Contra Drug Smuggling: Documents and Commentary
Use the documents at The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations: to investigate drug smuggling evidence against the Reagan-administration-supported contras in the 1980s. These documents come from "National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2."
Also use the documents below, reproduced from material declassified during the Iran-Contra investigation.
PRIMARY SOURCES (MOSTLY EMAILS) ON THE IRAN-CONTRA SCANDAL
[Added comments are in brackets.]
Explanatory Note: Some of these documents come from the Reagan White House electronic mail system, IBMS's Professional Office System (PROFs). The system became fully operational within the NSC [National Security Council] in April 1985, and later included other offices. From November 22-25, 1986, John Poindexter and Oliver North electronically shredded more than 5000 e-mail notes in the memory banks of their computer systems, as the Iran-contra scandal breaks. Investigators from the FBI and the Tower Commission later used backup takes to reconstruct the Iran-contra scandal. On February 26, 1987, the Tower Commission issues its report on Iran-contra, reprinting hundreds of PROFs notes exchanged by Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter and Oliver North. On January 19, 1993 - President Bush signs a secret agreement with Don Wilson, head of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), purporting to grant Bush exclusive legal control over the e-mail tapes of his administration. Working through the night, a staff team from NARA takes custody of thousands of tapes and disk drives, hurriedly removing them from White House offices to prevent incoming Clinton appointees from gaining access to them.
CIA's Illegal Support of the Contras
12/22/1986 William Casey, Reagan's Director of the CIA
"what you've got to understand is we were barred from being involved with the contras, and we kept away from that."
Oliver North 07/08/1987: "There was ample indication frequently that there was resupply ongoing on from 1984 through 1986. . . Director Casey had specific and detailed knowledge because I briefed him frequently and in detail."
Richard Secord, who supervised contra resupply operations, 05/05/1987: "I believe I was receiving support from the director of central intelligence [Casey]. . . we received some support from a senior CIA officer in Honduras."
Contra Drug Running
Lt. Col. Oliver North to Robert Owen, State Dept., 08/09/1985
"DC-6 which is being used for runs [to supply the contras] out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into U.S."
Owen to North 02/10/1986
"No doubt you know the DC-4 Foley got was used at one time to run drugs, and part of the crew had criminal records. Nice group the boys [the CIA] choose."
03/06/1986 Elliot Abrams, Reagan's Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
"I have talked to the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] and there is absolutely no evidence, nor any accusation of any involvement with drugs by the FDN [Nicaraguan Democratic Force, part of the contras].
5/8/1996 North to Poindexter "You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega in Panama and I have developed a fairly good relationship. It was Noriega who had told me that Panama would be willing to accept Marcos--a plan that got fouled up . . . . Last night Noriega called and asked if I get a man he trusts--a respected Cuban American-- the President of a College in Florida. He flew in this morning and he outlined Noriega's proposal: In exchange for a promise from use to 'help clean up his (Noriega's) image" and a commitment to lift our pan on PMS sales to the Panamanian Defense Forces." [You will recall that President George Bush ordered the US invasion of Panama City in December 1989 to capture Noriega. He is now in US federal prison for drug trafficking. Read additional Noriega-related documents in the link above.]
Excepts from Volume II: The Contra Story
A September 1981 cable to Headquarters (discussed in more detail later in this section) indicated that ADREN [acronym for contras on the northern front-- north of Nicaragua] had decided to engage in drug trafficking to the United States to raise funds for its activities. ADREN members Alan Downs and Edwin Hoocker reportedly had been involved in an initial delivery of drugs to Miami in July 1981.
Allegations of Drug Trafficking. In September 1981, a report to Headquarters relaying information obtained from an asset stated that the ADREN leadership had made a decision to engage in drug smuggling to the United States in order to finance its anti-Sandinista operations. Reportedly an initial trial run had taken place in July 1981 when ADREN member Alan Downs carried drugs in a suitcase on a flight to Miami. Once the drugs were delivered and paid for, Downs reportedly turned over the proceeds to Edwin Hoocker in Miami. No other information concerning Downs has been found. Reportedly the drugs belonged to an unidentified Honduran who was a native of the Bay Islands and who operated out of San Pedro Sula.
General Summary and Background. In October 1984, CIA began receiving reporting that Southern Front ARDE [acronym for contras fighting from Costra Rica, south of Nicaragua] leaders had agreed to assist a Miami-based drug trafficker in bringing narcotics into the United States. The information from this series of reports was furnished to senior officials of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
# In January a Headquarters cable noted that CIA had been advised by the FBI that Sarkis might be "subject to judicial [sic] investigation connected with alleged illegal activities." As a result, the Headquarters cable also advised that any Agency asset who was in contact with Sarkis be warned that "Sarkis may be involved in alleged drug trafficking."
# In May 1984, Headquarters received a cable regarding Carol Prado, a senior ARDE official. The cable noted that there was "little to add at this time to what has already been reported [concerning] Prado's involvement in illegal drug and gun activities." The cable noted that the Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Customs Service and the FBI were "aware of the activities of this group and are watching them closely."
# First Report. In October 1984, CIA received information indicating that senior ARDE officials, including several of Pastora's close associates--Adolfo Chamorro, Carol Prado and Gerardo Duran--had established a working relationship with a Miami-based drug trafficker. An October 1984 cable to Headquarters indicated that Adolfo Chamorro--Pastora's second-in-command--had just consummated a "mutual assistance agreement" with a Miami-based narcotics trafficker whose name was not known at the time of the report. The cable reporting this information to Headquarters noted that:
[ARDE] would provide [ARDE] operational facilities in Costa Rica and Nicaragua to facilitate the transportation of narcotics, and would obtain the assistance of Costa Rican Government officials in providing documentation, in exchange for financial support, aircraft, and pilot training for the [ARDE].
Further, the cable indicated that the unnamed Miami-based drug trafficker had:
# In January 1986 cables noted that Chamorro had a relationship with Gerardo Duran, an FRS pilot who was arrested in Costa Rica for smuggling cocaine. Although no direct connection could be made between Duran's smuggling activities and Chamorro, the relationship between the two men had been noted with interest by a Central American Station and the local DEA office.
# In October 1990, after the Contra war had concluded, the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald carried front-page articles charging that Chamorro, who was then serving as the Nicaraguan Consul General in Miami, had trafficked in narcotics from 1984 to 1986. The article stated that a Colombian pilot had testified during the trial of a Medellin drug lord that he had flown arms to Contra forces in Central America and cocaine shipments to Florida and that Chamorro was part of this arms/drugs network.
In May 1985, a cable advised Headquarters that "the Station is attempting to gather solid evidence . . . to confirm alleged weapons and/or narcotics trafficking by Duran and his [Contra] associates." The cable also suggested that:
It would be useful if future messages regarding alleged narcotics/weapons trafficking indicate approval of passage to [DEA], or whether the data is already shared with [DEA] office.
No information has been found to indicate that Headquarters responded to this suggestion.
# A number of Central American publications and public figures mentioned the Northern Contra Front forces in the context of broad-based charges of drug trafficking by the Contras. A cable informed Headquarters in February 1988 that a Nicaraguan exile had alleged at a meeting in Miami, Florida, that Enrique Bermudez, Adolfo Calero, Aristides Sanchez, and another individual were all involved in drug smuggling. The purpose of the meeting in Miami at which this allegation was made was to invite former Nicaraguan National Guard members to return to Nicaragua under a Sandinista amnesty program. The Nicaraguan exile reportedly offered no substantiation for his allegations. According to the cable, he had been characterized by both a U.S. law enforcement source and CIA as mentally unstable.
# CIA Response to Allegations of Drug Trafficking. According to a February 1988 Headquarters cable, CIA records were searched in February 1988 regarding the Nicaraguan exile in response to his allegations that Calero and other UNO/FDN leaders had engaged in drug smuggling. The cable indicated that a number of sources characterized him as unstable, a swindler and as having a reputation of being a drug dealer in Nicaragua before leaving that country in 1983.
# No information has been found to indicate that CIA took any action in response to allegations of drug trafficking by Calero. However, a November 1986 Headquarters cable warned that Mario Calero's poor reputation was a potential hindrance to the Contras:
Mario Calero has one of the most seamy reputations of all the people involved in the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance. Rightly or wrongly, he is seen as being up to his knees in corruption. Moreover, he is viewed as being nothing more than a hatchet man for the hardcore unreconstructed right of the FDN. In short, he is a symbol to our critics of all that is perceived to be rotten in the FDN. Whether or not this reputation is justified is immaterial: it is real.
A CIA Security interview was conducted with [Roger] Herman in February 1987. Based on this interview, CIA Security determined it was highly probable that Herman was involved in drug trafficking. In further security processing in May 1987, Herman said that he was confused over the term "trafficking." He reportedly said that he thought "trafficking" referred to personal use of illegal drugs. After this interview, CIA Security did not have concerns about Herman and drug trafficking.
# On January 24, 1983, he was questioned by CIA Security as part of Agency security processing. According to the Security Officer's report, the contractor reported that in August 1980, prior to his first contact with CIA, he had accepted $1,000 from drug traffickers who were delivering cocaine paste from a port to an airstrip. He said he shared the money with two subordinate officers. He reportedly explained that the "only reason he had taken the money was because of [the U.S. military advisor to his unit] telling him to do so in order to be in a better position to obtain drug information."
# CIA Response to Allegations of Drug Trafficking. A February 8, 1983 cable to Headquarters stated that his admission that he had accepted a $1,000 bribe from a narcotics smuggler was disturbing. However, the cable added:
. . . to put the best face on a truly ugly development, we could only point out that had [he] chosen to do so, he could have accepted these payments on a daily basis, thus enriching himself to an unimaginable degree. He chose not to, however, and became the bane of the narcotraffickers' existence at great personal risk to himself and to the detriment of his military career.
No information has been found to indicate that the U.S. military advisor was ever asked by CIA about the contractor's claim that the advisor had told him to accept the bribe.
# A March 11, 1985 Headquarters cable noted his comments from the 1983 security interview. The cable stated that "it would be prudent to arrange for [interviews by CIA Security] at regular intervals."
In November 1984, a cable to Headquarters reported an allegation that an ARDE pilot had alleged Hull's airfield "has been used for smuggling in the past and that some of the people who live in the area have been associated with contraband/drug smuggling." The report did not specify whether Hull had knowledge of the trafficking, nor did it indicate the source of the information, when the alleged trafficking took place, or any other details. Hull denies knowing the pilot who made the allegation, and he denies having knowledge of such activities. No information has been found to indicate that the pilot was ever present at any of Hull's airstrips in Costa Rica.
According to the CBS West 57th Street broadcast on April 6, 1987, Gary Betzner said, "I took two loads, small aircraft loads of weapons to John Hull's ranch in Costa Rica and returned back to Florida with approximately a thousand kilos of cocaine." Betzner then stated that he returned with "500 each trip." He also alleged that personnel working for Hull "would load the aircraft. In both cases John Hull was there." Betzner also said that Hull "physically saw the bags" of cocaine that were loaded onto the aircraft. During this program, Betzner described a whistle as a means of communicating with personnel at Hull's airstrip before landing. Later in the program, Betzner said, "The second trip I went down, I didn't go back into John Hull's place. I went into another strip that was maybe 10 or 15 miles east of the place, but a little better strip." In denying these allegations on the same program, Hull said, "There's never been any drug movement through this zone or through any of our farms . . . . "
the Costa Rican Government had arrested Hull on charges that included illegal arms and narcotics trafficking. According to the cable, the chief of the Costa Rican Office of Judicial Investigation had said that Hull's arrest was "based on testimony of known narcotics traffickers arrested in Miami." These traffickers had alleged that Hull allowed "aircraft to utilize his property . . . for transit of drugs to USA."
# A February 1985 Headquarters cable noted that Hull "has become a political liability to the [Costa Rican Government] and a subject of interest to [U.S.] law enforcement agencies." A responding cable noted that the Station does not believe that Hull is involved with Frank Castro in any narcotics trafficking activities.
# A May 1986 cable from Headquarters stated:
On 2 May 1986 [CATF] personnel met with representatives of [FBI] to review the status of their investigation into plan to blow up embassy in Costa Rica . . . . Figuring prominently in investigation is [Hull], according to information provided by Jack Terrell. . . . Nonetheless this allegation as well as one that [Hull's] driver "David" had been killed possibly by [Hull] figure prominently in Senator Kerry's staff's investigations into alleged improprieties in Central America. . . . . Request Station provide answers to the following questions:
Does station have any information on [Hull] that indicates that [sic] he might have violated U.S. laws. Terrell alledges [sic] that 42 kilo[gram]s of cocaine were smuggled into the U.S. from [Hull's] farm. This cocaine allegedly is smuggled into Nicaragua by Columbia [sic] drug smugglers with the knowledge of the Nicaraguan government and the assistance of Rene Corbo.(29) Corbo gets a cut of the shipment to Nicaragua for his help and allegedly has an arrangement with [Hull] to move the drugs to [Hull's] farm and then into the U.S. . . .
- * Turned over helicopters to ARDE and made arrangements for a C-47 to be flown to El Salvador; and
- * Promised to pay ARDE $200,000 per month once the narcotics operations were underway. . . .
Second Report. An October 1984 cable to Headquarters reported that the name of the Miami-based drug trafficker with whom ARDE officials were dealing was Jorge Morales. The cable restated the terms of the mutual assistance agreement that had been reported in mid-October and added the following details:
- * On October 31, Gerardo Duran, an ARDE pilot who was flying on Morales' behalf, was scheduled to fly from Miami to the Bahamas.
- * Morales and Adolfo Chamorro were in the process of setting up "bank accounts in Miami through which to funnel the monthly payments to the ARDE once the working relationship between Morales and the ARDE is in full operation."
Third Report. According to a November 1984 cable to Headquarters, Pastora, Adolfo Chamorro and Roberto Chamorro were scheduled to travel to Miami on that same day and that two ARDE pilots--including Gerardo Duran--had already arrived in Miami. The purpose of this travel was for Pastora and the two Chamorros to meet Morales. Reportedly the pilots were probably going to undertake a narcotics-related flight on behalf of Morales.
CIA Response to Allegations of Drug Trafficking. CIA terminated its relationship with Pastora in October 1984, within two weeks of receiving the first reporting about ARDE's drug-related dealings with Morales. While other factors were involved, the drug trafficking allegations weighed in the decision.
The Southern Front trafficking reports that began to be received in October 1984 stated that Adolfo Chamorro had been instrumental in making the arrangement for drug trafficker Jorge Morales to supply monetary support and aircraft in exchange for the use of FRS pilots. Chamorro reportedly set up a bank account in Miami through which money from Morales could be transferred to FRS/ARDE.