Newspaper: Noriega Tipped off to Invasion by Chatty Soldiers With PM-Money Laundering, Bjt
MIAMI (AP) _ Manuel Noriega learned in advance of the U.S. invasion of Panama when a U.S. Marine telephoned his mother to complain that it would interfere with his vacation, The Miami Herald reported.
The newspaper based its account on secret U.S. Army debriefing papers that were videotaped by a British journalist. The documents also describe efforts by a Noriega aide to mediate discussions about commercial and diplomatic ties between Israel and Cuba.
The security leaks that warned Noriega of the pending invasion were described in some of the more than 140 secret reports written by the Joint Debriefing Center of the U.S. Army’s 470th Military Intelligence Brigade following the Dec. 20 invasion, the Herald reported in its Sunday editions.
Captured Panamanian officers told U.S. interrogators that Noriega never expected a full-scale invasion until Dec. 17, when he obtained telephone intercepts and intelligence reports indicating an assault was imminent.
The Panamanian Defense Force intercepted a phone call from a U.S. Marine assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Panama to his mother in the States. U.S. troops later found a transcript of the conversation at the headquarters of Panama’s military intelligence agency.
″We’ve been here in the embassy since 10 o’clock last night waiting for the war to start,″ the Marine said. ″I was upset ... they want to start when I’m getting ready to go home on vacation.″
Noriega also received warnings on Dec. 19, just hours before the attack began. Capt. Ivan Castillo, one of Noriega’s bodyguards, said two U.S. soldiers were overheard saying the invasion would begin that night.
And on the same day, a U.S. soldier assigned to the arms room at a U.S. base warned his girlfriend of the invasion. Another woman, a Panamanian soldier who was with the girlfriend at the time, immediately contacted Noriega’s secret police about the conversation, officers said.
Highlights of the debriefing reports were recently videotaped by a British investigative reporter, Paul Lashmar of Granada Television’s ″World in Action,″ and provided to the Herald.
The U.S. Southern Command in Panama has refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of the documents.
″We do not discuss alleged intelligence activities,″ one official said Friday.
The documents also contain accounts of meetings between Cuban President Fidel Castro and Mike Harari, a retired Israeli intelligence officer and an aide to Noriega. The Panamanians said Harari was working ″under Israeli government instructions″ to foster better relations with Cuba.
Maj. Felipe Camargo, a Noriega loyalist now imprisoned in Panama who had been the general’s top liaison with the Cubans, said Harari began dealing with Noriega regularly about 10 years ago, when the Israeli arranged for training of the Panamanian army’s special anti-terrorist forces in Israel.
Neither Harari’s attorneys nor the Isreali government would comment on the documents.
″We are not commenting on this subject at all,″ said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Motti Amihai. ″This is just what some officer says Mr. Harari said. Hearsay.″