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Some sources say that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been involved in several drug trafficking operations. Some of these reports claim that congressional evidence indicates that the CIA worked with groups which it knew were involved in drug trafficking, so that these groups would provide them with useful intelligence and material support, in exchange for allowing their criminal activities to continue, and impeding or preventing their arrest, indictment, and imprisonment by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
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The CIA supported various Afghan rebel commanders, such as Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who were fighting against the government of Afghanistan and the forces of the Soviet Union which were its supporters. Historian Alfred W. McCoy stated that:
"In most cases, the CIA's role involved various forms of complicity, tolerance or studied ignorance about the trade, not any direct culpability in the actual trafficking ... [t]he CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection. In sum, the CIA's role in the Southeast Asian heroin trade involved indirect complicity rather than direct culpability."
In order to provide covert funds for the Kuomintang (KMT) forces loyal to General Chiang Kai-shek, who were fighting the Chinese communists under Mao Zedong, the CIA helped the KMT smuggle opium from China and Burma to Bangkok, Thailand, by providing airplanes owned by one of their front businesses, Air America.
Released on April 13, 1989, the Kerry Committee report concluded that members of the U.S. State Department "who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking... and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers."
In 1996 Gary Webb wrote a series of articles published in the San Jose Mercury News, which investigated Nicaraguans linked to the CIA-backed Contras who had smuggled cocaine into the U.S. which was then distributed as crack cocaine into Los Angeles and funneled profits to the Contras. The CIA was aware of the cocaine transactions and the large shipments of drugs into the U.S. by the Contra personnel and directly aided drug dealers to raise money for the Contras. Although he heavily implied CIA involvement, Webb never claimed to have made a direct link between the CIA and the Contras. Moreover, Webb's articles were heavily attacked by many media outlets who questions the validity of his claims, although the unusual response led some to question if the CIA was involved. Webb turned the articles into a book called, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion." On December 10, 2004, Webb reportedly committed suicide.
In 1996, CIA Director John M. Deutch went to Los Angeles to attempt to refute the allegations raised by the Webb articles, and was famously confronted by former Los Angeles Police Department officer Michael Ruppert, who testified that he had witnessed it occurring.
The CIA has been accused of moneylaundering the iran-contra drug funds via the BCCI, the former U.S. Commissioner of Customs William von Raab said that when customs agents raided the bank in 1988, they found numerous CIA accounts. The CIA also worked with BCCI in arming and financing the Afghan mujahideen during the Afghan War against the Soviet Union, using BCCI to launder proceeds from trafficking heroin grown in the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands, boosting the flow of narcotics to European and U.S. markets.
A number of allegations have been written about and several local, state, and federal investigations have taken place related to the notion of the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport as a CIA drop point in large scale cocaine trafficking beginning in the latter part of the 1980s. The topic has received some press coverage that has included allegations of awareness, participation and/or coverup involvement of figures such as future presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, as well future Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Saline County prosecutor Dan Harmon (who was convicted of numerous felonies including drug and racketeering charges in 1997). The Mena airport was also associated with Adler Berriman (Barry) Seal, an American drug smuggler and aircraft pilot who flew covert flights for the CIA and the Medellín Cartel.
A criminal investigator from the Arkansas State Police, Russell Welch, who was assigned to investigate Mena airport claimed that he opened a letter which released electrostatically charged Anthrax spores in his face, and that he had his life saved after a prompt diagnosis by a doctor.[who?] He also claimed that later, his doctor's office was vandalized, robbed, and test results and correspondence with the CDC in Atlanta were stolen.
An investigation by the CIA's inspector general concluded that the CIA had no involvement in or knowledge of any illegal activities that may have occurred in Mena. The report said that the agency had conducted a training exercise at the airport in partnership with another Federal agency and that companies located at the airport had performed "routine aviation-related services on equipment owned by the CIA".
According to Peter Dale Scott, the Dirección Federal de Seguridad was in part a CIA creation, and "the CIA's closest government allies were for years in the DFS". DFS badges, "handed out to top-level Mexican drug-traffickers, have been labelled by DEA agents a virtual 'license to traffic.'" Scott says that "The Guadalajara Cartel, Mexico's most powerful drug-trafficking network in the early 1980s, prospered largely because it enjoyed the protection of the DFS, under its chief Miguel Nazar Haro, a CIA asset."
Vicente Zambada Niebla, the son of Ismael Zambada García one of the top drug lords in Mexico, claimed after his arrest to his attorneys that he and other top Sinaloa cartel members had received immunity by U.S. agents and a virtual licence to smuggle cocaine over the United States border, in exchange for intelligence about rival cartels engaged in the Mexican Drug War.
In 1989, the United States invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, which involved 25,000 American troops. Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of government of Panama, had been giving military assistance to Contra groups in Nicaragua at the request of the U.S.—which, in exchange, allowed him to continue his drug-trafficking activities—which they had known about since the 1960s. When the DEA tried to indict Noriega in 1971, the CIA prevented them from doing so. The CIA, which was then directed by future president George H. W. Bush, provided Noriega with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year as payment for his work in Latin America. However, when CIA pilot Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua by the Sandinistas, documents aboard the plane revealed many of the CIA's activities in Latin America, and the CIA's connections with Noriega became a public relations "liability" for the U.S. government, which finally allowed the DEA to indict him for drug trafficking, after decades of allowing his drug operations to proceed unchecked. Operation Just Cause, whose ostensible purpose was to capture Noriega, pushed the former Panamanian leader into the Papal Nuncio where he surrendered to U.S. authorities. His trial took place in Miami, where he was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Noriega's prison sentence was reduced from 30 years to 17 years for good behavior. After serving 17 years in detention and imprisonment, his prison sentence ended on September 9, 2007. He was held under U.S. custody before being extradited to French custody where he was sentenced to 7 years for laundering money from Colombian drug cartels.
The CIA, in spite of objections from the Drug Enforcement Administration, allowed at least one ton of nearly pure cocaine to be shipped into Miami International Airport. The CIA claimed to have done this as a way of gathering information about Colombian drug cartels, but the cocaine ended up being sold on the street.
In November 1993, the former head of the DEA, Robert C. Bonner appeared on 60 Minutes and criticized the CIA for allowing several tons of pure cocaine to be smuggled into the U.S. via Venezuela without first notifying and securing the approval of the DEA.
In November 1996, a Miami grand jury indicted former Venezuelan anti-narcotics chief and longtime CIA asset, General Ramon Guillen Davila, who was smuggling many tons of cocaine into the United States from a Venezuelan warehouse owned by the CIA. In his trial defense, Guillen claimed that all of his drug smuggling operations were approved by the CIA.