2,000 protest alleged CIA role in crack epidemic Report says U.S.-backed contras used cocaine sales to fund arms purchases

September 13, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- More than 2,000 people attended a rally here yesterday to publicize charges that a drug ring linked in press reports to the CIA helped ignite the 1980s crack epidemic in the nation's inner cities.

California Rep. Maxine Waters urged the angry and often boisterous crowd to distribute copies of an investigative newspaper series that made the charges and press for congressional hearings.

"Pass out as many as you can," said Waters, a Democrat who represents South Central Los Angeles. "We want you to be a part of the organizing. Use your power."

The gathering was part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundations' annual legislative conference and was prompted by a three-day series of articles published last month in the San Jose Mercury News.

The paper said that a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring run by members of a CIA-backed guerrilla force sold tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs in the 1980s and sent the profits to the rebel army in Central America. Members of the ring met with CIA agents before and during the time they were selling drugs in Southern California, the paper said.

The paper claims that the ring opened the "first pipeline" between Colombia's cocaine cartels and black neighborhoods in Los Angeles, fueling the growth in the use of crack, a highly addictive form of cocaine.

The profits from drug sales paid for weapons for the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the largest of the U.S.-backed anti-Communist guerrilla groups known as the contras. The contras spent much of the 1980s trying to overthrow the socialist Sandinista government that had toppled U.S.-supported Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

The series, written by Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, was based on recently declassified reports, federal court testimony, undercover tapes and "hundreds" of hours of interviews, according to the paper.

In a letter last week to Waters, Director of Central Intelligence John M. Deutch denied that the agency had any relationship to the Nicaraguan drug dealers. He also said that he had ordered the agency's inspector general to conduct an internal review of the matter.

"Although I believe there is no substance to the allegations in the Mercury News, I do wish to dispel any lingering public doubt on the subject," Deutch wrote.

The newspaper's charges struck a nerve among many in the audience yesterday, reinforcing suspicions among some blacks that elements of the government have deliberately tried to poison their communities with drugs.

"Genocide," one man shouted as a group of panelists, including Illinois Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., spoke about the allegations. Charles E. Holley, 49, a Vietnam veteran from Alexandria, Va., said he was angered by the thought that the government might have had any connection to drug dealing in black communities.

"This cuts at the very fabric of why we are a country," said state Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Baltimore Democrat who attended the meeting. "There is a huge rise in the heroin problem in Baltimore City. Is this an accident? It makes you ask the questions."

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a 7th District Democrat, said the government needed to investigate the charges. "When you've got court documents being quoted and what appears to be very credible information, you've got to take a look at it," said Cummings, whose district has areas where drug dealing is rampant.

Kweisi Mfume and the NAACP also called for an investigation.

Waters is drafting legislation to create a special congressional committee to look into the matter.

The series says organizations that tried to investigate the drug ring in the 1980s ran into roadblocks. Agents for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department complained that their investigations were "hampered" by other federal agencies, according to the paper.

In 1988, a Senate subcommittee tried to find out why the U.S. attorney in San Francisco gave back $36,000 seized from a Nicaraguan drug dealer arrested by the FBI.

The prosecutor returned the money after two contra leaders claimed the drug dealer had been given the cash to buy weapons for the guerrillas, according to court records cited by the paper.

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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