Trained by the CIA and then cut loose, Bernardo De Torres exemplified what is known as the “disposal problem” in secret intelligence work:
What do you do with the people who have been trained for covert action and violent “regime change” operations after U.S. policy fails or changes? How do you dispose of them?
De Torres, who died homeless last December, according to Miami New Times, was once flamboyant and notorious. He served as the chief of intelligence of the the CIA-trained invasion force that was routed at the Bay of Pigs. Taken prisoner, he was valuable enough to be ransomed for $50,000. Throught his life, he dropped hints he knew secrets about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, although this was never confirmed.
DeTorres continued to serve the CIA in an undercover capacity. In 1967, after the U.S. government had given up trying to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro and he face deportation proceedings, he infiltrated the JFK assassination investigation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. While purporting to work for Garrison, he fed information back to the CIA. The agency, it turned out, had a lot to hide about JFK’s assassination.
By 1972, he was selling arms and offering U.S narcotics agents if they wanted to hire him an informant on Mexican drug traffickers. By the late 1970s, he was drug trafficker himself, according to his friend Owen Band.
Band recalls meeting the man and how he introduced him to the trade.
Bernie was sitting there with his back to the wall at his permanent table, Johnny Black in hand, with three ice cubes. He wore a black polyester Members Only jacket, a black shirt, and muted grey slacks, his cordovan half-boots barely containing his Beretta.
He unconsciously fingered the green and yellow Santeria beads wrapped around his wrist as he stood up to greet me and shook my hand. “My name is Bernie,” he said. “You want to do some coke?
Soon, it became a nightly affair, then a ritual. Bernie and I sat together, kept a room in the hotel above the club, womanized, snorted cocaine, and hung out with whichever cocaine trafficker or celebrity was visiting the club.
Did his CIA connections provide protection from law enforcement? They couldn’t have hurt. Band says that De Torres dealt in large quantities of cash, was questioned in several Miami homicide cases, and protected him from imminent arrest by providing him with secret grand jury information.
CIA connections protected Guiillermo Tabraue, another Bay of Pigs veteran involved in large-scale trafficking. Tabraue and his son Mario were arrested in 1987 and charged with masterminding a cocaine and marijuana trafficking network worth $75 million. (Also nabbed in the operation was Orlando Cicilia, brother-in-law of GOP Sen. Marco Rubio; Cicilia was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his involvement.) As Mother Jones reported in 2014, Guillermo Tabraue’s charges were reduced to tax evasion, after a witness testified that Guillermo had been an informant for the CIA.
The CIA would continue to do business with Cuban-American drug traffickers long after it had cut ties with De Torres and Tabraue.
In the 1980s, when the CIA sought to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, agency personnel enlisted seven businesses and more than 50 individuals credibly suspected of drug trafficking, according to a 1999 report by CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz.
In the CIA scheme of things, De Torres was not unusual. He embodied the symbiotic relationship of the CIA, drug traffickers, and regime change operations.