22 September 1996
Bob Dole and Bill Clinton are dueling over who will be tougher in the fight to end America's growing drug dependency. Yet neither candidate has condemned the CIA's involvement in generating the nation's largest influx of drugs in modern history.
Thanks to a recent investigative series in the San Jose Mercury News, the CIA-drug connection is back in the news.
"This drug network 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," Gary Webb of the Mercury News wrote. "The cocaine thabbbt flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America -- and provided the cash and connections for L.A.'s gangs to buy automatic weapons."
But these revelations should not come as a shock. Back in 1987 and 1988 the Senate subcommittee on narcotics and international terrorism produced reams of documents and days of testimony on the CIA drug connections.
"Our covert agencies have converted themselves to channels for drugs," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) at the time. An internal memorandum of the since-disbanded House select committee on narcotics abuse and control stated flatly that "a number of individuals who supported the contras and who participated in contra activity in Texas, Louisiana, California and Florida, as well as in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, have suggested that cocaine is being smuggled in the U.S. through the same infrastructure which is procuring, storing and transporting weapons explosives, ammunition and military equipment for the contras from the United States."
We wrote about this memorandum in Newsday on March 31, 1987. The CIA denied it then just as it is denying it now.
This drug dealing was all part of an effort to circumvent the Boland Amendment, which cut off funds for the contras, a CIA-directed rebel group pieced together by the agency to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government.
The Reagan administration, in an effort spearheaded by Lt. Col. Oliver North, secretly shared intelligence, transportation and military facilities with Central American drug dealers who provided the missing funds through profits from their sanctioned smuggling. The contras themselves also set up shop on the West Coast and sold thousands of kilos of cocaine, along with sophisticated automatic weapons, to Los Angeles gangs.
The San Jose Mercury News story has brought calls from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others to review the CIA-drug connection. In response, CIA Director John Deutch and Attorney General Janet Reno promised to review the charges.
But in an astonishing prejudgment, the nation's highest law enforcement official dismissed the allegations out of hand.
"At the present time, there is no evidence that supports the allegations made against the CIA," Reno declared on Sept. 13.
And in a masterful preemptive denial, Deutch declared a week earlier, "I believe there is no substance to the allegations," though he ordered an "internal review" of the charges.
If Deutch and Reno were really serious, they might begin by consulting the evidence gathered by the Senate subcommittee on narcotics and international terrorism.
A Sept. 26, 1984, Miami police intelligence report noted that money supporting contras being illegally trained in Florida "comes from narcotics transactions." Every page of the report is stamped: "Record furnished to George Kosinsky, FBI." Is Mr. Kosinsky's number missing from Reno's rolodex?
And how about a quick review of the personal notebooks of Oliver North? On July 9, 1984, North wrote that he "went and talked to (contra leader Federico) Vaughn, (who) wanted aircraft to go to Bolivia to pick up paste, wanted aircraft to pick up 1,500 kilos." Kilos of what? Sugar?
"What the hell could North be talking about talking about?" said 25-year Drug Enforcement Agency veteran Michael Levine. "When I was serving in the DEA, if you gave me a page from someone in the government with notes like that, I would have been on his back investigating everything he did from the minute he woke up in the morning until he went to bed at night."
Reno and Deutch might want to get on the horn to Celerino "Cele" Castillo, the DEA's main agent in El Salvador and Guatemala from 1985 to 1991. In a February 1989 report we obtained, Castillo meticulously describes a half-dozen known traffickers who used hangars controlled by North and the CIA at Ilopango airport.
"There is no doubt that they were running large quantities of cocaine into the U.S. to support the contras," Castillo said in a 1994 interview. "I saw the cocaine and I saw boxes full of money. We're talking about very large quantities of cocaine and millions of dollars."
Evidence of the CIA-contra-cocaine connection has been available for more than a dozen years. How long will the whitewash last?
Robert Knight was a founding producer, along with Dennis Bernstein, of the Contragate/Undercurrents investigative news program. Knight's awards include The George R. Polk Award for Radio Reporting for his investigative work on Undercurrents. Dennis Bernstein is the host-producer of a daily public radio news magazine in the San Francisco area. Knight and Bernstein won The Jesse Meriton White Award for International Reporting and the National Federation of Community Broadcasting award for the reporting on the Iran-Contra affair.