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Dec. 29, 1998


LA’s Other

Contra-Coke Pipeline

By Robert Parry

A still-secret finding from the CIA's recent contra-cocaine investigation implicates a CIA veteran of the Nicaraguan contra war in a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into Los Angeles in the late 1980s, according to U.S. government sources.

The offense, which is currently under investigation, allegedly involves a CIA employee from the Los Angeles "station" who participated in a drug conspiracy from 1988-90.

The smuggling operation reportedly shipped cocaine into predominately black neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. But the alleged trafficking was distinct from the smuggling reported by the San Jose Mercury News in a controversial 1996 series entitled "Dark Alliance."

The Mercury News described a contra-connected drug pipeline that pumped cheap cocaine into South Central during the early 1980s.

The U.S. government sources did not identify the CIA employee by name. It also appears that his work on the contra operation had ceased by the time of the alleged Los Angeles smuggling operation.

But it could not be determined if the CIA employee's purported criminal activity derived from his previous work with the contras.

One U.S. government source indicated that the allegations were included as a classified appendix to the recent CIA report on contra-connected drug trafficking. It was not mentioned, however, in the declassified 361-page version of the inspector general's report released on Oct. 8.

Former CIA inspector general Frederick Hitz, who oversaw the contra-cocaine probe, stated that the new L.A. allegations were not directly part of his contra-cocaine study, though he added they are under current investigation.

"It does not come within the rubric of our [contra-cocaine] study," Hitz said. But he added: "We are working on it."

When asked about the purported secret appendix on the L.A.-CIA drug connection, the CIA's public affairs office researched the question and then responded with a refusal to either confirm or deny the allegations.

"The information from the classified version that was removed [for the publicly released version] was removed to protect sources and methods," a CIA spokesman said. "There were also law enforcement concerns" related to informant relationships.

The CIA press office also faxed over a copy of the press release issued on Oct. 8 when the second volume of Hitz's report was released.

The spokesman underlined the sentence reading: "No information has been found to indicate that CIA as an organization or its employees conspired with, or assisted, contra-related organizations or individuals in drug trafficking to raise funds for the contras or for any other purpose."

The press statement -- and the comments by Hitz -- could be seen as technically accurate if the Los Angeles-based CIA employee was no longer assigned to the contra war at the time of the alleged trafficking.

The CIA maintains "stations" -- or offices -- in several American cities, including Los Angeles, as well around the world.

In the recent contra-cocaine report, Hitz tried to walk a public relations tightrope regarding CIA responsibility. He admitted CIA failures in addressing the serious contra-cocaine problem, but denied direct CIA collaboration in the crimes.

In the report, Hitz confessed that CIA officials failed to investigate contra-cocaine allegations fully, withheld incriminating information when they got it, and even frustrated official inquiries into the crimes.

Hitz also discovered a far larger scope of the contra-drug trafficking than ever had been alleged, even by the contras' harshest critics. Hitz's report acknowledged that cocaine traffickers pervaded the contra war from start to finish, with evidence implicating more than 50 contras and their supporters from 1980-90.

Besides the shocking depth of the problem, the inspector general noted some direct connections between drug traffickers and both the CIA and President Reagan's National Security Council staff.

For instance, the CIA "contractor" sent down to run the Costa Rican-based contra operations in 1982 had been working in his family's drug-money-laundering business before going to Central America.

The contractor, known by the pseudonym Ivan Gomez, also was cited by convicted contra-drug trafficker, Carlos Cabezas, as the CIA man responsible for ensuring that cocaine profits went into the contra coffers.

The inspector general's report criticized the CIA's decision to withhold discovery of Ivan Gomez's drug background from the Justice Department, but did not conclude that Gomez’s activities amounted to CIA complicity in the contra-drug trade.

During the contra war, the CIA also hesitated to pursue an admission by Moises Nunez, a Cuban-American who represented Reagan's NSC within the contras. The CIA discovered that Nunez's two shrimp companies were implicated in smuggling cocaine to the United States and laundering drug profits for the Medellin cartel.

In 1987, when the CIA questioned Nunez about this cocaine trafficking, he pointed the finger at his superiors at the NSC. Nunez "indicated it was difficult to answer questions relating to his involvement in narcotic trafficking because of the specific tasks he had performed at the direction of the NSC," Hitz wrote.

One senior U.S. government official, who insisted on anonymity, told me that the CIA failed to pursue Nunez's assertion because CIA officials believed it implicated NSC aide Oliver North. Hitz uncovered other evidence linking North's Iran-contra airline, Southern Air Transport, to cocaine flights during the contra war.

The CIA's reluctance to make criminal drug referrals against its officers and allies fits with a long history of CIA defensiveness about drug-trafficking charges. In the half century of the CIA's existence, there has not been one known criminal case against a CIA officer for engaging in illicit drug trafficking.

The CIA's spotless record has raised some congressional eyebrows. By the absence of any known public prosecutions, some critics have suggested that the CIA has not policed itself very well.

Indeed, often, the CIA has gone on the offensive against investigators who have uncovered evidence of CIA-connected narcotics trafficking.

One U.S. government source said the L.A. drug information was deleted as an appendix to the declassified version of Hitz's report because the allegations are under investigation by the Justice Department. That source, however, doubted that any charges would come from the inquiry.

The Justice Department failed to respond to repeated calls seeking comment about a possible criminal investigation into the L.A. allegations.

A CIA spokesman stated that the agency is unaware of any active Justice Department investigation of CIA-connected drug trafficking.

Given the CIA's long history of drug denial, however, the handling of the L.A. allegations could be a watershed: a test of whether government tolerance of purportedly corrupt CIA employees continues.

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