As noted above, the Mercury News series was not only a story about the United States government and crack cocaine. It also revisited allegations concerning the Contras and drug trafficking that has been reported upon and investigated for many years. In 1987, the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations began an investigation focusing on allegations received by the subcommittee chairman, Senator John Kerry, concerning illegal gun-running and narcotics trafficking associated with the Contras. A two-year investigation produced a 1,166-page report in 1989 analyzing the involvement of Contra groups and supporters in drug trafficking, and the role of United States government officials in these activities. Allegations of cocaine trafficking by Contras also arose during the investigation conducted by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh into the Iran-Contra affair. Drug trafficking allegations, however, were not the focus of that inquiry and the Walsh report included no findings on these allegations.
The issue of drug trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contras has also been the subject of books: e.g., On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency, by Mark Hertsgaard, 1989; Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, 1991. It was also reported upon in the news media. Following the December 1985 piece mentioned above from the Associated Press, the San Francisco Examiner ran stories in 1986 about Norwin Meneses, Carlos Cabezas (an individual with links to Contra organizations who was convicted in the mid-1980s of drug charges), and drug trafficking by the Contras.
It is undisputed that individuals like Meneses and Blandon, who had ties to the Contras or were Contra sympathizers, were convicted of drug trafficking, either in the United States or Central America. There is also undeniable evidence that certain groups associated with the Contras engaged in drug trafficking. The pervasiveness of such activities within the Contra movement and the United States government's knowledge of those activities, however, are still the subject of debate, and it is beyond the scope of the OIG's investigation, which we describe below. Yet it is noteworthy that, as interesting as the story of Contras and illicit drug deals may be, it was not the catalyst for the public's or the media's interest in the Dark Alliance series. Investigations into the alleged connection between Contras and cocaine dealing were conducted and articles were printed in the late 1980s, at a time when interest in the Iran-Contra story was cresting. Neither those investigations nor the published articles tracking the allegations sparked a firestorm of outrage comparable to that created by the Dark Alliance series. The furor over the Mercury News series was driven by the allegations of the government's complicity in cocaine deals within black communities. If the Dark Alliance series had been limited to reporting on Contras, it seems unlikely that the groundswell of press and public attention would have occurred.