So why did they talk?
[Contra leader] Meneses we went down to Nicaragua and interviewed, who was Blandon’s boss. He was pissed off because he had been working for the DEA to set up some Sandinista military bosses on a drug thing. He’d be working on a sting operation and when the Sandinistas found out about it they arrested him and threw him in jail and his American buddies didn’t come down to help him out. They let him sit in jail. So he was pissed off. A lot of this stuff was independently documented. People had said stuff to the law enforcement communities over the years that you could go back and check. It’s not like you had to take people’s word for it. There was a lot of corroborating evidence around on the side. That was one of the benefits of coming back and doing it ten years later, when a number of government investigations shad been done.
What did your editors make of all this at the time?
Their perception was like mine. They didn’t know initially what I was doing and I didn’t know initially what I was doing but as this investigation progressed they could see where this story was going. So I prepared this project memo. I started on it in July and worked on it 7 months, and said ‘Here’s what we’ve found’ and I went up and talked to them about it and they were thrilled as hell.
They were fully aware of the implications of your findings?
How long did this all take?
I investigated from July of 1995 until probably March of 1996. I covered [Ricky] Ross’s trial. And after Ross’s trial I came back up and started writing the piece. I think the series ran in August. It was a little over a year that we worked on it.
What allegations did you actually make?
The allegation was that this drug ring [the Blandon-Ross nexus] had played a major role in not only financing the Contras but contributing to the outbreak of crack in South Central’s ghettos. And that various elements of the US government, including the CIA, knew about it and didn’t do anything. And that’s basically it. In a nutshell.
Was this supposed to have been some sort of an accident, or was it deliberate?
It was no accident that they were bringing in cocaine in: that was the whole point of the operation – to raise money. They knew they were bringing cocaine in. As far as what the CIA knew…I think it was sort of negligence. I think it was a situation where they didn’t really want to know. I mean you find these people and you tell them to go out and raise money and ‘Don’t tell us where you get it, just do it’.
So was this complicity: did the CIA actually know and deliberately look the other way? Or did they have no idea?
They knew it was going on – and now we know that because there are the CIA reports have come out since that tell us that. They knew what was going on in 1981. Before they were even adopted by the CIA they knew they were drug traffickers. So when these traffickers went down to Honduras to meet with [Contra leader] Enrique Bermudez, Bermudez knew who they were. Meneses had been a friend of his for a long time. And people in Nicaragua knew who Norwin Meneses was and what he did. Blandon knew who he was and what he did. He was a drug trafficker. So when you call in people you know who are drug traffickers and tell them to go out and raise money, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to think that they are going to go out and traffic in drugs to raise money. The government knew it fairly early on. They knew who these fellows were, they knew what they were doing and they knew what they were raising the money for. And nothing was done to stop them.
Did [Colonel Oliver] North understand the significance of what he was doing?
Of course. There’s a lot of notes in his diaries which talk about the Contras and drugs. He had a guy in Central America named Rob Owen who was reporting back to him on what the Contras were doing and a number of reports back to North talk about how these fellows were dealing in cocaine, dealing in drugs, and planes that were leaving New Orleans were flying back with drugs on them. So I mean, North knew about it. You can’t deny that. But one of the things I tried to show in my book was how North inherited an ongoing drug trafficking operation. It was the CIA that set it up and they handed it over to North lock stock and barrel and he brought in people who anybody in their right mind knew were drug dealers. People like Luis Posada Carriles – who is a long-time CIA agent involved with drugs-for-guns deals. So North knew what was going on. All these companies that were hauling supplies for the Contras were all owned by drug traffickers. And North told people to use these companies. You know, ‘don’t change what you’ve already got’.
What was the difference between your findings and Kerry’s?
The difference is that we said what happened to the drugs once they got here. The Kerry Committee and Bob Parry and those folks who were doing the original research just said that drugs were coming into the country. What I did was I sort of came about the back end. From the streets on up. And what I found out was that the drugs that the Contras were bringing in were going into South Central LA and they were providing income for the gangs. I mean, that’s one of the reasons the gangs of LA became so powerful: because the of this drug money that they were making. And it was my belief that that was where the crack problem began. It was in South Central LA.
But the big story was really in the Kerry Committee’s findings all along?
I disagree. Because when you realise what effect these drugs were having and the impact that they were having on these communities, then you bring this story home to the American public. And you bring the story home, particularly home to the African American public. I mean, where did this drug come from, why did it come here, why’d it hit us and how’s it coming in? Because were talking about thousands and thousands of kilos of cocaine. And to suddenly to have all this stuff just show up somewhere and to have it to be particularly a black problem, I think deserved an answer. So that’s the difference between what turned a story about foreign affairs into a story about the drug war here in the United States. And that’s why people responded: because they could SEE the effect that this had on their lives. You talk about drugs coming into the country as sort of a theoretical thing: numbers and these guys with three Spanish names who we don’t know who are bringing it in – I mean, ‘Who are these Spanish guys?’ Why do we care?’ But once you realise that these are the drugs that are coming into your neighbourhood, I mean, then you begin to care about it.
I finished filling in the blanks. The Kerry people got up to a point and then stopped. What I did was show where this stuff went and what the impact of it was. And the thing that the US government couldn’t stand hearing was that this drug ring was, in a large part, responsible for the drug problem in Los Angeles. And I don’t think there’s any dispute about that.