Contras and Cocaine

Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine (Seven Stories Press 1999) grew out of a three-part series of articles published in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996. Gary Webb’s work concerned the nexus of terrorists, known as the Contras, who were backed and trained by the White House and the CIA and organized crime figures involved in cocaine trafficking. The network smuggled large shipments of cocaine into the United States through various points. Los Angeles was the receiving point. From Los Angeles, cocaine was distributed throughout the United States. Cocaine profits were funneled to the Contras to fund their terrorist operations. The CIA-Contra traffic was the primary source of the growing cocaine problem in the United States during the second half of the 1980s. This followed on the heels of the drug war that sent, and continues to send, thousands of young black men to prison. Webb’s investigation revealed – his facts and conclusions independently corroborated – the role of CIA and evidence that Reagan/Bush administration protected traffickers and dealers by shielding them from prosecution. The White House pursued this illegal route because the Boland amendments, passed between 1982-1984, restricted government funding of Contra activities.

Under intense flak from the government and Contra backers, as well as the big corporate news, The San Jose Mercury News distanced themselves from the story and Webb in 1997. The attacks on Webb’s work by major news corporations was particularly effective in marginalizing Webb. Webb understood what was going on. “The government side of the story is coming through the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post,” Webb told FAIR in 1998. “They use the giant corporate press rather than saying anything directly. If you work through friendly reporters on major newspapers, it comes off as the New York Times saying it and not a mouthpiece of the CIA.” The attacks on Webb effectively ended his career as a journalist. In 2004, Webb was found dead, twice shot in the head. The coroner ruled his death a suicide. Since his death, it has become generally accepted by corporate media that Webb’s reporting was accurate (reporters had known about CIA-Contra drug trafficking before Webb took on the story, but stayed away from it because they worried it would ruin their careers).

Drug trafficking by elements in the United States government is well documented. Alfred W. McCoy, who spoke on this campus a few years back, and who has documented the extensive use of torture by the Bush/Cheney administration, wrote the landmark work on CIA-heroin trafficking in The Political of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (Lawrence Hill Books, 2003). More recent US involvement in drug trafficking has been documented by, among others, Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall in Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America (University of California Press, 1998), Castillo Celerino and Dave Harmon in Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras, and the Drug War (Sundial, 1994), Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair in Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press (Verso, 1999), and Gary Webb in the aforementioned Dark Alliance .

What Webb exposed is one of the more stunning examples of political crime by the state. In a nutshell: The Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages/arms-for-cash/drugs-for-cash operations involved the United States government, led by Reagan and Bush Senior, selling advanced weaponry to entities in Iran (an official enemy of the United States at the time) in exchange for hostages and money. The weapons were sold through channels in Israel, one of the many US client states in the region. Revenues from weapons sales were funneled to the Contras operating in Nicaragua from bases in Honduras. The Contras were organized as death squads and terrorist cells striving to undermine the popular Sandinista government, which had charted a path away from its imperialist master towards sovereign independence, a democratic effort that caused it to become designated by government propagandists as a “communist menace.”

After tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians had been tortured and murdered by the Reagan/Bush crime network, fourteen administration officials were eventually charged with crimes. Eleven officials were convicted. As noted in my previous post, the World Court found the US government guilty of intentional terrorism. However, due to legal technicalities and pardons from George H. W. Bush, none of the convicts served any prison time. Bush pardoned six felons associated with the scheme: Elliot Abrams, Duane Clarridge, Alan Fiers, Clair George, Robert McFarlane, and Caspar Weinberger. Other major criminal actors involved were Oliver North, John Poindexter, and Otto Reich. The underlying crimes of treason, murder, and terrorism were never prosecuted. And, as explained earlier, the US prevented any action by the international community with its veto on the UN Security Council.

Despite their involvement in illegal weapons sales to an enemy nation, cocaine trafficking, and terrorism, several of the named officials continued to serve in government. Elliot Abrams became the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs under the George W. Bush. Otto Reich, the head of the Office of Public Diplomacy, the chief propaganda unit under Reagan, served under George W. Bush. John Negroponte served as Ambassador to Iraq, the National Intelligence Director, and Deputy Secretary of State under G. W. Bush. You can see him sitting behind Colin Powell while Powell lies to the UN Security Council about weapons of mass destruction in the run up to the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Six-time felon Poindexter served under Bush as Director of the Office of Information Awareness, Bush’s major domestic spying operation.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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