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Bomber's Confessions Point to Explosives Hidden in Toothpaste Tube that Brought Down Civilian Airliner in 1976

Judge Dismisses Immigration Fraud Charges on May 8; Indictment for terrorism crimes still possible

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 218
Edited by Peter Kornbluh

For more information contact:
Peter Kornbluh - 202/994-7116

Marian Schlotterbeck - 202/994-7000

Luis Posada Carriles, original Cuban passport

Previous Archive Postings on Luis Posada Carriles

Luis Posada Carriles: The Declassified Record
May 10, 2005

The Posada File: Part II
June 9, 2005

Bombing of Cuban Jetliner 30 Years Later
October 5, 2006

Washington D.C., May 3, 2007 (Updated - May 14, 2007) - A Venezuelan employee of Cuban exile and indicted terrorist Luis Posada Carriles conducted surveillance on targets "with a link to Cuba" for potential terrorist attacks throughout the Caribbean region in 1976, including Cubana Aviación flights in and out of Barbados, according to documents posted today by the National Security Archive. At least four targets identified in the surveillance report -- including the Guyanese Embassy in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad -- were subsequently bombed during the bloody summer of anti-Castro violence in 1976, and a Cubana jet was blown up in mid-air on October 6, 1976, after taking off from Seawell airport in Barbados.

Posada faced charges in Venezuela for the airplane bombing, but escaped from prison there in 1985, participated in the White House- and CIA-sponsored Iran-contra covert operations in Central America in the 1980s, and illegally entered the U.S. in March 2005. On May 8, a federal judge dismissed all immigration related charges against him citing prosecutorial misconduct and incompetence and allowed Posada to return to Miami a free man. The Department of Homeland Security, however, has placed him on the "no-fly" list.

The Archive also posted additional investigative records generated by police authorities in Trinidad following the bombing, including drawings by Posada's employee, Hernán Ricardo Lozano, and handwritten confessions by a second Venezuelan, Freddy Lugo, that describe how Ricardo molded plastic explosive into a toothpaste tube to destroy the plane, as well as Ricardo's attempts to reach Posada via telephone after the plane went down.

"These documents provide the true historical backdrop for the legal proceedings against Luis Posada Carriles," said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive's Cuba Documentation Project. "They record the unforgettable violence of Posada's lengthy career as one of the world's most prolific terrorists."

The surveillance document, handwritten by Ricardo, recorded the addresses of Cuban embassies, travel offices, news agencies, and consulates in Trinidad, Panama, Barbados and Colombia. It also contained detailed observations about the security systems at those buildings, and even the cars driven by Cuban diplomats. At the Cuban embassy in Bogota, Ricardo noted, "the Ambassador's vehicle is a 1976 steel grey Cadillac, with a black vinyl roof and diplomatic plates CD-0046."

Ricardo's intelligence report identified the office of British West Indian Airways (BWIA) as "the one place with a link to Cuba" in Barbados; on July 14, 1976, the BWIA office in Bridgetown was struck by a bomb. Six weeks later on September 1, the Guyanese Embassy in the capital of Trinidad was also bombed. According to declassified FBI records, the FBI attaché in Caracas who subsequently gave Ricardo a visa to travel to the U.S. noted that Ricardo's passport showed that he had traveled to Port-of-Spain on August 29 and returned on the day of the bombing "and wondered in view of Ricardo's association with Luis Posada, if his presence there during that period was coincidence."

Ricardo was an employee at Posada's security firm in Caracas, Investigaciones Comerciales y Industriales (ICA). According to the then police commissioner of Barbados, Orville Durant, who traveled to Caracas after the bombing, this surveillance report was found during searches of Posada's home and office. (Venezuelan authorities matched the handwriting to notes Ricardo had penned to a girlfriend at that time.) Ricardo and another Venezuelan, Freddy Lugo, were subsequently tried and convicted in Caracas for placing bombs on the flight before they deplaned in Barbados. Posada and another Cuban exile, Orlando Bosch, were also detained in Caracas as the masterminds of the crime. Posada escaped from a Venezuelan jail in September 1985; Bosch was released after twelve years in prison in 1988.

In a confession to deputy police commissioner Dennis Ramdwar on October 19, 1976, Ricardo drew a diagram of the pencil detonator and its various timing positions and explained how "a plastic bomb was detonated." He also wrote out a list of necessities for blowing up a plane which included "false documentation," and "explosivo C-4." On a separate piece of paper, Ricardo drew a crude organizational chart of CORU, the violent anti-Castro exile coalition led by Orlando Bosch which took credit for the terrorist wave of bombings and assassination efforts in the summer of 1976.

Like Posada who illicitly returned to the Miami area in March of 2005, Bosch entered the U.S. illegally in 1988 and was detained at an immigration detention center for over a year. In July 17, 1990, he was freed by the administration of George H.W. Bush, over the objections of Justice Department officials who had determined he remained a threat to the security of U.S. citizens.

In a handwritten and signed confession dated October 21, 1976, Lugo told police authorities in Trinidad that Ricardo had repeatedly tried to call a "Sr. Pan y Agua"-Mr. Bread and Water-in Caracas after the plane went down. "I asked him who Mr. Pan y Agua was because I found it amusing that someone would have that name," Lugo wrote, "and he told me that it was a dear friend of his named Orlando Bosch." Lugo also recounted how Ricardo had called his mother and told her "to give the telephone number of the Village Beach Hotel in Barbados to Mr. Luis Posada so that he could call and to tell him that there was a problem."

In a separate statement dated October 16, Lugo told authorities in Trinidad that before Lugo and Ricardo boarded Cubana Flight 455 in Trinidad, he had seen Ricardo "playing with something that looked like dough of a whitish or beige color; he was softening it. He also had a tube of toothpaste, Colgate, on the table and it was full as if new."

Bosch has lived freely in the Miami area for seventeen years; in various interviews he has all but admitted a role in the bombing of flight 455. Posada was freed on bail on April 18; on May 8, a federal judge tossed out charges of lying to immigration authorities regarding how he arrived in the United States. A grand jury in New Jersey is weighing evidence of Posada's role in orchestrating a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997, using plastic explosives hidden in Prell shampoo bottles and shoes.

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Document 1: Hernán Ricardo Lozano, [Handwritten Intelligence Report on Targets with "a link to Cuba" in Barbados, Colombia, Panama, and Trinidad]

These are the scouting notes of Hernán Ricardo Lozano, which Venezuelan authorities reportedly found in the office of Luis Posada Carriles in Caracas shortly after the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 on October 6, 1976. Ricardo's report covers Barbados, Colombia, Panama and Trinidad, and details the location and security of offices belonging to Cubana Airlines, Prensa Latina, as well as Cuban Embassies and consulates and the Guyanese Consulate in Trinidad. The report also tracked the flight schedules of Cubana planes in and out of the Barbados and other Caribbean nations. The intelligence provided by Hernán Ricardo Lozano became a roadmap for at least four terrorist attacks in these countries between July and October 1976, as well as the mid air bombing of Cubana Flight 455. [English translation]

Document 2: Graphology Division of the Venezuelan Judicial Police, October 20, 1976 [Handwriting analysis report on documents collected in Caracas, Venezuela]

In the course of their investigations, Venezuelan authorities conducted a handwriting analysis of the surveillance report on Colombia, Panama, Trinidad, and Barbados [see document 1] uncovered during a raid in Caracas. They compared this document to a letter signed "Hernan" to Ricardo's girlfriend Marines Vega, and to writing samples collected from prominent Caracas figures connected to Cuban exile terrorism, including Celsa Toledo Alemán, Gueton Oleg Rodríguez de la Sierra Tretiacooff, Luis Posada Carriles, and Orlando Bosch Avila. The report concludes that the script of the letter and the report belonged to the same individual, but that none of the writing samples matched the other names.

Document 3: Hernán Ricardo Lozano, "D.R. 12" [Diagram of the detonator device], October 19, 1976
Document 4: Hernán Ricardo Lozano, "D.R. 13" [Organizational diagram of CORU], October 19, 1976

Trinidad and Tobago Deputy Commissioner of Police Dennis Ramdwar directed the inquiries into the crash of Cubana Airline Flight 455. In a sworn statement on October 28, 1976, he recounts the progression of interviews with Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo Lozano. On October 19, 1976, at 8:30 in the evening, Hernán Ricardo Lozano requested to see Commissioner Ramdwar and during the course of the conversation, Ricardo confessed to Ramdwar:

"He hesitated for a while and then told me, saying that it was in the greatest confidence, that LUGO and himself bombed the plane. He asked me for a sheet of paper and in his own handwriting recorded the steps to be taken before a bomb was placed in an aircraft and how a plastic bomb is detonated. This document is marked 'D.R. 12' for identification. On the obverse side of the document, he drew a sketch of the bomb and detonator and described the detonator as a pencil-type with chemicals which could be timed for 8 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours, and 24 hours. He said that these pencil-type detonators were of various colors depending on the time at which the bomb was to be detonated. He took a pencil from my desk and told me that that pencil resembled one of the detonators he had described. He said that a certain chemical is filled in a tube of Colgate toothpaste after the toothpaste is extracted. This pencil is in my possession. He went on to tell me that he knew everything about the Organization 'COROU' [Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU)]. He requested another sheet of paper and on this sheet of paper he drew the organizational chart […] This document is marked 'D.R. 13' for identification."

Document 5: Freddy Lugo, "D.R. 11" [Lugo describes Ricardo with toothpaste and plastic explosives], October 16, 1976

In a sworn statement before Trinidad and Tobago Deputy Commissioner of Police Dennis Ramdwar, Venezuelan bombing suspect Freddy Lugo described how he witnessed fellow suspect Hernan Ricardo playing with a whitish dough and a full tube of Colgate toothpaste, which Ricardo then hid in his shirt. Shortly thereafter, the two men boarded Flight 455 as it took off from Trinidad. After the men disembarked in Barbados, "Hernan told the taxi driver to stop in front of a side-street near the wharf. He got out of the taxi, went up to the edge of the wharf and threw something in the sea."

Document 6: Freddy Lugo, "D.R. 15" [Lugo Confession of Calls Placed to Posada and Bosch by Hernan Ricardo], October 21, 1976

Lugo recounts how an agitated Hernan Ricardo Lozano placed several calls to Caracas shortly after arriving in Barbados. He called his mother, asking her to call Luis Posada Carriles and give him the number of the Village Beach of Hotel in Barbados "so that he could call and to tell him that there was a problem." He also placed a call to his girlfriend and requested that she give their hotel number to "Sr. Pan y Agua," the code name for Orlando Bosch. [English translation]

Document 7: Freddy Lugo, "D.R. 9" [Lugo Confession to Trinidadian Police], October 16, 1976

In this confession-one of several that Freddy Lugo made to Deputy Police Commissioner Dennis Ramdwar in Trinidad following the bombing of Flight 455-Lugo recounts that Hernan Ricardo Lozano "told me that he had a false passport and also that he was going to blow up a Cubana airplane. I laughed because I thought that he was joking." On the Pan-Am flight from Caracas to Trinidad, Ricardo also commented that "Messers. Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada must have been worrying about him." Once in Trinidad, Lugo said he wanted to take the next available flight to the Barbados, but Ricardo replied they would wait for the Cubana flight: "Él me dijo que quería viajar en Cubana porque iba a volar ese avión" ["he told me that he wanted to travel on Cubana because he was going to blow up that airplane"]. When a Trinidadian police officer or a translator present asked Lugo to clarify, "What do you mean by the word 'volar'?" Lugo replied, "By 'volar' I mean 'to make disappear.'"

Lugo also describes a "very nervous" Ricardo going to the bathroom twenty minutes after Flight 455 took off from Trinidad to Barbados. He took such "a long time" that an airline stewardess and a pilot had to knock on the door. When the plane landed, Hernan Ricardo "jumped from his seat and hurried to the door" to be one of first passengers to disembark. Once in Barbados, the two men checked into the Village Beach Hotel and left their luggage there. They then boarded a plane for Trinidad, where they spent the night in the Holiday Inn. On the morning of October 7, 1976, Ricardo gave Lugo U.S. $300 "to spend in Barbados and told me that if anyone asked me about that money to say it was mine." They were arrested shortly thereafter by Trinidadian police. Ricardo instructed Lugo to tell the police that he had given 2,500 bolivares to Ricardo to purchase his tickets and that the $300 in Lugo's possession was the rest of his money.

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