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
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.
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."
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
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;"
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."
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
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.
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
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.)
#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).
#2: The Kerry Senate Subcommittee found that the U.S. Government
cut off aid to Pastora’s faction, because of its involvement
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
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
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
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:
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 ). This represented payment for "between five
and seven" drug
the Morales-Chamorro deal, amounting in all to between 1,500
and 2,800 kilos of cocaine; p. .
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
#3: CIA officers never concealed narcotics trafficking.
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).
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
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
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,
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
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
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
(This entire essay, 50 pages plus index and bibliography
is available at our online