WASHINGTON (AP) _ CIA Director John Deutch is promising an independent probe of whether his agency used drug money in the 1980s to aid anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.

Deutch said Thursday the CIA inspector general, who is independent from agency control, will examine allegations made by the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News that the agency funneled profits from a crack cocaine ring to the Contras fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government in Managua.

Black lawmakers say they've been deluged with calls from constituents angry over the newspaper series that detailed the spread of crack cocaine through America's inner cities, allegedly with the knowledge of the CIA.

``There is a tremendous amount of distrust,'' said Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., the caucus chairman. But Deutch, he said, ``seems to have the spirit that I've never seen before in a CIA director. He seems to want to see us get to the bottom of this. He says he was teaching school when this was happening, so he has nothing to hide.''

In an hour-long private meeting with more than a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Deutch told the lawmakers that in his tenure as CIA chief he has launched other internal probes resulting in disciplinary action against CIA employees.

The lawmakers, in turn, reminded Deutch that the CIA was not regarded as a friend of the black community.

Outside the meeting room, Deutch refused comment on the discussions.

But he told the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier Thursday, ``I regard these allegations with the utmost seriousness. They go to the heart and integrity of the CIA enterprise.''

Noting that his own initial review ``has found no evidence to support the allegations,'' Deutch said he nevertheless supported a more detailed probe to be completed in 60 days.

A three-part series published in August by the Mercury News detailed how a Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the street gangs in South-Central Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a CIA-run guerrilla army.

The series traced the crack cocaine explosion to two Nicaraguan cocaine dealers, Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses, who were civilian leaders of the Frente Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN), an anti-communist commando group formed and run by the CIA during the 1980s.

Blandon, who is now an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in federal court his biggest customer was a South-Central crack dealer named ``Freeway'' Rick Ross, who turned Blandon's cocaine into crack and distributed it to the Crips and Blood street gangs. He told the DEA in 1995 that at the height of his business with Ross, he was providing 100 kilos of cocaine a week to the gangs.

In the first installment of the series, the newspaper reported that the financiers of the anti-communist army ``met with CIA agents both before and during the time they were selling the drugs in L.A.'' One headline in the series said the ``effort to assist guerillas left legacy of drugs, gangs in black L.A.''

Parts of the series have been picked up by wire services and other newspapers and it has generated intense interest in inner-city neighborhoods. The series also has become fodder for talk-radio shows broadcasting to communities beset by drug problems.