Cracking the C.I.A. (the Cocaine Import Agency)

As I promised a few people I would post my follow up to my last blog, which I just released a reading of on my podcast. This is the text of that reading. Listen to it here:

Cracking the CIA (The Cocaine Import Agency)

This piece was written with help from Alex Aldarondo-SUA Class of 2007-in our Social Problems class. It was published first in 2007 in Volume One, of my "Selected Writings From Soka University of America" and was just released in my hard back book, "The Collected Writings From Soka University of America."

(C) 2004-2009 Second American Renaissance Press

Beginning in the early 1980s, an epidemic explosion of crack cocaine has poured into predominantly African-American, inner-city neighborhoods in Los Angeles and other major cities around the US. This epidemic has destroyed African-American neighborhoods and has caused an increase in crime, violence and mental and physical illness. Not only has it caused the death and suffering of many African-American residents, but it has also caused the deaths of many police officers, who have tried to fight an endless and losing drug war.

Today this problem lingers on; it has torn many African-American families apart, as their family members have been shot or have been sent to prison, and many children have been swept up in gangs or have been born as crack babies (Baum 1996). Along with this, many wives of narcotics officers must try to survive the death of their husbands as single mothers (Levine 1993). Although the US government has led a so-called “drug war” for over a quarter of a century, agencies of the US government, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), have not only been complicit in this epidemic, but have helped in the creation of this growing crisis (Webb 1998).
For example, there has long existed documented proof that the CIA was heavily involved in the opium trade in China and Burma, otherwise know as the “Opium Wars (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 215-219),” and ever since the 2nd US war on Afghanistan (starting in 2001), now the CIA is heavily involved in the heroin trade in Afghanistan as well (1).

There has also been much documented evidence that the CIA transported marijuana and heroin to sell to US troops in Vietnam on Air America (2), in order to raise money to finance illegal operations in Laos, Cambodia and other countries (Leary 1986). Commenting on the CIA’s history related to drug trafficking, Cockburn and St. Clair write,

"…since its inception the Central Intelligence Agency has been in permanent collusion with narco-traffickers, assisting their safe passage, protection their activities, rewarding drug lords, hiring them for covert missions and using money derived from these operations for other activities. The fact that these drugs end up in American veins has never deterred the Agency and, given the hue of the skin often covering those veins, has perhaps even been seen as a positive outcome (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 111)."

To top it off, the CIA has had a program, which was a “twenty-year research program into psycho-active drugs and behavior modification, know as MK/ULTRA (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 106),” which was conducted mostly on African-American minorities in the US. However, never before has it been so documented that the CIA was involved in directly shipping drugs into the US, as it is now (Webb 1998).

Although the involvement in drug trafficking, along with many other nefarious activities, has been an undisclosed policy of the CIA ever since its inception (Levine 1993), never before have we seen a CIA policy cause such incredible social problems within the US, as we have seen with its policy toward the importation of crack cocaine into inner-city, minority neighborhoods, beginning in the 1980s (Webb 1998).

In 1993, when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, Michael Levine dared to write a thorough exposé on the CIA’s drug trafficking scandals, it was only after his son Keith Richard Levine, a New York City police sergeant was killed in the line of duty by a crack addict (Levine 1993: acknowledgement) and his brother died of an overdose of heroin.

This eye-opening work was followed by a yearlong series in the San Jose Mercury News, by award winning journalist, Gary Webb (3), who later compiled his work in a book, entitled, The Dark Alliance (Webb 1998). During the same year, investigative journalists, Alexander Cockburn of The Nation Magazine and Jeffrey St. Clair of In these Times put together an extensive study of all previously released research about the CIA’s drug dealings and how many in the “conservative press” have helped to cover-up this story (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998).
Until these stories were broke, local officials in Los Angeles (4) and elsewhere wondered in amazement how so much crack cocaine could be pouring into their cities, when so many billions of dollars have been spend by the government supposedly to keep drugs off the streets (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 64). As one editorial about this unbelievable flood of drugs into LA reads,

"The increase in cocaine that hit L.A. was so great that police officials didn’t believe reports from narcotics cops about the increase in cocaine in ghettos. The police higher ups had a simple reason for their skepticism: African-Americans couldn’t afford high-priced cocaine. But the Contra-connection and the creation of crack had changed all that-highly addictive crack was cheaper than powder cocaine…. What followed was an explosion of violence, crack addicts, stiff drug laws, incarceration and the image of young black males as predators (5)."

The crack epidemic has caused so many social problems, almost too many to detail here. One problem, murder has gone up in areas where crack was introduced. As Dan Baum writes,

"Urban murders, declining for years, rose sharply as crack took hold…. More than half of the 414 murders committed in New York City during eight months of 1988 were classified by the police as ‘drug related,” and most of those involved crack (1996: 256)."

However, it was not the drug, crack, that was causing these killings. A closer look at the statistics shows that the killers where not people taking the drug, instead it was those dealing the drug. As Baum writes, “In only one case could crack alone be said to have driven the killer to his deed…. All the rest-fully three quarters-were committed by dealers battling over territory. This was a byproduct of drug prohibition (1996: 256).”

Another social problem caused by the crack epidemic has been the mass incarceration of urban minorities, mostly African-Americans. With no other drug, has there been so many laws created for mandatory minimum sentencing than with crack. For instance, after Republican Senator, Jesse Helms of North Carolina’s new bill for mandatory minimum sentences for the possession of crack passed, “Merely possessing five grams of crack-about one day’s supply for a serious addict-would now carry a five-year sentence with no parole (Baum 1996: 257).”

Many argue these laws are extremely racist. As Baum points out, “To get the same five years, a defendant would have to possess 100 times as much powdered cocaine…. As many as 90 percent of crack dealers are black, while dealers in powder tend to be white (Baum 1996: 257).”

Instead of eliminating social problems associated with drugs, the “drug war” has done nothing but devastate budgets, causing even worse social problems. As Cockburn and St. Clair write about conditions in Los Angeles,

It would be difficult to find any documentary evidence that this war on drugs had anything other than a deleterious effect. By 1990 black youth unemployment in the greater Los Angeles area was 45 percent. Nearly half of all black males under the age of twenty-five had been in the criminal justice system. Life expectancy for blacks was falling for the first time in this century, and infant mortality in the city was rising. Some 40 percent of black children were born into poverty (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 78).

In addition, as Democratic senator, John Kerry after witnessing the Iran-Contra, Senate hearings said,

"'our system of justice had been perverted; … [our covert agencies] had converted themselves into channels for the flow of drugs into the United States.' He noted with astonishment that while US taxpayers were taxed (more than $100 billion) to stop drugs, their own government was complicit in flooding their country with them (Levine 1993: 3)."

For this reason, LA Democratic congresswoman, “[Maxine] Waters took to the floor of the House of Representatives and in a sixty-minute speech called for the Agency to be ‘zeroed out (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 65).'"

Some investigators have argued that the CIA has purposely targeted African-American neighborhood with drugs the same way the FBI and the CIA had targeted African-American communities for many years, with such racist operations as COINTELPRO (6) (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 63-94).

Others have argued that the CIA needed to raise money for their many covert wars throughout Latin America from the 1970s onward “to fight communism.” The ties between drug money and the US-backed war against the democratically elected Sandinistan government in Nicaragua is the most thoroughly documented. As the University of Washington’s student online newspaper reports on Webb’s story,

"In a three-part series, the Mercury News detailed how a Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cut-rate cocaine to street gangs, then funneled the profits to Nicaraguan Contras-a guerrilla army run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Contras unsuccessfully tried to topple the Socialist Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and for years terrorized innocent villagers caught in the middle (Martin 1996)."

Although much more could be written about the social problems that this crack epidemic has caused, to better analyze the epidemic we must also apply the many sociological theories to this problem. In looking at each theory, we can use both a person blame approach and a system blame approach. In terms of a person blame approach, we can use the “cultural deviance theory” to explain why people in inner city neighborhoods were a much easier target for the CIA’s trafficking of crack, than were people in more affluent, white neighborhoods. Perhaps the CIA did try to sell these drugs in other areas, but they could not find as many people willing to do their selling and buying. In inner-city neighborhoods, there was perhaps much more crime to begin with. Therefore, it was easier to find people who were willing to engage in criminal activity. We can relate this theory to both the dealers and the users of drugs. In a neighborhood, where many people are already involved in crime, it seems all but logical that they would be willing to get involved in other criminal activities as well.

We can also use this theory to analyze why the CIA would be involved in drug dealing. For many who study the CIA, they see this organization as one of the greatest “cultures of deviance.” Commenting on their deviance, Cockburn and St. Clair write:

"Organizations such as the CIA require immersion in criminal milieus, virtually unlimited supplies of 'black' or laundered money and a long-term cadre of entirely ruthless executives (some of them not averse to making personal fortunes from their covert activities). The drug trade is an integral part of such a world.... The drug money involved is both profuse and off the books (Cockburn and St. Clair 1998: 110)."

Although many people who join US government agencies, such as the CIA, the NSA, the DEA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), do so for altruistic reasons, once they are exposed to the corruption within these agencies, they are likely to either become corrupt themselves or have a hard time continuing to do their job.
The “cultural deviance theory” relates in many ways to the “differential association theory,” also known as the “social learning theory.” Relating it to a system blame approach we see that, although some CIA officers are moral when they enter the Agency, the behavior they learn often makes them become corrupt. We can also relate this theory to drug dealers. Once people began selling drugs in minority neighborhoods, other people learned from these drug dealers how they too could sell drugs. We can just as easily use this theory to explain why people in inner-city neighborhoods are more likely to use illegal drugs than in other more affluent neighborhoods. As they see their friends, relatives, fellow gang members and others using and selling drugs, they learn that it is socially acceptable to do likewise.

We can apply another theory to drug dealing as well. It is the “rational choice theory.” Once a person in an inner-city neighborhood sees their friends selling drugs and making a lot of money, they will in many cases make the rational choice that it is beneficial to get involved in this business. In economically depressed areas, people are naturally more desperate to find good paying work and they will often do whatever it takes to survive. If someone experiences others making lots of money selling illegal drugs, getting involved in this business would be the rational choice for them to get out of poverty.

This theory can also be used to explain why so many people in inner-cities are willing to take illegal drugs, like crack. In areas where people suffer from poverty, one way to relieve a person’s suffering and to help that person forget about his or her problems is for that person to become sedated. When someone sees others who are high on crack or any other illegal drugs, these sedated people may give off the impression that they are enjoying their lives. When someone is suffering and he or she sees others who appear to be having fun, it is rational that the person seeing such behavior would want to partake in the apparent enjoyment. Unaware of the many hidden consequences of crack, people believe that the pros of taking this drug outweigh the cons. Therefore, they rationalize that taking crack is the most beneficial thing to do.

“Rational choice theory” can also be applied to the CIA. One of the goals of any agency of the US government is to make sure that it does what is best for the US government (although it should be the goal of US government agencies to do what is best for the citizens of the US, as the people working for US government agencies are supposed to be public servants to the people of the US, who pay their pay check through taxes). If a person working for the US government wants the US government to be better than any other government (more rich, more dominant) it may seem rational for that person to want his or her government to also be number one in the drug market. Because the activities of some agencies of our government are immune from prosecution, whether these activities are legal or illegal is not taken into consideration. If other governments throughout the world are involved in drug trafficking (and many are), why not have the US government be at the top of the drug trafficking business (this becomes the “rational” argument).

Another theory that can explain why crack selling and buying has spread so rapidly in inner-city neighborhoods is “functionalism theory.” This theory says that this behavior is a function of these societies. For African-Americans and other minorities, who have been discriminated against for so long, drug dealing is for many the only way they could get ahead, or if not, at least to gain a close semblance of the economic equality of their white counterparts. Selling and buying drugs serves a function for these discriminated against minorities to gain their economic equality.

As an article from Skidmore’s website states, “Functionalists say that crime [drug dealing and drug using] exists and will continue to exist in so far as society is structured as it is (Zapper).” For example, when young, African-American people grow up in inner-city neighborhoods, and they experience daily the massive injustices committed upon their race by the police and other people in government and society, it is easy to see why these young, African-American people may see drug dealing and drug using as ways to rebel against the corrupt system. If their lives are already miserable, why not get involved in drugs? Some may see this as a way for African-American people to gain their independence from the “white economy.” As the above-mentioned article states, “Deviance and crime challenges the status quo in society and in some cases, spurs change, negative or positive.”

Another theory that can be used to explain the phenomena of drug dealing in inner-city neighborhoods is the theory of “structural functionalism.” As Zapper quotes sociologists, C. Calhoun, D. Light and S. Keller, in the above-mentioned website, “Our culture places tremendous emphasis on financial success…. At the same time, legitimate opportunities to become wealthy in our society are limited (Zapper).” Therefore, in poor, inner-city neighborhoods, where opportunities for success are extremely limited, the “distress” or “strain” caused by society’s focus on the need for success causes people to turn to criminal behavior as a form of competition. It is the only hope they have of gaining financial success.

Although the above-mentioned website particularly emphasizes juvenile delinquency, in the following quote, if we substitute “black inner-city minorities (BICMs)” for each mention of a “juvenile,” we will see how this theory applies just as well to BICMs:

"A juvenile [BICM] who is told that he or she can not go to college and will always be lower class, may very well rebel against these societal goals and engage in criminal activity. This is a function of the juvenile [BICM] attempting to preserve their self-esteem and self efficacy. Juveniles [BICMs] who engage in crime do so, according to this perspective, as a means to defy societies defined goals and innovate their own goals of delinquent behavior (Zapper)."

The “strain theory” can also be applied to the CIA. All governments are competing to be number one. In a desperate attempt to remain the last “superpower,” many in the US government, especially those in the CIA, feel whatever it takes to be the best is justified.

The “conflict perspective” is another theory that works hand and hand with the “strain theory.” Relating this theory to the sale and use of drugs by inner-city minorities, we see that it “…comes as a result of a conflict in society between two or more groups (Zapper).” As the website states, “This conflict is most often class based and economic (Zapper).” It is the result of a power struggle in society. Many of the people who are involved in selling drugs in inner-city neighborhood are people in gangs. One of the many reasons minorities join gangs is to be a part of a power struggle against the police, the government and the larger exploitive white, upper-class society.

This theory can also be applied to the CIA. Many critics of the CIA, not only say its initials should stand for the “Cocaine Import Agency,” but also they say it should stand for the “Capitalist International Army.” Some such critics, as Michael Parenti, say that the CIA’s job is to insure that the poor, lower-class people in this country and elsewhere-“the have-nots”-do not take away what the rich, upper-class US citizens-“the haves”-have fought so long to acquire, or as he says, “to steal (7).”

“Labeling theory” is another theory we can apply to drug dealing and drug use in inner-city neighborhoods. Because many minorities in these areas have already been labeled by society as the “losers,” they feel it is only natural for a “loser” to be involved in criminal behavior. Because for many years, many rich, white people have labeled poor, African-American people as “drug dealers,” “drug users” and “criminals,” whether they were or not, some poor, African-American people have developed this as their self-identity and are far more prone to engage in the expected behavior, to live up to society’s expectations of them.

This theory can also be applied to the CIA. Many people in the CIA have been labeled as “above the law,” “untouchable” and “immune from prosecution.” Most of their operations are said to be “matters of national security.” Thus, they are off limits to normal investigation. With these labels, many agents, although they are not necessarily allowed to do whatever they please, feel they can. As long as they are labeled as “untouchable,” other government agencies and officials feel they are powerless to investigate their activities.

Although there are many more sociological theories we could apply to this social problem, we need to look now at what are some possible solutions to this crack epidemic. One of the many ways to overcome this crack epidemic is through education. Because this epidemic overthrew entire communities and specific racial and ethnic groups, we need to educate these communities about where these drugs are coming from. We need to let people know in poor community that every time they use or sell drugs, they are supporting the destruction of their community, as wells as supporting wars in poor countries, which often causes the overthrow of democratic resistance movements. We need to let them know that destroying democracy in other countries, contributes to the destruction of democracy in our own country. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A threat to justice anywhere is a treat to justice everywhere.”

We also need to raise the standard of living in poor minority communities. Education is one way of accomplishing this. Most of these communities have little or no access to good education. Therefore, generations continue to grow up in an endless cycle of poverty and continue to ignore many of the causes of their apparent hopeless conditions. As we discussed above, many of these people do not have the intellectual tools or academic preparation to understand the roots of their own plight. Without the knowledge of other possibilities of getting out of poverty, poor people will believe the only way to improve their socioeconomic conditions is by selling drugs. Therefore, to strike at the root of this social problem, we must focus our attention on improving the educational systems of underprivileged communities. One way to increase educational opportunities of poor minority communities is to develop scholarships that are given to youths who get involved in community work or other activities that improve their neighborhoods. Many people have been able to escape from poverty conditions by receiving college scholarships. Therefore, we must promote more educational opportunities for poor minorities.

Another possible solution for this problem is the legalization of drugs. If drugs were made legal, the government would regulate them through licensing and taxation. Therefore, nefarious undercover government agencies, such as the CIA, would not be able to use the illegal traffic of drugs to fund covert operations, because all money obtained from the sale of drugs would be tracked.

In addition, the legalization of drugs would stop all sales of drugs on the street, resulting in a major decrease in street violent and property crimes related to drug sales. In addition, drug dealers would not hire teen-agers as runners or lookouts, as they do now. This would give teen-agers less incentive to ditch school or drop out of school. The price of drugs would also decrease drastically, reducing the lure of the quick, “rags to riches” possibility of drug dealing.

We saw during the alcohol prohibition days of the past, a drastic increase in violence, theft and other crimes related to the sale and possession of illegal alcohol. When prohibition ended, the price of alcohol went down drastically, which discouraged anyone from buying or selling illegal alcohol on the streets. For example, we can only imagine what would happen if our government made it illegal for people to buy painkillers, like aspirin for headaches or muscle relaxers for back pain.

Would people stop taking painkillers? Definitely not. They would instead buy them for 10 times the cost in a dark alley. These painkillers would not be properly labeled (they would most likely have no labels at all, like all other illegal drugs), so people would not know if they were taking the correct dosage or if they were taking the right painkillers. If people taking these painkillers had adverse reactions, because the painkillers were made incorrectly, they would not have an address of the company that made them to go to, to file a complaint or lawsuit. We would likely see the amount of people who die from over dosages of painkillers drastically increase along with crime.

If the government made all drug sales legal, these sales would be performed in a safe environment, such as a pharmacy. Gangs would have no incentive to kill people for attempting to take their market-share of a neighborhood. All drugs would contain labels that list their ingredients and proper recommended dosages, along with warning labels of possible side effects. Drug labels would include, where the drugs were made and where the drugs were packaged, like all other consumer products that are sold legally. Therefore, people could be more informed consumers. In the case that people did not want to support a civil war in El Salvador, for instance, they would not buy cocaine made from coca leaves grown in El Salvador.

Warning labels would most likely cause a decrease in dangerous drug use. We have seen that warning labels on drugs such as alcohol and tobacco have reduced the amount of people who drink and smoke, especially during pregnancy. If cocaine packages listed all the possible effects of cocaine, a person buying the drug may think twice about what they are doing, thus reducing this illogical experimentation.

Another solution to this problem would be to make all people working for the US government equally accountable for their crimes, as are all normal citizens. Former DEA Agent, Michael Levine revealed that

"[Even though] Evidence that should have put many high government officeholders behind bars for crimes with minimum sentence of 10-20 year …not a single US official was officially charged with violating our drug laws (Levine 1993: 3)."

Why is this possible? This is only possible because the average person in the US is unaware that their government is involved in drug trafficking. Therefore, we need to educate the US public to the fact that our government is involved in bringing many of these drugs into poor neighborhoods. We have seen in history that when the public becomes educated about social problems, it will eventually put pressure on its government to address these problems, especially when it is that vary government, which is responsible for much of the problems.

We saw this with slavery and with colonialism. As more US citizens became educated about the conditions of slaves in the south, they demanded an end to it. Colonialism was only allowed to continue because the masses of people in Europe were poor and uneducated. They had no idea about what their country was doing around the world. However, as literacy increased in Europe, eventually the public was made more aware of the terrible things their governments were doing in other counties. After becoming aware, many people in Europe fought to make their governments act more humanely around the world.

If the US government’s lies about the drug war were exposed to the US public, people would see that,

"These lies have caused the worst deterioration in American life and family values in our history, cost us trillions of dollars in taxes, drug-related crime, injury, and other costs to society, and two generations of brain-damaged crack babies whom sociologist tell us are destined to become conscienceless sociopaths. And none of these responsible for these lies has gone to jail…yet (Levine 1993: 5)."

When the general public becomes aware of these lies, I am confident they will put an end to them.

End Notes


(2) A CIA owned and operated airline.

(3) After complaining to many of his colleagues, about receiving death threats and after finding his home had been broken into a few times, Gary Webb was finally killed on December 10th, 2004 in his own home, by “multiple gun shot wounds [to the head].” Despite all logic to the contrary, the local coroner claimed Gary was able to commit suicide by more than one bullet?! Perhaps President Kennedy and the unfortunate people who were involved in President Clinton’s dealings in Arkansas aren’t the only people who could be killed by multiple ricochets from the same bullet?!

(4) Congress Women, Maxine Waters and others at a press briefing in Los Angeles.


(6) A Counter-Intelligence Program, conducted by the FBI to infiltrate and destroy such African-American resistance organization as the Black Panther Party. The FBI hired informants to give false testimony in trials, sent impersonators to spy on meetings and wire tapped African-American social leader’s phones, such as Martin Luther Kings Jr’s. “A memo from FBI Director, J Edgar Hoover described the program as it stood in August 1967: the purpose of COINTELPRO was to ‘expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize’ black organizations the FBI didn’t care for (Cockburn and St. Clair: 1998, 69).”

(7) A paraphrase from The Sword and the Dollar, by Michael Parenti.


Baum, Dan: 1996. Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. Little, Brown and Company. New York.

Cockburn, Alexander and Jeffrey St. Clair: 1998. Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. Verso, New York.

FCN Editorial, Vol 15 No 32, FCN Publishing.

Froomkin, Dan. “Rich Poor, Young, Old: It Hurts Us All.”

Leary, Williams: 1986. Perilous Missions: Civil Air Transport and CIA Covert Operations in Asia. University of Alabama Press, Alabama.

Martin, Cecilia. CIA Responsible for Cocaine Influx Los Angeles. The Online Daily Thursday, October 3, 1996.

Michael Levine: 1993. The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic. Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York.

Webb, Gary: 1998. Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. Seven Stories Press, New York.

Zapper, Matt. “Causal Theories of Juvenile Delinquency: Social Perspectives.”

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Comment by joy trammell on October 20, 2009 at 8:01am
Hello Tim! I see you're on the buddhist website as well. I hope you're getting settled in your new home! Great article.
Comment by Tim Janakos on March 21, 2009 at 7:37pm
Yes. I read that book about a year ago. I've heard him interviewed quite a number of times on KPFA and KPFK. Yes my novel, Myth Shattering, tried to tie progressive social activism with why Buddhism is so needed for a progressive social revolution.
Comment by Jinja Cales on March 19, 2009 at 9:19pm
Tim, I truly appreciate this article. By the way, Have you read the book written by John Perkins who wrote " The confessions of the Economic Hit Man"? In this book, you can really see what our government was doing and how and why we had 9-11. Yea, we sure live in the era of Mappo. You see why we must do propagate the Daishonin's Buddhism now.

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