Allegations of CIA drug trafficking
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A number of writers have claimed that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is or has been involved in drug trafficking. Books on the subject that have received general notice include works by historian Alfred McCoy, English professor and poet Peter Dale Scott, and journalists Gary Webb and Alexander Cockburn. These claims have led to investigations by the United States government, including hearings and reports by the United States House of Representatives, Senate, Department of Justice, and the CIA's Office of the Inspector General. The subject remains controversial.
Following is a summary of some of the main claims made by geographical area.
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Another incident that sparked the scandal was the discovery that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the then-newly elected President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, was on the payroll of the CIA for eight years (until October 2009), and his relation to opium trafficking in the Middle East. It is alleged that the Karzai brothers helped to obfuscate the real intentions of the US intelligence services, related to the trade of the drugs. Karzai, in compliance with these relationships, would be paid to carry out operations in some regions of Afghanistan and to recruit paramilitary forces.
In most cases, the CIA's role involved various forms of complicity, tolerance or studied ignorance about the trade, not any direct culpability in the actual trafficking ... [t]he CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection. In sum, the CIA's role in the Southeast Asian heroin trade involved indirect complicity rather than direct culpability.
While the CIA was sponsoring a Secret War in Laos from 1961 to 1975, it was accused of trafficking in opium (an area known as the Golden Triangle). In response to accusations by Rolling Stone magazine in 1968, and Alfred W. McCoy in 1972, the CIA made its own internal inquiries of its staff and clients in Laos concerning the drug trade. It noted that trading in opium was legal in Laos until 1971. Cultural background was also explored. Opium served the isolated Lao hill tribes as their sole cash crop. Additionally, it was one of the few medicines available in their primitive living circumstances. Nevertheless, the CIA had its own internal security agents investigating any possible commercial exports from mid-1968 onwards. An American single plane airline was barred from CIA airfields on suspicion of drug smuggling. A guerrilla commanding officer was pressured into giving up dealing in opium. The CIA's own conclusion was that small amounts of opium might have been smuggled via their contract aircraft, given wartime conditions. The Agency's case officers even staged a couple of impromptu raids on drug refineries, only to be reined in by their Office of General Counsel.
During the CIA's secret war in Laos, the CIA used the Meo (Hmong) population to fight Pathet Lao rebels. Because of the war against Pathet Lao rebels, the Hmong depended upon poppy cultivation for hard currency. The Hmong were very important to CIA operations and the CIA was very concerned with their well-being. The Plain of Jars had been captured by Pathet Lao rebels in 1964 which resulted in the Laotian Air Force not being able to land their C-47 transport aircraft on the Plain of Jars for opium transport. The Laotian Air Force had almost no light planes that could land on the dirt runways near the mountaintop poppy fields. Having no way to transport their opium, the Hmong were faced with economic ruin. Air America was the only airline available in northern Laos. "According to several unproven sources, Air America began flying opium from mountain villages north and east of the Plain of Jars to Gen Vang Pao's headquarters at Long Tieng."
The CIA's front company, Air America was alleged to have profited from transporting opium and heroin on behalf of Hmong leader Vang Pao, or of "turning a blind eye" to the Laotian military doing it. This allegation has been supported by former Laos CIA paramilitary Anthony Poshepny (aka Tony Poe), former Air America pilots, and other people involved in the war. It is portrayed in the movie Air America. However, University of Georgia historian William M. Leary, writing on behalf of Air America, claims that this was done without the airline employees' direct knowledge and that the airline did not trade in drugs. Curtis Peebles denies the allegation, citing Leary's study as evidence.
A number of allegations have been written about and several local, state, and federal investigations have taken place related to the alleged use of the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport as a CIA drop point in large scale cocaine trafficking beginning in the early 1980s. The topic has received some press coverage that has included allegations of awareness, participation and/or coverup involvement of figures such as former president Bill Clinton.
An investigation by the CIA's inspector general concluded that the CIA had no involvement in or knowledge of any illegal activities that may have occurred in Mena. The report said that the agency had conducted a training exercise at the airport in partnership with another Federal agency and that companies located at the airport had performed "routine aviation-related services on equipment owned by the CIA".
Hollywood film director Ron Howard is currently making a movie about these events, called 'Mena', and focusing on the notorious pilot and Medellin cartel drug smuggler Adler Berriman Seal, a.k.a. Barry Seal, in which Seal is played by actor Tom Cruise. The film is set for release in January, 2017.
The oldest Mexican Cartel, the Guadalajara cartel, was benefited by the CIA for having connections with the Honduran drug lord Juan Matta-Ballesteros. a CIA asset, Juan was the head of SETCO, an airline used for smuggling drugs into the US and also used to transport military supplies and personnel for the Nicaraguan Contras, using funds from the accounts established by Oliver North.
It is also alleged that the DFS, the main Mexican intelligence agency, which is in part a CIA creation and later became the Mexican Center for Research and National Security(CISEN), had among its members the CIA's closest government allies in Mexico. DFS badges, "handed out to top-level Mexican drug-traffickers, have been labelled by DEA agents a virtual 'license to traffic.'".
It is also known that the Guadalajara Cartel, Mexico's most powerful drug-trafficking network in the early 1980s, prospered largely, among other reasons, because it enjoyed the protection of the DFS, under its chief Miguel Nazar Haro, a CIA asset.
Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, known as the Godfather of the Mexican drug business and the first Mexican drug lord, provided a significant amount of funding, weapons, and other aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. His pilot, Werner Lotz, stated that Gallardo once had him deliver $150,000 in cash to a Contra group, and Gallardo often boasted about smuggling arms to them. His activities were known to several U.S. federal agencies, including the CIA and DEA, but he was granted immunity due to his "charitable contributions to the Contras".
Vicente Zambada Niebla, the son of Ismael Zambada García, one of the top drug lords in Mexico, claimed after his arrest to his attorneys that he and other top Sinaloa Cartel members had received immunity by U.S. agents and a virtual licence to smuggle cocaine over the United States border, in exchange for intelligence about rival cartels engaged in the Mexican Drug War. It is important to note that this cartel has been classified as the most powerful drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime syndicate in the world.
In October 2013, two former federal agents and an ex-CIA contractor told an American television network that CIA operatives were involved in the kidnapping and murder of DEA covert agent Enrique Camarena, because he was a threat to the agency's drug operations in Mexico. According to the three men, the CIA was collaborating with drug traffickers moving cocaine and marijuana to the United States, and using its share of the profits to finance Nicaraguan Contra rebels attempting to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government. A CIA spokesman responded, calling it "ridiculous" to suggest that the Agency had anything to do with the murder of a US federal agent or the escape of his alleged killer.
In 1986, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations began investigating drug trafficking from Central and South America and the Caribbean to the United States. The investigation was conducted by the Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, chaired by Senator John Kerry, so its final 1989 report was known as the Kerry Committee report. The Report concluded that "it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers."
In 1996 Gary Webb wrote a series of articles published in the San Jose Mercury News, which investigated Nicaraguans linked to the CIA-backed Contras who had smuggled cocaine into the U.S. which was then distributed as crack cocaine into Los Angeles and funneled profits to the Contras. His articles asserted that the CIA was aware of the cocaine transactions and the large shipments of drugs into the U.S. by the Contra personnel and directly aided drug dealers to raise money for the Contras. The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post launched their own investigations and rejected Webb's allegations. In May 1997, the Mercury News executive editor Jerry Ceppos, who had approved the series, published a column that acknowledged shortcomings in the series reporting, editing, and production, while maintaining the story was correct "on many important points." Webb later published a book based on the series, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.
In 1989, the United States invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, which involved 25,000 American troops. Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of government of Panama, had been giving military assistance to Contra groups in Nicaragua at the request of the U.S.—which, in exchange, allowed him to continue his drug-trafficking activities—which they had known about since the 1960s. When the DEA tried to indict Noriega in 1971, the CIA prevented them from doing so. The CIA, which was then directed by future president George H. W. Bush, provided Noriega with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year as payment for his work in Latin America. However, when CIA pilot Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua by the Sandinistas, documents aboard the plane revealed many of the CIA's activities in Latin America, and the CIA's connections with Noriega became a public relations "liability" for the U.S. government, which finally allowed the DEA to indict him for drug trafficking, after decades of allowing his drug operations to proceed unchecked. Operation Just Cause, whose ostensible purpose was to capture Noriega, pushed the former Panamanian leader into the Papal Nuncio where he surrendered to U.S. authorities. His trial took place in Miami, where he was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Noriega's prison sentence was reduced from 30 years to 17 years for good behavior. After serving 17 years in detention and imprisonment, his prison sentence ended on September 9, 2007. He was held in U.S. custody before being extradited to France where he was sentenced to 7 years for laundering money from Colombian drug cartels.
Venezuelan National Guard Affair
The CIA, in spite of objections from the Drug Enforcement Administration, allowed at least one ton of nearly pure cocaine to be shipped into Miami International Airport. The CIA claimed to have done this as a way of gathering information about Colombian drug cartels, but the cocaine ended up being sold on the street.
In November 1993, the former head of the DEA, Robert C. Bonner appeared on 60 Minutes and criticized the CIA for allowing several tons of pure cocaine to be smuggled into the U.S. via Venezuela without first notifying and securing the approval of the DEA.
In November 1996, a Miami grand jury indicted former Venezuelan anti-narcotics chief and longtime CIA asset, General Ramon Guillen Davila, who was smuggling many tons of cocaine into the United States from a Venezuelan warehouse owned by the CIA. In his trial defense, Guillen claimed that all of his drug smuggling operations were approved by the CIA.
- CIA transnational anti-crime and anti-drug activities
- War on Drugs
- Air America (airline)
- Air America (non-fiction book)
- Air America (film)
- Castle Bank & Trust (Bahamas)
- Nugan Hand Bank
- Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI)
- p. 385 of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by McCoy, with Cathleen B. Read and Leonard P. Adams II, 2003, ISBN 1-55652-483-8
- Ahern, Thomas L. Jr. (206). Undercover Armies: CIA and Surrogate Warfare in Laos. Center for the Study of Intelligence. pp. 535–547. Classified control no. C05303949.
- McCoy, Alfred (1972). The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. Harper & Row. pp. 263–264,. ISBN 0060129018.
Air America began flying opium from mountain villages north and east of the Plain of Jars to Gen. Vang Pao's headquarters at Long Tieng.
- "Opium Throughout History". PBS. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
- Cockburn, Alexander; Jeffrey St. Clair (1998). "9". Whiteout, the CIA, drugs and the press. New York: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-258-5.
- Blum, William. "The CIA and Drugs: Just say "Why not?"". Third World Traveller. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
- Robbins, Christopher (1985). The Ravens. New York: Crown. p. 94. ISBN 0-9646360-0-X.
- "Air America and Drugs in Laos". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
- "History of CAT/Air America". Air-america.org. Archived from the original on April 24, 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
- Peebles, Curtiss. Twilight Warriors: Covert Air Operations Against the USSR. pp. 254–255. ISBN 1591146607.
- Hughes, Bill. "CIA Probed in Alleged Arms Shipments; Reports Claim Agency Was Involved in Arkansas-Nicaragua Drug Swaps". Highbeam.com. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- Hughes, Bill. "Clandestination: Arkansas; Mena Is a Quiet Little Place. So How Did It Become the Cloak-and-Dagger Capital of America?". Highbeam.com. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- Weil, Martin. "Truth & consequences.(Chairman Jim Leach of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee plans Mena Airport investigation)". Highbeam.com. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- "What Was Clinton's Role In 'Mena Mystery!?'". Highbeam.com. 1995-07-19. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- Rothberg, Donald (9 November 1996). "Investigation Absolves CIA in Alleged Drug Smuggling". Associated Press. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- Bunck, Julie M. & Fowler, Michael R. (2012). Bribes, Bullets, and Intimidation: Drug Trafficking and the Law in Central America. Penn State Press. p. 272. ISBN 9780271048666.
- Cockburn, Alexander; St-Clair, Jeffrey (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press. Verso. ISBN 9781859841396.
- Bunck, Julie M. & Fowler, Michael R. (2012). Bribes, Bullets, and Intimidation: Drug Trafficking and the Law in Central America. Penn State Press. p. 274. ISBN 9780271048666.
- Peter Dale Scott (2000), Washington and the politics of drugs, Variant, 2(11).
- Scott, Peter Dale; Marshall, Jonathan (1998). Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Latin America. University of California Press. p. 41. ISBN 9780520921283.
- "Court Pleadings Point to CIA Role in Alleged "Cartel" Immunity Deal | the narcosphere". Narcosphere.narconews.com. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- "Top Drug Trafficker Claims U.S. Government Made Agreement to Protect Sinaloa Cartel". Public Intelligence. 2011-08-01. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- "U.S. Intelligence Says Sinaloa Cartel Has Won Battle for Ciudad Juarez Drug Routes". CNS News. 9 April 2010.
- ""Te CIA helped kill DEA agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena," say witnesses". El País (Spain) (in Spanish). 15 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
- "Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations" (April 1989). Drugs, Law Enforcement And Foreign Policy. p. 86. Retrieved 2015-04-25.
- Daunt, Tina (March 16, 2005). "Written in Pain". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). Retrieved April 3, 2015.
- Cockburn, Alexander; Jeffrey St. Clair (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. New York: Verso. pp. 287–290. ISBN 1-85984-258-5.
- Buckley, Kevin (1991). Panama: The Whole Story. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-72794-9.
- Schpoliansky, Christophe (2010-04-27). "Panama's Ex-Dictator Manuel Noriega Extradited from U.S. to France". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- "Manuel Noriega scheduled for September release". USA Today. 24 January 2007.
- "Manuel Noriega sentenced to 7 years". Reuters. 7 July 2010.
- New York Times Service, "Venezuelan general who led CIA program indicted," Dallas Morning News (26 November 1996) p. 6A.
- Chua, Howard G. (1993-11-29). "Confidence Games". TIME. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- "Venezuelan General Indicted in C.I.A. Scheme". New York Times. 1996-11-23. p. 2. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
- Scott, Peter Dale; Marshall, Jonathan (1998). Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21449-8.
- Scott, Peter Dale (2003). "11, "Opium, the China Lobby, and the CIA"". Drugs, oil, and war: the United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-2522-1.
- Kruger, Henrik. (1980). The Great Heroin Coup: Drugs, Intelligence, and International Fascism. South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-031-5.
- Kwitny, Jonathan (1988). The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA. Touchstone Books. ISBN 978-0-671-66637-8.
- Levine, Michael (1993). The Big White Lie: The Deep Cover Operation That Exposed the CIA Sabotage of the Drug War. Thunder's Mouth Pr. ISBN 978-1-56025-084-5.
- McCoy, Alfred W.; Read, Kathleen B. (1972). The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. Harper & Row. ISBN 0060129018. (The link is to the complete text of this book.)
- McCoy, Alfred W. (2003). The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Central America, Columbia. Lawrence Hill & Co. ISBN 1-55652-483-8.
- Webb, Gary (1999). Dark Alliance: CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. Seven Stories Press,U.S. ISBN 1-888363-93-2.
- Cockburn, Alexander; St-Clair, Jeffrey (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press. Verso. ISBN 9781859841396.
CIA & DOJ Reports
- Overview of CIA/IG Investigation (January 29, 1998) — A short summary of The Inspector General's Report of Investigation regarding allegations of connections between CIA and the Contras in cocaine trafficking to the United States.
- Report of Investigation--Volume I: The California Story (January 29, 1998) —The Inspector General's Report of Investigation regarding allegations of connections between CIA and the Contras in cocaine trafficking to the United States. Volume I: The California Story.
- Report of Investigation -- Volume II: The Contra Story (October 8, 1998) — The Inspector General's Report of Investigation regarding allegations of connections between CIA and the Contras in cocaine trafficking to the United States. Volume II: The Contra Story.
- USDOJ/OIG Special Report. THE CIA-CONTRA-CRACK COCAINE CONTROVERSY: A REVIEW OF THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT’S INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS (December, 1997)