An August, 1996, series in the San Jose Mercury News by reporter Gary Webb linked the origins of crack cocaine in California to the contras, a guerrilla force backed by the Reagan administration that attacked Nicaragua’s Sandinista government during the 1980s. Webb’s series, “The Dark Alliance,” has been the subject of intense media debate, and has focused attention on a foreign policy drug scandal that leaves many questions unanswered.
This electronic briefing book is compiled from declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive, including the notebooks kept by NSC aide and Iran-contra figure Oliver North, electronic mail messages written by high-ranking Reagan administration officials, memos detailing the contra war effort, and FBI and DEA reports. The documents demonstrate official knowledge of drug operations, and collaboration with and protection of known drug traffickers. Court and hearing transcripts are also included.
Special thanks to the Arca Foundation, the Ruth Mott Fund, the Samuel Rubin Foundation, and the Fund for Constitutional Government for their support.
The National Security Archive obtained the hand-written notebooks of Oliver North, the National Security Council aide who helped run the contra war and other Reagan administration covert operations, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in 1989. The notebooks, as well as declassified memos sent to North, record that North was repeatedly informed of contra ties to drug trafficking.
In his entry for August 9, 1985, North summarizes a meeting with Robert Owen (”Rob”), his liaison with the contras. They discuss a plane used by Mario Calero, brother of Adolfo Calero, head of the FDN, to transport supplies from New Orleans to contras in Honduras. North writes: “Honduran DC-6 which is being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into U.S.” As Lorraine Adams reported in the October 22, 1994 Washington Post, there are no records that corroborate North’s later assertion that he passed this intelligence on drug trafficking to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In a July 12, 1985 entry, North noted a call from retired Air Force general Richard Secord in which the two discussed a Honduran arms warehouse from which the contras planned to purchase weapons. (The contras did eventually buy the arms, using money the Reagan administration secretly raised from Saudi Arabia.) According to the notebook, Secord told North that “14 M to finance [the arms in the warehouse] came from drugs.”
An April 1, 1985 memo from Robert Owen (code-name: “T.C.” for “The Courier”) to Oliver North (code-name: “The Hammer”) describes contra operations on the Southern Front. Owen tells North that FDN leader Adolfo Calero (code-name: “Sparkplug”) has picked a new Southern Front commander, one of the former captains to Eden Pastora who has been paid to defect to the FDN. Owen reports that the officials in the new Southern Front FDN units include “people who are questionable because of past indiscretions,” such as Jos? Robelo, who is believed to have “potential involvement with drug running” and Sebastian Gonzalez, who is “now involved in drug running out of Panama.”
On February 10, 1986, Owen (”TC”) wrote North (this time as “BG,” for “Blood and Guts”) regarding a plane being used to carry “humanitarian aid” to the contras that was previously used to transport drugs. The plane belongs to the Miami-based company Vortex, which is run by Michael Palmer, one of the largest marijuana traffickers in the United States. Despite Palmer’s long history of drug smuggling, which would soon lead to a Michigan indictment on drug charges, Palmer receives over $300,000.00 from the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Aid Office (NHAO) — an office overseen by Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams, and CIA officer Alan Fiers — to ferry supplies to the contras.
State Department contracts from February 1986 detail Palmer’s work to transport material to the contras on behalf of the NHAO.