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DEA Witness Underscores Confusion On Key Lab Raid

February 10, 1992

MIAMI (AP) _ A U.S. drug agent called to testify for Manuel Noriega’s defense said today that the ousted Panamanian leader never took action on leads that pointed to the Medellin Cartel.

James Bramble, the former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent in charge of the Panama office, last week spent two days detailing joint Panamanian-U.S. anti-drug operations.

But under government cross-examination today, Bramble undermined much of that testimony by saying he received no cooperation from Noriega when it came to the Medellin Cartel of Colombian cocaine dealers.

Noriega failed to expel the only two cartel drug traffickers the DEA identified, refused to allow wiretaps on their phones and failed to report most of their arrivals and departures with drug money, Bramble said.

Noriega’s drug police also failed to tell about trafficking activities at Panama’s second-largest airport, Bramble said.

Bramble opened the second week of the defense’s case that seeks to show Noriega cooperated closely with the DEA.

Bramble testified last week that he toured a raided cartel cocaine lab site in Panama’s remote Darien province in May 1984 at the invitation of Noriega’s top drug enforcement officer, Luis Quiel.

The prosecution argues that the Panamanian raid on the drug lab was a mistake. The indictment says Noriega was paid about $5 million to protect the lab after the cartel’s own facilities in Colombia were raided.

The defense hopes its witnesses will show the bust was neither an accident nor an extortion, but simply good police work.

Noriega could spend up to 140 years in prison on the 10 drug and racketeering counts he faces in the indictment that led to the December 1989 invasion of Panama and his surrender to U.S. troops.