Cocaine and the Contras: Conspiracy or Disinformation Campaign?

by Joseph Miranda


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    The last several months have seen a considerable controversy raised by Gary Webb's series in the San Jose Mercury News, alleging that individuals within the Contras (the 1980s Nicaraguan anti-Sandinista insurgents) were responsible for smuggling cocaine into the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Webb claims, knew of this smuggling and protected the people involved.

    Since then, Webb's story has become inflated into a massive conspiracy tale. The Contras, so critics have claimed, in full collusion with the CIA, were responsible for a massive international drug smuggling network which intentionally targeted American inner cities in an attempt to raise millions of dollars which would, in turn, be used to support the anti-Sandinista war in Nicaragua. The CIA-Contra connection flooded the cities of America with cheap cocaine which, in turn, led to the "epidemic" of crack in the U.S. The end result was the destruction of the American underclass.

    If there is any conspiracy here, I would offer better than even odds that it is something like this: the United States government itself has covertly released the story that the CIA and Contras were involved in the illegal drug trade. And if the U.S. government did not concoct the story, then it is most certainly exploiting it for its own propaganda purposes. But why on earth would the government itself exploit such a story?

    Consider the things that have afflicted American cities in the last decade:
    € The flight of capital and industry to the suburbs and other countries.
    € The emigration of the middle class to the more affluent suburbs.
    € The rise of a large, disaffected youth sector.
    € Police brutality against the underclass.
    € The decline in real wages for the working class and reduction in employment opportunities in the inner cities
    € The general decline in public health standards to the point where the United States now has one of the worst health records in the industrialized world.
    € And, more recently, the end of welfare as we know it which will, in turn, impact the urban underclass greatly.

    In the last several years, many Americans have been waking up to what has been done to them. There have been protest against cuts in public services which portend a revival of the radical movement. Leftwing periodicals have provided a fairly good analysis of how law enforcement has exploited drug prohibition to assault the underclass, thereby forestalling social protest. Noted social critic Noam Chomsky, in several articles and interviews, has pointed out that the U.S. government has used the war on drugs to control populaces which are dangerous to the power structure at home and abroad. And in the streets, Minister Farrakahn's Million Man March has terrified much of official Washington DC.

    At the same time, the government is finding that much of its traditional support on the extreme right is evaporating. The reaction to the illicit behavior of federal agents at Waco and Ruby Ridge have caused many right wingers to become aware of the abuses of power in this country. With the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union collaborating to oppose government Civil Rights abuses, it is obvious that a broadbased protest movement has been forming.

    Just as public awareness of government abuses seems to be coming to a head, the story breaks‹what is causing the problem in America? Not police brutality or government corruption or corporate malfeasance. The problem is cocaine! And who are the villains‹the Contras, and they are not even U.S. citizens. So once again we can all get together behind the federal government as it leads us in the good fight against the foreign menace. The political energies that were building towards criticism and protest against the power structure are being diverted against some vague foreign conspiracy. It's the old scapegoating mechanism and, alas it works.

    The United States government has made much use of Information Warfare (i.e., propaganda) in the last decade or so. The government learned many lessons from the old Soviet Union's AgitProp apparatus, especially disinformation. One of the most important lessons of the Cold War era was that no conflict can be won without public support. Current military publications contain numerous articles about Information Warfare (check the Air University Review, or web site, for more on this). And, indeed, the U.S. government has proven itself quite adept at gaining Information Warfare superiority in the last several years. The government managed the news media during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War quite well, presenting the picture it wanted of hi-tech Coalition forces routing Iraqis with a minimum of on screen bloodshed.

    At home, the government maintains a non-stop propaganda campaign in support of its law enforcement policies. Law enforcement exploits reality based shows such as Cops to present the picture of crime that favors the official interpretation: criminals are generally members of the underclass and involved with drugs.

    The mechanism is quite simple. Law enforcement agencies play off the fact that many people in the news media want to believe they are adventurers in the mold of a Hemingway. The police allow media personnel to ride along with them, thereby making them part of the "team." In turn, the media presents a picture of crime that favors the official party line.

    In contrast, can one imagine video crews turning their cameras on the police themselves, ferreting out acts of official corruption? Or asking why the police spend an inordinate amount of resources harassing the underclass instead of targeting corporate crime? Of course, media personnel will not do this, because if they did, such media personnel would no longer be invited to participate in the law enforcement process! The end result is that the media has become a de facto propaganda agency for the police.

    A Motive or Two

    What would the U.S. government have to gain from the dissemination of the story about a Contra-cocaine connection? One reason might be to create the public support necessary for a fullscale war in Latin America. It would be easy enough to shift public condemnation of the Nicaraguan Contras to other targets south of the Rio Grande, since most Americans haven't the vaguest concept of the geopolitics of the region. Perhaps the current administration wants to commit U.S. military forces to bail out its client government in Colombia or Peru, which are threatened by widespread guerrilla movements. The specter of a great crusade to save America's cities from the dread drug menace would be a sufficient cause for war. The next time there is a "million man march" it might be an American army marching into the Andes.

    Another motivation for exploitation of the CIA-Contra-cocaine story is that this may reflect some sort of internal power struggle in the federal government. There has been opposition to the war on drugs on the part of some in the intelligence community and armed forces, who see drug prohibition as an unprecedented assault on American liberties. As an example, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dunlap's article, The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, appearing in the U.S. Army War College's Winter 1992-93 publication, Parameters, offered a hypothetical case showing how the employment of the armed forces in domestic law enforcement would lead to the destruction of civilian government.

    Perhaps the Clinton White House wants to purge a dissident faction in the CIA. These dissidents can be blamed for destroying American cities via the cocaine connection and terminated without regard for due process.

    The Invincible Contras?

    The absurdity of blaming the Contras for the cocaine conspiracy ought to be obvious. The Contras were unable to win a single major battle within Nicaragua. Yet, now they are being given credit for devastating every city in the continental United States. One wonders why, if the Contras were so powerful, did they prove so inept in Central America? The problem is that no one is questioning the assumptions. It has yet to be proven that cocaine in general and "crack" in particular has caused the decline of America's cities. As pointed out, this decline has to do with a wide range of political, economic and social factors. Drug abuse is largely a symptom of this decline, not a cause. The history of modern urban environments demonstrates that populations who suffer from poverty, racism and substandard living conditions turn to legal and illegal drugs.

    Let us see some statistics demonstrating the case that crack cocaine has caused the problems it is being blamed for. How many people have died from it? How many people are actually addicts? And what is their percentage among the total population of drug users and urban population?

    If past experience with prohibition is any guide, it will be shown that a small percentage of pathological drug users are being stereotyped as the majority. For example, if one checks actual National Institute of Drug Abuse statistics, one finds that only about 4000 Americans die from cocaine related emergencies annually, hardly the "epidemic" that is claimed (and crack cocaine users would be a smaller percentage of this total). Compare this with the 16-30,000 Americans who die annually from legal drugs. Similarly, claims that there are over 350,000 "crack babies" turns out to be fabrications by prohibitionists. The 350,000+ number which has been widely quoted turns out to be based on the total number of women who are estimated to use drugs at some time in their pregnancy, the majority of whom show no problems. Most of the so-called "crack babies" are suffering from the effects of malnutrition and lack of health care, as is typical for impoverished women. Again, drugs serve as the scapegoat for a wider range of social problems.

    And let's look at the practical end of this. If there were a CIA conspiracy to flood America with crack cocaine, how did it work? What was the mechanism? Did Contras roam the streets of the inner cities, forcing people at gunpoint to ingest "crack?" I think not.

    The acceptance of a paranoid conspiracy theory about cocaine ought to give us all alarm. This conspiracy is accepted by the very people who have been victimized the most by the government, the underclass and the left. This is evidenced by the hysterical behavior of members of the community at public meetings where the issue of CIA-Contra-cocaine is discussed. Rather than a rational discussion, we are getting the traditional American witch hunt. The Congressional representatives of South Central Los Angeles do not want to stand up against the federal government or the major corporations. So instead, they blame all their problems on the Contras.

    America and Drugs

    Americans also seem to be forgetting their own history. It was not too long ago that drug use was openly accepted in the U.S. itself. A generation ago it was the left which was promoting drug use as a means of liberation. Moreover, the majority of the world does not share America's hysteria over drugs. Coca, opiates and cannabis are widely used in many countries and drug trading is simply part of life. And, after all, the United States is one of the primary exporters of legal drugs in the world (alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals). Indeed, the State Department has for years pressured third world countries into accepting U.S. alcohol and tobacco products. And U.S. corporations dump out of date pharmaceuticals on other countries.

    In this context, a certain amount of CIA tolerance for drug smugglers is understandable. It is almost impossible to operate in the real world without coming into contact with people who smuggle drugs (or arms, or anything else that governments forbid). Yet all this is forgotten in the demonization of anyone who has anything remotely to do with cocaine.

    The current hysteria over drugs is a product largely of the middle 1980s. The promised Republican prosperity turned into a further acceleration of the destruction of the middle class and the inner cities. The Republican administration (with Democratic connivance) exploited the drug issue to cover the failure of domestic policies. And Clinton is continuing the disinformation campaign to cover his own refusal to deal with serious social issues.

    The war on drugs has proven to be an excuse for an international reign of terror by the United states government. Abroad, the war on drugs is used as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of foreign nations and to assault the peasant sector. At home, the war on drugs has led to the practical dissolution of much of the bill of rights, with no-knock warrants, drug testing, seizures of property, and paramilitary police attacks against the underclass. If the CIA has been responsible for blocking the war on drugs, then it ought to be praised for being a bastion of civil liberties in this nation. But this obvious point seems to be lost on those among the left who have jumped on the prohibitionist bandwagon.

    Us versus Them

    All this bodes ill for the future of democracy in America. The alleged CIA-Contra-cocaine conspiracy can be related to the mass obsession with UFOs and the assumption that the government is hiding something. Look at the popularity of the movie Independence Day, which was built around the theme of all Americans uniting behind the government against alien invasion, or the X-Files, whose villains are clandestine government conspirators in alliance with aliens. Clearly, the theme of "us versus them" has much appeal to a nation which has long been divided on matters of race and class.

    The problem is that the public obsession with hidden conspiracies has ignored actual criminal conduct on the part of the government. For example, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary recently announced that the government would pay $4.8 million to the families of 12 human "guinea pigs" who were injected with plutonium and uranium without their knowledge or consent during secret government experiments in the 1940s. It is also open information that the U.S. government conducted defense-related tests on thousands of unsuspecting Americans between 1940 and 1974, including covert experiments with radioactive materials, mustard gas, LSD, and biological agents. The recent conviction of Orange County Treasurer Robert Citron to a mere year on fraud charges (involving 1.6 billion dollars) ought to alert Americans that the real problem in this country is in malfeasance among elected and appointed officials.

    But to do this would mean having to attack the very power structure that rules this nation‹the government itself, law enforcement agencies, the corporations and the media. Instead, the public's outrage is directed against some nebulous foreign conspiracy via the CIA-Contra-cocaine hysteria.

    CIA Director John Deutch's appearance before a Los Angeles public meeting confirms the propaganda nature of the show. After listening to the absurdist proceedings, he closed by stating that this has convinced him of the need to fight drugs all the more. Of course. So with this will come a call for expanded powers to the CIA in particular and law enforcement in general.

    This has to be seen in the light of the new anti-crime, anti-terrorism and internet censorship bills. All these are clear attempts to destroy what remains of the Bill of Rights. Dissent can be suppressed while at the same time the government uses propaganda campaigns to keep the majority compliant.

    The fact that much of the political left has jumped on this bandwagon ought to give us all cause for concern. What this indicates is the bankruptcy of the left in this country. The conservatives tell us that drugs are wrong, and the left runs after them saying, "look, we're against cocaine, too." And what of the left's former commitment to the cause of drug legalization and individual freedom? Or are we to assume that now the left will march alongside the state in the crusade on civil liberties?

    Assuming that the CIA-Contra-cocaine conspiracy were proved to be true, then what? Will the CIA be dissolved? Will the police stop harassing young black men? Will the U.S. end its intervention in the third world? Let's get real.

    It's too late to save the Sandinistas by undermining the CIA. Will anything be gained by putting more people in jail for decade old crimes? While the left is refighting the lost Contra-Sandinista War, the conservatives are moving on to their next victory.

    What will be the long term results of government action over the alleged CIA-Contra-cocaine connection? If drugs are as evil as claimed by both right and left, then there must be an intensified war on drugs. This, in turn will mean more arrests at home, more suspension of civil liberties, more people in jail on trivial charges. The draconian new welfare policies will be justified on the grounds that money should not be wasted on a drug addicted underclass. With more powers for law enforcement, leftists and other radicals will be increasingly targeted for their political beliefs.

    Abroad, the war on drugs will be used as an excuse for more foreign intervention and terroristic actions on the part of United States government agencies and their clients. The overall level of paranoia will increase. This time along, the very victims of government repression will be cheering the process, thinking they are saving themselves from the dreaded CIA-Contra-cocaine menace.

    And the culpability of the government and the corporations for the decline of America's cities will be forgotten. The power structure will be the sole benefactor of this entire affair.

    Count on it.


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