Black, Paranoid and Absolutely Right
In an excerpt from the new book, "This is Your Country on Drugs", Ryan Grim explains how the press covered for the CIA in the Iran-Contra drug scandal that rocked the black community in the '90s.
The probable cause for the downplaying of Farah’s story: It had run headlong into Post national security reporter Walter Pincus, a veteran journalist who had flirted with joining the CIA and who is routinely accused of having been an undercover asset in the ‘50s. Pincus says his role is overblown and that his involvement with a CIA front group was accidental.
“One of my big fights on this was with Pincus,” Farah recalls, “and my disadvantage was that I was in Managua, and he was sitting in on the story meetings and talking directly to the editors. And we had a disagreement over the validity of what I was finding. At the time, I didn’t realize he had been an agency employee for a while. That might have helped me understand what was going on there a bit.”
Webb based his report on court records and interviews with key drug runners. One of them, Danilo Blandón, was once described by Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O’Neale as “the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in the United States.”
Webb had been unable to get Blandón to talk, but the cocaine dealer testified at a trial shortly before the series came out. Blandón wasn’t on trial himself, wasn’t facing any jail time and was in fact being paid by the U.S. government to act as an informant. In other words, he had no obvious incentive to lie to make the United States look bad. Nevertheless, in sworn testimony, he said that in 1981 alone, his drug operation sold almost a ton of cocaine—worth millions of dollars—in the United States, and that “whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going to the Contra revolution.”
Blandón’s boss in the operation was Norwin Meneses, the head of political operations and U.S. fundraising for the Contras. Meneses was known as Rey de la Droga—“King of Drugs”—and had been under active investigation by the U.S. government since the early ‘70s as the California cocaine cartel’s top representative in Nicaragua. The Drug Enforcement Administration considered him a major trafficker, and he had been implicated in 45 separate federal investigations, Webb discovered through government documents. Regardless, Meneses had never served any time in federal prison and lived out in the open in his San Francisco home.
In 1981, Blandón testified, he and Meneses traveled to Honduras to meet Colonel Enrique Bermúdez, the military leader of the Contra army and a full-time CIA employee. “While Blandón says Bermúdez didn’t know cocaine would be the fundraising device they used,” Webb wrote, “the presence of the mysterious Mr. Meneses strongly suggests otherwise.” The reporter drew on court documents and government records to show that anyone remotely involved in, or familiar with, the drug world at the time knew exactly how Meneses went about raising revenue.
Blandón sold the Contras’ product to Ross for prices well-below what other dealers could afford, allowing him to expand his business throughout L.A., then to Texas, Ohio and beyond. Ross told Webb that he owed his rise and his astonishingly cheap coke to Blandón. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been a dope dealer without Danilo,’’ Ross said. ‘‘But I wouldn’t have been Freeway Rick.’’