Denver Post
Talk of CIA coke ring fuels anger

September 13, 1996

By Vanessa Gallman
Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- A newspaper investigation that a CIA-supported drug ring introduced crack cocaine to Los Angeles is leading to calls for congressional hearings and a growing sense of outrage from African-Americans across the country.

The director of the CIA, John Deutch, ordered the agency's inspector general to look into the allegations, but he also has said he does not believe they are true.

Yesterday, however, more than 1,500 blacks attended a hastily called meeting in Washington to say they do believe the allegations.

Encouraged in recent weeks by black radio talk-show hosts, community activists and elected officials, they met to start planning street protests and legislative action. Also yesterday, the president of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume, called for a congressional investigation.

The newspaper report says crack cocaine was introduced to Los Angeles street gangs in the 1980s by a CIA operative to raise money to finance the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contras. The scheme, reminiscent of the illegal sale of guns unveiled during the Iran-contra controversy, has been dubbed "cocaine-contra."

Lengthy excerpts from stories published by the San Jose, Calif., Mercury-News are reprinted in today's Denver Post, starting on page 25A.

In a campaign season in which the "drug war" has become political fodder, the controversy could provide momentum for those opposed to the sentencing disparity for crimes involving crack and powdered cocaine, which has resulted in high rates of black incarceration.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, who represents the Los Angeles area in Congress, praised the Washington crowd "for having the audacity to be outraged...that the government put drugs in our communities." She convened the meeting, held during the annual gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The report says that Danilo Blandon, a former Nicaraguan government official, was the conduit for thousands of kilos of cocaine that flowed to the Los Angeles street gangs between 1982 and 1986.

Blandon, who pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficing charges in 1992 and went to work for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, recently testified in federal court that he sold the cocaine in the city's black neighborhoods as a way to raise money for the guerrilla army seeking to overthrow a revolutionary socialist government.

His biggest customer was a drug kingpin, Rick "Freeway" Ross, who used the drugs to make crack, a cheaper, smokable form of cocaine. Ross is now in jail, set up by Blandon in a 1994 bust.

The newspaper's reporting reinforces conspiracy theories deeply held by some blacks, going back to rumors that the government used heroin to weaken the Black Panther Party, a black nationalist group popular in the 1960s.

Such theories have gained momentum in recent years as prisons have increasingly filled with black street dealers and addicts.

Whether the CIA had a role in the drug's distribution will be explored by the CIA inspector general. Members of Congress from California have called for congressional hearings. So far, none are scheduled.

Deutch, in a letter responding to a call for investigation, said a 1988 CIA study presented to intelligence committees already concluded that the CIA "neither participated in or condoned drug trafficking by contra forces."

But Eric Sterling, a Judiciary Committee staffer who oversaw drug policy during that period, said congressional staff members never had the time or resources to fully investigate leads on drug trafficking. "That was a clear lack of interest on the part of the congressional leaders," said Sterling, who runs a drug-policy think tank.

Too many people think the Mercury-News stories are "old news" because of the Iran-contra hearings, said John Newman, a University of Maryland professor active in pushing for public access to government records.

But the controversy may finally open up the details of what he said was the greater tragedy of "cocaine-contra."

"In our goal to win the Cold War, we lost sight of a more worthy goal -- peace at home," he told the Washington crowd.

"Our zeal made us as ruthless as the enemy we fought."