. 30
( 42 .)


the time of day, just where he would be. They have picked him up. It is one of our
greatest coups."5

After Mandela's release, the White House was asked if Bush would apologize to the
South African for the reported US involvement in his arrest at an upcoming meeting
between the two men. In this situation, a categorical denial by the White House of any
American involvement in the arrest would have been de rigueur. However, spokesman
Marlin Fitzwater replied: "This happened during the Kennedy administration...don't beat
me up for what the Kennedy people did."6

The CIA stated: "Our policy is not to comment on such allega-tions." This is what the
Agency says when it feels that it has nothing to gain by issuing a statement. On a number
of other occasions, because it thought that it would serve their purpose, the CIA has
indeed commented on all kinds of allegations.

While Mandela's youth and health ebbed slowly away behind prison walls, Donald
Rickard retired to live in comfort and freedom in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. He resides
there still today.

CHAPTER 24 : The CIA and Drugs: Just Say "Why Not?"

In my 30-year history in the Drug Enforcement Administration and related agencies, the
major targets of my investigations almost invariably turned out to be working for the

Dennis Dayle, former chief of an elite DEA enforcement unit 1

1947 to 1951, France

Corsican and Mafia criminal syndicates in Marseilles, Sicily and Corsica”benefiting
from CIA arms, money and psychological warfare”suppressed strikes and wrestled
control of labor unions from the Communist Party. In return, the CIA smoothed the way
for the gangsters to be left unmolested, and unindicted, and to reestablish the heroin
racket that had been restrained during the war”the famous "French Connection" that was
to dominate the drug trade for more than two decades and was responsible for most of the
heroin entering the United States.2

1950s to early 1970s, Southeast Asia

The Nationalist Chinese army, defeated by the communists in 1949 and forced into exile,
became part of an army formed by the CIA in Burma to wage war against Communist
China. The Agency closed its eyes to the fact that their new clients were becoming the
opium barons of the Golden Triangle (parts of Burma, Thailand and Laos), the world's
largest source of opium and heroin. Air America, the CIAs principal airline proprietary,
flew the drugs all over Southeast Asia, to sites where the opium was processed into
heroin, and to trans-shipment points on the route to Western customers.3

During the US military involvement in Vietnam and Laos, the CIA worked closely with
certain tribal peoples and warlords engaged in opium cultivation. In exchange for tactical
or intelligence support from these elements, the Agency protected their drug operations.
Air America pilots were again engaged in flying opium and heroin throughout the area to
serve the personal and entrepreneurial needs of the CIAs various military and political
allies, at times lining their own pockets as well; on occasion, the proceeds also helped
finance CIA covert actions off budget; ultimately, the enterprise turned many GIs in
Vietnam into heroin addicts.

The operation was not a paragon of discretion. Heroin was refined in a laboratory located
on the site of CIA headquarters in northern Laos. After two decades of American military
intervention, Southeast Asia had become the source of 70 percent of the world's illicit
opium and the major supplier for America's booming heroin market.4

1973-80, Australia

The Nugan Hand Bank of Sydney had close, if not to say intimate, ties to the CIA.
Among the bank's officers were a network of US generals, admirals and former (or
"former") CIA men, including William Colby, recently the Agency's director, who was
one of the bank's lawyers. Bank Co-founder Michael Hand had been a Green Beret and
CIA contract agent in Laos, working with Air America. Many of the depositors whose
money first helped the bank get started were Air America employees.

The bank rapidly expanded, with branches in Saudi Arabia, Europe, Southeast Asia,
South America and the US. It became one of the banks of choice for international drug
traffickers (whom Nugan Hand actively solicited), money launderers, arms dealers and
the CIA (which used the bank for its payouts for covert operations). In 1980, amidst
several mysterious deaths, the bank collapsed, $50 million in debt.5

1970s and 1980s, Panama

For more than a decade, Panamanian strongman General Manuel Noriega was a highly
paid CIA asset and collaborator, despite knowledge by US drug authorities as early as
1971 that the general was heavily involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
Noriega facilitated "guns-for-drugs" flights for the Nicaraguan Contras, provid-ing
protection and pilots; safe havens for drug cartel officials; and discreet banking facilities
for all. Yet, US officials, including CIA Director William Webster and several Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers, sent Noriega letters of praise for his efforts
to thwart drug trafficking (albeit only against competitors of his Medellin Cartel patrons).
William Casey, who became CIA Director in 1981, declared that he didn't denounce
Noriega for his relationship with drug traffickers because the Panamanian "was providing
valuable support for our policies in Central America, especially Nicaragua".6

When a confluence of circumstances led to Noriega falling into political disfavor with
Washington, the Bush administration was reluctantly obliged to turn against him. In
1989, the US invaded Panama, kidnapped and imprisoned the general, and falsely
ascribed the invasion to the war on drugs whereas several foreign-policy imperatives
actually lay behind the operation. Drug trafficking through Panama continued unabated
under the new US-installed government.7 Had Noriega become addicted to communism
rather than drug money, the Marines would have landed in Panama City long before.

As further indication of how US officials are in actuality relatively undisturbed about
drug trafficking as such”in stark contrast to their public pose”consider the case of the
former Panamanian ambassador-at-large in Washington, Ricardo Bilonick. He helped
smuggle nearly 40,000 pounds of Colombian cocaine into the US in the early 1980s, but
because he could serve a "higher" political purpose by turning state's witness against
Noriega, he got off with a three-year sentence, compared to Noriega's 40 years. At his
trial, Bilonick received letters of reference from former president Jimmy Carter, former
Under-Secretary-of-State William D. Rogers, and a former US ambassador to Panama.8
There are thousands of men and women languishing in American prisons, charged with
cocaine offenses, who”in TOTAL”did not traffic in as much cocaine as Bilonick did.

1980s, Central America

Washington's philosophy was consistent: let 'em traffic in drugs, let 'em murder, rape and
torture, let 'em burn down schools and medical clinics...as long as they carry out our
wars, they're our boys, our good ol' boys.

Obsessed with overthrowing the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Reagan
administration officials tolerated and abetted drug trafficking as long as the traffickers
gave support to the Contras. In 1989, the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics
and International Operations (the Kerry Committee) concluded a three-year investigation
by stating:

There was substantial evidence of drug smuggling through the war zones on the part of
individual Contras, Contra suppliers, Contra pilots, mercenaries who worked with die
Contras, and Contra supporters throughout the region.. .U.S. officials involved in Central
America failed to address the drug issue for fear of jeopardizing the war efforts against
Nicaragua...In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information
regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately
thereafter...Senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was
a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems.9

In Costa Rica, which served as the "Southern Front" for the Contras (Honduras being the
Northern Front), there were several different CIA-Contra networks involved in drug
trafficking, including that of CIA asset John Hull, an American whose farms along Costa
Rica's border with Nicaragua were the main staging area for the Contras. Hull and other
CIA-connected Contra supporters and pilots teamed up with George Morales, a major
Miami-based Colombian drug trafficker who later admitted to giving more than $4
million in cash to the Contras. Morales' planes were loaded with weapons in Florida,
flown to Central America and then brought back with cocaine on board.10

In 1989, after the Costa Rica government indicted Hull for drug trafficking, a DBA-hired
plane clandestinely and illegally flew him to Miami. The US repeatedly thwarted Costa
Rican efforts to extradite Hull back to Costa Rica to stand trial. Another Costa Rican-
based drug ring involved anti-Castro Cubans whom the CIA had hired as military trainers
for the Contras. Many of the Cubans had long been involved with the CIA and drug
trafficking. They used Contra planes and a Costa Rican-based shrimp company, which
laundered money for the CIA, to move cocaine to the United States.11

In Honduras, in exchange for allowing the US to convert the country into a grand military
base, the CIA and DEA turned a virtually blind eye to the extensive drug trafficking of
Honduran military officers, government officials and others. The CIA itself enlisted Alan
Hyde, a leading Honduran trafficker”the "godfather of all criminal activities," according
to US government reports”to use his boats to transport Contra supplies. In exchange, the
Agency discouraged counter-narcotics efforts against Hyde. A CIA cable stated that
Hyde's "connection to [CIA] is well documented and could prove difficult in the
prosecution stage."12

There were other way stations along the cocaine highway, such as the Guatemalan
military intelligence service, closely associated with the CIA, and which harbored many
drug traffickers, and Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador, a key component of the US
military intervention against the country's guerrillas. Former DEA officer Celerino
Castillo, stationed in El Salvador, has written of how Contra planes flew north loaded
with cocaine, landed with impunity in various spots in the United States, including an Air
Force base in Texas, then returned laden with cash to finance the war. "All under the
protective umbrella of the United States Government."

The operation at Ilopango was run by Felix Rodriguez (aka Max Gomez), who reported
to Vice President George Bush (President Reagan's "drug czar") and to Oliver North of
Reagan's National Security Council staff, where North oversaw Contra operations.
(Reagan, after all, had hailed the Contras as the "moral equivalent of our Founding
Fathers.") An entry from North's diary, August 9, 1985, reads: "Honduran DC-6 which is
being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into U.S."

The CIA owned one of Ilopango's airport hangers, and the National Security Council ran
another. When Castillo informed DEA headquarters of the details on cocaine flights from
El Salvador to the US, his employer effectively ignored the reports; eventually, Castillo
was forced out of the agency.13
When some authority in the US wasn't clued in about one of the arriving drug flights, and
made an arrest, powerful strings were pulled on behalf of dropping the case, acquittal,
reduced sentence or deportation. Reportedly, a US Customs agent was reassigned from
his Texas post back to Washington because he was investigating Contra drug deals too
vigorously. There is also the case of Honduran general Jose Bueso Rosa, who was
convicted of conspiring to murder the president of Honduras, the plot being financed by a
huge cocaine deal. Senior Reagan administration officials intervened with a Federal judge
to obtain leniency for Bueso to honor his services to the Contras. He received five years,
while other defendants were sentenced to as much as 40 years.14

The connections were everywhere: Four companies that distrib-uted "humanitarian" aid
to the Contras but were "owned and operated by narcotics traffickers", and under
investigation in the United States for drug trafficking, received State Department
contracts of more than $800,000.15 Southern Air Transport, "formerly" CIA-owned, and
later under Pentagon contract, was deeply involved in the drug running as well.16

A former US Attorney in Miami told the Kerry Committee that Justice Department
officials told him that representatives of their department, the DEA and the FBI met in
1986 "to discuss how Senator Kerry's efforts" to push for the hearings "could be

To make it easier for the CIA to ignore, while benefiting from, the drug trafficking all
about them, in 1982 Agency Director William Casey negotiated an extraordinary secret
"memo of understanding" with Attorney General William French Smith to spare the CIA
from any legal responsibility to report drug trafficking operations of anyone working for
it.18 This agreement was not fully rescinded until 1995.

1990s, South America

Venezuelan General Ramon Guillen Davila was indicted by a federal grand jury in
Miami in 1996 for smuggling as much as 22 tons of cocaine into the United States
between 1987 and 1991. At the time he was engaged in this activity, Guillen was the head
of the Venezuelan National Guard anti-drug bureau and was what the Miami Herald
called "the CIA's most trusted man in Venezuela". The CIA, over the objections of the
DEA, had approved the "controlled" shipments of cocaine to the United States as some
kind of vague operation to gather information about the Colombian drug cartels. It has
not been reported what kind of success this operation had, but at least on one occasion, in
1990, a ton of Guillen's cocaine made it to the streets of America. The CIA actually
acknowledged this one, categorizing it as "poor judgment and management on the part of
several CIA officers".19

See the "Interventions" chapter for discussion of how Washington ignored much of the
drug trafficking of government and military personnel in Peru, Colombia and Mexico in
the 1990s because of the anti-leftist campaigns being waged by these regimes with US
1980s to early 1990s, Afghanistan

CIA-supported Moujahedeen rebels engaged heavily in opium culti-vation while fighting
against the Soviet-supported government. The Agency's political protection and logistical
assistance enabled the growers to markedly increase their output. CIA-supplied trucks
and mules, which had carried arms into Afghanistan, were used to transport opium to
heroin laboratories along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The output is estimated to have
provided up to one half of the heroin used annually in the United States and three-
quarters of that used in Western Europe. US officials admitted in 1990 that they had
failed to investigate or take action against the drug operation because of a desire not to
offend their Pakistani and Afghan allies.20 As in earlier drug-related actions, CIA
officers may also have gotten their hands on a portion of the drug money, using it to help
finance their operations, or even themselves. In 1993, an official of the DEA called
Afghanistan the new Colombia of the drug world.21

1986 to 1994, Haiti

While working to keep right-wing Haitian military and political leaders in power, the
CIA looked away from their drug trafficking.

Joseph Michel Francois, no. 3 man in the military government of 1991-1994, was
regularly briefed by the DEA, which shared intelligence with him on suspected drug
smuggling operations in Haiti, this while Francois was himself a leading drug lord,
working with the Colombian Medellin cartel. Francois was part of a new organization,
the National Intelligence Service (SIN), created by the CIA in 1986, purportedly to fight
the cocaine trade, though SIN officers, Francois and others, themselves engaged in the

1980s, the United States and the Cocaine Import Agency

In addition to the cases cited above of drug'laden planes landing in the US unmolested by
authorities, there is the striking case of Oscar Danilo Blandon and Juan Norwin Meneses,
two Nicaraguans living in California. To support the Contras (particularly during a period
in which Congress banned funding for them), as well as enriching themselves, the two
men turned to smuggling cocaine into the US under CIA protection. This led to the
distribution of large quantities of cocaine into Los Angeles' inner city at a time when drug
users and dealers were trying to make the costly white powder more affordable by
changing it into powerful little nuggets of "crack." The Nicaraguans funneled a portion of
their drug profits to the Contra cause while helping to fuel a disastrous crack explosion in
Los Angeles and other cities, and enabling the gangs to buy automatic weapons,
sometimes from Blandon himself.


. 30
( 42 .)