SOLOMON: British Media Expose CIA-Cocaine Links

Shock waves should have jolted America when the news broke in England a few weeks ago: "The CIA actively encouraged drug-trafficking in order to fund right-wing contra rebels in Nicaragua during the 1980s, and a CIA agent in Nicaragua was employed to ensure the money went to the contras and not into the pockets of drug barons."That's how a London-based daily newspaper, The Independent, summarized the conclusions of investigative journalists working for Britain's ITV television network. Their findings aired Dec. 12 on a highly regarded program called The Big Story.It certainly was a big story -- on that side of the Atlantic. But on this side, it was no story at all.The British news reports included statements by Carlos Cabezas, who was a pilot for the Nicaraguan Air Force before the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. During the early 1980s, Cabezas transported cocaine from Central America to California. He ended up spending six years in prison after the 1983 seizure of 430 pounds of cocaine in the San Francisco Bay.Interviewed for the ITV documentary, Cabezas said that he delivered cocaine proceeds to contra leaders in Miami and Costa Rica. Cabezas told the journalists that in Costa Rica he met CIA agent Ivan Gomez, who was responsible for overseeing the transfer of drug profits to the contras.You might think that news media in the United States would be quick to report on ITV's scoop. No such luck.The new year began with Americans still unaware of information that became common knowledge in Britain weeks ago. Our country's most influential big-city dailies -- The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times -- haven't even mentioned the ITV story.In sharp contrast, last fall those papers devoted enormous resources and much newsprint to attacking a series in the San Jose Mercury News that linked the CIA-backed contras to the spread of crack cocaine in urban America. Those "debunking" efforts were quite shoddy.For instance, all three papers presented the CIA as a touchstone for veracity. They relied heavily on official sources while straining to downplay the ties between the CIA and the contras -- and between the contras and cocaine trafficking.New York Times reporting was so eager to distance the CIA from the contras that it ventured into absurdity. On Oct. 21, the Times noted that pro-contra cocaine traffickers Norvin Meneses and Danilo Blandon "traveled once to Honduras to see the (contra) military commander, Enrique Bermudez." But the Times quickly added: "Although Mr. Bermudez, like other contra leaders, was often paid by the CIA, he was not a CIA agent."The Washington Post's newsroom culture of denial got so bad that one news article referred to "the supposed CIA-contra connection." It didn't seem to matter that the contra army was formed at the instigation of the CIA, its leaders were selected by -- and received salaries from -- the agency, and CIA officers controlled day-to-day battlefield strategies.Last October, the Los Angeles Times joined the other two dailies in belittling the importance of crack dealer Ricky Ross. Yet on Dec. 20, 1994 -- before publicity about his partnership with Meneses and Blandon -- a long news article in the L.A. Times had described Ross as the "king of crack" whose "coast-to-coast conglomerate" was responsible for "a staggering turnover that put the drug within reach of anyone with a few dollars."George Orwell had such mental gymnastics in mind when he described doublethink as willingness "to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed."(In recent months, I've worked with a team of researchers at the media watch group FAIR to evaluate the attacks on the Mercury News series by the three big dailies. Our report, titled "Snow Job," is available without charge at "www.fair.org/fair" on the World Wide Web.)Ironically, the evidence that surfaced in British media last month indicates that the Mercury News series actually understated the extent of CIA involvement in the cocaine trade. But American media powerhouses that have done their best to discredit the Mercury News series are now ignoring the unpleasant news from overseas.The Atlantic Ocean has never seemed wider.

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