Drugs, Guns, and Government
The heroin epidemic that ravaged our cities during the 50s and 60s basically originated with the CIA out of Southeast Asia. Almost from the moment of their founding in 1947, the CIA was giving covert support to organized drug traffickers in Europe and the Far East, and eventually the Middle East and Latin America. During the Vietnam War—hold onto your hats!—heroin was being smuggled into this country in the bodies of soldiers being flown home, coded ahead of time so they could be identified at various Air Force bases and the drugs removed.
Toward the end of American involvement over there in 1975, a former Green Beret named Michael Hand arranged a 500-pound shipment of heroin from Southeast Asia’s “Golden Triangle” to the U.S. by way of Australia. That’s where Hand had set up shop as vice chair of the Nugan Hand Bank, which was linked by the Australian Narcotics Bureau to a drug smuggling network that “exported some $3 billion [Aust.] worth of heroin from Bangkok prior to June 1976.” Several CIA guys who later came up in the Iran-Contra affair (Ted Shackley, Ray Clines and Edwin Wilson) used the Nugan Hand bank to channel funds for covert operations. By 1979, the bank had 22 branches in 13 countries and $1 billion in annual business. The next year, chairman Frank Nugan was found shot dead in his Mercedes, a hundred miles from Sydney, and the bank soon collapsed. Two official investigations by Australia uncovered its financing of major drug dealers and the laundering of their profits, while collecting an impressive list of “ex”CIA officers.
Drugs Funding Reagan’s War in Nicaragua
After the CIA’s involvement with the Southeast Asian drug trade had been partly disclosed in the mid-1970s, and the U.S. left Vietnam to its fate, the Agency started distancing itself from its “assets.” But that only left the door open to go elsewhere. Which the Reagan Administration did big-time, to fund its secret war in Nicaragua. The 1979 Sandinista revolution that overthrew Anastasio Somoza, one of our favorite Latin dictators, was not looked upon fondly by Ronnie and his friends. He called the counterrevolutionary Contras “freedom fighters,” and compared them to America’s founding fathers. In his attempt to get Congress to approve aid for the Contras, Reagan accused the Sandinista government of drug trafficking. Of course, Nancy Reagan had launched her “Just say no” campaign at the time, but I guess she hadn’t given the word to her husband. After his administration tried to mine the Nicaraguan harbors and got a hand slap from Congress, it turned to secretly selling missiles to Iran and using the payments—along with profits from running drugs—to keep right on funding the Contras. Fifty thousand lost lives later, the World Court would order the U.S. to “cease and to refrain” from unlawful use of force against Nicaragua and pay reparations. (We refused to comply.)
The fact is, with most of the cocaine that flooded the country in the 80s, almost every major drug network was using the Contra operation in some fashion. Colombia’s Medellin cartel began quietly collaborating with the Contras soon after Reagan took office. Then, in 1982, CIA Director Casey negotiated a little Memorandum of Understanding with the attorney general, William French Smith. Basically what this did was give the CIA legal clearance to work with known drug traffickers without being required to report it, so long as they weren’t official employees but only “assets.” This didn’t come out until 1998, when CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz issued a report that implicated more than 50 Contra and related entities in the drug trade. And the CIA knew all about it. The trafficking and money laundering tracked right into the National Security Council, where Oliver North was overseeing the Contras’ war.
Here’s what was going on behind the scenes: In the mid-1980s, North got together with four companies that were owned and operated by drug dealers, and arranged payments from the State Department for shipping supplies to the Contras. Michael Levine, an undercover agent for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), later said that “running a covert operation in collaboration with a drug cartel . . . [is] what I call treason.” The top DEA agent in El Salvador, Celerino Castillo III, said he saw “very large quantities of cocaine and millions of dollars” being run out of hangars at Ilopango air base, which was controlled by North and CIA operative Felix Rodriguez (he’d been placed in El Salvador by Vice President Bush’s office, as a direct overseer of North’s operations). The cocaine was being transshipped from Costa Rica through El Salvador and on into the U.S. But when Castillo tried to raise this with his superiors, he ran into nothing but obstacles.
Iran-Contra Affair: Drugs, Arms and Hostages
Early in 1985, two Associated Press reporters started hearing from officials in D.C. about all this. A year later, after a lot of stonewalling by the editors, the AP did run Robert Parry and Brian Barger’s story on an FBI probe into cocaine trafficking by the Contras. This led the Reagan Administration to put out a three-page report admitting that there’d been some such shenanigans when the Contras were “particularly hard pressed for financial support” after Congress voted to cut off American aid. There was “evidence of a limited number of incidents.” Uh-huh. It would be awhile yet before an Oliver North note surfaced from July 12, 1985, about a Contra arms warehouse in Honduras: “Fourteen million to finance came from drugs.”
Also in 1986, an FBI informant inside the Medellin cartel, Wanda Palacio, testified that she’d seen the organization run by Jorge Ochoa loading cocaine onto aircraft that belonged to Southern Air Transport, a company that used to be owned by the CIA and was flying supplies to the Contras. There was strong corroboration for her story, but somehow the Justice Department rejected it as inconclusive. Senator John Kerry started looking into all this and said at one closed-door committee meeting: “It is clear that there is a network of drug trafficking through the Contras…We can produce specific law-enforcement officials who will tell you that they have been called off drug-trafficking investigations because the CIA is involved or because it would threaten national security.”
What became known as the Iran-Contra affair came to light in November 1986. We were selling arms to Iran, breaking an arms embargo in order to fund the contras. Fourteen Reagan Administration officials got charged with crimes and eleven were convicted, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Of course, Poppa Bush pardoned them all after he got elected president. And do you think a word about drug-running came up in the televised House committee hearings that made Ollie North a household name? Fuhgedaboutit.
The thousand-page report issued by Senator Kerry about his committee’s findings did discuss how the State Department had paid more than $800,000 to known traffickers to take “humanitarian assistance” to the Contras. The New York Times then set out to trash Kerry in a three-part series, including belittling him for relying on the testimony of imprisoned (drug-running) pilots. The Washington Post published a short article heavy on criticisms against Kerry by the Republicans. Newsweek called him “a randy conspiracy buff.” (Wonder what they were snorting.)
But are we surprised? In 1987, the House Narcotics Committee had concluded there should be more investigation into the Contra drug allegations. What was the Washington Post‘s headline? “Hill Panel Finds No Evidence Linking Contras to Drug Smuggling.” The paper wouldn’t even run Chairman Charles Rangel’s letter of correction! That same year, a Time correspondent had an article on this subject blocked and a senior editor privately tell him: “Time is institutionally behind the Contras. If this story were about the Sandinistas and drugs, you’d have no trouble getting it in the magazine.”
Drugs, Panama and Beyond
The list of government skullduggery goes on, and it’s mind-boggling. Remember when Poppa Bush ordered our military to invade Panama back in 1990? The stated reason was that its leader, Colonel Manuel Noriega, had been violating our laws by permitting drugs to be run through his country. In fact, Noriega had been “one of ours” for a long time. After Noriega was brought to the U.S. and convicted by a federal jury in Miami and sentenced to 40 years, filmmaker Oliver Stone went to see him in prison. There Noriega talked freely about having spied on Castro for the U.S., giving covert aid to the Contras and visiting with Oliver North. Noriega and Bush Sr. went way back, to when Bush headed the CIA in 1976. The brief prepared by Noriega’s defense team was heavily censored, but it did reveal significant contact with Bush over a 15-year period. In fact, Bush had headed up a special anti-drug effort as vice president called the South Florida Task Force, which happened to coincide with when quite a few cargoes of cocaine and marijuana came through Florida as part of the Contra support network. So why did we finally go after Noriega? Some said it’s because he knew too much and was demanding too big a cut for his role in the Agency’s drug dealing.
It’s a proven fact that the CIA’s into drugs; we even know why. It’s because they can get money to operate with, and not have to account to Congress for what they’re doing. All this is justified because of the “big picture.” But doesn’t it really beg for a massive investigation and trials and a whole lot of people going to jail? This includes the big banks that allow the dirty money to be laundered through them.
Go back to Chicago and Prohibition, when Al Capone became more powerful than the government because we’d outlawed the selling of liquor. Legalize marijuana and you put the cartels out of business! Instead, we’re going to further militarize our border and go shoot it out with them? And if a few thousand poor Mexicans get killed in the crossfire, too bad. I don’t get that mentality. I don’t understand how this is the proper way, the adult answer, when they could do it another way. Eventually, after thousands more people get killed, they’ll probably arrive at the same answer: legalization. Because there’s nothing else that will work.
And legalization would go a long way toward giving us a more legitimate government, too—a government that doesn’t have to shield drug dealers who happen to be doing its dirty work. There are clearly people in government making money off drugs. Far more people, statistically, die from prescription drugs than illegal drugs. But the powers that be don’t want you to be able to use a drug that you don’t have to pay for, such as marijuana. Thirteen states now have voted to allow use of medical marijuana. Thank goodness Barack Obama just came out with a new policy stating that the feds are not going to interfere as long as people are following state law. That’s a great step toward legalization.
‘You can’t legislate stupidity’ is an old saying I used in governing. Just because you make something illegal doesn’t mean it’s going away; it just means it’ll now be run by criminals. But is using an illegal drug a criminal offense or a medical one? I tend to believe medical, because that’s customarily how addictions are treated; we don’t throw you in jail for them. In a free society, that’s an oxymoron—going to jail for committing a crime against yourself.
The government is telling people what’s good for them and what’s not, but that should be a choice made by us, not those in power. Look at the consequences when it’s the other way around.
A neat little Graphic that illustrates the article above perfectly (E):
- CA’s Prop 19 Would Regulate, ‘Legalize’ Cannabis; Begin Roll-Back of Phony U.S. ‘War on Drugs’ (bradblog.com)
- Exposing the Fraudulent Criminalization of Marijuana (alternet.org)
- The Government’s Winning the Drug War (littlealexinwonderland.wordpress.com)
- The War on Marijuana and The War Against Online Gambling (socyberty.com)
- Nick Gillespie: Why Pot Legalization Is the Most Important Issue Before Voters This Election Day (huffingtonpost.com)