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I don't usually pay much attention to press announcements from the Central Intelligence Agency, but when an e-mail arrived with the news that the CIA had posted a Web site for children, I was curious.
"In adding these pages, the CIA joins other federal agencies in projecting an anti-drug message to America's youth," the press release disclosed. "The Web site puts drugs in the perspective of the world of intelligence gathering. Children see what roles the CIA plays in the war on drugs. ..."
I couldn't resist paying a cyber visit to the CIA's redoubtable Web offering for inquiring young minds.
On the agency's home page for kids, you can meet Bogart and six of his barking buddies in the CIA's canine corps. Or you can play "break the code" or "try a disguise" or an interactive quiz-game about geography. There's a lot of stuff to choose from.
I was immediately drawn toward a feathery, winged cartoon character on the lower left named Harry Recon. He's a CIA aerial reconnaissance pigeon who chirps, "Fly high on intelligence, not drugs ..."
So I click on little Harry and voilą! I'm reading a little pep talk for wanna-be spies. "In order to do our jobs, we have to be in the best mental shape and that includes being drug free."
Another mouse click and I'm "on the trail of illicit drugs" with the CIA's Crime and Narcotics Center, which never has "a slow day because the war on drugs and crime goes on around the clock and never takes a holiday." The moms and dads who work in this dedicated American intelligence unit are said to "play a key role in helping to destroy many drug and organized crime organizations."
For a quick diversion, I take a peek at the CIA's online Exhibit Center, which features a dozen or so spy artifacts, including "drop dead spikes" and an Air America baseball cap. That's when I figured I had enough.
I mean, Air America, come on. Is that supposed to be an inside joke or something?
Drug trafficking has long been a specialty of Air America, the CIA proprietary airline that transported weapons to anticommunist warlords in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle during the Vietnam war, and often returned with consignments of opium poppies.
The role of Air America and other U.S. intelligence assets in fostering the illicit narcotics trade has been well-documented in The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade by University of Wisconsin professor Alfred W. McCoy.
New York Times foreign affairs columnist C.L. Sulzberger, no stranger to intelligence circles, was indignant when Allen Ginsberg, the beat poet, accused the CIA of trafficking in heroin. But Sulzberger later acknowledged his mistake in a letter to Ginsberg dated April 1, 1978.
"I fear I owe you an apology," he told Ginsberg. "I have been reading a succession of pieces about CIA involvement in the dope trade in Southeast Asia, and I remember when you first suggested I look into this I thought you were full of beans. Indeed you were right."
The war on drugs has always served a political agenda. During the Red Scare in the early 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy blamed Red China for peddling heroin to weaken the moral fiber of the United States and the Free World.
Ironically, it appears that McCarthy himself developed a nasty little addiction to morphine while leading the anticommunist crusade. But his dope wasn't coming from Maoist China. According to Ladies Home Journal, that bastion of left-wing political correctness, McCarthy was getting his daily morphine script from Harry Anslinger, longtime head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
I searched in vain on the CIA's Web site for any mea culpa regarding the agency's support for counterinsurgency campaigns waged by various drug-smuggling "freedom fighters."
There was no mention of massive amounts of still unaccounted-for U.S. aid to Pakistani military officers and Afghan mujahadeen rebel leaders, which helped grease a major arms-for-heroin pipeline in Southwest Asia during the 1980s. Much of the dirty cash was laundered through institutions such as the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which functioned, not coincidentally, as a conduit for CIA operations in the region.
At the same time in Central America, Lt. Col. Oliver North and high-level CIA personnel aided and abetted big-time cocaine smugglers who ferried weapons to the Nicaraguan contras fighting the Sandinista government.
North and three other U.S. officials were banned for life from Costa Rica after that country's government came up with hard proof of the Reagan administration's role in secretly facilitating the flow of narcotics all this while U.S. officials were preaching about the war on drugs.
A glutton for hypocrisy, I abandoned the realm of kiddie propaganda and went straight to the CIA's home page for adults. I clicked on "frequently asked questions," where the sordid history of CIA-tolerated cocaine smuggling is summarily dismissed: "The CIA Inspector General found no evidence to substantiate charges that the CIA 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."
In fact, the fine print of the October 1998 inspector general's report tells a very different story, as journalist Robert Parry points out in his trenchant coverage of the Contra-cocaine connection.
"CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz confirmed long-standing allegations of cocaine trafficking by Contra forces," Parry says. "Hitz identified more than 50 contras and contra-related entities implicated in the drug trade."
Parry notes that the Hitz report detailed how the Reagan administration "protected these drug operations and frustrated federal investigations which threatened to expose these crimes in the mid 1980s."
Acknowledging that the CIA "withheld evidence of contra crimes from the Justice Department, the Congress, and even the CIA's own analytical division," the inspector general emphasized that the contra war took precedence over law enforcement. [See Robert Parry's Lost History for details.]
If recent events in Latin America are any indication, conniving with drug traffickers is a difficult habit for the CIA to kick.
Consider, for example, the case of Vladimiro Montesinos, a shadowy figure rarely seen in public, who for many years was the CIA's principal point man in Peru and a lynchpin in the U.S. government's $17.7 billion war on drugs. Trained as a cadet at the School of the Americas, a notorious breeding ground for assassins, Montesinos became head of the Peruvian intelligence service, SIN, in the early 1990s.
During the decade that his leadership of Peru's spy agency won U.S. praise and support, Montesinos built a billion-dollar criminal empire based on drug trafficking, arms dealing, and judicial and political corruption, according to Peruvian parliamentary investigators.
Several recently captured cocaine barons claimed they had been paying Montesinos a monthly fee to let them operate. "The groups that reached an agreement with Montesinos's men could be sure that their competitors would be eliminated," explained Roger Rumrill, an expert on the Peruvian drug trade.
What's more, according to Peruvian prosecutors, Montesinos used drug profits to finance death squads, which were responsible for torture, extra-judicial executions, and the disappearance of 4,000 government opponents. By choosing Montesinos as its main ally in Peru, the CIA turned a blind eye to human rights abuses as well as his involvement in the drug trade.
Eventually, his CIA handlers wised up and realized that Montesinos had been taking them for a ride. They cut him loose in August 2000 after disclosures that the Peruvian spymaster had betrayed his patrons in Langley, Virginia, by selling arms to leftist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.
Montesinos is currently a fugitive from justice, and the so-called war on drugs continues to provide a thinly veiled cover for U.S.-backed counterinsurgency in Colombia.
Washington's fraudulent anti-narcotics agenda is underscored by the CIA's unwillingness to target far-right paramilitary groups responsible for anti-guerrilla attacks and civilian massacres, even though these same paramilitary groups are directly involved in cocaine production and trafficking.
If the Montesinos affair and the Colombia fiasco tell us anything, it's that U.S. intelligence officials will dutifully ignore evidence of dope smuggling when they deem it expeditious to do so.
Harry Recon, the spy pigeon, may twitter about flying high on intelligence, not on drugs, but there's no escaping the grim fact that large amounts of cocaine entering the United States are collateral damage generated by CIA activities in Latin America.
"Drugs and covert operations go together like fleas on a dog," explained David MacMichael, a former CIA analyst. Scratch the surface of the narcotics trade and once again it seems that certain drug pushers are OK by the CIA as long as they keep snorting the anticommunist line.
Martin A. Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens, a book about neo-fascism.