Settling the CIA drug rumor Crack: Full investigation must determine whether agency aided the drug trade.

September 22, 1996

THE RUMOR has persisted in African-American communities for years: The Central Intelligence Agency smuggles drugs into the country. This rumor is heard on the streets, repeated on black talk radio stations and uttered in films. A terrible allegation, the rumor is spoken with great conviction, but has never been proved.

There was no smoking gun in a series in the San Jose Mercury News last month that linked the nation's crack epidemic to a CIA-backed army of Nicaraguan contra rebels. But the stories raise troubling questions about whether the CIA helped bring drugs into the country or knew that its contra soldiers played a role in the country's crack-cocaine trade.

The series, "Dark Alliance," reports that the CIA helped contras sell cocaine to Los Angeles drug dealers, generating profits that were used to buy arms for the 1980s war in Nicaragua against the Sandinista regime.

Contras brought their low-priced product into city neighborhoods at a time when street-level dealers were finding a way to make cocaine affordable -- by turning it into crack -- the series reports. The story notes that the CIA met with contra drug financiers before and after the drug pipeline flowed, frustrated other local and federal law enforcement agencies and intervened in the trial of a drug kingpin.

Given the magnitude of the nation's crack problem, questions raised by the stories deserve an answer. Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug control policy director, and the Congressional Black Caucus are correct to call for a high-level investigation into the allegations. A preliminary inquiry by the Justice Department is under way, as is a probe by the CIA's independent inspector general. Congress should hold hearings.

Crack-cocaine has turned urban neighborhoods into battlefields and addicted women and their infants. The deadly commodity has enveloped the lives of young black men -- shot or sentenced to decades in prison for their roles. Of course, dealers and users bear responsibility for their participation in the drug trade, regardless of what an investigation finds. But it truly would be an outrage if the CIA were complicit in a problem that has dealt such a chronic blow to urban America. We must know the truth.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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