A federal drug agent testified today he was told that a White House aide leaked details of one of the government's most sensitive cocaine investigations--thus ending it prematurely--in order to expose drug smuggling by the Nicaraguan government.
Ernest Jacobsen, an undercover agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that following the leak in July 1984, "I heard from my superiors the leak came from an aide in the White House."
While Jacobsen did not name the official, the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime released pages from Oliver L. North's diary showing the former National Security Council aide made frequent references to the operation in the weeks before the leak.
And the diary shows he was aware of photographs from the investigation showing cocaine being loaded at a Nicaraguan airstrip. A purported Nicaraguan government official who aided the smuggling operation was in the pictures.
Plan to Leak Data Told
Jacobsen, testifying from behind a screen to hide his features, also said that shortly before the leak, a CIA agent in Miami told him the spy agency planned to leak the material to the news media to show Sandinista involvement in smuggling.
The hearing was the first in a series by the crime subcommittee into whether Reagan Administration officials condoned drug smuggling and other criminal activities to further its Central American policy--especially winning aid for the Contra rebels.
The panel is particularly interested in whether Administration officials obstructed law enforcement operations, as may have occurred in the 1984 investigation.
Panel Chairman William J. Hughes (D-N.J.) said a vote on aid to the Reagan Administration-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua was moving through Congress when the story was leaked on Sandinista drug smuggling.
Jacobsen said the leak ended "one of the most significant cocaine investigations in DEA history," which he said could have led to the arrest of the entire leadership of Colombia's cocaine cartel. The cartel was operating inside Nicaragua at the time, Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen told the subcommittee that convicted drug pilot Barry Seal was working for the DEA in the sting operation. The agent described Seal's extensive contact with the Colombian cartel and with Federico Vaughn, identified by Jacobsen as an official of the Nicaraguan Interior Ministry.
According to Jacobsen, the CIA placed cameras in an airplane that Seal flew to Nicaragua in 1984 to film the loading of cocaine at a military airstrip.
He said the pictures had been developed at CIA headquarters near Washington and then "taken to the White House."
"The CIA wanted to release them to the press, to show the Sandinistas were dealing in cocaine," Jacobsen said.
The agent said DEA officials initially persuaded the CIA to change its mind, but shortly afterward a story on the operation appeared in the Washington Times.
He said that story ended the operation, and the DEA frantically began to make all the arrests possible at that point.
Agent Declines to Testify
Hughes said a CIA witness was invited to testify on the agency's role in the operation, but he notified the committee he would refuse to cooperate on Fifth Amendment grounds of self-incrimination.