WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency said Tuesday that it has no record of any CIA relationship with the principal members of a Nicaraguan-American cocaine trafficking ring that operated in California during the 1980s.
In a legal declaration filed in federal court in San Diego and released in Washington, the CIA said it knew as early as 1984 that cocaine smuggler Norvin Meneses was a major drug trafficker. But it said a search of the agency's records turned up no evidence of any CIA relationship with Meneses.
At the time, Meneses was a financial contributor to the CIA-backed rebels who were fighting Nicaragua's leftist government. The cocaine trafficker made at least one visit to the Contras' military headquarters in Honduras in 1982, when the CIA was deeply involved in directing, training and supplying the rebels.
Despite that overlap, the CIA said its initial investigation did not turn up any evidence that the agency then knew of Meneses' link to the Contras. A spokesman said the CIA's inspector general was still looking into that issue, and noted that the declaration released Tuesday focused only on the question of whether the agency had a relationship with the trafficker.
Meneses was the principal figure in a cocaine-trafficking ring that imported drugs from Central America to California during the early 1980s. One of Meneses' lieutenants, Oscar Danilo Blandon, later sold drugs to Ricky Ross, a major crack cocaine dealer in South-Central Los Angeles.
The agency's search "identified no records indicating that CIA had any kind of operational, contractual or employment relationship" with Meneses, Blandon or Ross, the CIA said.
The agency also found no records of any relationship with Ronald J. Lister, a former Laguna Beach police officer who claimed that he worked for the CIA when he was arrested on drug charges in 1986, or David Scott Weekly, the man Lister named as his CIA contact.
The Meneses operation, which began to disintegrate when two of its members were arrested in 1984, came under renewed investigation after a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News. The newspaper reported that Meneses, Blandon and Ross introduced Colombian cocaine to South-Central Los Angeles, and sent millions of dollars in drug profits to the Contras.
The Times and other newspapers found, instead, that the Meneses ring was only one of many that supplied cocaine to Los Angeles, and that only about $50,000 in contributions from the trafficker to the Contras could be established.
The articles prompted Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and other members of Congress to demand a CIA investigation. That internal inquest is still incomplete and will not be finished for several months, CIA officials said.
The CIA declaration released Tuesday was prepared after federal prosecutors in San Diego asked the CIA to do a quick check of its records in connection with Ross' trial on drug trafficking charges. Ross was convicted of attempting to buy 100 kilograms of cocaine from Blandon in a federally run sting operation. But at his sentencing hearing, Ross' attorney charged that Blandon was working for the CIA and that Ross was "a victim of the most outrageous government misconduct known to man."
The CIA declaration was based on what the agency called "a thorough and diligent search of appropriate CIA records systems" that would show whether Meneses, Blandon, Ross, Lister or Weekly had any "relationship" with the agency.
It said the computerized search would show if the people in question "had an operational relationship with CIA (i.e. they were assets or sources of the agency used to collect intelligence or to engage in intelligence activities); were of operational interest to the CIA (i.e. they were of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence interest); had a relationship with any CIA-owned corporation or other private sector entity; or their names incidentally appeared in CIA records."
The search found CIA records from 1984 and 1985 identifying Meneses as a drug trafficker, weapons smuggler and money launderer and as "the kingpin of narcotics traffickers in Nicaragua" before the 1979 revolution there. The agency did not say how or why it collected information on Meneses in those years, which was the period when the trafficker was contributing money to the Contras.
The search found a CIA record from 1986 reporting that "a Ron Lister" had been attempting to obtain submachine guns in an unnamed foreign country. It found several CIA reports on Weekly, including his part in an ill-fated private commando mission in 1983 to find American prisoners of war in Laos, and his arrest in 1986 on charges of carrying explosives on a commercial airliner. Weekly claimed to be working for the CIA at the time, but the agency denied it.
The only records related to Blandon were requests from law enforcement agencies to determine whether the cocaine trafficker worked for the agency, the CIA said. The search found no records at all on Ross, it said.
However, the search was not complete enough to cover other records "that may incidentally contain the names of the individuals in question," it said.