Bertrand Daily Report
The War For Our Mind & Soul Continues
Capt. Dave Bertrand (Ret.)
July 5th, 2017
This event you are about to read is from 1977 thru 1981 when I was recruited as a U.S. Customs (C.I.) to gather as much intel on Miami's biggest drug smuggling operations....is a part of my life that hasn't been told to many people, because it should be known, the "war on drugs" has ALWAYS been a failure and can never be won. As law enforcement thinks they're getting smarter, the drug smuggler only gets better....especially if the smuggler is a government agent. Just as opium is flourishing because of U.S. military protection in Afghanistan, or why the CIA had to smuggle drugs out of Cambodia with their front company Air America, my story will give you insight as to how it work(ed) behind the scenes when South Florida was the drug capital of the world.
Drug smuggling in South Florida during the late 70's and through the 80's was a major financial boom for Miami...ultimately creating the fabulous Art Deco District of Miami Beach and the large glass buildings on Brickel Avenue, the heart of the banking district.
In the movie "Scarface," drug smugglers with duffel bags filled with cash, walking their profits directly into the banks, was a reality seen in the movie. Corrupt bank officials took their percentage cut from the millions being deposited daily.
The dominating factions working the drug smuggling industry were Colombians and Cubansin concert with each other for many reasons. The Cubans had connections with the Fidel Castro government for over-flight protection, including landing spots for refueling on the eastern part of the island for inbound drug laden flights from Colombia.
Landing in Cuba for fuel was necessary for drug flights to continue deep into the United States and usually...the drug was cocaine, therefore the fee paid to Cuban military officials was cost effective.
The Miami Cubans were often members of the CIA controlled anti-Castro movement called "Alpha 66," and evidently, when it came down to big money between the Miami Cubans and Castro's government, the peace pipe came out.
However..some non-payment flights from Colombia, overflying Cuba, (on rare occasions) were shot down by Cuban Mig fighter jets.....if the Cuban airforce had their radar on during the early hours before dawn, since electric power in Cuba is unreliable. Therefore, flying over the far east side of the island was a tactic for non-paying smugglers heading to northern Florida, Georgia and beyond while other flights flew over Haiti in an attempt to avoid GITMO's radar.
Delivering a load of drugs further away from Miami was much safer for the smuggler pilot, but landing at small airports in Florida was a calculated risk....especially at night or very early in the morning. Local law enforcement were very keen of such activity, hoping for a major drug bust involving a plane loaded with a 1,000 or more pounds of Colombian Gold....or better yet, cocaine.
The other tactic and reason to conserve as much fuel by flying over Cuba, was in the event of being chased by U.S. Customs aircraft and having enough fuel to proceed out-of-the-country to the Bahamas where no treaty (at the time) existed between the U.S. government and the Bahamian government, allowing U.S. law enforcement to land on any island in the Bahamas unless there was at least one Bahamian Defense Force officer onboard the DEA or U.S. Customs plane. That all changed after 1985 when corrupt Bahamian officials and island law enforcement types were removed from any and all authority as a result of President Reagan's crackdown and Naval blockade initiative.
The strategy of conserving fuel by flying over the eastern side of Cuba was also a calculated risk, considering the time it would take for Fidel Castro to launch a Mig fighter jet from the western part of the island near Havana...considered NOT likely since the smuggler pilot would have reached international airspace before the Mig fighter arrived.
Flying over the eastern side of Cuba had another obstacle for the drug smuggler.....GITMO Naval Air Station.
Often enough, U.S. Customs had a Kingair (200 mph) turbo-prop and a Cessna Citation (500 mph) jet on standby at GITMO to intercept aircraft transitioning the Cuban / Haitian corridor. GITMO radar watched for targets from the south, coordinating with Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center to verify flight plans, but since drug smugglers rarely file a flight plan, one could assume the aircraft target was a smuggler. GITMO also watched traffic heading south in the afternoon and could easily estimate the time window of when the target would be seen again flying north from Colombia in the early morning hours before dawn.
Smuggling aircraft (when suspected) were tagged "Romeo 1 (R-1)" as the first target of the day, and R-1 would be followed through the Bahamas until Homestead AFB in south Florida, where U.S. Customs "Air Detail" is stationed, would launch another U.S. Customs (Call-sign Omaha) jet or turbo-prop to intercept the R-1 target near Andros Island or Bimini with the help of the secret 160 mile range radar outpost on Andros Island known as "Rampart." The Customs jet that launched from Gitmo would either return back to Gitmo or re-fuel at Homestead. But often enough, another target would show-up on Rampart's radar un-expectantly, and the Omaha jet following R-1 would have to "break-off" the chase and track the newly acquired radar target. By the time R-20 or more were being tracked and chased in a single day, the advantage for the drug smuggler was out-of-time Customs pilots, aircraft needed maintenance, and not enough pilots....
At the Miami Air Traffic Control Center, a special radar station console at the far end of the building was managed by a U.S. Customs agent, call-sign "Sling Shot" and he/she would assist with tracking all Romeo tagged radar targets while providing details to a persuing Omaha jet. The agent would also use the "primary mode" radar tracking to "paint" the faintest targets flying low into the U.S.
Note: All flights NOT on a flight plan and suspected of smuggling rarely used their transponder to emit a radar tracking code while transitioning the Bahamas, an FAA rule that all aircraft should squawk a VFR code of 1200 that would be easily seen on any radar, therefore...the "Primary Mode" was necessary to see faint targets.
As I mentioned...the Cubans and the Colombians worked hand-in-hand with each other, even though they hated each other....the Colombians provided the product and the Cubans provided the transportation, either by boat or plane, but at the end of the day it was all about the money.
The pilots however were mostly American and because the flight schools in the Miami area were...not only training wannabe smugglers, but a place for drug operatives and owners of aircraft to park and fuel their planes, the activity at Miami flights schools was a haven for government agents.
During the 70's and 80's, prior to President Reagan's Naval blockade of boats and planes coming from Colombia, the average amount of smuggling traffic entering the United States at 50 to 100 feet off the water to avoid radar detection was a conservative 20 per day 24/7. Most aerial drug trafficking over Cuba and the Bahamas came from both Colombia and Jamaica. Bolivia cocaine was transported to Colombia for flight. All other areas of distribution from Panama north through Honduras and Guatemala came straight-up through the Gulf of Mexico into Mena Arkansas. Mexico was and still is a re-distribution country from all countries listed.
DEA, U.S. Customs, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) often relied-on "Confidential Informants" (C.I.)....all three agencies were in competition with each other for the biggest "hit."
Mix-in CIA operatives working smuggling groups (as they did in Vietnam with Air America) for clandestine transportation into Colombia, including Cuba, to arm subversive groups with weapons to over-throw a government, thus allowing drugs to fly-out, the DEA, Customs and FDLE recruited flight instructors at Miami area flight schools to keep tabs on any and all operations. The confusion was staggering and drug cases were often thrown out of court.
I was recruited by U.S. Customs around 1977 in-order to replace a fellow flight instructor that was discovered by the flight school's owner as a U.S. Customs agent. His life was threatened and mine was later, but not before I found myself in a situation that nearly got me killed after the DEA contaminated the oil on a suspected drug smuggling aircraft that ultimately caused my crash.
Homeland Security was formed after 9/11 to prevent exactly what happened to me and the suspects I was assigned to.
Before 9/11....DEA, U.S. Customs, ATF, FDLE, and local law enforcement, etc OFTEN avoidedsharing intelligence with each other because each agency had their own agenda. Basically...the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing and was the main reason for placing these agencies under one umbrella, Homeland Security.
Back in the 70's and 80's, there was no Homeland Security and it was "us against them" mentality by rogue agents.
Agent R.P. was a fellow flight instructor, I was friends with and did not know he was an agent until he asked me to meet him at a resturant one afternoon where I was introduced to a Major with U.S. Customs in full uniform. I was surprised, but more surprised when I was asked to take R.P.'s intelligence gathering role at the flight school. I agreed and my mission began as the watchdog of all activety coming and going.
Certain Colombians and Cubans would come and go, planes with extra fuel tanks would depart aroundand return filthy dirty by the next day. I'd chat with the pilots and won their confidence.
I was often asked if I wanted to fly a load for $30,000 (Pot) and $75,000 for (cocaine) and hinted I would because I needed their confidence and intel. When it came down to a commitment, I was able to remove myself from further requests, except for flying one of their planes to a maintenance location that brought a lot of heat on me of which I could not explain my ties with U.S. Customs.
I also had a couple students, upgrading their private pilot's licenses to instrument and multi-engine ratings, along with them wanting me to teach them how to safely land on dirt strips and low altitude flying. I guess I was learning with them, but had much more flying experience to do it safely. After a training flight, it was not uncommon for the student to hand me a $100 note.
I thought to myself, this is an easy job as a C.I. that also paid well for giving U.S. Customs aircraft tail numbers, activity reports and pilot's names, but the big one came when I was asked to pick-up a recently purchased Cessna 421 Golden Eagle from New York and bring it to Miami for maintenance. The pay was more than usual and the owner was a Colombian.
Red flags went-up at U.S. Customs Sector 5 Intelligence Section and I was asked to stay in-touch with the Colombian.
One thing led to another and I was asked to fly the plane, for the Colombian, along with his Cuban partner, to a clandestine airstrip....outside of Maracaibo Venezuela, completely legal and on a flight plan.
According to the Colombian, the plane would be used to fly marijuana out of Colombia....airdrop the load somehwere in the Bahamas or near the U.S., then fly back toVenezuela without refueling. According to pilot smuggler I talked to, that was nearly a fail safe flight to avoid U.S. laws.
My USC handler (R.P.) asked if I was willing to get further involved with them and gather as much intel as possible, especially the location of the clandestine airstrip in Venezuela and where the Colombian airstrip was located. I agreed to the Venezuelan airstrip location, but very leery about other flights. USC (R.P.) assured me of no consequences, but after the crash...I learned quickly, the agencies do not work together (back then) and as you will read...the DEA nearly killed me.
It was about, the Cessna 421 was fueled, and to be sure the aircraft was up to par, I brought along a mechanic friend the Colombian agreed to. Our first stop was an overnight in Georgetown Exuma island in the Bahamas.
I fired-up the engines and we were about to taxi-out to runway 9L at Opa-Locka (Miami) when two guys, we saw often in the adjacent hangar painting a Cessna 150, stood outside to watch us depart....smiling and waving as if they knew us. I thought it was strange, but off we went.
Little did I know we had valve grinding compound in the plane's oil system and it takes a few hours before an engine can seize-up.
A few weeks or a month earlier, a DC-3 loaded with marijuana was being chased by a DEA Huey helicopter with a couple of Bahamian Defense Force agents onboard. Because the helicopter was behind and below the DC-3 and only cruising at about 120 mph for an airdrop over the ocean, the helicopter stayed with the aircraft, but when the crew in the back of the DC-3 began dumping bales of pot out the back door, the first few bales struck the helicopter and killed the DEA flight crew and all others onboard.
Rules for chasing a suspect aircraft changed immediately by staying slightly above and behind instead of below, which exposes the chase plane more easily to the pilot smuggler and crew.
Revenge by the DEA was quick and swift when it was learned that a Twin Beech 18 sitting at the Bimini Airport.... linked with the owners of the DC-3, was targetted for deadly sabotage.
DEA agents were seen by a Bahamian Police officer, of whom told me personally, watched agents place explosives inside the wheel well of the aircraft one evening. When the plane took-off for Colombia, and the gear began to retract, the Beech 18 exploded and crashed.
The two characters that stood outside the hangar, smiling and waving to us....it was told to me later by other flight instructors, they were both DEA agents watching the plane that I was watching. They are suspected by me as the ones that contaminated the oil system with valve grinding compound.
The Colombian, his partner the Cuban and me and the mechanic spent the night in Georgetown. The best part of the trip was that I fell in temporary love with a Canadian woman, of whom later watched me dying on the table at the makeshift clinic, with massive internal bleeding (according to the doctor) along with a broken back.
After leaving Miami the morning before and a great evening in Georgetown, the plane was refueled by the Bahamian fueler and my mechanic checked the Cessna 421 for any discrepancies, checklist complete...we taxied to the end of the runway for a southeast departure.
Both the Colombian and the Cuban sat behind us, facing the tail, as I advanced the throttles tomaximum power for take-off.
As we lifted-off the runway and at approximately 200 feet, the left engine made a loud bangand the right engine began losing power. I had already retracted the landing gear and that is when everything went into slow motion as I discussed our situation with my mechanic sitting in the right seat. Up to that point, my training and skills kicked-in and I did not feel any sense of panic...thinking it would be an airplane gliding to the water.
He agreed that if I were to attempt a landing straight ahead on the remaining runway, we would definately crash into a DC-3 that was parked at the very end (on the runway no less).
Therefore...I decided that I would glide the plane with partial power into the beach water on the otherside of a small hill in front of us.
Unfortunately, the hill was the impact point as we slammed nose first, bursting into flames. Because the Cessna was a 1968 model, it did not have shoulder harnesses and my mechanic and I both sustained broken backs with extensive burns.
The Colombian and the Cuban left the aircraft immediately without saying "goodbye," or "have a nice day," and because they were facing the tail in club seating, they did not break their backs and left us to die.
I said to my mechanic, I think I broke my back and he said the same.
We both agreed....broken back or not, it was getting very hot with flames all around the aircraft, knowing we would have to go through the fire to get away from the crash. My mechanic went right through the fire, but I instead decided to climb on the wing and stand on top of the fuselage to assess the situation in-order to decide the best escape route. There was none...a really stupid move on my part.
Somehow, I do not remember how I got from the top of the plane, saying to myself it was over for me, and somehow on the ground away from the fire...crawling along a path.
The locals were nearby.....found my mechanic and placed both of us in a pick-up truck bed that felt like a frying pan from the heat as the plane exploded, shooting fire and smoke a couple hundred feet into the air.
We were taken to the makeshift clinic in the village where an American doctor told the Colombian and Cuban that he did not expect us to live, because he suspected internal bleeding.
The doctor asked us if we would like to have a priest respond for "absolution." I asked..."what's that? He said "last rights."
The Catholic priest showed-up and did his thing while half the village waited outside the clinic....
The Bahamian Defense Force dispatched two Tri-Islander aircraft to the island to transport us to Nassau.
I spent 3 weeks in the Nassau hospital, on a bed in the hallway in terrible pain.
I had no idea that USC would eventually send a Lear Jet ambulance to pick me up and fly me to the V.A. hospital in Miami where I spent another 3 weeks recovering.
While in the V.A. Hospital, I decided my flying career was over...didn't want anymore airplane excitement and even experience PTSD when I had to fly out of Miami on an Eastern Airlines L-1011, wearing a back brace that extended (on the front) to my groin area.
Sitting by a window seat in the back of the jet, the pilot began the take-off roll, I panicked and ripped-off my shirt to take the back brace off, because any unexpected accident would have wiped-out my entire groin area....today shoulder harnesses are my best friend.
As time went by friends encouraged me to fly again because that would be the only way to get-over my PTSD.
I eventually did and surprisingly enough, I was hired by a group of aviation attorneys and a former Miami Circuit Court Judge to head-up a new company called the Intelligence Support Agency Inc (I.S.A.) later taken-over by Colonel Oliver North involved with Reagan's weapons, drug running Iran / Contra affair.....I went-on to fly DC-6 cargo planes and later jets.
During my 4 years with I.S.A., our customers were mainly Lloyds of London Insurance, Cessna Finance Corporation and government ....repossessing and stealing back confiscated aircraft in foreign countries, including intelligence gathering and infiltration of a communist political group attempting to overthrow the Bahamian government, the PLP.
After my plane crash, I learned that only one engine did not melt to the ground and one passenger's item did not burn in the firey crash.
The left engine was shipped to Miami for the FAA to inspect and discovered valve grinding compound in the engine and at the crash site, a bible from the Cuban's baggage did not burn.
I believe the two DEA agents, posing as aircraft painters at the same flight school, were the criminals that sabotaged the Cessna 421 out-of-revenge for the simple reason, the real war on drugs was personal during the 70's and 80's in South Florida.
I also learned how corruption in the drug smuggling days of Miami between the government and groups like "Alpha 66" flourished. And if you think it's not happening now along the southwest border...think again.
The DEA will continue to argue and convince AG Sessions that there is no merit in legalizing marijuana for the simple reason...the DEA would become a limited agency with fewer agents on the payroll...a payroll (often) coming from both sides of the so-called "Drug War."
From The Desk of Capt. Dave Bertrand (Ret.) Int'l Airline Freight Captain on the DC-8 stretch jet / B-727 series 200 jet & First Officer DC-6 prop & DC-10 wide-body jet), 72' to 76' U.S. Army Veteran (Military Police) 'Comms Sergeant' (Korea), Law Enforcement (State), DHS Trained Counter-Terrorism Instructor for HWW, Border Security Specialist, Political Analyst and Activist to help "Make America Great Again" while exposing the "Deep State" shadow government enemy.
My mission is to slice through the propaganda, encourage everyone to write and share important news among our network of patriots, military, law enforcement and selected news media sources (we trust). We are the pulse of America and we will prevail.