Drugs, Contras, and the CIA:

Press Covers for the Agency's Honor

          In the case of Central America, and specifically Nicaragua, there has been similar careful documentation about the role of the Agency. Among the relevant work here: Brian Barger and Robert Parry's Associated Press piece published in the Washington Post (it was a slow news day) on December 25, 1985; Leslie Cockburn's TV documentary and subsequent book Out of Control, published in 1987; and Senator John Kerry's hearings in his Foreign Relations subcommittee from 1987 to 1989, which were followed by two major reports.

          Among the salient findings of these investigations:

          § When the CIA followed President Carter's orders in 1979 and 1980 to subvert the infant Sandinista regime, it turned first to Argentinean military torturers to form the core of what became the Contra force--and also to Cuban exiles who were already involved in drug smuggling.

          § When Congress limited financial assistance to the Contras to "humanitarian aid," Reagan's operative, Oliver North, set up an entity inside the State Department, known as the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Organization. This outfit lavishly funded four companies to supply "humanitarian" assistance to the Contras. Each of these companies was operated by known narco-traffickers. The person in charge of this operation was Ambassador Robert Duemling. Duemling told Leslie Cockburn on the record that the names of the four companies--Vortex, Setco Air, DIACSA, and Frigorificos de Puntarenas--had been given to him by the CIA.

          § General Paul Gorman, head of the U.S. Army's Southern Command, told the Kerry Committee that he was aware of rampant drug running in Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica: "If you want to move arms or munitions in Latin America, the established networks are owned by the drug cartels. It has lent itself to the purposes of terrorists, of saboteurs, of spies, of insurgents and subversives."

          § Equally rich in detail is the whole saga of Barry Seal, the DEA and CIA asset finally killed by a Colombian hit team in Baton Rogue in 1986. Seal shuttled guns for drugs, which were landed in Mena, Arkansas. After his death, writer Roger Morris was able to inspect Seal's files, which contained abundant evidence of his work with U.S. agencies. In cooperation with Sally Denton, Morris wrote a long article on Seal and Mena that was scheduled for publication in the Outlook section of the Washington Post on January 29, 1995. Three days before publication, the article was pulled without explanation by Robert Kaiser, at that time managing editor of the Post.

          § Buried in the files of the Los Angeles Police Department was yet more evidence of the links between the CIA, the Contras, and crack. Search warrants issued for drug raids in 1986, show that former police officer Ronald Lister--at that time a private security consultant--was suspected of being part of a major crack ring that possessed cocaine, AK-47s, Uzis, and Nicaraguan Contra training films and field manuals. Lister later told investigators that "he had dealings in South America and worked with the CIA."

          The Washington Post also managed to ignore news stories about DEA knowledge of the drug smuggling. A DEA agent, Celerino Castillo, came forward in September to tell how he came across much evidence of drug smuggling by Contra rebels on CIA-funded arms flights while he was stationed in El Salvador in the mid-1980s. "When I sent my reports to my superiors listing the dates and aircraft numbers of the drug flights," Castillo told British magazine The Economist, "I was told they had been approved by the White House." Meanwhile, three former DEA agents who had worked in Latin America in the 1980s have just filed suit against the CIA claiming that their phones have been tapped by the Agency and that they have been subject to continual harassment because of their knowledge of the CIA's direct role in drug smuggling.

          The more one looks at the general picture, the more ludicrous efforts like those of Suro and Pincus become. Consider General Manuel Noriega, notorious as a career CIA asset and also as a career drug smuggler. It takes willful blindness when studying the relationship of the CIA to drugs to ignore a figure like Noriega while earnestly concentrating on the exact amount of cocaine that Jose Blandon might have sold to Los Angeles dealers.

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