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Jun-17-2013 16:59printcomments

Marines' Deaths Linked to CIA Narcotrafficking

Marines who tried to expose drug running corruption relating to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro have been murdered or "suicided" under suspicious circumstances.

Embracing Judass
'Embracing Judass' courtesy:

(IRVINE, CA) - The murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and other Marines whose deaths (officially ruled ‘suicides’) are linked to the use of El Toro assets during the 1980s and 1990s to import South American cocaine into the U.S and to export weapons to the Contra Rebel faction of Nicaragua.

Col Jim Sabow

CIA proprietary aircraft and civilian crews were used in the covert activity, including the illegal narcotrafficking of cocaine in the country. The influx of cocaine into the US was directly responsible for the deaths of Americans, many in the urban Black communities. El Toro’s assets were used to refuel the former military C-130s and store the weapons and cocaine.

Colonel Sabow with 28 years of service and a straight arrow Marine didn’t learn of the narcotrafficing activity until January 1991. It was too late. A combat veteran of Vietnam with 221 missions, his life was threatened by his reputation as someone who would not tolerate illegal activity in Marines. Demanding a court martial to clear his name of false charges and threatening to blow the whistle on the use of El Toro’s assets to support narcotrafficing, Colonel Sabow was found dead in his quarters by his wife on January 22, 1991. The circumstances surrounding his death and the forensic evidence from the crime scene support murder by a government assassination team, crime scene tampering and government cover-up at the highest levels, including a ‘doctored autopsy photograph’ submitted in an NCIS report in 2004 to Congress. There’s more than enough evidence to support a formal inquest and criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

In an unfathomable ruling, both the US Attorney General and the California Attorney General stated that they have no jurisdiction in the investigation of the death of Colonel Sabow.

The colonel was found dead on federal property (MCAS El Toro) and the body transported to the Orange County Sheriff/Coroner where the autopsy was done (California). The day following the death and autopsy, the Orange County Sheriff/Coroner signed the death certificate stating the manner of death as suicide.


The US Forest Service's C-119s were grounded in 1987 due to safety concerns. In need of aircraft to fight forest fires, the US Forest Service organized a deal with DOD and the GSA to exchange the grounded aircraft for C-130A and P-3 Orion aircraft for C-119s.

Gary Eitel, a Washington lawyer and Vietnam pilot who flew CIA missions in the late 1980s, blew the whistle on the aircraft swap program by filing hot line complaints with USDA and a qui tam lawsuit (A qui tam lawsuit allows private citizens to sue on behalf of the government). Eitel alleged that the swaps were illegal and the former military aircraft were used by the CIA in covert operations to fly cocaine into the US.

MCAS El Toro the ghost town. Photo by Tim King

The plan was developed by Roy Reagan, a lawyer who specialized in helping private air carriers obtained surplus military aircraft, and Fred Fuchs, a US Forest Service official. In 1987, the Historical Aircraft Exchange Program succeeded in releasing to private firms 28 aircraft -- 23 Air Force C-130 Hercules and five Navy P-3A Orions. The swap program was terminated by the USDA in January 1990.

Reagan and Fuchs were convicted in 1997 in Federal District Court of conspiracy, but were found not guilty on the conversion charge. Fuchs was sentenced to 2 years in prison, while Reagan was sentenced to 2½ years.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions on the grounds that the original trial jury was improperly instructed regarding the possible implications of the statute of limitations on some of the conspiracy-related activities. With the reversal, the two defendants were released from prison[1].

Only days after a 60 Minutes presentation on the illegal acquisition of C-130s by CIA proprietary airlines, Colonel Jerry Angebroad, retired for 24 days from the Marines, was found hanged in the El Toro BOQ on February 24, 1995. Colonel Angebroad was in charge of the MWR and had headed the base’s air museum. Aero Union, a proprietary airline, had received a C-130A and Navy P-3A aircrafts from the El Toro Air Museum. Was Colonel Agenbroad murdered to keep him silent?

Aero Union was based in Chico, California. Aero was one of the contractors involved in the Historical Aircraft Exchange Program, labeled by the media as the Forest Service airtanker scandal[2]. The C-130A and P-3A aircraft were to be used for firefighting but ended up in the illegal ownership of private companies who used the aircraft for other purposes.

The exchange program allowed contractors to acquire these aircraft at no cost. The air tanker exchange program was terminated by the U.S. Forest Service. In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service canceled its contract with Aero Union; the company subsequently terminated operations[3].

In 1996, Congress passed Public Law 104–307, ‘‘Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 1996,’’ authorizing the sale the sale of excess Defense Department aircraft and parts to contractors for the suppression of wildfire.



Gunnery Sergeant Tom Wade, transferred from El Toro in 1991 to Blount Island, Florida, was pulled from his car and murdered. At El Toro, Wade was a computer networking specialist who told the Marine Corps Inspector General during his on-site inspection in January 1991 that the computer hard drive for the MWR had been purged. The MWR data file held information on contracts with civilian proprietary airlines and the transfer of aircraft to the base’s air museum. Was Wade ordered to purge the MWR files, transferred off the base, and then killed to silence him? Wade’s death remains a cold case today (2013).


Dr. David Sabow, brother of Col James Sabow, told Robert O’Dowd the story of Marine Kevin Smith (a pseudonym ), a Native American, who watched the Connie Chung show, “Eye to Eye” with a Sioux friend and his wife on July l7, l993.

The Connie Chung show included the segment on the death of Colonel Sabow and the information about C-l30s ferrying drugs onto military bases.

Kevin’s civilian friends couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Kevin told them that what they saw was factual. He had been taken to Northern Mexico with several other Marines to load cocaine onto planes. The Marines were told the drugs were part of sting operations to be used as evidence. All were forbidden to discuss this with anyone.

Dr. Sabow said that, “information was passed on to me by the couple who were with Kevin viewing the program. I tried unsuccessfully to interview him before he left the Corps. I was finally able to track him down, but again he resisted my efforts to meet with him. He was literally worried for his life.”

While being interviewed in 1994 by Larry Swails, a DOD IG special investigator, at his home in Rapid City, South Dakota, Dr. Sabow passed some of this information to Swails and offered to accompanied him to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, the land-base for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

He didn’t have Kevin’s last name but was confident that he could get help from other Native Americans on the reservation; a number whom he had served pro bono in his medical practice.

The idea was to locate Kevin and then Swails would have further proof of the narcotrafficing using El Toro Marines, even innocent ones that were fed lies about the use of cocaine in sting operations.

“I had that telephone conversation with Swails on May l8, l994,” said Sabow. “I then contacted my sources to find out where Kevin worked and if we could obtain his unlisted phone number.”

On May 23rd, Dr. Sabow’s source informed him that he had obtained the information, but that Kevin was dead. He was found hanging from a rafter in his parent’s barn, in a manner similar to Colonel Agenbroad, on Sunday morning, May 22nd.

But, they had killed the wrong Kevin. The man found hanged in his parents’ barn was a retired Army veteran.

It wasn’t long before Dr. Sabow was told never to come back to the reservation for any reason. The retired Marine veteran who was missed by the hit team was prepared to defend himself against any non-tribal members looking for him. He now knew that the government was intent on killing him.

Dr. Sabow told Robert O’Dowd that during his 20+ year investigation, he learned that hanging was one of the favorite techniques used in covert operations. This can’t be a pleasant way of dying[1].


Colonel Underwood was forced to retire from the Corps in 1991. The alleged allegations included use of military aircraft for golf juntas. Banned from the base by Brigadier General Wayne T. Adams, the Los Angeles Times quoted Underwood known as “the mayor of the El Toro base during a sometimes stormy four-year stint as chief of staff that he had done nothing wrong in his use of base C-12 Beechcraft planes and Adams had reneged on promises to end the matter quietly.”

Brigadier General Wayne Adams retired in 1991, after he was issued a letter of reprimand in connection with a trip to Big Bear with his fiancée. The Los Angeles Times reported that the general flew a jet fighter while on heart medication, accepted “expensive champagne glasses from a business associate, and spent $7,000 in government funds to decorate his base quarters.” The Times cited a Marine Corps Inspector General’s investigation which found that Brigadier General Adams’ actions amounted to “a dereliction of duty.” The letter of reprimand effectively ended any chance for career advancement, inevitably leading to his retirement.


    [2] Air Tanker Exchange Scandal: Gary Eitel was the whistle blower whose actions lead to the exposure of the air tanker exchange scandal. See UNITED STATES COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel., GARY R. EITEL, Plaintiff, vs. ROY D. REAGAN, et al., Defendants, CIVIL NO. 94-425-JO, FOURTH DECLARATION OF GARY R. EITEL, See also: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General Western Region, “Audit Report Follow-Up Review of Forest Service Security Over Aircraft and Aircraft Facilities Report No. 08016-1-SF, dated September 2003,

    [4] Other El Toro Marines met violent deaths: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Personnel of the Committee of Armed Services, United States Senate, September 12, 1996.

Also see: Don't Kill the Messenger: Looking Back at the Death of Reporter Gary Webb


Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at This subject is where Bob intersected with Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne

You can email Bob O’Dowd, Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address:



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