Run an internet search for American Made, which opens Friday, and this summary pops up:
“Barry Seal, a TWA pilot, is recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America and soon finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States. The operation spawns the birth of the Medellin cartel and almost brings down the Reagan White House.”
So the Medellin cartel, and by extension the cocaine trade, was a creation of the United States, which used the profits to fight communism. That is the “true story” behind the new film, which has been rebadged.
The project started as Mena, the Arkansas airfield where the CIA supposedly dropped off the drugs, and Ron Howard signed on to direct and Tom Cruise to star. Producers changed the title to American Made and brought in director Doug Liman, who teamed with Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow.
The true back story of American Made stars the Christic Institute, a “nonprofit, interfaith center for law and national policy in the public interest” launched in the early 1980s. President Daniel Sheehan, a Harvard-trained lawyer, made his name defending nuclear martyr Karen Silkwood.
In the Christic vision, U.S. policy from the late 1950s was a massive anti-communist plot, funded by profits from drug dealing. Sheehan and Christic executive director Sara Nelson believed that Marxist dictatorships could liberate their peoples and establish social justice. They reinforced Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista junta by attacking those who supported the resistance forces, dubbed “Contras.” Nelson called them fascists and Nazis, a pack of murderers hiding behind the friendly face of Ronald Reagan.
The Christics’ prime target was U.S. Gen. John Singlaub, who actually fought Nazis in World War II and helped supply the French Resistance. The decorated hero of three wars found himself under attack in the American legal system.
In May, 1986, Sheehan filed a RICO lawsuit charging that a “secret team” of former military and CIA officers, Singlaub among them, was running U.S. foreign policy. The same omnipresent secret team, the Christics charged, was helping the Nicaraguan Contras and financing its dirty work by trafficking in cocaine.
Sheehan hit the talk-show circuit and quickly became a national figure courted by liberal Democrats such as Sen. John Kerry. Besides their Washington headquarters, the Christics boasted regional offices in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, and North Carolina. The lawsuit and the conspiracy theory played well in Hollywood.
Sheehan hung out with Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Martin Sheen, Darryl Hannah, Jane Fonda and others, who helped him stuff his war chest with an estimated $3 million – much of it raised at a $100-a-plate fundraisers and benefit concerts with Kris Kristofferson, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, and Jackson Browne. The Harvard lawyer even packaged some deals.
The Christic conspiracy provided the story for episodes of Miami Vice and Wiseguy, and was also discussed on an episode of Cagney and Lacey. Taxpayer-funded Pacifica radio stations broadcast a weekly Christic report, and public broadcasting icon and former presidential aide Bill Moyers championed the Christic cause in The Secret Government, a PBS special later turned into a book the Christics peddled for $9.95 as a resource in their “Tools for Truth” catalogue.
On June 23, 1988, U.S. District Court Judge James King dismissed the Christics’ suit and all charges. Besides their deceptive affidavits and fabricated testimony, the Christics had advanced no direct evidence or material facts to back their allegations. The Institute soon found itself under fire.
The liberal Boston Globe described it as a “far-left, celebrity fueled conspiracy boutique” and even the Nation and Mother Jones saw fit to unload on Sheehan. Likewise, a congressional subcommittee concluded that there was no evidence that the CIA participated in the cocaine trade.
On January 13, 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Christic Institute had to pay more than $1 million in compensation to the victims of their bogus lawsuit. Even so, the Christics’ crackpot theory became the basis for Gary Webb’s 1996 “Dark Alliance” series in the San Jose Mercury News, charging that the CIA was behind the flow of crack cocaine into the inner cities.
Maxine Waters was the fable’s most shrill promoter. The California Democrat even wrote a foreword to the book version of Dark Alliance.
Now comes American Made, packed with star power and based on one of the most thoroughly discredited stories of all time. With assets like that, this flick is sure bet to win many awards. The Christic Institute, meanwhile, managed a second coming of its own.
The Romero Institute, headed by Daniel Sheehan and Sara Nelson, touts “justice by sacred means.” As the Santa Cruz-based Institute explains, “The Christic Institute inspired all of us with their dedication and unrelenting pursuit for the truth. . . Exposing the structural sources of injustice, bringing the candle light of truth deep into the dark shadows of the National Security State Structure.”