« Slow Burn

Introducing: I Spy

2021-01-29

We're excited to introduce you to I Spy, a production of Foreign Policy. Each week on I Spy, a former intelligence operative from somewhere around the world tells the story of a single mission. They've featured guests from the CIA, Mossad, MI5, the KGB, and more. The host is three-time Emmy winner Margo Martindale, who played Claudia the KGB handler on FX’s hit show The Americans. 

In this first episode of season 3, DEA special agent Steve Murphy describes his role in the hunt for narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar in Colombia in the early 1990s. This is part one of a two-part episode. To hear part 2, make sure to look for I Spy wherever you get your podcasts.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is Josh Levine host of season for of slow burn I'm here to introduce you to another show you may like it's called I spy the production of foreign policy. Each week on ice by a former, intelligence operative from somewhere around the world. The story of a single mission they featured get from the CIA Mossad it my five. The key gb and more the host this three time. Anyone or Margo Martindale, who played club other KGB handler on ethics, hit show the Americans episode, you're about to hear d, special agent, Steve Murphy disk. His role in the hunt for narco terrorist, Pablo Escobar in Colombia, an early nineteen nineties, part. One of a two part episode kicks off their third season to hear part two
make sure to look for eyes by wherever you get. Your pod casts spy shell from foreign policy. Where smile on her story. Here I am this white gringo down there. I can't blood dont blend in, and I find out where the league case agents on these cast of the Medellin Cartel, primarily Pablo Escobar, the guys told me right off the bat just so you know, there's a price tag on your head. Three hundred thousand dollars Pablo Escobar has put a bounty on us to simply because we were DEA agents. Now that will also cause you to stop and think I just got here, give me a chance before you kill me. You know from foreign policy welcome,
this new season of eyes by where former intelligence operatives tell their most dramatic stories. I Margo Martindale. We have a new episodes for you, this season, beginning with Steve Murphy, who served as a federal agent for the? U S: drug enforcement agency, for almost three decades Murphy was sent to Bogota Colombia in ninety ninety one to take part in the hunt for Pablo Escobar. The man known as the king of cocaine, Escobar, headed the brutal met again cartel which, in its heyday with smuggling up to eighty tons of cocaine to the United States each month, profits from the narcotics business made Escobar one of the richest people in the world, Murphy
and his partner. Have a European Europe lived with colombian police officers in Medeon, often on, while hunting for Escobar? This is part one of Murphy story. I became a special age of the drug Enforcement administration and nineteen eighty seven and falling graduates from the caddy. My first post was I'm Florida arriving there in November nineteen. Eighty seven now dirt This time it was still like the old Wild Wild west down there. There is still a lot of violets alot of murders. Alot of everything was drug, related
all the money and South Florida was tainted with cocaine residue so much so that aid drug canine detection dog, if he learned la money that was no longer probable, calls for a seizure of the fund's. You had have additional evidence to go along with that. I had been a police officer for almost twelve years when I joined the EPA, the most cocaine I'd ever say during that twelve years was two houses, which is not a whole lot. So my first under cover, I went with a couple of agents on another cover: Hatteras Sport, fishermen, a fifty three foot. Fishing boat. I had no idea what that was. I knew what a job but was because that's what I used to fish in, we went to the Turks and Caicos Islands believe it or not. I never heard of that either took us five days to get there on the boat. Long story short an airplane flew in from Cuba and delivered four hundred kilos of cocaine. So I went from two oz
eight hundred and eighty lb of cocaine. I knew I found the right job at this point. All the cocaine that was coming into South Florida was owned by the Medellin Cartel and primarily controlled by Pablo Escobar. I knew who Pablo was because I read books about drug crafters and you know throughout my law enforcement career was always interested in the. cover work and drug investigations and so forth. So his name was not surprise to me, but learning that he was responsible for eighty percent of the cocaine in the world. I mean it doesn't matter what industry area you'd love to have eighty percent of the customers and that's what Pablo had he controlled South Florida
almost every investigation I worked on was many cartel cocaine, but I was a very very familiar with who he was popular Escobar started out. He comes from a very poor families is father. Was a farmer, small farmer and his mother was school teacher. He never wanted to grow up to be poor. His goal was to become wealthy. He threw his contacts through his early criminal dealings of her cabs from stealing gravestones and cemeteries and standing of down and recycling alarm, it was just a petty criminal. He was just a street punk, but he displayed a willingness to afflict Andrea death on others and suffered no remorse, no guilt feelings from that. So he was AIDS
to work for a Ganem Restrepo and many ain't moving seventeen kilos of cocaine Pablo realise how much money you can make off at seventy kilos. He killed Restrepo and took his place. He continually moved up and that willingness to commit violence against her fellow man like that and have no. More should get feelings, didn't bother him at all it people it created the sphere where people were afraid of him. He could tell people to do things one time and if they did do it, he just kill him. Not only would he kill you, but he would kill your wife and children, your pets, your your mom and dad. It was ridiculous. It was it's it's unbelievable. He started using car bombs against his enemies against the government against the institutions, the banks so forth in Columbia he was the. calls first narco terrorist. law enforcement I see that you will see that the United States car bombs goin off as extremely rare, so
for us. That was something that we had not encounter before. That was that something, though open your eyes and make you take a step back, A lot of people ask me: how did I end up in Columbia? I come from english irish heritage, I'm very white, I'm six foot to have light, colored, hair light, colored eyes, but spent four years, they're working and South Florida, and I just fell in love with the job and I'll, be the first to tell you there's an old saying that says: if you find a job, you like you'll, never work a day in your life. I found that job it's the most exciting part of my life I've ever experienced at that time. The danger was there. I am not a tough guy by any means. I don't pretend to be something I'm not, but the other good Lord gave me the capability, the capacity to deal with life threatening situations.
But my wife is a has been a registered nurse all her life. She loves the action, the emergency room, the operating room, the critical care units, all the things that I think we're gross. You know it and that's excitement. So have we been Miami for three and a half years? She came to one day. She said you now. This has been real, exciting limit here. What. next most exciting thing. We can do so well. We can move down the Columbia for four years and see how is down there and she looked at me. Like I had three eyes: you are you crazy? You know so I her personality, just just let it lasts for awhile and eventually, He came back to me she's, like are you serious? You still want to do that. I said hey you asked, I think would be great and she came to me about a week later. She said: hey, if we're going to do it, let's do it while you're young, so I applied, you can hear my accent,
city right and I didn't speak Spanish, so I had to go to languish school for six months. That's how he that both of whom we landed in Bogota was a son night we're very apprehensive. I could speak proper, spanish pretty well, so I could speak to Colombia and the airport, but they would answer back quit. You know faster and local sayings and I had hard time, their catch up, so it was intimidating that night at the boarding house, where lay in a bed and our bed, Canada swayed down the middle so that when I would lay one such young lay on the other, we roll on top of me do. You know, and I've got my nine mm there on the on the nightstand next to the bed, and this is okay ending in the middle of night we heard we heard handgun fire, and so I grabbed my gun, and the next thing we heard was machine gun fire.
Linda, and I will go to the window and get out of just peeking out cuz. I don't want to get a shot and I'm look at this gun in my hand. I'm thinking I do feel somewhat piss somebody offering, but we thought there were What things compound no police ever came, we dare to Harry sirens or anything we're in a populated area. Bogota, very nice area we're lay. There are neither want to go to sleep and we can look vetoes like what do we got ourselves into this time? Would you go to an overseas environment with the government you dont, Livin shacks. We were really surprised at the not a surprise but shocked at the apartment. We were eventually Even we lived in north part of volatile witches, there's a mall they're called Ernie Centro. So we are a few blocks north of any central and that's the very nice parts of the city, a bullet I will. Don T samothrace floor. Each apartment was the only apartment on the floor there.
Three buildings and the complex there was a wall around the building with with armed guards on the gates, but then you stepped into this marble for your. There was beautiful, bigger than most bedrooms and houses. Our part was for bedrooms. We knew and have no furniture for all the rooms we had Livin maids quarters. The views were beautiful. We had the on the east side of the building where the Andes mountains. On the west side, the building there was a. polo club that we could look down. Watch the horses ass, the nicest place, my wife and I've never lived in to be quite honest with you and our was. It nicely anybody else's. That was the standard for Americans living in Colombia, now understand also this town glow was considered danger post. So the girl adieu, thanks to try and help life, be a little bit easier. His very nice, very nice we had. We have
well TAT made I'll, never say that again as nice as the living conditions were in Colombia in Bogota. For us everything was nice, had to be aware of your surroundings. I don't work, but if you're out shopping, you know there were pickpockets out during that time. There were a lot of street kids that you felt sorry for her, but they could become violent very quickly and it wasn't just in we're Talkin twelve year old kids, but when they became violent, all the sudden twenty might show up. So you had to be careful of those people. Traffic cops would flag you down and won't bribes as you're driving down the street for no infractions whatsoever. You just give him some pesos and and go on your way, but not job related. But here I am this white Green go down to the country and I find out I'm going to be signed
work with Javier Pena and another guy Gary Sheridan, and where the lead case, agents on the investigation of the Medellin Cartel, primarily Pablo Escobar and again this might sound a little strange, but you almost take it on as a challenge, I don't say a badge of honor cuz. I think, that's being so flippant to say that The gas told me right off the bat just so you know, there's a price tag on your head. Three hundred thousand dollars Pablo Escobar has put a bounty on us to simply because we're de agents. now that will also cause you to stop and think I just got here give me a chance before you kill me up when I got to the embassy at Monday's my first day, and I think on Thursday where's your thirty that weak as when Pablo Escobar surrender to the Governor Colombia to move it is custom built prison. While I liked a joke round that eight Pablo her Murphy's in town, he might just give it up his days are numbered, but that's a joke
Cuz. I know it's not true, but Pablo was offered what we call the deal of a lifetime by the attorney general. So the attorney general that time was a guy named Gustavo De Greiff. He actually wanted to decriminalize narcotics. You know he wanted to give a lot of leniency to the drug crafters. So we came up with this idea, call to self surrender plan and what that man is. You would come into the NBA proper a deal and what you offer to plead guilty to one crime of your choosing, an exchange. You would be absolved of every other crime you committed in your life and then you negotiate your prison term. Soap. Opera began his negotiations. I think he pled guilty. To unwittingly participating in the transportation of three hundred kilos of cocaine in a in a vehicle. You know, I didn't know it was in the car. Okay, you got me. So that's what I'm going to plead guilty to an exchange.
he's absolved of every other crises ever committed in his life in Colombia, from steel and hubcaps, gravestones to murdering thousands and thousands of people. All of that just goes away so, of course, when he says ok, Mr De Grief, I will surrender Governor Colombia's, like all this great, Mr Escobar. Thank you so much these. I wait just a minute. I have some stipulations. The first regulation is because of I have so many enemies in the government and the other drug cartels and the United States ah will build MA On prison, because I will build it to my specifications and by the way I'll pay for it, because I don't want the taxpayers to have to bear that burden and what the government of Colombia say. Okay, he said well, second stipulation that guards will have to be handpicked by me. They have to be vetted through me because I lack of trust, so I will pay their salaries as well, because, again
what the taxpayers to have to bear the burden and again the governor Club, he said, ok Then he said well because I do have so many enemies. I will need to hand picked my fellow inmates which he was allowed to do. There were only fourteen inmates, count Pablo. You know he brought him there. He brought his brother Roberto and twelve of his most trusted scenarios and when he offer that stipulation the Governor Colombia said, ok, then he said well, that's not all. He said I dont want the Columbia Police, the club in military or the Gringos United States government to be able to come within two miles of the perimeter of my prison because they will try to kidnap me and take the United States and the government Colombia said. Okay. Now he negotiated a five year. Prison sentence, that's the most he could do and by the way,
There were no stipulations whatsoever for him to surrender any of his assets. Forbes magazine raided him is the seventh richest person in the world for six years in a row with an estimated wealth between eight and thirty billion dollars, not million billion dollars. So he gets to keep the thirty billion dollars after five years in a country club setting which he calls a prison The worst worst plea bargain I've ever heard my life. What I saw was the despair and disappointment on the faces of agents on every bind, the embassy on the colombian national police officers and I'll get the maintenance and would eventually work with you
listening to ice by a production of foreign policy will be right back welcome back to ice by. We return to Steve Murphy, aide DE agent, who took part in the hunt for narco terrorist, Pablo Escobar in Colombia. So now you ve got Pablo and present. Well, we really couldn't get allow a good intelligence governor other we
get bits and pieces. We believe that he was coming and going from the present, but we didn't know how we believe that he was where we did learn that he opposed a war tax on the other Coquet distributors within his organization, because his position was hey. I've, I've taken on the government Colombia garnered this deal, the steals available for all of you, but I'll be under the scapegoat on being the guinea pig on this thing. So since I am not able to run mallows out of prison, you're gonna pay me or tax that were taxes either. Four hundred thousand dollars for everyone Did that IRAN or half of the load? It was close to the end of that. First, Syria was a prison where we had an format. they came in to tell us about Pablo killing them all. Cotta Galiano brothers
now. Kicker Mercato was one Pablo childhood friends ass, one of his best Resnick grouped together. He was a major lieutenant within the organization, as was Sir Fernando Galiano, and what happened was summoned cigarillos. Some a publisher couriers found Stash U s cash. I don't know in a cave or some a collector, some kind of whole some kind of hiding place, something since ten billion supping six point three million souls. Kind of broader, and they didn't like more coordinated like Galiano, so they threw the Might Anna Pavlovna said: hey boss, look gas or taken advantage of you you're here, sacrificing yourself living in this prison And while these guys have this money later want to share this with you there just letting it right away. It's not even important them now Papa called Mokanna Galiano to the prison to account for this. cargoes are there in the background, agone, Pablo I'll, kill every day to kill him so eventually,
obligations is cool and he kills Kicker Mukamba himself beaten with a stick to death, the other scenarios they grab Fernando Galiano. They beat him to death. The bodies were testily disposed of would be the nicest way I could think to put that. But then the information got back to us of what had happened and the? U S. Government went to the President of Colombia says our Bavaria had told him what we knew, and I dont know for a fact that this was done. I've heard that some one of an ultimatum was given to President Gaviria. Either you move Pablo into a real prison like lobby quota, which is a rough rough prison in Bogota, or this may be made public. So we know what happened after that is is present. Various sets some troops to bring him out of prison and ask him to lobby quota to the prisoner quota. Will they end up in a fire?
fight, but somehow Pablo Escobar and several his cigarillos rival, to get through this six hundred man parameter and escape. I tend to believe there was probably some cash, the past hands for them to turn a blind eye. Although I have no proof of that has just smile speculation, but here, you go. You ve got the world's first narco terrorist, who has now become the world's most want a man the day after Pablo escape from his prison was June, one thousand nine hundred and ninety two, the very next day Xavier and I flew to Medellin and we started living with the colombian national police for the next eighteen months. With Pablo Escobar escape. the mood in the embassy and without our counterparts, the club in national police was elation. Everybody felt like hey, we ve got another shot to get. This guy
is Xavier likes to say we're putting the band back together, we're going after Pablo that same day, the general in charge of Colombia, national police told our boss that he wanted Pinion Murphy as part of the search block and met he living with them up there and end continue the investigation for this manhunt. So the day after publisher and her having I got on airplane flew up to the Rionegro and they sent a Huey helicopter gunship out to pick us up and put us into the Carlos Holguin school, which is a colombian national police space. In Medellin we weren't there very long until they said hey, you guys want to go, see the prison. Of course we did so we hopped on another Hilo and it flew up to the prison. So when you get to the prison, when you come up to the main gate, you saw this either perimeter fences When you get aside, there were two sets of steel bars to create is somewhat of a Sally port there and then what
pass at second set of steel bars. It was wide open. It was that Bars where there should there to create the facade that either this is a prison. You know we got steel bars here you got inside it was. the game. Room had pool tables had ping pong day was head pinball machines, almost any board game. He could think of. We got to the prisoners rooms. We went to publish room. His prison cell is a term sweet with a private bath in his kitchen. He had a full size, microwave ovens. He had a sad beside refrigerator freezer custom built cavity, had a banana bar with bore stores.
He had paintings, hang it on the wall and where we ve all heard of the famous artists, Salvador, Dolly Pablo, had a dolly original hanging inside the prison. Unbelievable he had color, coordinated, drape recent upholstery uses flowery pattering owned in every prisoner bent to around the around or her they have colored coordinator is usually ugly gray. Is this nasty you go into the second room? It was a combination, bedroom office. Custom built bid that was larger than a king, says, babble, bigger, nay, but I've ever seen in my life, he had an audio visual centre with the latest releases. A booby isn t me shows from all around the world. He had a fireplace behind his desk. He had family pictures. Well, mostly his picture taken on the walls in his bedroom. You go into his private bathroom. He had its accuse. Each tab
his bathroom. This is supposed to be a prison. You know what we usually say and presence. We called group showers, here's Palos got a private bathtub, that's jacuzzi tab, he's gonna, walk in closet, he's got drawers fruit for his clothes. He's got hanging clothes soccer, skeleton Isaak, She's on there, you pull the doors out behind world drawers is a hidden, safe. This built into the wall there. There is an area that as it were, is closed, hang and end up into the shelf is a button. You push the button and the back wall would pop open. There's a hiding spot back. Their Spanish recalled a collective placed a hat. I guess he thought wealth gringos come to get me. The police come to get me and I can't get out of this room a hard back here. They'll never find me what we found that we like
take me to family feud been on there right, the other prisoners. They all had children suites, they didn't have jacuzzi tubs like Pablo, but they had the latest electronics they had back then, with one big screen, tvs were just becoming popular. Wasn't flat screens moves the big screens, they all had big screen. Tvs and there they had the latest electronic gear for recorders and reel to reel tape airs whatever's after they had it up there we found trophies where they would hold soccer tournaments in the prison, and then they would give out trophies afterwards. He had a full size. Professional soccer field that was lighted, so they could play nighttime saw her. He had a nightclub inside
prison for the prisoners and actual bar a nightclub smoked, glass windows, the whole ball of wax a bar everything that goes in a bar. We eventually found a lot of other collectors which were hiding spots throughout the prison where we found drugs. We found some money, some paperwork, a lot of photographs. We found of some of the things that we're going out, that they were holding orgies up there on a regular basis. These guys just came and From the prison, when they pleased, if Pablo said you haven't, want watch the soccer game between these two teams or there's a new restaurant over inoperable out of that, I'd like to go to her to have great whatever or I'd like to spend the night with my wife and children, because I haven't seen him in a week. This cow- they were just load up in a truck and they would go out. The present come back when they felt like it, it was lit. Only a revolving door on the hillside behind the prison. Pablo had already built several, if I remember correctly, seven or eight
She always on the side of the hill there that, whereas nice is and if you see anywhere else and what We were told eventually was published. Plan was after five years. He wanted to convert this prison into resort, but this was probably the biggest surprise from knowing that we could not intercept interviews communications we found out, Pablo is used and carrier pages to deliver messages. We found the whole covey of pigeons with books on how to train these budgets. You go look dependence on one leg. They would have these little bands, it will tell you where they would fly two on the other leg, you right out a message: tapers too that leg and let em flower way. You know
I really really hesitate to give him credit for anything. But that was pretty genius how to thwart IRA our intercept capabilities that Steve Murphy of the? U S, drug enforcement agency. He tells the rest of his story about the Hunter S are in episode to Murphy, describes his time in Colombia in the book man hunters how we too
down Pablo Escobar co written by his DE partner Javier Opinion ice by is a production of foreign policy. Our executive editor for years and palm cast his Dan Efron our eyes by team, includes Rob Saxon, Amy Mckinnon. If you like the show please subscribers Apple, podcast, Spotify or your favorite platform, and leave us to review. If you have tips or suggestions place right, do as I spy at foreign policy dot com, I spies made possible through the support of foreign policy readers if you're interested in not
just espionage, but smart geopolitical news and analysis from Washington and around the world. Please consider. Subscribing ice by listeners can get a ten percent discount by going to foreign policy. Dotcom, slash subscribe and using the promo code podcast at check out on the next episode of ice by Escobar is surrounded with Pablo got up their course. Supply start yell natty. Whatever order SAM to drop as weapons he's got a double shoulder, holster rig wearing that two nine millimeter pistols Pablo start shooting displacement. Ass, that's coming up on ice spy, Margo, Martindale,
Transcript generated on 2021-02-05.