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On August 18th, 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published the first of a series of articles, entitled "Dark Aliance: The Story Behind The Crack Explosion" by Gary Webb.' The articles were prompted by the trial of a Los Angeles drug dealer, "Freeway" Ricky Ross, and alleged that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assets were involved in the distribution of crack cocaine in South Central Los Angeles. Further, they alleged this activity was undertaken to support the CIA-backed Contra movement in Nicaragua. In September 1996, the Committee began an investigation into the allegations. At the same time, the Director of Central Intel- ligence (DCI) ordered an investigation by the CIA Inspector Gen- eral (IG). The IG of the Department of Justice (DOJ) also began an investigation into these allegations as they related to whether the DOJ diligently and properly conducted investigations and prosecutions of individuals named in the San Jose Mercury News stories. The Committee's investigation has involved attendance at "town meetings," review of tens of thousands of pages of CIA documents, and interviews of dozens of individuals who were named in the Mercury News series or who would have had knowledge of the al- leged activities. The Committee also reviewed previous investiga- tions into the alleged involvement of CIA in drug trafficking in Latin America. The Committee's investigation focused primarily on those allegations relating to the Committee's oversight of the Intelligence Com- munity. Thus, for example, the investigation focused more on the possible involvement of CIA assets in drug trafficking than on the apparent inequality in the DOJ's pursuit of punishment for Ricky Ross and Oscar Danilo Blandon. That said, the Committee was deeply troubled by the apparent inequity in the treatment of Ross and Blandon by the DOJ. The report addresses this inequity in more detail later. The Committee investigation was independent of the investiga- tions conducted in the executive branch, although the Committee benefited greatly from the thorough and professional work pro- duced by the offices of the inspectors general. The Committee made a careful review of the methodology of these investigations so that it could assess and challenge the results as necessary. The CIA IG released the first volume ofhis report, which focused solely on alle- gations related to the Los Angeles area, in January 1998.2 Unclas- sified and classified versions of this report were delivered to the Committee. Volume II of the CIA IG report was transmitted to the Committee on April 27, 1998, in a classified form. 3 An unclassified version was later released to the public at the Committee's request in October 1998. The DOJ IG report was completed in December 1997.4 However, its release was delayed by the Attorney General pursuant to Section 8E of the Inspector General Act, due to con- cerns related to law enforcement matters being pursued by the DOJ. The report was subsequently released on July 22, 1998. The accuracy of the "Dark Alliance" series has been seriously questioned. Major national newspapers-including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and New York Times-as well as editors 5 of the San Jose Mercury News, who subsequently reassigned Mr. Webb, critically examined the series and concluded that there were instances of material being taken out of context and that the facts did not support the broad implications of the series. Nonetheless, the Committee pursued vigorously the allegations in Mr. Webb's re- porting. Accordingly, the Committee used Mr. Webb's newspaper articles and his book, also entitled "DarkAlliance,"6 as key re-

sources in focusing and refining the investigation. The 1980's were one of the most turbulent times in the history of the CIA. The Agency, under President Reagan and DCI William Casey, moved from the high gear it had been in much of the Cold War into overdrive. Around the world, in Eastern Europe, Afghani- stan, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, CIA was engaged in confrontations with the Soviet Union and its surrogates. In order to halt the spread of Communism in Nicaragua, the CIA was au- thorized to implement a program to support the overthrow of the Sandinista regime, even if it involved the loss of life. This program was one of the most difficult that the CIA would carry out, not only because of the challenges of achieving the goal, but also because it became a highly charged issue in Washington, frequently pitting President Reagan against Congress.

The resistance groups the CIA worked with were numerous and fragmented. They were also poor. Some of the groups, especially in the so called Southern Front, received support from several Nicaraguans of means who were involved in the drug trade. The drug traffickers were not only supportive of the Contra cause, they sought to facilitate and conceal their illegal activities within the activities of the Contras. Complicating the situation was the general atmosphere of accu- sation and innuendo of drug involvement in the region. Because of Nicaragua's key location along major established drug routes and its history of endemic corruption, many in leadership positions- within the resistance groups as well as in the Sandinista govern- ment-were rumored to be involved with narcotics trafficking. Furthermore, there was a "disinformation" war of intentional, false allegations between the Sandinistas and the Contras and even between feuding Contra factions. Resolving rumors, allegations or innuendo was difficult when not outright impossible. Many allegations could never be conclusively dispelled, and, accordingly, their taint became pervasive, even on groups in the U.S. connected to the Contra movement. The Committee notes that some of the confusion that surrounded the "Dark Alliance" series and subsequent discussions in the press has centered around the use of the terms "asset" and "agent." Some have suspected that the CIA may be hiding behind a semantic dis- tinction between the words so as to obscure relevant facts. The Committee has not found this to be the case, and believes it is use- ful to clarify this point. Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, "asset" is a more generic term that includes within its definition in- dividuals who have entered into some sort of clandestine alliance with an intelligence agency without necessarily coming under that agency's control. "Agents" are a subset of "assets" in that an agent is an individual who is to some degree personally responsive to an intelligence agency's direction and can be termed (again, to a vary- ing degree) "controlled." 7 Neither term would, however, include in- dividuals who had no direct relationship whatsoever with the agency, but who may have participated in an organization whose lead-

ers were agents or assets of the agency. With respect to the Contras, the Committee has found that some were CIA assets, and a smaller number were CIA agents, but the overwhelming majority of Contras were neither assets nor agents. In the "Dark Alliance" series, however, the extensive use of the term "CIA Army" may lead the reader to conclude that every indi- vidual who was part of the Contra organization also had a direct relationship with the CIA. This was not true. Furthermore, in the "Dark Alliance" series, there is an implication that an association of a drug trafficker with a Contra necessarily connects drug traf- ficking with the CIA. For instance, in the "Dark Alliance" series a photograph 8 of Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) leader# Aldolfo Calero, with Norwin Meneses (and others) in the kitchen of an FDN supporter in the United States is presented as evidence that there was an association between the CIA and drug trafficking- Calero being a CIA "asset" as previously defined, and Meneses being a drug trafficker. The Committee found this type of "proof" to be fallacious. Additionally, it cannot be assumed that if a Contra leader had an association with the CIA, even as an "agent," his every action was dictated, condoned or even known by the CIA. The CIA's asso- ciation with the Contras was conducted on multiple levels. There was paramilitary activity, where equipment, supplies and training was supplied to the Contra fighting forces. There was also the po- litical level, whereby the Contra leaders were charged with gaining support both for the Contras themselves and for the government that they were to form once the Sandinistas were removed from power. At times, these multiple levels would create competing priorities. One example of this concerned the issue of Contra leaders' travels to the United States. Such travel aided in garnering polit- ical support, but did not necessarily help with the paramilitary aspects of the operation. This was especially true in cases where an entity other than the CIA brought these leaders to the United States. In the Committee's interview of former CIA Latin American Division Chief Duane Clarridge, he noted, "We asked them to come up here, or the Congress asked them to come up here, or the White House asked them to come up here. Most of the time, we didn't want them here anyway. We wanted them down there." 9 Nevertheless, while the CIA was providing support to the Contras, serious allegations were raised about some individuals

who were involved with the Contras or the Contra cause and their connection to drug trafficking. In some cases, the CIA sought to re- solve the allegations and, if true, distance itself from these individuals. In other cases, however, CIA officials did not inquire into drug trafficking allegations, nor did they sever ties. As stated by CIA IG, Frederick Hitz, in his testimony before the Committee: We have found no evidence, in the course of this lengthy investigation, of any conspiracy by CIA or its employees to bring drugs into the United States. However, during the - Contra era, CIA worked with a variety of people to support the Contra program. These included CIA assets, pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, as well as Contra officials and others. Let me be frank about what we are finding. There are instances where CIA did not in an expeditious or consistent fashion cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have

engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to re- solve the allegations. I want to underscore the fact that we are talking about allegations here. 10 Volume II of the CIA IG report discussed such cases in detail. The Committee was disappointed to find such inconsistent atten- tion at the CIA to the issue of drug trafficking during this period. The Committee notes, however, that there were individuals, as dis- cussed in Volume II, involved with the Contras or the CIA, or both, who were apparently wrongfully accused of drug trafficking. Like- wise, there was a significant "disinformation" campaign by the Sandinista regime, which itself had drug trafficking connections.11 Furthermore, the Committee notes that the world of drug traf- fickers is usually one of secrecy, where suppliers and distributors seek to hide and protect their activities. Often, this involves the use of many individuals who are prevented from seeing the entirety of on operation and who operate on the basis of false information.

This secret world, in juxtaposition to the secretive world of the CIA's covert action in support of the Contras, made vetting allega- tions to "prove the negative" difficult. That said, the Committee affirms the CIA IG finding that more could have been done by the CIA in the vetting process. The Committee also has found that drug traffickers have often tried to "play" the U.S. legal system to their advantage. In some cases, these individuals offer to be informants in order to gain leniency. In other cases, they invoke supposed connections to other government organizations in order to slow down the judicial proc- ess. The Committee encountered, during this investigation, infor- mation concerning the use of the "CIA defense," whereby a suspect claims that he is working for the CIA, should be let go and cannot talk to the police or the district attorney's office. Although the Committee did not find this ploy to have been successful in the cases it examined, it may have had the effect, at times, of raising questions and suspicions among government agencies and local authorities which did not, in the mid-1980's, have as effective channels of communications with the CIA as they do today. The Committee, tried to develop an objective understanding of the facts as they relate to the allegations in the "Dark Alliance" series. The Committee has no interest in exonerating the CIA or DOJ, nor does it seek to support those who subscribe to the govern- ment conspiracy theories implicit in the "Dark Alliance" series. Nevertheless, the Committee anticipates that there are some who will not be convinced by the conclusions found in this report. Many who are interested in these allegations are seeking to explain how various areas of the country have succumbed to the terrible rav- ages of drug trafficking and addiction, and what forces were at play in the dramatic spread of crack cocaine. Others look at this story as support for their belief that the government is involved in nu- merous conspiracies-some of which are much broader than that alleged by Gary Webb. Still others reject out of hand the possibility of a government conspiracy that would directly and intentionally harm U.S. citizens.

The allegations of the "Dark Alliance" series warranted an inves- tigation, and this Committee performed its role mindful of the tens of thousands of American lives that have been lost to the scourge of crack cocaine. Based on its investigation, involving numerous interviews, reviews of extensive documentation and a thorough and critical reading of other investigative reports, the Committee has concluded that the implications of the San Jose Mercury News-

that the CIA was responsible for the crack epidemic in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the United States to further the cause of the

Contra War in Central America-were wrong.

Understanding the importance to many Americans of the ques-

tions raised in the "Dark Alliance" series, the Committee began preparing this report as an unclassified document from the outset. Although much of its supporting documentation has been publicly released in the declassified CIA and DOJ reports, some of the evi- dence and documentation is, by necessity, classified and must re- main so. This did not prevent the Committee from having access to classified information in the course of its investigation or from

utilizing this information in reaching its conclusions.

May 29, 2021, 3:22 p.m. 0 Report Embed Follow story
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