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Ex-DEA Agent Ties Contras to U.S. Drug Flights


WASHINGTON — A former federal drug agent said Monday that while stationed in El Salvador in the mid-1980s, he came across evidence that members of the CIA-backed rebel forces in Nicaragua were smuggling cocaine into the United States for profit.

Celerino Castillo III, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, said at a news conference that he sent reports to his agency about Contra drug flights in 1985 and 1986 and even spoke to U.S. Embassy officials about them. But he was told they were sanctioned by the White House, he said.

Castillo's account at a briefing sponsored by civil rights leaders added to the controversy over whether the CIA was involved in drug smuggling that supplied crack cocaine to the Los Angeles market.

The House Intelligence Committee and the CIA's inspector general have begun inquiries into recent press reports that such flights were part of a drug pipeline from Colombian drug cartels to black neighborhoods in Southern California. In a series of stories last month, the San Jose Mercury News said that cocaine was distributed through a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring, with proceeds supporting the Contras at war with Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government.

CIA Director John M. Deutch wrote Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) earlier this month that an internal inquiry several years ago showed "the agency neither participated in nor condoned drug trafficking by Contra forces." But Deutch said the inspector general would open a new investigation into the charges.

Also on Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan wrote to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, requesting that the Justice Department investigate the news reports of a CIA-supported drug ring operating in the city during the 1980s.

Castillo, who retired from the DEA in 1992 because of a physical disability, told reporters that he sent cables to Washington listing dates and plane numbers of drug flights out of Ilo Pango, a U.S. air base in El Salvador that CIA officials used for logistics support of the Contras. Many of the flights were flown by American pilots hired by Contra leaders, he said.

Castillo accused then-U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Edwin G. Corr of ignoring the flights. The former agent said Corr told him: "My hands are tied because these are Contra operations being run by the White House."

Other officials told him, "Your career is going to end in Central America if you keep this up," Castillo said, adding that "my reports went into the black hole at DEA."

Corr did not return calls left Monday at his office at the University of Oklahoma, where he is a faculty member.

Civil rights activist Dick Gregory, who accompanied Castillo to the news conference, said he is prepared to take legal action to get the government to release Castillo's reports, which he said are identifiable by case numbers.

DEA officials acknowledged that Castillo had worked for the agency, but they had no comment on his statements because they said the matter is under federal investigation. They said the reports Castillo filed with the agency would only be released if ordered by a court under the Freedom of Information Act.

Castillo said he first disclosed what he knew about the drug flights in 1994 when former Ronald Reagan White House aide Oliver L. North was seeking election to the U.S. Senate from Virginia. Castillo said he strongly opposed the candidacy of North, who lost the race, because he understood North had sanctioned the flights. North, however, has denied these charges.

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