Monday, January 17, 2005

See Our Selves!

The one true story that remains science fiction when Mercury reported: AMERICA'S SECRET WAR...

Recently eight high-school students, members of the Baltimore Environmental Justice Project, visited us. Over a brown-bag lunch, we asked what environmental problem they considered biggest or worst. Without hesitation, they said drugs, especially crack cocaine.
Homeless addicts, crack babies, drive-by-shootings, gangs, burglaries, robberies, muggings, black-on-black youth violence. Where did this scourge come from?
The twin centers of the crack cocaine industry are Los Angeles and Miami. The first time the MIAMI HERALD ever mentioned crack cocaine was April 20, 1986.[1] The first time the LOS ANGELES TIMES ever mentioned crack cocaine was two months later on June 30, 1986.[2] The news service Facts on File first mentioned crack on August 15, 1986, under the headline, "'Crack' Explosion Alarms Nation."[3] That story said crack had been around for "as long as 3 years, but its use was said to have exploded in the last months of 1985 and the first half of 1986." From these sources, we conclude that crack first appeared about 1983 and began spreading quickly; by mid-1986, it was a nationwide problem. What happened between 1983 and 1986?
Cocaine had been around as a sniffable white powder since the mid-1970s, but it cost $200 a gram ($5600 an ounce) providing recreation for the rich, not for working people. But by 1986 that had changed. The MIAMI HERALD wrote April 20, 1986, "Described until recently as a rich man's drug, cocaine has filtered down to blue-collar households and is finding an eager market among high school students who can ante up $10 or so to buy some 'crack,' cocaine in a highly purified form suitable for free-basing [smoking]."[1] The LOS ANGELES TIMES wrote September 21, 1986, "The economics of cocaine have changed so radically that it is no longer restricted to the well-to-do. The processing of crystallized cocaine as 'rock' or 'crack' has so lowered the price--and increased the availability--that junior high school students are pooling their lunch money... to buy cocaine from schoolyard dealers."[4] How did crack spread throughout urban neighborhoods during 1983-1986?
The story begins in Nicaragua. In 1979, the "Sandinistas" -- a left-wing revolutionary army -- defeated the U.S.-trained army of dictator Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua. Less than two years later, according to the WASHINGTON POST (March 10, 1982), on November 16, 1981, CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] Director William Casey proposed to President Reagan that he approve $19 million for the CIA to organize a counter-revolutionary force to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government.[5] The POST reported that President Reagan accepted Casey's proposal and authorized the CIA to finance and train a paramilitary commando force to provoke a counter-revolution in Nicaragua. According to TIME magazine, throughout 1982 the CIA rallied anti-Sandinista military forces, creating bases of operation in Honduras, on Nicaragua's border.[6] This became known as Ronald Reagan's "secret war," but it wasn't much of a secret. In fact, it was so public that on December 8, 1982, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the "Boland Amendment" to the 1983 military appropriations bill stating that none of the appropriated defense funds could be used to "train, arm, or support persons not members of the regular army for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua."[5] This amendment made it illegal for the CIA to continue funding its anti-Sandinista army, which by then was calling itself the FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Forces), but was better known as the Contras.
After passage of the Boland amendment, the Contras desperately needed a new source of funds. (This was several years before Oliver North set up his Iran connection to divert money from arms sales to the Contras.) According to a year-long investigation by the SAN JOSE (California) MERCURY NEWS based on court records, recently declassified documents, undercover audio tapes, and files retrieved via the Freedom of Information Act, the FDN solved its problem by opening the first pipeline from the Colombian cocaine cartels to black gangs -- the Crips and the Bloods -- on the streets of Los Angeles.[7]
The MERCURY NEWS investigation highlights three individuals in particular: Danilo Blandon, Norwin Meneses, and Ricky Ross.
At Ricky Ross's drug trial in San Diego in March, 1996, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) star witness was Danilo Blandon, telling his story for the first time. Blandon was the son of a wealthy Nicaraguan family who fled from Nicaragua to Los Angeles on June 19, 1979, at age 29, just as the Somoza dictatorship collapsed. His family's ranches and real estate holdings in Managua, and his wife's substantial
wealth, were confiscated by the Sandinista government. The Blandons worked in Los Angeles to build an anti- Sandinista movement, holding rallies and cocktail parties, but Blandon testified that their efforts raised little money. The trial record shows that, in 1981, Blandon was introduced to Norwin Meneses, another Nicaraguan living in California. With Meneses, Blandon flew to Honduras where they were introduced to the military chief of the CIA's Contra army, Enrique Bermudez. According to the MERCURY NEWS, "Bermudez was hired by the Central Intelligence Agency in mid-1980" to create the FDN. The MERCURY NEWS says, "Bermudez was the FDN's military chief and, according to congressional records and newspaper reports, received regular CIA paychecks for a decade, payments that stopped shortly before his still-unsolved slaying in Managua in 1991." (The Contra-Sandinista war ended in 1988.) After meeting with the CIA's Bermudez, Blandon testified in court, he and Meneses started raising money for the Contra revolution by selling drugs in L.A.
Blandon's partner, Norwin Meneses, was known in Nicaragua as "Rey de la Droga" (King of Drugs). In 1979, Meneses was under active investigation by the DEA and by the FBI for selling drugs in the U.S. According to the MERCURY NEWS, "despite a stack of law enforcement reports describing him as a major drug trafficker, Norwin Meneses was welcomed into the U.S. in July 1979 as a political refugee and given a visa and a work permit. He settled in the Bay Area and for the next six years supervised the importation of thousands of kilos of cocaine into California." (A kilo, or kilogram, weighs 2.2 pounds.) Meneses supplied Blandon with tons of cocaine and with assault weapons, which Blandon sold to young blacks in L.A. Blandon's profits went back to Honduras and Nicaragua, to support the CIA's Contra army. There seems little doubt that the CIA cooperated in Blandon's operation. Indeed, NEWSWEEK magazine on two occasions printed interviews and other evidence indicating that the CIA and the DEA both cooperated in the Contras' guns-and- drugs pipeline. (NEWSWEEK 1/26/87, pg. 26, and 5/23/88, pg. 22; and see WASHINGTON POST 1/20/87, pg. A12.) The MERCURY NEWS has now provided additional confirming evidence.
Blandon didn't really know what he was doing until he met Ricky Ross, a small-time African-American drug dealer. Because Blandon could supply limitless amounts of cocaine at rock-bottom prices, Ross began to build an enormous drug empire. When methods for turning cocaine into crack became known in 1983, Ross already had a drug-dealing network in place. Norwin Meneses routinely shipped 200-to-400-kilo quantities of cocaine from Miami to Blandon on the west coast, who sold them to Ross. Ross had 5 "cook houses" turning cocaine into crack. A former crack dealer described for the MERCURY NEWS one of Ross's cook houses where huge steel vats of cocaine were being stirred with canoe paddles atop restaurant-sized gas ranges. At his recent drug trial, Ross testified that it was not unusual to take in between $2 and $3 million a day. "Our biggest problem had got to be counting the money," Ross testified. Blandon told the DEA last year that during 1983 and 1984 he supplied Ross with 100 kilos a week. As this crack flooded into the streets of L.A., the gangs, chiefly the Crips and the Bloods, set up a national distribution network, and crack cascaded across the country into black neighborhoods everywhere, offering a cheap vacation from the miseries of ghetto life. For $20, anyone could get wasted. The gangs themselves were immensely strengthened by the money, guns, and connections that the crack business brought them. And of course the CIA's army got the millions it needed to keep alive Ronald Reagan's secret war.
Today Ricky Ross is facing life in federal prison without the possibility of parole. Danilo Blandon is free, working as an informant for the DEA. Norwin Meneses has never spent a day in a U.S. prison. Although he figured in 45 separate federal investigations, he openly supplied Ricky Ross's crack empire from his home in the Bay area, and was never touched by the law. He has since moved back to Nicaragua.
According to the MERCURY NEWS, agents of four law enforcement agencies --DEA, U.S. Customs, the L.A. County Sheriff's Office, and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement -- say their investigations into Ross's empire were thwarted by the CIA or by unnamed "national security" interests.
The rise of the crack industry has had lasting effects on communities across America. In 1980, one out of every 453 Americans was incarcerated. By 1993, one out of every 189 Americans was incarcerated. Between 1980 and 1993, the U.S. prison population tripled (from 329,821 to 1,053,738).[8]
But not just anyone went to jail. Crack is a poor person's drug; powder cocaine remains a recreation of the rich. Congress and 14 states passed laws making penalties for crack up to 100 times as great as penalties for powder cocaine. As a result, blacks were much more likely to go to jail, and for longer periods, than whites. In 1993 blacks were seven times more likely to be incarcerated than whites; an estimated 1471 blacks per 100,000 black residents vs. 207 whites per 100,000 white residents were imprisoned at the end of 1993.[8]
Prisons are now the fastest-growing item in almost all state budgets. California spends more on prisons than it does on colleges and universities. (NY TIMES 6/2/96, p. 16E) Former defense contractors are now getting into the lucrative incarceration business. (NY TIMES August 23, 1996, pg. B1.) Almost three quarters of new admissions to prisons are now African-American or Hispanic. If present trends continue for another 14 years, an absolute majority of African-American males between the ages of 18 and 40 will be in prison or in detention camps. (NY TIMES 8/10/95, pg. A14.) A secret war indeed.
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
[1] Bruce Goldman, "Cocaine: The Powder That Corrupts," MIAMI HERALD April 20, 1986, pg. 10G.
[2] Scott Ostler, "Sudden Death Has New Meaning," LOS ANGELES TIMES June 30, 1986, Section 3 (Sports), pg. 3. Ostler writes, "...the new rage in the drug world is crack cocaine, which is smokeable coke. It is cheap, plentiful, and intensively addictive."
[3] "'Crack' Explosion Alarms Nation," FACTS ON FILE WORLD NEWS DIGEST August 15, 1986, pg. 600F3.
[4] Bill Farr and Carol McGraw, "Drug Enforcers Losing Nation's Cocaine War; Massive Government Eradication Efforts are 'Overwhelmed by the Bad Guys,' Official Says," LOS ANGELES TIMES September 21, 1986, pg. 1.
[5] "U.S. Shows Photos to Prove Nicaragua Buildup; CIA- Trained Commandos to Hit Economic Targets," FACTS ON FILE WORLD NEWS DIGEST March 12, 1982, pg. 157A1, quoting the WASHINGTON POST of March 10, 1982.
[6] George Russel, "Niacargua's Elusive War," TIME Vol. 121 (April 4, 1983), pgs. 34-35.
[7] Gary Webb, "'Crack' Plague's Roots Are in Nicaragua War; Colombia-Bay Area Drug Pipeline Helped CIA-Backed Contras '80s Efforts to Assist Guerillas Left Legacy of Drugs, Gangs in Black L.A.," SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS August 18, 1996, pg. 1A; Gary Webb, "Testimony Links U.S. to Drugs-Guns Trade; Dealers Got 'Their Own Little Arsenal,'" SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS August 18, 1996, pg. 17A. Gary Webb, "Odd Trio Created Mass Market for 'Crack'; L.A. Dealer Might Get Life; Officials Quiet About Role of Nicaraguans," SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS August 19, 1996, pg. 1A. And: Gary Webb, "S.F. Drug Agent Thought She Hit on Something Big; As Trail Got Warm, Her Superiors Took Her Off the Case," SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS August 19, 1996, pg. 10A.
[8] Allen J. Beck and Darrell K. Gilliard, "Prisoners in 1994," BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS BULLETIN [NCJ- 151654], August, 1995, pgs. 1-13.


COLLINS: Elaine Quijano tonight. Elaine, thanks.
360 next, an avalanche near Park City, Utah. Rescue operations under way right now. We're bringing you the latest as it unfolds.
Sex, bombs, and angry rats. The Pentagon dreams up some creative ways of incapacitating enemy troops. Wait till you hear the details.
Also tonight, Bush unplugged. The president shares a confession and a regret.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They'll be here any minute!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not to worry, not to worry. We are now armed with mighty joints.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quickly, after them!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to -- we've got to...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get moving. We've got to stay loose, you know? Let it cool. Let the coolness get into our vertebrae.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, men! Go northward. You go southward. I'm going to walk here around in a circle.
COLLINS: I don't know how you can't laugh. Mel Brooks, incapacitating opposing armies in his movie "History of the World, Part 1."
As far out as that weapon was, it seems to fall right in step with some proposals for the military. According to one magazine, researchers were tinkering with some bizarre weapons ideas. Now, we want to be clear, these ideas were rejected long ago. So think of this as an entertaining diversion of what ended up in the trash bin.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS (voice-over): Consider modern combat. Could an enemy love itself to death? According to the Sunshine Project, a group which tracks research on chem- and bioweapons, the Pentagon has reviewed plans to develop various nonlethal weapons, including a so- called gay bomb, an aphrodisiac weapon to make enemy soldiers so irresistible to each other, morale would plummet.
Other weapons ideas dating from 1994 at the U.S. Air Force Research Lab, unleashing wasps or rats on the enemy. And a chemical to cause such severe halitosis, it would gross out the enemy.
The U.S. Marines, issuing a statement today, saying ideas are submitted from many sources. Quote, "None of the systems described in that proposal have been developed."
JOHN PIKE, DIRECTOR, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: It's no surprise that they would be looking at all kinds of ideas to how to incapacitate enemies on the battlefield. Some of them might actually work. And the problem is that in developing any of these weapons systems, you know in advance that half of them are bad ideas. You just don't know in advance which half are the bad ones.
COLLINS: One of the bad ones predates the psychedelic '60s, the era of make love, not war. In the '50s, according to, the Army's Chemical Corps launched a project called Psychochemical Agents and tested the hippie drug LSD. The idea was to release it from airplanes and make the enemy hallucinate. It didn't work, and LSD was dropped.
Can you picture the U.S. striking back with bats? Project X-Ray was launched during World War II. The military's idea was to attack using bats wearing tiny explosives.
PIKE: Under the theory that when the bats went home to roost inside Japanese houses, that the firebombs would go off, and be able to burn down Japanese housing. By the time the atomic bombs were dropped, they still hadn't figured out how to make it work, and then the war ended.
COLLINS: Pike says it's impossible to know what the military is actually testing right now. But he says hope springs eternal the military will come up with ways to incapacitate the enemy without having to kill them.

Tragedies of war may become all too common

As the nation's military relies more heavily on state National Guard and military reserves, incidents in which several soldiers from the same community are killed at the same time may become more common."If the bulk of any unit is composed of people from the same area, such as the Ark-La-Tex, and if they are put in harm's way, then the odds of people coming from the area being killed in larger numbers has to go up," said Shreveport historian and military author Gary Joiner. "It's pure probability."Louisiana was brutally introduced to this Jan. 6 when a roadside bomb destroyed a Bradley armored fighting vehicle, killing all seven soldiers within. Six were from the 2/156th Infantry (Mechanized) Battalion, part of the 4,000-member 256th enhanced Separate Brigade that deployed to Iraq in October for a year's service.Three of the soldiers were from Houma, a town of about 30,000 in LaFourche Parish. The soldiers' remains were returned to the state last week for burial with full military honors.Four days later, another Bradley fell victim to a terrorist's bomb, and two central Louisiana soldiers, members of the brigade's 3rd Battalion, were killed, and several were injured.Repeated nationally as more National Guard units are thrown into the fray, these losses could have an impact disproportionate to their numbers, said John Pike, founder of the Web-based GlobalSecurity.Org, created in 2000 to provide nonpartisan information on military, political and terrorism-related issues."The affected communities are going to be deeply traumatized," he said, citing his hometown, Springfield, Tenn."L Troop, 278th Cavalry is from there," he said. "They haven't had anybody hurt, but there's a whole big bunch of soldiers gone from there, and only 15,000 people in the town."Even though the community had a big going-away for its soldiers, life has returned to normal for many of the people there."That is part of the problem," said Pike, who worked for nearly two decades with the Federation of American Scientists and is a current member of the Council on Foreign Relations. "We still haven't figured out whether we are at war."Losing several soldiers at once brings war, with all its ugliness, home."That would be a wake-up," Pike said.The tragedy that struck Houma also touched Bossier City. On Dec. 16, Sgt. Craig Nelson of Bossier City was injured when the Humvee he was in was hit by a roadside bomb.Several soldiers in the vehicle with him at the time were injured. Since they were from his unit, they too were from this area, and some had even gone to school with Nelson, who died Dec. 29 after he was transferred to stateside military hospitals.Some families feel the benefits of camaraderie, shared training and common experiences outweigh the risks of drawing manpower from specific regions.Shreveporter Robert McLeod has two sons in the 1/156th Armor Battalion, and a third son, who has already served a hitch overseas, is about to head back into harm's way. "They've trained together for six years, and they've been trained well," he said of his sons Timothy, 24, in Charlie Company, Andrew, 25, in Bravo Company, and Robert Jr., 26, who will head later this year to Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Knox for retraining before heading overseas. "As far as I'm concerned, that's still a positive thing."Still, he said attending services for Nelson "struck me hard" and that his heart went out to the families of the south Louisiana soldiers killed in recent attacks."That's quite a load," he said.About 120,000 citizen-soldiers and airmen like the McLeod brothers are currently deployed all over the world, and the National Guard and reserves will soon make up a full 50 percent of the combat force in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense."We're being used as an operational force both here at home and abroad," Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told CNN last week. "This operational tempo has left the Guard short in several respects, with recruiting falling short of goals and equipment wearing out quicker than planned."Pike was more blunt."This war is going to break the Guard," he warns. "(Leaders) are going to have to rethink what the Guard does, because people are not going to want to join it. This war in Iraq will go on at least two more years to get Iraqi security forces set up, and American forces are going to have to make up the difference in the meantime. ... Joining the Guard will be seen as a ticket to Iraq and people will say 'I'm not going to do it.' The community calamity element is just a part of it."Such tragedy has touched American communities and families before."The nation addressed this on the family level during World War II when the five Sullivan brothers were killed on the USS Juneau," Joiner said. "That tragedy struck home because so many hundreds of thousands of families had sons and brothers and fathers in combat."That tragedy -- five sons from one family killed at once -- led to more rigorous enforcement of regulations that forbade siblings from serving in the same units or on the same ships."Clustered losses are notorious for causing morale problems," said Milton Finley, also a military historian and head of the social sciences department at LSU-Shreveport. "Probably the best example is in the 'Pals' concept tried by the British in World War I. You were allowed to enlist, train and fight beside men from your own village or neighborhood. The result was that in some villages in Britain there were no young men left by the end of the war -- all had been killed. The 'Pals' idea was never used again."Art Bergeron, a former Louisiana state historian who now works on the staff of the prestigious U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., said the U.S. Army learned from the bloody losses of World War I and earlier conflicts."The army did attempt to get away from having siblings from serving in combat zones and forming units from various areas rather than a single town or county," Bergeron said. "A fellow in my unit in 'Nam got to go home early because his brother had received assignment to a unit in another part of the country."Joiner said the use of state National Guard units makes the risk of future tragedies almost a certainty."Those guys from Houma may not have been directly related, but they obviously knew each other and probably went to school together," Joiner said. "The same thing could happen to Shreveport, Bossier City, Natchitoches -- you pick the town."Odds are during a protracted time of combat, you're going to see these happen, and I see (the war) going on for a long time."

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