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San Francisco Bay Area man tangled in drug web
Tales to DEA of gun running,
drug trafficking fall on deaf ears
Published: Aug. 20, 1996
BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer
DAVID MORRISON, A FORMER San Francisco Bay Area
economist, got his introduction to cocaine politics in
the spring of 1984. He hasn't been the same since.
''I had crossed over into the nether world that 99
percent of the population wouldn't even believe
existed,'' he said. ''I still have nightmares about it.''
A conservative Republican Party activist and fundraiser,
Morrison became a supporter of the CIA's anti-communist
army -- the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense or FDN --
the early 1980s, while teaching international finance at
California State University at Hayward. Using his social
and political connections, he began helping families
fleeing the 1979 Sandinista revolution find jobs and
friends in the Bay Area, which has had a large Nicaraguan
population ever since the Gold Rush.
''I was just trying to support the President's
position,'' Morrison explained. ''I thought it was just
insane that we'd allowed things to get out of hand in
But after 18 months inside the FDN, as an adviser to the
group's political boss Adolfo Calero, a shaken Morrison
went to the authorities and poured out a lurid tale of
gun running and cocaine trafficking.
His lengthy statements to the FBI were immediately
stamped ''Confidential'' and remained secret for nearly a
decade. They were recently declassified for the Mercury
News by the National Archives.
(Because he still fears for his safety, the newspaper
agreed to substitute a pseudonym -- David Morrison -- for
the economist's real name. His FBI interviews can be read
in their entirety on the Mercury News' Web page.)
''(Morrison) said that the reason he was agreeing to be
interviewed by the FBI is that he has certain information
in which he believes the Nicaraguan 'contra' organization
known as FDN ... has become more involved in selling arms
and cocaine for personal gain than in a military effort
to overthrow the current Nicaraguan Sandinista
government,'' one of the reports states.
Much of what Morrison told the agents about the inner
workings of the FDN and its ties to the U.S. government
was corroborated by the Congressional committees that
investigated the Iran-Contra scandal. But his information
about the FDN's drug operation seemed to fall on deaf
ears, he said.
Morrison stumbled into it in April 1984, when a neatly
dressed Nicaraguan exile named Norwin Meneses started
showing up at meetings of a San Francisco anti-communist
group Morrison was assisting.
Called USACA (United Support Against Communism in the
Americas), it was a handful of mostly middle-class
Nicaraguan couples who met in each other's living rooms
and thought up ways to publicize the Contras' cause.
''All (they) were thinking of doing is writing a few
letters to the editor,'' said Morrison, a veteran of
several political campaigns. ''They had no (political)
connections whatsoever.'' After hearing some of
Morrison's ideas -- like hosting a speaking tour for FDN
leader Calero -- the group delightedly asked him to join
their board of directors.
Meneses also decided to help. He became USACA's largest
donor, records show, paying for dinners and parties for
Calero, a Notre Dame-educated businessman and longtime
CIA operative who became the public face of the Contras
in the United States.
Meneses' generosity impressed USACA's members, who
excitedly listed his gifts in their meeting minutes as
one of their first significant achievements. In an
interview before his death from cancer in June, USACA's
founder, Don Sinicco, said he and his friends thought
Meneses was merely a sympathetic fellow exile who ran a
But Morrison, whom Sinicco described as a man who ''knew
Senators,'' began hearing rumors about the group's dapper
benefactor and asked some friends in Washington to check
them out. He got back a two-page report from a Drug
Enforcement Administration file.
To his horror, he discovered what federal drug agents had
known for years: Norwin Meneses was ''a major, major
trafficker ... He was selling cocaine all over the
country,'' Morrison said. ''The DEA had a file that was
two feet thick on him.''
The DEA refused to release any records regarding Meneses,
on the grounds that it would be an unwarranted invasion
of his personal privacy. The CIA refused on national
Alarmed, Morrison dug deeper and, from a Nicaraguan
friend in the FDN, made his most jarring discovery:
Meneses wasn't just smuggling cocaine for himself. He was
also doing it for the FDN, and he was selling them
weapons as well, with the knowledge of the FDN's military
commander and, it appeared, the tacit approval of the
An acquaintance in the U.S. Customs Service told Morrison
that Customs agents had attempted to investigate ''the
Nicaraguan role in a large narcotics ring extending from
Miami, Florida, to Texas and California'' in mid-1985 but
ran into interference from ''national security
interests,'' the FBI report said.
Morrison told FBI agents that ''Norwin Meneses would have
been arrested in a major drug case in 1983 or 1984 except
that he had been warned by a corrupt (information
Morrison said he never heard back from the FBI and didn't
know why. He also complained to Iran-Contra Special
Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's office and was told that
Walsh had no jurisdiction to look into allegations of
Contra cocaine trafficking.
''I thought this bastard (Meneses) should have been
arrested. I assumed there would be an outstanding warrant
on this guy. There was nothing,'' Morrison said. ''They
had no interest whatsoever.''
Stunned and disheartened, he left California and went
into virtual seclusion in New England, where he lives
today, writing about economic trends.
''I had worked on national campaigns. I had grown up in a
family that knew politicians. And I thought I was part of
the Establishment,'' Morrison said with a sad laugh.
''And all of a sudden I was a leper.''
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