Jun 1 1987

Washington’s Worst Kept Secret

The Contra Drug Connection

Since 1985, reports linking Contra arms suppliers to cocaine smuggling have run in progressive publications and a few mainstream outlets. But CBS West 57th‘s well-documented segment on the CIA-cContra-drug connection (4/6/87) was the first serious network probe.

The segment featured interviews with CIA contract employees who flew weapons shipments to the contras in Honduras and back-loaded cocaine and marijuana. Mike Tolliver, convicted drug smuggler and part-time CIA pilot, told of flying 25,000 pounds of pot to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida.

Cocaine Importers of AmericaThe Contragate plot thickened in Newsday (4/17/87) with an expose on Manzer al-Kassar, a Syrian drug smuggler who ran guns for Lt. Col. Oliver Norths’s supply network, Achille Lauro hijacker Abu Abass, and for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The Newsday piece was picked up a few big dailies, but not by the New York Times, Washington Post or the three networks. At the Times, former editor Abe Rosenthal ruminated on the op-ed page (3/15/87) about how it’s time for America to step up the war against drug abuse: “The cheapest and most efficient method of stopping foreign drugs flowing into the country is at the source, not at our borders,” says Rosenthal.

Hard to do when the CIA has been supporting dope peddlers for decades. Abe’s former colleague, C.L. Sulzberger, knew it. Sulzberger became indignant when poet Allen Ginsberg accused the CIA of smuggling heroin during the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1978, Sulzberger wrote:

I fear I owe you an apology. I have been reading a succession of pieced about CIA involvement in the dope trade in Southeast Asia and I remember when you first suggested I look into this I though you were full of beans. Indeed you were right.