According to Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Gary Webb in his controversial article series The Dark Alliance

For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to an arm of the contra guerrillas of Nicaragua run by the Central Intelligence Agency, the San Jose Mercury News has found.

Essentially the claim states that the CIA sold drugs in California to generate untraceable funds to transfer to anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua. The claims were taken seriously enough that in 1996 CIA director John Deutch traveled to LA to confront the claims, but the crowd he addressed remained unconvinced.

Has the CIA sold drugs in the US to fund rebels or to counter the rising influence of gangs?

Is there any evidence to support the claims, or the CIA's position?

  • 4
    I am personally skeptical of the idea of CIA selling drugs in the US, but I am not skeptical at all about the idea that they would use seized funds...
    – horatio
    Apr 19, 2011 at 16:04
  • 1
    A former executive of HUD explains the government-drug connection in great detail at link
    – user1838
    Apr 19, 2011 at 22:09
  • 10
    The claim you quoted doesn't say that the CIA sold any drugs. The quote doesn't even directly say that the CIA knew about the drug sales. The CIA doesn't have 100% control over every group it funds. Could you be a bit more clear about your claim?
    – Christian
    Apr 19, 2011 at 22:29
  • A better link. drugwar.com/fittsnarco1.shtm
    – user1838
    Apr 19, 2011 at 22:31
  • 2
    most likely someone noticed a police sting (which sometimes use seized drugs to trap potential buyers) and came up with a wild idea that the police would never do such a thing so it must be the EVIL CIA :)
    – jwenting
    Apr 20, 2011 at 9:44

2 Answers 2


There is plenty of circumstantial evidence that this is the case.

  1. With respect to the Contra affair, the Kerry inquest reached the conclusion that there was some involvement, directly by CIA or by companies employed by CIA (full text);

  2. The CIA itself does not deny many of the allegations (link);

  3. There have been many other examples of the CIA dealing drugs to generate covert funds or actually helping the drug trade to foster some higher purpose (well sourced Wikipedia page).

Of course, people tend to infer a lot from little facts, and you are asking about a specific interpretation of the facts. We can't really address the motivations and dietrology of those theories skeptically, and the general principle is that the burden of proof is on who makes the allegations ("innocent until proven guilty!").

In other words, I cannot find any direct proof that CIA used the profits to fight gangs, although there is clear proof that the CIA was involved multiple times in drug trafficking.

  • 7
    The Kerry inquest never concluded that the CIA sold drugs in the US. It only concluded that the State Department gave money to companies with the intent of helping the Contras that were involved in drug trafficking. The CIA also never says that it sold drugs in the US. There are also no examples of the CIA using drugs to generate covert funds, just examples where groups funded by the CIA may have been involved in drug trafficking, and mostly by individuals rather than the entirety of these groups May 10, 2019 at 19:07
  • The CIA is not in the business of denying conspiracy theories.
    – user36356
    May 14, 2019 at 16:04
  • 1
    The Wikipedia page you link in 3 actually isn't very strong evidence. There are three things there that aren't just allegations: 1) Laos. The CIA helped out their allies there by flying their drugs, never denied the allegations, and stated that opium trade there was legal at the time. 2) Panama. The CIA payed Noriega for working against the contras and didn't stop his drug trafficking. The CIA didn't sell drugs. 3) Venezuela. An undercover operation gone wrong. That's not selling drugs. So there is one (not many) example of the CIA dealing drugs.
    – sgf
    May 15, 2019 at 8:29
  • Does the CIA typically deny allegations when they're false?
    – piojo
    Jun 26, 2019 at 6:15
  • 1
    @piojo If they denied all false accusations, then one could infer the truth of an accusation from their lack of denial. For this reason, intelligence services usually just don't respond at all. Jul 5, 2019 at 23:39

Probably Not

There is no evidence to suggest that the CIA actually sold drugs in the US. There is plenty of evidence that they worked with groups that trafficked drugs like the Contras and Vietnamese elements. There is also evidence that drugs were smuggled on board planes owned by Air America, a CIA front company. But there is substantial evidence that this was done without the knowledge of the CIA or any of the Air America employees. There have been allegations that the CIA turned a blind eye towards this, but no definite evidence.

Allegations against the CIA and the Contras There is however definitive evidence to suggest that the CIA didn't sell drugs to fund the Contras. The CIA themselves have an entire page dedicated to these allegations. Some helpful quotations include:

. . . it was an ideal situation to send drugs from [Central America] to the United States, but the Americans were too professional and had no reason to do so. Narcotics trafficking allegations were just rumors. If there was narcotics trafficking, it was probably from Nicaragua to the United States conducted by the Medellin cartel. - An anonymous American contractor

The rumors that Mario Calero[Brother of a Contra Leader] may have been involved with drug trafficking while running an [aircraft] from Louisiana were not believed to be true and no credible reporting on any such activity was ever received. - An Army officer

A Station operations officer recalls that CIA personnel serving in the country "clearly understood we were to have nothing to do with anyone involved in narcotics trafficking and to my knowledge no one ever did." He says that any drug trafficking information would have been handled in regular intelligence reporting channels. He says he recalls no management resistance at all to processing any reporting on drug trafficking and adds, "If someone attempted to hide such information, I would report them."

A Central American COS states that "narcotics was not something [Station personnel] were looking for in the 1980s, but that does not mean they would have ignored it if they had seen it." He says that his understanding of crimes reporting obligations since 1980 was that anything that looked to be criminal in nature should be reported to Headquarters. The COS says he became aware of drug trafficking allegations against the Contras "fairly early" during his assignment. He says there was a group of "ne'er-do-well" people surrounding Eden Pastora who had histories that included criminal activity. He continues that "there was a range of derogatory information that may have included narcotics activities. Early traces revealed these folks should be treated carefully. Some were scoundrels." He indicates that the Headquarters reaction to derogatory information concerning Pastora's associates has to be considered in the context of DCI William Casey's overriding political objectives. As the COS explains: . . . yes, there is derogatory stuff and we would be careful in terms of counterintelligence and operational security, but we were going to play with these guys. That was made clear by Casey and [then-LA Division Chief Duane] Clarridge.

Findings by the Senate Committee that investigated drug trafficking in relation to the Contras, only found evidence that the Contras received money from drug traffickers, and that the State Department sent money to companies that were later found to have been involved in drug smuggling. There is no proof that the CIA was dealing drugs in America, and a fair amount of info to the contrary, for example, this exchange between Senator Kerry and someone who took money from a drug trafficker to help the Contras,

Senator KERRY. Did you have occasion to say to someone in the CIA that you were getting money from him and you were concerned he was a drug dealer? Did you pass that information on to somebody?

Mr. CESAR. Yes, I passed the information on about the--not the relations--well, it was the relations and the airplanes; yes. And the CIA people at the American military attache's office that were [sic] based at Ilopango also, and any person or any plane landed there, they had to go----

Senator KERRY. And they basically said to you that it was all right as long as you don't deal in the powder; is that correct? Is that a fair quote?

Mr. CESAR. Yes

The conclusion of the Senate Committee was the following:

The Subcommittee found that the Contra drug links included:

--Involvement in narcotics trafficking by individuals associated with the Contra movement.

--Participation of narcotics traffickers in Contra supply operations through business relationships with Contra organizations.

--Provision of assistance to the Contras by narcotics traffickers, including cash, weapons, planes, pilots, air supply services and other materials, on a voluntary basis by the traffickers.

--Payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies.

From this report by the Senate, there is no evidence to suggest the CIA trafficked or sold drugs in the United States. There is some evidence that the US government gave money to organizations that they knew might be involved in illicit activists.

Other Allegations

The CIA has also been accused of drug trafficking in Panama, Laos, and Venezuela. The involvement of Laos has already been discussed above, but Panama and Venezuela are unique cases which must be discussed.

In Panama, the CIA turned a blind eye towards the drug smuggling of Manuel Noriega, the leader of Panama, because of his support of the Contras from the 1960s, until the US invaded Panama in 1989 and deposed him. Another time the CIA may have turned a blind towards drug smuggling by allies.

In Venezuela, the CIA let a significant amount of cocaine into the US to try and assist an agent who was trying to gain the confidence of the Cartel. The cocaine accidentally made its way onto the streets, and the officer in charge resigned. This is perhaps the closest the CIA has gotten to selling drugs in the US, however it was an accident and the CIA didn’t directly or intentionally sell any drugs in the US.

  • 1
    @BarryHarrison - Actually, they cell the drug dealers. May 10, 2019 at 2:07
  • 2
    @BarryHarrison - cell vs sell. May 10, 2019 at 11:29
  • 2
    @BarryHarrison The CIA today is pretty detached from it’s Cold War self. It’s admitted to doing a bunch of shady stuff like starting coups, assassinating people, and doing weird mind control stuff. If they were actually doing this, there would be a lot more evidence, and they probably would have admitted it May 10, 2019 at 14:28
  • 1
    @BarryHarrison In the words of former CIA Director Michael Hayden, the CIA of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s, was “a very different time and a very different agency" May 10, 2019 at 16:25
  • 5
    I like the different points of view provided by this answer, but you are overstating your case. You can't say that there was no drug selling because you can't find evidence. If you can't find evidence, then you should not state a definitive answer such as "no." Furthermore, there is undoubtedly circumstantial evidence in favor of the hypothesis -- both other answers provide examples of them. You might think of it as poor evidence, but you can't merely state it does not exist at all.
    – Sklivvz
    May 11, 2019 at 8:03

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