The DEVASTATION of America's inner cities by crack cocaine is hard to overstate.
At the epidemic's peak, the struggle for dominance of the crack markets led to escalating gang warfare and immense instant wealth for those with the ruthlessness and entrepreneurial savvy to prevail. The effects of the highly addictive form of cocaine were all too evident in the hollow eyes and criminal records of its users.
Crack turned relatives into strangers, neighbors into armed enemies. Babies came into the world with pre-ravaged little minds and bodies. None of these problems have gone away but, fortunately, the scourge has subsided.
The toll has been so harsh on the African-American community that there long have been whispers on the streets that crack was a government plot against blacks.
The suspicious of U.S. government complicity in the origins of the crack trade - tacit or otherwise - have gained new credence with the case of L.A. drug dealer "Freeway Rick" Ross, whose web of connections was examined in a recent series by the San Jose Mercury News. The newspaper presented evidence that Ross was in a drug ring with ties to the Contras, the CIA-backed guerrilla force that tried to topple the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.
The Mercury News stories suggest that, at the very least, the Central Intelligence Agency knew or should have known that its Contras were profiting from the L.A. crack trade. These allegations must be pursued. Aggressively. Independently. Credibly.
CIA Director John Deutch has emphatically denied any agency connection with the drug trade, but his words are not going to be enough to erase the concerns.
The debate is raging. A Baltimore Sun article, published in Saturday's Chronicle, raised questions about the lack of specifics in the Mercury News series, and its implications about the extent of government involvement in the L.A. crack trade. The Sun article quote a former Senate investigator as characterizing the documentation of charges against the government as "weak."
The CIA and Justice Department inspectors general will be coordinating one investigation. That probe will not settle this controversy, even though the CIA's inspector general is, by law, "independent" of the agency. He is still on the payroll. the House National Intelligence Committee has also begun an inquiry.
Allegations of this gravity merit a select committee, with staff and subpoena powers, as proposed by Representative Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, in HR 520. It would be similar to committees convened to investigate Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair. The exploitation of America's inner cities deserves no less scrutiny.
(Reprint, San Francisco Chronicle, September 21, 1996)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Oct. 2, 1996
Editor - It was gratifying to read Cynthia Tucker's column in your September 21 paper. Finally, someone whose opinion will be heard is taking note of one of this year's most important stories, the involvement of the CIA in importing the cocaine which fueled the crack epidemic of the mid-1980s. The voices of Ms. Tucker, Senators Boxer and Feinstein and of Maxine Waters will hopefully result in Congress brushing aside the self-serving denials of the CIA's own "investigation."
This will not be the first congressional inquiry into CIA connivance in the illegal drug trade. In 1973, Senator Frank Church headed an investigation of issues stemming from a book written by a brash young Yale graduate student which alleged the agency was extensively involved in the heroin trade in Southeast Asia. The CIA successfully pressured a number of McCoy's sources into recanting the Congress bought the CIA denials.
In 1991, McCoy published a damning, but barely noticed expansion and update of his original work. This book, "The Politics of Heroin; CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade," is a scholarly, well-documented effort which details the heroin trafficking connections of the American intelligence services from the '40s in the Mediterranean through the '80s in Afghanistan. It specifically did not deal with cocaine, but taken together with the story in the San Jose Mercury News, it makes clear that our government's 50-year manipulation of the CIA's covert action mandate on the hoe hand, and our feckless illegal drug policy on the other, amount to nothing less than monstrous global fraud.
Thomas J. O'Connell
San Mateo, CA
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