C.I.A. did not target black community Crack and the contras

Three views on the controversy over the C.I.A., its allies and drug dealing

November 17, 1996

Jack Blum was special counsel to a Senate subcommittee that investigated contra drug operations in 1987-88. On Oct. 23, he testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter. The hearings were sparked by the San Jose Mercury News' series "Dark Alliance." Here are excerpts from Blum's testimony:

Blum: If you ask the question, did the CIA sell drugs in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, to finance the contra war, the answer will be a categorical no.

The fact of the matter is, we found no evidence whatsoever to suggest that there was a targeting of the African-American community.

Cocaine in the mid-'80s and into the early '90s was a perfect equal opportunity destroyer. We had addiction and problems in school yards across America. It didn't matter what color you were, where you were from, what your national origin was.

The problem became more acute in the African-American community because the definition of a problem addict in America is an addict who runs out of money. And if you run out of money quickly, you become involved in the drug trade, you become a visible social problem, and you get on the screen.

The second issue is, did the CIA do the selling of the cocaine and did the contras profit?

And, as far as we were able to determine, no member of the staff of the CIA, that is someone on the payroll as opposed to the people they work with, was in the cocaine business. And certainly, no one on the staff of the CIA, as far as we could determine, was actively selling the drug.

And then finally the question of was it used to support the contras?

I will tell you of two meetings that I had with contra veterans, one in 1986 and one in 1989, at the beginning and the end of my investigation. And they said, our problem was, we never had any money. Our leadership stole most of it. So, I submit, what went on led to the profit of people in the contra movement, not to supporting a war that we were trying to advance. [See Blum, 8f]

Now having said that, we have to go back to what is true.

And what is true is, the policy-makers absolutely closed their eyes to the criminal behavior of our allies and supporters in that war. The policy-makers ignored their drug dealing, their stealing, and their human rights violations. The policy-makers allowed them to compensate themselves for helping us in that war by remaining silent in the face of their impropriety and by quietly undercutting law enforcement and human rights agencies that might have caused them difficulty.

We knew about the connection between the West Coast cocaine trade and the contras. There was an astonishing case called the Frogman Case. In that case the United States attorney for San Francisco returned $35,000 of cocaine proceeds, voluntarily to the contras, when it had been seized as the proceeds of drug trafficking. We found that absolutely astonishing.

I know of no other situation where the Justice Department was so forthcoming in returning seized property.

Specter: Was that the Justice Department or the district attorney of San Francisco?

Blum: This was the Justice Department, the United States attorney.

Specter: United States attorney?

Blum: That's correct. It should be stressed that the Blandon-Meneses ring was part of a very much larger picture. And to give you an idea of how large that picture was, there was a point where the wholesale price of cocaine on the street in Los Angeles, reached $2,500 a kilo. Twenty-five hundred dollars a kilo, according to all the experts, is below cost. And that is a flood of cocaine. And our friend "Freeway Ricky" was touching only a tiny fraction of what was coming in. We had a definite cocaine epidemic.

Now, you might ask, why did the hearing we ran [in the late 1980s], not get more attention.

And the answer is, we were subject to a systematic campaign to discredit everything we did.

Every night after there was a public hearing, Justice Department people, administration people, would get on the phone and call the press, and say the witnesses were all liars, they were talking to us to get a better deal, that we were on a political vendetta, that none of it was to be believed, and please don't cover it.

The consequence of that was, the hearing and the report were given very modest play in the press.

It was a systematic effort to discredit us that prevented the conclusions from receiving the attention I believe they warranted.

Now, the connection with the drug trade goes way back.

We were involved in assisting the Kuomintang armies against Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s. During that period, we supported people who were in the heroin trade in the mountains of Burma. And those Kuomintang armies helped themselves and financed themselves out of the heroin business.

It turned up again during the Vietnam War, where allies, the Nung tribesmen, were in the heroin business.

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