The Consortium

By Robert Parry

WASHINGTON -- A published report that CIA-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels fueled the crack cocaine epidemic has touched a raw nerve in America's black communities which were devastated by the drug and related murders. With a fury unseen in years, black leaders demanded a thorough investigation of the charges and punishment of U.S. government officials who might be implicated.

The fury rose first in Los Angeles where crack, allegedly imported by the contras, devastated South-Central, making the black neighborhoods there synonymous with drive-by shootings and gang violence. Scores of blacks -- many innocent bystanders -- were killed and thousands of black youths went to prison. But black demands for action quickly spread to Washington, where Rep. Maxine Waters led the Congressional Black Caucus in angry protests.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, veteran civil rights activist Dick Gregory drove to CIA headquarters with a roll of yellow "crime scene" tape. "We know where the criminals are," the aging Gregory told a news conference. "We're gonna rope them in." When he arrived at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., however, Gregory and a black radio talk show host, Joe Madison, were arrested on charges of blocking an entrance. Gregory announced a hunger strike in protest of the CIA's alleged drug complicity.

The next day, a predominantly black crowd of 4,000 packed a conference hall at the Washington Convention Center to hear Rep. Waters denounce "the connection between the CIA and the crack cocaine introduced into our neighborhoods." Other speakers recounted how black families were shattered by crack violence and how black youths were jailed far longer for possessing crack than white users were for having powder cocaine. The crowd roared when the CIA was mocked as the "cocaine importation agency."

For its part, the CIA denied the contra-crack allegations published by the San Jose Mercury News in August. CIA director John Deutch cited a still-secret CIA study done in 1988 which supposedly found that the CIA "neither participated in nor condoned drug trafficking by contra forces." Deutch, however, said he still would order another review "to dispel any lingering public doubts."

But the CIA declined to release details of the 1988 study, which would have been conducted under President Reagan, who had declared that the contras were the "moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers." Deutch's statement also did not explain intelligence and other government reports from the time linking contra operations based in both Honduras and Costa Rica to cocaine trafficking. During the 1991 drug trial of Panama's dictator Manuel Noriega, the federal government put on witnesses who testified that they flew cocaine to the United States as part of Noriega's support for contra units. The CIA and the White House enlisted Noriega in the contra-support operation in the mid-1980s. [See The Consortium, Sept. 16]

While the CIA issued denials and the black community seethed, the mainstream media continued its longstanding practice of either ignoring or pooh-poohing the contra drug allegations. Despite the San Jose story and the public fall-out, The New York Times showed no interest in the story and The Washington Post first reported on Deutch's denial and then played Gregory's arrest in a gossip column.

Despite reams of court records and government documents cited in the San Jose story, references to contra drugs even by a quality newspaper somehow fell into the category of "conspiracy theory." Conversely, as the black leaders were quick to note, the big media reported extensively about the tabloid Star quoting a prostitute quoting political consultant Dick Morris supposedly blaming Hillary Clinton for "Filegate," even though Morris wasn't around at the time of the FBI file collections. (Morris has since stated under oath that he only said that everybody thought Hillary Clinton was to blame, not that he knew she was.)

But the fury in the black communities over the contra-crack connection could challenge both the CIA's denials and the mainstream media's complacency. Rep. Waters is pushing for a special citizens commission which would have the power to review and make public relevant government documents -- records that would show what the CIA knew and when the CIA knew it.

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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