
handle it," he said again. "Don't sweat it."
Brown was startled at the governor's obvious prior knowledge of the flight.
"He knew before I said anything. He knew," Brown testified. Asked later
under oath if he believed the Seal flight had been sanctioned by the governor,
Brown would be unequivocal. "Well, he knew what I was doing. He was the
one that furthered me along and shepherded me through this thing." Did he
have any doubt that Clinton approved of the flight from Mena to Central
America:? "No," he testified. Did he believe the Seal run "a sanctioned and
approved mission on behalf of the United States?" "Absolutely. I mean, there
is no doubt."
Not long afterward, in the later fall of 1984, Seal called the trooper as promised,
again inquiring about Clinton: "he always asked me first thing, how is the guv?"
They talked about the first flight and Seal, ruminating on his service for the CIA,
confirmed that they had dropped a load of contraband M-16s for the Contras.
"That's all he talked about was flying and (the) CIA and how much work he had
done for them, and that's all he did. That's all we would talk about," Brown
recalled. They met again, this time at a Chinese restaurant near the Capitol, and
arranged for Brown to go on another trip in late December.
On Christmas Eve, 1984, once more with the governor's encouragement, Brown
again flew with Seal to Central America on what he still understood to be some
kind of orientation mission for his CIA employment. Seal picked up two duffel
bags on the return through Honduras, and just as before, back at Mean he offered
Brown $2,500 in small bills. Yet this time Seal also brought one of the duffels to
Brown's Datsun hatchback in the Intermountain Regional parking lot and
proceeded to take out of it what the former narcotics investigator instantly
recognize as a kilo of cocaine, a "waxene-wrapped package," as he called it,
Alarmed and incensed, brown quickly told Seal he "wanted no part of what was
happening" and left, speeding back to Little Rock in mounting agitation, not least
over the role of the state's chief executive. "I'm just going nuts in my mind with
all the possibilities," he would say. "I'm thinking, well , this is, this is an official
operation. Clinton got me into this, the governor did. It can't be as sinister as I
think it is ... He knew about the airplane flights. He knew about it and initiated
the conversation about it the first time I came back."
Returning to the guardhouse, Brown first called his "best friend," his brother
Dwayne in Pine Bluff, who remembered his being "terribly upset" and later went
to the mansion to see him when the Clintons were away. According to the two
men, Brown told his brother part of what he had encountered, though without
mentioning the CIA involvement. "Who's pushing this. Who is behind it?" his
brother asked at one point. In reply, as each recalled clearly, Brown "nodded
over towards the governor's mansion."
Brown decided to approach Clinton directly about what he has seen. When they
were together soon after the second flight, a smiling Clinton seemed about to ask
the usual question. But Brown was angry. He asked Clinton if he knew Barry
Seal was smuggling narcotics. "Do you know what they're bringing back on that
airplane?" He said to Clinton in fury. "Wait, whoa, whoa, what's going on?" the
governor responded, and Brown answered, "well, essentially they're bringing back
coke." More than a decade later, Brown would testify to his dismay at Clinton's
response" "and it wasn't like it was a surprise to him. It wasn't like -- he didn't
try to say, what? ... He was surprised that I was mad because he though we were
going to have a cordial conversation, but he didn't try to deny it. He didn't try to
deny it wasn't coming back, that I wasn't telling the truth or that he didn't know
anything about it."
In waving off Brown's questions about Mena, Clinton had made another remark
as well, added as what seemed both justification and warning. "And your hero
Bush knows about it," he told Brown. "And your buddy Bush knows about it."
Brown was chilled. "I'm not going to have anything else to do with it ... I'm out
of it," he told Clinton. "Stick a fork in me, I'm done," he added, an adolescent
phrase from their shared Arkansas boyhood. The governor had tried to calm him:
"Settle down. That's no problem." But Brown turned away, hurried to his car,
and drove off, leaving behind his once-promising career. "I got out of there, and
from then it was, you know, not good."
The trooper immediately called the CIA to withdraw his application, albeit
discreetly. "Just changed my mind," he recalled telling them. But he saw no
recourse, no appeal to some higher level of government in a crimes in which both
the governor of the state and Washington were knowledgeable and thus complicit.
"I mean if the governor knows about it ... and I work for the governor," he
remembered thinking, "exactly who would I have gone to and told? I mean, the
federal government knows that this guy is doing this ... I don't know what authority
I would have gone to." More than a year later, as they were having drinks in
Jonesboro, Brown would tell the commandant of the state police, Colonel Tommy
Goodwin, but even then he acted out of a desire to confess his unwitting
involvement rather than out of any expectation that Arkansas would move on the
crimes. All the while, he was bothered by the role of his onetime hero at the
mansion. "Number one," he would testify later of Bill Clinton, "he didn't deny
it. I wanted him to tell me, OH, GOOD GOSH, THAT'S TERRIBLE. WE'VE
GOT TO REPORT THIS. And I wanted him to deny knowing anything about it
or explain it away to me ... THEY'VE GOT A BIG STING PLANNED, AND
THEY'RE TRYING, YOU KNOW, TO MAKE A CASE ON SUCH AND
SUCH, but no. It was no surprise to him. He was surprised, I think -- this is
what I think -- that Seal showed it to me. That's what I think to this day."
But perhaps what most disturbed L.D. Brown was a direct reference by Clinton
to a member of the governor's own inner circle. Clinton "throws up his hands"
when Brown mentions the cocaine, as if a crucial, somehow rationalizing
distinction should be made between the gunrunning and the drug trafficking.
"Oh, no," Clinton said, denying that the cocaine was related to the CIA Brown