UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FRONTS
Illegal money and weapons flowed in from North’s backroom cowboys in the White House basement as well as from four fronts which were set up by the State Department. They were operated by narcotics traffickers who provided weapons for the Contras. And in return, large shipments of narcotics flowed northward into the United States.
SETCO (Services Ejectutivos Turistas Commander) Air was established by Honduran drug dealer Ramon Matta Ballesteros. Between January and August 1986, the State Department paid his “front” $186,924.25. One of SETCO’s pilots, Frank Moss, was investigated but was never charged with drug trafficking. Later in 1985, Moss formed his own company, Hondu Carib, which also flew missions to the contras. On the basis that Moss was presumably bringing back cocaine into the United States, the Customs Service concealed a transponder on his DC-4 airplane. On one occasion his DC-4 was chased off the west coast of Florida while it was dumping what appeared to be drugs. When it landed in Charlotte, no drugs were found aboard. However, the plane’s registration was not in order, and the previous owners were known drug traffickers. Law enforcement authorities also found an address book
with telephone numbers of Contra officials and also the Virginia telephone number of Owen, North’s assistant. A search of the place also revealed marijuana residue.
DIASCA was a Miami-based air company which manufactured airplane parts. It was owned by the Guerra family of Costa Rica and served as the headquarters of a drug trafficker enterprise for convicted dealers Floyd Carlton and Alfredo Caballero. The State Department paid them $3.8 million between March 1985 and January 1986 and then $41,120.90 in the first eight months of 1986. Caballero gave Carlton DIASCA offices as a place for planning his smuggling activities. The State Department continued to do business with DIASCA six months after some of its officials had been indicted. The defendants were allowed to plea bargain. Carlton received nine years and Caballero received five years probation for smuggling cocaine into the United States.
Frigorificos de Puntarenas was also owned by Cuban-American drug traffickers and served as a broker and supplier for various services to the Contras on the Southern Front. This Atlantic-based Costa Rican “shrimp” company received State Department payments in the amount of $261,937. In May 1983 Ramon Milian Rodriguez testified that cocaine would be sent to shrimp boats and eventually shipped to the United States. Rodriguez was a Cuban arrested for money laundering. Owen stated in his memo to Oliver North that if he could obtain two shrimp boats that the business’s owner was willing to front a shrimping operation on the Atlantic coast. He contended that those boats could be used as mother ships to bring cocaine shipments into the United States. Owen also contended that North had given him the name of a DEA agent who could help provide security in the drug running operations.
Jack Terrell was also involved in the shrimp case. He was a volunteer for a private Contra organization, Civilian Military Assistance (CMA) which operated out of Pastora’s Contra group in Costa Rica. By 1984 he had moved up the ranks to a “colonel” and was given authority to travel to Honduras to meet with the mainstream Contra group under Calero. Terrell testified that the Contras acted as a conduit in their “seafood” front operation and that the business could net a million dollars. Terrell further explained that he the cocaine operation was disguised by imports of frozen fish from Costa Rica. Needless to say, Terrell’s testimony to the Kerry committee alarmed North who failed in an effort to prevent the FBI from investigating him. Terrell also charged that Hull was involved in cocaine trafficking.
Vortex was an air service which was partially owned by admitted drug trafficker Michael Palmer. This “front” was paid $317,425.17 by the State Department in 1986 to store, pack, and inventory goods for the Contras. At the time the State Department and Palmer signed a contract, it was a known fact that he owned two airplanes which he had used for drug trafficking. In addition he had been under investigation for 10 years for running drugs. Eventually Palmer was indicted and convicted.
After the Boland Amendment terminated legal funding for the Contras, between January and August 1986 alone, the State Department payments to these CIA fronts operating in drug trafficking totaled $806,401.20.
Oliver North lied to Congress, lied to Congress, and lied to his colleagues in the White House. He swore that he did not run covert operations in Central America. He lied when he said he did not defy the law in running guns and money shipments to the Iranians. He lied when he said that he had no knowledge of drug trafficking within the Contra network.
It was North who directed NSC operations from the basement of the Executive Office Building. After the Boland Amendment cut off Congressional funding of the Contras, it was North who illegally raised as much as $30 million to continue to funnel in money to the Enterprise. He brought in this revenue through covert means, primarily by the sale of weapons to Iran and profits generated from the sale of Latin American cocaine which was flown into the United States on the very same planes which flew weapons south to the Contras.
A September 26, 1984 Miami police report stated that money supporting the illegal contra training effort in Florida came from narcotics transactions. At the time, the chief state prosecutor in Florida was Janet Reno. She had every page stamped “record furnished to George Kosinsky, FBI.”
In March 1987, United States customs seized a plane from a narcotics trafficker who was involved with the Contras. An address book of Owen was found on the plane. On numerous occasions, Owen met with both North and Hull.
In 1987 the two Iran-Contra investigatory committees determined what evidence would be made available for the hearings. The National Security Archive obtained the hand-written notebooks of Oliver North, the National Security Council aide who helped run the contra war and other Reagan administration covert operations, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in 1989. The notebooks, as well as declassified memos sent to North, recorded that North was repeatedly informed of Contra ties to drug trafficking.
As a member of the NSC North had compiled 2,848 pages of notes in spiral notebooks between 1984 and 1986. North kept records of correspondence, meetings, and activities involving the NSC. However, after his diary was subpoenaed by the Iran-Contra committees, he was allowed to censor his notes. North and his attorneys either totally or partially censored over 1,269 pages — nearly half of his diary. 155 pages were totally “blacked out.” Potentially damaging to North were 500 pages of notes which presumably referenced drug trafficking activities, and these were never received by Iran-Contra investigators. A White House committee scrutinized his censored diary and determined that 104 pages were “not relevant to the investigation.” North did not delete a significant amount of evidence which linked him to drug trafficking during the Contra war. Numerous entries in North’s diaries linked him to drug trafficking.
North was given limited immunity when he testified before the Iran-Contra committee. Walsh presumably did his best to prevent this, and therefore his convictions were overturned upon appeal. Since North denied in his public testimony that he had any direct or indirect involvement in drug trafficking, his immunity should not have covered such improprities. He may have told members of Congress in executive session, but that should not have tainted any witnesses.
–May 12, 1984. “. . .contract indicates that Gustavo is involved w/drugs”
–June 26, 1984. “DEA” – (followed by two blocks of text deleted by North)
–June 27, 1984. “Drug Case – DEA program on controlling cocaine – Either cutoff – Colombians readjusting – possible negotiations to move refining effort to Nicaragua – Pablo Escobar – Colombian drug czar – Informant (Pilot) is indicted criminal – Carlos Ledher – Freddy Vaughn.”
– July 9, 1984. “Call from Clarridge – Call Michael re Narco Issue – RIG at 1000 Tomorrow – DEA Miami – Pilot went talked to Vaughn – wanted A/C to go to Bolivia to p/u paste – want A/C to p/u 1500 kilos – Bud to meet w/Group.”
– July 12, 1984. “Gen Gorman – Include Drug Case Call from Johnstone – (White House deletion) leak on Drug.” July 17, 1984. “Call to Frank M – Bud Mullins Re – leak on DEA piece – Carlton Turner Call from Johnstone – McManus, LA Times-says/NSC source claims W.H. has pictures of Borge loading cocaine in Nic.”
–July 20, 1984. “Call from Clarridge – Alfredo Cesar Re Drugs-Borge/Owen leave Hull alone (Deletions)/Los Brasiles Air Field- Owen off Hull.”
–July 27, 1984. “Clarridge: – (Block of White House deleted text follows) – Arturo Cruz, Jr. – Get Alfredo Cesar on Drugs.”
–July 31, 1984. “Finance: Libya – Cuba/Bloc Countries – Drugs … Pablo Escobar/Frederic
–July 31, 1984. “Staff queries re (White House deletion) role in DEA operations in Nicaragua.”
– Dec. 21, 1984. “Call from Clarridge: Ferch (White House deletion) – Tambs-Costa Rica – Felix Rodriguez close to (White House deletion) – not assoc. W/Villoldo – Bay of Pigs – No drugs.”
–Jan. 14, 1985. “Rob Owen – John Hull – no drug connection – Believes.”
–July 9, 1985. “Went and talked to (Contra leader) Vaughn, (who) wanted to go to Bolivia to pick up paste, wanted aircraft to pick up 1500 kilos.”
–July 12, 1985. “$14 million to finance (arms) came from drugs.” In this memo, North noted a call from retired Air Force general Richard Secord in which the two discussed a Honduran arms warehouse from which the Contras planned to purchase weapons. According to the notebook, Secord told North that $14 million to finance the Contras came from drugs.”
– July 21, 1985. “HO (Honduras) plans to seize all mat’l when supermarket comes to bad end.”
–April 1, 1985. North (code-name: “The Hammer”) received a memo from Robert Owen (code-name: “T.C.” for “The Courier”), describing Contra operations on the Southern Front. Owen tells North that FDN leader Adolfo Calero (code-name: “Sparkplug”) has picked a new Southern Front commander, one of the former captains to Eden Pastora who has been paid to defect to the FDN. Owen reports that the officials in the new Southern Front FDN units include “people who are questionable because of past indiscretions,” such as José Robelo, who is believed to have “potential involvement with drug running” and Sebastian Gonzalez, who is “now involved in drug running out of Panama.”
–August 9, 1985. “Honduran DC-6 which is being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into U.S.” North summarized a meeting with Owen (“Rob”), his liaison with the Contras. They discussed a plane used by Mario Calero, brother of Adolfo Calero, head of the FDN, to transport supplies from New Orleans to Contras in Honduras.
–Aug. 10, 1985. “Mtg. w/A.C. – name of DEA person in New Orleans re Bust on Mario/DC-6.”
–February 10, 1986. Robert Owen (“TC”) wrote North (this time as “BG,” for “Blood and Guts”) regarding a plane being used to carry “humanitarian aid” to the Contras that was previously used to transport drugs. The plane belonged to the Miami-based company Vortex, which was run by Michael Palmer, one of the largest marijuana traffickers in the United States. Despite Palmer’s long history of drug smuggling, which led to a Michigan indictment on drug charges, Palmer received over $300,000 from the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Aid Office (NHAO) which helped to supply the Contras and was overseen by North, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams, and CIA officer Alan Fiers.
–Feb. 27, 1986. “Mtg. w/Lew Tamb- DEA Auction A/C seized as drug runners. – $250-260K fee.”
–Undated. “Necessary to give Mr. Hull protection.”
THE WHITE HOUSE CONNECTION
PRESIDENT REAGAN. In March 1985, Reagan stated on national television that “top Nicaraguan government officials are deeply involved in drug trafficking.” Ironically, on the same day as the speech, the United States government returned funds seized in a 430-pound cocaine bust after a defendant stated that Contra leaders claimed they were theirs.
In 1995, press accounts of illegal drug trafficking led to an investigation in Congress the following year. Within the executive branch State Department officials told Congress in 1986 that it had evidence of a limited number of incidents in which known drug traffickers tried to establish relations with Nicaraguan resistance groups. According to the State Department drug traffickers were attempting to exploit the desperate conditions in which the Contras found themselves. The department even conceded that there were some members of the Contras who were running drugs.
Months later the Foreign Relations Committee reported that there was evidence to link various elements of the FDN to drug trafficking. In 1986 the Justice Department and other federal agencies failed to respond to any of these allegations. In May 1986 members of the Kerry committee met with officials of the Justice Department, State Department, FBI, CIA, and DEA. The official DOJ report stated that the FBI had conducted an inquiry into all these charges and none of them had any substance or accuracy.
In 1987 the CIA’s Central American Task Force chief conceded that the Contras on the southern front in Costa Rica had links to drug trafficking and that it was much broader than what had been reported by the State Department. He told the Kerry committee that many people were involved in illicit drugs including higher leaders like Pastora.
In June 1998, new evidence surfaced, suggesting that the Reagan administration’s tolerance of drug trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contras and other clients in the 1980s was premeditated. The corporate media ignored a 1982 letter which was introduced into the Congressional Record revealing how CIA Director Casey secretly engineered an exemption which spared the CIA from a legal requirement to report on drug smuggling by agency assets.
The exemption was granted by Attorney General William French Smith in February 1982, only two months after Reagan authorized covert CIA support for the Nicaraguan Contra army and some eight months before the first known documentary evidence revealing that the Contras had started collaborating with drug traffickers. The exemption suggested that the CIA’s tolerance of illicit drug smuggling by its clients during the 1980s was official policy anticipated from the very beginning, not just an isolated series of illicit activities. If this is true, Casey foresaw the legal dilemma which the CIA would encounter should federal law require it to report on illicit narcotics smuggling by its agents. DOJ regulations state that “reportable offenses” included assault, homicide, kidnapping, Neutrality Act violations, communication of classified data, illegal immigration, bribery, obstruction of justice, possession of explosives, election contributions, possession of firearms, illegal wiretapping, visa violations, and perjury.
In 1982 Casey attempted to exempt the CIA from the need to add narcotics violations to the list of reportable non-employee crimes. In March, Smith granted Casey his wish, and drug trafficking offenses were dropped from the list.
This Casey-Smith exchange of letters stands as important historical evidence bolstering the long-denied allegations of CIA complicity in drug trafficking. Worse yet, the documents are evidence of premeditation.
In May 1998, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters introduced the damaging evidence from the Casey-Smith letters into the Congressional Record. Waters stated that the Casey-Smith arrangement “allowed some of the biggest drug lords in the world to operate without fear that the CIA would be required to report their activities to the DEA and other law enforcement agencies. … These damning memorandums … are further evidence of a shocking official policy that allowed the drug cartels to operate through the CIA-led Contra covert operations in Central America.”
PRESIDENT BUSH. George Bush always claimed that he knew nothing of the CIA involvement in drug trafficking. In 1988 Bush’s top drug aide, Admiral Daniel Murphy, stated that he never saw any intelligence reports that associated Noriega with drug trade. He said that Noriega was always upheld as a “model” in terms cooperation with the United States in the war on drugs.
Iran-Contra became more than a George Bush affair. It became a Bush family affair. Bush’s older brother, Prescott, was also linked to covert actions. He appeared to have aided the Reagan administration’s clandestine support of the Contras. In the 1980s he served on the advisory board of Americares, the United States-based relief organization with ties to prominent right-wing Republicans and the intelligence community. In 1985 and 1986 after Congress cut off American aid to the contras, Americares donated more than $100,000 worth of newsprint to the pro-Contra newspaper La Prensa in Managua. Americares supplied $291,383 in food and medicine and $5,750 in cash to Mario Calero, who was a New Orleans-based quartermaster and arms purchaser for the Contras, and to the brother of Contra leader Calero.
George Bush’s second oldest son, Jeb, acted as a liaison to the anti-Castro right and to clandestine schemes in support of the Contras. Soon after congressional prohibition of aid to the contras in late 1984, Jeb became linked to Leonel Martinez, a Miami-based right wing Cuban-American drug trafficker. Martinez, who was linked to the southern front’s Contra leader Eden Pastora, was involved in efforts to smuggle more than 3,000 pounds of cocaine into Miami in 1985 and 1986. He was arrested in 1989 and later convicted for bringing 300 kilos of cocaine into the United States. He also reportedly arranged for the delivery of two helicopters, arms, ammunition, and clothing to Pastora’s Costa Rica-based Contras.
Federal prosecutors in Miami had a photograph of Jeb Bush and Martinez shaking hands but would not release the photo to the public. Martinez made a $2,200 contribution to the Dade County Republican Party four months after Jeb became the chair of Florida’s GOP. It was also known that Martinez wrote $5,000 checks to then-Vice President Bush’s Fund for America’s Future in both December 1985 and July 1986 and made a $2,000 contribution to the Bush for President campaign in October 1987. Martinez’s construction company gave $6,000 in October 1986 to Bob Martinez, the GOP candidate for governor in Florida.Before that time, he was governor from 1987 to 1991.
The war on drugs may have been successful had the United States government made an effort to get Asian and Latin American countries to be equally tough on drug traffickers as it was on the peasants and workers in their countries. American policy is less concerned with fighting a war against drugs than it is in using drug traffickers. For the CIA to target international drug networks, it would have to dismantle prime sources of intelligence, political leverage, and indirect financing for its Third World operations. During Reagan’s presidency, one-third of federal law enforcement funds for fighting organized crime were cut. DEA funds were reduced by 12 percent, resulting in the dismissal of 434 DEA employees.
THE CHAMORRO GOVERNMENT. Drug trafficking resumed in Nicaragua under the Chamorro regime after the defeat of the Sandinistas in 1990. Colombian drug dealers established connections with various government officials, the most notorious being Roger Ramirez, a Nicaraguan policeman turned arms dealer. After leaving the police in 1993, Ramirez opened a law practice and successfully defended several drug trafficking suspects.
Ramirez was arrested and charged with possession of narcotics and illegal weapons in October 1999 after authorities saw suspicious Guatemalans and Colombians visiting the ranch belonging to his father. Officers discovered the illegal arms, including rocket launchers, at the ranch, and then they searched the home of his former wife and found 275 pounds of cocaine. Ramirez testified that he decided to sell the weapons to the Colombian self-defense forces because “their current struggle is similar to that of other military forces in the past decade that struggled against a dictatorial government.” According to court documents, Ramirez told the judge, “I sold them for a nominal price to the commanders of Colombia’s self-defense forces, and I had planned to join their struggle.” Ramirez testified that he had obtained the weapons in 1990, during the transition from the Sandinista government to the Chamorro regime when he was the Sandinista Interior Ministry delegate in the eastern port city of Bluefields where drug trafficking flourished after the defeat of the FSLN.
The CIA acknowledged drugs in a statement by Central American Task Force Chief Alan Fiers who testified: “With respect to (drug trafficking) by the Resistance Forces. … It is not a couple of people. It is a lot of people.”
THE UNITED STATES INVADED BY THE CONTRAS
The sale of rock cocaine in American ghettos can be traced back to Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero and Oscar Danilo Blandon, both active drug traffickers in Central America. Meneses was one of the top drug dealers in Nicaragua where he was known as “El Rey del Drogas” (“the king of the drugs”). In the 1970s Meneses ran drugs in Nicaragua with the permission of the right wing Somoza government which received a cut of the profits. The Blandon-Meneses connection began in the early 1980s when they met with Contra leader Bermudez who recruited them to raise money and supplies for the Contras. Blandon left the meeting with $100,000 to buy drugs. The profits from the sale of these drugs were used to buy supplies for the contras. Blandon told how he ran into trouble at the airport in Honduras when he was caught with the $100,000, but intervention by Contra leaders secured his release.
In a June 11, 1986 CIA cable from the Los Angeles division station, contra leader Fernando Chamorro was asked by Meneses in 1984 to help “move drugs to the United States.” A second June 1986 CIA cable reported that “Meneses was involved in the transporting of drugs.” A CIA cable dated October 31, 1986 contained two admissions. First, it detailed a CIA cable dated December 5, 1984 reporting that “Norwin Meneses was apparently well known as the Nicaraguan mafia, dealing in drugs, weapons and smuggling and laundering of counterfeit money.” Second, it quoted a CIA cable, dated March 25, 1985, which “described a Norwin (Meneses) Cantatero as the kingpin of narcotics traffickers in Nicaragua prior to the fall of Somoza.”
Meneses drug operations also included Tuto Munkel and Sebastian Gonzalez Medieta. Sebastian Gonzalez was a key CIA operant who was in charge of logistics for the supply of arms supplied by Noriega. The CIA knew that Gonzalez also was involved in drug trafficking with Meneses in 1984.
“Dark Alliance,” described the role of Blandon and Meneses in the circulating crack cocaine in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles and New York City. In August 1996 Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News ran a series of stories which alleged that the Contras provided millions of dollars in crack cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles. In turn millions of dollars in drug profits were funneled back to the Contra army in Central America.
Webb showed how Contra leaders and CIA operants allegedly sold drugs in Los Angeles, delivering cut-rate cocaine to the gangs through a young South-Central crack dealer named “Freeway” Ricky Ross. Unaware of the origin of the shipments, Ross turned the powder into crack and wholesaled it to gangs across the country. Court records indicated that the cash, which Ross paid for the cocaine, was used to buy weapons and equipment for the FDN. The stories alleged that Ross moved about $100 million worth of crack a year in the 1980s. He bragged that he sometimes moved $2 million worth in a single day. Ross worked his business along the Harbor Freeway or he used to strip stolen cars beside the Harbor Freeway. He had been arrested here in an FBI sting after getting out of prison in Texas, one of the places where he did business.
Ross purchased crack cocaine from Blandon who was the conduit for thousands of kilos of coke which flowed through Ross and other big middlemen to Los Angeles street gangs such as the Crips and Bloods from 1982 to 1986. Ross had maintained a monopoly in the Los Angeles market, paying Blandon approximately $50,000 per kilo which was about $10,000 below market value. Ross was selling over 100 kilos of crack cocaine a week and at times sold as much as $3 million a day.
A search warrant affidavit revealed that local drug agents knew plenty about Blandon’s involvement with cocaine and the CIA’s army nearly 10 years ago. The Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department spokesperson said: “Danilo Blandon is in charge of a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and distribution organization operating in Southern California. The monies gained from the sales of cocaine are transported to Florida and laundered through Orlando Murillo, a relative of Blandon and a high-ranking officer of a chain of banks in Florida, named Government Securities Corporation. From this bank the monies are filtered to the Contra rebels to buy arms in the war in Nicaragua.” Corporate records showed that Murillo was a vice-president of Government Securities Corporation in Coral Gables, a large brokerage firm that collapsed in 1987 amid allegations of fraud. Murillo did not respond to an interview request.
On October 27, warrants were issued by the FBI, IRS, and Los Angeles Sheriff’s office for Blandon and his wife. Authorities searched 12 warehouses which were believed used by Blandon. They did not find Blandon, his wife, or any evidence of narcotics and money. Apparently already having been tipped off, Blandon had sent his money on to Florida where it was laundered through Orlando Murillo, a high ranking officer in the Government Securities Corporation. From there the money was used to purchase weapons for the Contras.
On the same day which the Blandon warrant was served, authorities also searched the home of former Laguna Beach police detective Ronald Lister who had been an arms supplier for Blandon. Even though no cocaine was found, police seized videotapes of military operations in Central America, information on military hardware and communications, and documents which indicated that drug money was used to purchase military equipment for the Contras. In addition there were pictures of Lister with Contras in El Salvador as well as the names of CIA officers and CIA contractors in Central America. Lister was never arrested.
Eight year later, Blandon appeared before a grand jury. In 1994, he told a San Francisco grand jury that his cocaine sales were approved by the CIA. He said that once the contras began receiving American taxpayer dollars, the CIA no longer needed him. Blandon said that “when Mr. Reagan got in the power, we start receiving a lot of money. And the people that were in charge, it was the CIA, so they didn’t want to raise any (drug) money because they have, they had the money that they wanted.” Despite the fact that Blandon admitted to crimes, he was not prosecuted.
Blandon pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking charges and in a plea bargain became an informant for the federal government. At Ross’ San Diego trial DEA records showed that the agency paid Blandon $166,000 for nailing Ross and others. At Ross’ trial, Blandon testified: “There is a saying that the ends justify the means. And that’s what Mr. Bermudez (the CIA agent who commanded the FDN) told us in Honduras, OK? So we started raising money for the Contra revolution.” In the mid-1990s, declassified reports along with the federal court testimony, undercover tapes, and court records — and hundreds of hours of interviews over the past 12 months — indicated that Blandon was no ordinary drug dealer.
During the early 1980s, Meneses operated a massive cocaine operation in Los Angeles. In October 1986, agents from the FBI, IRS, Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles County sheriff fanned out across Southern California and raided more than a dozen locations connected to Blandon’s cocaine operation. Blandon and his wife, along with numerous Nicaraguan associates, were arrested on drug and weapons charges and were investigated in regard to 45 other charges. Meneses was indicted for conspiracy to distribute one kilo of cocaine in 1984 when he was working with the FDN. However, the indictment was quickly dropped and Meneses was never arrested.
A San Diego prosecutor stated that Meneses’ organization had been investigated several times over the course of many years. These probes were allegedly stymied by agencies of the United States government: the DEA, United States Customs, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. These agencies complained that investigations were hampered by the CIA or unnamed “national security”‘ interests.
In 1991, Nicaraguan police arrested Meneses on cocaine charges in Managua — not in the United States where he had been heavily involved in trafficking. He was charged with possession of a 750-kilo shipment. Nicaraguan authorities were outraged that the United States ignored Meneses’ drug trafficking operations for 15 years and never arrested him. At his Nicaraguan trial Carlos Cabezas testified that some profits from his cocaine smuggling operation were diverted to the contras. He said that the cocaine which he brought into the United States came from Meneses’ ranch in neighboring Costa Rica. Two of Cabezas’ partners were brothers Troilo and Ferdinand Sanchez, close relatives tro contra leader Aristides Sanchez. Aristides Sanchez was a member of the FDN directorate, the umbrella organization of the Contras.
Another witness against Meneses was Enrique Miranda, a relative and former Somoza National Guard military intelligence officer who had worked with Meneses in conjunction with the Bogota cocaine cartel. Miranda pleaded guilty to drug charges and agreed to cooperate in exchange for a seven-year sentence. Meneses was sentenced to 30 years. While out on a routine weekend furlough, Miranda failed to return to the Nicaraguan jail.
The Kerry committee’s report exposed Norwin Meneses as one of the biggest drug dealers in the United States. Meneses supported and was involved with the contras. He admitted giving money to the California chapter of the FDN/Contras and that he was involved in the 1985 attempted to obtain “material support, medical and general supplies” for the Contra movement. Meneses supplied Danilo Blandon with drugs and Blandon, in turn, was the source who supplied Ricky Ross. The CIA and DEA knew of their operations as early as 1984. Meneses was never arrested after he was permitted free entrance into the United States.
THE CIA INVESTIGATION. Justice Department officials had never addressed the claims that the CIA was involved in the conspiracy to bring cocaine into the United States and to help fund the contra war from sales in the inner cities. In October 1996 CIA director William Deutch stated that the inspector general of the CIA would look into such allegations. Deutch attended a town meeting in South-central Los Angeles to confront a community outraged by charges that the agency had been complicit in the importing of cocaine into their neighborhood. Deutch publicly pledged an internal investigation by Fred Hitz, the CIA’s inspector general. Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Jesse Jackson attended the town meeting, and they along with hundreds of others demanded to know the CIA’s role in bringing crack cocaine into their community.
The CIA claimed that 365 interviews with former CIA officials and Contra leaders were conducted. Over 250,000 pages of documents were assembled. Hitz reported that the agents responded that the charges were unfounded. In addition, other agents refused to cooperate in the investigation.
One retired CIA operant, Duane Claridge, said that the agency “sent me questions that were a bunch of (nonsense)” and that I wrote back that they were a bunch of “nonsense.” Another agent, Donald Winters, said that he did answer questions but the interrogators were just going “through the motions of touching bases” and never asked and never asked substantive questions. Other outside government officials were never contacted by the CIA. Cresencio Arcos, who monitored the Contras from the State Department, and Robert Owen, North’s lead man, were never contacted. Hitz did concede that cocaine traffickers in California had donated between $6,000 and $80,000 to the Contra cause but he considered that sum of money to be minuscule.
In January 1998, Hitz released his first report which addressed charges made by Webb in the Mercury News. In October Hitz published a second report which about drug running by Nicaraguan Contras. That first report was filled with damaging admissions.
First, Hitz released an October 22, 1982 cable from the CIA’s directorate of operations, describing a prospective meeting between Contra leaders in Costa Rica for “an exchange in (the United States) of narcotics for arms.” However, the CIA’s director of operations instructed the agency’s field office not to look into this imminent arms-for-drugs transaction “in light of the apparent involvement of U.S. persons throughout.” This meant that the CIA knew that Contra leaders were scheduling a drugs-for-arms exchange and the agency was prepared to let the deal proceed.
Second, Hitz also released information which indicated that in 1984 the CIA acted with the Justice Department to seek the return from police of $36,800 in cash that had been confiscated from a San Francisco Bay Area Nicaraguan drug-smuggling gang whose leader was a prominent Contra fund-raiser. The money had been taken during what was at the time the largest seizure of cocaine in the history of California. Hitz said that the agency took action to have the money returned “to protect an operational equity; that is, a Contra support group in which it (the CIA) had an operational interest.” Hitz released cables which showed that as early as the summer of 1981, the agency knew that the Contra leadership “had decided to engage in drug trafficking to the United States to raise funds for its activities.” This Contra leader was Enrique Bermudez who told Contra fund-raisers and drug traffickers Meneses and Blandon that they should raise revenue in this manner.
The CIA remained silent on the issue of narcotics, since the agency knew that it could not expose drug traffickers. Hitz pointed out that the CIA should have reported Contra plans to run drugs to the Justice Department and other agencies. Nonetheless, the CIA kept quiet, and in 1982 got a waiver from the Justice Department giving a legal basis for its inaction. Hitz said that “several dozen” Contra leaders were involved in drug trafficking, along with another two dozen involved in Contra supply missions and fund-raising. He confirmed that the CIA knew that Ilopongo Air Force Base in El Salvador was an arms-for drugs Contra transshipment point, and he disclosed a memo in which a CIA officer orders the DEA “not to make any inquiries to anyone re: Hanger (sic) No. 4 at Ilopongo.”
In March 1998, Hitz conceded that the CIA had maintained relationships with companies and individuals that the agency knew to be involved in the drug business. Even more astonishingly, Hitz revealed that back in 1982 the CIA had requested and received clearance from Reagan’s Justice Department not to report any knowledge it might have of drug-dealing by CIA assets. These two admissions by Hitz contradicted many years’ worth of CIA denials, much of it under oath to Congress.
In July 1998, the CIA inspector general did acknowledge that the Contras did have ties to drug trafficking and that he did cover it up. The agency indicated that approximately 50 members of the Contras were involved in narcotics and that the agency continued to work with about two dozen of them. However, the CIA stated that none of the suspected drug traffickers were in the top leadership of the FDN and that no CIA agents aided or abetted narcotics trade.
While Hitz did acknowledge that from the very beginning of the contra war that the CIA knew that their mercenaries planned to traffic in cocaine into the United States, the CIA stood by and did nothing to stop the movement. Then when other government agencies began to probe, the CIA impeded their investigations. When Contra money-raisers were arrested, the agency came to their aid and retrieved their drug money from the police. Still Hitz failed to address the question as to whether the CIA was complicit in bringing crack cocaine into Los Angeles and other cities in the United States. Congresswoman Waters, who demanded the inquest, said that she was not satisfied. “There are undeniable connections between the drug dealers and the Contras that raise questions still.”
THE CLINTON CONNECTION: DRUG TRAFFICKING IN MENA, ARKANSAS
BARRY SEAL. One of the most infamous CIA drug traffickers from Latin America to the United States was Barry Seal, a five-foot-six 300 pound Vietnam veteran. Once he acquired links with the Medellin cartel in the 1970s, Seal acquired a small fleet of planes and hired pilots and mechanics and opened up shop in New Orleans. Seal boasted that he was the cartel’s principal link to the cocaine markets in Arkansas and the southeastern United States. By the time he was killed in 1986, Seal had netted between $3 billion to $5 billion in drug money.
At the same time Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, Seal moved his operations to Mena where he was hired by the CIA to fly weapons south to the Contras. The area around Mena was also used to train CIA pilots and troops to fight the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. This activity continued from the beginning of the Contra war in 1981 to 1986 when the Iran-Contra scandal was exposed. According to the DEA, Mena was one of the international centers for drug trafficking. DEA spokespeople stated that the traffic amounted to thousands of kilos of cocaine and hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits. According to a 1986 letter from the Louisiana attorney general to Attorney General Ed Meese, Seal “smuggled between $3 billion and $5 billion of drugs into the U.S.”
The millions in profits generated by the Seal trafficking in Mena and other resulted in an elaborate practice to launder or disperse the vast amounts of illicit money in Arkansas and elsewhere. Seal’s financial records showed instances of daily deposits of $50,000 or more, and extensive use of an offshore foreign bank in the Caribbean, as well as financial institutions in Arkansas and Florida. According to IRS investigator Duncan, secretaries at the Mena Airport told him that when Seal flew into Mena, “there would be stacks of cash to be taken to the bank and laundered.” One secretary told him that she was ordered to obtain numerous cashier’s checks, each in an amount just under $10,000, at various banks in Mena and surrounding communities, to avoid filing the federal Currency Transaction Reports required for all bank transactions that exceed that limit. In November 1982, a Mena airport employee carried a suitcase containing more than $70,000 into a bank. “The bank officer went down the teller lines handing out the stacks of $1,000 bills and got the cashier’s checks.””
Hundreds of thousands of dollars were laundered from 1981 to 1983 just in a few small banks near Mena, and that millions more from Seal’s operation were laundered elsewhere in Arkansas and the nation. Documents in Seal’s possession at the time of his murder also indicated that he had accounts throughout Central America and was planning to set up his own bank in the Caribbean.
Additionally, Seal’s files suggested a scheme for building an empire. Papers in his office at the time of his death include references to dozens of companies, all of which had names that began with Royale. Among them: Royale Sports, Royale Television Network, Royale Liquors, Royale Casino, S.A., Royale Pharmaceuticals, Royale Arabians, Royale Seafood, Royale Security, and Royale Resorts.
An Arkansas gun manufacturer testified in 1993 in federal court in Fayetteville that the CIA contracted with him to build 250 automatic pistols for the Mena operation. William Holmes testified that he had been introduced to Seal in Mena by a CIA operative, and that he then sold weapons to Seal. Even though he was given a Department of Defense purchase order for guns fitted with silencers, Holmes testified that he was never paid the $140,000 the government owed him. Holmes said, “After the Hasenfus plane was shot down, you couldn’t find a soul around Mena.”
Seal frequently flew into cartel landing strips in the mountains of Venezuela and Colombia; he onloaded cocaine; and returned to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida or to the small Mena airport. From there, the 200 to 500 kilos from each flight were sold to drug dealers who moved them on to the streets of Miami, New Orleans, and New York City.
When Seal was suspected of returning to the United States loaded with cocaine, the DEA backed off. However, in 1983 he was arrested for bringing in 200,000 quaaludes to a Fort Lauderedale airport as a part of Operation Screamer. Seal was indicted and awaiting trial when he offered his services to the DEA. The agency turned him down, and he was sentenced to 10 years in a federal penintentiary. In 1984, Seal called the office of Vice President Bush’s drug task force, and they immediately brought him onboard as an informant for the DEA. Seal’s 10 year sentenced was commuted to six months’ probation.
Upon being released, Seal helped set up a sting operation for the DEA. He called two Medellin cartel operatives in Miami and told them that he was back in the business of importing cocaine. Felix Bates and Carlos “Lito” Bustamante oversaw the distribution of the cartel’s cocaine in the United States. Seal and Bates flew to Colombia where they met with drug lord Jorge Ochoa and planned a series of drug flights to the United States. Seal informed DEA agent Ernst Jacobsen of the plan and was sanctioned for his first sanctioned flight.After leaving Colombia loaded with cocaine, Seal claimed that he was forced to refuel in Nicaragua where he met Pablo Escobar and Fredrico Vaughn. Upon taking off, Seal said that he was hit by Sandinista gun fire and was forced to land at which time the cocaine was seized by Nicaraguan authorities.
The DEA and Seal agreed that they could set up Escobar and Vaughn in order to implicate the Sandinista government in drug trafficking. After other drug flights from Colombia to Homestead Air Force Base, the DEA sent Seal back to Nicaragua with $1.5 million in government money. North hoped that Seal could arrange a drug transaction with Escobar and Vaughn outside Nicaragua so that they could be arrested. The DEA thought that this scenario would persuade government officials to reconsider funding the Contras, but the plan was discarded. By now the CIA and NSC were leaking reports that Seal was a DEA informant, but his arms-for-drugs flights continued for a short time until he finally stopped his undercover work. Seal dropped out of the DEA program and went back to run drugs for his personal profit. However, he still continued to fly weapons for North southward to the Contras. While in Mena, Seal hooked up with Terry Reed in who once had flown for Air America in Southeast Asia.
In December 1984, Seal was arrested while smuggling marijuana into Louisiana. He once again attempted to bargain with federal authorities in order to shorten his sentence. Released on $250,000 bail, he testified in three major drug cases which brought convictions. For his part Seal was sentenced to six months in a halfway house in Baton Rouge. In July 1985, Seal met Michael Tolliver, a convicted American drug smuggler who was also at the halfway house. Tolliver said that Seal received $75,000 a trip for flying Contra weapons from Miami’s airport into Honduras. According to Tolliver, on one occasion Seal had 28,000 pounds of marijuana when he arrived at Homestead Air Base in Florida. Upon returning from Central America, he was paid $75,000.
Seal also flew the same C-123 cargo plane which was later flown on a contra mission over Nicaragua in a CIA operation when it was shot down, and Eugene Hasenfus parachuted to safety. FAA records show that Fat Lady, serial number 54-0679, was sold by Seal months before his death. According to other files, the plane was sold to CIA operant Harold Doan. In October 1986, it was shot down over Nicaraguan air space, and CIA operant Eugene Hasenfus survived by parachuting to safety, but the pilot, William Cooper, was killed. In his possession was a diary which included the private telephone number of Vice President Bush. Other aircraft in Seal’s smuggling fleet included a Lear jet, helicopters, and former American military transports which were also outfitted with avionics and other equipment by yet another company in turn linked to Air America.
WHAT DID GOVERNOR CLINTON KNOW? Cooper worked with Reed they both flew for Air America in Southeast Asia. In Reed’s book, Compromised: Clinton, Bush, and the C.I.A., he described a number of covert activities around Mena, including a CIA operation to train pilots and troops for the Nicaraguan Contras, and the collusion of local officials. Reed brought a lawsuit against United States senators who allegedly attempted to block investigations into money laundering at Mena. Witnesses, such as Russell Welch, Arkansas State Police investigator, and they were harassed and intimidated. In addition Reed was supported by Internal Revenue Service agent Bill Duncan, Arkansas Attorney General J. Winston Bryant, Congressman Bill Alexander, and various other local law-enforcement officials and citizens. They were all convinced that there was “credible evidence” which linked Mena to drug trafficking between 1981 and 1986. They also believed that the crimes were committed with the acquiescence of the American government.
During the 1992 campaign, outside advisers and aides urged former California Governor Jerry Brown to raise the Mena issue against Clinton — to ask why he had not done more about such serious international crime in his home state. Yet Brown also backed away from the subject.
The evidence was not pursued by United States attorney J. Michael Fitzhugh, the IRS, Arkansas State Police, and other agencies. Duncan testified before the joint investigation by the Arkansas state attorney general’s office and the United States Congress in June 1991 and said that 29 federal indictments drafted in a Mena-based money-laundering scheme had gone unexplored. Fitzhugh, responding at the time to Duncan’s charges, said, “This office has not slowed up any investigation and has never been under any pressure in any investigation.” Duncan said the IRS “withdrew support for the operations” and further directed him to “withhold information from Congress and perjure myself.” Duncan later testified that he had never before experienced “anything remotely akin to this type of interference. Alarms were going off and as soon as Mr. Fitzhugh got involved, he was more aggressive in not allowing the subpoenas and in interfering in the investigative process.”
State policeman Russell Welch felt he was the most knowledgeable person regarding the activities at Mena. Yet he was not initially subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. Welch testified later that the only reason he was ultimately subpoenaed at all was because one of the grand jurors was from Mena and “told the others that if they wanted to know something about the Mena airport, they ought to ask Welch.”
In March 199,5 Arkansas state trooper Larry Patterson testified under oath that he and other officers “discussed repeatedly in Clinton’s presence” the “large quantities of drugs being flown into the Mena airport, large quantities of money, large quantities of guns,” indicating that Clinton may have known much more about Seal’s activities than he has admitted. In addition state trooper Bobby Walker and several CIA employees have stated that they saw Governor Clinton at the Mena airport on various occasions.
Officials repeatedly invoked national security to quash most of the investigations. Court documents showed that the CIA and DEA employed Seal during 1984 and 1985 during Reagan’s attempt to implicate the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime in cocaine trafficking. According to a December 1988 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, the cases were dropped. The apparent reason was that the prosecution might have revealed national-security information, even though all of the crimes which were the focus of the investigation occurred before Seal became a federal informant.
With hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money flowing into Arkansas, it would be difficult to imagine that Governor Clinton knew nothing about the Mena operations. Eyewitnesses have attested that Clinton was aware of drug trafficking. State trooper L. D. Brown wanted to work for the CIA as part of the Mena operations. However, after he heard of the drug trafficking, he approached Clinton and said “that’s Lasater’s deal; that’s Lasater’s deal.” Dan Lasater was an Arkansas millionaire who contributed large amounts of money to Clinton’s gubernatorial campaigns, and he was also a convicted drug dealer.
In 1985, Clinton created Arkansas’ Development Finance Authority, and the agency made its first industrial loan to Park on Meter, Incorporated (POM). Convicted drug dealer Michael Risconosciuto, a former contract employee for the CIA, claimed that POM was under a secret contract to manufacture chemical and biological weapons as well as components for C-130 transport planes for use by the Contras. Risconosciuto supervised the shipment of high tech equipment such as infrared gun scopes and vision goggles in Mena between 1980 and 1989. He said that Mena was the main drop-off point for cocaine shipments which he witnessed on numerous occasions. He maintained that bags of drugs would be thrown to the grown from low flying planes and that helicopters or trucks would then transport them to loading areas and then transported distribution points.
In the fall of 1995, several committees in the House of Representatives considered holding hearings on Mena and started interviewing witnesses and asking if they would be willing to testify in public hearings. Even special prosecutor Kenneth Starr expanded his Whitewater investigation from Little Rock to Mena. However, neither the House nor Starr followed up on their inquiries into Mena.
“UN-INVESTIGATING” THE CIA’S ROLE IN DRUG TRAFFICKING
UNITED STATES V. MACHAIN. In the 1992 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Machain, American law enforcement officers were allowed to enter the countries of sovereign nations without their permission. They may abduct violators of United States drug laws against their will and return them to the United States to stand trial. Iran immediately claimed that they had the right to do the same in the United States.
As a result of an investigation by the Costa Rican Congressional Committee on Narcotics, numerous Americans supported Contra factions which were involved in drug trafficking on Costa Rican territory. This included North, Secord, Tambs, and Poindexter. The irony is that thousands of tons of cocaine were destined for the United States.
North testified under oath that he lobbied to obtain the release of Honduran army General Jose Bueso-Rosa from prison after he was arrested for smuggling 763 pounds of cocaine as well as for murder. Bueso-Rosa’s partner was international arms dealer Felix Latchinian who was also a business partner of CIA agent Felix Rodriquez, in charge of the Contra supply network in El Salvador. North lied to Congress when he claimed that Bueso-Rosa had been arrested for “political reasons.”
THE DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCY (DEA). Senior DEA agent Celerino Castillo reported drug trafficking out of Ilopango airbase in San Salvador between 1985 and 1991. He testified that he saw several packages of narcotics which were about to be flown from Ilopango to Panama. In addition, he asserted that several boxes of American currency was flown into the airbase. Castillo reported that hanger four was owned and operated by the CIA. He also contended that North’s people and the CIA were at the two hangars at all times.
In a 1989 memo to North’s aide Robert Owen, Castillo wrote that the El Salvador embassy was giving visas to these people even though they were documented in government computers as being narcotics traffickers.
Rodriguez maintained close ties with Bush and upper level CIA officials. In December 1985, Rodriguez attended the Christmas party at Bush’s White House office, and was introduced to the staff as old friend of Gregg and Bush. Weeks later Rodriguez met in Bush’s office with Colonel Sam Watson, Gregg’s deputy in El Salvador, and Steele to discuss counter-insurgency. Four months later Rodriguez again met with Gregg and Bush as well as with North in Bush’s office. In August 1986 Rodriguez met with Bush and Gregg to complain about the quality of arms shipments from Secord’s arms supply operation. Later that same month Gregg met with Fiers, the Central American Task Force chief, to support the purchase of military equipment from Rodriguez rather than Secord. Gregg advised Fiers not to purchase any planes from Secord.
Wally Grasheim was also tagged by Castillo as being involved in drug trafficking. In seven DEA files Castillo wrote that he was “documented” cocaine and arms smuggler who transported illicit material from South America to the United States via Ilopango airport. In his layovers at Ilopango, he utilized hangars four and five. Grasheim was also known to carry DEA, FBI, and CIA credentials so that he would not be suspected of carrying cocaine. Castillo stated that Grasheim worked “hand-in-hand with Colonel Oliver North.” When the DEA raided Grasheim’s house, they found explosives, weapons, and radio equipment.
In 1986, Castillo attempted to report what he had discovered, hoping to launch a full scale investigation and shut down the smuggling operation. On several occasions he met with Edwin Corr, the American ambassador to El Salvador, to tell him about the operation. Corr stated that Castillo ran a covert White House operation which was overseen by North and that he should stay out of that operation.
Castillo even managed to give the information he had gathered directly to Vice President Bush. In January 1986, Castillo met the Bush at a cocktail party at the ambassador’s house in Guatemala City. After describing his job to Bush, Castillo stated that the vice president merely shook his hand and he walked away.
Castillo was then ordered by he Pentagon to terminate his investigation of Grasheim. When Castillo continued to pursue the North investigation, he was suspended for three days in 1990. In 1991, he was transferred to San Francisco where he worked undercover, investigating the Hell’s Angels in Oakland. In June 1992, after further conflicts, Castillo resigned from the DEA. Before stepping down, Castillo attempted to give the government more information which he had gathered on North. He secretly met with FBI agent Mike Foster, who was assigned to special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
Chief of the CIA Central American Task Force, Fiers stated in a sworn deposition to the Iran-Contra committees that he knew that Pastora was involved in cocaine trafficking. He also said that many members of Fiers’ staff and his friends were also involved in drug smuggling.
RESULTS OF THE KERRY REPORT
After the Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986, the Senate’s Kerry Committee convened in April 1986. Its primary focus was on the illegal transportation of weapons to the Contras. Yet mounting evidence began to surface that the CIA was also involved in narcotics trafficking, originating with Colombian cartels. An immense amount of evidence indicated that high level Contra leaders as well as CIA operatives were involved in drug trafficking. As it turned out, the United States government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring or immediately afterwards. Government attorneys attempted to prevent drug trafficker George Morales from testifying. The DOJ offered him a lighter sentence if he would not divulge his ties to the Contras.
In a 1,166 page report the Kerry committee concluded that Contra members, pilots, and business people were involved in drug trafficking. The report said that drug dealers contributed cash, weapons, planes, pilots, air supply services and other materials to the Contras. Also, the Contras moved their funds through a narcotics drug trafficking and money laundering operation. Many of the drug dealers were informed that their actions were either on behalf of, or sanctioned by, the United States government.
The committee also stated that “the (United States) military and intelligence agencies running the contra war turned a blind eye to the trafficking.” United States officials involved in Central America failed to address the drug issue for fear of jeopardizing the war effort against Nicaragua. In addition, the report stated that the State Department paid over $806,000 to known traffickers to carry humanitarian supplies to the Contras. including pilots who flew supplies for the Contras, mercenaries who worked for the Contras and Contra supporters throughout Central America.
However, the Kerry committee refused to address the issue of widespread drug trafficking through the war zones of northern Costa Rica. They did not find a single case which was made on the basis of a tip or report by an official of an American intelligence agency . This was despite the fact that an executive order required intelligence agencies to report drug trafficking to law enforcement officials and despite direct testimony that drug trafficking on the Southern Front was reported to CIA officials. American officials involved with the Contras knew that drug traffickers were using the Contra infrastructure and that the Contras were receiving assistance from drug profits. None of this was reported to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
THE FAILURE OF THE “WAR ON DRUGS.” Cocaine shipments from Latin America into the United States increased during the Contra War in the 1980s. But American authorities badly underestimated the flow of cocaine out of drug-producing countries over the last two decades of the twentieth century. When a new variety of coca in Colombia was discovered in the 1990s, the American government tripled its estimate of cocaine production in Colombia alone. By the late 1990s, the United States was spending $17.8 billion annually for its “war on drugs.”
These higher estimates conflicted with numbers which General Barry McCaffrey, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, had released to the public. McCaffery claimed that the flow of cocaine into the United States would drop by 25 percent in 2002 and by 50 percent in 2007. For years, American officials said that most of the coca grown in Colombia was of a variety, ipadu, whose leaves yield relatively small amounts of cocaine. A higher-yield variety, E. coca coca, has been grown in Peru and Bolivia and then shipped to Colombia for processing and export. Thus, when satellite photos in mid-1999 showed acre upon acre of new fields of coca in Colombia, American intelligence officials assumed that they were growing the same low-yield coca plants — approximately 165 metric tons annually — which they had always cultivated. By the end of 1999, American officials determined that a third of the new variety of coca which yielded higher amounts of cocaine took just one year — rather than three years — to cultivate.
This higher estimate of cocaine shipments into the United States, along with the increase of border confiscations of the designer drug Ecstasy, indicated that American laws and anti-drug strategies were failing. The confiscations of Ecstasy at the American border soared by 700 percent in 1999, according to Customs Service figures.
These higher figures of drug flow into the United States came at a time when federal authorities began using technological means of tracking the flow of drugs northward from Latin America. American authorities increased the use of satellite photos to track the shipment of illicit drugs. Yet it became obvious in October 1999 that law enforcement was failing when American and Colombian authorities broke up a major Latin American cocaine ring. It was discovered that “Juvenal” network was exporting approximately 30 metric tons of cocaine a month to the United States. That amounted to more cocaine than that of all other cartels combined. An American official said, “There was just amazement that one organization would have the ability to distribute that much cocaine a month. The whole Juvenal thing really just illustrates why we have to get our act together in terms of reconciling these numbers.”
Some American government officials believed that the Latin American cartels were not only stepping up shipments to the United States but they were increasing their exports to Europe or stockpiling large supplies of the drug. Anti-government rebels gained access to an increasing amount of the narcotics trade by the end of the century, thus allowing for the cultivation and movement of higher quantities of cocaine. The rebels also made it more difficult for American authorities to access key drug-growing regions.
United States authorities continued to believe that the best way to fight drugs was to pour more money into law enforcement agencies. More funds were allocated to the DEA, the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and other agencies. Not only did this not reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, but at times it became counter-productive. In one case, border agents at Los Angeles International Airport in the late 1980s did not realize that suspected traffickers were actually undercover DEA agents. The federal officers ended up drawing their weapons on one another. In other instances, United States Customs Service officials said that overseas analysts failed to let their border agents know what they were hearing about traffickers using shipments of fruit from Mexico or trees from Peru as a front to bring cocaine across the border.