In the six years since Cocaine Politics was first published, the picture it depicts of intelligence-protected drug-trafficking has emerged more and more clearly, and on a more and more alarming scale. In the last year alone, two leading CIA assets have been indicted for cocaine-smuggling. One is Venezuelan General Ramon Guillen Davila, charged by a Miami grand jury in 1996 with smuggling as much as 22 tons of cocaine into the United States in 1990. According to the Wall Street Journal, the CIA authorized the import of at least one ton into the United States, overruling the objections of the DEA. (Guillen claimed the agency approved all his shipments.) Many of the drugs were actually stored, prior to shipment, at a Venezuelan anti-narcotics center funded by the CIA.
The other CIA asset indicted recently is former Haitian
police chief Michel-Joseph Francois, charged with smuggling 33
tons of cocaine and heroin.
Like a similarly named unit in Peru (see below), his National Intelligence Service, or SIN, functioned as what the New York Times called "an instrument of political terror." Before the CIA stopped directly supporting the unit in 1991, it gave the organization as much as $1 million a year in equipment and training. One U.S. official said of the SIN, "It was a military organization that distributed drugs in Haiti. It never produced drug intelligence. The agency [CIA] gave them money under counternarcotics and they used their money to do other things in the political arena." Haiti's corrupt officials protected about 50 tons of cocaine a year that transited the island for the United States in the early 1990s.
As we show in Cocaine
Politics, such cases are not so much anomalous as paradigmatic.
In country after country, from Mexico and Honduras to Panama and
Peru, the CIA helped set up or consolidate intelligence agencies
that became forces of repression, and whose intelligence connections
to other countries greased the way for illicit drug shipments.
Although each of these cases is now public and has received scattered
coverage in mainstream media, journalists (and politicians) remain
reluctant to squarely address the recurring CIA-drug problem.
One exception is Gary Webb, whose stories on the CIA, Contras,
and cocaine (which focused on the Contra supporter Norwin Meneses:
see p. 107 of this book) appeared in the San Jose Mercury-News
in August 1996. After they received national attention through
talk radio and the World Wide Web, his stories were soon attacked,
at extraordinary length, in the New York Times, Los
Angeles Times, and Washington Post. Attacks on his
stories soon became attacks on his personal integrity. As we go
to press, Webb has currently been demoted from his position in
the state capital of Sacramento to the small town of Cupertino.
Webb's stories, which sketched a provocative link between the
drug trafficking of Contra supporters and the crack problems of
south-central Los Angeles, were admittedly controversial. His
claim that millions of profits had reached the Contras depended
largely on the debatable testimony of one trafficker, while many
experts disputed his claim that the national crack cocaine epidemic
had been created by Meneses' drug connection. But even Webb's
harshest critics had to concede -- as the San Francisco Examiner
had first documented ten years earlier -- that Meneses and his
colleagues did bring large drug shipments into the country, that
they did meet with top CIA Contra proteges, that they gave at
least tens of thousands of dollars to the Contra cause, and that
they were given extraordinary special treatment by U.S. federal
Whatever the problems with Webb's pieces, they managed, as Peter
Kornbluh wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review to "revisit
a significant story that had been inexplicably abandoned by the
mainstream press, report a new dimension to it, and thus put it
back on the national agenda where it belongs. It concerns us
that Gary Webb may have joined the ranks of other journalists,
notably Robert Parry, whose careers suffered after daring to report
on the Contra drug story. As we report in this book, similar challenges
to the CIA have terminated Congressional careers (p. 163). Webb's
co-author George Hodel in Nicaragua has received death threats,
like one of Webb's sources a decade ago.
Ironically, lost in all the squabbling over the details of Webb's
stories were the abundant facts already pulled together in Cocaine
Politics which documented wider CIA (and overall Reagan Administration)
protection of Central American drug traffickers. These problems
are of more than historical interest, given that the problem of
a U.S.-protected drug traffic endures. Today the United States,
in the name of fighting drugs, has entered into alliances with
the police, armed forces, and intelligence agencies of Colombia
and Peru, forces conspicuous by their own alliances with drug-traffickers
in counterinsurgency operations.
One of the most glaring and dangerous examples is in Peru. Behind
Peru's president, Alberto Fujimori, is his chief adviser Vladimiro
Montesinos, the effective head of the National Intelligence Service
or SIN, an agency created and trained by the CIA in the 1960s.
Through the SIN, Montesinos played a central role in Fujimori's
"auto-coup," or suspension of the constitution, in April
1992, an event which (according to Knight-Ridder correspondent
Sam Dillon) raised "the specter of drug cartels exercising
powerful influence at the top of Peru's government," Recently
Montesinos has been accused of arranging for an opposition television
station to be bombed, while in August 1996 an accused drug trafficker
claimed that Montesinos had accepted tens of thousands of dollars
in payoffs. According to a column in the New York Times
by Gustavo Gorriti, a leader among the Peruvian intellectuals
forced into exile, "Mr. Montesinos built a power base and
fortune mainly as a legal strategist for drug traffickers. He
has had a close relationship with the C.I.A., and controls the
intelligence services, and, through them, the military."
In the New York Review of Books, Mr. Gorriti spelled out
this CIA-drug collaboration more fully.
In late 1990, Montesinos also began close cooperation with the
CIA, and in 1991 the National Intelligence Service began to organize
a secret anti-drug outfit with funding, training, and equipment
provided by the CIA. This, by the way, made the DEA... furious.
Montesinos apparently suspected that the DEA had been investigating
his connection to the most important Peruvian drug cartel in the
1980s, the Rodriguez-Lopez organization , and also links to some
Colombian traffickers. Perhaps not coincidentally, Fujimori made
a point of denouncing the DEA as corrupt at least twice, once
in Peru in 1991, and the second time at the Presidential summit
in San Antonio, Texas, in February . As far as I know, the
secret intelligence outfit never carried out anti-drug operations.
It was used for other things, such as my arrest.
Others have pointed to the drug corruption of Peru's military
establishment, which also receives U.S. anti-drug funding.
Charges that the Peruvian army and security forces were continuing
to take payoffs, to protect the cocaine traffickers that they
were supposed to be fighting, have led at times to a withholding
of U.S. aid. This is a reminder that Washington bureaucracies
are sometimes divided over priorities and the proper choice of
allies in third world countries.
Such charges against Fujimori, Montesinos, and the Peruvian military
are completely in line with what we have written in this book
about Peru over the last two decades (pp. 84, 191). But the pattern
of high-level involvement is becoming clearer, and larger, than
when we first wrote. In 1995 it was reported that Peruvian police
had seized a single shipment of 3.5 tons of pure cocaine worth
$600 million; and members of this cartel later admitted to having
shipped more than ten tons (worth about $1.8 billion) to Mexico
in the previous year. The San Francisco Chronicle also
reported from Mexican officials that "Vladimiro Montesinos...and
Santiago Fujimori, the president's brother, were responsible for
covering up connections between the Mexican and Peruvian drug
Since our book appeared, the world has also received additional
information revealing just how important, and coherent, was the
pattern of support for the Contras in this period from virtually
all of the biggest drug cartels in the region.
For example, CIA aid for the Contras in Costa Rica was channeled
chiefly through the tightly-controlled Ilopango Air Base in El
Salvador, a base where the real power was exercised by a U.S.
Colonel responsible for Contra support. The local DEA Agent at
the time, Celerino Castillo, has since charged that two hangars
there under CIA and Oliver North's control doubled as depots for
major cocaine shipments. Castillo claims that his documented reports
on Ilopango to DEA in Washington were never acted on. Certainly
a number of known drug traffickers flew regularly in and out of
Ilopango, a drug plane given over to the Contras and CIA was stationed
there, and Ilopango allegedly served as a base for American drug
networks such as the notorious "Company," which distributed
drugs through the entire United States.
Castillo was kept under wraps by the DEA during his service in
Central America and was not called to testify before the Kerry
Committee, which investigated links between the Contras, drugs,
and the U.S. government in the 1980s. His first-hand account was
published in Canada, and has been almost entirely ignored in the
The Miami drug trial of former Panamanian strongman in 1991, after
this book went to press, also supplied intriguing new details
about the Central American connection. Manuel Noriega was at one
time also a Contra supporter, and his initial drug indictment
in 1988 was for shipments with pilots who were at the same time
flying aid for Contra camps in Costa Rica. (This potentially embarrassing
charge was ultimately dropped.)
Some of the Government's witnesses against Noriega provided more
information than the show trial was scripted for. To quote from
a 1991 Washington Post editorial, "What is one to
make of the riveting assertion, made by a convicted Colombian
drug kingpin at Manuel Noriega's Florida drug trial, that the
Medellin cartel gave $10 million to the Nicaraguan contras? Carlos
Lehder is a key prosecution witness; the U.S. government cannot
lightly assail his credibility."
This was not the only embarrassment for the U.S. Government caused
by Noriega's trial. In 1995 it was reported that one of the government's
chief witnesses against Noriega, former co-defendant Ricardo Bilonick,
had been paid $1.2 million for his testimony by leaders of the
Cali cartel. This confirmed our speculations that Noriega's
downfall followed his having sided with the Medellin cartel against
their more established competitors in Cali (see pp. 73, 82).
Since we wrote it has also become more clear just how cynical
were the government's claims that the apprehension of Noriega
would help constrain the hemispheric drug traffic. Within a year
of Noriega's ouster, U.S. drug agents admitted that the Cali cartel
had turned Panama into a financial and logistics base for flooding
North America and Europe with cocaine. And U.S. Ambassador
Deane Hinton complained in 1993 that Panamanian authorities had
not arrested a single person for the crime of money laundering
in the three and a half years after Noriega's capture in a bloody
Washington's proclivity to tolerate, protect and reinforce the
influence of third-world drug traffickers didn't die with the
end of the Reagan-Bush years. Indeed, the Clinton Administration,
guided by White House drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, has consistently
asked for large increases in counternarcotics aid to compromised
Latin American police and military forces. To enlist support for
this, he has helped revive the discredited propaganda bogey of
the "narco-guerrilla" (see pp. 94-98, 191). As a critical
New York Times editorial observed, "Until taking the
drug czar job, General McCaffrey was head of the United States
army Southern Command, which worked with Latin militaries and
police to fight cocaine. He knows that the overseas programs have
succeeded largely in pushing cocaine from country to country."
Such funding priorities must be repudiated. The misnamed "War
on Drugs," a pernicious and misleading military metaphor,
should be replaced by a medically and scientifically oriented
campaign towards healing this country's drug sickness. The billions
that have been wasted in military anti-drug campaigns, efforts
which have ranged from the futile to the counter-productive, should
be re-channeled into a public health paradigm, emphasizing prevention,
maintenance, and rehabilitation programs. The experiments in controlled
de-criminalization which have been initiated in Europe should
be closely studied and emulated here.
A root cause of the governmental drug problem in this country
(as distinguished from a broader social drug problem) is the National
Security Act of 1947, and subsequent orders based on it. These
in effect have exempted intelligence agencies and their personnel
from the rule of law, an exemption which in the course of time
has been extended from the agencies themselves to their drug-trafficking
clients. This must cease. Either the President or Congress must
proclaim that national security cannot be invoked to protect drug-traffickers.
This must be accompanied by clarifying orders or legislation,
discouraging the conscious collaboration with, or protection of,
criminal drug-traffickers, by making it clear that such acts will
themselves normally constitute grounds for prosecution.
Clearly a campaign to restore sanity to our prevailing drug policies
will remain utopian, if it does not contemplate a struggle to
realign the power priorities of our political system. Such a struggle
will be difficult and painful. For those who believe in an open
and decent America, the results will also be rewarding.