The CIA, Contras, Gangs, and Crack
In August 1996, the San Jose Mercury News initiated an extended series of articles linking the CIA's "contra" army to the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles. Based on a year-long investigation, reporter Gary Webb wrote that during the 1980s the CIA helped finance its covert war against Nicaragua's leftist government through sales of cut-rate cocaine to South Central L.A. drug dealer, Ricky Ross. The series unleashed a storm of protest, spearheaded by black radio stations and the congressional Black Caucus, with demands for official inquiries. The Mercury News' Web page, with supporting documents and updates, received hundreds of thousands of "hits" a day.
While much of the CIA-contra-drug story had been revealed years ago in the press and in congressional hearings, the Mercury News series added a crucial missing link: It followed the cocaine trail to Ross and black L.A. gangs who became street-level distributors of crack, a cheap and powerful form of cocaine. The CIA's drug network, wrote Webb, "opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the 'crack' capital of the world." Black gangs used their profits to buy automatic weapons, sometimes from one of the CIA-linked drug dealers.
CIA Director John Deutch declared that he found "no connection whatsoever" between the CIA and cocaine traffickers. And major media--the New York Times,Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post--have run long pieces refuting the Mercury News series. They deny that Bay Area-based Nicaraguan drug dealers, Juan Norwin Meneses and Oscar Danilo Blandon, worked for the CIA or contributed "millions in drug profits" to the contras, as Webb contended. They also note that neither Ross nor the gangs were the first or sole distributors of crack in L.A. Webb, however, did not claim this. He wrote that the huge influx of cocaine happened to come at just the time that street-level drug dealers were figuring out how to make cocaine affordable by changing it into crack.
Many in the media have also postulated that any drug-trafficking contras involved were "rogue" elements, not supported by the CIA. But these denials overlook much of the Mercury News' evidence of CIA complicity. For example:
- CIA-supplied contra planes and pilots carried cocaine from Central America to U.S. airports and military bases. In 1985, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Celerino Castillo reported to his superiors that cocaine was being stored at the CIA's contra-supply warehouse at Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador for shipment to the U.S. The DEA did nothing, and Castillo was gradually forced out of the agency.
- When Danilo Blandón was finally arrested in 1986, he admitted to drug crimes that would have sent others away for life. The Justice Department, however, freed Blandón after only 28 months behind bars and then hired him as a full-time DEA informant, paying him more than $166,000. When Blandón testified in a 1996 trial against Ricky Ross, the Justice Department blocked any inquiry about Blandón's connection to the CIA.
- Although Norwin Meneses is listed in DEA computers as a major international drug smuggler implicated in 45 separate federal investigations since 1974, he lived conspicuously in California until 1989 and was never arrested in the U.S.
- Senate investigators and agents from four organizations all complained that their contra-drug investigations "were hampered," Webb wrote, "by the CIA or unnamed 'national security' interests." In the 1984 "Frogman Case," for instance, the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco returned $36,800 seized from a Nicaraguan drug dealer after two contra leaders sent letters to the court arguing that the cash was intended for the contras. Federal prosecutors ordered the letter and other case evidence sealed for "national security" reasons. When Senate investigators later asked the Justice Department to explain this unusual turn of events, they ran into a wall of secrecy.
History of CIA Involvement in Drug Trafficking
"In my 30 year history in the Drug Enforcement Administration and related agencies, the major targets of my investigations almost invariably turned out to be working for the CIA." -- Dennis Dayle, former chief of an elite DEA enforcement unit.
The foregoing discussion should not be regarded as any kind of historical aberration inasmuch as the CIA has had a long and virtually continuous involvement with drug trafficking since the end of World War II.
1947 to 1951,
According to Alfred W. McCoy in The Politics of Heroin in
The Nationalist Chinese army, organized by the CIA to wage war against Communist China, became the opium barons of The Golden Triangle (parts of
1950s to early 1970s, INDOCHINA During U.S. military involvement in
The Nugan Hand Bank of
1970s and 1980s,
For more than a decade, Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega was a highly paid CIA asset and collaborator, despite knowledge by U.S. drug authorities as early as 1971 that the general was heavily involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. Noriega facilitated ‘guns-for-drugs’ flights for the contras, providing protection and pilots, as well as safe havens for drug cartel otficials, and discreet banking facilities. U.S. officials, including then-ClA Director William Webster and several DEA officers, sent Noriega letters of praise for efforts to thwart drug trafficking (albeit only against competitors of his Medellin Cartel patrons). The
- There was substantial evidence of drug smuggling through the war zones on the part of individual Contras, Contra suppliers, Contra pilots Mercenaries who worked with the Contras, and Contra supporters throughout the region.
Additionally, the Medellin Cartel's
1980s to early 1990s,
ClA-supported Moujahedeen rebels engaged heavily in drug trafficking while fighting against the Soviet-supported govemment and its plans to reform the very backward Afghan society. The Agency's principal client was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the leading druglords and leading heroin refiner. CIA supplied trucks and mules, which had carried arms into
MlD-1980s to early 199Os,
While working to keep key Haitian military and political leaders in power, the CIA turned a blind eye to their clients' drug trafficking. In 1986, the Agency added some more names to its payroll by creating a new Haitian organization, the National Intelligence Service (SIN). SIN was purportedly created to fight the cocaine trade, though SIN officers themselves engaged in the trafficking, a trade aided and abetted by some of the Haitian military and political leaders.
William Blum is author of Killing Hope: U.S Military and CIA Interventions Since World War ll available from Common Courage Press,
William Blum is a frequent contributor to Global Research.