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 linking this book to his more recent work. The subtitle of the book clearly explains the subject, although many more topics are examined through his relationships with the infamous drug dealer Barry Seal.
In fact, the sheer number of topics, events, and people Hopsicker touches on makes it a daunting task to try to review the book. From before World War II to the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Iran-Contra, Mena, Arkansas, and our current administration, Hopsicker unites some of the most notable names involved in both America’s public history and “secret history.” Being unfamiliar with some of the topics, this review will focus more on the style and mechanics of the book than on most of the actual content.
However, as a summary of the work, the book focuses heavily on the life of Barry Seal, whom Hopsicker calls “the greatest drug dealer 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 and intelligence personnel, and as a CIA employee and pilot, Seal played a role in or met major participants in nearly every major event in recent American history. He attended a Baton Rouge Civil Air Patrol summer camp with Lee Harvey Oswald, and it is suggested that he flew in a getaway plane from Dallas on the day of Kennedy’s assassination, for example. Seal was also heavily involved in shipping 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. Yet in the 380-page book, these issues are examined in depth, along with dozens of other events.
The sources for the book appear to be primarily interviews conducted by Hopsicker or his associates, most of them relating to various aspects of Barry Seal’s secret history or life. This makes the book a great primary source, and there are very few anonymous sources that provide information. Seal’s wife is interviewed, along with friends from high school, co-workers, and government employees. As trouble arises, Hopsicker introduces a player and their role, and ties the event to other events, reminding the reader of the relevance of what came before and what will come after. This helps casual readers (like this reviewer) to keep all the names and places a bit clearer, since the same names seem to keep popping up in various places and times.
The writing style itself is quite easy to read and a bit informal, compared to other books of a similar nature. Hopsicker is a very important part of the story, as he and his investigators try to piece together the full picture of the events surrounding Barry Seal. With each interview and new name added to the mix, the picture becomes clearer, chapter by chapter, until the book draws a single unbroken line through more than sixty years of history involving covert wars, drug smuggling, bipartisan political corruption, and various fictitious corporations and financial intrigues.
Obviously the author ran into some legal trouble with the publication of the book, as one chapter is full of deleted and deleted material. Most of the names are unreadable for an entire chapter, while Hopsicker traces the evolution of one of the fictional companies mentioned in the book. This does detract from the readability of the material a bit, and it appears that earlier versions were missing the chapter entirely, which is unfortunate, but the chapter material doesn’t seem central to Hopsicker’s main thesis. Of course, this is hard to say for sure with so much clipping, but the names mentioned in the chapter don’t recur throughout the book, as there are a few other blackouts in the remaining thirty-seven chapters.
A 60-page appendix at the end of the book contains numerous images from Barry Seal’s life, as well as documents from his personal records. These provide a treasure trove of resources to explore and learn more about the various topics Hopsicker examines, especially the ownership trail of Seal planes that were used to smuggle drugs. Tracking down fictitious corporations established simply to protect the true owner of the planes is one of the most convoluted but illuminating parts of the book, and the Appendix explains more of these details using the actual source documents.
One last helpful aspect of the book is that Hopsicker has obviously done a lot of reading on the topic he purports to address, and offers other book recommendations that went down the road. Some of these authors, such as Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott, are well known and respected, and their works provide additional avenues of inquiry for the Barry and “The Boys” reader. By attempting to add to information already available from other sources, Hopsicker can build on these works and provide his own contributions, rather than simply offering a summary of other works.
Barry and “the Boys” can provide an ideal introduction to the subject of the secret history of America’s involvement in covert and drug wars, and is certainly a work to be referenced and read more than once. In fact, as more Seal-related names pop up again and again (as they have even since the book was originally published in 2001), the job is more important than ever. As Hopsicker says numerous times in the book, it’s a “small world” and it seems like everyone knows everyone else sometimes, except for the general public who don’t know anyone and are told as little as possible. Seal, as a tragic figure who rose to the heights of power in the underworld, met his end when he grew too large for his own britches and decided to “talk out.” Hopefully Hopsicker will also get a chance to speak more of the truth, since he’s saying some big things in this book.