Cocaine expose gets snow job

Shock waves should have jolted America when the news broke in England a few weeks ago: "The C.I.A. actively encouraged drug-trafficking in order to fund right-wing contra rebels in Nicaragua during the 1980's, and the C.I.A. agent in Nicaragua was employed to ensure the money went to the contras and not into the pockets of drug barons." That's how a london-based daily newspaper, the Independent, summarized the conclusions of investigative journalists working for Britain's ITV television network. Their findings aired Dec. 12 on a highly regarded program called "The Big Story." It certainly was a big story - on that side of the Atlantic. But on this side, it was no story at all. The British reports included statements by Carlos Cabezas, a pilot for the Nicaraguan Air Force before the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. During the early 1980's, Cabezas transported cocaine from Central America to California. He spent six years in prison after the 1983 seizure of 430 pounds of cocaine in San Francisco Bay. Interviewed for the ITV documentary, Cabezas said that he delivered cocaine proceeds to contra leaders in Miami and Cost Rica. Cabezas told the journalists that in Costa Rica he met C.I.A. agent Ivan Gomez, who was responsible for overseeing the transfer of drug profits to the contras. You night think that news media in the United States would be quick to report on ITV's scoop. No such luck. The new year began with Americans still unaware of information that became common knowledge in Britain weeks ago. Our country's most influential big-city dailies - The Washington Post, The New York times and the Los Angeles times - haven't even mentioned the ITV story. In sharp contrast, last Fall those papers devoted enormous resources and much newprint to attacking a series in the San Jose Mercury News that linked C.I.A.-backed contras to the spread of crack cocaine in urban America. For instance, all three presented the C.I.A. as a touchstone of veracity. They relied heavily on official sources while straining to downplay the ties between the C.I.A. and the contras - and between the contras and cocaine. One Washington Post article reffered to "the supposed C.I.A.-contra connection." It didn't matter that the contra army was formed at the inspiration of the C.I.A., its leaders were picked by - and paid salaries by - the agency, and C.I.A. officers controlled day-to-day battlefield strategies. Last October, the Los Angeles Times joined the other two in belittling the importance of crack dealer Ricky Ross. Yet on Dec. 20, 1994, a long news article in the L.A. times had described Ross as the "king of crack" whose "coast-to-coast conglomerate" was responsible for "a staggering turnover that put the drug within reach of anyone with a few dollars." George Orwell had such mental gymnastics in mind when he described doublethink as willingness "to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed." Ironically, the evidence that surfaced in British media last month indicates that the Mercury News series actually understated the extent of C.I.A. involvement in the cocaine trade. But American media powerhouses that have done their best to discredit the Mercury News are now ignoring the unpleasant news from overseas. The Atlantic Ocean has never seemed wider.
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