Your Government Dealing Drugs
Drugs Funding Reagan's War in Nicaragua
After the CIA’s involvement with the Southeast Asian drug trade had been partly disclosed in the mid-1970s, and the U.S. left Vietnam to its fate, the Agency started distancing itself from its “assets.” But that only left the door open to go elsewhere. Which the Reagan Administration did big-time, to fund its secret war in Nicaragua. The 1979 Sandinista revolution that overthrew Anastasio Somoza, one of our favorite Latin dictators, was not looked upon fondly by Ronnie and his friends. He called the counterrevolutionary Contras “freedom fighters,” and compared them to America’s founding fathers. In his attempt to get Congress to approve aid for the Contras, Reagan accused the Sandinista government of drug trafficking. Of course, Nancy Reagan had launched her “Just say no” campaign at the time, but I guess she hadn’t given the word to her husband. After his administration tried to mine the Nicaraguan harbors and got a hand slap from Congress, it turned to secretly selling missiles to Iran and using the payments—along with profits from running drugs—to keep right on funding the Contras. Fifty thousand lost lives later, the World Court would order the U.S. to “cease and to refrain” from unlawful use of force against Nicaragua and pay reparations. (We refused to comply.)
The fact is, with most of the cocaine that flooded the country in the 80s, almost every major drug network was using the Contra operation in some fashion. Colombia’s Medellin cartel began quietly collaborating with the Contras soon after Reagan took office. Then, in 1982, CIA Director Casey negotiated a little Memorandum of Understanding with the attorney general, William French Smith. Basically what this did was give the CIA legal clearance to work with known drug traffickers without being required to report it, so long as they weren’t official employees but only “assets.” This didn’t come out until 1998, when CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz issued a report that implicated more than 50 Contra and related entities in the drug trade. And the CIA knew all about it. The trafficking and money laundering tracked right into the National Security Council, where Oliver North was overseeing the Contras’ war.
Here’s what was going on behind the scenes: In the mid-1980s, North got together with four companies that were owned and operated by drug dealers, and arranged payments from the State Department for shipping supplies to the Contras. Michael Levine, an undercover agent for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), later said that “running a covert operation in collaboration with a drug cartel . . . [is] what I call treason.” The top DEA agent in El Salvador, Celerino Castillo III, said he saw “very large quantities of cocaine and millions of dollars” being run out of hangars at Ilopango air base, which was controlled by North and CIA operative Felix Rodriguez (he’d been placed in El Salvador by Vice President Bush’s office, as a direct overseer of North’s operations). The cocaine was being transshipped from Costa Rica through El Salvador and on into the U.S. But when Castillo tried to raise this with his superiors, he ran into nothing but obstacles.