The U.S. embassy wanted the DEA and their Bolivian Leopardos to raid a finca, a ranch, out in the remote northern part of the country, and they wanted a rush put on it. DEA Agent Larry Leveron and Navy SEAL Hershal Davis rode on Bolivian UH-1 Huey helicopters with the Bolivian police, flying toward the finca, when Larry spotted a small, twin-engine aircraft taking off from a dirt airstrip while they were still five miles out.

They knew that the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was on target, but only got word later that he was, in fact, on the private aircraft that escaped just as they raided the compound as a part of Operation Snowcap. The DEA and 7th Special Forces Group soldiers participated in Snowcap, which deployed them across Central and South America on counter-narcotics missions from 1987 to 1994. Larry had been previously deployed to Bolivia with an earlier DEA mission called “Blast Furnace,” and had also deployed to Costa Rica and Ecuador to support Snowcap.

Beni HCL Labs 002
Larry described the first set of pictures as showing a “cocaine HCL (hydrochloride) lab”—the final stage to make it into white powder, the form in which 98 percent of the drugs were shipped to the U.S. Image courtesy of Larry Leveron.

Back in Bolivia in 1991, Larry found the DEA was tasked with conducting military-style operations, but did not necessarily have the experience needed to be effective, as their agents were law enforcement officers, most with little military experience. DEA agents assigned to Snowcap could get three weeks of jungle training at Fort Sherman in Panama, explosives training at Quantico, a few weeks of Spanish language immersion training at the border patrol academy, and maybe participate in an abridged form of U.S. Army Ranger School, but then they were on the ground in foreign countries planning and executing operations directed against drug cartels. In the beginning, DEA agents arrived with only some camping gear bought at K-mart and surplus military kit.

It was Supervisory Special Agent Frank White of the DEA who really turned the program around. A former LRRP/Ranger who had served in Vietnam, White had a better idea of what his agents were up against on the ground and lobbied the Pentagon for improved training. There was talk at the time of creating a special division within the DEA for the Snowcap mission, but this did not come into existence until the war in Afghanistan kicked off and FAST teams were stood up.