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How accurate is the claim that the U.S. government is responsible for the flood of crack cocaine into urban areas during the 1980’s?(r/AskHistorians)
As I’ve said in other comments, I think this question is poorly worded. You can’t “prove” a negative. Also, saying that an entity is “responsible” for something is a loaded term.
The evidence in support of the allegation in the OP began in a series of articles by Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News, which were later turned into a book:
As others have cited throughout the thread, during the Clinton Administration the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General investigated these allegations. Their full report is here:
The DOJ OIG ultimately concluded:
“It is rare that an investigation of this magnitude is prompted by a series of newspaper articles. We spent over 15 months and significant resources investigating the allegations suggested by San Jose Mercury News articles in August 1996. We did so because the allegations resonated with a substantial number of people and fueled suspicion that our system of criminal justice was corrupted by foreign policy considerations in a manner that would be extremely shocking if true.
The allegations contained an extremely volatile mixture, linking the activities of the intelligence community, support of the Contras in Nicaragua (easily the most controversial foreign policy initiative of the 1980s), the crack cocaine explosion, and the devastation of many of our inner cities by the crack epidemic. These allegations fed an already profound suspicion of the government that exists within our inner cities and sparked widespread belief that the Contras were permitted to create massive drug enterprises in pursuit of a foreign policy initiative. More relevant to our inquiry, the allegations suggested that the pursuit of the policy of aiding the Nicaraguan Contras resulted in the manipulation of the criminal justice system, the protection of certain individuals by the CIA, and the failure of the Department of Justice to pursue investigations and prosecutions of these persons even though they were engaged in substantial drug trafficking activities.
We found that the allegations contained in the original Mercury News articles were exaggerations of the actual facts. Our investigation involved detailed reviews of the investigations and prosecutions of the various individuals who were at the center of the allegations contained in the original articles — Danilo Blandon, Norwin Meneses, Ricky Ross, Ronald Lister, and others. We found that although the investigations suffered from various problems of communication and coordination, their successes and failures were determined by the normal dynamics that affect the success of scores of investigations of high-level drug traffickers: the availability of credible informants, the ability to penetrate sophisticated narcotics distribution organizations with undercover agents, the ability to make seizures of narcotics and other physical evidence, the availability of resources necessary to pursue complex cases against the key figures in narcotics distribution enterprises, and the aggressiveness and judgments of law enforcement agents. These factors, rather than anything as spectacular as a systematic effort by the CIA or any other intelligence agency to protect the drug trafficking activities of Contra supporters, determined what occurred in the cases we examined.
We also found that the claims that Blandon and Meneses were responsible for introducing crack cocaine into South Central Los Angeles and spreading the crack epidemic throughout the country were unsupported. Undoubtedly, Blandon and Meneses were significant drug dealers guilty of enriching themselves at the expense of countless drug users, as well as the communities in which those drug users lived, just as is the case with all drug dealers of any magnitude. They also contributed some money to the Contra cause. But we did not find that their activities were responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in South Central Los Angeles, much less the rise of crack throughout the nation, or that they were a significant source of support for the Contras.
This is not to say that we did not find problems or ambiguities in the matters we examined. We found that Blandon received the benefit of a green card in a wholly improper manner. We found that during a period of time in the 1980s, the Justice Department was not certain whether it wanted to prosecute Meneses or use him as a cooperating witness to make cases against others. We found that part of the government was not anxious to have DEA agent Castillo openly probe the activities at Ilopango Airport because of sensitive covert operations there. We found that the CIA did in fact intervene in the Zavala case and may have played a role in having a sum of money returned to him. Although these findings are troubling, they are a far cry from the type of broad manipulation and corruption of the federal criminal justice system suggested by the original allegations.
We are well aware of the furor that these allegations created in communities throughout the country. We also recognize that it is impossible to draw conclusions about these questions with absolute certainty because of the age of the cases involved, faded memories, the dispersion of witnesses and evidence, and the special interests of many of the people we interviewed. We are also realistic enough to recognize that the suspicion of federal law enforcement will not be extinguished by our report on these allegations, especially because there remain some unanswered questions, which are multiplied when the investigation takes place so long after the events being investigated. Nevertheless, we believe that a full consideration of the results of our investigation will show that we have conducted an exhaustive review of these allegations and that our findings are supported by the evidence.”
There is not a more comprehensive response to the original post than the DOJ report.