The book that is the subject of this review is Daniel Hopsicker’s Barry and “The Boys:” The CIA, the Mob, and America’s Secret History. Hopsicker originally published it in 2001 and updated it in 2006, adding more information in an Introduction and tying this book in with his most recent work. The book’s subtitle neatly explains the subject matter, although many more issues are examined through their relationships with the infamous drug smuggler Barry Seal.
In fact, the sheer number of issues, events, and people that Hopsicker touches on makes it a very daunting task to attempt to review the book. From before World War II, to the Bay of Pigs, to Vietnam, Iran-Contra, Mena, Arkansas, and our current administration, Hopsicker ties together some of the more notable names that have been involved in both the public history of America and the “secret history.” Being unfamiliar with some of the subject matter, this review will focus more on the style and mechanics of the book, rather than most of the actual content.
As a summary of the work, though, the book focuses heavily on the life of Barry Seal, whom Hopsicker calls “the biggest drug smuggler in American history, who died in a hail of bullets with George Bush’s private phone number in his wallet.” Through his relationship with various military-intelligence personnel, and as a CIA employee and pilot, Seal played a part or knew the main participants in nearly every major event in recent American history. He attended a summer camp for the Baton Rouge Civil Air Patrol with Lee Harvey Oswald, and is suggested to have flown a getaway plane out of Dallas on the day of the Kennedy Assassination, for instance. Seal was also heavily involved in flying drugs into the country during the time of the Iran-Contra events, and his plane ended up in the possession of George W. Bush after his death. In the 380-page book, though, these issues are examined in depth, along with dozens of other events.
The sources for the book seem to be mainly interviews that Hopsicker or his associates conducted, and most of them relate to various aspects of the secret history or the life of Barry Seal. This makes the book a great primary source, and there are very few anonymous sources providing information. Seal’s wife is interviewed, along with high school friends, coworkers, and government employees. As issues come up, Hopsicker introduces a player and his or her role, and relates the event back and forth to other events, reminding the reader of the relevance of what has come before and what will come later. This helps casual readers (such as this reviewer) keep all of the names and places a little bit straighter, since the same names seem to keep appearing in various places and times.
The writing style itself is quite easy to read and a bit casual, compared with other books of a similar nature. Hopsicker is very much a part of the story, as he and his researchers attempt to put together the complete picture of the events that surrounded Barry Seal. With each interview and new name added to the mix, the picture becomes more clear, chapter by chapter, until the book traces a single unbroken line through over sixty years of history involving covert wars, drug smuggling, bipartisan political corruption, and various shell corporations and financial intrigues.
Obviously, the author ran into some legal issues with the publication of the book, though, as one chapter is filled with blacked-out, redacted material. Nearly every name is unreadable for an entire chapter while Hopsicker traces the evolution of one of the shell companies mentioned in the book. This detracts slightly from the readability of the material, and it seems that previous versions were missing the chapter completely, which is unfortunate, but the material in the chapter does not seem central to Hopsicker’s main thesis. Of course, this is hard to tell for sure with so much cut out, but the names mentioned in the chapter are not repeated throughout the book, as there are few other blackouts in the remaining thirty-seven chapters.
A 60-page Appendix at the end of the book contains numerous pictures from the life of Barry Seal, as well as documents from his personal records. These provide a treasure trove of resources to browse through to learn more the various issues that Hopsicker examines, especially the trail of ownership of Seal’s planes that were used to smuggle drugs. Following the trail of shell corporations set up simply to shield the true owner of the planes is one of the more tangled yet enlightening portions of the book, and the Appendix explains more of these details with the use of the actual source documents.
A final useful aspect of the book is that Hopsicker has obviously read much about the subject matter he aims to tackle, and provides other recommendations of books that followed the track. Some of these authors, such as Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott, are well-known and respected, and their works provide additional avenues of research for the reader of Barry and “The Boys”. By attempting to add to the information already available from other sources, Hopsicker is able to build on these works and provide his own contributions, rather than simply offering a summary of other works.
Barry and “the Boys” may provide an ideal introduction into the topic of the secret history of America’s involvement in covert wars and drugs, and it is certainly a work to be referred to and read more than once. In fact, as more of the names connected to Seal appear again and again (as they have even since the book was originally published in 2001), the work is more important than ever. As Hopsicker states numerous times in the book, it’s a “Small world,” and it seems that everyone knows everyone else sometimes, except the general public who knows no one and is told as little as possible. Seal, as a tragic figure who rose to the heights of power in the covert world, met his end when he grew a little too big for his own britches and decided to “talk.” Hopefully Hopsicker will be given the opportunity to speak more of the truth as well, as he is saying some important things in this book.