History 101: The CIA & Drugs

The CIA has a long and sordid history with drug traffickers. And it's all in the Congressional Record.

| Tue Jun. 16, 1998 3:00 AM EDT

The eighties apparently weren't the only time when the CIA got mixed up with the pusherman. During congressional hearings last month on funding for the CIA and other intelligence agencies, Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) entered into the Congressional Record "A Tangled Web: A History of CIA Complicity in Drug International Trafficking," which was written by the Institute for Policy Studies. It's a good short read—and has some suprising characters, like Lucky Luciano, the notorious gangster who apparently earned a pardon due to his loyal work for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA). Enjoy:

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Note: To access the document directly from the Congressional Record, go to Thomas, the congressional Web site championed by Newt Gingrich, and search the 105th Congress for "Meyer Lansky." It's a sure hit. (We'd link you directly to it, but Thomas won't.)

A Tangled Web: A History of CIA Complicity in Drug International Trafficking

WORLD WAR II

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the CIA's parent and sister organizations, cultivate relations with the leaders of the Italian Mafia, recruiting heavily from the New York and Chicago underworlds, whose members, including Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Joe Adonis, and Frank Costello, help the agencies keep in touch with Sicilian Mafia leaders exiled by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Domestically, the aim is to prevent sabotage on East Coast ports, while in Italy the goal is to gain intelligence on Sicily prior to the allied invasions and to suppress the burgeoning Italian Communist Party. Imprisoned in New York, Luciano earns a pardon for his wartime service and is deported to Italy, where he proceeds to build his heroin empire, first by diverting supplies from the legal market, before developing connections in Lebanon and Turkey that supply morphine base to labs in Sicily. The OSS and ONI also work closely with Chinese gangsters who control vast supplies of opium, morphine and heroin, helping to establish the third pillar of the post-world War II heroin trade in the Golden Triangle, the border region of Thailand, Burma, Laos and China's Yunnan Province.

1947

In its first year of existence, the CIA continues U.S. intelligence community's anti-communist drive. Agency operatives help the Mafia seize total power in Sicily and it sends money to heroin-smuggling Corsican mobsters in Marseille to assist in their battle with Communist unions for control of the city's docks. By 1951, Luciano and the Corsicans have pooled their resources, giving rise to the notorious 'French Connection' which would dominate the world heroin trade until the early 1970s. The CIA also recruits members of organized crime gangs in Japan to help ensure that the country stays in the non-communist world. Several years later, the Japanese Yakuza emerges as a major source of methamphetamine in Hawaii.

1950

The CIA launches Project Bluebird to determine whether certain drugs might improve its interrogation methods. This eventually leads CIA head Allen Dulles, in April 1953, to institute a program for 'covert use of biological and chemical materials' as part of the agency's continuing efforts to control behavior. With benign names such as Project Artichoke and Project Chatter, these projects continue through the 1960s, with hundreds of unwitting test subjects given various drugs, including LSD.

MAY 1970

A Christian Science Monitor correspondent reports that the CIA 'is cognizant of, if not party to, the extensive movement of opium out of Laos,' quoting one charter pilot who claims that 'opium shipments get special CIA clearance and monitoring on their flights southward out of the country.' At the time, some 30,000 U.S. service men in Vietnam are addicted to heroin.

JUNE 1980

Despite advance knowledge, the CIA fails to halt members of the Bolivian militaries, aide by the Argentine counterparts, from staging the so-called 'Cocaine Coup,' according to former DEA agent Michael Levine. In fact, the 25-year DEA veteran maintains the agency actively abetted cocaine trafficking in Bolivia, where government officials who sought to combat traffickers faced torture and death at the hands of CIA-sponsored paramilitary terrorists under the command of fugitive Nazi war criminal (also protected by the CIA) Klaus Barbie.

FEBRUARY 1985

DEA agent Enrique 'Kiki' Camerena is kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. DEA, FBI and U.S. Customs Service investigators accuse the CIA of stonewalling during their investigation. U.S. authorities claim the CIA is more interested in protecting its assets, including top drug trafficker and kidnapping principal Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo.

APRIL 1989

The Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Communications, headed by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, issues its 1,166-page report on drug corruption in Central America and the Caribbean. The subcommittee found that 'there was substantial evidence of drug smuggling through the war zone on the part of individual Contras, Contra suppliers, Contra pilots, mercenaries who worked with the Contras supporters throughout the region.' U.S. officials, the subcommittee said, 'failed to address the drug issue for fear of jeopardizing the war efforts against Nicaragua.' The investigation also reveals that some 'senior policy makers' believed that the use of drug money was 'a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems.'

JANUARY 1993

Honduran businessman Eugenio Molina Osorio is arrested in Lubbock Texas for supplying $90,000 worth of cocaine to DEA agents. Molina told judge he is working for CIA to whom he provides political intelligence. Shortly after, a letter from CIA headquarters is sent to the judge, and the case is dismissed. 'I guess we're all aware that they [the CIA] do business in a different way than everybody else,' the judge notes. Molina later admits his drug involvement was not a CIA operation, explaining that the agency protected him because of his value as a source for political intelligence in Honduras.

NOVEMBER 1996

Former head of the Venezuelan National Guard and CIA operative Gen. Ramon Gullien Davila is indicted in Miami on charges of smuggling as much as 22 tons of cocaine into the United States. More than a ton of cocaine was shipped into the country with the CIA's approval as part of an undercover program aimed at catching drug smugglers, an operation kept secret from other U.S. agencies.

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