Few remember Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena, the DEA agent killed in the line of duty almost 30 years ago, when the War on Drugs was the talk of Washington.
"On February 7, 1985, Special Agent Camarena was kidnapped by the traffickers," then First Lady Nancy Reagan somberly told a room full of anti-drug advocates. "He was tortured and beaten to death."
Camarena's killer was sentenced to 40 years in jail. Now, he's free after serving only 28 years. And those who knew the agent and became close to his family are fighting to see that his story is not forgotten.
"I think the American people, at least, owe him for the sacrifice that he made to ensure that the people that took his life, that subjected him to torture over a three day period of time are held accountable and brought to justice, says Jimmy Gurule’, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles.
Gurule’ indicted Rafael Caro Quintero for Camerena’s murder. But it would be in a federal Mexican courtroom that the powerful drug cartel leader was convicted of murder.
Today, however, Quintero is gone, released from jail by Mexican judges nine weeks ago on a legal technicality. In doing so, Mexico ignored a U.S. extradition request and also never informed Washington of his release. Two days later, the White House released a statement saying it was "deeply concerned" Quintero was free.
"I'm deeply disappointed about a lot of things," Gurule’ told Fox News. "But we're talking about the release of the murderer of a DEA agent. I think that's a very shameful statement. The government should be outraged. I'm outraged. The DEA is outraged. The Camarena family is outraged."
Outraged because of how Camarena died and the role Quintero played.
"Quintero is such a psychopath that he makes Charles Manson appear to be a cub scout," former DEA agent Hector Berrellez said.
According to an internal government report obtained by Fox News, Quintero's drug operation stretched 2,000 miles, establishing "a cocaine pipeline from Colombia, shipping multi-ton quantities of cocaine into the United States via Mexico."
Using a series of wiretaps, the DEA and Camarena were making sizeable drug busts inside Mexico, including one that cost Quintero $2.5 billion.
"Camarena was kidnapped and murdered because he came up with the idea that we needed to chase the money not the drugs," said Berrellez, who led the investigation into Camarena's murder. "We were seizing a huge amount of drugs. However, we were not really disrupting the cartels. So he came up with the idea that we should set up a task force and target their monies."
In February 1985, as Camarena left to meet his wife for lunch outside the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara, he was surrounded by Mexican intelligence officers from the DFS, a Mexican intelligence agency that no longer exists.
"Back in the middle 1980's, the DFS, their main role was to protect the drug lords," Berrellez claims.
U.S. intelligence documents obtained by Fox News support that assessment: "Drug smugglers/transporters employed by Rafael Caro Quintero were always provided protection prior to moving a drug load....two DFS agents (would) accompany the smugglers at all times to avoid any problems."
Blindfolded and held at gunpoint, the DFS agents took Camarena to one of Quintero's haciendas five miles away.
Over 30 hours, Quintero and others crushed Camarena's skull, jaw, nose and cheekbones with a tire iron. They broke his ribs, drilled a hole in his head and tortured him with a cattle prod. As Camarena lay dying, Quintero ordered a cartel doctor to keep the U.S. agent alive.
"At that point he administered lidocaine into his heart to keep him alert and awake during the torture," said Berrellez.
After the cartel dumped Camarena's body on a nearby ranch, the DEA closed in on Quintero at the Guadalajara airport.
"Upon arrival we were confronted by over 50 DFS agents pointing machine guns and shotguns at us--the DEA. They told us we were not going to take Caro Quintero," says Berrellez, recalling the stand-off. "Well, Caro Quintero came up to the plane door waved a bottle of champagne at the DEA agents and said, 'My children, next time, bring more guns.' And laughed at us."
The kidnapping and death of a U.S. drug agent was, until then, unprecedented. Mexico initially did little, until President Reagan shut down the U.S. border, paralyzing the Mexican economy. Within weeks, Quintero was behind bars.
The details of the case are not new. However, those involved in investigating the case, have until now remained silent about the role U.S. intelligence assets played in Camarena’s capture and Quintero's escape.
"Our intelligence agencies were working under the cover of DFS. And as I said it before, unfortunately, DFS agents at that time were also in charge of protecting the drug lords and their monies," said Berrellez.
"After the murder of Camarena, (Mexico's) investigation pointed that the DFS had been complicit along with American intelligence in the kidnap and torture of Kiki. That's when they decided to disband the DFS."
Complicit is a strong term that Berrellez doesn't shy away from. However, when he raised the issue internally, his supervisors told him to drop it. Eventually he was transferred to Washington D.C., and was ordered to stop pursuing any angle that suggested U.S. assets knew of Camarena's capture.
"I know and from what I have been told by a former head of the Mexican federal police, Comandante (Guillermo Gonzales) Calderoni, the CIA was involved in the movement of drugs from South America to Mexico and to the U.S.," says Phil Jordan, former director of DEA's powerful El Paso Intelligence Center.
"In (Camarena’s) interrogation room, I was told by Mexican authorities, that CIA operatives were in there. Actually conducting the interrogation. Actually taping Kiki."
Eventually, the prosecution did obtain tapes of Camarena's torture and murder.
"The CIA was the source. They gave them to us," said Berrellez. "Obviously, they were there. Or at least some of their contract workers were there."
On Thursday night, a CIA Spokesman told Fox News that “it’s ridiculous to suggest that the CIA had anything to do with the murder of a U.S. federal agent or the escape of his killer.”
Berrellez says two informants from the Mexican state police, who witnessed Camarena's torture, independently and positively identified a photo of one man, a Cuban, who worked as a CIA operative who helped run guns and drugs for the Contras.
Tosh Plumlee claims he was hired to fly covert missions on behalf of U.S. intelligence. He says he flew C-130s in and out of Quintero's ranch and airports throughout Central America in the 1980s.
"The United States government played both ends against the middle. We were running guns. We were running drugs. We were using the drug money to finance the gun running operation," says Plumlee, who now works in Colorado.
Plumlee flew for SETCO, which according to a CIA Inspector General's report delivered "military supplies to Contra forces inside Nicaragua."
In 1998, CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz told Congress he "found no evidence...of any conspiracy by CIA or its employees to bring drugs into the United States. However, it worked with a variety of ...assets (and) pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity."
Hitz said the "CIA had an operational interest" in the Contras. And while aware the rebels were trading "arms-for-drugs" the CIA "did nothing to stop it."
Plumlee puts it more directly.
"You want me to say this on camera? Alright. Those entities were cut outs financed and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency," he said. "Our operations were sanctioned by the federal government, controlled out of the Pentagon. The CIA acted in some cases as our logistical support team."
In the past the CIA has insisted, it was not involved supplying or helping the Contras.
However, all three men, say it was an American pilot - who worked for the CIA as well as the Contras and drug cartels - who flew Quintero to freedom from Guadalajara.
“You have the CIA employees,which are your badge, carrying CIA personnel and then you have all of these subcontract employees that work with these intelligence agencies,” Berrellez explains. “Some of them are pilots, some of them run boats, but they are contract employees. Now, the pilot that flew Caro Quintero to Costa Rica was a contract employee.”
"Absolutely," agreed Jordan. "That's a fact."
"That's absolutely right," added Plumlee.
Plumlee says the pilot now lives in New Mexico and regrets that flight.
Quintero’s escape was short-lived. After significant pressure from the Reagan administration, including shutting down the border, in April 1985 the Mexicans nabbed Quintero in Costa Rica and brought him back to stand trial.
He was convicted and sent to prison. Two months ago a Mexican court ordered his release on a legal technicality - that his trial should have taken place in state not federal court. He hasn’t been seen since.
William La Jeunesse joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in March 1998 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based national correspondent.