September 20, 1996
It is the lie that will not die, the allegation that the CIA used drug money to finance resistance to the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Now the defamation has resurfaced with a nasty twist that could permanently harm race relations: a charge that the CIA-Contra link introduced crack cocaine to the inner city. The new charges are in articles in the San Jose Mercury News which black activists and CIA-haters have seized upon as further proof of America's perfidies.
For blacks such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) the charges fit neatly into the same "blame-whitey" matrix that accuses the CIA of introducing AIDs into Africa and the inner cities. Repetition on talk radio, an interview with Rep. Waters on ABC's "Good Morning America," and the Internet gave the stories national circulation.
The first article ran Aug. 18 under the headline "America's 'crack' plague has roots in Nicaraguan war." Reporter Gary Webb wrote, "Thousands of young black men are serving long prison terms for selling cocaine -- a drug that was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before members of the CIA's army started bringing it into South-Central [Los Angeles] in the 1980s at bargain-basement prices."
The central figures according to the story are Oscar Danilo Blandon, a Nicaraguan emigre and admitted drug dealer turned informant; and Los Angeles dope pusher Ricky "Freeway Rick" Ross, who tried to use Blandon's purported CIA ties as an excuse for not going to jail. In grand jury testimony, Blandon admitted dealing drugs in 1981 with Norwin Meneses, another Nicaraguan, to "raise money for the Contra." But after 1983, when Congress began funding the Contras, "we started doing business by ourselves." Significantly, he did not claim any CIA links. Blandon left the drug business, went broke in Florida ventures, and returned to California and coke trafficking in 1989, this time with Colombians.
By this time, any connections he had with the resistance had long ended. (Adolfo Calero, a key Contra leader, told us from Managua he'd never heard of Blandon.) Caught and facing life in prison, he gave what prosecutors called "essential information" in a drug murder case and also against persons including Ross. His sentence was cut to 28 months.
Webb's germ of truth, one long acknowledged by persons involved in the Contra movement, is that persons on the fringe of the resistance dealt drugs. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) spent years seeking evidence that the CIA condoned such dealings; he failed. So did the Congressional Iran-Contra committees and Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh. So also did a highly-publicized suit by the Christic Institute, a far-left group which tried to destroy the resistance with charges that it was a drug cartel.
An angry Federal judge assessed the Christics more than $1 million because their suit lacked any proof. Oddly, Gary Webb cited the discredited Christic Institute as a supporter of his story during an interview on Sept. 18 with Joe Madison, a black talk show host on WRC in Washington who has promoted the lie.
The "documentation" the Mercury News offered as proof of its stories is a melange of papers drawn from these old inquiries, plus material from various California dope proceedings and investigations. We obtained the documents from the paper's Internet site -- -- and compared them with the articles. The material does not support Webb's sweeping claims. Further, Webb ignored material which cuts the ground from beneath his thesis.
Blandon made no claim of CIA contacts in grand jury testimony, although he did talk about contributing drug profits to the Contras in the early 1980s. Blandon never raised "the CIA defense" even when facing the life sentence. Even his defense attorney, Bradley Brunon, was quoted by the Mercury News as saying that "his client never told him directly that he was selling cocaine for the CIA," but that he (Brunon) "drew his own conclusions from the 'atmosphere of CIA and clandestine activities' that surrounded Blandon and his Nicaraguan friends."
Webb wrote that prosecutors "obtained a court order preventing defense lawyers from delving into [Blandon's] ties with the CIA." This was done under the so-called "grey mail statute," which deters criminals from avoiding prosecution by falsely claiming intelligence ties. Webb ignored a key contention in the government's filing: "The only purpose for asking questions in this regard would be as a clumsy attempt to bullyrag the United States into foregoing prosecution...the simply a gambit."
Retired Maj. General John Singlaub, a Contra supporter and chief target of the Christic suit, told us, "We've killed that snake repeatedly, yet this crowd won't give up. They keep recycling the same old lie." The media should ignore a long-discredited lie. To "blame whitey" for inner city crack is a blood libel on our entire nation.