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CNN Perspectives

Killing Pablo

Aired November 12, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MIKE BOETTCHER, HOST: Murder, assassination, a billion-dollar drug empire -- one of the most wanted outlaws of the 20th century: Was a bullet the only way to stop him?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN MAGEE, U.S. DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: Pablo Escobar, in my opinion, is the largest, biggest criminal the world has ever seen or will ever see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: Tonight, the untold story of America's role in the hunt for Pablo Escobar, and what the United States knew about a vigilante justice group that helped bring him down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE TOFT, U.S. DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION (RET.): I don't know what the moral of the story is. You know, it's -- I hope the ends don't justify the means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: A CNN worldwide television event: KILLING PABLO.

Welcome to CNN PERSPECTIVES, I'm Mike Boettcher.

Some call it the latest offensive in the war on drugs, while others say it's a futile attempt to prop up a weak Colombian government under attack by separatist guerrillas. What's certain is last June, the U.S. Congress voted to spend $1.3 billion in the South American nation which is the number one source of cocaine and heroin to the United States. The money will be used to train Colombian forces to go after drug growers and dealers, but this is not the first time that American soldiers, technology, and money have been used in a drug war in Colombia.

Tonight, we'll take you back to a time when the enemy was Pablo Escobar, the mission top secret, and the battle won with the help of a shadowy vigilante group. KILLING PABLO is based on Mark Bowden's multi-part newspaper series that began running today in the "Philadelphia Inquirer." A word of caution, the following video contains graphic material. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOETTCHER (voice-over): This is La Catre Dal (ph), where nearly a decade ago the richest man in Colombia became the richest inmate in Colombia, and then the most wanted man in Colombia. His name was Pablo Escobar and he was one of the world's most powerful and dangerous men. His assassins murdered hundreds of judges, journalists, politicians, and innocent bystanders who got in their way.

From this hilltop, you can look out on what used to be Pablo's kingdom, where one of the century's greatest outlaws was known as "The Robin Hood of Medellin."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We sincerely cared a lot for him, and his death hurt us. He was a person who would help poor communities on a daily basis. He didn't take notice of which people, only of poverty.

BOETTCHER: The neighborhood is called Barrio Pablo Escobar, Pabloville. Peasants remember a generous man who spent lavishly on his hometown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We lived in Moravia (ph), the town's dump site. We had a hut, but then there was a fire. He was moved by the whole thing. Then several families were chosen and we were given homes.

BOETTCHER: Son of a farmer and a schoolteacher, Pablo Escobar grew up in Colombia's second largest city during a period called La Violencia, the violence, a time when murder became commonplace. He started with petty crimes such as stealing gravestones and cars, but soon graduated to the booming drug trade. By the time he reached his 30s, the poor kid from Medellin had become the richest and most powerful cocaine trafficker in the world.

LT. COL. ANDRES ESTUPINAN, COLOMBIAN NATIONAL POLICE (through translator): Eighty percent of the criminality in Medellin around that time was mobilized by Pablo Escobar or his organization. They were people who subjected to no law, no order. They only responded to their master and the money he could give them.

BOETTCHER: Escobar enjoyed a life of luxury and extravagance. This is one of his estates where giant fiberglass dinosaurs shared the land with exotic animals and exotic cars, like the one reputedly driven by Bonnie and Clyde, and the cars Pablo gave away to nude women competing in foot races. But Pablo wanted something money couldn't buy: respect. In the early 1980s, he ran for Congress and got elected as an alternate.

CESARE GAVIRIA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF COLOMBIA: The judicial system and the political system where the areas in which Mafia people got into because they thought was going to be useful, will protect them, it brought a kind of immunity that was important.

BOETTCHER: But when Escobar tried to take his seat in Congress, he was denounced on the floor of the house. He retaliated by declaring war on anyone who opposed him or his cartel. When the justice minister called Pablo a narcotics trafficker, Pablo had him killed. When a judge indicted Pablo for the crime, the judge was shot and killed as well.

In Washington, the election of George Bush in 1988 put America on a collision course with Escobar. The Reagan era's "Just Say No" campaign was escalating, as the U.S. began demanding the extradition of drug producers overseas. Escobar responded with a carrot and stick: massive payoffs to the authorities, coupled with assassination of those who couldn't be bought.

TOFT: Their reputation was that if you did not cave in to their demands to buy you off, that you were a dead man.

BOETTCHER: Joe Toft led the DEA effort in Bogota. Working out of the U.S. Embassy, the agency collected intelligence and trained Colombian authorities in enforcement tactics.

TOFT: I had no idea that the corruption would reach the levels that had taken place, even though I figured it was going to be a very difficult task to go after Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel. It turned out to be many times more difficult than I expected.

MAGEE: Pablo Escobar, in my opinion, is the largest, biggest criminal the world has ever seen or will ever see.

BOETTCHER: Ken Magee was also in the DEA's Bogota office and, like his boss, was in awe of Escobar's power and influence.

MAGEE: Al Capone could possibly be a driver or a bodyguard for Pablo Escobar.

BOETTCHER: Escobar and his cronies began calling themselves "The Extraditables." Under the slogan, "we prefer a grave in Colombia than a prison in the United States," the group used bribes and tactics of violence to convince the Colombian Supreme Court to ban extradition of Colombian citizens. Safe from U.S. justice, the Medellin cartel members ratcheted up their domestic campaign of terror, killing presidential candidate Luis Carlos Gallan (ph) and blowing up an Avianca airliner in an attempt to kill Gallan's successor, Cesare Gaviria.

GAVIRIA: And they didn't kill me because they couldn't, but they kill other three candidates. I knew we were taking high risks, I knew my family was taking a high risk. You never know when they are going to come.

BOETTCHER: It is how Pablo Escobar and his cartel rule: through terror and intimidation. They were even allegedly behind a plot to assassinate George Bush.

In 1990, Colombian police seized 10 French-made missiles that police security forces say were to be used to attack the president when he landed in Cartagena for an anti-drug summit. At the time, Colombia was producing about 80 percent of the world's supply of cocaine, that made Pablo Escobar a target for the Bush administration's push against drugs.

Despite popular opposition, Colombian leaders accepted technical assistance from the Americans.

GAVIRIA: I mean, this is not only a problem of Colombia, this is a problem of everyone who is involved in this business.

BOETTCHER: And so began what became known as "the first war." Encouraged and funded in part by the U.S., Colombian police pursued Pablo and in the process killed some of his top men. Escobar fought back.

GENERAL ROSSO JOSE SERRANO, FMR. CHIEF, COLOMBIAN NATL. POLICE (through translator): I remember that in Medellin, in one year he killed 500 policeman. In other words, as policemen would leave, like they say here, with our hairs standing on end. It was a very hard life, because a bomb could explode at any moment.

UNIDENTIFIED AGENT, COLOMBIAN NATIONAL POLICE (through translator): Each time you left your house, you didn't know if you were going to be back. You would say, OK, dear, I'm leaving. I might return, I might not.

BOETTCHER: Many of the killings were borne of corruption.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Mr. Pablo Escobar paid 2, 3 million peso for each agent's head. So many of the policemen working (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they will go and kill you right there.

BOETTCHER: In 1990, Colombian President Cesare Gaviria made the drug dealers an offer: surrender and confess to at least one crime and you will be given a reduced sentence. Pablo Escobar and 17 of his colleagues decided to accept the deal. The world's biggest drug dealer, the worst mass murderer in Colombian history would plead guilty to a single count of arranging an overseas drug deal.

As part of the plea bargain, authorities would prepare a prison designed especially for Pablo so he could maintain his luxurious lifestyle, and Pablo would be guarded by his own handpicked men to protect him from his rivals.

(on camera): Tell me, you went through there. What was it like?

MORRIS BUSBY, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO COLOMBIA: A beautiful place, a beautiful place, looking right out over Medellin and over Indigado (ph).

BOETTCHER (voice-over): This video taken by the CIA shows that his prison was more like a country club. Perched on top of an Andes mountain, it was a virtual five-star resort.

BUSBY: I was furious. I mean, I really was furious to think that this man had been able to pull this off, and I think everybody was. And it was a jaw dropper to see what it was really like.

GAVIRIA: We significantly failed. We were wrong. We sort of underestimated the capacity of Escobar to bribe and to intimidate people.

BOETTCHER: Not only was he living in luxury, it was business as usual for his drug business. And for Pablo Escobar, murder was just another way of doing business, and so in July 1992, he executed two of his cronies, William and Herardo Moncata (ph). The brothers were murdered inside Pablo's prison home, because Pablo suspected they were skimming profits from his cocaine empire. The wife of William Moncata said the two were "hung upside down and burned," it was, she said, "Escobar's favorite way of killing someone."

(on camera): That changed everything.

GAVIRIA: Oh, yes, that changed everything because it was very clear and established truth that he was committing crimes in jail, and also that moment that we took the position to take him to a jail (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Bogota.

BOETTCHER (voice-over): Gaviria decided he'd had enough, he sent an entire army brigade to storm the prison and he asked his vice minister of justice, Eduardo Mendoza, to go there to -- quote -- "legalize the transfer."

But when Mendoza arrived, he discovered the army had not attacked, they were still waiting outside, and the general on site decided to send Mendoza along with his military director of prisons up the long driveway. Alone, unarmed, and terrified, they were to inform the world's most infamous inmate that he was being moved to a real prison.

GAVIRIA: That was something -- the most stupid thing that general could have done. Instead of entering himself with the armed people, send in two officials that were unarmed to talk with Escobar.

BOETTCHER: Escobar promptly took both men hostage. A unit of special forces arrived the next morning, there was a shoot-out. Mendoza says he tried to hide behind the toilet, but feared he would be killed by shattering glass. He tried crawling under Pablo's mattress, but it was too heavy. In the end, he sat on the bed in a room filled with Pablo's gunmen and waited to death to come.

Eight years later, Mendoza agreed to share his amazing story, but not on camera.

EDUARDO MENDOZA, FMR. COLOMBIAN VICE MINISTER OF JUSTICE: I just sort of lied there in the middle of the living room with all these people around me and I thought that's how -- this is how I'm going to die.

BOETTCHER: The prison where he was held hostage is now in ruins. Mendoza was saved by a special forces sergeant who threw him against the wall and sat on him through the shootings and explosions. When Pablo's men surrendered, the sergeant led Mendoza out of the prison, first crawling furiously on his hands and knees, and then running so hard that he broke two ribs.

MENDOZA: I was running so fast I just couldn't stop, you know. And I just crashed into everything, jumped down stairs, it was like having superhuman powers.

BOETTCHER: When Mendoza escaped to the outside, he learned Pablo Escobar had too.

GAVIRIA: He escaped in an incredible way. He just walked out. People were so intimidated because of him that he was able to go through a military line of people that were very well armed, and he was unarmed and he was able to walk out.

BOETTCHER: This time, Pablo had pushed the Colombian president too far. Humiliated and insulted, Gaviria, in defiance of Colombia's constitution, invited the Americans to send in ground troops.

TOFT: When he left the prison and made the government lose face once again, I think that became a turning point and that's the beginning of the end of Pablo Escobar.

ESTUPINAN (through translator): In Colombia at that time, he was considered public enemy number one, and because of that, every effort was made to capture him at any cost.

BOETTCHER: The world's biggest manhunt had begun.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOETTCHER: Go to almost any airport anywhere in the world and you will see lots of airplanes like this, Beechcraft 300s. In Colombia's war against drugs, they were used by the national police and by U.S. DEA agents, and because they are so ordinary, so easy to ignore, they were just what the American Army's secret unit, codenamed Centra Spike, needed to track down Pablo Escobar.

A U.S. official who worked in the American Embassy at the time and was familiar with Centra Spike's operations agreed to talk to us, but asked that his face be obscured and his voice replaced with someone else's.

(on camera): What was so special about Centra Spike?

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. EMBASSY OFFICIAL: To be able to, in a clandestine manner, fly reconnaissance missions that would be able to pinpoint with extreme accuracy the location of Pablo Escobar himself.

BOETTCHER (voice-over): He says they crammed the basic Beechcraft with high-tech gear that tracks mobile phone transmissions. The theory: find Pablo Escobar by finding his phone. That phone, along with other Pablo paraphernalia, is now on display at the police museum in Bogota.

The U.S. Army's interest in high-tech surveillance dates to World War II, when the Allies figured out how to determine the location of Nazi radio transmissions within a few hundred miles. In the 1980s, the invention of the desktop PC enabled the Army and its secret Centra Spike unit to take so-called "radio telemetry" to a new level.

The Beechcrafts went to battle in the so-called "First War" against Escobar in 1989, when he was pursued and eventually turned himself in. By 1992, the technology was so advanced that a plane flying over an entire city could determine the exact house and, if they worked with the team on the ground, even the exact room that the transmission was emanating from.

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. EMBASSY OFFICIAL: It's the difference between looking for a needle in a haystack and being able to walk into somebody's front door.

BOETTCHER (on camera): That extensive?

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. EMBASSY OFFICIAL: Absolutely.

BOETTCHER (voice-over): Together with the CIA's high-flying glider planes like this one that specialized in visual surveillance, the aircraft were a formidable force, but they would be only part of the plan. Once you figured out where Pablo Escobar was, you still had to get to him.

The U.S. had secret units operating in Colombia since the "first war" with Pablo in 1989. The Pentagon dispatched additional Delta Force operatives within days of Escobar's escape. But who would they train? The Colombian army was busy fighting leftist guerrillas, and besides, many American officials considered the army corrupt. The army had relied on Escobar's cartel to provide guns, money, and training to paramilitary groups fighting the rebels, and when Pablo walked out of prison, he walked right through the 4th brigade of the Colombian army.

The Colombian national police, on the other hand, had sealed its hatred for Escobar in the blood of hundreds of murdered policemen; a commitment memorialized at their Bogota headquarters.

So the Blocke de Busqueda (ph), the Search Block, was formed with the Colombian national policemen in its ranks, seen training earlier this year. They would become Colombia's version of the Delta Force. Their sole job would be to hunt for Pablo.

This Delta operator, whom we'll call "Santos," supervised the instruction. He also asked that his face not be shown and that his voice be replaced with someone else's.

"SANTOS," U.S. ARMY "DELTA FORCE" (RET.): They were very receptive to the training, because they were getting a lot of new tactical skills that they didn't have and they were getting a lot of supplies that they didn't have the money to get.

BOETTCHER: Because Colombian law does not allow any American military presence, the U.S. Delta operators were not supposed to go on raids or even leave the confines of the police academy. Their mission: to teach the Colombian police all the skills they would need to track down one of the world's most dangerous criminals.

While Delta Force was training and advising officers for the Search Block, Centra Spike was supplying intelligence. The conversations they picked up through an inflight radio telemetry were then passed on to the CIA station chief, and the station chief would pass on only the information he thought the Colombians needed in their hunt for Pablo Escobar.

On the Colombian side, their commander would be this man, Colonel, now General Hugo Martinez. He chased Pablo to jail before, but felt all he'd accomplished had been undone by Pablo's deal with the government.

GENERAL HUGO MARTINEZ, COLOMBIAN NATIONAL POLICE (through translator): When I learned that he escaped, it was for me like another chance. We were being given one more chance, and with our experience, we'd surely be successful, because we already had a lot of experience.

BOETTCHER: But things got off to a bad start. Within hours of his escape, Centra Spike pinpointed Pablo Escobar's location, but the Colombian police were too slow, and over the course of many months and hundred of raids, it was soon apparent to American operatives that the chase was being hampered by incompetence and corruption in the Search Block.

The Colombian police would take 300 officers on a raid, when any more than five was sure to alert the entire countryside that the cavalry was coming. And then there was Escobar's network of informants, a virtual early warning system.

ESTUPINAN (through translator): In Medellin, he counted on the taxi companies, he counted on the newspaper boys, the counted on the homeless. All that network of information was very vigilant of the movement the police would make regarding him.

BOETTCHER: There were even spies at base camp, including a mild mannered teenager.

MARTINEZ (through translator): They contact him, they offered him some money, they tell him, tell me what you hear around there, tell us when you see any movement going on. If they are putting on the bulletproof vest or preparing something, all you have to do is let us know and we'll pay you.

BOETTCHER: Escobar also exploited limitations of Centra Spike's tracking equipment.

MARTINEZ (through translator): When he was talking, he demanded of the person he was talking to not to call him from only one place, to keep moving, to get into a car and keep moving, and he did likewise. Because of that, when we finally made it to the precise location, all we found were traces that he had really been there.

BOETTCHER: Pablo, it seemed, held all the cards.

General Martinez's son, also named Hugo, was a Colombian police officer working with equipment supplied by the CIA to track down Escobar's phone calls. Hugo Jr. is still an active duty officer, and asked that his face not be shown. HUGO MARTINEZ JR., COLOMBIAN NATIONAL POLICE (through translator): He didn't know specifically that I was listening, but he knew my father was. So, once Pablo said, Colonel, if you are listening, I will even do away with your family's third generation, if your grandmother is dead, I will dig her up, kill her and bury her again.

H. MARTINEZ (through translator): The struggle against Pablo Escobar in particular, as it developed, became something personal, not a policeman against crime, but it turned into Colonel Martinez against Pablo Escobar.

BOETTCHER: As weeks became months, and Pablo was still on the run, rumors began circulating that the Search Block was on the take.

H. MARTINEZ (through translator): It happened to us because it took us too long to find Pablo Escobar. Pablo Escobar did not fall, did not fall, and while that did not happen, people told us we were Pablo's accomplices, that we had received money from him.

BOETTCHER: Over time, they did get faster, more efficient, and their tactics improved. Assaults by smaller units replaced the caravan-style tactics of the early days. Still, Escobar always managed to escape. Something new was needed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOETTCHER: By December 1992, after hundred of raids, Pablo Escobar had been at large for six months. Convicted drug kingpin Carlos Leiter (ph), a longtime Escobar associate, wrote a letter to the U.S. recommending that authorities form a civilian militia to apprehend Escobar. Lader hoped his cooperation with the Americans would lessen his life sentence in a U.S. jail.

The U.S. got more suggestions from the wife of one of the drug- dealing Moncata brothers, whose murder in July 1992 touched off Pablo's escape. She told the DEA what it would take to bring Escobar out of hiding. She said, "he must be provoked or angered and made desperate so that he wants to strike back."

The extensive memo lists a half dozen key organization members who should be arrested or killed, a handful of lawyers for the cartel whose deaths would create chaos for Escobar, and properties and important assets which should be destroyed.

Their recommendations came as Pablo Escobar declared war on his government.

MAGEE: Every day, there was a bomb blowing off somewhere. At times, the bombs were meant to cause mass destruction and claim lives, and other times it was just meant to cause damage to property.

BOETTCHER: Around the same time, the table began to turn on Pablo Escobar.

In January, 1993, after another Escobar terror attack, there was a counter attack. An apartment building where Pablo's family members lived was destroyed by a double car bombing. And a hacienda owned by his mother was decimated by dynamite. Two days later, a group of self-described "patriotic" Colombians. a civilian militia, just as Leiter had recommended, took responsibility.

They called themselves los "PEPES" a Spanish acronym for People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar. And they announced through the media that each time Escobar carries out a terrorist action against defenseless people, that PEPES will reply in the same form.

In their statement, the PEPES said they were dedicated to the total annihilation of Pablo Escobar, his underlings, collaborators and property.

Throughout the year, los PEPES took credit for killings, kidnappings and destruction of Escobar property worth millions of dollars. In the first two weeks of their existence, they slaughtered 37 of Escobar's associates and sympathizers, they dynamited apartment buildings owned by his family, and they burned Pablo's collection of classic cars and his private art gallery.

Their strategy, the PEPES said, was, quote, "to make Escobar feel the methods of his brand of terrorism in his own flesh." One by one, Escobar's associates were either killed or turned themselves in for fear of assassination.

At the same time, Pablo was watching his assets dwindle.

TOFT: Unofficially, when I first heard of los PEPES, you know, I felt that it was about time that this would happen, and I actually applauded this effort.

BOETTCHER: There were all kind of rumors and speculation about just who los PEPES were. Many, including Joe Toft, thought they were former members of Pablo's own gang who joined the rival Cali cartel and were unofficially working with the Colombian government to bring Pablo down.

TOFT: You know, officially this relationship between the government and the los PEPES did not exist. But in reality, it did exist.

BOETTCHER: But Pablo Escobar believed it was more than that. He believed los PEPES was actually the government and accused the Colombian police, U.S. allies, of being behind the violent attacks. After all, they were benefiting from the group's vigilante justice. And with so many Colombian police killed by Pablo's hitmen, they certainly had an axe to grind.

If Pablo was right, the Americans had a problem. The U.S. helped fund and train the Colombian officers searching for Escobar. They supplied them with daily intelligence. If the search bloc was working with a vigilante group set on assassinating Pablo Escobar, it would be a clear violation of American law.

MORRIS BUSBY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO COLOMBIA: If that had been the case, then we would have immediately cut off all aid to Colombia and would have had nothing further to do with the hunt for Escobar.

BOETTCHER: And President Gaviria, it now turned out, feared that was the case and suspected there was some connection between his own police commanders and los PEPES.

GAVIRIA: I was fearful that that connection could exist. I was fearful, yes, very fearful.

BOETTCHER: But seven years ago, Gaviria appeared to be much more than fearful. The full extent of his suspicions are documented in a secret eight-page memo authored by U.S. Ambassador Morris Busby.

In it, Busby says Colombia's attorney general as "new, very good evidence linking key members of the police task force to criminal activities and human rights abuses committed by los PEPES."

And, Busby says, our own reporting since early February also suggested that the police were cooperating with the group at some level, including sharing information. Busby's memo also refers to an April 16, 1993 meeting between President Gaviria and his top advisers and says Gaviria told them, quote, "Whatever was going on was to cease," and that he, quote, "reportedly called a Colombian official and ordered him to pass the word that los PEPES must be dissolved immediately."

The next day, los PEPES announce a unilateral cease-fire in the press and a week later stated publicly that the groups with disbanding due to Colombian governmental opposition to their activities.

(on camera): What do you recall about that meeting?

GAVIRIA: I don't recall well about that meeting, but I tried to talk to every high ranking official in government to tell them that we could not be behind the PEPES. It was quite clear for public opinion in Colombia that the things that were happening against Escobar properties and Escobar friends had to have some kind of complicity from government officials.

BOETTCHER: President Gaviria recognized that any connection between his government and a terrorist group would cause a public scandal, and he worried that such a scandal would make it impossible for the Colombian police officers assigned to the search block to do their jobs affectively. The hunt would one with Escobar having, in Busby's words, won the game. And despite the PEPES cease-fire pledge, the killings continued.

BUSBY: The phenomenon of the PEPES heightened the tension enormously for everybody, because what they were doing, or what was happening and being blamed on the PEPES was so brutal and vicious and so public.

BOETTCHER: In Washington, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reviewed the allegations that the U.S. was indirectly assisting los PEPES, and as a result ordered all secret American military units out of Colombia. But Ambassador Busby successfully appealed to have the order postponed. Busby felt pulling the plug at that point would have both betrayed U.S. national interests and broken America's promise to Colombia. As for the alleged government connection with the PEPES, Busby says he won't convinced it was true.

BUSBY: Certainly when I was there, I caused enormous efforts to be made to try and find out what happening with the PEPES, to try to look for any link that we could ever find. And we never found it.

BOETTCHER: So a year into the hunt, the crusade against Pablo Escobar was succeeding. But only after a group had begun to engage in Escobar-style tactics and the United States continued to support the search bloc with money, manpower and technology.

In the end, nobody was ever prosecuted for the crimes committed by los PEPES, and to this day Martinez denies any connection to the group.

GENERAL HUGO MARTINEZ, COLOMBIAN NATIONAL POLICE (through translator): Los PEPES and our group did not share any links at all. We never received any information directly from them. We always received it through the prosecutor's office, and we denounce any element related to them that we had managed to identify.

BOETTCHER: Press the general on the matter, and he'll stand his ground, insisting he had nothing to do with the PEPES, even arguing that the PEPES played only a minor role.

But the general's U.S. partners say the PEPES role was huge.

TOFT: They were very effective because they were playing without any rules, they were killing Escobar's people left and right.

MAGEE: The way Pablo Escobar was going to be captured was by him making a mistake, whether it was moving or making phone calls or getting out into an environment where somebody might recognize him. The PEPES caused Pablo Escobar to move.

TOFT: They basically had a license to go after them without any repercussions.

BOETTCHER: And soon, the man with little love for his fellow man would be undone by his love of family.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOETTCHER: It's just another house on just another street in this well-kept neighborhood in Medellin (ph). Today, it's a lawyer's office. In December of 1993, it was where the search bloc finally cornered its prey.

The final chapter began in October, when los PEPES fired grenades at the apartment complex where Escobar's family was living. By November, Escobar was so concerned for their safety he arranged for them to fly to Frankfurt, Germany, and he hoped asylum. This set off alarms in Washington. MAGEE: In the hunt for this fugitive, we realized that one of the keys to catching Pablo Escobar is his family.

BOETTCHER: If his family left Colombia, authorities would have fewer opportunities to trace his phone calls to him.

Kenny Magee booked a seat on the Escobars' flight to Germany to keep tabs on them and see whom they came in contact with. He snapped these picture with a hidden camera.

MAGEE: I could tell they were scared, obviously, and it was kind of ironic that they were the hunted instead of the hunter. And they were fearful for their lives -- and rightfully so.

BOETTCHER: German authorities refused their application for asylum, and Magee was also on the return flight.

MAGEE: Not only were they tired, disappointed and scared, but they were probably also dumbfounded because normally they would have gotten whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted in their own country. And here you have a situation where they could not pay for whatever they wanted.

BOETTCHER: At that point, the Escobars were out of options. Ironically, they had to turn to the Colombian government for protection from the PEPES. They were put up at the Tecendama (ph) hotel in Bogota, a hotel owned by the Colombian armed forces.

These interviews were done with Colombian television at that time. While the families were holed up in their suite, police waited, hoping Pablo would try to contact them.

Pablo didn't disappoint.

He was so incensed that his family had been turned away from Germany that he started to call them immediately.

BUSBY: He must have known that he was making himself very vulnerable, and yet he did it any way.

BOETTCHER: But Pablo knew police were listening. So at first he kept the calls short and talked from the back seat of a moving taxi so the phone calls couldn't be traced.

He also wrote letters like this one. Addressed to a number of Colombian officials, including Colonel Martinez, it is dated November 30, and begins, "Senores PEPES."

In it, Pablo complains bitterly about his treatment from authorities and the PEPES, which he contends are one and the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I have been raided 10,000 times. You haven't been at all. Everything has been confiscated from me, nothing from you. The government will never offer a reward for you all. The government will never apply faceless justice to criminal and terrorist policemen." BOETTCHER: December 2, 1993, somewhere in Medellin (ph). As Colombian police listen in, Pablo begins to talk too much and too long. It is the day after his 44th birthday and just three days after his family was kicked out Germany. He calls a radio station to complain about his family's treatment, and he calls his family at the Tecandama Hotel.

MARTINEZ (through translator): I had direct communication with the person in charge of the switchboards and of transferring calls to the rooms. When Pablo Escobar called, the person in charge, a fellow police officer, called me immediately and said, I've got him.

BOETTCHER: Pablo keeps first phone call short but hangs up promising to call his son back later that same day. It was the second call to his family that would prove to be his last. And the family of General Martinez, whom Pablo Escobar had threatened on countless occasions, would bring the drama to a climax.

MARTINEZ (through translator): When the communication started, we begin looking for him, and in and about five minutes it was done. We knew exactly where he was.

BOETTCHER: Or at least they thought they did. The search bloc raided a hotel in a shopping center, but Pablo wasn't inside. Then Captain Martinez saw something on his signal analyzer he hadn't noticed, a slight squiggle.

MARTINEZ (through translator): I saw that there was a storm drain nearby and power lines. That made me look to see if my readings were inaccurate. I established rather quickly that it was the wrong place because of those influences.

BOETTCHER: Pablo was still talking as Martinez crossed over the creek and followed the signal to its strongest point, a simple two- story row home. And when Martinez looked up, he couldn't believe what he saw.

MARTINEZ (through translator): At that moment, when I was sitting with them, Pablo peered through the window between the curtains. There he was. He got closer and saw me. I had the headphones on and I was pointing -- here.

BOETTCHER: Pablo hung up, and Captain Martinez, expecting an army of armed opposition inside, scrambled to redirect his forces who were still searching the shopping center. But in the end, Pablo Escobar had only his bodyguard Lemon (ph) to protect him. And as raiders burst through the door, Lemon ran on to the roof. Riddled with bullets, he dropped to the grass below.

Then came Pablo.

MARTINEZ (through translator): Pablo appeared by the window with two guns, and he began to fire inside and out, yelling, police sons of bitches.

BOETTCHER: Pablo made a run for it. He was dropped by gunfire in the middle of the roof. A Colombian police commander assigned to the case says the wounded drug lord was then executed with a bullet to the ear, as this autopsy photo reveals. And an officer yelled into the radio, viva Colombia. We have just killed Pablo Escobar.

As word spread, Pablo's mother arrived at the scene. But all she saw was her son's dead bodyguard.

MARTINEZ (through translator): The mother began to laugh and said he was not her son, that he was not Pablo Escobar. You are wrong, she told us. So the rumor spread that it was another failed operation, that somebody else had died. She had not seen her son's corpse on the roof.

BOETTCHER: After Pablo died, members of the search bloc clipped off the corners of his mustache as a souvenir, giving Escobar a bizarre Hitler-like look that was noted throughout the world. It was a private prank, a final indignity to the man who had evaded them so long.

MAGEE: I felt that it had been a victory for the people of Colombia, the Colombian national police, and United States federal law enforcement.

MARTINEZ (through translator): Everybody was happy. All of us understood he been taken done.

BOETTCHER: The search bloc and its U.S. patrons threw a "Pablo is dead" party. But the DEA's Joe Toft was uneasy. Not only was the field cleared for Pablo Escobar's drug dealing rivals to move in, the U.S. and Colombian team had succeeded only after assistance from los PEPES, which engaged in the same sort of Escobar-style terror tactics that had sparked the chase to begin with. And Toft would ask whether the U.S. had traded one set of enemies for another.

TOFT: Once it sunk in that he was finally gone, you know, it was a bittersweet feeling. Because Pablo was history, but the real winners were the Cali cartel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOETTCHER: Pablo Escobar had become so rich, so powerful and so vicious that he had threatened to bring down the very nation of Colombia by undermining its judicial constitution and influencing elections. Killing Pablo was almost a symbolic act.

GAVIRIA: To tell Colombian people nobody out of the law will be able to defy the state.

BOETTCHER: But the newly empowered Cali cartel, Pablo's rivals, would try.

TOFT: They got rid of their No. 1 opponent, their No. 1 competitor, Escobar and his organization, and they became the monopoly in the country.

BOETTCHER: In time, the Cali cartel was also brought down by Colombian police officers trained in financed in part by the Americans. And the struggle with the Cali cartel only led to an even more sophisticated criminal.

MAJOR OSCAR NARANJO, CHIEF OF INTELLIGENCE, COLOMBIAN NATIONAL POLICE (through translator): We're facing a new generation of drug traffickers that has learned its lessons from the past and knows that terrorism and corruption are weapons that the state defeats at the end of the day. This new generation is using their intelligence, sophistication and basically a clandestine role to ensure drug trafficking.

BOETTCHER: The fact that drug traffickers are allied with the leftist guerrillas who have been fighting a 36-year civil war has made them even more formidable.

BARRY MCCAFFREY, DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: That drug-production base is fueling enormously violent, corrupting influences in our society. That's the heart and soul of it.

BOETTCHER: Which brings us to the multibillion dollar plan to fund the fight against this new force.

Much is made in Washington between battling an insurgency, a la Vietnam, and the war against drugs, a la Pablo Escobar. But when the drugs are controlled by the insurgents, authorities admit the two goals can become one.

NARANJO (through translator): If one eliminates the possibility of the PARC rebels participating in this business, it would be possible to overcome the problem of drugs.

MCCAFFREY: They're fighting over drug money. And that's where we have to support Colombian police and their prosecutors and judges and their armed forces in regaining the control of law over their own nation.

BOETTCHER: For the U.S. military, the Pablo Escobar experience provided invaluable training in what's emerged as a post-Cold War way of handling conflict. Not threatened by countries, the United States is threatened by drugs and thugs and small bands of terrorists.

JEFF RICHELSON, MILITARY HISTORIAN: You're dealing with a much smaller group of people, people who are mobile. The chain of command, the leadership is much more murky. So it becomes a different type of intelligence target.

BOETTCHER: In such cases, the strategy of U.S. technology, such as centrospike (ph), working with a small, well-targeted force, has become the preferred course of action.

The United States tried it in Somalia, where centrospike tracked down associates of warlord Muhammad Fara Aidi (ph), and delta operators were dispatched to grab them.

The U.S. did it in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden's phones assisted in the targeting of cruise missiles launched in August 1998.

And American forces are doing it right now in the Balkans, where the successor to centrospike has provided targeting information that enabled NATO-led peace keep to arrest alleged war criminals.

In each case, U.S. adversaries live in parts of the world where cell phones are a must, and the messages they send are vulnerable to intercept.

Going forward, the DEA's Joe Toft says the U.S. must be ready to bring down criminal drug lords like Pablo Escobar. But he also believes America must be vigilant about the risk of moral compromise, as notions of right and wrong vary from place to place.

TOFT: I think most Americans, including government officials, politicians, are very naive when it comes to knowing what it takes to operate in a place such as Colombia.

I don't know what the moral of the story is. You know, it's -- I hope the ends don't justify the means.

BOETTCHER (on camera): Colombia is the source of 90 percent of the cocaine that flows into the United States. To combat the problem, during the past four years the U.S. has steadily increased its anti- drug aid to the Andean nation.

Still, coca production surged in Colombia during that time, and critics say the war against drugs will never truly be won until the battle is more effectively waged against those who use drugs as well as those who grow and sell them.

I'm Mike Boettcher. We'll see you next time on CNN PERSPECTIVES.

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