The CIA Drug Smuggling Myth

James Slate
8 min readApr 5, 2018

“The Church Committee of the 1970s tried futilely to pin the Narcotics label on the CIA , however the Church Committee was honest enough to exonerate the CIA in its final report.Lawrence Houston, CIA general counsel during the period, says that since Air America operated in an area where dope is “endemic” it was “inevitable that rumors would arise or be planted that the company or its employees were involved in the dope trade.

It was an easy propaganda line to be developed by unfriendly interests.” In self-defense Air America management had tough inspection programs to keep dope off its planes. As Houston says, “An occasional passenger was found to possess drugs, but there is no valid evidence that the company or its employees were involved in the transportation of drugs or in the…drug trade.” Yet the libel is repeated in “Air America.”

Regarding past allegations of CIA involvement in drug trafficking, the CIA Inspector General found no evidence to substantiate the charges that the CIA or its employees conspired with or assisted Contra-related organizations or individuals in drug trafficking to raise funds for the Contras or for any other purpose. In fact, the CIA plays a crucial role in combating drug trafficking by providing intelligence information to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the State Department.

Furthermore, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a detailed report which concludes that evidence does not support those allegations, made initially in a newspaper series entitled “Dark Alliance.”

The allegations, reported in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996, posited that the CIA was complicit in drug trafficking to the United States as part of its effort to assist the Nicaraguan Contras in their armed conflict against the Sandinista government. These allegations generated enormous public concern and discussion and resulted in a variety of inquiries. In addition to the HPSCI investigation, there have been two Inspector General inquiries (one at the Department of Justice and one at the CIA), a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department review, and a spate of news media investigations.

The HPSCI report, which was adopted unanimously, concludes with seven findings.
Those findings are:

  1. The Committee found no evidence to support the allegations that CIA agents of assets associated with the Contra movement were involved in the supply of sale of drugs in the Los Angeles area;
  2. The Committee found no evidence to support the allegations that Norwin Meneses, Danilo Blandon, or Ricky Ross were CIA agents or assets, or that their drug trafficking was intended to further the cause of the Contras. Although Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandon were sympathetic to the Contras, and were trafficking in narcotics, they were not associated with the CIA. Finally, the Committee found no evidence to support the claims that drug traffickers such as Ronald Lister, Carlos Cabezas, and Jorge Zavala were associated with the CIA;
  3. The Committee found no evidence to support allegations that employees of the CIA engaged in narcotics trafficking in the Los Angeles area;
  4. The Committee found no evidence that any other US intelligence agency or agency employee was involved in the illegal supply or sale of drugs in the Los Angeles area;
  5. One Contra faction, the Southern Front, did receive support from individuals who were engaged in drug trafficking from Central America to the United States. Certain Southern Front organizations apparently accepted support from drug traffickers knowingly, particularly when their support from the CIA ended;
  6. The CIA as an institution did not approve of connections between Contras and drug traffickers, and, indeed, Contras were discouraged from involvement with traffickers. Also, CIA officers on occasion notified law enforcement entities when they became aware of allegations concerning the identities or activities of drug traffickers; and
  7. In the case most relevant to the “Dark Alliance” series, it appears that the support Blandon and Meneses gave a Contra chapter in California was financed from illegal drug proceeds since this was their main source of income. Nevertheless, their support was limited (reportedly between $30,000 and $50,000) and was not sufficient to finance the organization. The support to the Contras provided by Meneses and Blandon did not consist of “millions” to the Contras, as alleged by the Mercury News. The Committee found no evidence that the CIA or the Intelligence Community was aware of these individuals’ support of the Contras.

In summarizing its findings, the Committee stated: “The allegations of the ‘Dark Alliance’ series warranted an investigation, and the Committee performed its role mindful of the thousands of American lives that have been lost to the scourge of crack cocaine. Based on its investigation, involving numerous interviews, reviews of extensive documentation, and a thorough and critical reading of other investigative reports, the Committee has concluded that the evidence does not support the implications of the San Jose Mercury News — that the CIA was responsible for the crack epidemic in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the United States to further the cause of the Contra war in Central America.”

The Committee focused its inquiry in four areas, including instances involving reporting requirements for narcotics information and the hand-off of such information among the various agencies of jurisdiction. The Committee was concerned by evidence that during the Contra program the CIA made use of, or maintained relations with, a number of individuals associated with the Contras or Contra supply effort about whom the CIA had knowledge of information or allegations indicating that the individuals had been involved in drug trafficking.

The Committee’s report includes a detailed discussion of the guidelines and policies in effect during the 1980’s and today. Under current procedures, before an individual with a criminal history or allegations of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, can be used as an asset, high ranking CIA officials must determine that the potential value of the person’s information outweighs any negatives for the United States associated with the establishment of a relationship with the CIA.

In releasing the report, Committee Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-FL) noted the exhaustive nature of the review conducted by his panel. “The explosive nature of the story and the seriousness with which we view allegations of complicity in narcotics trafficking by any official US agency led us to go the extra mile in our inquiry. I am satisfied that we chased down all relevant leads and covered the necessary ground, and that the findings of this report are fully supported by the facts. Bottom line: the allegations were false,” Goss said.

Ranking Member Julian C. Dixon (D-CA) stated that “all of the issues raised by the Mercury News articles were addressed in the investigation. I believe that the committee’s effort, together with the work of the Justice Department and CIA IG, thoroughly examined those issues.”

The Committee conducted its own interviews, including interviews of seven former US government officials who had refused to be interviewed by the CIA Inspector General. The Committee thoroughly reviewed and assessed the findings of the CIA and DoJ Inspectors General as presented in their final reports. Tens of thousands of pages of documents (classified and unclassified) were also reviewed.

“I am pleased to offer this comprehensive report to the American people, although I suspect that there remain some who will not accept our conclusions. It saddens and troubles me that allegations of this kind would be so believable to so many people, even though the facts indicate otherwise, and even in the face of repeated investigations that have concluded otherwise. As Chairman of the committee with oversight responsibilities for the Intelligence Community, I take it as part of my job to improve the credibility our security agencies have with the public. I am hopeful that the unanimous and bipartisan findings of our Committee in this case will help in that regard,” Goss said.

Dixon noted that the investigation revealed that the question of leniency for government informants should be a matter of continuing concern within the US criminal justice system. “Disparity of treatment accorded to those involved in the drug trade has clearly led to public skepticism about the basic fairness of the judicial system and should be addressed by appropriate committees of Congress,” Dixon said.

According to the report, it used Webb’s reporting and writing as “key resources in focusing and refining the investigation.” Like the CIA and Justice Department reports, it also found that neither Blandón, Meneses, nor Ross were associated with the CIA.

Examining the support that Meneses and Blandón gave to the local Contra organization in San Francisco, the report concluded that it was “not sufficient to finance the organization” and did not consist of ‘millions’, contrary to the claims of the “Dark Alliance” series. This support “was not directed by anyone within the Contra movement who had an association with the CIA,” and the Committee found “no evidence that the CIA or the Intelligence Community was aware of these individuals’ support.”

It also found no evidence to support Webb’s suggestion that several other drug smugglers mentioned in the series were associated with the CIA, or that anyone associated with the CIA or other intelligence agencies was involved in supplying or selling drugs in Los Angeles.”


Investigation after investigation has demonstrated that CIA and other government agencies were not aware of any such trafficking, did not support any such trafficking, and when allegations of such came to their attention, they terminated their relationships with those individuals (though perhaps not as quickly as they should have).




James Slate

I Defend America and its Foreign Policy from a Liberal Perspective.