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The CIA and Drugs

DAMNING ADMISSIONS:

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Just under two years ago John Deutch, at that time director of the CIA,traveled to a town meeting in South Central Los Angeles to confront a communityoutraged by charges that the Agency had been complicit in the importingof cocaine into California in the 1980s. Amid heated exchanges Deutch publiclypledged an internal investigation by the CIA’s Inspector General that wouldleave no stone unturned.

It is now possible to review, albeit in substantially censored form,the results of that probe. At the start of this year the Inspector General,Fred Hitz, released a volume specifically addressing charges made in 1996in the San Jose Mercury News. Earlier this month Hitz finally made availablefor public scrutiny a second report addressing broader allegations aboutdrug running by Nicaraguan Contras.

That first volume released ten months ago was replete with damaging admissions.Two examples: The report describes a cable from the CIA’s Directorate ofOperations dated October 22, 1982, describing a prospective meeting betweenContra leaders in Costa Rica for “an exchange in [US] of narcoticsfor arms.” But the CIA’s Director of Operations instructed the Agency’sfield office not to look into this imminent arms-for-drugs transaction”in light of the apparent involvement of US persons throughout.” Inother words, the CIA knew that Contra leaders were scheduling a drugs-for-armsexchange and the Agency was prepared to let the deal proceed.

In 1984, the Inspector General discloses, the CIA intervened with theUS Justice Department to seek the return from police custody of $36,800in cash which had been confiscated from a Nicaraguan drug smuggling gangin the Bay Area whose leader, Norwin Meneses, was a prominent Contra fund-raiser.The money had been taken during what was at the time the largest seizureof cocaine in the history of California.

The CIA’s Inspector General said the Agency took action to have the moneyreturned in order “to protect an operational equity, i.e., a Contrasupport group in which it [CIA] had an operational interest.” Hitzalso unearthed a CIA memo from that time revealing that the Agency understoodthe need to keep this whole affair under wraps because, according to thememo (written by the CIA’s assistant general counsel), “there are sufficientfactual details which would cause certain damage to our image and programin Central America.”

The 146-page first volume is full of admissions of this nature but thesetwo disclosures alone — allowing a Contra drug deal to go forward, andtaking extraordinary action to recoup the proceeds of a drug deal gone awry– should have been greeted as smoking guns, confirming charges made since1985 about the Agency’s role.

The report issued by Hitz a few weeks ago is even richer in devastatingdisclosures. The Inspector General sets forth a sequence of CIA cable trafficshowing that as early as the summer of 1981, the Agency knew that the Contraleadership “had decided to engage in drug trafficking to the UnitedStates to raise funds for its activities.”

The leader of the group whose plans a CIA officer was thus describingwas Enrique Bermudez, a man hand-picked by the Agency to run the militaryoperations of the main Contra organization. It was Bermudez who told Contrafund-raisers and drug traffickers Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandon (asthe latter subsequently testified for the government to a federal grandjury,) that the end justified the means and they should raise revenue inthis manner.

The CIA was uneasily aware that its failure to advise the Contras tostop drug trafficking might land it in difficulties, Hitz documents thatthe Agency knew that at that time it should report Contra plans to run drugsto the Justice Department and other agencies such as FBI, DEA and US Customs.Nonetheless the CIA kept quiet, and in 1982 got a waiver from the JusticeDepartment giving a legal basis for its inaction.

Hitz enumerates the Contra leaders (“several dozen”) the CIAknew to be involved in drug trafficking, along with another two dozen involvedin Contra supply missions and fund-raising. He confirms that the CIA knewthat Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador was an arms-for drugs Contratransshipment point, and discloses a memo in which a CIA officer ordersthe DEA “not to make any inquiries to anyone re Hanger [sic] No. 4at Ilopango.”

Thus, the CIA’s own Inspector General shows that from the very startof the US war on Nicaragua the CIA knew the Contra were planning to trafficin cocaine into the US. It did nothing to stop the traffic and, when othergovernment agencies began to probe, the CIA impeded their investigations.When Contra money raisers were arrested the Agency came to their aid andretrieved their drug money from the police.

So, was the Agency complicit in drug trafficking into Los Angeles andother cities? It is impossible to read Hitz’s report and not conclude thatthis was the case. CP