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The drug-running Medellin Cartel of Colombia is offering a $1 million bounty for the dead body of any American drug enforcement agent - the latest step in the cartel's barefaced campaign to eliminate those who get in the way.Colombian officials have put their lives on the line fighting the cartel, which has murdered hundreds of drug agents, judges and journalists. The reign of terror in Colombia left the cartel sitting comfortably on its drug profits. But its style has been crimped since Colombian authorities began working with U.S. officials to bring drug traffickers to justice.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can't afford to let the cartel win this war - approximately 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States comes from the Medellin Cartel.

The cartel was founded in 1981 when more than 200 drug traffickers met at a restaurant in Medellin and plotted a war against the Colombian terrorist group, M-19. The terrorists preyed on wealthy drug dealers by kidnapping their family members and demanding ransom.

As we reported recently, the drug dealers spilled the blood of enough of the terrorists to subdue M-19. Then the two groups formed an unholy alliance, with the cartel paying M-19 to do its dirty work.

In a celebrated incident in 1985, the cartel paid the terrorists $5 million to take over the Colombian Supreme Court building and destroy extradition files on cartel leaders. In the ensuing battle with police, twelve Supreme Court justices were killed.

The cartel has vowed to kill any Colombian police officer or informant working with the DEA. It carried out that threat with the assassination of the DEA's most important drug informant - American Barry Seal - in Baton Rouge, La., in 1986.

Seal was a Special Forces pilot in Vietnam who turned to drug trafficking in 1977, eventually flying drugs for the cartel. But after the DEA arrested him in 1983, he began fingering cartel members. Seal aided in the extradition and prosecution of cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder, now serving a life sentence.

The cartel put a price on Seal's head - $1 million alive and $500,000 dead. If Seal had been brought to Colombia alive, he would have been tortured to death.

Our intelligence sources allege that cartel leader Pablo Emilio Escobar was behind the hit team that gunned down Seal in Louisiana. That team traveled through two countries - Panama and Mexico - relying on the graces of corrupt public officials who were chummy with the cartel.

Emboldened by the Seal hit, the cartel has secretly put out the word that it will pay $1 million for the murder of any DEA agent. It doesn't matter if the agent is working against the cartel or against drug traffickers from other regions.

One official has come under a more specific threat. He is the chief DEA official in New York, Robert M. Stutman. The DEA has posted a 24-hour guard around him because of reliable intelligence that the No. 3 man in the Medellin Cartel, Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez-Gacha, has targeted Stutman for assassination.