Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug cartel leader who grew his cocaine operation into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, is believed to have stashed away millions of his fortune before being killed in a shootout with Colombian forces on Dec. 2, 1993.
Now, two former CIA operations officers are on a mission to uncover the truth about the hidden cash as they scour Colombia and speak with some of the drug leader’s most trusted associates in Discovery’s new series, “Finding Escobar’s Millions,” which launched earlier this month.
“I kind of think of it like a mystery case. Some of the people with inside knowledge are just barely getting out of prison and just barely willing to talk,” former CIA operations officer Ben Smith told Fox News. “So, we’re putting the pieces together and we’re going back to Colombia to really dig around and see if we can sort out fact from fiction surrounding Pablo Escobar’s wealth.”
Smith and his partner, Doug Laux, with help from the Colombian government, make connections with the locals. They even speak with John Jairo “Popeye” Velasquez -- a convicted murderer and lead sicario for Escobar -- in hopes of gaining a lead.
“We work on a different level of trust with sources [compared to other agencies], when you’re in the CIA, that’s like, ‘Hey, I’ll keep this between you and me, nobody ever has to know about this, nobody’s going to get arrested – just tell me what I need to know,’” Laux said. “And you know, to a degree, that experience and the decade’s worth of experience Ben and I have, we were able to translate that over into, you know, gaining people's trust.”
As for meeting with “Popeye,” despite the cameras and other safety precautions, Laux said “you do keep it in the back of your mind that here’s a guy who has crossed a line to the point of no return. He’s personally murdered and pulled the trigger on over 200 people.”
The pair of former CIA agents also ran into some trouble as their expedition advanced.
“The longer we were there, the more resistance we encountered. First, people were quite open. But then as word started to spread, so did the threats a little bit,” Smith said.
In addition to relying on their skills from being in the CIA, Smith and Laux used some of the latest technology, including sophisticated metal detectors that were originally designed to detect IEDS for the military, to help find Escobar’s alleged fortune.
“So, a lot of these came out in the last several years, especially in relation to the conflict in Iraq to protect our troops -- some very sensitive, not just metal detectors, but also electromagnetic sensors,” Smith said. “We also use some drone technology, consumer level combined with some really advanced photogrammetry software that didn’t exist -- the processing power wasn’t there a couple years ago, or if it did it required big, bulky systems.”
Former DEA Agents Steve Murphy and Javier Peña, who were tasked with the manhunt for Escobar during his reign as a drug kingpin and are depicted in the Netflix show “Narcos,” also offered their expertise and knowledge to the former CIA agents.
“They had a wealth of information,” Laux told Fox News. “They really helped us understand the local and cultural aspects having lived it.”
Laux and Smith couldn’t reveal what their search uncovered, but noted “people will be happy by the time the show ends with what we do find.”
Discovery’s “Finding Escobar’s Millions” airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET.