There's something decidedly strange -- even spooky -- about that Sean Penn/El Chapo interview which led to the capture of the fugitive Mexican drug lord.
The talking heads on teevee want
us to talk about Penn's alleged promise that Chapo could review the interview before publication. As always, the pundits have pounced on a non-issue. The real
issues: Since when is Sean Penn a journalist? And is he really working for Uncle?
When the story broke, my first reaction was: "Well, I'm glad to see that Mr. Penn has resolved his little tax problem. Pretty gutsy way to do it." Actually, I did not know
that Penn had a tax issue (or any other type of legal complication), but the presumption seemed fair under the circumstances.
Then I remembered that the actor also had a close relationship with Hugo Chavez, who was absolutely detested by American intelligence. Penn gets around. He's a fine actor -- but he's not just
Here's Marcy Wheeler's
first post on this controversy. She notes that one of the men who set up the meeting -- unnamed, but called Espinoza -- wears a surgical back brace. Marcy hints that this "brace" may actually have been a tracking device.
Curiously, when Penn provided his bona fides to Chapo — which for the cartel boss, largely rested on the actor’s relationship with Hugo Chávez — he didn’t mention that he had a relationship with people who would be privy to otherwise unavailable information about what really went down in October, though he did admit he has “many relationships inside the United States government.”
I tell him, up front, that I had a family member who worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency, that through my work in Haiti (I’m CEO of J/P HRO, a nongovernmental organization based in Port-au-Prince) I had many relationships inside the United States government. I assure him that those relationships were by no means related to my interest in him.
Elsewhere in the story Penn claims he is telling the truth, but keeping information compartmentalized.
I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as protecting criminals, nor do I have any gloating arrogance at posing for selfies with unknowing security men. But I’m in my rhythm. Everything I say to everyone must be true. As true as it is compartmentalized.
Perhaps the most interesting detail is that when Chapo asked Penn to come back in 8 days for a return visit that never took place, Penn responded by asking for a photo — for Rolling Stone. Except that he arranged it so that it would be usable for facial recognition.
I say I can. I ask to take a photograph together so that I could verify to my editors at Rolling Stone that the planned meeting had taken place.
I explain that, for authentication purposes, it would be best if we are shaking hands, looking into the camera, but not smiling. He obliges. The picture is taken on Alfredo’s cellphone. It would be sent to me at a later date.
All right, I'll just say it: Chapo is, obviously, an idiot. How can any man stay alive so long in that
line of work while remaining so bloody naive?
In a follow up story
, Marcy notes that Rolling Stone did nothing to protect Chapo or his entourage, but did
protect Espinoza ("Spiny") and the other middle-man.
If Penn is sincere in his stated desire to end the war on drugs, ending the profits for American banks tied to illicit trafficking would need to be one of the first steps.
But he doesn’t name those companies that are laundering Chapo’s money, which will continue to be laundering Sinaloa cartel money even as Guzmán gets removed from the network.
Of course, Spiny and El Alto probably share Chapo’s desire to keep those names out of print, in part because they’re part of the power structure that the banks bolster, in part because banks sometimes narc on their customers to save their own hides.
But it’s funny how the press, too, seems uninterested in learning the names of the banks that continue to prop up both our own country’s power structure as well as facilitate traffickers like Guzmán.
It has been widely stated that drug money was the only thing keeping certain large banks afloat during the 2008 financial crisis.
Now let's look at what Moon of Alabama
had to say:
Even more suspect than the Sean Penn piece itself is the fact that the NYT published a large front page piece on the the Rolling Stone story some minutes before the Rolling Stone story itself was published. Who gave it to the NYT and when? The NYT repeats essentials parts of the Penn piece but in a more polished version.
It also adds this to the overall story:
A Mexican government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential matters, said the authorities were aware of the meeting with Mr. Penn.
kind of a giveaway, isn't it?
The NYT is (largely) owned by Carlos Slim, the Mexican zillionaire who staunchly denies having anything to do with the drug trade. Funny thing: That allegation keeps popping up, despite the denials.
Penn's name came up in one of Hillary's emails -- in a very honorable fashion, we should note: The email references an award Penn received from Mikhail Gorbachev, in gratitude for the actor's work in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. But...
Hillary Clinton’s top State Department aides gushed over actor Sean Penn in an April 2012 email, State Department records show.
“I am just so friggin proud of you,” Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, wrote in an April 26, 2012 email seemingly sent to Penn’s account. The email address is redacted but is listed as “CIA.”
“Do we call you mr ambassador laureate now?” Mills’ senior advisor, Caitlin Klevorick, wrote to Penn.
The email traffic has taken on new significance in light of news that Penn, a two-time Oscar winner, traveled to Mexico in October to meet with and interview Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the notorious boss of the brutal Sinaloa drug cartel. Penn published a laudatory article about the visit for Rolling Stone. The piece, in which Penn calls Guzman “Robin Hood,” was published online late Saturday.
According to several reports, Penn’s visit to Guzman helped lead authorities to the fugitive. The drug trafficker had escaped from a Mexican prison in July and sought out a meeting with Hollywood actors in order to pitch a movie about his life. He was captured earlier this week, just before Penn’s article was published. According to some Mexican officials, Penn’s meeting with Guzman helped lead investigators to the criminal.
Hillary Clinton has not commented on Guzman’s arrest or on Penn’s visit. During an interview on Sunday, President Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said that Penn’s “so-called interview” with Guzman “poses a lot of very interesting questions, both for him and for others involved in this.”
The Daily Mail has been having a great time with the "Penn as spy"
Supposedly the entire 'clandestine horror show' - as Penn put it - was part of a research project to develop a Netflix-style drama about Guzmán and his prison break.
Though Penn insists he went to extreme lengths to hide the meeting from authorities, the details have sparked widespread speculation that he was in fact tapped by the CIA to locate the fugitive criminal - just as screenwriters were enlisted to make Argo to free US hostages in Iran in 1979.
The Central Intelligence Agency is openly cooperative with Hollywood.
In 1996, the role of Entertainment Liaison Officer was created to provide filmmakers with factual advice and authentic props, and the agency has admitted to collaborating with actors, producers and directors for their own work.
Researchers who specialize in the CIA's connection with Hollywood, Dr Matthew Alford and Tom Secker, told DailyMail.com on Sunday: 'Spies have long used Hollywood as a front, from Pretty Woman producer Arnon Milchan, who admitted to stealing US nuclear secrets for Mossad, to Frederick Forsyth who did 'favours' for MI6. So the theory that Sean Penn was part of a CIA sting operation is an intriguing possibility.'
Arnon Milchan, incidentally, produced Oliver Stone's JFK
. Even at that time, Milchan's Mossad linkage -- though never published -- was widely known "in town." There were similar rumors about Golan and Globus, the guys behind Cannon films
(no relation to yours truly!).
I'm not wholly convinced by the "Penn as spy" theory, although I'm leaning that way. If it is
true, he would hardly be the first Hollywood actor to do a little covert work on the side. Although I don't think the claim has ever been formally published, I've heard that Bill Holden made a trip to Africa on Agency business, where he witnessed something so horrifying that it haunted him for the rest of his life. Cary Grant and Sterling Hayden worked for the OSS during World War II. Frank Sinatra would fly CIA assets in and out of the country on his private jet (which is a nifty way to avoid leaving a paper trail).
And then there's this claim
by CIA man John Rizzo...
In his new book, Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, whistleblower Rizzo, who served as the acting general counsel for the entire CIA, admits, “the CIA has long had a special relationship with the entertainment industry, devoting considerable attention to fostering relationships with Hollywood movers and shakers: studio executives, producers, directors and big-name actors.”
“There are officers assigned to this account full-time,” he reveals, adding many Hollywood denizens offer up information to their country — at a price.
Movie industry vets are “receptive to helping the CIA in any way they can,” Rizzo claims, “probably in equal parts because they are sincerely patriotic and because it gives them a taste of real-life intrigue and excitement.”
In one instance, Rizzo claims, the agency was approached blindly by “a major film star at the time” who “somehow knew that another big star’s production company had an association with the CIA’s clandestine service over the years … Now this guy was offering his own name and services to us. Free of charge. Anything he could do. Just out of patriotic duty.”
But there was a catch...
“There is one little kicker,” Rizzo claims his underling said. “The actor refuses to take any money, but he told us that instead all he wants of us is to score him the best fifty-thousand-dollar stash of cocaine we can find. He seems to think we can get the real primo stuff. So that’s why I’m here. Is it ok for us to do it?”
“‘Uh, no,'” I managed to get out of my agape mouth,” Rizzo remembers. But the other agent wouldn’t back down from the potential deal.
“I later learned that the actor did provide some assistance to the CIA on a particular project,” he admits. “I was assured that his services were totally gratis.”
Rizzo won't name the star. Penn, perhaps? Well, there's this story from 2010
, which brought this angry denial
from Sean Penn.
Even if Sean Penn has never done spook work, the accusation will -- from now on -- waft around him like a bad cologne, and nothing will ever get rid of the odor. I'm sure that he would angrily deny the charge, but if he has any ability to look at the matter objectively, even he must admit that things look
The next time he offers the hand of friendship to someone like Hugo Chavez, people will whisper about the fate of El Chapo. I have always admired Chavez (who was not
a dictator, even though our lying press still uses that label), and thus I admire the words that Sean Penn said in his defense. But when the actor proclaimed his solidarity, was he merely reciting lines from a script? Would Hillary Clinton's State Department have gushed about someone who was a genuine
friend to Hugo Chavez?
Is Sean Penn a genuine lefty, or is he an actor playing a role?
By his own admission, his life is "compartmentalized." Interesting word, that. Spies tend to use it.