Mar 1 1988

Media Censor CIA Ties With Medellin Drug Cartel

A key money-launderer for the Medellin cocaine cartel told Congress in February that he worked with the Central Intelligence Agency, but this information was not reported by the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the three major networks, even though all covered the hearings.

In testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Narcotics, Terrorism and International Operations, Ramon Milian Rodriguez acknowledged that he laundered more than $3 million for the CIA after his indictment on drug charges in 1983. New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino failed to mention this in her coverage of Rodriguez’s testimony, which was broadcast live on CNN (2/11/88).

Sciolino’s page 6 article (“Accountant Says Noriega Laundered Billions,” 2-12-88) did not contain the letters CIA or the words “Central Intelligence Agency,” even though Rodriguez had described his participation in CIA anti-Castro operations. He said he was trained in money laundering by men whose names he never learned, and later he delivered cash to the families of Watergate burglars. This did not interest The Times, which focused primarily on Rodriguez’s account of Noriega’s dealings with the Medellin cartel.

As chief accountant for the Colombian drug cartel, Rodriguez laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in cocaine profits through US banks in Panama. Although Sciolino noted that the cartel had $11 billion in assets in the US in 1983, she did not mention Rodriguez’s testimony about meeting secretly with people who worked for US banks but were not on the official employment roll. Rodriguez named Citicorp and the Bank of America as two banks he dealt with this way.

Buried in the middle of Sciolino’s article was Rodriguez’s admission that he transferred money to the Nicaraguan contras through a Costa Rican “shrimp processing” Warehouse. This company was among the hundreds of dummy corporations Rodriguez claimed he set up to funnel the cartel’s cocaine profits. But The Times and most other media (the Boston Globe is an exception) neglected to mention that Rodriguez’s shrimp processing firm, Frigorificos de Puntarenas, received $237,000 from the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Organization (NHAO). During the hearings Senator John Kerry (D-MA) noted the company’s receipt of NHAO funds. NHAO was supposed to deliver $27 million in so-called humanitarian assistance to the contras in 1985, but a subsequent congressional audit could not account for $17 million of the money. (Sciolino did not return five phone calls from Extra!)

While the contra drug link was tucked away on page 6, the same edition of The Times featured a front page above-the-fold article by James LeMoyne (“Military Officers in Honduras are Linked to the Drug Trade,” 2-12-88) which quoted unnamed “American officials” claiming that the Medellin drug cartel “has close ties with Fidel Castro . . . and to some Sandinista officials in Nicaragua.” No evidence to support this allegation was provided by LeMoyne who wrote: “American officials said they fear that Honduran Army officers profiting from drugs might be willing to make a deal to end or limit Honduran support for the American-backed contras in Nicaragua.” Make a deal with whom? Why would Honduran military officers cease aiding the contra when their support for the contras virtually assured that US drug enforcement agents would keep their distance? If anything, the Senate hearings on narco-terrorism indicate that the contras have been the meal ticket for drug traffickers.

The Washington Post (2/12/88) included this politically delicate aspect of Rodriguez’s testimony in its headline: “Drug Money Alleged to Go to Contras.” But Joe Pichirallo’s page 30 article tiptoed around CIA involvement with Rodriguez. The Post also failed to mention Rodriguez’s assertion that he worked with US banks, and it did not include his statement about laundering moneyfor the CIA after his drug indictment. This omission was egregious in view of the fact that Senator Kerry questioned Rodriguez in detail about an accounting sheet which a federal prosecutor submitted as evidence at his trail:

Senator Kerry: What does your accounting show with respect to the CIA?

Ramon Rodriguez: It shows that I received a shipment of three million and change sometime in the middle of the month.

At the end of the hearing the Post‘s Pichirallo asked chief counsel Jack Blum why the CIA would use Rodriguez to funnel money after he’d been indicted. Blum responded that such a time would be ideal, since US government investigators cannot approach a defendant after he has been indicted. Extra! later asked Pichirallo why Rodriguez’s testimony about moving dirty money for the CIA was excluded from the Post, but he was not forthcoming: “It is my policy never to discuss anything I do.”

To its credit Newsday (2/12/88) reported the CIA’s money shipment through Rodriguez and the cartel’s $10 million gift to the contras, the elementary facts of the story which were not printed in the “newspaper of record.”