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ANALYSIS: THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RESPONSE TO THE WEBB ALLEGATIONS

The following excerpt is Chapter IV of Drugs, Contras and the CIA: Government Policies and the Cocaine Economy: An Analysis of Media and Government Response to the Gary Webb Stories in The San Jose Mercury News (1996-2000), by Peter Dale Scott.

[© Copyright 2000, From The Wilderness Publications. This excerpt may be copied and distributed freely so long as proper sourcing remains attached]



(This entire essay, 50 pages plus index and bibliography is available at our online store)

 

Chapter Four. The Response By Congress

In February 2000 the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence issued its own Report on the charges first brought forward by Gary Webb’s stories in the San Jose Mercury News. The Committee conducted its own interviews to supplement its review of the two CIA IG Reports (Hitz I and II) and the DOJ IG Report. The Committee claimed to have used Webb’s own articles and his book, Dark Alliance as "key resources" in focusing and refining their investigation (HR 2).

This Report represents a further episode in the on-going national debate stirred up by Gary Webb’s stories, rather than a useful resolution of that debate. Webb polarized this country into two outraged factions, an elite faction offended by Webb’s references to the CIA, and a public infuriated by Webb’s revelations of government favors to major drug dealers.

The House Committee [HPSCI], to no one’s surprise, has once again revealed its allegiance to the first faction. It barely addresses what Webb actually wrote, and misrepresents even the few sentences from which it quotes. Instead it focuses, over and over, on what it calls the "implications of the San Jose Mercury News" (HR 5), or "the government conspiracy theories implicit in the 'Dark Alliance' series" (HR 5). Although the Report contains a few valid criticisms, its major arguments are flawed by misrepresentations and systematic falsehoods.

MISREPRESENTATIONS:

Here is the Committee’s version of what Webb wrote:Among other things, the series stated that CIA assets were responsible, during the 1980’s, for supplying cocaine to South Central Los Angeles.  The cocaine operation, according to the articles, was part [sic] of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), and it was masterminded by CIA assets who were using the sale of this cocaine to finance the Contra movement. The articles stated that these individuals met with "CIA agents both before and during the time they were selling the drugs in L.A." (HR 6)

A Committee footnote to the last sentence adds, erroneously, that "From the context in which the term ‘agent’ is used, it is apparently meant to refer to CIA staff employees."

The Report then shifts from Webb’s alleged statements to what he "suggested:" Although the articles did not specifically state that the CIA was directly involved in cocaine trafficking, the series suggested that the CIA condoned the trafficking.

For this "implication" the Report musters one credible piece of evidence:

For months the San Jose Mercury’s internet web page introduced the articles with a title page that presented an individual lighting a crack cocaine pipe superimposed over the official seal of the CIA, clearly demonstrating an intent to link the CIA with cocaine trafficking. (HR 6)

This bit of web sensationalism was indeed responsible for much of the furor in response to Webb’s articles. The San Jose Mercury News was right to withdraw it. But, as the Committee should have known, the web logo was not part of the series; and Gary Webb in particular had nothing to do with it.

The Report’s one effort to quote the Report itself is blatantly illogical. "The articles left readers with the impression that the CIA was responsible for the spread of cocaine in South Central Los Angeles," it argues (HR 43), and then supports this claim with a citation from Gary Webb whose statement about the CIA is quite different:

For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the  U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found.                                   

One can question whether the cocaine amounted to "tons;" one can question whether the profits amounted to "millions;" one can even question (and the Report does, vigorously) whether the Contras amounted to an "army." But the connections presented in this sentence have been validated by the DOJ investigation, which found that the two main dealers, Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandon, were, as the Report concedes, "significant dealers who supported the Contras" (HR 11).  The DOJ also corroborated Webb’s claim that the government knew of the two men’s drug trafficking, but never moved against them until after the Contra program ended.

Nothing in Webb’s sentence, or any other part of Webb’s stories, stated or implied that either Meneses or Blandon were themselves "CIA agents" or "CIA assets." The only people named as "CIA agents" (Webb never used the term "assets") were the Contras’ military chief Enrique Bermudez, and the Contra political leaders Adolfo Calero (who Webb called a "CIA operative") and Marcos Aguado.

Elsewhere I have faulted Webb for using the term "CIA agent" too loosely.  Enrique Bermudez is not known to have been a "CIA agent" (as opposed to "CIA asset," "client," or "invention"). But Aguado has been said in sworn testimony to have presented himself as a CIA agent (Scott and Marshall 113). Calero, by most informed accounts, was a long-time CIA agent.

Webb was unambiguously referring to Bermudez and Calero when he claimed that Meneses and Blandon "met with CIA agents both before and during the time they were selling the drugs in L.A." And unquestionably they did. Blandon confirmed to the Committee what Webb had claimed: that in 1981 he and Meneses met Bermudez in Honduras, and that Bermudez had urged the two men (at this time only Meneses was a prominent drug dealer) to support the Contras, adding that "the end justifies the means." Blandon disputed only Webb’s interpretation that Bermudez was sanctioning a drug traffic: "It didn’t mean that he told us, go on, sell drugs" (HR 26). (Meneses denied that Bermudez used the phrase at all, but confirmed that Bermudez gave him "instructions about generating support for the Contra cause;" HR 22.)

It is equally certain that both Meneses and Blandon met with Adolfo Calero. Webb documented this with a photograph of Meneses and Calero together, The Report claims that Webb presented the photo "as evidence that there was an association between the CIA and drug trafficking," and it calls "this type of ‘proof’...fallacious" (HR 3). What nonsense! Webb presented the photo as evidence that Calero and Meneses met.

Webb reported the eyewitness account of a former Contra supporter, "David Morrison," that Calero and Meneses met frequently; and also that (as "Morrison" told the FBI in 1987) Calero’s FDN faction of the Contras had "become more involved in selling arms and cocaine for personal gain than in a military effort."

"Morrison" tipped Webb to his central allegation, that (in the Committee’s words) "attempts by law enforcement entities to investigate and prosecute...Meneses...were ‘stymied’ by ‘agencies of the U.S. government’" as long as the Contras were in existence (HR 6).

Amazingly, the Committee does not address this claim in their Findings, presumably because they knew it was correct. The DOJ confirmed that Meneses was investigated but never arrested on drug charges from 1980 to 1989; and even (as Webb had noted) that "Meneses was able to enter the United States repeatedly, despite the various investigations of him for drug trafficking" (DOJ 187). The Committee virtually suppresses this corroboration in its summary of the DOJ Inspector-General’s Report, saying merely that "there was uncertainty within the DOJ concerning whether to prosecute Meneses or use him as a witness in other cases" (HR 11).  This is a very tepid way of acknowledging that a well-known and "significant" drug dealer moved freely without fear of arrest.

FALSEHOODS:

The Committee’s determination to exonerate the government and invalidate Webb leads them to make a number of statements that can only be called falsehoods. These falsehoods are not random. On the contrary, they add up to a coherent but false picture that has been the CIA’s fallback account of Contra drug trafficking since 1985. In sum, the Committee tries to corroborate the claim of CIA Task Force Chief Alan Fiers, testifying in 1986, that "there was a lot of cocaine trafficking around Eden

Pastora...None around FDN, none around UNO"—the successive names for the Bermudez-Calero faction of the Contras (HR 213; cf. Hitz II, para 242).(The Independent Counsel for Iran-Contra concluded that Fiers had committed perjury in other statements which he made to Congress. Fiers pleaded guilty to two lesser counts; Walsh 263.)

Falsehood #1: The FDN Leadership Avoided Drug-Trafficking:

In the Committee’s words, there is unambiguous reporting in the CIA materials reviewed showing that the FDN leadership in Nicaragua would not accept drug monies and would remove from its ranks those who had involvement in drug trafficking. (HR 44n)

A more honest summary of the Hitz reports would acknowledge that they contained a detailed account of drug-trafficking by members of the main FDN faction, ADREN, alias the 15th of September Legion. Those named included the FDN Chief of Logistics (Hitz II, paras 181, 187, 194, 542). Hitz I reports that a key figure in the so-called "Frogman" drug case claimed to have personally delivered drug profits to FDN leader Aristides Sanchez, saying that the money was from Aristides’ brother Troilo—a known drug-trafficker and source for the "Frogman" cocaine (Hitz I, para 270).

The Committee received, and even reprinted, the Hitz II Summary finding that "CIA also received allegations or information concerning drug trafficking by nine Contra-related individuals in the [FDN] Northern Front, based in Honduras" (Hitz II Summary para 17; HR 169). This included credible information, corroborated elsewhere, against Adolfo Calero’s brother Mario Calero, the chief purchasing agent, and Juan Ramon Rivas, the Northern Army Chief of Staff (Hitz II, paras 550-52, 560-72).

A CIA HQ cable in November 1986 described Mario Calero as "a symbol to our critics of all that is perceived to be rotten in the FDN" (Hitz II, para 557). At this time there was a statutory requirement to cut off "funding to any Contra group that retained a member who ‘has been found’ to engage in drug smuggling" (Hitz II Summary, para 33; HR 175).

Falsehood #2: The Kerry Senate Subcommittee found that the U.S. Government cut off aid to Pastora’s faction, because of its involvement in drug-trafficking.

Let us quote the Committee exactly on this false claim, which is central to their overall argument:

The [Kerry] Subcommittee...noted that all U.S. assistance to the [Pastora] Southern Front Contra organization (ARDE) was cut off on May 30, 1984 because of the involvement of ARDE personnel in drug trafficking.

As we shall see, this is a double falsehood. The May 1984 cutoff of aid to Pastora was not because of drug trafficking, and the Kerry Committee never "noted" that it was.

If we turn to the page in the Kerry Report cited by the House Committee, we find the following:

After the La Penca bombing of May 30, 1984, all assistance was cut off by the CIA to ARDE, while other Contra groups on both fronts continued to receive support from the U.S. government through a variety of channels.  The United States stated that its cut-off of ARDE was related to the involvement of its personnel in drug trafficking. Yet many of the same drug traffickers who had assisted ARDE were also assisting other Contra groups that continued to receive funding. Morales, for example, used Geraldo [sic] Duran as one of his drug pilots, and Duran worked for Alfonso Robelo and Fernando "el Negro" Chamorro, who were associated with other Contra groups" [i.e. the Calero-Bermudez faction] (Kerry Report, 52).

In other words, the Kerry Report discredited the government claim that aid to Pastora was cut off in May 1984 because of drug trafficking. In fact, the Report went on the repeat the claim of a Pastora aide, Karol Prado, that the CIA was manipulating drug trafficking allegations to discredit Pastora and his supporters. The Report then supported this claim with an entry from Oliver North’s diary (7/24/84), "get Alfredo Cesar on Drugs" (Kerry Report, 53).

Prado’s claim has been endorsed by a number of books (e.g. Honey 365, Scott para 82). It was repeated to the House Committee by Pastora himself (HR 21-22).However

the Committee found no evidence to support Pastora’s claims....On the contrary, interviews with CIA officials and a review of the CIA’s operational correspondence from that period reveal that the CIA began to distance itself from Pastora and his organization because it had received information that Pastora and members of his group were involved with drug trafficking." (HR 22)

What the CIA officials told the Committee is demonstrably untrue. Aid to Pastora was cut off "in May 1984" (HR 21), after Pastora had rejected a CIA ultimatum to merge his organization with the FDN led by Bermudez and Calero. The relevant allegations of drug trafficking around Pastora date from after, not before, this cutoff. Joe Fernandez, the former CIA Station Chief in Costa Rica, told the HPSCI that

CIA immediately sought to sever its relationship with Pastora when it was determined that Morales was involved in narcotics trafficking and that Pastora had access to some of Morales’ illicit funds. (HR 19)

But this determination was made in October 1984, four months after the aid cutoff. In the words of Hitz II,

The cutoff of U.S. funding led associates of Pastora to begin looking for alternative sources of funds. In October 1984, CIA began receiving the reporting mentioned earlier that Southern Front leaders allied with Pastora had agreed to help Miami-based trafficker Jorge Morales bring drugs into the United States in exchange for his material and financial help to the Southern Front. (Hitz II, para 221; cf. para 225)

The CIA made a final termination of its relationship with Pastora two weeks later, completing the break that began with the aid cutoff in May (Hitz II, para 232).

The Hitz II chronology, though enough to disprove the claim that drug allegations led to the aid cutoff, does not tell the full story. According to the Kerry Report, Morales’ financial help also went to former associates of Pastora (like Fernando Chamorro and Alfonso Robelo) who under CIA pressure had defected from Pastora and joined with the FDN in a new, allegedly united UNO.

Thus the CIA use of the Morales story is duplicitous. They used the Morales connection to discredit Pastora, both at the time and later to the House Committee. Yet the CIA, even though it was getting reports on the Morales operation from Morales’ two top Contra contacts, never reported to anyone about the connections of Morales and his pilot Duran to those (like Fernando Chamorro and Alfonso Robelo) in its preferred UNO faction.

Hitz II corroborates that Adolfo "Popo" Chamorro and Octaviano Cesar, the two Contra leaders receiving funds from Morales until 1986, had by then broken with Pastora and joined a rival faction, the CIA-preferred BOS (Hitz II, paras 245, 331). Hitz II also reveals that a source for the October 1984 drug accusations against Pastora, Harold Martinez, left Pastora for the BOS, where he was later identified as a drug trafficker (Hitz II, paras 424-25). Even the tepid Hitz II summary confirms that whereas the CIA broke off contact with Pastora in October 1984, it "continued to have contact through 1986-87 with four of the individuals involved with Morales"—i.e. with Chamorro and Cesar (Hitz II Summary, para 14; HR 168-69).

The relative candor of Hitz II is wholly suppressed in the House Committee Report, which reverts to the 1980s cover story:

Several senior CIA managers [interviewed by the Committee] could recollect only a single instance of narco-trafficking by Contra officials....based on these reports, CIA program managers severed U.S. support to this Contra faction [i.e.  Pastora’s] (HR 42).

It is possible that the Committee did hear this falsehood, but that is no excuse for transmitting it.

The Committee did interview Adolfo "Popo" Chamorro, who readily admitted his involvement with the confessed drug trafficker George Morales (HR 24). Chamorro told the Committee "that his cousin, Octaviano Cesar [widely reported from other sources to have been a CIA agent; Scott and Marshall 113] asked permission from the CIA to proceed with an operation involving Morales" [i.e. the drug operation]" (HR 24).

It is highly revealing of the Committee’s aims and method that, after hearing that Cesar had requested CIA permission before proceeding in an operation with a drug dealer, it did not interview Cesar. (Cesar had earlier reported to the Kerry Committee that he reported to CIA about his deal with Morales, and Hitz II [para 332] confirms that Cesar gave a full account of it to CIA Security.)

This is a matter of the greatest seriousness. A US government witness, Fabio Carrasco (one of Morales’ pilots) gave sworn testimony that on instructions from Jorge Morales he personally delivered "several million dollars" in 1984-85 to Southern front Contra leaders Octaviano Cesar and Adolfo "Popo" Chamorro (NSA Packet [47]). This represented payment for "between five and seven" drug

shipments under the Morales-Chamorro deal, amounting in all to between 1,500 and 2,800 kilos of cocaine; p. [51].

Carrasco and another pilot testified that they understood the flights had CIA protection, and it is clear that they were able to fly into customs-controlled airports without interference. In addition Morales, just like Meneses, was able to enter and leave the United States without difficulty, even though he was under indictment for drug offenses at the time (Scott paras 78-92).

FALSEHOOD #3: CIA officers never concealed narcotics trafficking.

This falsehood is so outrageous that, once again, it should be quoted:

CIA reporting to DOJ of information on Contra involvement in narcotics trafficking was inconsistent but in compliance with then-current policies and regulations. There is no evidence, however, that CIA officers in the field or at headquarters ever concealed narcotics trafficking information or allegations involving the Contras. (HR 42)

In fact CIA officers did take steps to prevent what the CIA knew about Contra drug-trafficking from reaching the DOJ.  In 1987 the Miami U.S. Attorney’s office was investigating drug allegations concerning two Cuban Contra supporters, Felipe Vidal and Moises Nunez, as well as their seafood company Ocean Hunter.  When a CIA officer proposed to debrief Vidal about these matters, he was overruled, on the grounds that "narcotics trafficking relative to Contra-related activities is exactly the sort of thing that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be investigating" (Hitz II, para 522). A similar proposal to debrief Nunez was likewise overruled (Hitz II, para 491).

The cover-up involved acts of commission as well as omission.  In July 1987 CIA lawyers transmitted a request from the Miami U.S. Attorney’s office for "any documents" concerning Contra-related activities of Ocean Hunter.  The Department of Operations advised the CIA lawyers that "no information had been found regarding Ocean Hunter," although such information existed (Hitz II, para 528). Concerning the drug-suspected airline SETCO, owned by Class One narcotics trafficker Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, and used by CIA to supply FDN camps in Honduras, CIA officials reported falsely, in response to an inquiry from Justice, that in CIA files "There are no records of a SETCO Air." CIA officers appear also to have lied to Hitz investigators about this matter (Hitz II, paras 820-23).

This protection of drug traffickers expressed itself in other ways as well. A CIA cable discouraged CIA counternarcotics efforts against a major trafficker, Alan Hyde, on the grounds that Hyde’s connection to CIA "is well documented and could prove difficult in the prosecution stage" (Hitz II, para 953). CIA headquarters gave orders that DEA Agents not pursue a drug investigation of a Contra pilot that would have risked exposure of CIA Contra support operations at Ilopango Airport(Hitz II, para 451).

The Committee appears to have been aware that CIA officers did withhold information from Justice. What else can explain the comically restricted language of its official Finding Number Six:

CIA officers, on occasion, notified law enforcement entities when they became aware of allegations concerning the identities or activities of drug traffickers" (HR 44).

This seems to concede that "on occasion" they did not. Such a finding is about as helpful as if the FBI, after investigating a suspect, found that "on occasion" he was nice to people.

One cannot agree with the Committee that such withholding of information was "in compliance with then current policies and regulations." It is true that the Reagan Justice Department had exempted CIA officers from the legal requirement to volunteer to the DOJ what they knew about drug crimes.  It did not however give them permission to withhold information about drug crimes, or to lie about them.

The Committee claims that narcotics trafficking was not a high priority in the 1980s:

Narcotics trafficking today is arguably our most important national security concern....This was not the case during the Contra insurgency, and the CIA’s counternarcotics reporting record from that time is mixed at best" (HR 38-39).

It is abundantly obvious that in the 1980s narcotics trafficking was not an important national security concern of the CIA. But in downplaying its importance, the CIA substituted its own priorities for those of the nation. President Reagan himself, in 1986, signed a directive declaring drugs to be a national security threat (Scott and Marshall 2). In a White House address, he also called on the American people to join him in a national crusade against drugs (Los Angeles Times, 8/5/86).

CONCLUSIONS:

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Report is an important document, one deserving the attention and close scrutiny of the American public. It is important for what it tells us, not about the CIA, but about the Committee itself. The Committee was originally created to exert Congressional checks and restraints on the intelligence community, in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution. For some time it has operated instead as a rubber stamp, deflecting public concern rather than representing it. It is however possible that never before  has such a dishonest and deceptive document, on such an important subject, been approved without dissent by the full membership of the Committee.

What is particularly disappointing is that the CIA and DOJ Inspector Generals’ Reports, although limited and in some ways flawed, represented a new level of candor in admitting that journalistic accounts of Contra drug-trafficking were grounded in real problems.  Rarely has the public waited so attentively for a response from the HPSCI, just as perhaps never before had there been so much interest in an HPSCI public hearing.

I am told that, at the public town hall meetings in Los Angeles where Julian Dixon and other members of the panel were present, the American people were promised open hearings. In fact the one open hearing (on Hitz I) was held so suddenly that even a concerned Congresswoman learned of it only after the hearing began. The May 25, 1999 hearing on Hitz II and the DOJ Report was closed. Congress should now be pressured to take steps to ensure that the promise of an open hearing is fulfilled, preferably in another Committee.

For the HPSCI’s record on drug trafficking by CIA assets has been constantly abysmal. We know now that in the 1980s the Chairman of the HPSCI, Lee Hamilton, was regularly receiving reports from the CIA about Contra-related drug trafficking (Hitz II, e.g. paras 237, 287, 308,1099). Yet, as Chair of the House Iran-Contra Committee, Hamilton commissioned a staff memo which alleged, falsely and dishonestly, that "reams of testimony from hundreds of witnesses...developed no evidence which would show that Contra leadership was involved in drug smuggling. (Iran-Contra Report, 631, Scott paras 178-87). Bill McCollum, who as member of the HPSCI had also received such reports, endorsed the lying memo. He is still an active member of the HPSCI.

This latest deception cannot be written off as an academic or historical matter. The CIA’s practice of recruiting drug-financed armies is an on-going matter. It appears to have begun when Sicilian mafiosi, some of them freshly deported from U.S. prisons, were used to attack and kill the Communists who threatened to win an election in Sicily.  Using Laotian hill people whose sole cash crop was opium, the CIA recruited an entire army numbering tens of thousands.

At the same time as the Contras, the CIA was arming and advising heroin-trafficking guerrillas in Afghanistan. Its preferred leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, became for a period one of the leading heroin suppliers in the world. In the last few years, the CIA has helped promote the Kosovo Liberation Army, many of whose leaders and arms are known to have been financed by Kosovar drug-trafficking.

No one can pretend that these practices have not contributed to our national drug crisis. In 1979, when the U.S. first established contact with heroin-trafficking guerrillas in Afghanistan, no heroin from the so-called Golden Crescent on the Afghan-Pakistan border was known to reach the United States. By 1984, according to the Reagan Administration, 54 percent of the heroin reaching this country came from the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The CIA’s drug scandals are not confined to its allegedly unmanageable guerrilla armies.  In March 1997 Michel-Joseph Francois, the CIA-backed police chief in Haiti, was indicted in Miami for having helped to smuggle 33 tons of Colombian cocaine and heroin into the United States. The Haitian National Intelligence Service (SIN), which the CIA helped to create, was also a target of the Justice Department investigation which led to the indictment. (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/8/97). A few months earlier, General Ramon Guillen Davila, chief of a CIA-created anti-drug unit in Venezuela, was indicted in Miami for smuggling a ton of cocaine into the United States. According to the New York Times, "The CIA, over the objections of the Drug Enforcement Administration, approved the shipment of at least one ton of pure cocaine to Miami International Airport as a way of gathering information about the Colombian drug cartels." (New York Times, 11/3/96). The total amount of drugs smuggled by Gen. Guillen may have been more than 22 tons.

So the HPSCI Report should be taken as an occasion for both Congressional and national action. Reforms of the Intelligence Committees are urgently needed, to create greater space between the Committee and the bodies they are supposed to oversee. (Porter Goss, the current HPSCI chairman, is a former CIA officer, while George Tenet, the current CIA Director, is a former member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff.)

Porter Goss’s true agenda is revealed by his selection in 1997 of another former CIA officer, John Millis, to be Chief of the HPSCI Staff. In 1997 it was obvious that the HPSCI would be called on to make an objective evaluation of the Gary Webb allegations. However Millis had served for thirteen years as a case officer supplying covert CIA aid to the heroin-trafficking guerrillas in Afghanistan—an analogous and contemporary alliance between the CIA and known drug-traffickers (New York Times, 6/6/00). At least one of the airlines involved in the Afghan support operation, Global International Airways, was also named in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal (Los Angeles Times, 2/20/97).

The most immediate national priority should be to demand an accounting for what happened from the present members of the HPSCI. Their constituents should inform them and their personal staffs of the reasons why this Report is unacceptable and should be rejected.



(This entire essay, 50 pages plus index and bibliography is available at our online store)


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