First Night in SBA Compound
Operation Shift Lock had begun as a DEA operation for interdiction and breakup of the criminal Palabra cartel. Originally, CIA blocked the operation because one of the targets - an important dealer in the cartel - was a CIA asset who was important to then-ongoing CIA Operation Factor Farm, which was judged to be of more importance to national security. Operation Shift Lock was aborted in the late planning stage, but, after the close of Operation Factor Farm, funding was still available and a new plan was developed for use with the same code name. Operation Shift Lock was now to be a joint CIA-DEA operation.
Operation Shift Lock was to take place at a compound on the outskirts of a mountain village with a population of roughly 2000. The village had fallen out of favor with the Palabra Cartel, which had previously offered the town protection. Now, the villagers instead turned for protection to a nearby group of leftist rebels, who occupied an area roughly the size of Manhattan island. Several of the villagers harvested coca and were offering a share of their crop to the rebels in exchange for the protection the cartel no longer afforded them.
The mayor of the village, Julio Humbaba, had previously acted as DEA informant. Claiming that he feared detection by the Cartel and harsh repercussions, he declined to continue in that role. Julio Humbaba is suspected of being an accessory to the murder of Leonard Gibbs, a DEA agent who disappeared in that area in November 1998. The DEA had previously used Humbaba as informant, hoping to gain reliable intelligence about Cartel activities and eventually to infiltrate the Cartel deeply. Gibbs had been posing as an American cocaine dealer - a distant associate of Humbaba's - and had been attempting to arrange a large buy-bust cocaine deal with the Cartel. From seized Cartel documents it is clear that Leonard Gibbs's affiliation with DEA had been compromised. Reports from field staff suggest, but do not prove, that Humbaba had revealed Leonard Gibbs's identity as an American enforcement agent to the Cartel. It may be that Gibbs was intentionally sacrificed by Humbaba as a token of his allegiance and in a successful attempt to save his own life. In any event, regardless of Humbaba's role in Leonard Gibbs' disappearance, exposure of Gibbs' true identity is what likely led to distrust between Humbaba and the Cartel, and may have been the deciding factor that broke down negotiations between the town and the Cartel. Humbaba was not executed. The reason for this remains unclear.
Because the situation had changed, the plan to shut down the cartel was abandoned. However, because funding was still available, and because of DEA's need to demonstrate progress in its efforts in Columbia - the leading supplier of cocaine to the United States - DEA made the decision to instead arrest Humbaba and shut down the town's coca plantations. The coca plantations were small, and the facts are that the raid would be insignificant in overall U.S. interdiction strategy. Because the Cartel had ceased to take an interest in the town, however, and because it was believed that the leftist rebels would be unable and unwilling to defend the town, the operation posed fewer risks than are usual for this theater and stood a good chance of success. Additionally, because the disappearance of Gibbs may have been tied to actions taken by Humbaba, the mayor's capture would make for a meaningful DEA victory. Although insubstantial in the scope of South American cocaine operations, it would help bring closure to the Gibbs case, and make for favorable press coverage.
It was also believed that the operation might undermine, if only slightly, the leftist rebel group's means of support - the coca they traded for arms and provisions. This would help political instability in the region, and potentially reinforce American relations with, and influence over, the Colombian government.
For other reasons, the CIA LA Division chief had taken a great interest in the Humbaba case and sought to make the raid a joint operation. As more information came to light, as described later in this report, this interest extended to the highest levels of government. Acting in cooperation with DEA, CIA (with support from other agencies) formulated a new plan, and the focus of the interdiction was shifted from the coca plantations to Humbaba's nearby compound.
Following the protocols established by headquarters, SBA was equipped with hidden cameras and microphones throughout. This allowed intrusions to be detected and also kept partially-cleared civilian contractors such as the code-talkers under observation.
The code-talkers, arriving from winter on the East Coast of the United States, had been cushioned from the hot climate in air-conditioned quarters the day before. At this point, the uncomfortably warm temperatures became very noticeable for them. All of the code-talkers (including the usually reserved Gordon Doe) complained about the temperatures and sweated profusely. Ed Fluegel drank a glass of water from a faucet whose water had not been deemed drinkable and became very ill.
That evening, an informant suspected of being a double agent was being questioned in a room that adjoined the code-talker's barracks. The soundproofing in the room was inadequate. The subject was being exposed to amplified music and other sounds intended to diminish his resistance and coerce a confession. Although little speech could be made out through the wall, some portions of this questioning may have been overheard by the code-talkers. No records as to the nature of the interrogation have been located by this commission.
A conversation recorded in the code-talkers' quarters reveals that the subjects may have been disconcerted by the sounds of interrogation next door, and their feelings against the agency may have grown.
Ed Fluegel: Sweet muses! (retching)
Gordon Doe: Try to relax. Want some water? Drink water.
Bruce Springsteen: You're telling us to relax. You're doing a lot better now that we're on the ground.
GD: Yes, yes. I don't like being ... in the air.
Video records indicate that Bruce Springsteen turned to look at Ed Fluegel.
BS: Poor guy.
GD: He's trembling. He's really pale. Did you hear? It was just four hours ago, and ... some minutes ... he was reciting the third tablet...
"If we go there beyond here to where
... the awful one lives,
there will be a gruesome war
in a place no one calls home,
where no one wants to stay for long..."
GD: Who did the, what translation is that?
BS: It's mine. You want some tequila?
GD: How'd you get that?
BS: You know when those servicemen started talking to me at the first stop, in Kingsville? One of them went to the PX, and ... I managed to pay for this with three autographs.
GD: I don't drink it really ... but ... ok ...
Gordon Doe drank from the bottle.
BS: "I knew this monster's reputation long ago.
Fire and death mix in his breath..."
Bruce Springsteen drank from the bottle.
GD: Now they ... that's Led Zeppelin II. I don't think I shall be able to stand it.
BS: Jimmy Page was certainly a well-read guitarist, you know.
GD: Did you meet him?
BS: Once. This is a pretty odd mix tape we've got going here. I wonder if there's something else going on there.
[A cry is faintly audible amid the music.]
BS: Ah, was that a scream?
GD: I don't like this. Bottle.
Gordon Doe drank from the bottle.
BS: Maybe they've got the Vatican Ambassador over there and they're entertaining him Noriega-style.
Bruce Springsteen drank from the bottle.
Sleep eventually overtook them.