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Big White Lie, The – Review

by: Levine, Michael

Publisher: Thunder’s Mouth Press

Copyright: 1993

Type: Softcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 6/6/1995

Summary: Recommended.

Republished from Crushies Book Reviews – Volume II Issue No. 6 – June 1995 – Copyright 1995.

You already know the story.

A frog living in a small pond is visited by a frog living in the backwash of an ocean. The frog living in the pond wanted to know if the visitor’s ocean home is as big as his pond. The visitor told him that his home was much, much bigger, much, much better. The pond frog did not believe this. Wanting to have a look for himself, the pond frog traveled with the visitor to his ocean home. Upon seeing the ocean, the pond frog swelled-up and literally exploded. He had never seen anything so huge.

This of course is a variation of the little fish in a big pond analogy. It is also reminiscent of an incident in World War II when Joseph Stalin was told that the Pope was willing to help in Russia’s war effort and Stalin reportedly replied, “How many troops does he have?”

The frog story is also an encapsulation of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) efforts in the “drug war” as lived and reported by Michael Levine in The Big White Lie.

In 1978 Special Agent Levine, who had spent thirteen years in drug battles on the streets of New York and elsewhere, was transferred to Buenos Aires, Argentina. By January, 1981 he says he was barely doing his job. He discovered that the less enforcement he did, the better he got along with bosses.

The Big White Lie would be of only passing interest as a cops and drug-crime story were it not for the unequivocal message behind the story. Others are delivering the same message. Robert M. Stuttman and Richard Esposito in Dead On Delivery (Warner Books, 1992) is another cops and drug-crime story with the message. Evil Money by Rachel Ehrenfeld (reviewed in the February 1995 issue) is an undiluted, 248 page rendition of the message. Recent events in the DEA with the retirement of the legendary number two Special Agent in the Chicago office, Frank White, adds squeak to the message with reports that Special Agent White was critical of the Clinton’s administration’s effort in the “drug” war (Chicago Tribune, June 4, 1995). And then there is Ronald Kessler’s The FBI (1993, Pocket Books) in which the message is delivered almost as an afterthought by a couple of FBI agents on the front-line in the “drug war”.

Michael Levine delivers the message after introducing us to the Roberto Suárez drug trafficking organization.

In 1980, eight hundred and fifty-four pounds of cocaine base was seized in Miami and two traffickers, Alfredo “Cutuchi” Gutierrez and Jose Roberto Gasser, both members of the Surárez organization, were arrested. Gasser was released from jail and returned to Bolivia after the Assistant U. S. Attorney, Michael “Pat” Sullivan decided there was not enough evidence to indict him. Gutierrez walked out of a Miami jail and returned to Bolivia after having his bail reduced from $3 million to $1 million. The result of the largest drug seizure up to that time was that none of the major traffickers were indicted and no one went to jail.

Soon after the alleged traffickers were out of jail, there occurred the watershed event in illicit drug-trafficking history known as the Bolivian Revolution of July 17, 1980–the Cocaine Coup.

According to Levine and others, bureaucratic cliques within the U. S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency played a major role in seeing to it that the Bolivian Revolution took place. If American government help wasn’t enough, according to Rachel Ehrenfeld in Evil Money, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon reportedly offered money in support of the coup. Klaus Barbie, the Nazi war criminal, provided security. As a result of the help, General Garcia Mesa was sworn in as President and Arce-Gomez as Minister of Interior of Bolivia. Arce-Gomez was a cousin of Roberto Suárez. The Bolivian “anti-communist” coup of July, 1980 ushered in the first government fully controlled by drug traffickers.

The irony of the Bolivian Revolution is that while one bifurcated arm of the United States government was doing everything legally and illegally possible to install drug dealing, anti-communists into seats of power, another arm, the DEA, was fighting to not only keep the drug dealing, anti-communists out of power, but to lock them up as well.

If this sounds simplistic, that’s because facts usually are simple. When you start stirring in murky ingredients like “national security” and “national self-interests”, you smother the simplicity under a glaze of principles which have only a tenuous connection to the facts.

Trivial Pursuit

“For decades, the CIA, the Pentagon, and secret organizations like Oliver North’s Enterprise have been supporting and protecting the world’s biggest drug dealers”.

(Levine, page 463).

Soon after the Cocaine Coup, Levine sent off to his superiors in DEA headquarters a proposal for an undercover operation in which he would go to Bolivia and purchase 200 kilos of cocaine from Bolivian Minister of Interior Arce-Gomez and Hugo Hurtado-Candia, the front man in the deal. Leading up to that proposal, Levine did a compilation of known information about other figures involved in the South American drug trade–including Sonia Atala. Sonia Atala becomes a central character in the book after she comes to the United States and becomes an informant for DEA. Sonia Atala, who benefited form the Bolivian Revolution as a drug dealer, was also apparently being chaperoned by the CIA.

Early in The Big White Lie, on page 76, Levine poses the intriguing question of whether the Bolivian Cocaine Coup was part of a worldwide plot by the CIA to throw the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. (Presumably another part of that plot was the holding of hostages by Iran). To say President James Earl Carter was unpopular in the dusty maze of bureaucratic fiefdoms of the United States government would be an understatement. By posing the scenario of a grand scheme comprised of moneyed interests and government bureaucratic interests to topple Carter, Levine hits a resonant cord that twangs in the background for the next 400 pages or so.

On the surface, Levine builds a strong, unrelenting argument, bolstered by other sources.

In August 1980, Carter’s administration cancelled $200 million in aid to Bolivia and ordered the closing of DEA Bolivian offices. These moves supposedly played into the hands of the architects of the Cocaine Coup. Carter invoked the principle of supporting democratic government to deny aid to Bolivia; the CIA used the principle of national security to protect the narco-traffickers and Nazi work-alikes who installed the undemocratic Bolivian government. Waffling around in the bubble between principles and fact with no paddle or influence in the big ocean of international politics, the DEA was trying to put somebody “big” in jail for dumping narcotics onto the streets of America.

There is no doubt that the CIA, by protecting key people in narco-trafficking organizations, greatly facilitated the growth of the narcotics trade in America. The role of the CIA was probably not as significant and certainly not as formalized as that portrayed by Kenneth C. Bucchi in C.I.A: Cocaine in America? [see December 1994 issue]). Assistance provided by the CIA to traffickers resulted from a combination self-delusion in both the political and intelligence communities (the national security spiel) and bureaucratic ineptness–CIA individualist with their own agenda. The masters of the Bolivian Cocaine Coup and narco-traffickers everywhere benefited.

Arce-Gomez, very anti-communist, very up to his neck in the lucrative cocaine trafficking trade, promised to ‘”flood”‘ the United States with cocaine. He did.

Americans love winners. Conversely, Americans hate losers. It’s a character trait. The American public never identified a winner in the Bolivian situation. But they did spot the loser.

After Reagan was elected, the nation suddenly discovered it was in a drug war.

Somewhere between declaring war on drugs and actually fighting the war, someone decided to turn it into one of those billion-dollars a year federal “programs” that couldn’t win a victory over a bowl of boiled cabbage dumped into a toilet commode with the flusher handle tied to the revolving door of a J. C. Penny’s selling pantyhose at 50% off. Going through the motions: Too many interests dependent upon the problem and none benefiting from a solution. That’s what the major part of the drug war is all about. A smaller part is about the Michael Levines’ in the DEA and FBI who put their lives on the line to do the battle, to uphold the law.

Levine never received a definitive answer to his undercover proposal to buy 200 kilos of cocaine from Arce-Gomez and Hugo Hurtado-Candia. Instead, he was ordered to open his case files to the CIA so they could determine exactly what information he had on figures in the Bolivian government. He was also asked whether he wanted to be transferred out of Argentina. Apparently his attempt to build a drug trafficking case against the Bolivian government had “pissed off State Department people, Miami DEA, the U. S. Attorney’s office in Miami, and people . . . In headquarters”.

It’s the little fish in a big pond analogy.

“DEA street agents are administratively vulnerable to being fired at almost any time. Their lives are governed by three manuals. . .that include some of the most ridiculous, unrealistic, and oppressive regulations the suits have invented since the Internal Revenue Code–regulations that are clearly intended to cover the bureaucrats’ asses and to keep the street agents silenced, fearful for their jobs, and under absolute control.”

Levine – page 107.

In reading The Big White Lie, we are pulled back and forth between policy issues and procedural issues. Levine does a good job of presenting both. He probably overplays the role of DEA management in making policy. It is a big ocean. In Dead on Delivery, Robert Stutman presents a more realistic picture. But as for the assessment of the policy, Levine echoes just about every one else who has objectively looked at the “drug war”–it’s a soap opera without an end.

Read the book.




Ladder of Years – Book Review

LadderOfYearsBy: Anne Tyler

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Copyright: 1994, ISBN: [0449910571]

Type: Hardcover

reviewed by:  Leslie Yau, June 5, 1995


Summary: Probably for Anne Tyler fans only.

Republished from Crushies Book Reviews – Volume II Issue No. 6


If you are dreaming of a cool, fun-filled vacation, go to the beach. If you are thinking about running away from home, read Anne Tyler’s LADDER OF YEARS. You might be surprised at how easy running away can be. No packing involved. Certainly no need to say goodbye. Delia thinks her life gets a face lift after running away from her family of twenty years. But will she be able to get her problems resolved? Read on.


Delia Grinstead, a 40-year old married woman with three grown up children, took off one day without any logical explanations. Up to the day she walked out from her family, Delia lived her whole life depending on someone in her family. First her father, her sisters, and then her physician husband when, twenty years ago he chose Delia to be his wife from among the three sisters.


After being married to Sam for two decades, Delia decided that her husband married her just so he could rightfully inherit her father’s medical practice. It is a bit too late, isn’t it? Being a woman with little self-confidence and who spends most of her free time reading romance novels, Delia begins her mid-life crisis by having an affair with Adrian, a newly divorced younger man she met at the supermarket….a fine place to pick up a man. Yes, no? But she realized later that the affair was nothing more than a fantasy….a fantasy of being young and in love again.


Well, if you are expecting adventure or romance, you won’t find it here.

The story starts to get more interesting in chapter 8 when Delia’s husband writes to her, assuring her that he will not invade her privacy. Oh, no! she did not think about that possibility before. Now she is trapped in a small town, with no husband rushing to fetch her. It is going to be a long winter. Cold and empty.


Here at Bay Borough, away from home in Baltimore, Delia spent Thanksgiving with her new landlady, Belle, a 38-year old outspoken woman wants to get married desperately. She cries over the fact that all the decent men in town are either married or otherwise unattractive to her. She thinks that a woman cannot possibly be happy unless she is married. What a frightening thought. It is unrealistic to rely on somebody else for your happiness. Wake up, Belle.


Through her new employer’s son, Noah, the boy Delia is taking care of, she met Noah’s grandfather, Nat, in a retirement home where he is a resident. Nat is an interesting man full of his own ideas about life. And he was not joking when he announced his decision to marry a woman half his age. He did. They had a baby boy soon after the wedding. You may be wondering whether you should envy his late romance or feel sorry for him. One thing for sure, he will have to raise his new family in a retirement home. Ideally anything is possible. Practically, can he really raise his family?


Noah’s mother, Ellie, felt trapped in the marriage and wanted to get out. And she did. Now working at a local TV broadcasting company as a weather woman, separated from her husband, she is still very disturbed by the fact that she might have made a mistake by leaving her family. So what stopped her from going back? If she asks Delia for advice,


Good luck to both of them.


Sometimes it is important and even necessary to look at life from a distance once in a while. You have to find out what you really want. Most of all, you need to know what you are and be able to accept it. In Delia’s case, she took a long trip to learn about herself. While living her new life with new people, new responsibilities and new problems, she found out that she was just as much lost as when she was home with her husband. No matter where she is she still has to face life as it comes. As I was told many times, life is about solving problems rather than unrealistic expectations. The big problem here is to determine what is realistic and what is not.


Although the story is a little slow, LADDER OF YEARS can be good reading material. It is more so if you are a true Anne Tyler fan.

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