WHO THE HELL IS ELLIS MCKENZIE?
By Gene "Chip" Tatum
They traveled fast and furious on horseback through the high
plains wilderness, trying to lose those who were tracking them.
From the top of the bluff, hiding behind a group of boulders,
they stared in amazement as the dust from the hooves of their
pursuers' horses told the story. They were hot on Butch and
"Who are those guys?!" one of them exclaimed, more than
But it really didn't matter who these pursuers were. The
undeniable fact was simple: they were. You may call them what
you want. You may name them what you will. It doesn't really
matter because it's only a name.
As a spy, a covert operative, a talent, an asset or a deep cover
operative, your name is your cover. This alias is the thin layer
of Kevlar that protects you from the enemy. In my career I have
used over twenty aliases in order to conceal my true identity.
This applies, not only in the world of espionage, but also in the
dark world of crime.
One of the most renowned drug pilots of the 1980's was a man
named Barry Seal. Even Barry used an alias when he dealt with
his friends in South America. But, unfortunately for Seal, a/k/a
Ellis McKenzie, the thin Kevlar cover of an alias was not enough
to prevent his assassination in 1986. Barry Seal, a/k/a Ellis
McKenzie, was shot to death outside of a federal half-way house
in Baton Rouge. It was not until 1988 that I would hear his name
The tasking came in to go to La Ceiba, Honduras, and debrief a
drug informant. As I looked at the tasking, my heart jumped.
The name of the informant I was to debrief was Ellis McKenzie.
Could it be that Barry Seal was still alive?
Looking at the remainder of the mission dossier, I realized that
this man, Ellis McKenzie, was not Barry Seal. McKenzie was,
however, a member of the Seal smuggling organization. Seal had
commissioned McKenzie to assemble a small fleet of boats, capable
of smuggling drugs to various destinations. It was this man that
provided Barry Seal with an alias. The dossier explained
McKenzie's relationship with U.S. Customs, among other
governmental agencies. To avoid prosecution after Seal was
compromised by the DEA, several members of the Seal organization
aligned themselves with various law enforcement agencies.
McKenzie was recruited into the informant side of the drug
smuggling operation by Seal's ex-brother-in-law, William Bottoms.
This Bottoms/McKenzie alliance provided a useful tool for
continued drug smuggling. Bottoms and McKenzie assured their
contacts in Colombia that shipments would remain safe, while
assuring their various U.S. law enforcement contacts that they
(Bottoms/McKenzie) had and would provide information that would
devastate the drug smuggling trade. McKenzie and Bottoms
continued smuggling cocaine and heroin into the United States
under the protection of U.S. Customs agents. In return, the
traffickers would sacrifice shipments and competing drug
smugglers in order to appease their government contacts. It was
with this data, fresh on hand, that I, as Gene Duncan, a US Army
Intel Officer attached to the Defense Intelligence Agency, met
with Ellis McKenzie to receive his information.
McKenzie explained that the information he had concerned
shipments from Colombia to Mexico. That is why he was referred
to U.S. Intelligence instead of his normal contacts in U.S.
Customs or the DEA. McKenzie got right to the point. He
explained that members of the Honduran Air Force were "in bed"
with cartel leaders. Drug shipments were being flown from
Colombia, over-flying Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras,
Guatemala, or El Salvador and into Mexico. He stated that
Colonel Castro Cabus, the Commander of the Honduran Air Forces in
La Ceiba, and Captain Santiago Perdomo, the Director of Civil
Aeronautics in Tegucigalpa, were on the cartel's payroll.
McKenzie claimed that Cabus and Perdomo controlled the air space
over Honduras and allowed drug over-flights rather than putting
fighters in the air when these over-flights were reported by
I thanked Mr. McKenzie for his information and departed. I
immediately had reason to suspect the information provided by
McKenzie. Honduras air space had been controlled by a series of
radar sites and electronic monitoring facilities since 1983. On
the Caribbean coast of Honduras is a site which was called "Red
Hawk." This site sits on top of a 4,052 foot mountain. Two
additional sites are strategically placed in La Mesa and an
inland site, named "Carrot Top," on top of a 6,522 foot peak.
Additional communications facilities are located on Tiger Island,
on the Pacific side of Honduras, and Swan Island on the Caribbean
side. Most of these sites are controlled and operated by U.S.
military personnel. One site is controlled by the CIA. Although
I did not know Captain Perdomo, I did know Colonel Cabus and did
not doubt his integrity. There was definitely a need to
investigate and try to determine what this drug smuggler, turned
informant, was up to.
I called Washington and advised them that I would need some time
to look into this accusation. The Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA) authorized my time and the investigation began. It should
be noted that in the early '80's the US government removed all
DEA agents from Honduras. They were not placed back in Honduras
until the end of the decade. Most intelligence gathered in the
country was provided by drug traffickers turned confidential
informants, who were first and foremost -- drug traffickers. Or,
in the alternative, by CIA operatives who were in Honduras in
support of the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Forces (Contras).
I was only five days into the investigation when all the pieces
of the puzzle were in place and I had a clear picture. Our (DIA)
primary concern was the accusation that Colonel Castro Cabus, the
air field commander in La Ceiba, was involved in any illegal
activity. Our concern lay in the fact that Cabus would most
likely become the next Commanding General of the Honduras Air
I quickly found that the cartels had no problem over-flying
Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, but over-flights of Honduras
provided a problem. The cartel's efforts to buy Colonel Cabus
had failed. Bottoms and McKenzie saw an opening which, if
successful, would provide an invaluable service to the cartels.
They would, through their association with U.S. law enforcement
agencies, concoct a story which discredited the good Colonel and
Captain, in effect neutralize them, thinking that their
replacements may be more amiable toward a relationship with the
cartels, especially in light of the recent misfortune of their
predecessors. McKenzie also implicated a number of Honduran
businessmen involved in drug activities. Those names were:
Arturo Alverado Wood, Abraham Dip, Alan Hyde, and Albert Jackson.
But I will save the allegations against these men for another
I reported my findings to Washington and returned to Canada where
I had been working on another intelligence gathering mission.
The information, in turn, was passed on to U.S Customs.
END OF REPORT
Gene Duncan, Major
Defense Intelligence Agency
cc: Honduras Air Force
General Castro Cabus
Department of Defense
c/o Department of Defense
Abraham Dip, La Ceiba, Honduras
Arturo Wood, Islena Airlines, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Alan Hyde, c/o Hyde Shipping, Roatan, Honduras
Albert Jackson, Fantasy Island, Roatan, Honduras