CIA Probe Finds No Evidence of Link Between Itself and Los Angeles Crack Trade
The CIA found no evidence that the CIA "directly or indirectly" was linked to allies of the Nicaraguan contra rebels involved in crack cocaine sales in Los Angeles. The most recent allegations of such a link stem from a series in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996, which suggested that the CIA knowingly allowed a California drug ring to sell crack cocaine in South-Central Los Angeles in the 1980s to funnel profits to CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua (See "CIA Allegedly Linked to Crack Epidemic in Los Angeles ..." NewsBriefs, October 1996). (John Diamond, "CIA Clears Itself of Involvement with Crack Cocaine," Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1997, p. A5; Tim Weiner, "C.I.A. Says It Has Found No Link Between Itself and Crack Trade," New York Times, December 19, 1997, p. A23; Walter Pincus, "Inspectors General Find No Ties Between CIA, L.A. Drug Dealers," Washington Post, December 19, 1997, p. A2).
The study, intended to be released to the public, has been kept secret. According to a senior government official, the CIA inspector general's report found no link between the CIA and two Nicaraguan cocaine dealers, Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses. The newspaper series had said the two were civilian leaders of an anticommunist rebel group formed and run by the CIA during the 1980s. The articles traced the proliferation of crack cocaine in Los Angeles to a crack dealer named Ricky Donnell Ross, who claimed he got his supply through Blandon and Meneses. The CIA inspector general found "nothing to indicate that CIA people or people working for the CIA or on CIA's behalf had any dealings directly or indirectly with those people, Ross, Blandon or Meneses," the senior official said.
The CIA inspector general's report is to have two sections. Release of the first section, which concerns the allegations raised by the Mercury News, has been delayed at the request of Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department. A second section dealing with broader questions about links between the Contras and drug trafficking is not yet complete. Holder said he requested the delay due to law-enforcement concerns that are "not related to the underlying allegations." He added that the Justice Department also withheld a report on the same subject prepared by Michael Bromwich, the Justice Department's inspector general.
The Mercury News series generated widespread anger in the black community toward the CIA, as well as toward federal criminal prosecutions of black crack offenders, because it was believed that the CIA took part in or condoned crack sales to raise money for the contra rebels. This CIA investigation found no evidence that the CIA was involved in cocaine dealing in Los Angeles (See "CIA Says It Has No Record of Links to Drug Dealers ..." NewsBriefs, December 1996; "CIA Inspector General Extends Investigation of CIA-Contra Crack Cocaine Allegations ..." NewsBriefs, November 1996).
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who has led the call to investigate CIA-crack allegations, said the delay in the reports damages the credibility of both the CIA and the Justice Department investigations. Waters said, "The Justice Department has never had any credibility in the investigation of drug trafficking by the CIA or any other intelligence agency." (John L. Mitchell, "Delays Hamper Credibility of Drug Probes, Waters Says," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), December 19, 1997, p. A6).
Some former intelligence officers criticized the thoroughness of the CIA's effort. "Their interview with me was simply to go through the motions of touching all the bases," said former CIA officer Donald H. Winters. "They started off by saying they had no substantive evidence that any of the allegations in the San Jose article had any basis."
On December 12, the San Jose Mercury News announced that investigative reporter Gary Webb, who authored the August 1996 "Dark Alliance" series in the Mercury News has resigned from the newspaper (Associated Press, "CIA-Crack Series Reporter Quits Newspaper," Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1997).
The Mercury News series faced criticism from several major newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, which disputed Webb's findings. Last fall, the Mercury News pulled Webb off the story and reassigned him to a remote satellite bureau, a two-hour drive from his home.
Mercury News Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos published an editorial on May 11, 1997 admitting that Webb and the newspaper made some mistakes, calling the series "oversimplified" (See "San Jose Mercury News Editor Trims on CIA-Crack Story," NewsBriefs, May-June, 1997).
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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters - 2344 RHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-2201, Fax: (202) 225-7854, District Tel: (213) 757-8900.