dark alliances: the cia, the contra and the mainstream media

A new film just released in the States will shine a light on one of the most notorious, but covered up, fallouts from the Contra War in Nicaragua. Every ten years the story of how the CIA covered up the Contra’s role in smuggling drugs into the US, and the subsequent introduction of crack cocaine into the poorest African American communities, gets an airing.

The latest is the film Kill the Messenger, which looks at the exposé by Gary Webb in 1996, which made the link between the Contras, the CIA and crack cocaine. Much of the rest of the media and the CIA then spent the subsequent months and years trying to destory Gary Webb’s reputation, and also the man. They finally accomplished their task when Webb committed “suicide” in 2004.

The Intercept, the on-line news magazine launched by Glenn Greenwald amongst others, has produced a detailed piece on Webb’s article, Dark Alliance, by Intercept journalist Ryan Deveraux. In Managing a Nightmare: How the CIA Watched Over the Destruction of Gary Webb (see here), Deveraux looks into the background of the drug running, the article from Webb in the San Jose Mercury News, the campaign to discredit Webb, and his subsequent death.

The story first broke during the Contra war, thanks largely to US campaigners opposed to their country’s support for the counter-revolutionaries, and a handful of journalists. The story was buried by a combination of Cold War news management by the White House, and a pliant corporate media. This line was maintained even when a Congressional investigation in 1989 provided further proof of the allegations.

dark alliance

Everything went quiet until 1996, when Webb expanded the story (see here for the Dark Alliance series), making a clear link between CIA support for the Contras and the drug running which the Contra network carried out. The establishment media then went into overdrive, not to dig deeper into a story which described the wreckage of communities in Nicaragua and the United States, but to try to undermine Webb.

One reporter who has returned consistently to the story is Robert Parry. He broke many of the news stories regarding the Iran Contra scandal in the mid 80s, and suffered the same sort of backlash as Webb. He has written many subsequent pieces about the scandal since then. His latest (see here) summarizes his many investigations, whilst at the same time defending Webb’s reputation.

Parry shows that, in the end, the story  is a simple one. The CIA knew about the Contra drug running. They intervened in court cases to hide this fact. They withheld evidence to investigators. They carried out, along with the White House, campaigns to undermine the reputations of journalists and campaigners who tried to publish the truth. They briefed their friends in the corporate media to further denigrade journalists and in Webb’s case hounded them with tragic consequences.

A piece in this August’s Envio on present day violence in Central America (Does the US bear responsibility for the violence they’re fleeing?) details the legal maneouvres by the CIA to keep their Contra allies out of the courts nearly three decades ago. It’s worth finishing with the details from the piece:

In her 2010 book Los señores del narco, Anabel Hernández, one of the most thorough researchers of the issue, shows how the collaboration wtih the counterrevolutionaries insured impunity for the drug traffickers. “On July 6, 1990, on the stand of the Los Angeles, California, Federal Court, Lawrence Victor Harriosn made the following statement before an empty chamber: ‘Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo (one of the bosses of the 1980s) told me he believed his drug operations were safe because he provided arms to the Nicaraguan contras.’ ” Harrison, who supplied radios to the now extinct, or recycled Guadalajara cartel, also declared that there had been a contra training camp on the ranch of Rafael Caro Quintero, who was released in 2013 after 28 years in prison for the murder of undercover DEA agent Enrique Kiki Camarena. “My impression” he testified, “is that the operation was there by order of the American government.”

DEA agent Héctor Berrelles, who led Operation Leyenda, also witnessed links between the CIA and drug trafficking. When he informed his superiors about the bases where CIA planes transferred drugs, they told him in no uncertain terms: “Keep away from those bases. They are training camps, special operations.” A little further south, Carlos Lehder Rivas, co-founder of the Medellín cartel, confessed that his ‘company’ had been given access to Mena airport in Arkansas by the CIA in exchange for providing the contras with $10 million.

We should remember that in 1989, when current Secretary of State John Kerry was a senator, he led a commission that revealed the sharp, white tip of the iceberg. Under oath, Colombian drug trafficker Jorge Morales told Senator Kerry that in 1984, when he was being tried for drug trafficking, two CIA agents offered him freedom in exchange for a monthly payment of $250,000 to the contras. By the time the war ended, Morales said he had given them $3 million……

The conclusions of Kerry’s report were categorical. “There was substantial evidence of drug smuggling through the war zones on the part of individual Contras, Contra supporters, Contra pilots, mercenaries who worked with the Contras, and Contra supporters throughout the region…. Indeed, senior US policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contra’s funding problems.


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