Transcripts from Gary Webb’s original San Jose Mercury News series.
October 3, 1996
Affidavit shows CIA knew of contra drug ring<
by Gary Webb and Pamela Kramer
LOS ANGELES — During the early 1980s, federal and local narcotics agents knew that a massive drug ring operated by Nicaraguan contra rebels was selling large amounts of cocaine “mainly to blacks living in the South Central Los Angeles area,” according to a search-warrant affidavit obtained by the San Jose Mercury News.
The October 23, 1986, affidavit identifies former Nicaraguan government official Danilo Blandón as “the highest-ranking member of this organization” and describes a sprawling drug operation involving more than 100 Nicaraguan contra sympathizers.
The affidavit of Thomas Gordon, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s narcotics detective, is the first independent corroboration that the contra army — the Nicaraguan Democratic Force — was dealing “crack” cocaine to gangs in Los Angeles’ black neighborhoods. Known by its Spanish initials, the FDN was an anti-communist commando group formed and run by the CIA during the 1980s.
Gordon’s sworn statement says that both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI had informants inside the Blandón drug ring for several years before sheriff’s deputies raided it October 27, 1986. Gordon’s affidavit is based on police interviews with those informants and one of the DEA agents who was investigating Blandón.
Twice during the past year, Ron Spear, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, told the Mercury News that his department had no records of the 1986 raids and denied having a copy of Gordon’s search-warrant affidavit.
The Mercury News obtained the entire search-warrant affidavit this week. Sheriff Sherman Block’s office did not respond yesterday to written questions about the affidavit.
A recent Mercury News series revealed how Blandón’s operation, which sold thousands of kilos of cocaine to black Los Angeles drug dealers, created the first mass market for crack in America during the early 1980s and helped fuel a crack explosion that is still reverberating through black communities. Both the CIA and the Justice Department have denied government involvement.
But according to a legal motion filed in a 1990 case involving a deputy who helped execute the search warrants, one of the suspects involved in the raid identified himself as a CIA agent and asked police to call CIA headquarters in Virginia to confirm his identity. The motion, filed by Los Angeles defense attorney Harlan Braun on behalf of Deputy Daniel Garner, said the narcotics detectives allowed the man to make the call but then carted away numerous documents purportedly linking the U.S. government to cocaine trafficking and money-laundering efforts on behalf of the contras.
The motion said CIA agents appeared at the sheriff’s department within 48 hours of the raid and removed the seized files from the evidence room. But Braun said detectives secretly copied 10 pages before the documents were spirited away. Braun attempted to introduce them in the 1990 criminal trial to force the federal government to back off the case. Braun was hit with a gag order, the documents were put under seal and Garner was convicted of corruption charges.
Internal sheriff’s department records of the raid “mysteriously disappeared” around the same time the seized files were taken, Braun’s motion said. That claim was buttressed in an interview this week by an officer involved in the raid.
The officer, who requested anonymity, said the alleged CIA agent was Ronald Lister, a former Laguna Beach police detective who worked with Blandón in the drug ring. The 1986 search-warrant affidavit identifies Lister’s home in Laguna Beach as one of the places searched. It says Lister was involved in transporting drug money to Miami and was Blandón’s partner in a security company. The company, according to a former employee, was doing work at a Salvadoran military air base in the early 1980s. Lister pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking in 1991.