Lawmakers in the US Congress reached an agreement on Monday in both the House and the Senate on the proposed federal budget for 2014, which would allocate $520.5 billion for defence spending and $491.8 billion for non-defence.
The defence budget includes an increase in military aid to Israel that will be given as private aid, thus it will be in addition to the $3.1 billion dollars already given annually to Tel Aviv.
The budget is still awaiting formal approval and the exact amount of additional aid to Israel remains unclear.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee had endorsed an increase of $488 million in military aid to Israel to pay for Israel’s procurement and development of additional rocket and missile interception systems. The newspaper noted that this sum is considerably higher than previously expected.
However, Reuters news agency reported that the additional military aid to Israel would exceed $500 million after a compromise defence bill proposed on Monday agreed to boost US spending on missile defence by $358 million to $9.5 billion, mandating another homeland defence radar and increased funding for US-Israeli cooperative efforts.
Israel’s Channel 7 News reported that US President Barack Obama had originally requested $220 million of additional private military aid to Israel to buy extra Iron Dome short-range interceptor missiles and the batteries they are launched from, which was approved.
According to the Israeli media network, in addition to the above, the supplementary aid will allocate $173 million in funding for US-Israeli cooperative missile defence programs, which includes “nearly $34 million to improve the Arrow weapon system and $22 million for work on developing another, more advanced interceptor,” noting that, “The move signals further cooperation between Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).”
The new budget will also allocate $117.2 million to Israel for the “development of the David’s Sling short-range ballistic missile defence system, which is being developed jointly by Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and the US’s Raytheon.”
Furthermore, “An additional $15 million will be directed for US co-production of Iron Dome components. Raytheon has a joint marketing agreement with Israeli state-owned manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defence Systems for the Iron Dome system.”
Both the US and Israeli media are reporting that the supplemental funds are intended to protect Israel from the increasing threats coming from Iran, Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In addition to the supplemental aid, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has promised Israel that the existing $3.1 billion package of military aid would remain intact, despite US spending cuts.
The final vote on the budget is expected to take place before Congress leaves for the year.
Haaretz noted that, “Despite frequent disputes with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government regarding the peace process with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat, US President Barack Obama’s administration continues to be extraordinarily generous when it comes to granting military aid. Israeli defence officials see last week’s decision as further evidence of the strength of the relationship between the two countries.”
- Congress triples Obama’s request on defense cooperation with Israel (timesofisrael.com)
A Faustian Pact With Neoliberalism
South Africa’s young people today are known as the Born Free generation. They enjoy the dignity of being born into a democratic society with the right to vote and choose who will govern. But modern South Africa is not a perfect society. Full equality – social and economic – does not exist, and control of the country’s wealth remains in the hands of a few, so new challenges and frustrations arise. Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle like myself are frequently asked whether, in the light of such disappointment, the sacrifice was worth it. While my answer is yes, I must confess to grave misgivings: I believe we should be doing far better.
There have been impressive achievements since the attainment of freedom in 1994: in building houses, crèches, schools, roads and infrastructure; the provision of water and electricity to millions; free education and healthcare; increases in pensions and social grants; financial and banking stability; and slow but steady economic growth (until the 2008 crisis at any rate). These gains, however, have been offset by a breakdown in service delivery, resulting in violent protests by poor and marginalised communities; gross inadequacies and inequities in the education and health sectors; a ferocious rise in unemployment; endemic police brutality and torture; unseemly power struggles within the ruling party that have grown far worse since the ousting of Mbeki in 2008; an alarming tendency to secrecy and authoritarianism in government; the meddling with the judiciary; and threats to the media and freedom of expression. Even Nelson Mandela’s privacy and dignity are violated for the sake of a cheap photo opportunity by the ANC’s top echelon.
Most shameful and shocking of all, the events of Bloody Thursday – 16 August 2012 – when police massacred 34 striking miners at Marikana mine, owned by the London-based Lonmin company. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana even more distressing: a democratic South Africa was meant to bring an end to such barbarity. And yet the president and his ministers, locked into a culture of cover-up. Incredibly, the South African Communist party, my party of over 50 years, did not condemn the police either.
South Africa’s liberation struggle reached a high point but not its zenith when we overcame apartheid rule. Back then, our hopes were high for our country given its modern industrial economy, strategic mineral resources (not only gold and diamonds), and a working class and organised trade union movement with a rich tradition of struggle. But that optimism overlooked the tenacity of the international capitalist system. From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC’s soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we “sold our people down the river”.
What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil, as were concessions to keep negotiations on track and take delivery of the promised land for our people. Doubt had come to reign supreme: we believed, wrongly, there was no other option; that we had to be cautious, since by 1991 our once powerful ally, the Soviet union, bankrupted by the arms race, had collapsed. Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles. Whatever the threats to isolate a radicalising South Africa, the world could not have done without our vast reserves of minerals. To lose our nerve was not necessary or inevitable. The ANC leadership needed to remain determined, united and free of corruption – and, above all, to hold on to its revolutionary will. Instead, we chickened out. The ANC leadership needed to remain true to its commitment of serving the people. This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment, corrupt practices and selling political influence.
To break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war, seemed then an option too good to be ignored. However, at that time, the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favourable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted. It is by no means certain that the old order, apart from isolated rightist extremists, had the will or capability to resort to the bloody repression envisaged by Mandela’s leadership. If we had held our nerve, we could have pressed forward without making the concessions we did.
It was a dire error on my part to focus on my own responsibilities and leave the economic issues to the ANC’s experts. However, at the time, most of us never quite knew what was happening with the top-level economic discussions. As Sampie Terreblanche has revealed in his critique, Lost in Transformation, by late 1993 big business strategies – hatched in 1991 at the mining mogul Harry Oppenheimer‘s Johannesburg residence – were crystallising in secret late-night discussions at the Development Bank of South Africa. Present were South Africa’s mineral and energy leaders, the bosses of US and British companies with a presence in South Africa – and young ANC economists schooled in western economics. They were reporting to Mandela, and were either outwitted or frightened into submission by hints of the dire consequences for South Africa should an ANC government prevail with what were considered ruinous economic policies.
All means to eradicate poverty, which was Mandela’s and the ANC’s sworn promise to the “poorest of the poor”, were lost in the process. Nationalisation of the mines and heights of the economy as envisaged by the Freedom charter was abandoned. The ANC accepted responsibility for a vast apartheid-era debt, which should have been cancelled. A wealth tax on the super-rich to fund developmental projects was set aside, and domestic and international corporations, enriched by apartheid, were excused from any financial reparations. Extremely tight budgetary obligations were instituted that would tie the hands of any future governments; obligations to implement a free-trade policy and abolish all forms of tariff protection in keeping with neo-liberal free trade fundamentals were accepted. Big corporations were allowed to shift their main listings abroad. In Terreblanche’s opinion, these ANC concessions constituted “treacherous decisions that [will] haunt South Africa for generations to come”.
An ANC-Communist party leadership eager to assume political office (myself no less than others) readily accepted this devil’s pact, only to be damned in the process. It has bequeathed an economy so tied in to the neoliberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to alleviate the plight of most of our people.
Little wonder that their patience is running out; that their anguished protests increase as they wrestle with deteriorating conditions of life; that those in power have no solutions. The scraps that are left go to the emergent black elite; corruption has taken root as the greedy and ambitious fight like dogs over a bone.
In South Africa in 2008 the poorest 50% received only 7.8% of total income. While 83% of white South Africans were among the top 20% of income receivers in 2008, only 11% of our black population were. These statistics conceal unmitigated human suffering. Little wonder that the country has seen such an enormous rise in civil protest.
A descent into darkness must be curtailed. I do not believe the ANC alliance is beyond hope. There are countless good people in the ranks. But a revitalisation and renewal from top to bottom is urgently required. The ANC’s soul needs to be restored; its traditional values and culture of service reinstated. The pact with the devil needs to be broken.
At present the impoverished majority do not see any hope other than the ruling party, although the ANC’s ability to hold those allegiances is deteriorating. The effective parliamentary opposition reflects big business interests of various stripes, and while a strong parliamentary opposition is vital to keep the ANC on its toes, most voters want socialist policies, not measures inclined to serve big business interests, more privatisation and neoliberal economics.
This does not mean it is only up to the ANC, SACP and Cosatu to rescue the country from crises. There are countless patriots and comrades in existing and emerging organised formations who are vital to the process. Then there are the legal avenues and institutions such as the public protector’s office and human rights commission that – including the ultimate appeal to the constitutional court – can test, expose and challenge injustice and the infringement of rights. The strategies and tactics of the grassroots – trade unions, civic and community organisations, women’s and youth groups – signpost the way ahead with their non-violent and dignified but militant action.
The space and freedom to express one’s views, won through decades of struggle, are available and need to be developed. We look to the Born Frees as the future torchbearers.
Ronnie Kasrils was a member of the national executive committee of the African National Congress from 1987 to 2007, and a member of the central committee of the South African Communist party from December 1986 to 2007. He was the country’s minister for intelligence services from 2004 to 2008. This is an extract from the new introduction to his autobiography, Armed and Dangerous.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) recently released new cardiovascular disease prevention guidelines. They are an egregious example of much that is wrong with medicine today.
The guidelines propose a vast expansion of the use of statins in healthy people, recommending them for about 44 percent of men and 22 percent of healthy women between the ages of 40 and 75. According to calculations by John Abramson, lecturer at Harvard Medical School, 13,598,000 healthy people for whom statins were not recommended based on the 2001 guidelines now fall into the category of being advised to take moderate or high intensity statin therapy.
The American Heart Association (AHA) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to “build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.” Yet in its 2011-2012 financial statement, the AHA noted $521 million in donations from non-government and non-membership sources and many well-known large drug companies, including those who make and market statins, contribute amounts in the $1 million range.
Even as many in the medical community suspected the guidelines were a ploy to help the AHA’s drug partners sell statins, it was revealed that the guideline’s online calculator to determine cardiac disease risk over predicts risk by an astonishing 75 to 150 percent. But the guideline writers are standing firmly behind their faulty calculator.
Seven of the 15 authors disclosed ties to industry. Originally, the panel chair, Neil J. Stone, MD of Northwestern University, declared that he has had no ties to industry since 2008. Jeanne Lenzer, writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently, interviewed Dr. Stone who said: “When I was asked by NHLBI [National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute] to chair the [cholesterol] panel, I immediately severed ties with all industry connections prior to assuming my role as chair.” However, prior to 2008, he accepted funding and consultancy fees from multiple pharmaceutical companies, including Abbott, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Merck, and Schering-Plough among others. Dr. Stone also told the BMJ that he will “definitely” not take any industry funding for two years. Are we to believe that by severing his ties in 2008 his mind became an instant tabula rasa, completely devoid of any conscious or unconscious bias towards the drug companies which had been paying him? To do so strains the bonds of credulity past the breaking point.
The financial ties between large pharmaceutical companies and the AHA are numerous and very remunerative for the AHA, including huge donations from Abbott, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer. BMS, along with Merck and Pfizer, are major funders of AHA’s Go Red For Women heart disease awareness campaign whose web site tells patients “If your doctor has placed you on statin therapy to reduce your cholesterol, you can rest easy–the benefits outweigh the risks” The site also proclaims that , “Zocor and Pravachol–have the fewest side effects,” and “statins may only slightly increase diabetes risks.” The Women’s Health Initiative, a federal study of over 160,000 healthy women to investigate the most common causes of death, disability and poor quality of life in postmenopausal women, showed that a healthy woman’s risk of developing diabetes was increased 48 percent compared to women who were not on a statin. And contrary to what statin apologists say about statins only increasing diabetes risk in people who are at high risk of developing it anyway, for example the obese, women on statins in the Women’s Health Initiative who were of normal weight increased their risk of diabetes 89 percent compared to same weight women not taking a statin.
In 2010, AHA received $21,000 from statin maker AstraZeneca to run an AHA course about “emerging strategies with statins” at the Discovery Institute of Medical Education and almost $100,000 for learning projects including “debating controversial topics in cardiovascular disease.” The AHA defended the deceptively marketed and controversial cholesterol drug Vytorin. Did that have anything to do with the $2 million a year the AHA was taking from marketer Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals?
The AHA also rakes in millions from food companies which are also million dollar donors and which pay from $5,490 to $7,500 per product to gain the “heart-check mark” imprimatur from the AHA, renewable, at a price, every year. The foods so anointed have to be low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol yet Boar’s Head All Natural Ham (340 milligrams of sodium in a 2-ounce serving) somehow made the cut as did Boar’s Head EverRoast Oven Roasted Chicken Breast (440 milligrams of sodium in a 2-ounce serving). Such processed, high-sodium meats raise blood pressure, the risk of cardiovascular disease and the risk of diabetes. A review of almost 1,600 studies involving one million people in ten countries on four continents showed that a 1.8-ounce daily serving of processed meat raised the risk of diabetes by 19 percent and of heart disease by 42 percent.
The new guidelines might make sense if statins were truly as effective as their proponents claim, and if they had no adverse effects. But they have an increasing list of side effects, which affect at least 18 percent of people who take them. These range from muscle pain, weakness and damage to cataracts, cognitive dysfunction, nerve damage, liver injury and kidney failure.
Even the most avid statin proponents agree that statins do not prevent 60 to 80 percent of cardiac events. This is called “residual risk.” If there were a vaccine, say Vaccine X, that did not prevent 60 to 80 percent of cases of Infection Y, very few would be inclined to take it.
As Jerome Hoffman, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at UCLA wrote recently with regard to these guidelines: “How did we arrive at a place where conflicted parties get to make distorted semi-official pronouncements that have so much impact on public policy?” How indeed?
Barbara Roberts, MD, FACC is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She is the author of The Truth about Statins and How to Keep from Breaking Your Heart: What Every Woman Needs to Know about Cardiovascular Disease. Martha Rosenberg is a health reporter and author of Born with a Junk Food Deficiency.
Obscure Government Agency Brings Criminal Charges against 107 Bankers, but Stays Clear of Wall Street
A little-known federal office has demonstrated that bankers have not avoided criminal prosecution altogether since the 2008 financial crisis. Experts note, however, that those thrown in jail have largely been from small institutions, leaving counterparts at Wall Street powerhouses untouched.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) was originally created to oversee the government bailout of the auto and financial industries. But it has used its congressional authority to pursue bank executives who misused bailout funds.
To date, SIGTARP has gone after 107 senior bank officers, most of whom have been sentenced to prison, according to The Washington Post. Its work also has produced $4.7 billion in restitution paid to victims and the government.
Not bad for an agency with only 170 employees and a budget of $41 million, putting them at a disadvantage in terms of resources and manpower compared to government regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
What it lacks in size it makes up for in terms of criminal authority authorized by Congress. Unlike regulators, SIGTARP can issue search warrants, seize property and even make arrests.
But those targeted by SIGTARP have run community banks, not the national institutions that dominate Wall Street.
“Essentially, we’re looking for lies and greed,” SIGTAR chief Christy L. Romero told the Post. “Usually, people have gone to such great lengths to try to hide the schemes that we find that they end up violating several laws, which leads to long sentences.”
The average sentence given to those convicted of crimes as a result of SIGTARP investigations is five years and nine months, which is twice the length of the average sentence for white-collar crime in the U.S. SIGTAR currently has 150 ongoing criminal and civil investigations.
Mark Williams, a former bank examiner who teaches finance at Boston University, told the Post that it’s been less difficult for SIGTARP to go after the small fish.
“The amount of direct evidence of banker wrongdoing in these smaller bank cases is easier to show,” he said.
Williams added that SIGTARP’s work nonetheless sets “an important precedence that bad banker behavior will not be tolerated and [will be] aggressively prosecuted.”
To Learn More:
SIGTARP Proves That Some Bankers Aren’t Too Big to Jail (by Danielle Douglas, Washington Post)
Treasury Dept. Fails to Implement Two-Thirds of Post-Bailout Recommendations (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
Nearly a decade before Gary Webb published his investigative series on cocaine trafficking by Nicaraguan Contra rebels, U.S. law enforcement received a detailed account of top Contra leader Adolfo Calero casually associating with Norwin Meneses, called “a well-reputed drug dealer” in a “secret” document that I recently found at the National Archives.
Meneses was near the center of Webb’s 1996 articles for the San Jose Mercury-News, a series that came under fierce attack from U.S. government officials as well as major news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The controversy cost Webb his career, left him nearly penniless and ultimately contributed to his suicide on Dec. 9, 2004.
But the bitter irony of Webb’s demise, which will be the subject of a 2014 movie starring Jeremy Renner as Webb, is that Webb’s much-maligned “Dark Alliance” series forced major admissions from the CIA, the Justice Department and other government agencies revealing an even-deeper relationship between President Ronald Reagan’s beloved Contras and drug cartels than Webb ever alleged.
Typical of the evidence that the Reagan administration chose to ignore was information provided by Dennis Ainsworth, a blue-blood Republican from San Francisco who volunteered to help the Contra cause in 1984-85. That put him in position to witness the strange behind-the-scenes activities of Contra leaders hobnobbing with drug traffickers and negotiating arms deals with White House emissaries.
Ainsworth also was a source of mine in fall 1985 when I was investigating the mysterious sources of funding for the Contras after Congress shut off CIA support in 1984 amid widespread reports of Contra atrocities inflicted on Nicaraguan civilians, including rapes, executions and torture.
Ainsworth’s first-hand knowledge of the Contra dealings dovetailed with information that I already had, such as the central role of National Security Council aide Oliver North in aiding the Contras and his use of “courier” Rob Owen as an off-the-books White House intermediary to the Contras. I later developed confirmation of some other details that Ainsworth described, such as his overhearing Owen and Calero working together on an arms deal as Ainsworth drove them through the streets of San Francisco.
As for Ainsworth’s knowledge about the Contra-cocaine connection, he said he sponsored a June 1984 cocktail party at which Calero spoke to about 60 people. Meneses, a notorious drug kingpin in the Nicaraguan community, showed up uninvited and clearly had a personal relationship with Calero, who was then the political leader of the Contra’s chief fighting force, the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Democratic Force (or FDN).
“At the end of the cocktail party, Meneses and Calero went off together,” Ainsworth told U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello, according to a “secret” Jan. 6, 1987 cable submitted by Russoniello to an FBI investigation code-named “Front Door,” a probe into corruption by the Reagan administration.
After Calero’s speech, Ainsworth said Meneses accompanied Calero and about 20 people to dinner and picked up the entire tab, according to a more detailed debriefing of Ainsworth by the FBI. Concerned about this relationship, Ainsworth said he was told by Renato Pena, an FDN leader in the San Francisco area, that “the FDN is involved in drug smuggling with the aid of Norwin Meneses who also buys arms for Enrique Bermudez, a leader of the FDN.” Bermudez was then the top Contra military commander.
Pena, who himself was convicted on federal drug charges in 1984, gave a similar account to the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to a 1998 report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Bromwich, “When debriefed by the DEA in the early 1980s, Pena said that the CIA was allowing the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds. …
“Pena stated that he was present on many occasions when Meneses telephoned Bermudez in Honduras. Meneses told Pena of Bermudez’s requests for such things as gun silencers (which Pena said Meneses obtained in Los Angeles), cross bows, and other military equipment for the Contras. Pena believed that Meneses would sometimes transport certain of these items himself to Central America, and other times would have contacts in Los Angeles and Miami send cargo to Honduras, where the authorities were cooperating with the Contras. Pena believed Meneses had contact with Bermudez from about 1981 or 1982 through the mid-1980s.”
Bromwich’s report then added, “Pena said he was one of the couriers Meneses used to deliver drug money to a Colombian known as ‘Carlos’ in Los Angeles and return to San Francisco with cocaine. Pena made six to eight trips, with anywhere from $600,000 to nearly $1 million, and brought back six to eight kilos of cocaine each time. Pena said Meneses was moving hundreds of kilos a week. ‘Carlos’ once told Pena, ‘We’re helping your cause with this drug thing … we are helping your organization a lot.”
Ainsworth also said he tried to alert Oliver North in 1985 about the troubling connections between the Contra movement and cocaine traffickers but that North turned a deaf ear. “In the spring some friends of mine and I went back to the White House staff but we were put off by Ollie North and others on the staff who really don’t want to know all what’s going on,” Ainsworth told Russoniello.
When I first spoke with Ainsworth in September 1985 at a coffee shop in San Francisco, he asked for confidentiality which I granted. However, since the documents released by the National Archives include him describing his conversations with me, that confidentiality no longer applies. Ainsworth also spoke with Webb for his 1996 San Jose Mercury-News series under the pseudonym “David Morrison.”
Though I found Ainsworth to be generally reliable, some of his depictions of our conversations contained mild exaggerations or confusion over details, such as his claim that I called him from Costa Rica in January 1986 and told him that the Contra-cocaine story that I had been working on with my AP colleague Brian Barger “never hit the papers because it was suppressed by the Associated Press due to political pressure primarily from the CIA.”
In reality, Barger and I returned from Costa Rica in fall 1985, wrote our story about the Contras’ involvement in cocaine smuggling, and pushed it onto the AP wire in December though in a reduced form because of resistance from some senior AP news executives who were supportive of President Reagan’s foreign policies. The CIA, the White House and other agencies of the Reagan administration did seek to discredit our story, but they did not prevent its publication.
An Overriding Hostility
The Reagan administration’s neglect of Ainsworth’s insights reflected the overriding hostility toward any information – even from Republican activists – that put the Contras in a negative light. In early 1987, when Ainsworth spoke with U.S. Attorney Russoniello and the FBI, the Reagan administration was in full damage-control mode, trying to tamp down the Iran-Contra disclosures about Oliver North diverting profits from secret arms sales to Iran to the Contra war.
Fears that the Iran-Contra scandal could lead to Reagan’s impeachment made it even less likely that the Justice Department would pursue an investigation into drug ties implicating the Contra leadership. Ainsworth’s information was simply passed on to Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh whose inquiry was already overwhelmed by the task of sorting out the convoluted Iran transactions.
Publicly, the Reagan team continued dumping on the Contra-cocaine allegations and playing the find-any-possible-reason-to-reject-a-witness game. The major news media went along, leading to much mainstream ridicule of a 1989 investigative report by Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who uncovered more drug connections implicating the Contras and the Reagan administration.
Only occasionally, such as when the George H.W. Bush administration needed witnesses to convict Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega did the Contra-cocaine evidence pop onto Official Washington’s radar screens.
During Noriega’s drug-trafficking trial in 1991, U.S. prosecutors called as a witness Colombian Medellín cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder, who — along with implicating Noriega — testified that the cartel had given $10 million to the Contras, an allegation first unearthed by Sen. Kerry. “The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time,” a Washington Post editorial on Nov. 27, 1991, acknowledged. “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.”
But the Post offered its readers no explanation for why Kerry’s hearings had been largely ignored, with the Post itself a leading culprit in this journalistic misfeasance. Nor did the Post and the other leading newspapers use the opening created by the Noriega trial to do anything to rectify their past neglect.
Everything quickly returned to the status quo in which the desired perception of the noble Contras trumped the clear reality of their criminal activities. Instead of recognizing the skewed moral compass of the Reagan administration, Congress was soon falling over itself to attach Reagan’s name to as many public buildings and facilities as possible, including Washington’s National Airport.
Meanwhile, those of us in journalism who had exposed the national security crimes of the 1980s saw our careers mostly sink or go sideways. We were regarded as “pariahs” in our profession.
As for me, shortly after the Iran-Contra scandal broke wide open in fall 1986, I accepted a job at Newsweek, one of the many mainstream news outlets that had long ignored Contra-connected scandals and briefly thought it needed to bolster its coverage. But I soon discovered that senior editors remained hostile toward the Iran-Contra story and related spinoff scandals, including the Contra-cocaine mess.
After losing battle after battle with my Newsweek editors, I departed the magazine in June 1990 to write a book (called Fooling America) about the decline of the Washington press corps and the parallel rise of a new generation of government propagandists.
I was also hired by PBS Frontline to investigate whether there had been a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal — whether those arms-for-hostage deals in the mid-1980s had been preceded by contacts between Reagan’s 1980 campaign staff and Iran, which was then holding 52 Americans hostage and essentially destroying Jimmy Carter’s reelection hopes. [For more on that topic, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and America’s Stolen Narrative.]
Finding New Ways
In 1995, frustrated by the growing triviality of American journalism — and acting on the advice of and with the assistance of my oldest son Sam — I turned to a new medium and launched the Internet’s first investigative news magazine, known as Consortiumnews.com. The Web site became a way for me to put out well-reported stories that my former mainstream colleagues ignored or mock.
So, when Gary Webb called me in 1996 to talk about the Contra-cocaine story, I explained some of this tortured history and urged him to make sure that his editors were firmly behind him. He sounded perplexed at my advice and assured me that he had the solid support of his editors.
When Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series finally appeared in late August 1996, it initially drew little attention. The major national news outlets applied their usual studied indifference to a topic that they had already judged unworthy of serious attention.
But Webb’s story proved hard to ignore. First, unlike the work that Barger and I did for AP in the mid-1980s, Webb’s series wasn’t just a story about drug traffickers in Central America and their protectors in Washington. It was about the on-the-ground consequences, inside the United States, of that drug trafficking, how the lives of Americans were blighted and destroyed as the collateral damage of a U.S. foreign policy initiative.
In other words, there were real-life American victims, and they were concentrated in African-American communities. That meant the ever-sensitive issue of race had been injected into the controversy. Anger from black communities spread quickly to the Congressional Black Caucus, which started demanding answers.
Secondly, the San Jose Mercury News, which was the local newspaper for Silicon Valley, had posted documents and audio on its state-of-the-art Internet site. That way, readers could examine much of the documentary support for the series.
It also meant that the traditional “gatekeeper” role of the major newspapers — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times — was under assault. If a regional paper like the Mercury News could finance a major journalistic investigation like this one, and circumvent the judgments of the editorial boards at the Big Three, then there might be a tectonic shift in the power relations of the U.S. news media. There could be a breakdown of the established order.
This combination of factors led to the next phase of the Contra-cocaine battle: the “get-Gary-Webb” counterattack. Soon, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times were lining up like some tag-team wrestlers taking turns pummeling Webb and his story.
On Oct. 4, 1996, the Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb’s series, although acknowledging that some Contra operatives did help the cocaine cartels. The Post’s approach fit with the Big Media’s cognitive dissonance on the topic: first, the Post called the Contra-cocaine allegations old news — “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post said — and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one Contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted in his series, saying it had not “played a major role in the emergence of crack.”
To add to the smug hoo-hah treatment that was enveloping Webb and his story, a Post published a sidebar story dismissing African-Americans as prone to “conspiracy fears.”
Next, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times weighed in with lengthy articles castigating Webb and “Dark Alliance.” The big newspapers made much of the CIA’s internal reviews in 1987 and 1988 — almost a decade earlier — that supposedly had cleared the spy agency of any role in Contra-cocaine smuggling.
But the first ominous sign for the CIA’s cover-up emerged on Oct. 24, 1996, when CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz conceded before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the first CIA probe had lasted only12 days, and the second only three days. He promised a more thorough review.
But Webb had already crossed over from being treated as a serious journalist to becoming a target of ridicule. Influential Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz mocked Webb for saying in a book proposal that he would explore the possibility that the Contra war was primarily a business to its participants. “Oliver Stone, check your voice mail,” Kurtz smirked.
Yet, Webb’s suspicion was no conspiracy theory. Indeed, Oliver North’s chief Contra emissary, Rob Owen, had made the same point in a March 17, 1986, message about the Contra leadership. “Few of the so-called leaders of the movement . . . really care about the boys in the field,” Owen wrote. “THIS WAR HAS BECOME A BUSINESS TO MANY OF THEM.” [Emphasis in original.]
Ainsworth and other pro-Contra activists were reaching the same conclusion, that the Contra leadership was skimming money from the supply lines and padding their personal wealth with proceeds from the drug trade. According to a Jan. 21, 1987 interview report by the FBI, Ainsworth said he had “made inquiries in the local San Francisco Nicaraguan community and wondered among his acquaintances what Adolfo Calero and the other people in the FDN movement were doing and the word that he received back is that they were probably engaged in cocaine smuggling.”
In other words, Webb was right about the suspicion that the Contra movement had become less a cause than a business to many of its participants. Even Oliver North’s emissary reported that many Contra leaders treated the conflict as “a business.” But accuracy had ceased to be relevant in the media’s hazing of Gary Webb.
In another double standard, while Webb was held to the strictest standards of journalism, it was entirely all right for Kurtz — the supposed arbiter of journalistic integrity who was a longtime fixture on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” — to make judgments based on ignorance. Kurtz would face no repercussions for mocking a fellow journalist who was factually correct.
The Big Three’s assault — combined with their disparaging tone — had a predictable effect on the executives of the Mercury News. As it turned out, Webb’s confidence in his editors had been misplaced. By early 1997, executive editor Jerry Ceppos, who had his own corporate career to worry about, was in retreat.
On May 11, 1997, Ceppos published a front-page column saying the series “fell short of my standards.” He criticized the stories because they “strongly implied CIA knowledge” of Contra connections to U.S. drug dealers who were manufacturing crack cocaine. “We did not have enough proof that top CIA officials knew of the relationship,” Ceppos wrote.
Ceppos was wrong about the proof, of course. At AP, before we published our first Contra-cocaine article in 1985, Barger and I had known that the CIA and Reagan’s White House were aware of the Contra-cocaine problem at senior levels.
However, Ceppos recognized that he and his newspaper were facing a credibility crisis brought on by the harsh consensus delivered by the Big Three, a judgment that had quickly solidified into conventional wisdom throughout the major news media and inside Knight-Ridder, Inc., which owned the Mercury News. The only career-saving move – career-saving for Ceppos even if career-destroying for Webb – was to jettison Webb and the Contra-cocaine investigative project.
The big newspapers and the Contras’ defenders celebrated Ceppos’s retreat as vindication of their own dismissal of the Contra-cocaine stories. In particular, Kurtz seemed proud that his demeaning of Webb now had the endorsement of Webb’s editor. Ceppos next pulled the plug on the Mercury News’ continuing Contra-cocaine investigation and reassigned Webb to a small office in Cupertino, California, far from his family. Webb resigned from the paper in disgrace.
For undercutting Webb and other Mercury News reporters working on the Contra-cocaine project – some of whom were facing personal danger in Central America – Ceppos was lauded by the American Journalism Review and received the 1997 national Ethics in Journalism Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.
While Ceppos won raves, Webb watched his career collapse and his marriage break up. Still, Gary Webb had set in motion internal government investigations that would bring to the surface long-hidden facts about how the Reagan administration had conducted the Contra war.
The CIA published the first part of Inspector General Hitz’s findings on Jan. 29, 1998. Though the CIA’s press release for the report criticized Webb and defended the CIA, Hitz’s Volume One admitted that not only were many of Webb’s allegations true but that he actually understated the seriousness of the Contra-drug crimes and the CIA’s knowledge of them.
Hitz conceded that cocaine smugglers played a significant early role in the Contra movement and that the CIA intervened to block an image-threatening 1984 federal investigation into a San Francisco–based drug ring with suspected ties to the Contras, the so-called “Frogman Case.”
After Volume One was released, I called Webb (whom I had spent some time with since his series was published). I chided him for indeed getting the story “wrong.” He had understated how serious the problem of Contra-cocaine trafficking had been.
It was a form of gallows humor for the two of us, since nothing had changed in the way the major newspapers treated the Contra-cocaine issue. They focused only on the press release that continued to attack Webb, while ignoring the incriminating information that could be found in the full report. All I could do was highlight those admissions at Consortiumnews.com, which sadly had a much, much smaller readership than the Big Three.
The major U.S. news media also looked the other way on other startling disclosures.
On May 7, 1998, for instance, Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, introduced into the Congressional Record a Feb. 11, 1982 letter of understanding between the CIA and the Justice Department. The letter, which had been requested by CIA Director William Casey, freed the CIA from legal requirements that it must report drug smuggling by CIA assets, a provision that covered the Nicaraguan Contras and the Afghan mujahedeen.
In other words, early in those two covert wars, the CIA leadership wanted to make sure that its geopolitical objectives would not be complicated by a legal requirement to turn in its client forces for drug trafficking.
The next break in the long-running Contra-cocaine cover-up was a report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Bromwich. Given the hostile climate surrounding Webb’s series, Bromwich’s report also opened with criticism of Webb. But, like the CIA’s Volume One, the contents revealed new details about serious government wrongdoing.
According to evidence cited by Bromwich, the Reagan administration knew almost from the outset of the Contra war that cocaine traffickers permeated the paramilitary operation. The administration also did next to nothing to expose or stop the crimes. Bromwich’s report revealed example after example of leads not followed, corroborated witnesses disparaged, official law-enforcement investigations sabotaged, and even the CIA facilitating the work of drug traffickers.
The report showed that the Contras and their supporters ran several parallel drug-smuggling operations, not just the one at the center of Webb’s series. The report also found that the CIA shared little of its information about Contra drugs with law-enforcement agencies and on three occasions disrupted cocaine-trafficking investigations that threatened the Contras.
As well as depicting a more widespread Contra-drug operation than Webb had understood, the Justice Department report provided some important corroboration about Nicaraguan drug smuggler Norwin Meneses, a key figure in Gary Webb’s series and Adolfo Calero’s friend as described by Dennis Ainsworth.
Bromwich cited U.S. government informants who supplied detailed information about Meneses’s drug operation and his financial assistance to the Contras. For instance, Renato Pena, the money-and-drug courier for Meneses, said that in the early 1980s the CIA allowed the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds. Pena, the FDN’s northern California representative, said the drug trafficking was forced on the Contras by the inadequate levels of U.S. government assistance.
The Justice Department report also disclosed repeated examples of the CIA and U.S. embassies in Central America discouraging DEA investigations, including one into Contra-cocaine shipments moving through the international airport in El Salvador. Bromwich said secrecy trumped all. “We have no doubt that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy were not anxious for the DEA to pursue its investigation at the airport,” he wrote.
Bromwich also described the curious case of how a DEA pilot helped a CIA asset escape from Costa Rican authorities in 1989 after the man, American farmer John Hull, had been charged in connection with Contra-cocaine trafficking. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “John Hull’s Great Escape.”]
Hull’s ranch in northern Costa Rica had been the site of Contra camps for attacking Nicaragua from the south. For years, Contra-connected witnesses also said Hull’s property was used for the transshipment of cocaine en route to the United States, but those accounts were brushed aside by the Reagan administration and disparaged in major U.S. newspapers.
Yet, according to Bromwich’s report, the DEA took the accounts seriously enough to prepare a research report on the evidence in November 1986. One informant described Colombian cocaine off-loaded at an airstrip on Hull’s ranch.
The drugs were then concealed in a shipment of frozen shrimp and transported to the United States. The alleged Costa Rican shipper was Frigorificos de Puntarenas, a firm controlled by Cuban-American Luis Rodriguez. Like Hull, however, Frigorificos had friends in high places. In 1985-86, the State Department had selected the shrimp company to handle $261,937 in non-lethal assistance earmarked for the Contras.
Hull also remained a man with powerful protectors. Even after Costa Rican authorities brought drug charges against him, influential Americans, including Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, demanded that Hull be let out of jail pending trial. Then, in July 1989 with the help of a DEA pilot – and possibly a DEA agent – Hull managed to fly out of Costa Rica to Haiti and then to the United States.
Despite these startling new disclosures, the big newspapers still showed no inclination to read beyond the criticism of Webb in the press release.
By fall 1998, Washington was obsessed with President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, which made it easier to ignore even more stunning Contra-cocaine disclosures in the CIA’s Volume Two, published on Oct. 8, 1998.
In the report, CIA Inspector General Hitz identified more than 50 Contras and Contra-related entities implicated in the drug trade. He also detailed how the Reagan administration had protected these drug operations and frustrated federal investigations throughout the 1980s.
According to Volume Two, the CIA knew the criminal nature of its Contra clients from the start of the war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. The earliest Contra force, called the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Democratic Alliance (ADREN) or the 15th of September Legion, had chosen “to stoop to criminal activities in order to feed and clothe their cadre,” according to a June 1981 draft of a CIA field report.
According to a September 1981 cable to CIA headquarters, two ADREN members made the first delivery of drugs to Miami in July 1981. ADREN’s leaders included Enrique Bermúdez and other early Contras who would later direct the major Contra army, the CIA-organized FDN which was based in Honduras, along Nicaragua’s northern border.
Throughout the war, Bermúdez remained the top Contra military commander. The CIA later corroborated the allegations about ADREN’s cocaine trafficking, but insisted that Bermúdez had opposed the drug shipments to the United States that went ahead nonetheless.
The truth about Bermúdez’s supposed objections to drug trafficking, however, was less clear. According to Hitz’s Volume One, Bermúdez enlisted Norwin Meneses – the Nicaraguan cocaine smuggler, the friend of Adolfo Calero, and a key figure in Webb’s series – to raise money and buy supplies for the Contras.
Volume One had quoted another Nicaraguan trafficker, Danilo Blandón, a Meneses associate (and another lead character in Webb’s series), as telling Hitz’s investigators that he (Blandón) and Meneses flew to Honduras to meet with Bermúdez in 1982. At the time, Meneses’s criminal activities were well-known in the Nicaraguan exile community, but Bermúdez told the cocaine smugglers that “the ends justify the means” in raising money for the Contras.
After the Bermúdez meeting, Meneses and Blandón were briefly arrested by Honduran police who confiscated $100,000 that the police suspected was to be a payment for a drug transaction. The Contras intervened, gained freedom for the two traffickers and got them their money back by saying the cash, which indeed was for a cocaine purchase in Bolivia, belonged to the Contras.
There were other indications of Bermúdez’s drug-smuggling complicity. In February 1988, another Nicaraguan exile linked to the drug trade accused Bermúdez of participation in narcotics trafficking, according to Hitz’s report. After the Contra war ended, Bermúdez returned to Managua, Nicaragua, where he was shot to death on Feb. 16, 1991. The murder has never been solved.
The Southern Front
Along the Southern Front, the Contras’ military operations in Costa Rica on Nicaragua’s southern border, the CIA’s drug evidence centered on the forces of Edén Pastora, another top Contra commander. But Hitz discovered that the U.S. government may have made the drug situation worse, not better.
Hitz revealed that the CIA put an admitted drug operative — known by his CIA pseudonym “Ivan Gomez” — in a supervisory position over Pastora. Hitz reported that the CIA discovered Gomez’s drug history in 1987 when Gomez failed a security review on drug-trafficking questions.
In internal CIA interviews, Gomez admitted that in March or April 1982, he helped family members who were engaged in drug trafficking and money laundering. In one case, Gomez said he assisted his brother and brother-in-law transporting cash from New York City to Miami. He admitted he “knew this act was illegal.”
Later, Gomez expanded on his admission, describing how his family members had fallen $2 million into debt and had gone to Miami to run a money-laundering center for drug traffickers. Gomez said “his brother had many visitors whom [Gomez] assumed to be in the drug trafficking business.” Gomez’s brother was arrested on drug charges in June 1982. Three months later, in September 1982, Gomez started his CIA assignment in Costa Rica.
Years later, convicted drug trafficker Carlos Cabezas alleged that in the early 1980s, Ivan Gomez was the CIA agent in Costa Rica who was overseeing drug-money donations to the Contras. Gomez “was to make sure the money was given to the right people [the Contras] and nobody was taking . . . profit they weren’t supposed to,” Cabezas stated publicly.
But the CIA sought to discredit Cabezas at the time because he had trouble identifying Gomez’s picture and put Gomez at one meeting in early 1982 before Gomez started his CIA assignment. While the CIA was able to fend off Cabezas’s allegations by pointing to these discrepancies, Hitz’s report revealed that the CIA was nevertheless aware of Gomez’s direct role in drug-money laundering, a fact the agency hid from Sen. Kerry in his investigation during the late 1980s.
There was also more to know about Gomez. In November 1985, the FBI learned from an informant that Gomez’s two brothers had been large-scale cocaine importers, with one brother arranging shipments from Bolivia’s infamous drug kingpin Roberto Suarez.
Suarez already was known as a financier of right-wing causes. In 1980, with the support of Argentina’s hard-line anticommunist military regime, Suarez bankrolled a coup in Bolivia that ousted the elected left-of-center government. The violent putsch became known as the Cocaine Coup because it made Bolivia the region’s first narco-state.
By protecting cocaine shipments headed north, Bolivia’s government helped transform Colombia’s Medellín cartel from a struggling local operation into a giant corporate-style business for delivering vast quantities of cocaine to the U.S. market.
Flush with cash in the early 1980s, Suarez invested more than $30 million in various right-wing paramilitary operations, including the Contra forces in Central America, according to U.S. Senate testimony by an Argentine intelligence officer, Leonardo Sanchez-Reisse.
In 1987, Sanchez-Reisse said the Suarez drug money was laundered through front companies in Miami before going to Central America. There, other Argentine intelligence officers — veterans of the Bolivian coup — trained the Contras in the early 1980s, even before the CIA arrived to first assist with the training and later take over the Contra operation from the Argentines.
Inspector General Hitz added another piece to the mystery of the Bolivian-Contra connection. One Contra fund-raiser, Jose Orlando Bolanos, boasted that the Argentine government was supporting his Contra activities, according to a May 1982 cable to CIA headquarters. Bolanos made the statement during a meeting with undercover DEA agents in Florida. He even offered to introduce them to his Bolivian cocaine supplier.
Despite all this suspicious drug activity centered around Ivan Gomez and the Contras, the CIA insisted that it did not unmask Gomez until 1987, when he failed a security check and confessed his role in his family’s drug business. The CIA official who interviewed Gomez concluded that “Gomez directly participated in illegal drug transactions, concealed participation in illegal drug transactions, and concealed information about involvement in illegal drug activity,” Hitz wrote.
But senior CIA officials still protected Gomez. They refused to refer the Gomez case to the Justice Department, citing the 1982 agreement that spared the CIA from a legal obligation to report narcotics crimes by people collaborating with the CIA who were not formal agency employees. Gomez was an independent contractor who worked for the CIA but was not officially on staff. The CIA eased Gomez out of the agency in February 1988, without alerting law enforcement or the congressional oversight committees.
When questioned about the case nearly a decade later, one senior CIA official who had supported the gentle treatment of Gomez had second thoughts. “It is a striking commentary on me and everyone that this guy’s involvement in narcotics didn’t weigh more heavily on me or the system,” the official told Hitz’s investigators.
Drug Path to the White House
A Medellín drug connection arose in another section of Hitz’s report, when he revealed evidence suggesting that some Contra trafficking may have been sanctioned by Reagan’s National Security Council. The protagonist for this part of the Contra-cocaine mystery was Moises Nunez, a Cuban-American who worked for Oliver North’s NSC Contra-support operation and for two drug-connected seafood importers, Ocean Hunter in Miami and Frigorificos De Puntarenas in Costa Rica.
Frigorificos De Puntarenas was created in the early 1980s as a cover for drug-money laundering, according to sworn testimony by two of the firm’s principals — Carlos Soto and Medellín cartel accountant Ramon Milian Rodriguez. (It was also the company implicated by a DEA informant in moving cocaine from John Hull’s ranch to the United States.)
Drug allegations were swirling around Moises Nunez by the mid-1980s. Indeed, his operation was one of the targets of my and Barger’s AP investigation in 1985. Finally reacting to the suspicions, the CIA questioned Nunez about his alleged cocaine trafficking on March 25, 1987. He responded by pointing the finger at his NSC superiors.
“Nunez revealed that since 1985, he had engaged in a clandestine relationship with the National Security Council,” Hitz reported, adding: “Nunez refused to elaborate on the nature of these actions, but indicated it was difficult to answer questions relating to his involvement in narcotics trafficking because of the specific tasks he had performed at the direction of the NSC. Nunez refused to identify the NSC officials with whom he had been involved.”
After this first round of questioning, CIA headquarters authorized an additional session, but then senior CIA officials reversed the decision. There would be no further efforts at “debriefing Nunez.”
Hitz noted that “the cable [from headquarters] offered no explanation for the decision” to stop the Nunez interrogation. But the CIA’s Central American Task Force chief Alan Fiers Jr. said the Nunez-NSC drug lead was not pursued “because of the NSC connection and the possibility that this could be somehow connected to the Private Benefactor program [the Contra money handled by the NSC’s Oliver North] a decision was made not to pursue this matter.”
Joseph Fernandez, who had been the CIA’s station chief in Costa Rica, confirmed to congressional Iran-Contra investigators that Nunez “was involved in a very sensitive operation” for North’s “Enterprise.” The exact nature of that NSC-authorized activity has never been divulged.
At the time of the Nunez-NSC drug admissions and his truncated interrogation, the CIA’s acting director was Robert Gates, who nearly two decades later became President George W. Bush’s second secretary of defense, a position he retained under President Barack Obama.
The CIA also worked directly with other drug-connected Cuban-Americans on the Contra project, Hitz found. One of Nunez’s Cuban-American associates, Felipe Vidal, had a criminal record as a narcotics trafficker in the 1970s. But the CIA still hired him to serve as a logistics coordinator for the Contras, Hitz reported.
The CIA also learned that Vidal’s drug connections were not only in the past. A December 1984 cable to CIA headquarters revealed Vidal’s ties to Rene Corvo, another Cuban-American suspected of drug trafficking. Corvo was working with Cuban anticommunist Frank Castro, who was viewed as a Medellín cartel representative within the Contra movement.
There were other narcotics links to Vidal. In January 1986, the DEA in Miami seized 414 pounds of cocaine concealed in a shipment of yucca that was going from a Contra operative in Costa Rica to Ocean Hunter, the company where Vidal (and Moises Nunez) worked. Despite the evidence, Vidal remained a CIA employee as he collaborated with Frank Castro’s assistant, Rene Corvo, in raising money for the Contras, according to a CIA memo in June 1986.
By fall 1986, Sen. Kerry had heard enough rumors about Vidal to demand information about him as part of his congressional inquiry into Contra drugs. But the CIA withheld the derogatory information in its files. On Oct. 15, 1986, Kerry received a briefing from the CIA’s Alan Fiers, who didn’t mention Vidal’s drug arrests and conviction in the 1970s.
But Vidal was not yet in the clear. In 1987, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami began investigating Vidal, Ocean Hunter, and other Contra-connected entities. This prosecutorial attention worried the CIA. The CIA’s Latin American division felt it was time for a security review of Vidal. But on Aug. 5, 1987, the CIA’s security office blocked the review for fear that the Vidal drug information “could be exposed during any future litigation.”
As expected, the U.S. Attorney’s Office did request documents about “Contra-related activities” by Vidal, Ocean Hunter, and 16 other entities. The CIA advised the prosecutor that “no information had been found regarding Ocean Hunter,” a statement that was clearly false. The CIA continued Vidal’s employment as an adviser to the Contra movement until 1990, virtually the end of the Contra war.
Hitz also revealed that drugs tainted the highest levels of the Honduran-based FDN, the largest Contra army. Hitz found that Juan Rivas, a Contra commander who rose to be chief of staff, admitted that he had been a cocaine trafficker in Colombia before the war.
The CIA asked Rivas, known as El Quiche, about his background after the DEA began suspecting that Rivas might be an escaped convict from a Colombian prison. In interviews with CIA officers, Rivas acknowledged that he had been arrested and convicted of packaging and transporting cocaine for the drug trade in Barranquilla, Colombia. After several months in prison, Rivas said, he escaped and moved to Central America, where he joined the Contras.
Defending Rivas, CIA officials insisted that there was no evidence that Rivas engaged in trafficking while with the Contras. But one CIA cable noted that he lived an expensive lifestyle, even keeping a $100,000 Thoroughbred horse at the Contra camp. Contra military commander Bermúdez later attributed Rivas’s wealth to his ex-girlfriend’s rich family. But a CIA cable in March 1989 added that “some in the FDN may have suspected at the time that the father-in-law was engaged in drug trafficking.”
Still, the CIA moved quickly to protect Rivas from exposure and possible extradition to Colombia. In February 1989, CIA headquarters asked that the DEA take no action “in view of the serious political damage to the U.S. Government that could occur should the information about Rivas become public.” Rivas was eased out of the Contra leadership with an explanation of poor health. With U.S. government help, he was allowed to resettle in Miami. Colombia was not informed about his fugitive status.
Another senior FDN official implicated in the drug trade was its chief spokesman in Honduras, Arnoldo Jose “Frank” Arana. The drug allegations against Arana dated back to 1983 when a federal narcotics task force put him under criminal investigation because of plans “to smuggle 100 kilograms of cocaine into the United States from South America.” On Jan. 23, 1986, the FBI reported that Arana and his brothers were involved in a drug-smuggling enterprise, although Arana was not charged.
Arana sought to clear up another set of drug suspicions in 1989 by visiting the DEA in Honduras with a business associate, Jose Perez. Arana’s association with Perez, however, only raised new alarms. If “Arana is mixed up with the Perez brothers, he is probably dirty,” the DEA said.
Through their ownership of an air services company called SETCO, the Perez brothers were associated with Juan Matta-Ballesteros, a major cocaine kingpin connected to the 1985 torture-murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, according to reports by the DEA and U.S. Customs. Hitz reported that someone at the CIA scribbled a note on a DEA cable about Arana stating: “Arnold Arana . . . still active and working, we [CIA] may have a problem.”
Despite its drug ties to Matta-Ballesteros, SETCO emerged as the principal company for ferrying supplies to the Contras in Honduras. During congressional Iran-Contra hearings, FDN political leader Adolfo Calero testified that SETCO was paid from bank accounts controlled by Oliver North. SETCO also received $185,924 from the State Department for ferrying supplies to the Contras in 1986. Furthermore, Hitz found that other air transport companies used by the Contras were implicated in the cocaine trade as well.
Even FDN leaders suspected that they were shipping supplies to Central America aboard planes that might be returning with drugs. Mario Calero, Adolfo Calero’s brother and the chief of Contra logistics, grew so uneasy about one air freight company that he notified U.S. law enforcement that the FDN only chartered the planes for the flights south, not the return flights north.
Hitz found that some drug pilots simply rotated from one sector of the Contra operation to another. Donaldo Frixone, who had a drug record in the Dominican Republic, was hired by the CIA to fly Contra missions from 1983 to 1985. In September 1986, however, Frixone was implicated in smuggling 19,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States. In late 1986 or early 1987, he went to work for Vortex, another U.S.-paid Contra supply company linked to the drug trade.
By the time that Hitz’s Volume Two was published in fall 1998, the CIA’s defense against Webb’s series had shrunk to a fig leaf: that the CIA did not conspire with the Contras to raise money through cocaine trafficking. But Hitz made clear that the Contra war took precedence over law enforcement and that the CIA withheld evidence of Contra crimes from the Justice Department, Congress, and even the CIA’s own analytical division.
Besides tracing the evidence of Contra-drug trafficking through the decade-long Contra war, the inspector general interviewed senior CIA officers who acknowledged that they were aware of the Contra-drug problem but didn’t want its exposure to undermine the struggle to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
According to Hitz, the CIA had “one overriding priority: to oust the Sandinista government. . . . [CIA officers] were determined that the various difficulties they encountered not be allowed to prevent effective implementation of the Contra program.” One CIA field officer explained, “The focus was to get the job done, get the support and win the war.”
Hitz also recounted complaints from CIA analysts that CIA operations officers handling the Contras hid evidence of Contra-drug trafficking even from the CIA’s analysts.
Because of the withheld evidence, the CIA analysts incorrectly concluded in the mid-1980s that “only a handful of Contras might have been involved in drug trafficking.” That false assessment was passed on to Congress and to major news organizations — serving as an important basis for denouncing Gary Webb and his “Dark Alliance” series in 1996.
Although Hitz’s report was an extraordinary admission of institutional guilt by the CIA, it went almost unnoticed by the big American newspapers.
On Oct. 10, 1998, two days after Hitz’s Volume Two was posted on the CIA’s Web site, the New York Times published a brief article that continued to deride Webb but acknowledged the Contra-drug problem may have been worse than earlier understood. Several weeks later, the Washington Post weighed in with a similarly superficial article. The Los Angeles Times never published a story on the release of Hitz’s Volume Two.
In 2000, the House Intelligence Committee grudgingly acknowledged that the stories about Reagan’s CIA protecting Contra drug traffickers were true. The committee released a report citing classified testimony from CIA Inspector General Britt Snider (Hitz’s successor) admitting that the spy agency had turned a blind eye to evidence of Contra-drug smuggling and generally treated drug smuggling through Central America as a low priority.
“In the end the objective of unseating the Sandinistas appears to have taken precedence over dealing properly with potentially serious allegations against those with whom the agency was working,” Snider said, adding that the CIA did not treat the drug allegations in “a consistent, reasoned or justifiable manner.”
The House committee — then controlled by Republicans — still downplayed the significance of the Contra-cocaine scandal, but the panel acknowledged, deep inside its report, that in some cases, “CIA employees did nothing to verify or disprove drug trafficking information, even when they had the opportunity to do so. In some of these, receipt of a drug allegation appeared to provoke no specific response, and business went on as usual.”
Like the release of Hitz’s report in 1998, the admissions by Snider and the House committee drew virtually no media attention in 2000 — except for a few articles on the Internet, including one at Consortiumnews.com.
Because of this journalistic misconduct by the Big Three newspapers — choosing to conceal their own neglect of the Contra-cocaine scandal and to protect the Reagan administration’s image — Webb’s reputation was never rehabilitated.
After his original “Dark Alliance” series was published in 1996, Webb had been inundated with attractive book offers from major publishing houses, but once the vilification began, the interest evaporated. Webb’s agent contacted an independent publishing house, Seven Stories Press, which had a reputation for publishing books that had been censored, and it took on the project.
After Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion was published in 1998, I joined Webb in a few speaking appearances on the West Coast, including one packed book talk at the Midnight Special bookstore in Santa Monica, California. For a time, Webb was treated as a celebrity on the American Left, but that gradually faded.
In our interactions during these joint appearances, I found Webb to be a regular guy who seemed to be holding up fairly well under the terrible pressure. He had landed an investigative job with a California state legislative committee. He also felt some measure of vindication when CIA Inspector General Hitz’s reports came out.
But Webb never could overcome the pain caused by his betrayal at the hands of his journalistic colleagues, his peers. In the years that followed, Webb was unable to find decent-paying work in his profession — the conventional wisdom remained that he had somehow been exposed as a journalistic fraud. His state job ended; his marriage fell apart; he struggled to pay bills; and he was faced with a move out of a modest rental house near Sacramento, California.
On Dec. 9, 2004, the 49-year-old Webb typed out suicide notes to his ex-wife and his three children; laid out a certificate for his cremation; and taped a note on the door telling movers — who were coming the next morning — to instead call 911. Webb then took out his father’s pistol and shot himself in the head. The first shot was not lethal, so he fired once more.
Even with Webb’s death, the big newspapers that had played key roles in his destruction couldn’t bring themselves to show Webb any mercy. After Webb’s body was found, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who knew that I was one of Webb’s few journalistic colleagues who had defended him and his work.
I told the reporter that American history owed a great debt to Gary Webb because he had forced out important facts about Reagan-era crimes. But I added that the Los Angeles Times would be hard-pressed to write an honest obituary because the newspaper had not published a single word on the contents of Hitz’s final report, which had largely vindicated Webb.
To my disappointment but not my surprise, I was correct. The Los Angeles Times ran a mean-spirited obituary that made no mention of either my defense of Webb, nor the CIA’s admissions in 1998. The obituary was republished in other newspapers, including the Washington Post.
In effect, Webb’s suicide enabled senior editors at the Big Three newspapers to breathe a little easier — one of the few people who understood the ugly story of the Reagan administration’s cover-up of the Contra-cocaine scandal and the U.S. media’s complicity was now silenced.
To this day, none of the journalists or media critics who participated in the destruction of Gary Webb has paid a price. None has faced the sort of humiliation that Webb had to endure. None had to experience that special pain of standing up for what is best in the profession of journalism — taking on a difficult story that seeks to hold powerful people accountable for serious crimes — and then being vilified by your own colleagues, the people that you expected to understand and appreciate what you had done.
On the contrary, many were rewarded with professional advancement and lucrative careers. For instance, for years, Howard Kurtz got to host the CNN program, “Reliable Sources,” which lectured journalists on professional standards. He was described in the program’s bio as “the nation’s premier media critic.” (His show has since moved to Fox News, renamed “MediaBuzz.”)
The rehabilitation of Webb’s reputation and possibly even the correction of this dark chapter of American history now rests on how accurately – and how bravely – Hollywood presents Webb’s story in the film, “Kill the Messenger,” starring Jeremy Renner and scheduled for release next year. [For more on the Contra-cocaine story, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Republicans and Democrats serving on congressional oversight committees have defended the National Security Agency (NSA) in light of the revelations exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. And it’s no wonder they have, considering how much money they’ve received from contractors invested in NSA and other intelligence operations.
Since 2005, the 20 top intelligence companies have contributed $3.7 million to members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, according to Maplight, a government watchdog organization.
This might help to explain why these two committees have stalled legislation by other members of Congress to reform NSA surveillance programs.
The top individual recipients among lawmakers have been those representing the state of Maryland, where the NSA is headquartered. Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger received the most of any House member ($363,600) since 2005, while Democrat Barbara Mikulski was the largest recipient in the Senate, with $210,150.
Ruppersberger, who has gone on record labeling Snowden a traitor to the U.S., is one of the eight top legislators who, on a regular basis, receive highly detailed reports on intelligence matters. Mikulski is chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which funds government programs, including those that are intelligence-related.
Monies contributed have been equally divided among the two parties’ members on the committees, with $1.86 million going to Republicans and $1.82 million to Democrats.
To Learn More:
Intelligence Contractors Donate Millions to Intelligence Watchdogs in Congress (by Alexander Cohen, Center for Public Integrity)
This Year, Lockheed Donated to Election Campaigns of 386 of 435 Members of House of Representatives (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Lockheed Comes Out on Top in Pentagon Budget Battle (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
Comparing Current Draft of Egypt’s 2013 Neo-liberal Constitution to that of the Publicly Approved Constitution of 2012
In order to show various so-called “alternative” and “anti-globalist” activists what the real cause of the State Department sponsored coup in Egypt back in July of this year was all about, I have put together just a few comparisons of the publicly approved Egyptian constitution of 2012 and their respective counterparts in the new draft constitution being put together by the illegal junta run by their new dictator, al Sisi.
As many of the fake alternative journalists have often raged against the “Islamist” nature of the previous constitution without ever linking their readers to the document so they could read it and judge it for themselves, I resolve to provide links to both the translated Egyptian Constitution of 2012 and the current draft version written by the technocrats and advisers on behalf of Big Global Business and the financial elites.
What I have done is taken a few articles and simply listed them side by side for you to view. I have created 4 PDFs of this which I will link to below and 4 JPEGS so you can view them without having to download the other files. The PDFs are obviously easier to read, but I will do my best with the pics. I sincerely hope that you will take the time to read both the original 2012 version as well as the new neo-liberal one.
If you wish to know why I spent so much time working on this when the story of the illegal coup in Egypt is all but over, remember this…
They are currently working on producing a climate in this country which will provide them the needed pretext to begin rewriting our constitution. It’s not that far off folks. Heard some “progressives” on NPR chatting about that very thing just yesterday.
You want to see how they (the Chicago School of Economics technocrats) remake constitutions? The Egyptian model should serve as a fine example of what we can expect to see very soon.
Here are the PDF versions:
- 2012 to 2013 Layout1 (1)
- 2012 to 2013 Layout1 (2) (1)
- 2012 to 2013 Layout1 (3) (1)
- 2012 to 2013 Layout1 (4) (1)
And here are the photos (JPEGs)
The new constitution institutionalizes entry points for various global multinational corporations and financial institutions, setting as a priority the notions of the creation of a financial environment which will encourage hot money speculation and foreign investment. It’s all about “sustainable development” and protecting the “economic services” industry (i.e. financial institutions)
Notice that the new constitution states that the natural resources “belong to the people” but make no mention of their right to the profits of those resources they own. The 2012 constitution did.
The 2012 constitution said the property of the state is not to be disposed of while the neo-liberal 2013 draft says it can be under law.
The slickness of the legalese is notable as well. Notice how the new constitution, rather than guaranteeing the people various rights like the 2012 constitution does, instead they “aim” or “commit” to these ideals as if they were goals they promise to attempt to fulfill. Legally speaking, big difference.
I only scratched the surface with this comparison. Others have pointed out that the 2013 draft empowers the elements in Egypt that sided with the Obama administration during the coup like the judiciary, the military and the police.
Some have pointed out that the new constitution allows for military detentions of civilians, which it does.
Given the nature of the current dictatorship in Egypt (the way they are outlawing political parties like the Apartheid government did to the ANC based on the arbitrary ruling that they are a “terrorist organization”, the way they are arresting peaceful protesters if they don’t just shoot them dead in the streets) it’s quite remarkable that anyone who claims to be opposed to our imperialist interventions across the globe could possibly still imagine that this illegal coup has any form of legitimacy whatsoever. I hope that this simple comparison will make it clearer what is happening in Egypt and more importantly, why it happened.
- Army Powers Expanded in Egyptian Draft Constitution (mascareignas.blogspot.com)
An article yesterday in the Washington Post disclosed the NSA’s massive cell phone location program. The program, codenamed CO-TRAVELER, is designed to track who meets with whom and covers everyone who carries a cell phone, all around the world.
With neither public debate nor court authorization, CO-TRAVELER collects billions of records daily of cell phone user location information. It maps the relationships of cell phone users across global mobile network cables, gathering data about who you are physically with and how often your movements intersect with other cell phone users. The program even tracks when your phone is turned on or off.
The trillions of collected records, which add up to twice the amount of data in the Library of Congress’ print collection, are saved and stored in the NSA’s mammoth database called FASCIA. While allegedly aimed at foreigners and mobile phones overseas, the NSA admits that it has “incidentally” collected location information on U.S. persons.
CO-TRAVELER ignores fundamental values in the Constitution the NSA has sworn to uphold, including the right against unreasonable search and seizure as well as freedom of association. Thinking globally, the program disregards international human rights law, which is currently in the process of being reaffirmed in a draft resolution by the UN General Assembly.
The Fourth Amendment Protects Cell Phone Location Data
EFF has been working for years to get the courts to recognize that the government must get a warrant before seizing cell phone location records. The court decisions are split. In 2008 the Third Circuit federal appeals court correctly held that federal magistrates have the discretion to require the government to get a search warrant based on probable cause before obtaining cell phone location records. But the Fifth and Sixth Circuit have approved the seizure of cell phone location records without a warrant. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on cell phone location, but did hold that planting a GPS device on a car requires a warrant, without reaching a decision on whether the warrantless tracking itself would violate the Fourth Amendment.
CO-TRAVELER does not simply collect location information. It creates a portrait of travel times and people who crossed paths, revealing our physical interactions and relationships. The cell site information goes beyond email and phone calls and ordinary telephony data, allowing the U.S. government to know who we are with in-person and where. This is information that would be impossible to collect using traditional law enforcement methods.
An NSA official said that the agency’s collection methods are “tuned to be looking outside the United States.” This appears to be an attempt to assert that U.S. law does not apply because they are not “targeting” U.S. persons. Without the protections of U.S. law, the spying is regulated only by Executive Orders–orders by the President that are not subject to substantive oversight, and can modified at any time. It’s likely that this program falls under Executive Order 12333. EO 12333 has few limits on surveillance overseas, even if it is a U.S. person.
CO-TRAVELER Violates the First Amendment
The CO-TRAVELER program is based on guilt by association, tracking location to determine our relationships and where we meet. The First Amendment protects our right to associate with individuals and groups without disclosing that information to the government. This is an essential right because it allows people to discuss their ideas, concerns, and feelings with others without the shadow of government surveillance. And this is not just a right recognized in the United States: the right to freely associate with individuals or groups has also been recognized in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and in countless other human rights charters.
EFF is currently representing 22 organizations from across the political spectrum who sued the NSA for violating their First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting their call records. The case, First Unitarian v. NSA, brings to light the real implications of mass surveillance–people are afraid to associate and meet based on likeminded interests.
Equally threatening to the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment are the speech-chilling effects of cell phone location tracking. Even if you use encryption online, when you meet someone in person and aren’t even on the phone, your movements may be tracked and recorded and stored. The Washington Post article reports that the NSA tracks when a cell phone has been turned off, for how long, and what nearby devices are also being used and shut off. The NSA provides further scrutiny of people who switch their phones on and off for brief periods or use throw-away phones.
Yet these security practices are common methods that journalists (or anyone else who might be privacy conscious) use to ensure security and trust when they meet with confidential sources and conduct investigations. Under this program, it is harder than ever for a journalist to guarantee a reasonable degree of privacy and security to their sources.
Privacy is an Internationally Recognized Human Right
While the NSA likes to claim it takes great care in not collecting the data of U.S. persons, the billions of people tracked by their programs have a basic human right to privacy. Right now the United Nations General Assembly is discussing a resolution that reaffirms that the human right to privacy is carried over and effective in the digital age.
EFF is part of the global movement demanding the protection of our most basic right to privacy, no matter the country or citizenship of a person. We signed on to a list of thirteen principles that a state should use to determine whether or not a surveillance program will encroach on fundamental human rights. Join us by adding your name to the global petition for privacy today.
We will continue to fight against the NSA’s unconstitutional and over-broad surveillance programs in the courts and in Congress, and advocate for deeper oversight of the NSA from all branches of government.
Young people in the US are disappointed with President Barack Obama’s administration and disapproved of his management of the main problems in the country, a poll revealed today.
Young people were the main support to the president in his election in 2008 and reelection in 2012. That sector of the population is currently showing a marked decrease in their support.
The poll by the Institute for Politics of the University of Harvard that included people from 18 to 29 years of age revealed that 44 percent of that sector disapproves of Obama’s work, compared to 41 percent in support.
The data shows an 11-point fall compared to a poll by the same entity this past spring, and to another poll in the fall of 2009, when 58 percent of the young supported him and 39 percent voted against.
According to Trey Grayson, director of Harvard’s Institute for Politics, this is the lowest level of support for the president since he assumed office in 2009.
Of those polled, 55 percent said they had voted for Obama, 33 percent said they voted in favor of Mitt Romney and four percent chose another politician.
Being asked today about their vote intention, 46 percent said they would vote for the current White House tenant, while 35 percent would do it for Romney and 13 percent would choose someone else.
Asking opinions about health reform, 61 percent of those polled disapproved of Obama’s administration and 57 percent rejected Obamacare, and also 44 percent consider that health care will worsen, while 34 percent said it will remain the same and just 17 percent think that it will improve.
The poll also revealed that frustration is not only against Obama, because 59 percent of those polled do not support democrats in Congress, while 35 percent approved them, but also two thirds of them do not support republicans and just 19 percent support them.
The poll included 2,089 people and defining their political inclination: 41 percent of the young defined themselves as independents, 33 percent as democrats and 24 percent as republicans, and predicted a large number of non-participants in the primary elections in 2014.
Negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end fifty years of war have been ongoing in Cuba for a year. Agreements on agrarian rights and recently political participation have boosted peace hopes. But whatever the outcome of negotiations, chances for peace rest largely on what happens in cities and regions like Barrancabermeja.
The road there is uphill, as evidenced by the fate of political prisoner David Ravelo and violence directed against Credhos, the Barrancabermeja human rights group Ravelo founded and led. A mainly U.S. solidarity delegation visited with Ravelo in Bogota’s Picota prison in late 2012, and also called at CREDHOS headquarters in Barrancabermeja. The present writer joined that delegation. This communication serves as follow-up to the visit.
Barrancebermeja, population 230,000, is situated on the long, commercialized Magdalena River. Colombia’s largest oil refinery is there, and the region’s history is replete with oil-industry strikes. By 1987 when Credhos (Regional Corporation for Defense of Human Rights) was founded, paramilitaries were on the way to subjecting Barrancabermeja to a reign of terror. David Ravelo and Credhos resisted.
Credhos serves the Magdalena Medio region through “promotion, defense, and protection of human rights, democracy, and international humanitarian law.” It pursues “actions and scenarios for understanding, tolerance, living together, and civilized peace.” Over time killers eliminated nine Credhos activists.
Credhos secretary-general David Ravelo told an interviewer in 2010 that, “There are many murders and forced disappearances in Barrancabermeja and in the Magdalena region. Credhos accompanies victims’ families who are seeking the truth and damages for harm that was done. We demand reparations on their behalf and justice that is their due.”
Credhos’ formation coincided with repression carried out against the newly formed Patriotic Union (UP). That electoral coalition emerged from an agreement between the government and FARC whereby insurgents would give up arms in return for being able to join others in building a left political movement. U. P. activist David Ravelo gained a seat on the Barrancabermeja city council. Then amidst murders, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances, he went to jail for two years on fabricated charges.
Some 20 years later, violence was continuing. Credhos reported that in Barrancabermeja during the first two months of 2013, there were “five murders, three forced disappearances, two people wounded, and 20 death threats.” Blame fell on paramilitaries intent upon “maintaining social and political control of the city’s poor districts and thus sustain drug trafficking, a lucrative business through which they finance their criminal action.” Human rights defenders and members of a women’s political group endured “fear, anguish, intimidation, and instability.” Credhos activists were being tracked and spied upon.
David Ravelo was in prison again. Detained on September 14, 2010, he learned in December, 2012 that he would remain there for 18 years.
During April, assailants killed nine individuals in the city, among them Gilberto Arguello, president of the Board of Community Action. In early May citizen Giovani Polo Gómez was being killed in one barrio at the time Rafael Rodríguez, secretary general of the USO oil workers union, evaded an assault in another.
In November Credhos secretary general Abelardo Sánchez, the target of repeated death threats, came under attack as did Credhos president Ivan Madero Vergel. By hiding upstairs, the latter avoided discovery by a man who forcibly entered his building. As the month ended, guards stymied an attack on Credhos headquarters by three men suspected of being paramilitaries.
Additionally, the Santander Superior Court in October, 2013 rejected David Ravelo’s appeal. Responding, Credhos blamed a “lack of guarantees and weakened due process” Facts lawyer Alirio Uribe presented in Ravelo’s defense confirm that point.
Prosecutors charged Ravelo with complicity in the 1991 murder of a Barrancabermeja city official. At Ravelo’s trial, the prosecution relied upon accusations from two jailed paramilitary chieftains, once active in Barrancabermeja, who gained reduced sentences in return for their testimony. One of them, Mario Jaimes Mejía, testified he had ordered Ravelo’s assassination. The accusers allegedly bribed a corroborating witness. The judge at Ravelo’s trial in early 2012 refused to hear testimony from 30 defense witnesses.
Ravelo’s appeal centered on the criminal behavior of his prosecutor who as a police lieutenant took part in 1991 in the forced disappearance of a man named Guillermo Hurtado. William Pacheco, not yet a prosecutor, spent a year in a military prison for the crime. Colombian law bans criminals from serving as prosecutor. Pacheco entered his resignation early in 2013, but remains on the job.
Reacting to the judicial persecution of one of its leaders and having known chaos and murder in its own city, Credhos has lessons for Colombians as to difficulties in store for them as they try to build peace with social justice. In its analysis of the David Ravelo case, Credhos holds that “at the highest levels of the Colombian state they want to weaken social protest.” And, “there are hundreds of cases in which they have opened criminal investigations for daring to defend and promote human rights as a fundamental principle of a society dedicated to human development and defense of vulnerable communities.” As to the Colombian state: “experience has shown us that [its] strategies are structural and systematic.”
That insight speaks to North Americans who would confront the war-making U.S. state. Colombia of course is not only Latin America’s prime U.S. military ally - host of a network of U. S. military bases – but also is the recipient of military aid funds well known to trickle down to the benefit of paramilitaries and other lawless characters.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.
The City of Montreal has purchased 24 drones to help law enforcement tackle crime as authorities look to cut back the police force over the next 15 years. The UAVs, equipped with facial recognition technology, will be armed to ‘neutralize suspects’.
“It’s very exciting,” the chief of police for the borough where the drones will be deployed, Montreal North, told the Montreal Journal.
“The drones with facial recognition will patrol the streets 24 hours a day. Officers will interrogate individuals suspected of criminal acts or searched directly through speakers and microphones installed in the drones, but soon they can be provided with equipment capable of neutralizing on-site suspects pending the intervention of the law enforcement officers. It will mainly make our work less dangerous, especially in an area where there is a lot of social tension,” he said.
When asked to clarify what intermediate weapons would be used to neutralize suspects, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spokesman told the Journal the “UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] will carry persuasive technologies, but non-lethal types, such as electric shock, blinding or paralyzing gases.”
He added that despite the seemingly limitless possibilities, only non-lethal weapons are “intended for the moment.”
The drones are set to be deployed in early 2014.
Despite the $400-million- plus price tag, the drones are intended to facilitate cutbacks to the city’s police force in line with nationwide efforts to curb RCMP expenditures, which have doubled over the last 15 years.
Employing new technology to create leaner, more effective law enforcements agencies, however, remains highly contentious.
A late 2012 poll conducted by Jennifer Stoddart, the privacy commissioner of Canada, found the public remains ambivalent about the use of UAVs in policing.
While 80 percent of those surveyed were comfortable with police use of drones for search-and-rescue missions, only 40 percent of respondents felt comfortable with their use in monitoring public events or protests.
“Considering the capacity of UAVs for surreptitious operation, the potential for the technology to be used for general surveillance purposes, and their increasing prevalence — including for civilian purposes — our office will be closely following their expanded use,” the report read.
“We will also continue to engage federal government institutions to ensure that any planned operation of UAVs is done in accordance with privacy requirements.”
The RCMP national drone is thus far in its infancy, with Mounties promising they will not be used to conduct general surveillance against the public.
A study released last month – Unmanned Eyes in the Sky – found that despite drones’ potential benefits for police, law enforcement had not “sought feedback from the public on how UAVs should or should not be adopted as a tool to serve the public interest,” the Canadian Press reported.
The study concluded that in light of the “potential for intrusive and massive surveillance,” Canadians needed reassurances that they would not be spied on once the drone program goes into full swing.
- Facial recognition, once a battlefield tool, lands in San Diego County (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Montreal buys 24 drones with facial recognition that will interrogate suspected criminals (blacklistednews.com)
The United Nations is set to carry out an investigation into the spying activities of the US and UK, a senior judge has said. The probe will examine the espionage programs and assess whether they conform to UN regulations.
UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC told British newspaper The Guardian that the UN will conduct an inquiry into the NSA and the GCHQ’s spying antics. Following Edward Snowden’s revelations, which blew the whistle on both agencies’ intelligence gathering programs, Emmerson said the issue was at “the very apex of public interest and concerns.”
The report will broach a number of contentious issues, said Emmerson, including whether Snowden should be granted the legal protection afforded to a whistleblower, whether the data he handed over to the media did significant harm to national security, whether intelligence agencies need to scale down their surveillance programs and whether the UK government was misled about the extent of intelligence gathering.
“When it comes to assessing the balance that must be struck between maintaining secrecy and exposing information in the public interest, there are often borderline cases,” Emmerson told The Guardian.
Emmerson also mentioned the raid this summer on The Guardian’s London offices in search of hard drives containing data from Snowden. Addressing the allegations made by the chiefs of British spy agencies MI5, GCHQ and MI6, that publishing Snowden’s material was “a gift to terrorists,” Emmerson said it was the media’s job to hold governments to account for their actions.
“The astonishing suggestion that this sort of responsible journalism can somehow be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively,” said Emmerson, who will present the conclusions of his inquiry to the UN General Assembly next autumn.
Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger is set to appear before a Commons home affairs committee in a hearing about the newspaper publishing of Snowden’s security leaks. British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement in September, warning of a possible crackdown if media continued to publish information on covert intelligence gathering programs.
He said the government had not yet been “heavy-handed” in its dealings with the press, but it would be difficult not to act if the press does not “demonstrate some social responsibility.” Cameron added that the UK was a more dangerous place after the Guardian published Snowden’s material.
Snowden’s revelations of the international spying activities of the UK and US have embarrassed the White House and Downing Street. Recent leaks show that the NSA and GCHQ not only monitored millions of civilian communications using programs such as PRISM and Tempora, but also eavesdropped on high-profile businessmen and politicians. Moreover, it was revealed that the NSA also spied on the UN’s headquarters in New York.
Both nations have sought to justify their intelligence gathering programs as being in the interests of national security.