[What was the] situation going on in [Central America] in the mid-'80s that
allowed for all hell to break loose?
Winer was U.S. Deputy Ass't Sec'y of State for International
Narcotics Matters 1994-1999. He previously worked as counsel to Senn John
Kerry (D-MA) advising on foreign policy issues. He worked on the investigation
into the Contras and cocaine trafficking. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted in 2000.
Governments, under the best of circumstances...have a hard time keeping border
controls working. Good governments have a hard time keeping drugs [guns,
illicit migrants, stolen cars, illicit money] from crossing the border... Add
in a civil war with paramilitaries and guerrillas and intelligence agencies
helping their side move stuff and move people illicitly across the border, you
wind up undermining the governments that are supposed to be protecting their
people and their laws.
One of the things that happened in the 1980s is essentially the governments in
Central America could not stop anyone or anything from crossing borders. That
was exploited by gunrunners. It was exploited by Contras and guerrillas and
left-wingers, right-wingers. It was exploited by drug traffickers--no doubt
about it. And American policy makers could not and would not confront that.
Fred [Hitz] says there weren't regulations...in place. There was in fact a
letter that didn't mention narcotics. And there wasn't clear instruction given
to the troops in the field about what they should do if they ran into somebody
who was running drugs.
If it's your job to check out food at the supermarket counter...you're not
worrying about the person who's supposed to be stocking the shelves. It's not
your job. With the CIA or the State Department or any part of the US
government, you've got a particular mission to accomplish. If something's in
the parameters of your mission, you're focused on it. Protecting the border,
stopping drugs, was certainly not part of the mission.
Now, it was resisted being put as part of the mission because... it was going
to undermine or restrict your effectiveness in carrying out your primary
mission. Because you're always going to have drug traffickers, gun runners,
people who are alien smugglers, other people who are in other businesses, as
some of the kinds of people that you're going to be relying on to carry out a
covert war. And that's true of any government anywhere--whether you're talking
Afghanistan, Colombia, Southeast Asia, [or] Burma. These things tend to go
together. Your operatives tend to be people who are involved in other illicit
So there's a tension there. And if you're focused on winning an ideological
war, you're probably not focused at the same time on the law enforcement
consequences of what you're doing. And certainly, our government in the 1980s
was not focused on that problem, [it] actively resisted being focused on that
In terms of Central America?
Absolutely--and I would say in terms of Southwest Asia--Pakistan and
Afghanistan as well.
In talking with Fred Hitz, his conclusion is there is no evidence that the
Central Intelligence Agency or any of its field officers were involved in [or]
promoted [narcotics trafficking] in any way.
Certainly as a matter of policy, the CIA has never promoted narcotics
trafficking that I'm aware of. Certainly there wouldn't be any documents that
would show that anyone was promoting drug trafficking. If you were allowing it
to happen because there were other higher objectives, you'd be a fool to create
a record showing that you were aware of it.
So when the Inspector General shows up ten years later and does his level best
to get to the truth, he's going to be looking at the documentary record. Do
you think that documentary record is going to say, "Today I allowed in a ton of
dope to come into the United States, being pushed by such-and-such a guy, who's
also an asset of mine because the guy is being very, very effective against the
Salvadoran guerrillas or against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas"? You're not going
to write that memo.
So what I think Fred Hitz was saying and what he wrote--what that report
says--is there's no evidence. There's no records. Well, of course there
aren't. But do I know for sure that US officials were working with people who
were engaged in drug trafficking in the United States in the 1980s?
Absolutely. There's no doubt about it. They were.
People, organizations, the infrastructure of all of these civil
wars--right-wing, left-wing, I don't care about the ideology--were being fueled
and funded in part by the drug trade. It's a very convenient [way] to fund
that kind of war. And the assets find it convenient to work for governments
because they're also engaged in criminal activity. If you're working for
governments, you may be able to use them.
I interviewed people who were drug traffickers, major drug traffickers, who
provided support for the Contras. There wasn't any doubt about it. I
interviewed bunches of them. They were, at the same time, working with US
government officials. Were they CIA employees? No. Did they get a check from
the US government? Absolutely not. Were they all assets of the US government?
Most of them weren't even assets. An asset is somebody who's getting some kind
of payment, even though they're not getting their Social Security check and
their retirement and so on. They were working alongside the US government for
common objectives. And they were helping fund US government objectives in that
period. Was the United States government the only government doing this then?
Absolutely not...Other governments have done it...It is a recurrent theme of
these, civil unrests, that drug traffickers get involved in the funding of the
...In recent polls 72% of African Americans believe that the CIA introduced
crack into their community. And many other people outside of the African
American community have taken it as common knowledge that the CIA is "involved
in drug trafficking."
To say the CIA introduced crack into any part of the United States is obscene.
It is so grossly wrong. It is so unfair. It is so untrue.
Rather, when you have governments engaged in covert activity, they wind up
weakening the infrastructure of other governments--the capability of
governments to stop crime from taking place. And they also simultaneously
empower some of the criminals with whom they will inevitably come into contact.
They feel a little looser, a little easier, about moving the dope in the United
They're strengthening the criminals' infrastructure and weakening the
governmental infrastructure--not because they want drugs to come to the United
States. It's an invisible, hidden artifact. They're not even seeing it. So
it has never been an intention, as far as I'm concerned, of anybody in the CIA
or anybody in any other US government agency to facilitate movement of dope in
the United States. Nor is it fair to suggest that they did it. They didn't.
Rather, other foreign policy objectives had the unfortunate byproduct...of
making it a bit easier, strengthening some of those forces.
Now, it's always temporary and short term, because the people who play in this
dope game wind up getting killed. They wind up getting indicted. They wind up
in bad shape most of the time. So eventually it all plays out anyway, and they
get caught in the grind of intelligence, law enforcement, fratricidal drug
trafficking, rivalries and wars.
But according to Fred Hitz, when an agent in the field wants to hire, let's
say, an airline in Honduras--
--they have to notify Washington--
--and then Washington vets that relationship by allegedly running the names
of the individuals involved and the company through indices here in
Yes. Since when? Did he tell you since when?
No. This was in operation then.
I was in the Congressional branch then. I wasn't in the Executive branch. All
I can tell you is I pulled indictments of drug traffickers from US Customs,
from court records, from State Department records, a variety of other
sources--showing these people to be indicted drug traffickers or under
investigation for having moved massive amounts of dope--who had contracts with
the US government. I proved they had contacts with the US government. There's
no question about the fact that they did.
Now [there are] three possibilities. They did the check poorly, incompetently,
and didn't find it. They did the check and found it and lied about it. Or,
they didn't do the check.
I personally find the second possibility--they did the check and lied about
it--very, very unlikely, because that creates risk and danger. So if it was
done, it was done poorly.
The question comes down to, as Fred would put it, knowledge. Did [CIA]
Washington headquarters have knowledge that they were dealing with drug
traffickers in order to support the Contra war?
When and where and who? The CIA never knows anything. The State Department
never knows anything. The White House never knows anything. Individual people
in particular locations know things at particular times. So you'd have to go
down from that broad generality to look at the facts of particular cases. In
particular cases evidence came up and typically when that happened, as Fred
Hitz documents in his report, the system would then not really deal with the
information very well. They'd say, "Well, it's not proven. Go back and get
more information." And then nothing much would happen one way or the other.
Sometimes there were people, about whom there were allegations of drug
trafficking, working with the US government for years after those allegations
first surfaced. In other cases, there were people about whom there were
allegations of drug trafficking, whose relationship was severed with the United
States after it came up.
You can't say that anything systematically happened yes or happened no. It was
very ad hoc. There wasn't a clear policy until much later in the 1980s--1988,
'89--when the CIA absolutely tightened up its control a lot. And you saw real
pressure being put to bear--"We don't want drug traffickers." And that
absolutely happened by about 1988, '89, maybe a little bit earlier.
So you're agreeing that the CIA was not in the business of trafficking. Its
agents weren't fostering trafficking directly. Is that correct?
The CIA was certainly not in the business of trafficking. As to agents--
Was it just looking the other way?
It not a matter of looking the other way. It's what you're looking at...CIA
was looking at other things at that time. It wasn't that it was looking the
other way from dope. It didn't see the dope. It was looking at the problem of
national security threatened by guerrillas, threatened by Communism. That was
its focus. That was its mission...Dope [was] not on the radar screen. It got
politicized later. And it got politicized later partly during Iran-Contra and
right afterwards. And then there was a focus...
Now, were individuals seeing it in particular occasions? Yes. Did they
systematically work to correct it when they saw it? No. Did they sometimes
work to correct it when they saw it? Yes. Did they sometimes ignore it? Yes.
...Everybody says that [their greatest] fear [was] somebody they were doing
business with getting busted while they were working on the Contra war...That's
why they wouldn't play with dope dealers.
... I've worked with a lot of great people [in the CIA] who wouldn't want to
have their institution's reputation ever sullied. But there are also people in
the field who've got practical problems to solve everyday, and they're not
worried about what Washington thinks. So what's happening in Washington and
what's happening in the field are not always congruent. And you have to
remember ... in the 1980s... there was a privatization of foreign policy which
happened under Bill Casey. Casey set up operations that were outside formal
chains of command, outside the structure of the government and funded by
foreign government sometimes, among other sources. It's what Iran-Contra was
all about a long time ago now.
The result was that there were some people who were clearly working for the US
government, working for the NSC for example, who were drug traffickers. They
weren't working for the CIA.
Oliver North...categorically denies that anybody in his off-the-books
operation was trafficking in drugs.
He is either misinformed or lying. Oliver North's diaries are filled
with references to drug trafficking and people associated with his enterprise
drug trafficking--filled with it. He fought Senator Kerry in the Senate for
years when Kerry was trying to get that information declassified, so everybody
could see it. We were never able to get all of that information unclassified.
The information we finally got declassified--it took years--shows dozens of
references to drug trafficking by people associated with his network.
I can tell you as a categorical fact that at least one person working directly
for the North Secord Enterprise was a significant dope dealer and was working
in business with significant dope dealers out of Miami. Absolutely no doubt
about it, absolute certainty from law enforcement records that I got way back
when I was investigating for the US Senate.
It happened. It's true. And he can deny it. People deny all kinds of
inconvenient things. Oliver North can say, "I never hired or worked with any
drug traffickers." His organization did. [Moses] Nunez, Louis Rodriguez,
Francisco [Charas] were part of a group called Ocean Hunter, [a] seafood
businesses, flash-frozen shrimp. It's been over ten years--hard to remember
They were in the CIA report.
Not only the CIA report. I had them drug trafficking up to New Bedford,
Massachusetts, my home state. The biggest marijuana shipment ever intercepted
in Massachusetts was their organization. They were working for Ollie.
...Glen Robinette was the retired CIA guy working for the North Secord
Enterprise--was directing this guy. And you had the CIA at one point interview
Nunez I believe. That's in the Hitz report somewhere--though you have to go
back and check the report and see what's in it.
It's not true. He's either got a selective memory or he's not telling the
truth. I can't tell you which. He'd have to search his own conscience on
Well, just for the record, let me ask you about the MOU. It's a document
between Casey and William French Smith.
Right. That's early...[It's] very important to know how early that is. It was
not Reagan II. It's Reagan I, long before the drug wars had gotten
politicized, long before people had come to recognize that there might be a
connection between the infrastructure of civil war and the infrastructure of
...There's a follow-up, if you will, "cover your ass" letter in which
William French Smith says, "Oh, we left out narcotics. But we all know that's
not really going to be a problem because there's a fine relationship between
the DEA and the CIA."
Right. We had a guy, Michael Palmer, we put before the world during Senator
Kerry's hearings, who worked with the CIA and the State Department while he was
under investigation by two or three different offices of the DEA and two or
three different offices of Customs. And eventually he wound up doing a sting
operation, I think on behalf of Customs, while he was under investigation by
the DEA. And you had Customs and DEA firing shots at one another on an
airfield as he came in with a dope shipment.
What Palmer was doing is essentially ticket punching--in which he would get as
many US government agencies as he possibly could hiring him in order to make it
impossible for anybody to go after him. Now, the relationship with the DEA and
CIA was so good because the guy was working for the CIA while he was under
massive investigation by the DEA as one of the major pilots involved in
trafficking dope up from Colombia. That's how good the relationship was.
That's historic record. That's fact. That's Palmer's own testimony before the
US Senate in 1988.
Okay. So to you, this was in a sense a conscious loophole.
I wasn't there. I have no idea what was in Casey's mind or William French
Smith's mind. I think the facts speak for themselves...
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