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CIA Absolves Itself of Link to Crack Dealers


February 1998

After more than a month's delay requested by the Justice Department, on January 29, the CIA released the first volume of an internal investigation, concluding that it knew nothing about California cocaine profits being used to fund Nicaraguan rebels during the 1980s alleged in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996 (Tim Weiner, "C.I.A. Report Concludes Agency Knew Nothing of Drug Dealers' Ties to Rebels," New York Times, January 30, 1998, p. A11; John Diamond, "Report finds no CIA link to cocaine," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 30, 1998, p. A14; "CIA clears itself," Houston Chronicle, January 30, 1998, p. 9A).

The CIA says it found no evidence linking its employees, agents or operatives with crack dealers in the United States, and that there was no connection between the CIA and drug dealers, particularly Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses, mentioned in the Mercury News series (see "CIA Probe Finds No Evidence of Link Between Itself and Los Angeles Crack Trade," NewsBriefs, January 1998).

The report, entitled "The California Story," is the first of two volumes to be released by the CIA. The second volume is supposed to examine allegations that some contras and their supporters dealt in drugs. In 1989, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation concluded that contras did deal in drugs following a three-year inquiry.

Though exculpatory assertions were made in the CIA's press release and executive summary of the report, admissions of contra-cocaine connections appeared toward the end of the 149-page volume. According to the report, contra military chief Enrique Bermudez, who worked for the CIA and headed the largest contra army known as FDN, met with Blandon and Meneses during the 1980s. Reportedly Meneses had been a notorious drug trafficker in Nicaragua before the Sandanista revolution in 1979. Blandon and Meneses were traveling to Bolivia to arrange a shipment of cocaine to the U.S. when they met with Bermudez in Honduras in 1982. Bermudez asked the two men for their help "in raising funds and obtaining equipment" for the contras, saying that "the ends justify the means." The report says that Renato Pena Cabrera, a convicted drug trafficker associated with Meneses, said "that a Colombian associate of Meneses's told Pena in 'general' terms that portions of the proceeds from the sale of the cocaine Pena brought to San Francisco were going to the contras." Furthermore, the CIA concedes that it received intelligence from a law enforcement agency in 1982 about a U.S. religious group that was running a gun-for-drugs operation involving the FDN. The CIA responded that it did not want any more information about the operation, saying, "In light of the apparent participation of U.S. persons throughout, agree you should not pursue the matter further" (Robert Parry, "CIA Admits Contra-Cocaine Cover-ups," IF Magazine, March-April 1998, p. 11).

U.S. Justice Department Inspector General (DOJ-IG) Michael Bromwich was due to release a report on his inquiry into the CIA-crack allegations but release of the report was also delayed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. Reno delayed release of the 400-page DOJ-IG report citing "law enforcement concerns unrelated to the ultimate conclusions reached in your report." Bromwich said, "I disagree with her decision," adding, "I hope that we will be able to release the report in its entirety in the not-too-distant future." Bromwich's report is titled "A CIA-Contra Crack Cocaine Controversy: A Review of the Justice Department's Investigations and Prosecution." Delay of the report is the first time an attorney general has invoked provisions of the Inspector General Act that allow a report to be withheld from the public (Walter Pincus, "Reno Orders IG to Withhold Report on CIA-Crack Probe," Washington Post, January 24, 1998, p. A13; Associated Press, "Reno's orders: File on crack, CIA probe will not be released to the public," Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 24, 1998, p. A5).

CIA - George Tenet, Director, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington, DC 20505, Tel: (703) 482-6363.

Inspector General Michael Bromwich, U.S. Justice Department - 950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Suite 4706, Washington, DC 20530-0001, Tel: (202) 514-3435, Fax: (202) 514-4001.