Both the Reagan and Bush administrations, according to this book, used the so-called War on Drugs as a cover to aid the U.S.-backed Contras in their efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Moreover, the authors assert that both administrations utilized the help of known drug traffickers and also facilitated the exchange of guns for U.S.-bound cocaine. As part of its antileftist strategy, the U.S. government put forth the bogus narcoterrorism thesis, an alliance between Latin American drug traffickers and leftist groups. To the contrary, whatever alliance existed consisted of U.S. government officials (Oliver North and members of the CIA, for example); drug traffickers; right-wing politicians and military officers in Central America and Argentina; and assorted stooges of the United States, such as Panama’s Manuel Noriega. To the Reagan and Bush administrations, the Sandinista government was a greater national security threat than the importation of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.

The book develops this argument in two parts: “Right-Wing Narcoterrorism, the CIA, and the Contras” and “Exposure and Cover-Up.” In the first part, the authors trace the various connections among drug traffickers; Argentine, Honduran, and Contra military officers; Noriega; Cuban exiles; the Cali cartel; and Costa Rica. In the second part, they show how various U.S. government officials, including members of Congress, managed to control the revelation of the CIA-Contra-drug nexus. Further, they argue that most of the U.S. media chose to ignore what was occurring.

Had it not been for the persistence of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator John Kerry, the executive branch would have prevailed. The authors rely principally on the Kerry report, which provided rich primary sources, including testimony by many of the principal actors and reprints of letters, memoranda, and government documents. To supplement the report, they make extensive use of articles published by investigative journalists and political activists. Nevertheless, all the relevant documents may never be made available, for some may have been destroyed. In spite of these limitations, however, the authors make a strong case. Subsequent revelations from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal and the trial of Noriega confirm many of the authors’ assertions. Students of contemporary Latin American history and of U.S. foreign policy will find this book useful, though not definitive.