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Irish Studies - U.S.

Loyal Opposition, Selective Mongering

From The New York Press 22-28 July, 1998
By David Corn


What makes a scandal? The answer, not all that should. In Washington, Kenneth Starr snoops after old land deals and sorts through personal rubbish. Years ago, the White House's messy dismissal of several travel office employees became a raging controversy. But what if an administration worked with drug dealers to implement official policy? You'd think that might warrant a little scandal-mongering. In March, Frederick Ritz, then the inspector general of the CIA, publicly testified to the House intelligence committee that during the wild Reagan days of the 1980's, the CIA in assisting the Contras in Central America, collaborated with individuals suspected of drug-dealing. Ritz's admission did not spark outrage on Capitol Hill or among media commentators. There was silence.

Then, this past Friday, The New York Times front-paged a story
on a classified CIA report written by Ritz that backed up his testimony and detailed the agency's links to two dozen (!) possible drug runners. The CIA, though, is refusing to declassify the 500-page study. I'm betting the Reagan CIA's drug connection and the agency's current attempt to smother this report will not engage the chatterers of the political-media-class as much as a certain (and apparently nonexistent) semen-stained dress did. Will Tim Russert and Maureen Dowd jump on this story and howl about the cover up? Will Chris Matthews hurl hardballs at the CIA and the White House, which could order the release of the report? Will William Safire decry Contragate, pronounce it worse than Watergate -- heck that was just a break-in, not a drug-buy -- and call for an investigation?

Perhaps that nasty CIA business occurred too long ago to engage
the public, press and politicians of today (though it is far fresher than parts of the aged Whitewater tale). Let's examine another scenario: A prominent and powerful lawmaker accepts a contribution from an organization credibly accused of supporting
terrorism and murder. No, make that a dozen or so lawmakers.

Think people ought to pound their chests about that?

Well, it has happened, and there's been no pounding. In an exceptional series last week, The New York Times profiled the notorious Luis Posada Carriles, a 70-year-old-Cuban exile who for decades prosecuted his own war of bombings and assassination attempts against Cuba and Fidel Castro. The Times pieces, written by Ann Louise Bardach and Larry Rohter, were based on interviews conducted with Posada somewhere in the Caribbean. Posada's murderous antics have long been known.

In the 1960's, he was a recruit for the CIA's absurd assault on Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. From 1976 to 1985, he was imprisoned in Venezuela after having been arrested for arranging the in-flight bombing of a Cubana jetliner carrying 73 people. After escaping jail, the fugitive found work in Oliver North's covert Contra supply operation. More recently, last year, Posada waged a series of bombings in Cuba at hotels, restaurants and discos. One blast killed an Italian tourist.

It was not shocking that Posada expressed no regrets over the death of the Italian. But what was surprising was his acknowledgment that his terrorism had been underwritten by the leaders of the Cuban-American National Foundation. This outfit is the primary lobby of anti-Castro Cubans. For years it has maintained a stranglehold on U.S. policy toward Cuba, blocking moves to relax relations with Havana. Its longtime jefe, Jorge Mas Canosa, who died last year, was chummy with the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton. Posada estimated that Mas Canosa through the years sent him $200,000 to support his terrorist activity. At the same time, the Mas Canosa gang gave bundles of money to politicians of both parties.

In the last election cycle, the Free Cuba Political Action Committee, which is closely allied with the foundation, dished out $136,500 to Democrats and Republicans. In the past year and a half, it funneled $39,500 to House and Senate members. The spigot is likely to open much wider in the coming months, as the election elections approach.

Favored candidates have included Sens. Jesse Helms ($10,000),
Bob Torricelli ($10,000), Judd Gregg ($10,000), Bob Graham ($5,000) and Al D'Amato ($5,000) and Reps. Benjamin Gilman ($7,750), Robert Menendez ($8,000), Patrick Kennedy ($3,000) and Dan Burton ($4,000). These figures, by the way, do not include the donations made by individuals affiliated with the foundation and the Free Cuba PAC. A National Journal story in 1993 noted that the PAC handed out more than $670,000 to congressional candidates in the previous decade.

In response to the Times article, the foundation has claimed that none of the its members financed any violence against Cuba. Despite this thin denial, Posada's charges deserve front-burner investigation. The IRS ought to probe the foundation. The FBI should see if any American-based individuals facilitated Posada's murderous actions. Posada is not the foundation's only connection to terrorism. In 1990, the organization's "information commission" included two men who had been implicated in the 1976 car bomb assassination in Washington of Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador, and his American assistant.

Not much of a clamor was created by these articles. Where are the tough-on-crime Republicans? They're not rushing before television cameras to call for hearings. Neither are the Democrats. Posada's revelations are a bipartisan embarrassment for each party has been overly sensitive to the exiles pressure and big bucks. Talk about being unduly influenced by special interests with a foreign policy agenda.

If the president gets a blowjob from an intern -- I said IF -- that's a scandal. If a senator gets a big check from a group that allegedly supports terrorism, that's not a fuss-worthy matter. The recipients of the Free Cuba PAC's largess ought to give the money back. At the least, they should agree not to pocket any more until the group is fully investigated and cleared of being tied to terrorism. Even if this is not yet a bona fide, pundit-certified scandal.


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