Allegations of CIA drug trafficking

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Central Intelligence Agency

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 a controversial one.

Following is a summary of some of the main claims made by geographical area.

Afghanistan (Soviet Union)[edit]

Historian Alfred W. McCoy stated that:[1]

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.

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 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.[2][3][4]

Golden Triangle[edit]

In order to provide covert funds for the Kuomintang (KMT) forces loyal to General Chiang Kai-shek, who were fighting the Chinese communists under Mao Zedong, the CIA helped the KMT smuggle opium from China and Burma to Bangkok, Thailand, (aka. The Golden Triangle) by providing airplanes owned by one of their front businesses, Air America.[5]

United States[edit]

Mena, Arkansas[edit]

A number of allegations have been written about and several local, state, and federal investigations have taken place related to the notion of the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport as a CIA drop point in large scale cocaine trafficking beginning in the latter part of the 1980s. The topic has received some press coverage that has included allegations of awareness, participation and/or coverup involvement of figures such as future president Bill Clinton.[6][7][8][9]

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".[10]


The oldest Mexican Cartel, the Guadalajara cartel, was benefited by the CIA for having connections with the Honduran drug lord Juan Matta-Ballesteros,[11][12] a CIA asset,[13] who was the head of SETCO, an airline used for smuggling drugs into the US[14] and also used to transport military supplies and personnel for the Nicaraguan Contras, using funds from the accounts established by Oliver North.[15]

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.'".[16]

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.[16]

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".[17]

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.[18][19] It is important to note that this Cartel has been classified as the most powerful[20] 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.[21]


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."[22]

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.[23] 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."[23] Webb later published a book based on the series , Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.


The U.S. military invasion of Panama after which dictator Manuel Noriega was captured.

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.[24][25] When the DEA tried to indict Noriega in 1971, the CIA prevented them from doing so.[24] 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.[24] 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.[24] 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.[24]

Noriega's prison sentence was reduced from 30 years to 17 years for good behavior.[26] After serving 17 years in detention and imprisonment, his prison sentence ended on September 9, 2007.[27] 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.[28]

Venezuelan National Guard Affair[edit]

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.[29]

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.[30]

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.[31][32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ McCoy, Alfred W.; Read, Kathleen B. (1972). The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. Harper & Row. pp. 247, 263. ISBN 0060129018. In Laos, CIA clandestine intervention produced changes and upheavals in the narcotics traffic. When political infighting among the Lao elite and the escalating war forced the small Corsican charter airlines out of the opium business in 1965, the CIA's airline, Air America, began flying Meo opium out of the hills to Long Tieng and Vientiane. ... Without air transport for their opium, the Meo faced economic ruin. There was simply no form of air transport available in northern Laos except the CIA's charter airline, Air America And according to several 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. ... Air America was known to be flying Meo opium as late as 1971. Meo village leaders in the area west of the Plain of Jars, for example, claim that their 1970 and 1971 opium harvests were bought up by Vang Pao's officers and flown to Long Tieng on Air America UH-lH helicopters. This opium was probably destined for heroin laboratories in Long Tieng or Vientiane, and ultimately, for GI addicts in Vietnam. 
  6. ^ Hughes, Bill. "CIA Probed in Alleged Arms Shipments; Reports Claim Agency Was Involved in Arkansas-Nicaragua Drug Swaps". Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  7. ^ Hughes, Bill. "Clandestination: Arkansas; Mena Is a Quiet Little Place. So How Did It Become the Cloak-and-Dagger Capital of America?". Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  8. ^ Weil, Martin. "Truth & consequences.(Chairman Jim Leach of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee plans Mena Airport investigation)". Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  9. ^ "What Was Clinton's Role In 'Mena Mystery!?'". 1995-07-19. Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  10. ^ Rothberg, Donald (9 November 1996). "Investigation Absolves CIA in Alleged Drug Smuggling". Associated Press. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Cockburn, Alexander; St-Clair, Jeffrey (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press. Verso. ISBN 9781859841396. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ a b Peter Dale Scott (2000), Washington and the politics of drugs, Variant, 2(11).
  17. ^ Scott, Peter Dale & Marshall, Jonathan (1998). Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Latin America. University of California Press. p. 41. ISBN 9780520921283. 
  18. ^ "Court Pleadings Point to CIA Role in Alleged "Cartel" Immunity Deal | the narcosphere". Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  19. ^ "Top Drug Trafficker Claims U.S. Government Made Agreement to Protect Sinaloa Cartel". Public Intelligence. 2011-08-01. Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  20. ^ "U.S. Intelligence Says Sinaloa Cartel Has Won Battle for Ciudad Juarez Drug Routes". CNS News. 9 April 2010. 
  21. ^ ""Te CIA helped kill DEA agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena," say witnesses". El País (Spain) (in Spanish). 15 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  22. ^ "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. 
  23. ^ a b Daunt, Tina (March 16, 2005). "Written in Pain". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). Retrieved April 3, 2015. 
  24. ^ a b c d e Cockburn, Alexander; Jeffrey St. Clair (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. New York: Verso. pp. 287–290. ISBN 1-85984-258-5. 
  25. ^ Buckley, Kevin (1991). Panama: The Whole Story. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-72794-9. 
  26. ^ Schpoliansky, Christophe (2010-04-27). "Panama's Ex-Dictator Manuel Noriega Extradited from U.S. to France". Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  27. ^ "Manuel Noriega scheduled for September release". USA Today. 24 January 2007. 
  28. ^ "Manuel Noriega sentenced to 7 years". Reuters. 7 July 2010. 
  29. ^ New York Times Service, "Venezuelan general who led CIA program indicted," Dallas Morning News (26 November 1996) p. 6A.
  30. ^ Chua, Howard G. (1993-11-29). "Confidence Games". TIME. Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  31. ^ Russ Kick, ed. (2001). You are being lied to: the disinformation guide to media distortion, historical whitewashes and cultural myths. The Disinformation Company. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-9664100-7-5. 
  32. ^ "Venezuelan General Indicted in C.I.A. Scheme". New York Times. 1996-11-23. p. 2. Retrieved 2012-07-20. 

Further reading[edit]

CIA & DOJ Reports[edit]

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

External links[edit]