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CIA disavows crack connection; many skeptical

graphic October 23, 1996
Web posted at: 10:15 p.m. EDT

From Reporter Kathleen Koch

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Government investigators vowed Wednesday to get to the bottom of charges that the Central Intelligence Agency may have played a key role in introducing crack cocaine to U.S. inner cities in the 1980s to fund an anti- Communist crusade in Nicaragua.

Speaking at a boisterous hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz denied that the agency was involved in the Los Angeles cocaine trade. "The agency neither participated in nor condoned drugs trafficking by Contra forces," he said.

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But not everyone was convinced. An angry audience reacted loudly to Hitz's claims, and black lawmakers remains suspicious.

The probes were triggered in August by stories in the San Jose Mercury News that purported to trace the origins of the U.S. crack epidemic to a pair of Nicaraguan drug traffickers linked to the U.S.-backed Contra rebels.


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Jack Blum, a former Senate investigator who looked into the matter during the 1980s, defended the CIA.

"No members of the staff of the CIA ... (were) in the cocaine business," he said.

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A series of Los Angeles Times articles this week also cast doubts on claims that the crack epidemic was originated by Contra drug sales, pointing out that crack was appearing in many areas by that time.

But some in the African-American community, including activist Dick Gregory, say the hearing confirmed what they already suspected: that the government had something to do with the influx of cocaine into black communities during the 1980s.

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CIA and Department of Justice investigators couldn't estimate how long it will take them to investigate the charges. And some lawmakers fear they don't have enough power to get the necessary facts.

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"They will never be able to get unwilling people, or even people who may be willing who cannot defy their bosses to testify, unless they are subpoenaed," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, who represents a majority-black district in Los Angeles.

If investigators are stymied, senators say the intelligence committee itself may take over the probe. Even in that event, it's clear the African-American community will eye their efforts with suspicion and doubt.

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