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D.C. NEWSPAPER CHALLENGES ARTICLES ON CIA-CRACK LINK.

Byline: John Diamond Associated Press

The CIA admits it deals with some unsavory people - possibly even drug dealers - as it collects secrets.

But investigators so far have been unable to prove - or refute - the explosive allegation that the agency was linked in the mid-1980s to the spread of crack cocaine in America's poor African-American neighborhoods.

A three-part series called ``Dark Alliance,'' published in August by the San Jose Mercury News, said a Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs and funneled millions in drug profits to a CIA-run guerrilla army.

The series sparked widespread anger in the African-American community toward the CIA. In a lengthy article Friday, however, The Washington Post challenged several of the findings by the Mercury News.

The Mercury News stood by its report, saying the basic allegation that people associated with the CIA trafficked in cocaine had not been challenged.

The series traced the crack cocaine explosion to two Nicaraguan cocaine dealers, Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses, who were civilian leaders of an anti-communist commando group formed and run by the CIA during the 1980s.

Since then, CIA Director John Deutch has rejected the allegations in the series, while promising an independent investigation of the agency's actions. Deutch also vigorously defends the agency's right, and obligation, to deal with shady figures to gain intelligence.

``We are going to have to ask our case officers to be in some very dangerous places with some very unsavory characters,'' Deutch recently told lawmakers.

As investigations by the CIA, Justice Department and Congress proceed, the Mercury News series has taken on a life of its own, circulating on fax and copy machines and on talk radio, particularly in African-American neighborhoods beset by crack abuse. African-American leaders have held protests and demanded investigations.

``When you have a situation where you have people who can see the results of the drug right in front of them every day, and the people are generally distrustful of the government, when you put that in combination with this article, you have a formula for a tremendous amount of concern,'' said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., an African-American congressman whose district includes poor minority sections of Baltimore.

The Mercury News did not allege directly that the CIA knew about the two Nicaraguans' drug dealing.

``The key finding of the series that people associated with the CIA also sold many tons of cocaine has not been challenged,'' Mercury News Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos said Friday in a telephone interview. ``The beauty of the series is that it clearly went that far and didn't go any further than that.''

In its report Friday, The Washington Post noted that the Mercury News series marked the first allegation that the Nicaraguan Contra drug activity extended into the United States. The Post challenged the newspaper's conclusion that the crack cocaine scourge traces its origins to crack dealer Ricky Donnell Ross, through supply provided by Blandon and Meneses.

The Post noted that Blandon traded about five tons of cocaine over a decade, as against a nationwide cocaine trade totaling more than 250 tons a year. The Post reported that while the Mercury News makes no direct link between the CIA and the drug trafficking, such a link is strongly implied.

The first installment of the series noted that cocaine ``was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before members of the CIA's army started bringing it into South Central (Los Angeles) in the 1980s at bargain basement prices.''

Ceppos, the Mercury News executive editor, calls the Post's five-ton figure ``just plain false'' and notes that Ross ``was the biggest and most successful crack dealer in South Central L.A.''
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 5, 1996
Words:610
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