WASHINGTON -- The CIA paid Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega $200,000 a year for at least a decade in an attempt to woo him away from Soviet influence, U.S. intelligence sources said Wednesday.
Noriega, who federal prosecutors in Florida expect to indict Thursday on cocaine smuggling charges, received the payments even though the CIA was aware he helped the Colombian Medellin drug cartel manufacture cocaine and smuggle it into the United States, NBC News reported Wednesday night.
'The CIA funds any leftist dictator that will take the money,' an intelligence source told United Press International.
The source added the CIA did not realize that 'the other side (Soviet Union) would pay more' and could give Noriega 'something we could not -- the means to grab and keep power.'
The payments were designed to lure Noriega out of Soviet influences, but the CIA also paid him to allow the United States to conduct pro-Contra and anti-Cuban covert activities inside Panama, 'whatever the issue of the moment has been,' said a House staffer.
Noriega continued to accept Soviet weapons supplied to him through a Cuban front called the Hunting and Fishing Club of Panama, sources said.
The U.S. payments, made over the last 10 years, totaled about $2 million, sources said.
Congressional intelligence committees had been briefed for years on the CIA's reliance on Noriega, a Capitol Hill source said.
NBC reported the Justice Deprtment has given prosecutors in Miami and Tampa, Fla., approval to seek indictments Thursday against Noriega. Charges against him are expected to be announced Friday, the network said.