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      Snowcap And Frank's Demise

      Bob Pilgrim

    When the Clinton administration came to power the days of Snowcap and Frank White's sheparding of this successful cocaine interdiction program were numbered. The enlightened management and positive leadership of the seconded FBI officials came to an unfortunate end when the Jackal became US Attorney General. She disliked the FBI and announced to the press that she was convinced that real law enforcement occurred at the grass roots level and that's where enforcement efforts should be concentrated. One of her early political appointees was the "Thumb" as DEA Administrator.

    When Frank arrived at one of the (JSOC) Joint Special Operations Command bases he received a message to call HQ immediately. It was a heart sickening call that he had anticipated, but hoped to avoid. He was told that he had been promoted to the Senior Executive Service and would become the Associate Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Division. Considered an important career assignment, they thought Frank was crazy when he tried to convince the career board to leave him with Snowcap. The "Suits" really thought he was insane when arguments failing, he offered to take a two or three grade downgrade in rank to remain with his teammates.

    Although his heart was still with his buddies in the Huallaga Valley, he immersed himself in his new duties and responsibilities in the "Windy City," where he was in charge of law enforcement operations in five states.

    As soon as the Thumb took the helm at HQ, he announced his two primary goals "statistics and integrity." The Thumb embraced statistics like a drunk held onto a lamppost for support rather than enlightment. As an empire builder, he knew that rising lines of productivity impressed congress and that's where the money is. Productivity in itself is fine, but when it becomes the driving mantra for an organization whose job is inherently dangerous, it can literally kill.

    Frank had cautioned the Suits that statistics not be DEA's sole criteria of measurement for Operation Snowcap. His team leaders and risk takers set their own goals independent of the HQ bureaucracy. The Suits would inculcate unreasonable and unobtainable objectives that could push highly aggressive Snowcap agents beyond their mission capabilities and become needless casualties in the process. However, as far as Snowcap was concerned the Thumb made these concerns almost academic when he confided that he questioned Snowcap's value and planned on terminating it anyway.

    Agent Frankie Fernandez, a Snowcap "plank owner" was brave, tough and dedicated. His team was preparing to deploy to Peru and this caused Marine Colonel "Leatherneck" to place a hurried call to Frank. The Suits, in a relatively short period of time had estranged themselves from the invaluable military assistance rendered by JSOC and the Corp's War fighting Center. By rejecting this expertise and steadying influence of the military, Snowcap began to slip back to its early haphazard days of laxity, tactical ineptitude and general lack of professionalism. Nevertheless, agents like Frankie Fernandez were committed to the program, but before he left for the Huallaga Valley Frank and Leatherneck cautioned him not to take unnecessary risks attempting to pump up statistics for the unrealistic Suits. In addition, the US State Department had curtailed DEA's use of their choppers for clan lab recon, which forced Frankie Fernandez to rely mainly on fixed wing assets.

    The Spanish CASA aircraft is like a small C 130 and is terrific at hauling people and equipment into jungle airstrips, but was not designed for "Nap of the Earth" low-level reconnaissance missions. Frankie Fernandez and four of his team were performing such a dangerous task looking for signs of coke labs in the double canopy forest below them. As they cleared a stand of tall trees, suddenly a densely vegetated mountainside loomed out of the mist in front of them. The pilot gunned the two engines and hauled back on the yoke, but it was too late and the CASA plowed into the outcrop of trees and rock at over 100 miles per hour. All five on board, Frankie Fernandez, Meredith Thompson, Frank Wallace, Jay Seale and Juan Vars were killed.

    Foreboding unfortunately became reality and the Suits scrambled around amid their empty lamentations bemoaning the agent's deaths, but at the same time avoiding responsibility. Frank was close to these agents. He and the author, Bob Pilgrim, had first met Meredith when she came back to Quantico for Agent Survival in service, which included live fire raid entries in a shooting house. The FBI HRT tire house was booked, so Frank rented the shoot house and ranges at Bill Scott's Summit Point Race Track in West Virginia. Meredith quickly learned CQB skills and was very aggressive as well as a good shot. She was in effect "one of the boys." Meredith was physically fit and her name resided on the wall of the FBI gym for setting a couple of PT test event records for women. She was an accepted leader among her peers and because of her outstanding character and sustained high performance under stress Frank requested that she attend Snowcap selection. And now-she and her four brother a! gents were gone.

    While the military was exploring the role of women in combat and Delta Force was considering the selection of female operators, which brought them to the Academy to look at the performance of female agents, women were serving in the Snowcap program with distinction and valor. When Frank re organized Snowcap, several female agents volunteered, passed selection and completed JSOC training. Can women cut it in combat? Snowcap attracted some exceptional females who asked for no special treatment and shared every hardship with the men. Like exceptional men, Frank believed exceptional women too are rare commodities in any society. Women who are willing to ask for no special consideration, face all the hardships attendant to extremes in law enforcement and slug it out with evil should be respected and given equal opportunities to prove their worth: Meredith certainly did.

    Frankie Fernandez possessed a magnetic personality and was a technical advisor for the Tom Clancy movie, "Clear and Present Danger." While on location, Karen, one of the film's producers became impressed with him and upon learning of his death called Frank in Chicago. She knew how effective Snowcap was and appreciated Frankie's dedication to the program. She had also heard that the Thumb planned on shutting it down and wanted to know what she could do to keep it up and running? Ruminating over the loss of his Snowcap agents and thinking about the void that his former partner Frankie T had left in his and his loved ones lives, Frank decided to speak out about the Thumb's and his supporting cast of like minded lackey's negligence and direct contribution to the five agent's deaths.

    Frank had been involved in the narcotic agents/officers street survival course since the 1980's. It was further refined at Quantico by Chuck Franklin and his men and Frank, as unit chief, took the package with him to Chicago. It had always received appreciative accolades from even the most jaded Narc and periodically Frank would receive positive feedback from the field on how the training had saved a life. However, Frank allegedly made a remark about the Jackal using his incident with her to apprise students of the realities and aftermath of an officer involved shooting for the countless classes he conducted with DEA evaluators present. This remark was the ammunition the Thumb had been looking for to attack him.

    While assigned to the Miami Division, Frank was involved in several justifiable shootings and the Jackal, then state's attorney, frequently attacked Frank in the press. In the same time frame, for lawfully ending the criminal careers of their attackers the Jackal had prosecuted several police officers. In one well publicized case, Jackal versus Officer Luis Alvarez; the defendant was a young police officer whom the Jackal prosecuted for Manslaughter. Alvarez and his partner had been arresting a man for carrying a concealed handgun in a Miami video arcade. As the perp spun and went for his gun Alvarez had no choice but to shoot him. His single shot shot proved fatal. The jury acquitted Alvarez as did all other juries in the Jackal's bogus police prosecutions. Seemingly with a personal vengeance, she had set out to not only destroy them professionally, but ruin their family's lives as well. As a result of her targeted abuse of those protecting her and the c! ommunity, the law enforcement establishment held her in total disdain. Frank used this example of misdirected justice to let officers know about the burdens attendant to police shootings and from personal experience how to cope with it. Many police officers and agents referred to her in a disparaging way.

    Additionally, agents in Frank's office had reported to him serious ethical and Code of Conduct violations perpetrated by the Thumb while in their presence. The evidence was in fact overwhelming as to the Thumb's unquestionable guilt. Frank reported this to the Jackal's minions and the Jackal obstructed justice by sweeping Frank's charges under the DOJ's carpet of capricious conscience. The duplicit irony was that the Thumb had fired many agents for doing what he himself was charged. The Thumb retaliated by sending his Suits to the field division like sharks on blood searching for anything they could use to destroy Frank. In many ways it was the ultimate hypocrisy, because although the Thumb had instituted a draconian code of conduct, he had violated it with impunity. After weeks of investigation all the Thumb's heavies could come up with was Frank's alleged derogatory remarks about the Jackal. In the best tradition of Inside the Beltway's spin machine, the Thu! mb managed to blow this incident up into huge and catastrophic proportions.

    Frank retired and with a heavy heart left his DEA teammates with whom he had shared danger and hardship as well as laughter and happiness. On his last day with DEA General Mac Arthur's departing speech at West Point came to mind when he had said "Old soldiers never die they just fade away."


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