CIA-drug link was alleged in 1987 by 2 Baltimoreans


September 18, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Allegations that the CIA was involved in drug smuggling to raise money for the Nicaraguan contras aren't new; they've been around for years. As a matter of fact, on a hot summer day in 1987, two young guys from Baltimore put the issue before Congress -- the hard way.

Michael Bardoff and Michael Kreis, social and political activists associated with the Baltimore Emergency Response Network, managed to get seats in the Senate Caucus Room on July 9, 1987, while Oliver North testified about his role in the Iran-contra scheme. Kreis had smuggled a banner made from a bedsheet into the room. He unfurled it on Bardoff's cue. The banner said, "Ask about cocaine smuggling," a phrase repeated aloud by Bardoff.

The outburst stopped the nationally televised hearing as U.S. Capitol Police surrounded the two activists and carried them away. "I almost had my arm twisted off," Bardoff recalled yesterday morning after my phone call scrambled him from bed.

At the time, the incident seemed like a loopy footnote to the Iran-contra investigation. But it's worth remembering as Congress again confronts the question of whether the CIA had a role in infesting the streets of American cities with powerfully addictive crack cocaine.

The question has come up again because of a three-part investigative series by the San Jose Mercury News, which detailed how large amounts of cheap, powdered cocaine were funneled into South Central Los Angeles by a well-known CIA operative in an attempt to increase funding for the contras. The series traced the crack cocaine explosion to two Nicaraguan cocaine dealers, Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses, who were civilian leaders of the Frente Democratica Nicaraguense, an anti-Communist commando group formed and run by the CIA during the 1980s.

Blandon, now an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, admitted in federal court recently that his biggest customer was a Los Angeles crack dealer who turned the cocaine into crack and distributed it to the Crips and Bloods street gangs. The rest, from there, is bitter history -- a new drug epidemic, a new wave of violent crime and a surge in incarcerations, especially of young black men, across the country.

Mike Bardoff says many people, in government and the press, have been aware of CIA connections to drug smugglers for years. He noted that the CBS magazine show "West 57th" explored the specific allegations about drugs and the contras and named names. A Senate subcommittee on narcotics and terrorism looked into the matter. So did Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel in the Iran-contra case.

"I remember asking the question why, if this stuff was true, good people in government didn't blow the whistle," Bardoff says. "And I remember being told that this thing was so big and so bad that certain [government] institutions might not survive. The people I talked to -- credible people -- felt the system might go down."

Exotic conspiracy theory or sinister government scheme?

Nearly a decade later, the question persists. Now the Congressional Black Caucus has called for an investigation and the nation's drug czar says he endorses the idea. The CIA director says there's nothing to the charges but offers an internal investigation. (Anyone out there believe the CIA is capable of going public with the truth?)

Bardoff says friends and activists from the old network had a meeting on the matter in Baltimore yesterday. There likely will be more demonstrations and pressure on Congress to reopen the investigation.

The last time around, when the suggestion of CIA drug-smuggling provoked his protest, Bardoff spent time in jail and on trial in the District of Columbia. He and Kreis were found guilty of disrupting Congress and given a choice of paying a $200 fine or spending 10 more days in jail. They opted for jail, but were never forced to serve. They had a very understanding judge, John H. Suda. Maybe he thought men who raise banners -- and hell -- in the halls of Congress are good for democracy.

Hail, black and gold

Some Baltimoreans will never be Ravens fans. Take the 1,000-member Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore. They are black-and-gold, and hard-core. They'll never embrace the Raven purple. Every game day they pack a couple of bars (Purple Goose, Shooters). Monday night, when the Steelers beat up the Buffalo Bills before a national television audience, the back room of the Calgary Cattle Company in Parkville Shopping Center erupted with every Pittsburgh score. Members wearing black and gold drank from a special shipment of Iron City and passed around the sports pages of the Post-Gazette and Tribune Review. When the Pittsburgh Polka blared over the speakers, a few who have been away from home too long became misty-eyed. Baltimoreans might find all that hard to believe, but as they say in Steeler Town: "It's a 'Burgh thing. You wouldn't understand."

Miss Marguerite

If you've noticed the absence of Marguerite Schertle, queen of Baltimore waitresses and a fixture for years at the Woman's Industrial Exchange, you might like to know that she's home, resting and on the mend. We hope to see Miss Marguerite -- 95 years old, God bless her -- working the front room real soon.

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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