Source:   Houston Chronicle
Pubdate:  Fri, 06 Feb 1998
Note:     The following is not an op-ed.  It is the opinion of the Houston
Chronicle editorial board.


Contras and drugs? CIA should tell what it knows

After a yearlong investigation, the CIA has concluded that none of its
officials assisted Nicaraguan Contra rebels in smuggling cocaine into the
United States, and none of its agents was aware of connections between
Contra leaders and three California drug dealers convicted of spreading
crack in black neighborhoods.

The investigation followed a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury
News that accused the CIA of standing by while Contra rebels fueled the
crack epidemic in exchange for drug dealers' cash to finance their battle
against Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government. The newspaper
subsequently admitted that the articles were inaccurate and the charges

In the first volume of a two-volume report, CIA officials refute relatively
narrow allegations about CIA involvement with three criminals and a handful
of Contras who may or may not have been involved in drug dealing in
California's inner cities. But the report leaves much broader and important
questions unanswered.

When, for instance, did the CIA first become aware that some of the Contras
- -- a guerrilla group the CIA recruited, equipped and funded -- were
involved in drug trafficking? Did the agency make any effort to intercept
the drugs or inform narcotics officers so the suspects could be arrested?
If not, why not?

The CIA often declines to answer such reasonable questions on the grounds
that it doesn't want to reveal its sources and methods. But if some of its
sources are in league with drug smugglers, and if its methods involve
turning a blind eye to a national scourge, then the revelation of those
sources and methods lies at the heart of the national interest and CIA
agents' lawful duty as officials of the U.S. government.

Congressional hearings in the late '80s revealed that drug dealers owned
two of the Contras' principal air cargo contractors. A Senate investigation
in 1989 found that Contra officials used drug smugglers' money laundering
networks to move cash around, that drug smugglers supplied the Contras with
money and guns, and that U.S. government funds meant for the Contras ended
up in smugglers' hands.

Where was the CIA when all this was going on? Even before the congressional
hearings, accounts of Contra misdeeds had been widely reported in the daily
press. When will those in authority at the CIA learn to read the newspaper?

The second volume of the CIA's report on Contra drug connections is due out
in a few weeks. If CIA officials wish to repair the damage wrongly
inflicted by the Mercury News stories, they will tell Americans what the
CIA now knows about Contra malfeasance and what, if anything, the agency
did to stop it.