Judicial Watch recently obtained new documents related to mysterious Mena Airfield in Arkansas. They shed more light on what happened at Mena and what then-Governor Bill Clinton knew about it.
Strange events unfolded at Mena, a small city in remote western Arkansas, in the 1980s. When Bill Clinton became president, Mena got a closer look. Evidence emerged suggesting that the CIA was operating in the area in the early 1980s; that a major cocaine and gun smuggler was based at the airfield; and that the U.S. military was somehow involved. Conspiracy theories sprouted. The Clinton Administration batted away concerns about Mena as the rantings of its right-wing enemies.
At a 1994 news conference, in his only statement about Mena, President Clinton dodged a question about what he knew when he was governor. Federal authorities “didn’t tell me anything about it,” he said, noting that the events “were primarily a matter for federal jurisdiction.” He added, “we had nothing—zero—to do with it.”
In 1996, the House Banking Committee asked the CIA to report on its involvement at Mena and whether it had any connection to money laundering, narcotics trafficking, or arms smuggling in the area. The CIA report was given a “Secret” classification and not released to the public. In a brief public statement, the CIA said it had no connection to illegal activities in the region, but it did participate in a classified “joint training operation with another federal agency” and conducted at Mena Airfield “routine aviation-related services on equipment owned by the CIA.”
And that’s where the official government response ended.
Responding to Freedom of Information pressure from Judicial Watch, the CIA released a highly redacted version of the full Mena Report. You can read the secret report obtained by Judicial Watch here.
The big takeaway: Bill Clinton almost certainly knew more about Mena than he suggested in 1994. Clinton said that federal authorities “didn’t tell me anything about it.” That turns out to be a clever dodge. The report notes that “certain Arkansas state and local officials were informed” about CIA activities at Mena. That’s new.
For the first time, we learn that an unnamed official “personally briefed the supervisor of the Arkansas State Police district” for Mena, “the Mayor of Mena,” “the Mena Chief of Police or the county sheriff, and the person responsible for operating Mena Intermountain Airport” about the joint-training exercise with the CIA.
Now, in Arkansas in the 1980s, Gov. Clinton was famously wired in to everything happening in the state. You can bet that the state police supervisor, the mayor, the police chief, the county sheriff, or the airport manager was quickly on the phone to the governor. Probably all of them were.
What did that unnamed official tell local authorities? Sorry, that’s redacted on national security grounds.
Another significant takeaway from the report: the other federal agency involved in that joint training exercise in the Arkansas woods? It was the Defense Department. That’s new, too.
The report states that the “CIA participated in a Department of Defense (DoD) training exercise.”
When did this happen? Sorry, the date is redacted on national security grounds.
What exactly went on during that training exercise? Sorry, that information also is redacted on national security grounds.
In fact, practically the entire seven pages of the CIA report describing the joint Defense Department exercise is redacted.
What were those “routine aviation-related services at Mena” conducted on CIA equipment? Sorry, redacted on national security grounds—all four pages.
The report also considers whether the international drug smuggler Barry Seal was involved with the CIA. Seal is the locus for many of the elaborate conspiracy theories surrounding Mena, including that arms were shipped south by U.S. authorities to the Contras opposed to the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime and cocaine came back on the return trips. There’s no doubt Seal was a drug runner mixed up with arms smuggling. In 1986, Colombian hitmen killed him in Baton Rouge. Months later, a C-123 aircraft he had owned was shot down over Nicaragua with a load of arms destined for the Contras.
The CIA denied a Seal connection, saying he “was never employed by the CIA in any capacity.” They pin Seal’s government connections on the DEA, a charge supported by a lot of evidence.
As for the Seal’s Mena-related activities? The next 28 pages of the CIA report are blank—redacted on national security grounds.
Despite extensive redactions, aficionados of mysterious Mena learn a few things from the CIA report. We learn that Bill Clinton likely knew a lot more than he has admitted. That plenty of Arkansas officials were aware something was going on at Mena. That the CIA participated with the Department of Defense in a secret exercise in the Arkansas woods. And that the CIA contracted for extensive aircraft maintenance work at Mena airfield.
We also learn there is a lot the government still does not want us to know. So we’ve asked the CIA to conduct an official declassification review of the Mena Report. We want the full, unredacted report. “Mena is an enduring issue,” says Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Mena Report should be declassified and released. The public deserves answers to what really went on at Mena.”
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
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