A mostly black crowd booed CIA Director John Deutch on Friday at a forum where he insisted no evidence has been found to support rumors that agency operatives trafficked in cocaine on Los Angeles streets.
“Our employees do not want any Americans to believe the CIA is responsible for this kind of disgusting charge,” Deutch said after waiting for the crowd of about 500 to quiet down.
“The CIA fights drugs,” he said. “The CIA does not encourage drugs.”
The meeting, held at a high school in Watts, degenerated into jeers and catcalls as residents angrily accused the government of covering up its knowledge of drug sales in America’s inner cities in the 1980s.
His remarks did little to appease the audience, many of whom refused to give their names, saying they feared reprisals by the government.
The forum was organized by Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, a Democrat who represents South Central Los Angeles, to address charges that have spread through the black community since a three-part series was published in August by the San Jose Mercury News.
The series alleged a California drug ring sold tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs in the 1980s, and funneled millions in profits to CIA-backed Contras to finance their civil war efforts in Nicaragua.
The series did not directly link the CIA with the drug dealers, but people in communities such as South Central expressed outrage, saying the government must have known about the vast amounts of cocaine moving into minority neighborhoods.
The CIA, Justice Department and House Intelligence Committee are conducting investigations.
Deutch promised that the results of the agency’s investigation, which is expected to take months, would be made public and that any evidence of wrongdoing would be pursued.
One audience member likened Deutch’s denial of a CIA-drug link to the Tuskegee syphilis study, in which the government denied for years that it withheld treatment from 399 infected black sharecroppers from 1932 to 1972 in order to trace the natural course of the untreated disease.
“They denied this for 20 years and I want to know how this differs,” said a woman who refused to give her name because she didn’t want to “automatically get an audit.”
Deutch replied that he shared her “revulsion” over the unethical deception in the Tuskegee case.
But, he added, “There was no one who came forward 20 years ago to say they were going to investigate it.”