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Dark Alliance [Transcript, Pt. 7]

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 Knight-Rid­der News­pa­pers 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.