CIA: Crack Importing Agency Or How The US Government Started The Crack Trade Essay, Research Paper
For the past decade and a half, the US government has sponsored the ?War on
Drugs.? This has been a massive law enforcement effort aimed at stamping out the flow
and use of illegal narcotics. The main focus of this effort has been aimed at a relatively
new, yet extremely potent drug – crack. However, this massive crackdown is much more
than a simple effort aimed at protecting US citizens. Rather, it is instead a case of the
federal government?s trying to undo its own massive blunder. For much of the 1980?s the
federal government was involved in the sale and distribution of crack. At the very least,
they simply turned a blind eye towards the problem. At the worst – and what is the most
likely possibility – the government condoned and facilitated the crack trade in the United
States. All of it was done through the CIA and was meant as a quick source of funding to
overthrow a hostile regime in Nicaragua. Yet, there was no care given for the long term
consequences. In what is perhaps the worst example of racial discrimination taken by
our government in decades, they aimed this effort primarily at the black communities of
America. In financing this ?little war,? our government created a monster which it now
has no way to control.
The history of our government – specifically the CIA – in the drug trade is
astounding. The CIA?s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), helped forge
the original drug ties for our government. Created during World War II, the OSS often
worked closely with Mafia heroin dealers in order to gain the US army access to the
mainland of Italy so they could wage an attack (Parry; ?CIA, Drugs & the National
Press?). After its creation in 1947, the CIA kept this connection alive. This first started
when the CIA formed an alliance with Corsican drug gangs in order to fight Communists
at Marseilles. As a result of this, the Corsican drug lords became the main suppliers of
the US heroin trade for two decades (?Time to Abolish the CIA?). Despite our early
alliance with the Corsicans, Uncle Sam had bigger plans. US police waged a massive
crackdown on the Corsican drug lords to free up the heroin market (CIA: Things Go
Better With ? Pepsi!). By the early 1960?s, as communist influence continued to expand
in Southeast Asia, the CIA went operational in producing heroin. When the French lost
French-Indochina in the 1950?s the CIA managed to inherit its drug trade. In order to
fight strong Chinese nationalism, the CIA turned Burma and Laos into one of the world?s
largest opium producers (?Time to Abolish the CIA?). They used US government-owned
aircraft to fly this heroin to market (Parry, ?CIA, Drugs & the National Press?). This
operation continued into the Vietnam War and, as a result, some 30,000 US servicemen
became heroin addicts. By the early 1970?s over seventy percent of the heroin entering
the United States came from areas controlled by CIA mercenaries (?Time to Abolish the
After the loss of Vietnam, the CIA?s drug trade cooled down. At the same time
though, there was a major international affair heating up. In Nicaragua, communism was
taking hold. Backed by Fidel Castro, a regime of communists known as the Sandinistas
had overthrown the Somozas, who had the backing of the United States (Overbeck,
ParaScope). Soon, a flood of semi-capitalist immigrants began flowing to the United
States to avoid persecution. Among these refugees were some of Central America?s
largest cocaine dealers, particularly Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandon (Overbeck,
ParaScope). Seeing this large communist ?threat? to the United States, the CIA began to
forge some political ties with these refugees in order to plan an overthrow of the
Sandinista government. However, due to conflicts with the Carter administration, the
CIA was prohibited from beginning the revolution. However, when Ronald Reagan came
to power, he had a very different outlook on the situation. Reagan viewed the Sandinista
regime as a major threat ? the possibility of another Fidel Castro ? and he granted the
CIA permission to deal with this problem (Overbeck, ParaScope). He authorized the CIA
$19 million to cover the expenses, although this amount was ?officially acknowledged as
insufficient? (Michels, ?CIA Corruption?). This funding was authorized under the
Boland amendments, which were supposed to actually serve to restrict covert military
operations through the will of the people. Instead, it only encouraged the worst from the
CIA. In order to gain funds, which Congress could not provide under these amendments,
it allowed the CIA to bypass Congress completely to gain funds ? in most cases, by
means of selling drugs (Castillo, Case File: CIA and Drugs).
The CIA quickly set up a provisional revolutionary army in 1981 that came to be
known as ARDEN. The CIA knew from the start that members of ARDEN were
stooping ?to criminal activities to feed and clothe their cadre,? but they did not care
(Parry, ?CIA?s Drug Confession?). It quickly became apparent that ARDEN and the $19
million would not be nearly enough money to oust the Sandinista regime. The CIA
combined ARDEN with several other small revolutionary groups to form a revolutionary
army which became known as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, or FDN (National
Catholic Reporter). To address the lack of funds, the CIA raised money in the way to
which it had become accustomed – selling drugs. So, the CIA instructed its top FDN
agent, Enrique Bermudez, to deal with this problem. Bermudez met with Blandon and
Menses, the Nicaraguan refugees, in Honduras. Bermudez told them that the FDN
needed money, and that he wanted them to raise it. He said to use whatever means
necessary because the ?ends justified the means? (Overbeck, ParaScope). Since he was
dealing with two powerful drug lords, it was implied that the funds would be raised
through drug sales.
Even the CIA knew of the connection. It sent internal cables throughout much of
the revolution referring to him as a ?drug kingpin? (Honey, ?Don?t Ask, Don?t Tell?). In
1982, the year the FDN really started gaining power and the drug running was taking off,
the CIA and the Department of Justice worked out an agreement ? known as a
Memorandum of Understanding – which gave the CIA the blessing to ignore drug
trafficking by anyone who was an ?agent, asset or non-staff employee of the CIA?
(Honey, ?Don?t Ask, Don?t Tell?). This essentially gave the CIA free rein to run its drug
Blandon had been given the California drug market at his meeting with
Bermudez, so in late 1982, he began funneling cocaine into the United States. However,
Blandon had no real street connections to sell the cocaine to. To alleviate this problem,
he began doing business with a high school dropout by the name of Ricky Ross. Ross had
done some small-time drug pushing before, but Blandon gave him a virtually unlimited
opportunity to expand that business. There was a small problem though. Blandon
provided only cocaine, which at $5,200 per ounce was mainly the drug for the Hollywood
elite (Michels, ?CIA Corruption?). Ross associated mainly with lower class
African-Americans. So, Blandon came up with an ingenious plan. He showed Ross how
to cook up a new form of cocaine on the stove which added impurities to the cocaine but
made it more addictive (McCoy, ?Drug Fallout?). Ross called this new invention ?Ready
Rock? and it sold for about twenty dollars a hit (Michels, ?CIA Corruption?). Ross
began to wholesale this ?Ready Rock? – which soon became known as crack ? to a
couple of local gangs known as the Bloods and the Crips (Overbeck, ParaScope). A crack
epidemic was soon born, and it spread like wildfire. With Blandon?s constant supply of
cheap cocaine, Ross was able to sell his crack to gangs at bargain basement prices. By
1984, Ross was selling 500,000 crack nuggets daily (Muhammad, ?A Pawn in the CIA
Drug Game?). Soon, he expanded his market to areas all over the United States. All the
while, he was unknowingly funneling profits back to Blandon who used them to help
finance the FDN (National Catholic Reporter).
Eventually though, Blandon began to get nervous. Funneling millions of dollars
worth of cash, drugs, and arms into and out of the United States was a very risky
business. So, he and Menses, who was now his Colombian supplier, quit supplying
cocaine in 1985. This left the FDN without any major source of funding. So, the
operation was indirectly handed over to Oliver North, who was the National Security
Council?s point man (Bernstein and Knight, Pacific News Service). Although North did
not directly sell the cocaine, at the very least, he turned a blind eye towards its
continuance. He allowed for the use of CIA-owned planes to transport the cocaine
(Parry, ?The Kerry-Weld Cocaine War?). His own journal even documents these events.
One entry, dated August 5, 1985, reports, ?Without the Honduran army, there would have
been no Contras. $14 million [to finance arms] came from drugs? (Ruppert, ?Iran-Contra
Era?). Shortly after, on August 9, 1985, he wrote, ?Honduran DC-6 which is being used
out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into the US? (?The Contras,
Cocaine, and Covert Operations?). The CIA knew that its operatives were selling drugs
to fund the FDN and condoned this action by looking the other way.
Despite going well at first, these covert drug operations didn?t go unnoticed for
long. People began to notice that the crack epidemic was primarily striking black
communities. Since traditional drug epidemics strike all races and all economic classes,
the only explainable reason for this phenomenon was because the supply was only going
into black communities (Overbeck, ParaScope). This was soon picked up by the media
which further investigated it. The story was finally broken by two reporters, Robert Parry
and Brian Barger, in late 1985. This first link did not imply that the CIA was directly
involved, only that several contra groups were engaging in ?cocaine trafficking, in part to
help finance their war in Nicaragua? (Kornbluh, Columbia Journalism Review).
Nevertheless, this kind of negative exposure had the CIA and the Reagan administration
on the defensive. Rather than simply stopping these atrocities though, the Reagan
administration took an approach which it found more appealing. Through use of such
groups as Accuracy in the Media, the Reagan administration arranged to strongly criticize
and threaten the reputation of any journalist who spoke out against the Nicaraguan
guerillas. (Parry, ?CIA, Drugs & the National Press?). To further this effort, Reagan
introduced a measure which came to be known as ?public diplomacy? that had a primary
effort of ?perception management? for issues which might have been sensitive to the
CIA. (Parry, ?CIA, Drugs & the National Press?). These actions amounted to the
Reagan administration?s manipulating the media in order to prevent any negative
The small amount of negative media that was generated was enough to arouse
Congressional suspicions. The main flash point was an incident which came to be known
as the Frogman Case. In 1983, several swimmers in wetsuits were caught smuggling 430
pounds of cocaine ashore in San Francisco. The swimmers were arrested, and any
confession made by them could have created a very embarrassing situation for the CIA.
Claiming that the money they were found to possess belonged to the Nicaraguan Contras,
the CIA arranged for their release and the return of $36,000 (Parry, ?Contra-Cocaine:
Bad to Worse?). This arrangement was done in secret to avoid any negative publicity.
However, the story was uncovered by the San Francisco Examiner in March of 1986
(Parry, ?Contra-Cocaine: Bad to Worse?). Senator John Kerry picked up on this and had
Congress establish the Subcommittee on Narcotics, Terrorism and International
Operations (National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2). The main focus
of this committee was to figure out why the US Attorney in San Francisco, Joseph
Russoniello, had returned the money (Webb, San Jose Mercury News). This
investigation led them on the trail of the Contra drug operation. With the threat of
exposure, the CIA, Department of Justice, and Reagan administration collaborated to
form a massive stonewall. This effort was fronted by the Justice Department?s Criminal
Division chief, William Weld. (Parry, ?Kerry-Weld Cocaine War?). When Kerry and
other Senators began asking for information, their requests were either ignored or denied
by the Justice Department on national security grounds. Jack Blum, who was the
committee?s chief counsel, recalls this investigation as being ?one of the most frustrating
exercises? that he could ever recall because ?the Justice Department flipped out to
prevent them from getting access to… anything? (Webb, San Jose Mercury News). The
investigation continued for almost two years. The final conclusions of Kerry?s
committee report were that ?our covert agents have converted themselves to channels for
drugs? (Bernstein and Knight, Pacific News Service). But, the Reagan administration
took no action against the CIA to further investigate these allegations. Rather, the CIA
conducted its own investigation – which lasted only 12 days – which found that the CIA
and the Contras had no connection with any drug-related operations.
In many instances, this report is still being cited by the CIA today to absolve itself of any
major drug smuggling charges (Parry, ?Kerry-Weld Cocaine War?).
This cover up continued throughout the rest of the 1980?s. The conspiracy
continued to spread until it started to affect other government agencies. The US Drug
Enforcement Agency as well as the FBI both were forced to cover up for the CIA during
this time. In order to make arrests of crack pushers, the DEA originally worked with
several CIA operatives who were smuggling cocaine into the United States. However, in
short order, the DEA was forced to ignore the massive amount of cocaine that the
Contras were shipping into the US. Ricky Ross was known to have obtained cocaine
from some of these DEA operations (Muhammad, ?A Pawn in the CIA Drug Game?).
Dennis Dayle, who was the chief of an elite DEA unit in Central America, noted in his
journal, ?In my 30 year history in DEA, the major target of my investigation almost
invariably turned out to be working for the CIA? (Ruppert, ?Iran-Contra Era?). Some of
the most startling revelations came from a Central American DEA agent named Celerino
Castillo. He witnessed drugs and arms being loaded onto planes and sent to the United
States, yet he was obligated not to report it because of the Memorandum of
Understanding between the CIA and the Justice Department (Bernstein and Knight,
Pacific News Service). The FBI also used coercion methods to keep reporters and
government officials from digging too deeply into the Contra-cocaine connection. When
CIA drug operatives were arrested in the US, the FBI pulled strings with local
prosecutors to allow for their release (Bernstein and Knight, Pacific News Service).
Ultimately, the CIA and the FDN waged a losing battle against the Sandinista
regime. In 1989, the Contras lost U.S. support, and the government decided that it was
time to finally do something about the crack problem that it had created. The War on
Drugs had been going on for several years, and the black community felt the brunt of it
(Muhammad, ?Lawmakers Demand CIA Drug Probe?). The government had arrested
Ricky Ross in 1988 for pushing crack, but he struck a deal with prosecutors, became a
DEA informant, and got off with a minimal sentence. The police had been after Blandon
since 1986, when they raided several of his suspected crack storage areas, but they
always came away empty. They finally managed to get him convicted in 1992, which
resulted in a two year prison sentence (Webb, San Jose Mercury News). During
Blandon?s trial, the government tried to force him to testify about his drug connections in
Central America, but the CIA got a court order preventing it. Most of his testimony
from that trial is still under lock and key. The only public testimony hinting at CIA
involvement is Blandon?s testimony saying ?we received orders from the ? from other
people? (National Catholic Reporter). Blandon also became a DEA informant, and in
later court testimony which was recently made public said he sold cocaine to ?raise
money for the CIA?s army? (Michels, ?CIA Corruption?). Blandon was also used in a
?reverse sting? to arrest Ricky Ross again. Ross still remains in prison (Webb, San Jose
Mercury News). Norwin Menses, the Colombian drug lord who supplied Blandon with
cocaine, still remains free, despite the fact the US government had numerous
opportunities to arrest him (Webb, San Jose Mercury News).
With all of the strings tied up, the CIA hoped that the Contra-crack connection
would be forgotten. Unfortunately for them, it was not. The story was again exposed in
August of 1996 by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb (National Security
Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2). The three part series which Webb produced
caused a massive public outcry, especially among the black communities of Los Angeles.
There was a massive backlash by the mainstream media, who were quick to point out that
Webb?s story was full of holes (Kornbluh, Columbia Journalism Review). By January of
1997, the Mercury News denounced the story and fired Gary Webb (Parry,
?Contra-Cocaine: Bad to Worse?). However, the fire had been ignited. Representative
Maxine Waters continued to pressure the CIA to reveal the Contra-cocaine connection,
but to no avail. Then, on October 8, 1998, the CIA released the results of the longest
internal investigation which it had ever conducted about the contras and cocaine
smuggling. Although the executive summary of the document said the CIA had no
connection to any drugs, the report itself shows otherwise. Among the report?s findings:
[In some cases, CIA] acted to an end a relationship after receiving
drug trafficking allegations or information. In another six cases, CIA
knowledge of allegations or information indicating that organizations or
individuals had been involved in drug trafficking did not deter their
use/employment by CIA. In at least two of those cases, CIA did not act to
verify drug trafficking allegations or information even when it had the
opportunity to do so. (?Errata?)
This report only sparked further outcries by the victims of the crack epidemic.
Most recently, a lawsuit was filed against the CIA on behalf of those Los Angeles
residents who were affected by the crack epidemic (MSNBC). The lawsuit?s aim is to
force the release of classified information about the CIA?s involvement in the cocaine
With its long connection to the drug trade, the CIA has continually worked
against the American people. They knowingly condoned the flow of cocaine into the
United States, and turned a blind eye when they were asked to stop it. They caused an
outbreak of one of the most addictive drugs the world has ever known. They knowingly
targeted American citizens in order to advance their objectives. In the name of protecting
national security, they have only hurt the overall well being of the United States. All
evidence points to the fact that, unless they are stopped now, they will only continue this
practice of channeling drugs onto American soil.
Bernstein, Dennis and Knight, Robert. DEA Agent?s Decade Long Battle to Expose
CIA-Conta-Crack Story. 4 October 1996.
Castillo, Celerino. Case File: CIA and Drugs. 27 April 1998.
?CIA Sued Over Cocaine Epidemic.? MSNBC. 1 March 1999.
CIA: Things Go Better With… Pepsi! http://www.ionet.net/~everett/CIADRUGS.html
?Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations.? National Security Archivwe Electronic
Briefing Book No. 2. 1997.
?Errata.? CIA Website. 8 October 1998.
Honey, Martha. ?Don?t Ask, Don?t Tell.? In These Times. May 1998.
Kornbluh, Peter. Columbia Journalism Review. January/February 1997.
McCoy, Alfred W. ?Drug Fallout.? Progressive. August 1997. pp 24-27 [SIRS].
Michels, Paul. CIA Corruption?? The Collegiate Times. 8 October 1996.
Muhammad, Rosalind. ?A Pawn in the CIA Drug Game.? Final Call. 1996.
Muhammad, Rosalind. ?Lawmakers Demand CIA Drug Probe.? Final Call. 1996.
Overbeck, Charles. ?Transript: Gary Webb Speaks on CIA Connections to Contra Drug
Trafficking (and Related Topics).? ParaScope.
Parry, Robert. ?CIA, Drugs, and the National Press.? The Consortium. 23 December
Parry, Robert. ?CIA?s Drug Confession.? The Consortium. 15 October 1998
Parry, Robert. ?Contra Cocaine: Bad to Worse.? The Consortium 16 February 1998.
Parry, Robert. ?The Kerry-Weld Cocaine War.? The Consortium 11 November 1996.
?Report Says CIA Dealings Led to US Crack Outbreak.? National Catholic Reporter.
6 September 1996. http://www.mosquitonet.com/~prewett/cokencrsep96.html
Rupert, Michael C. ?Iran-Contra Era.? CIA & Drugs Fact Sheet. 1998.
?Time to Abolish the CIA.? In These Times. 30 September 1996. [SIRS].
Webb, Gary. ? ?Crack? Plague?s Roots are in Nicaraguan War.? San Jose Mercury
News. 18 August 1996. pp. 1-3 [SIRS].
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