The murky world of international espionage has long captivated the public in the form of entertainment and popular fiction. The works of Ian Fleming and John le Carre can be found in bookshops around the world and adaptations fill cinemas. But the reality is sometimes stranger than fiction.

In the 1980s, the US government lost congressional support for funding the Contras in Nicaragua and, as an alternative means of funding, had the CIA use secret channels. These secret channels went as far as trading arms with Iran, sometimes as part of exchanges for American hostages, and allowing Nicaraguan drug traffickers to operate with impunity. These revelations emerged in US Senate investigations in the late 1980s.

The CIA’s former Latin America division chief, Duane Clarridge, later told journalist John Pilger: “We’ll intervene whenever we decide it’s in our national security interests to intervene”. The depth of the operation may never be fully known.

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