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Questions Resurface About North's Handling of Drug Leads


November 1994

Oliver North was again having to explain how he handled information he received in the mid 1980s that drugs were being carried into the U.S. on flights returning from shuttling weapons and supplies to the Nicaraguan contras (Lorraine Adams, "North Didn't Relay Drug Tips," Washington Post, Oct. 22, 1994, p. 1).

The information in question is contained in a daily diary North kept while working on a secret government project to sell weapons to Iran in exchange for American hostages, and then channel that money to buy and ship arms to the contras. North wrote about tips from his assistant, listing details about drug trafficking on planes landing in New Orleans. The entries became public in 1987 when Congressional hearings were held investigating what is now known as the Iran-Contra affair.

In one entry, North wrote: "Honduran DC-6 which is being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into U.S." The following day he wrote: "Meeting with A.C.--Name of DEA person in New Orleans re bust on Mario DC-6." Despite the attention Iran-Contra has garnered, the identity of "A.C." and the exact meaning of the entries are still the subject of debate.

When North appeared before Congress in 1987, he testified that he turned all information about drug-running over to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). "It was a DC-6 registered in [name of country] and someone had told me -- in fact it was probably Rob Owen who told me that," North testified. "I turned it over to the DEA immediately." Robert Owen traveled for North among points in Central America, Miami, New Orleans, and Washington, and served to transmit information from the contras to North.

The DEA, however, denies that it ever received information from North. On Oct. 21, 1994 the DEA issued a statement saying: "There's no evidence he talked to anyone. We can't find the person he talked to, if he did talk to them. There's no record of the person he talked to." In fact, former officials of the State Department, CIA, White House, and U.S. Customs all say they did not know about North's tips from Owen, but should have been informed.

Robert Gates, the former deputy CIA director, was shocked by the information that North knew of possible drug trafficking on the flights. He told the Post that "a normal person would have reacted strongly." Anyone in North's position should "immediately go ballistic, to talk to Von Raab [former head of U.S. Customs], to DEA," he said.

Two Congressional investigations, one by a Senate subcommittee led by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA) and one by a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. William J. Hughes (D-NJ), found there was evidence that drugs were run on flights from Nicaragua to the United States. Eric E. Sterling was counsel to Hughes' subcommittee and participated in the investigation and hearings. The final report from Kerry's committee finds "it is clear that individuals who provided support for the contras were involved in drug trafficking."