04-29-2016 | Wise Guys

The B. R. Fox Company was located in a duplex apartment on Connecticut Avenue in downtown Washington, DC. While B. R. Fox was supposedly the only tenant, the apartment in fact served a number of purposes and housed an assortment of intriguing characters. For one thing, it was used by Lou Conein as a safe-house for the vanguard of the DEA's Special Operations Group (DEA-SOG). That group numbered a baker's dozen of handpicked Latino CIA officers transferred at "Black Luigi's" behest to the DEA. Appointed to the DEA post by Nixon, Conein's task was to establish an international intelligence network capable of destroying the narcotics traffic.

Accomplishing this would be no easy matter. The DEA suffered from internal corruption, and its best agents were consistently outmaneuvered by Oriental, French and Cuban smugglers trained in techniques by their own countries and the CIA. Lacking sophistication in spookery, the DEA compiled a stunning record of failures and desperately required the expertise available in Langley. The CIA, however, was reluctant to participate in any serious effort to destroy the heroin trade, regarding its own mission as more important. Moreover, many of those involved in the trade as financiers and couriers were themselves valuable CIA agents.

Conein resolved the dilemma of DEA impotence and CIA recalcitrance by having the Dirty Dozen transferred from one agency to the other. His orders were to create a clandestine service within the DEA, and each of the dozen agents would be regarded as a future DEA "chief of station" in a foreign country. There they'd establish their own apparats, run agents, and carry out a de facto guerrilla war on dope, all of it masterminded by Lou Conein. And, because he distrusted the DEA itself, Conein chose to isolate his proteges from other agents in DEA headquarters. He did this by having them rendezvous in the La Salle apartment building leased to B. R. Fox -- but paid for, in large part, by the DEA.

Besides harboring the Fox Company and the Dirty Dozen, the apartment was also headquarters for Security Consultants International ("SECOIN"). Conceived by Mitchell WerBell (already the proprietor of the Central Investigative Agency), SECOIN was run by John Muldoon, who viewed Washington's huge embassy population as a likely clientele for debugging services. Finally, the LaSalle Building duplex served as a kind of crash pad for freelance spooks.

"It was bizarre," Eliot Spindel says. "Muldoon would show up every day with a stack of cards about three inches high. He'd sit down at his desk and, one by one, make phone calls to the numbers printed on the cards. He'd do that until noon or so, then go out with Conein for lunch, drink beer for a couple hours, and come back to make more phone calls till five o'clock...that's all he ever did. It was unnerving! I still don't know what it was all about. But the place really jumped when WerBell came through on one of his missions. It was like a visit from the general, you know?"

It must have been. At the time, WerBell was simultaneously wired into deals involving the "liberation" of Abaco, the establishment of a submachine gun factory in Costa Rica, the sale of his arsenal to Robert Vesco, and a variety of more routine transactions, described earlier. He was, in addition, under pressure from the CIA to leave the country, and according to Eliot Spindel, he was preparing to establish an offshore version of the B. R. Fox Company on Abaco. It's entirely possible that CIA pressure and the off-shore plan were related. Since the 1969 Omnibus Crime Bill, manufacturers of clandestine weapons and surveillance devices have shifted their bases to locations in the Caribbean, establishing factories and shops in mini-nations that have neither the motives nor the funds needed to regulate their export. According to WerBell, the CIA and DEA wanted him in an offshore position so that he could make and sell clandestine weapons in near-absolute secrecy.

- Jim Hougan, Spooks p. 138

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