The French Connection Revisited: The CIA, Irving Brown, and Drug Smuggling as Political Warfare


When they hear the words "the French Connection," most people think of the 1971 Gene Hackman movie, in which a rough and tumble New York City detective corralled a group of Mafia heroin traffickers in January 1962, but failed to capture the suave, insouciant Frenchman who was their source of supply. Indeed, most people think of "the French Connection" as an action-adventure story – not as an example of political warfare. But, in fact, the French Connection is a keyhole through which to view the CIA’s use of the underworld in its larger strategy of political and psychological warfare.

Simply stated, this secret war is a function of American capital’s use of organized criminals in the employ of its private police force, the CIA, to smash Communism everywhere; to suppress labor and undesirable minorities at home; and to expand its influence worldwide, at the expense of unfriendly and friendly foreign nations alike.

Documentary Evidence

Indeed, based on four newly discovered documents, generated by the defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1930–1968), it is now evident that the U.S. government, through the CIA, has historically employed drug smugglers to effect its unstated domestic agenda. The French Connection is a prime example, and a principal player in that sordid episode was labor leader Irving Joseph Brown, the American Federation of Labor’s chief overseas representative from 1945 until 1962.

Brown had a long history of involvement with the CIA, gangsters, and drug smugglers; but it was not until April 1962 that he first came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). The circumstances are both bizarre and revealing, and center on Etienne Tarditi, a short, potbellied, Corsican drug smuggler, who first implicated Brown in drug smuggling activities.

Tarditi’s job in the 1950s was twofold: on behalf of his underworld sponsors, he purchased morphine base in Lebanon and smuggled it to France, where it was converted into heroin; then he "recruited" diplomats to smuggle the heroin to Mafiosi in America.

Tarditi’s operation began to unravel, however, in mid-1960, when a rival drug smuggler told the FBN Agent in Beirut that a diplomat named "Maurice" was carrying heroin to America. The ensuing investigation revealed that the diplomat, whose luggage was passed through U.S. Customs without being checked, was Maurice Rosal Bron, Guatemala’s Ambassador to the Netherlands. Rosal, it was discovered, had an unrestrained sexual desire for young boys – fatal flaw which Tarditi used to blackmail the dapper diplomat into carrying heroin to America. Further investigation revealed that Rosal made frequent trips to America, often with Tarditi, and that he always left with less baggage weight than when he arrived. The investigation itself climaxed in October 1960 in New York City, when FBN agents busted Rosal, Tarditi, TWA purser Charles Bourbonnais, and Nick Calamaris of the Gambino Mafia family.

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The bust netted 100 kilograms of pure heroin, and the intelligence take provided the FBN with enough leads to keep it busy for the next five years. Most of the information, notably, came from Tarditi, who identified his sources in France, and claimed that he "was involved in intelligence work beneficial to American interests." Tarditi would also, after 18 months of steady interrogation, implicate labor leader Irving Brown in drug-smuggling activities.

Meanwhile, two related cases unfolded. One was the famous French Connection case of January 1962, in which FBN Agents and NYPD detectives busted Mafioso Patsy Fuca, along with his father Joe, French heroin smuggler Francois Scaglia (co-leader of the Trois Canards Gang in Paris), and Scaglia’s unsuspecting courier, Jacques Angelvin, the host of a popular French television show. Eluding authorities in the case were Jean Jehan, the debonair mastermind of the plot, and mystery man Jacques Mouren, who was never identified.

Another occurred in March 1961 (right after French President Charles de Gaulle decided to negotiate with nationalist rebels in Algeria), when Air France stewardess Simone Christman was arrested by U.S. Customs agents for smuggling heroin in her brassiere. Christman said the powder, which she thought was perfume base, had been given to her by a Mr. Mueller in Paris.

In March 1962, Christman was sentenced to four years in prison – but at the intervention of an unknown outside force, she was quietly and quickly released.

According to an FBN agent on the scene at the time, Christman was, in fact, a spy for the Secret Army Organization (OAS), a group of French soldiers who, with the support of the CIA, were fighting the forces of President de Gaulle in Algeria. The OAS was known to be financing its operations through the drug trade, and, being "a good soldier," Christman "took a small fall to protect her bosses" – who in return continued to receive CIA support.

In addition to Christman’s quiet and quick release, the FBN agent stationed in Paris was told not to investigate the mysterious "Mr. Mueller." The agent was told that U.S. Customs was handling the case; but he knew that the CIA had, in fact, blocked the investigation in order to conceal its involvement with the protected OAS drug-smuggling ring.

Likewise, it is conceded by FBN agents that they were not allowed to follow up leads relating to Jean Jehan and Jacques Mouren in the French Connection case, for the very same, intelligence-related reasons.

"Mr. Mueller" Unmasked

The unexpected does happen, however, and just as Customs agents had inadvertently uncovered a protected CIA drug route when they busted Simone Christman, "Mr. Mueller’s" identity was revealed in April 1962, when Etienne Tarditi, seeking leniency in his case, named Irving Brown in connection with the busts of Ambassador Rosal in October 1960, and of Simone Christman in March 1961.

Like most professional crooks, Tarditi’s allegations about Brown (as well as his own work for U.S. intelligence) normally would not have been believed. But all of the information he had provided about the drug-smuggling milieu had proven accurate, so in May 1962, FBN agent Andrew Tartaglino launched an investigation of Irving Brown. And through a routine background check, Tartaglino learned that Brown (who was then the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions’ representative to the United Nations) frequented a restaurant owned by George Bayon in Paris. Tartaglino subsequently learned that Irving Brown was Bayon’s friend; that Bayon used the alias "Mueller"; and that Bayon’s restaurant was used by drug smugglers to "recruit" diplomats, like the hapless Ambassador Rosal, as couriers in their drug-smuggling ventures.

These facts fueled the agent’s curiosity, and his investigation of Brown was widened; and after checking with other government agencies, Tartaglino learned that Brown had been granted port privileges in New York (meaning that his baggage was never checked by Customs); that his wife, Lilly, was a secretary for Carmel Offie, a CIA agent who owned an import-export business in Manhattan; and that there was "a possibility" that Brown himself was "connected in some manner with the CIA."

The implications were unmistakable, and at this point in June 1962, Tartaglino was told to drop his investigation; that another Agency was handling it. Which begs two questions: 1) who were Irving Brown and Carmel Offie, and 2) were they smuggling drugs for the CIA?

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The Angleton Connection

In regard to the second question, leads to the CIA’s notorious chief of counter-intelligence, James Jesus Angleton, had emanated from the Rosal case. Specifically, inside Ambassador Rosal’s pocket at the time of his arrest was the address of Stig Wennerstrom, a former Swedish military attaché to the United States, and a close friend of Philippe de Vosjoli. De Vosjoli at the time was the French intelligence service’s liaison to Angleton. But more importantly, de Vosjoli was also a double-agent working for Angleton against his own country.

By de Vosjoli’s account, Wennerstrom was "an associate" of several French intelligence officers stationed in Washington. De Vosjoli’s charge led Angleton to believe that the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB, had penetrated the French intelligence service, SDECE. In Angleton’s mind, this belief was confirmed in December 1961 by the famous KGB defector, Anatoly Golitsyn. And for this reason, Angleton, who had long been associated with Irving Brown, apparently decided to penetrate the French drug-smuggling milieu, as a way of uncovering further evidence that SDECE, which had long been involved in smuggling narcotics out of Indochina, was penetrated by the KGB. And Angleton’s use of drug smugglers as counter-intelligence agents brings us back to the first question: who were Irving Brown and Carmel Offie?

Briefly, Irving Brown was a disciple of Jay Lovestone, who in the 1920s was the leader of America’s Communist Party. But after a dispute with Stalin in 1929, Lovestone defected, and with Brown’s help, began rooting Communists out of American labor unions. In return for his counter-espionage work, Brown was assigned as the AFL’s representative to the War Production Board during World War II, and afterwards began to work for the CIA under AFL cover in Europe and Africa.

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January 8, 2010