Conspiracy buffs couldn't have concocted a more compelling story. All the elements are there: big-time drug smuggling, shadowy underworld figures, inner-city gangs, Nicaraguan contras, and even the CIA; the stuff of paranoid fantasies. Problem is, all of it may be true.
This August the San Jose Mercury News published a shocking three-part investigative report that implied CIA involvement throughout the 1980s in distributing crack cocaine through inner-city gangs in Los Angeles and elsewhere to help finance the contra war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
CIA director John Deutch has denied any agency role, but by early fall the clamor for an independent investigation of the charges was growing. Calls for inquiry were issued by the LA City Council, California Sens. Boxer and Feinstein, the Congressional Black Caucus, and even the nation's "drug czar," retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey. A U.S. district judge in September required prosecutors in a related case to provide proof that the CIA never "participated in or condoned" drug dealings by Nicaraguan rebels.
Some of the key facts are indisputable. It's now on public record, of course, that the CIA was indeed running the contra war, particularly after then-President Ronald Reagan's secret order on December 1, 1981, that permitted the agency to spend $19.9 million to begin covert paramilitary operations against the Sandinistas.
More recently revealed is the fact that key contra figures peddled Colombian cocaine in U.S. cities to help fund their war efforts. The only question: Did these international pushers run this billion-dollar operation without the knowledge or assistance of their U.S. overseers? The evidence revealed by the Mercury News series strongly suggests otherwise.