Source: Houston Chronicle Contact: http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/ Pubdate: Fri, 06 Feb 1998 Note: The following is not an op-ed. It is the opinion of the Houston Chronicle editorial board. ANSWERS, PLEASE 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 exaggerated. 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.