The thrust of the charges is not new, but the sheer detail and documentation contained in a ground-breaking expose by the San Jose Mercury News last month are. Bombarded by demands from black leaders and senior California politicians, the CIA and the Justice Department have been forced to begin investigations into an affair which, if confirmed, would saddle the agency with at least partial responsibility for starting the crack cocaine epidemic which ravages ghetto America to this day.
According to the Mercury News, two Nicaraguan cocaine dealers, Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses, with the help of CIA agents, smuggled large quantities of cocaine into the US, much of which was sold to a Los Angeles crack dealer called "Freeway" Rick Ross, who distributed it to street gangs like the Crips and Bloods.
Proceeds are said to have been used to finance Nicar-agua's right-wing Contra movement, which was strongly supported by the Reagan/Bush administration in an attempt to unseat the Sandinista leadership.
Officially the charges have been categorically denied, and John Deutch, the CIA director, says an internal probe several clears ago cleared his agency of involvement. But the Mercury News claims local investigations into the LA drug ring were impeded by other federal agencies, and this week a former DEA official declared he had evidence that the Contras were indeed smuggling cocaine to finance arms purchases.
The official, Celerino Castillo, says he told the DEA of Contra drug flights in 1985 and 1986, but was informed by superiors that the flights were approved by the White House.
Black leaders have reacted with bitterness and outrage. A string of protest rallies led on Monday to the arrest of the head of the predominantly black Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the entertainer Dick Gregory for staging an illegal demonstration outside DEA headquarters. Most striking, though, has been the sense of victimisation that the reports have fuelled throughout black America, and the new lease of life for conspiracy theories - heavily promulgated on the Internet - that crack was introduced as part of deliberate attack on poor inner-city neighbourhoods, carried out by a white government. Such suspicions have been around for years; the evidence accumulated by the Mercury News makes them even harder to disbelieve entirely.
Even if they are ultimately shown to be unfounded, the short-term political ramifications could affect the election. Ostensibly, the loser is Bob Dole, who has sought to revive his floundering candidacy by pointing to a surge in teenage drug use since President Bill Clinton took office. Now he must cope with claims that a Republican administration was actually involved in drug-dealing.
But Mr Clinton has little reason to gloat. The allegations have much in common with the saga of the Mena air base in western Arkansas, through which, if Mr Clinton's foes are to be believed, the CIA and the Contras smuggled drugs into the US with the connivance of the state's then governor.Reuse content