The Absolutely True, Somewhat Spurious and Totally Impossible


oSUBoSpy Versus Spy Versus Spy -- The Murder of Henry Liu

When planning a conspiracy, make sure to throw as many variables into the equation as possible -- if anyone gets close to the solution, they'll be lost in a maze of false leads. In the 11 years since the murder of San Francisco gift shop owner Henry Liu, the questions surrounding the death of this Taiwanese expatriate have only gotten more complicated.

This much is known: On an October morning in 1984, Henry Liu opened the garage door of his Daly City home and was promptly perforated by seven .357 slugs. The two gunmen, who witnesses described as being in their twenties or thirties, had ridden up to Liu on a pair of bicycles, emptied their guns and pedaled away. Four hours later, FBI agents were on the scene, rifling through Liu's house.

Liu's family maintained in the local press that his killing was a political assassination prompted by a tattletale book Liu had written recounting the peccadilloes of the Nationalist Chinese leader: The Life of President Chiang Ching-Guo.

After some diplomatic arm-twisting (and some congressional muttering concerning a pending arms sale), the Nationalists agreed to investigate Liu's murder. Three months later, the Taiwanese claimed they had cracked the case. Liu had been murdered by the United Bamboo Gang, a heroin syndicate based in Taiwan. The gang's kingpin, Chen Chi-Li, aka "Dry Duck," confessed he had ordered Liu offed after being asked to do so by the head of Taiwanese intelligence, Admiral Wong. After his arrest, the admiral admitted he had set the ball rolling because Liu's book had insulted President Chiang. The Nationalist government even produced one of the shooters, Wu Tu-Csi, who, incongruous with witness descriptions, clocked in at a hale 64 years old.

Opting for the home-court advantage, the Nationalists resisted American pressure to extradite the conspirators and tried all the principal players in Taiwan. "Dry Duck" Chen's trial lasted four hours, after which he was sentenced to life. Admiral Wong also received a lengthy sentence. End of story, right? Not so fast, Mr. Bond.

Henry Liu wasn't just another Chinese expat made good in America. In 1985, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Taiwanese government officials had presented the U.S. Justice Department with pay stubs and written reports filed by Liu proving he had been a paid Taiwanese spy. The Nationalists also said Liu had spied for the Communist government in Beijing. That would make Liu a double agent.

The Christian Science Monitor also reported that Liu had been keeping an eye on the Chinese mob in the Bay Area for the FBI. That would explain the Bureau's presence at the crime scene only hours after Liu's murder. And make him a double agent with a part-time job.

So, who killed Henry Liu? Any of his employers, had they found out about Liu's crossed allegiances, could have wanted him dead. The most likely scenario has the Nationalists, in cahoots with the Bamboo Gang, icing Liu for being a double or triple agent. Take your pick. This would explain why most of the conspirators, including the mob boss, were released from Taiwanese prison in 1989 under a general clemency for "political prisoners."

After more than a decade, the Chinese American community is still abuzz with rumors concerning the murder of Henry Liu. Was he really killed because of his trash-talking book, which became a bestseller in the community after his assassination? Or was Henry Liu killed by any one of the secret trusts he betrayed?

The Drug Tug
The story of the Drug Tug is yet another glimmer of light dancing off the scandalous, multimirrored conspiracy called the Reagan administration. Everyone knows, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan himself, how committed the 40th president was to the clan of ex-Somoza henchmen he called "freedom fighters." The contras would have shriveled up from jungle rot if it hadn't been for the dedicated machinations of the Reagan White House. Sure, they peddled arms to keep the contra movement alive -- that's old hat. They also peddled hashish through a Bay Area connection, something you know if you are a regular reader of the tiny, semiweekly community paper the Napa Sentinel.

The Drug Tug saga begins in 1988, when a tugboat, the Intrepid Ventura, packed with 43 tons of hash and 13 tons of pot was seized by federal agents in San Francisco Bay; it was one of the largest hash busts in U.S. history. The Intrepid's skipper was convicted on multiple counts of drug smuggling and -- get this -- conspiracy.

Harry V. Martin, zealous editor of the Napa Sentinel, took the local angle and began his own investigation of the Drug Tug's origins. As Jonathan Vankin writes in his 1991 book, Conspiracies, Crimes and Cover-ups, Martin uncovered "a Msbius loop of links" between the boatload of hashish and the CIA, the White House and the contras. Ready? Here we go ....

The phone records of the tugboat captain, Calvin Robinson, reveal that he spoke frequently with Thomas Smith, a convicted drug trafficker. Smith, in turn, possessed a "friends and family circle" of telephone correspondents who got him in trouble with prosecutors. Smith's phone records showed that he talked on occasions with a broker for the Medell’n cartel, and also to three pilots with long careers flying for the CIA's notorious, drug-related Air America.

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