The CIA: How to Think Clearly on Drugs
Common Courage Press -
Political Literacy Course, November 26 1999
Myth: The CIA may have a few rogue agents, but the allegation
that it works with drug traffickers has never been proven. In
fact, one reporter, Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News, who
thought he had the story straight, was later rebuked by his editor
and largely discredited.
If you believe that, they've already got to you. Consider
just a few facts from "Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press,
by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair" (Verso) just
out in paperback.
1. Here's just a snort of the links between the CIA and drug
traffickers uncovered by Webb:
a) In 1981, Norwin Meneses had been selling about 900 kilos
of cocaine a year in Los Angeles. Two years later, according to
Oscar Danilo Blandon, a Nicaraguan exile after the revolution
of 1979, that figure had reached 5,000 kilos. Why the sudden surge?
By 1985, "Freeway" Rick Ross, who was buying the crack
from Blandon, "and his affiliates in the street gangs had
begun exporting their crack operation to what the DEA reckoned
to be at least a dozen other cities. Blandon testified at Ross's
trial that 'whatever we were running in LA, the profit was going
to the Contra revolution.'"
b) The year 1985, the peak of the drug sales by Norwin Meneses
and Blandon, also marked the time of the CIA's greatest need for
money for its Contra army. The Boland amendment prohibiting the
CIA from spending any money "for the purpose of overthrowing
the government of Nicaragua" expired on October 17, 1986,
and immediately the portion of the CIA budget allocated for the
Contras rose to $100 million.
c) As Webb put it forcefully, "The thing to bear in mind
here is that there are no facts in dispute. Danilo Blandon admits
selling cocaine for the Contras. Freeway Rick Ross admits buying
it and turning it into crack and selling it to the gangs. We have
pictures of Meneses meeting with Adolfo Calero [the FDN's civilian
leader of the leading coalition in the Contras installed by the
CIA]. And we have testimony that they met with Enrique Bermudez,
who are the top CIA officials running the Contras."
2. As Cockburn and St. Clair document, the counterattack on
Webb was massive, and included virtually all national newspapers,
among them The Washington Post and its reporter Walter Pincus
-- who had been a CIA operative in the 1960s, hardly an unbiased
investigator. For reasons of space, let's look at perhaps the
most damaging attack on Webb, by his own boss, Jerry Ceppos. Initially,
Ceppos defended Webb, writing and then rewriting a letter to the
Washington Post -- which the Post refused to print -- detailing
the factual accuracy of Webb's series. But months later Ceppos
reversed his position in a column, "accusing Webb of leaving
out contradictory information, of failing to emphasize that the
multimillion-dollar figure [of aid to the Contras through drug
sales] was an estimate, and of not including the obligatory denials
of the CIA. The series, Ceppos said, had oversimplified the origins
of the crack epidemic. Ceppos also declared that the series had
wrongly implied CIA knowledge of the Contra drug ring." Leaving
aside the fact that Ceppos's reversal was then trumpeted by the
mainstream press to trash Webb and attempt to ruin his career,
who is right: Ceppos and those who see no CIA-drug link, or investigative
journalists like Gary Webb?
3. Perhaps the best answer comes from the CIA. As Cockburn
and St. Clair write, "On March 16, 1998, the CIA's Inspector
General, Fred Hitz, finally let the cat out of the bag in an aside
at a Congressional hearing. Hitz told the US Reps that the CIA
had maintained relationships with companies and individuals that
the Agency knew to be involved in the drug business. Even more
astonishingly, Hitz revealed that back in 1982 the CIA had requested
and received from Reagan's Justice Department permission not to
report any knowledge it might have of drug-dealing by CIA assets.
With these two admissions, Hitz definitively sank decades worth
of CIA denials, many of them under oath to Congress."
The drug connection to the Contras is just one example of
drugs being used to finance insurgent forces backed by the CIA.
To mainline a good history of the scourge, see "Whiteout:
The CIA, Drugs and the Press." A Verso paperback available
at a discount.