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Gary Webb's Dark Alliance publication
Narco news have given Gary Webb's Dark Alliance a home. You can see it here:
America's 'crack' plague
has roots in Nicaragua war

Colombia-San Francisco Bay Area drug pipeline
helped finance CIA-backed Contras
Published: Aug. 18, 1996 BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

FOR THE BETTER PART of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found.
This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the "crack'' capital of the world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America � and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.'s gangs to buy automatic weapons.
It is one of the most bizarre alliances in modern history: the union of a U.S.-backed army attempting to overthrow a revolutionary socialist government and the Uzi-toting "gangstas'' of Compton and South-Central Los Angeles.

Testimony links U.S. to drugs-guns trade
Dealers got their 'own little arsenal'

The army's financiers -- who met with CIA agents both before and during the time they were selling the drugs in L.A. -- delivered cut-rate cocaine to the gangs through a young South-Central crack dealer named Ricky Donnell Ross. [Image: rosst.jpg]Unaware of his suppliers' military and political connections, "Freeway Rick" -- a dope dealer of mythic proportions in the L.A. drug world -- turned the cocaine powder into crack and wholesaled it to gangs across the country.
The cash Ross paid for the cocaine, court records show, was then used to buy weapons and equipment for a guerrilla army named the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (Nicaraguan Democratic Force) or FDN, the largest of several anti-communist commonly called the Contras.
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Biographical information on Rick Ross[/URL] [URL=""][Image: photo.gif]
More photos of Rick Ross[/URL]
While the FDN's war is barely a memory today, black America is still dealing with its poisonous side effects. Urban neighborhoods are grappling with legions of homeless crack addicts. Thousands of young black men are serving long prison sentences for selling cocaine -- a drug that was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before members of the CIA's army started bringing it into South-Central in the 1980s at bargain-basement prices. And the L.A. gangs, which used their enormous cocaine profits to arm themselves and spread crack across the country, are still thriving, turning entire blocks of major cities into occasional war zones.
[Image: blandont.jpg]"There is a saying that the ends justify the means,'' former FDN leader and drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes testified during a recent cocaine trafficking trial in San Diego. "And that's what Mr. Bermudez (the CIA agent who commanded the FDN) told us in Honduras, OK? So we started raising money for the Contra revolution.'' Recently declassified reports, federal court testimony, undercover tapes, court records here and abroad and hundreds of hours of interviews over the past 12 months leave no doubt that Blandon was no ordinary drug dealer.
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Biographical information on Danilo Blandon[/URL] [Image: audio.gif]
Blandon's testimony
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Shortly before Blandon -- who had been the drug ring's Southern California distributor -- took the stand in San Diego as a witness for the U.S. Department of Justice, federal prosecutors obtained a court order preventing defense lawyers from delving into his ties to the CIA. Blandon, one of the FDN's founders in California, "will admit that he was a large-scale dealer in cocaine, and there is no additional benefit to any defendant to inquire as to the Central Intelligence Agency,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O'Neale argued in his motion shortly before Ross' trial on cocaine trafficking charges in March.
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Motion to preclude reference to CIA involvement[/URL] The most Blandon would say in court about who called the shots when he sold cocaine for the FDN was that "we received orders from the -- from other people.'' The 5,000-man FDN, records show, was created in mid-1981 when the CIA combined several existing groups of anti-communist exiles into a unified force it hoped would topple the new socialist government of Nicaragua.
From 1982 to 1988, the FDN -- run by both American and Nicaraguan CIA agents -- waged a losing war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government, the Cuban-supported socialists who'd overthrown U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
Blandon, who began working for the FDN's drug operation in late 1981, testified that the drug ring sold almost a ton of cocaine in the United States that year -- $54 million worth at prevailing wholesale prices. It was not clear how much of the money found its way back to the CIA's army, but Blandon testified that "whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going to the Contra revolution.'' [Image: audio.gif]
Blandon's testimony
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At the time of that testimony, Blandon was a full-time informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, a job the U.S. Department of Justice got him after releasing him from prison in 1994. Though Blandon admitted to crimes that have sent others away for life, the Justice Department turned him loose on unsupervised probation after only 28 months behind bars and has paid him more than $166,000 since, court records show.
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Motion for reduction of Oscar Danilo Blandon's sentence[/URL] "He has been extraordinarily helpful,'' federal prosecutor O'Neale told Blandon's judge in a plea for the trafficker's release in 1994. Though O'Neale once described Blandon to a grand jury as "the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in the United States,'' the prosecutor would not discuss him with the Mercury News.
A known dealer since '74 has stayed out of U.S. jails

[Image: menesest.jpg]Blandon's boss in the FDN's cocaine operation, Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero, has never spent a day in a U.S. prison, even though the federal government has been aware of his cocaine dealings since at least 1974, records show. Meneses -- who ran the drug ring from his homes in the San Francisco Bay Area -- is listed in the DEA's computers as a major international drug smuggler and was implicated in 45 separate federal investigations. Yet he and his cocaine-dealing relatives lived quite openly in the Bay Area for years, buying homes in Pacifica and Burlingame, along with bars, restaurants, car lots and factories in San Francisco, Hayward and Oakland.
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Biographical information on Norwin Meneses[/URL] [URL=""][Image: photo.gif]
More photos of Norwin Meneses[/URL]
"I even drove my own cars, registered in my name,'' Meneses said during a recent interview in Nicaragua. Meneses' organization was "the target of unsuccessful investigative attempts for many years,'' prosecutor O'Neale acknowledged in a 1994 affidavit. But records and interviews revealed that a number of those probes were stymied not by the elusive Meneses but by agencies of the U.S. government.
Agents from four organizations -- the DEA, U.S. Customs, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement -- have complained that investigations were hampered by the CIA or unnamed "national security'' interests.

1988 investigation hit a wall of secrecy

One 1988 investigation by a U.S. Senate subcommittee ran into a wall of official secrecy at the Justice Department. In that case, congressional records show, Senate investigators were trying to determine why the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, Joseph Russoniello, had given $36,000 back to a Nicaraguan cocaine dealer arrested by the FBI.
The money was returned, court records show, after two Contra leaders sent letters to the court swearing that the drug dealer had been given the cash to buy weapons for guerrillas. Russoniello said it was cheaper to give the money back than to disprove that claim.
"The Justice Department flipped out to prevent us from getting access to people, records -- finding anything out about it,'' recalled Jack Blum, former chief counsel to the Senate subcommittee that investigated allegations of Contra cocaine trafficking. "It was one of the most frustrating exercises that I can ever recall.''
It wasn't until 1989, a few months after the Contra-Sandinista war ended and five years after Meneses moved from the Peninsula to a ranch in Costa Rica, that the U.S. government took action against him -- sort of.
Federal prosecutors in San Francisco charged Meneses with conspiracy to distribute one kilo of cocaine in 1984, a year in which he was working publicly with the FDN.
In San Francisco photo, Meneses seen with CIA operative

Meneses' work was so public, in fact, that he posed for a picture in June 1984 in a kitchen of a San Francisco home with the FDN's political boss, Adolfo Calero, a longtime CIA operative who became the public face of the Contras in the United States. According to the indictment, Meneses was in the midst of his alleged cocaine conspiracy at the time the picture was taken.
But the indictment was quickly locked away in the vaults of the San Francisco federal courthouse, where it remains today � inexplicably secret for more than seven years. Meneses was never arrested.
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[/URL] 1984 meeting of anti-communist group in San Francisco [URL=""][Image: paper.gif]
Biographical information on Adolfo Calero[/URL]
Reporters found a copy of the secret indictment in Nicaragua, along with a federal arrest warrant issued Feb. 8, 1989. Records show the no-bail warrant was never entered into the national law enforcement database called NCIC, which police use to track down fugitives. The former federal prosecutor who indicted him, Eric Swenson, declined to be interviewed. After Nicaraguan police arrested Meneses on cocaine charges in Managua in 1991, his judge expressed astonishment that the infamous smuggler went unmolested by American drug agents during his years in the United States.
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Indictment of Norwin Meneses[/URL] [URL=""][Image: photo.gif]
Photo of the arrest warrant (58K)[/URL]
"How do you explain the fact that Norwin Meneses, implicated since 1974 in the trafficking of drugs ... has not been detained in the United States, a country in which he has lived, entered and departed many times since 1974?'' Judge Martha Quezada asked during a pretrial hearing. "Well, that question needs to be asked to the authorities of the United States,'' replied Roger Mayorga, then chief of Nicaragua's anti-drug agency.

U.S. officials amazed Meneses remained free

His seeming invulnerability amazed American authorities as well. A Customs agent who investigated Meneses in 1980 before transferring elsewhere said he was reassigned to San Francisco seven years later "and I was sitting in some meetings and here's Meneses' name again. And I can remember thinking, "Holy cow, is this guy still around?'.''
Blandon led an equally charmed life. For at least five years he brokered massive amounts of cocaine to the black gangs of Los Angeles without being arrested. But his luck changed overnight.
On Oct. 27, 1986, agents from the FBI, the IRS, local police and the Los Angeles County sheriff fanned out across Southern California and raided more than a dozen locations connected to Blandon's cocaine operation. Blandon and his wife, along with numerous Nicaraguan associates, were arrested on drug and weapons charges.
The search warrant affidavit reveals that local drug agents knew plenty about Blandon's involvement with cocaine and the CIA's army nearly 10 years ago.
"Danilo Blandon is in charge of a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and distribution organization operating in Southern California,'' L.A. County sheriff's Sgt. Tom Gordon said in the 1986 affidavit. "The monies gained from the sales of cocaine are transported to Florida and laundered through Orlando Murillo, who is a high-ranking officer of a chain of banks in Florida named Government Securities Corporation. From this bank the monies are filtered to the Contra rebels to buy arms in the war in Nicaragua.''
Corporate records show that Murillo -- a Nicaraguan banker and relative of Blandon's wife -- was a vice-president of Government Securities Corporation in Coral Gables, a large brokerage firm that collapsed in 1987 amid allegations of fraud. Murillo did not respond to an interview request.
Despite their intimate knowledge of Blandon's operations, the police raids were a spectacular failure. Every location had been cleaned of anything remotely incriminating. No one was ever prosecuted.
Ron Spear, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, said Blandon somehow knew that he was under police surveillance. Others thought so, too.
"The cops always believed that investigation had been compromised by the CIA,'' Los Angeles federal public defender Barbara O'Connor said in a recent interview. O'Connor knew of the raids because she later defended the raids' leader, Sgt. Gordon, against federal charges of police corruption. Gordon, convicted of tax evasion, declined to be interviewed.

Lawyer suggests aid was at root of problem

FBI records show that soon after the raids, Blandon's defense attorney, Bradley Brunon, called the sheriff's department to suggest that his client's troubles stemmed from a most unlikely source: a recent congressional vote authorizing $100 million in military aid to the CIA's Contra army. According to a December 1986 FBI Teletype, Brunon told the officers that the "CIA winked at this sort of thing. ... (Brunon) indicated that now that U.S. Congress had voted funds for the Nicaraguan Contra movement, U.S. government now appears to be turning against organizations like this.'' That FBI report, part of the files of former Iran-Contra Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, was made public only last year, when it was released by the National Archives at the Mercury News' request.
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FBI Teletype regarding conversation with attorney Bradley Brunon[/URL] Blandon has also implied that his cocaine sales were, for a time, CIA-approved. He told a San Francisco federal grand jury in 1994 that once the FDN began receiving American taxpayer dollars, the CIA no longer needed his kind of help. "When Mr. Reagan get in the power, we start receiving a lot of money,'' Blandon testified. "And the people that was in charge, it was the CIA, so they didn't want to raise any (drug) money because they have, they had the money that they wanted.''
"From the government?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hall.
"Yes," for the Contra revolution," Blandon said. "So we started -- you know, the ambitious person -- we started doing business by ourselves."
Asked about that, prosecutor Hall said, "I don't know what to tell you. The CIA won't tell me anything."
None of the government agencies known to have been involved with Meneses and Blandon over the years would provide the Mercury News with any information about them.
A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the CIA was denied on national security grounds. FOIA requests filed with the DEA were denied on privacy grounds. Requests filed months ago with the FBI, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have produced nothing so far.
None of the DEA officials known to have worked with the two men would talk to a reporter. Questions submitted to the DEA's public affairs office in Washington were never answered, despite repeated requests.
Blandon's lawyer, Brunon, said in an interview that his client never told him directly that he was selling cocaine for the CIA, but the prominent Los Angeles defense attorney drew his own conclusions from the "atmosphere of CIA and clandestine activities'' that surrounded Blandon and his Nicaraguan friends.
"Was he involved with the CIA? Probably. Was he involved with drugs? Most definitely,'' Brunon said. "Were those two things involved with each other? They've never said that, obviously. They've never admitted that. But I don't know where these guys get these big aircraft ...''
That very topic arose during the sensational 1992 cocaine trafficking trial of Meneses after Meneses was arrested in Nicaragua in connection with a staggering 750-kilo shipment of cocaine. His chief accuser was his friend Enrique Miranda, a relative and former Nicaraguan military intelligence officer who had been Meneses' emissary to the cocaine cartel of Bogota, Colombia. Miranda pleaded guilty to drug charges and agreed to cooperate in exchange for a seven-year sentence.
In a long, handwritten statement he read to Meneses' jury, Miranda revealed the deepest secrets of the Meneses drug ring, earning his old boss a 30-year prison sentence in the process.
"He (Norwin) and his brother Luis Enrique had financed the Contra revolution with the benefits of the cocaine they sold,'' Miranda wrote. "This operation, as Norwin told me, was executed with the collaboration of high-ranking Salvadoran military personnel. They met with officials of the Salvadoran air force, who flew (planes) to Colombia and then left for the U.S., bound for an Air Force base in Texas, as he told me.''
Meneses -- who has close personal and business ties to a Salvadoran air force commander and former CIA agent named Marcos Aguado -- declined to discuss Miranda's statements during an interview at a prison outside Managua in January. He is scheduled to be paroled this summer, after nearly five years in custody.
U.S. General Accounting Office records confirm that El Salvador's air force was supplying the CIA's Nicaraguan guerrillas with aircraft and flight support services throughout the mid-1980s.
Miranda did not name the Air Force base in Texas where the FDN's cocaine was purportedly flown. The same day the Mercury News requested official permission to interview Miranda, he disappeared.
While out on a routine weekend furlough, Miranda failed to return to the Nicaraguan jail where he'd been living since 1992. Though his jailers, who described him as a model prisoner, claimed Miranda had escaped, they didn't call the police until a Mercury News correspondent showed up and discovered he was gone.
He has not been seen in nearly a year.

MONDAY: How the drug ring worked, and how crack was "born" in the San Francisco Bay Area. Plus, the story of how the U.S. government gave back $36,000 seized from a drug dealer after he claimed the money belonged to the Contras.

Shadowy origins
of 'crack' epidemic

Role of CIA-linked agents
a well-protected secret until now
Published: Aug. 19, 1996 BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

IF THEY'D BEEN IN a more respectable line of work, Norwin Meneses, Danilo Blandon and ''Freeway Rick'' Ross would have been hailed as geniuses of marketing.
This odd trio -- a smuggler, a bureaucrat and a driven ghetto teen-ager -- made fortunes creating the first mass market in America for a product so hellishly desirable that consumers will literally kill to get it: ''crack'' cocaine.
Federal lawmen will tell you plenty about Rick Ross, mostly about the evils he visited upon black neighborhoods by spreading the crack plague in Los Angeles and cities as far east as Cincinnati. On Aug. 23, they hope, Freeway Rick will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But those same officials won't say a word about the two men who turned Rick Ross into L.A's first king of crack, the men who, for at least five years, supplied him with enough Colombian cocaine to help spawn crack markets in major cities nationwide. Their critical role in the country's crack explosion, a Mercury News investigation found, has been a strictly guarded secret -- until now.
To understand how crack came to curse black America, you have to go into the volcanic hills overlooking Managua, the capital of the Republic of Nicaragua.

San Francisco agent thought she was onto something big
Meneses' trail was getting warm when her superiors took her off the case
'Crack' born in San Francisco Bay Area in '74
It was a failed attempt to copy something else

During June 1979, those hills teemed with triumphant guerrillas called Sandinistas -- Cuban- assisted revolutionaries who had just pulled off one of the biggest military upsets in Central American history. In a bloody civil war, they'd destroyed the U.S.-trained army of Nicaragua's dictator, Anastasio Somoza. The final assault on Somoza's downtown bunker was expected any day. In the dictator's doomed capital, a minor member of Somoza's government decided to skip the war's obvious ending. On June 19, Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes gathered his wife and young daughter, slipped through the encircling rebels and flew into exile in California.
Blandon, the then 29-year-old son of a wealthy slumlord, left a life of privilege and luxury behind. Educated at the finest private schools in Latin America, he had earned a master's degree in marketing and had become the head of a $27 million program financed by the U.S. government. As Nicaragua's director of wholesale markets, it had been his job to create an American-style agricultural system.
Today, Danilo Blandon is a well-paid and highly trusted operative for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal officials say he is one of the DEA's top informants in Latin America, collecting intelligence on Colombian and Mexican drug lords and setting up stings. In March, he was the DEA's star witness at a drug trial in San Diego, where, for the first time, he testified publicly about his strange interlude between government jobs -- the years he sold cocaine to the street gangs of black Los Angeles.
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Drug Enforcement Agency Dealer says patriotism for Nicaragua was motive

A stocky man with salt-and-pepper hair, a trim mustache and a distinguished bearing, Blandon swore that he didn't plan on becoming a dope dealer when he landed in the United States with $100 in his pocket, seeking political asylum. He did it, he insisted, out of patriotism. When duty called in late 1981, he was working as a car salesman in East Los Angeles. In his spare time, he said, he and a few fellow exiles were working to rebuild Somoza's defeated army, the Nicaraguan national guard, in hopes of one day returning to Managua in triumph.
Like his friends, Blandon nursed a keen hatred of the Sandinistas, who had confiscated the Blandon family's cattle ranches and sprawling urban slums. His wife's politically prominent family -- the Murillos, whose patriarch was Managua's mayor in the 1960s -- lost its immense fortune as well.
''Because of the horror stories and persecution suffered by his family and countrymen, Blandon said he decided to assist his countrymen in fighting the tyranny of the (Sandinista) regime,'' stated a 1992 report from the U.S. Probation and Parole Department. ''He decided that because he was an adept businessman, he could assist his countrymen through monetary means.'' But the rallies and cocktail parties the exiles hosted raised little money. ''At this point, he became committed to raising money for humanitarian and political reasons via illegal activity (cocaine trafficking for profit),'' said the heavily censored report, which surfaced during the March trial.
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Oscar Danilo Blandon probation report[/URL] That venture began, Blandon testified, with a phone call from a wealthy friend in Miami named Donald Barrios, an old college classmate. Corporate records show Barrios was a business partner of one of the ex-dictator's top military aides: Maj. Gen. Gustavo ''The Tiger'' Medina, a steely eyed counterinsurgency expert and the former supply boss of Somoza's army. Blandon said his college chum, who also was working in the resistance movement, dispatched him to Los Angeles International Airport to pick up another exile, Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero. Though their families were related, Blandon said, he'd never met Meneses -- a wiry, excitable man with a bad toupee -- until that day.
''I picked him up, and he started telling me that we had to (raise) some money and to send to Honduras,'' Blandon testified. He said he flew with Meneses to a camp there and met one of his new companion's old friends, Col. Enrique Bermudez.
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Medina's quotation in a restaurant review[/URL] [Image: bermdezt.jpg]Bermudez -- who'd been Somoza's Washington liaison to the American military -- was hired by the Central Intelligence Agency in mid-1980 to pull together the remnants of Somoza's vanquished national guard, records show. In August 1981, Bermudez's efforts were unveiled at a news conference as the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN) -- in English, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force. It was the largest and best-organized of the handful of guerrilla groups Americans would know as the Contras. Bermudez was the FDN's military chief and, according to congressional records and newspaper reports, received regular CIA paychecks for a decade, payments that stopped shortly before his still-unsolved slaying in Managua in 1991.
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Biographical information on Col. Enrique Bermudez[/URL] [Image: audio.gif]
Blandon's testimony about Bermudez
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Reagan's secret order not enough to fund Contras

White House records show that shortly before Blandon's meeting with Bermudez, President Reagan had given the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations against the Sandinista government. But Reagan's secret Dec. 1, 1981, order permitted the spy agency to spend only $19.9 million on the project, an amount CIA officials acknowledged was not nearly enough to field a credible fighting force. After meeting with Bermudez, Blandon testified, he and Meneses ''started raising money for the Contra revolution.'' ''There is a saying that the ends justify the means,'' Blandon testified. ''And that's what Mr. Bermudez told us in Honduras, OK?''
While Blandon says Bermudez didn't know cocaine would be the fund-raising device they used, the presence of the mysterious Mr. Meneses strongly suggests otherwise.
Norwin Meneses, known in Nicaraguan newspapers as ''Rey de la Droga'' (King of Drugs), was then under active investigation by the DEA and the FBI for smuggling cocaine into the United States, records show.
And Bermudez was very familiar with the influential Meneses family. He had served under two Meneses brothers, Fermin and Edmundo, who were generals in Somoza's army. Somoza himself spoke at the 1978 funeral of Edmundo Meneses, who was slain by leftists shortly after his appointment as Nicaragua's ambassador to Guatemala, hailing him as an anti-communist martyr.
A violent death -- someone else's -- had also made brother Norwin famous in his homeland. In 1977 he was accused of ordering the assassination of Nicaragua's chief of Customs, who was gunned down in the midst of an investigation into an international stolen car ring allegedly run by Norwin Meneses.
Though the customs boss accused Meneses on his deathbed of hiring his killer, Nicaraguan newspapers reported that the Managua police, then commanded by Edmundo Meneses, cleared Norwin of any involvement.
Despite that incident and a stack of law enforcement reports describing him as a major drug trafficker, Norwin Meneses was welcomed into the United States in July 1979 as a political refugee and given a visa and a work permit. He settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, and for the next six years supervised the importation of thousands of kilos of cocaine into California.
It arrived in all kinds of containers: false-bottomed shoes, Colombian freighters, cars with hidden compartments, luggage from Miami. Once here, it disappeared into a series of houses and nondescript storefront businesses scattered from Hayward to San Jose, Pacifica to Burlingame, Daly City to Oakland.
And, like Blandon, Meneses went to work for the CIA's army.
At the meeting with Bermudez, Meneses said in a recent interview, the Contra commander put him in charge of ''intelligence and security'' for the FDN in California.
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Presidential directive ordering support of paramilitary operations against Nicaragua[/URL] [URL=""][Image: photo.gif]
A copy of the order signed by President Reagan (122K)[/URL]
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Blandon's testimony
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Blandon's testimony about Meneses
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Article reporting death of Edmundo Meneses Cantanero[/URL]
''Nobody (from California) would join the Contra forces down there without my knowledge and approval,'' he said proudly. Blandon, he said, was assigned to raise money in Los Angeles. Blandon testified that Meneses took him back to San Francisco and, over two days, schooled him in the cocaine trade.
Meneses declined to discuss any cocaine dealings he may have had, other than to deny that he ever ''transferred benefits from my business to the FDN. Business is business.''
Lessons over, Blandon said, Meneses gave him two kilograms of cocaine (roughly 4 pounds), the names of two customers and a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.
''Meneses was pushing me every week,'' he testified. ''It took me about three months, four months to sell those two keys because I didn't know what to do. ... In those days, two keys was too heavy.''
At the time, cocaine was so costly that few besides rock stars and studio executives could afford it. One study of actual cocaine prices paid by DEA agents put it at $5,200 an ounce.
But Blandon wasn't peddling the FDN's cocaine in Beverly Hills or Malibu. To find customers, he and several other Nicaraguan exiles working with him headed for the vast, untapped markets of L.A.'s black ghettos.

Uncanny timing made marketing strategy work

Blandon's marketing strategy, selling the world's most expensive street drug in some of California's poorest neighborhoods, might seem baffling, but in retrospect, his timing was uncanny. He and his compatriots arrived in South-Central L.A. right when street-level drug users were figuring out how to make cocaine affordable: by changing the pricey white powder into powerful little nuggets that could be smoked -- crack. Crack turned the cocaine world on its head. Cocaine smokers got an explosive high unmatched by 10 times as much snorted powder. And since only a tiny amount was needed for that rush, cocaine no longer had to be sold in large, expensive quantities. Anyone with $20 could get wasted.
It was a ''substance that is tailor-made to addict people,'' Dr. Robert Byck, a Yale University cocaine expert, said during congressional testimony in 1986. ''It is as though (McDonald's founder) Ray Kroc had invented the opium den.'' Crack's Kroc was a disillusioned 19-year-old named Ricky Donnell Ross, who, at the dawn of the 1980s, found himself adrift on the streets of South-Central Los Angeles.
A talented tennis player for Dorsey High School, Ross had recently seen his dream of a college scholarship evaporate when his coach discovered he could neither read nor write.
At the end of tennis season, Ross quit high school and wound up at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, a vocational community college where, ironically, he learned to bind books. But a bookbinding career was the last thing Ross had in mind. L.A. Trade-Tech had a tennis team, and Ross was still hoping his skills with the racquet would get his dreams back on track.
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Hearing before the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control[/URL] ''He was a very good player,'' recalled Pete Brown, his former coach at L.A. Trade-Tech. ''I'd say he was probably my No. 3 guy on the team at the time.'' To pay his bills, however, Ross picked up a different racket: stolen car parts. In late 1979, he was arrested for stealing a car and had to quit the trade while the charges were pending.

'Freeway Rick' hears about popularity of jet-set drug

During this forced hiatus, Ross said, a friend home on Christmas break from San Jose State University told him about the soaring popularity of a jet-set drug called cocaine, which Ross had only vaguely heard about. In the impoverished neighborhoods of South-Central, it was virtually non-existent. Most street cops, in fact, had never seen any because cocaine was then a parlor drug of the wealthy and the trendy. Ross' friend -- a college football player -- told him ''cocaine was going to be the new thing, that everybody was doing it.'' Intrigued, Ross set off to find out more.
Through a cocaine-using auto upholstery teacher Ross knew, he met a Nicaraguan named Henry Corrales, who began selling Ross and his best friend, Ollie ''Big Loc'' Newell, small amounts of remarkably inexpensive cocaine.
Thanks to a network of friends in South-Central and Compton, including many members of various Crips gangs, Ross and Newell steadily built up clientele. With each sale, Ross reinvested his hefty profits in more cocaine.
Eventually, Corrales introduced Ross and Newell to his supplier, Danilo Blandon. And then business really picked up.
''At first, we was just going to do it until we made $5,000,'' Ross said. ''We made that so fast we said, no, we'll quit when we make $20,000. Then we was going to quit when we saved enough to buy a house ...''
Ross would eventually own millions of dollars' worth of real estate across Southern California, including houses, motels, a theater and several other businesses. (His nickname, ''Freeway Rick,'' came from the fact that he owned properties near the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles.)
Within a year, Ross' drug operation grew to dominate inner-city Los Angeles, and many of the biggest dealers in town were his customers. When crack hit L.A.'s streets hard in late 1983, Ross already had the infrastructure in place to corner a huge chunk of the burgeoning market.

$2 million worth of crack moved in a single day

It was not uncommon, he said, to move $2 million or $3 million worth of crack in one day. ''Our biggest problem had got to be counting the money,'' Ross said. ''We got to the point where it was like, man, we don't want to count no more money.''
Nicaraguan cocaine dealer Jacinto Torres, another former supplier of Ross and a sometime- partner of Blandon, told drug agents in a 1992 interview that after a slow start, ''Blandon's cocaine business dramatically increased. ... Norwin Meneses, Blandon's supplier as of 1983 and 1984, routinely flew quantities of 200 to 400 kilograms from Miami to the West Coast.'' Leroy ''Chico'' Brown, an ex-crack dealer from Compton who dealt with Ross, told the Mercury News of visiting one of Ross' five cookhouses, where Blandon's powder was turned into crack, and finding huge steel vats of cocaine bubbling atop restaurant-size gas ranges.
[URL=""][Image: paper.gif]
Record of FBI interview with Jacinto Jose Torres[/URL] ''They were stirring these big pots with those things you use in canoes,'' Brown said with amazement. ''You know -- oars.'' Blandon told the DEA last year that he was selling Ross up to 100 kilos of cocaine a week, which was then ''rocked up'' and distributed ''to the major gangs in the area, specifically the "Crips' and the "Bloods,''' the DEA report said. At wholesale prices, that's roughly $65 million to $130 million worth of cocaine every year, depending on the going price of a kilo.
"He was one of the main distributors down here," said former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics detective Steve Polak, who was part of the Freeway Rick Task Force, which was set up in 1987 to put Ross out of business. "And his poison, there's no telling how many tens of thousands of people he touched. He's responsible for a major cancer that still hasn't stopped spreading."

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Report of DEA investigation[/URL] But Ross is the first to admit that being in the right place at the right time had almost nothing to do with his amazing success. Other L.A. dealers, he noted, were selling crack long before he started. What he had, and they didn't, was Danilo Blandon, a friend with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of high-grade cocaine and an expert's knowledge of how to market it. ''I'm not saying I wouldn't have been a dope dealer without Danilo,'' Ross stressed. ''But I wouldn't have been Freeway Rick.''
The secret to his success, Ross said, was Blandon's cocaine prices. ''It was unreal. We were just wiping out everybody.''
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John Arman and Blandon discuss high-grade cocaine
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That alone, Ross said, allowed him to sew up the Los Angeles market and move on. In city after city, local dealers either bought from Ross or got left behind. ''It didn't make no difference to Rick what anyone else was selling it for. Rick would just go in and undercut him $10,000 a key,'' Chico Brown said. ''Say some dude was selling for 30. Boom -- Rick would go in and sell it for 20. If he was selling for 20, Rick would sell for 10. Sometimes, he be giving (it) away.''
Before long, Blandon was giving Ross hundreds of kilos of cocaine on consignment -- sell now, pay later -- a strategy that dramatically accelerated the expansion of Ross' crack empire, even beyond California's borders.
Ross said he never discovered how Blandon was able to get cocaine so cheaply. ''I just figured he knew the people, you know what I'm saying? He was plugged.''
But Freeway Rick had no idea just how ''plugged'' his erudite cocaine broker was. He didn't know about Norwin Meneses, or the CIA, or the Salvadoran air force planes that allegedly were flying the cocaine into an air base in Texas.
And he wouldn't find out about it for another 10 years.

TUESDAY: The impact of the crack epidemic on the black community, and why justice hasn't been for all.

Additional reporting for this series in Nicaragua and Costa Rica was done by Managua journalist Georg Hodel. Research assistance at the Nicaraguan Supreme Court was performed by journalist Leonore Delgado.

War on drugs has unequal impact on black Americans

Contra case illustrates the discrepancy: Nicaraguan goes free; L.A. dealer faces life Published: Aug. 20, 1996 BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

FOR THE LAST YEAR and a half, the U.S. Department of Justice has been trying to explain why nearly everyone convicted in California's federal courts of ''crack'' cocaine trafficking is black.
Critics, who include some federal court judges, say it looks like the Justice Department is targeting crack dealers by race, which would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Federal prosecutors, however, say there's a simple, if unpleasant, reason for the lopsided statistics: Most crack dealers are black.
''Socio-economic factors led certain ethnic and racial groups to be particularly involved with the distribution of certain drugs,'' the Justice Department argued in a case in Los Angeles last year, ''and blacks were particularly involved in the Los Angeles area crack trade.''
[Image: other.gif] [URL=""]Flawed sentencing the main reason for race disparity
[/URL] In 1993, crack smokers got 3 years; coke snorters got 3 months
[URL=""]San Francisco Bay Area man tangled in drug web
[/URL] Tales to DEA of gun running, drug trafficking fall on deaf ears
But why -- of all the ethnic and racial groups in California to pick from -- crack planted its deadly roots in L.A.'s black neighborhoods is something only Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes can say for sure. Danilo Blandon, a yearlong Mercury News investigation found, is the Johnny Appleseed of crack in California -- the Crips' and Bloods' first direct-connect to the cocaine cartels of Colombia. The tons of cut-rate cocaine he brought into black L.A. during the 1980s and early 1990s became millions of rocks of crack, which spawned new crack markets wherever they landed.
On a tape made by the Drug Enforcement Administration in July 1990, Blandon casually explained the flood of cocaine that coursed through the streets of South-Central Los Angeles during the previous decade.
''These people have been working with me 10 years,'' Blandon said. ''I've sold them about 2,000 or 4,000 (kilos). I don't know. I don't remember how many.'' ''It ain't that Japanese guy you were talking about, is it?'' asked DEA informant John Arman, who was wearing a hidden transmitter.
''No, it's not him,'' Blandon insisted. ''These ... these are the black people.''
Arman gasped. ''Black?!''
''Yeah,'' Blandon said. ''They control L.A. The people (black cocaine dealers) that control L.A.''

U.S. has paid Blandon more than $166,000

But unlike the thousands of young blacks now serving long federal prison sentences for selling mere handfuls of the drug, Blandon is a free man today. He has a spacious new home in Nicaragua and a business exporting precious woods, courtesy of the U.S. government, which has paid him more than $166,000 over the past 18 months, records show -- for his help in the war on drugs. That turn of events both amuses and angers ''Freeway Rick'' Ross, L.A.'s premier crack wholesaler during much of the 1980s and Danilo Blandon's biggest customer.
''They say I sold dope everywhere but, man, I know he done sold 10 times more dope than me,'' Ross said with a laugh during a recent interview.
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1990 conversation between John Arman and Oscar Danilo Blandon
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[SIZE=-1]Blandon discusses his contacts with Arman
[SIZE=-1]Note: Strong language used in excerpt.

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[SIZE=-1]More of the conversation between Arman and Blandon
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[SIZE=-1]Confirmation of Blandon's identity as an informant
Nothing epitomizes the drug war's uneven impact on black Americans more clearly than the intertwined lives of Ricky Donnell Ross, a high school dropout, and his suave cocaine supplier, Danilo Blandon, who has a master's degree in marketing and was one of the top civilian leaders in California of an anti-communist guerrilla army formed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Called the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN), it became known to most Americans as the Contras. In recent court testimony, Blandon, who began dealing cocaine in South-Central L.A. in 1982, swore that the first kilo of cocaine he sold in California was to raise money for the CIA's army, which was trying on a shoestring to unseat Nicaragua's new socialist Sandinista government. After Blandon crossed paths with Ross, a South-Central teen-ager who had the gang connections and street smarts necessary to move the army's cocaine, a veritable blizzard engulfed the ghettos.
Former Los Angeles Police narcotics detective Stephen W. Polak said he was working the streets of South-Central in the mid-1980s when he and his partners began seeing more cocaine than ever before.
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Oscar Danilo Blandon testifies about a conversation he had with Norwin Meneses
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''A lot of detectives, a lot of cops, were saying, hey, these blacks, no longer are we just seeing gram dealers. These guys are doing ounces; they were doing keys,'' Polak recalled. But he said the reports were pooh-poohed by higher-ups who couldn't believe black neighborhoods could afford the amount of cocaine the street cops claimed to be seeing. ''Major Violators (the LAPD's elite anti-drug unit) was saying, basically, ahh, South-Central, how much could they be dealing?'' said Polak, a 21-year LAPD veteran. ''Well, they (black dealers) went virtually untouched for a long time.''
It wasn't until January 1987 -- when crack markets were popping up in major cities all over the U.S. -- that law enforcement brass decided to confront L.A.'s crack problem head-on. They formed the Freeway Rick Task Force, a cadre of veteran drug agents whose sole mission was to put Rick Ross out of business. Polak was a charter member.
''We just dedicated seven days a week to him. We were just on him at every move,'' Polak said.
Ross, as usual, was quick to spot a trend. He moved to Cincinnati and quietly settled into a home in the woodsy Republican suburbs on the east side of town.
''I called it cooling out, trying to back away from the game,'' Ross said. ''I had enough money.''
His longtime supplier, Blandon, reached an identical conclusion around the same time. A massive police raid on his cocaine operation in late 1986 nearly gave his wife a nervous breakdown, he testified recently, and by the summer of 1987 he was safely ensconced in Miami, with $1.6 million in cash.
Some of his drug profits, records show, were invested in a string of rental car and export businesses in Miami, often in partnership with an exiled Nicaraguan judge named Jose Macario Estrada. Like Blandon, the judge also worked for the CIA's army, helping FDN soldiers and their families obtain visas and work papers in the United States. Estrada said he knew nothing of Blandon's drug dealings at the time.

Blandon invested in four-star steak house

Blandon also bought into a swank steak-and-lobster restaurant called La Parrilla, which became a popular hangout for FDN leaders and supporters. The Miami Herald called it the ''best Nicaraguan restaurant in Dade County'' and gave it a four-star rating, its highest. But neither Ross nor Blandon stayed ''retired'' for long.
A manic deal-maker, Ross found Cincinnati's virgin crack market too seductive to ignore. When he left Los Angeles, the price of a kilo was around $12,000. In the Queen City, Ross chuckled, ''keys was selling for $50,000. It was like when I first started.''

[URL=""][Image: paper.gif]
Review of La Parrilla[/URL] Plunging back in, the crack tycoon cornered the Cincinnati market using the same low-price, high-volume strategy -- and the same Nicaraguan drug connections -- he'd used in L.A. Soon, he was selling crack as far away as Cleveland, Indianapolis, Dayton and St. Louis. ''There's no doubt in my mind crack in Cincinnati can be traced to Ross,'' police officer Robert Enoch told a Cincinnati newspaper three years ago.
But Ross' reign in the Midwest was short-lived. In 1988, one of his loads ran into a drug-sniffing dog at a New Mexico bus station and drug agents eventually connected it to Ross. He pleaded guilty to crack trafficking charges and received a mandatory 10-year prison sentence, which he began serving in 1990.
In sunny Miami, Blandon's retirement plans also had gone awry. His 24-city rental car business collapsed in 1989 and later went into bankruptcy. To make money, he testified, he came to the Bay Area and began brokering cocaine again, buying and selling from the same Nicaraguan dealers he'd known from his days with the FDN. In 1990 and 1991, he testified, he sold about 425 kilos of cocaine in Northern California -- $10.5 million worth at wholesale prices.
But unlike before, when he was selling cocaine for the Contras, Blandon was constantly dogged by the police.
Twice in six months he was detained, first by Customs agents while taking $117,000 in money orders to Tijuana to pay a supplier, and then by the LAPD in the act of paying one of his Colombian suppliers more than $350,000.
The second time, after police found $14,000 in cash and a small quantity of cocaine in his pocket, he was arrested. But the U.S. Justice Department -- saying a prosecution would disrupt an active investigation -- persuaded the cops to drop their money laundering case.
Soon after that, Blandon and his wife, Chepita, were called down to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service office in San Diego on a pretense and scooped up by DEA agents, on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. They were jailed without bond as dangers to the community and several other Nicaraguans were also arrested.
Blandon's prosecutor, L.J. O'Neale, told a federal judge that Blandon had sold so much cocaine in the United States his mandatory prison sentence was ''off the scale.''
Then Blandon ''just vanished,'' said Juanita Brooks, a San Diego attorney who represented one of Blandon's co-defendants. ''All of a sudden his wife was out of jail and he was out of the case.''

The reasons were contained in a secret Justice Department memorandum filed in San Diego federal court in late 1993.
Prosecutor found Blandon 'extraordinarily valuable'

Blandon, prosecutor O'Neale wrote, had become ''extraordinarily valuable in major DEA investigations of Class I drug traffickers.'' And even though probation officers were recommending a life sentence and a $4 million fine, O'Neale said the government would be satisfied if Blandon got 48 months and no fine. Motion granted. [URL=""][Image: paper.gif]
Motion for downward departure from sentencing guidelines[/URL] Less than a year later, records show, O'Neale was back with another idea: Why not just let Blandon go? After all, he wrote the judge, Blandon had a federal job waiting. O'Neale, saying that Blandon ''has almost unlimited potential to assist the United States,'' said the government wanted ''to enlist Mr. Blandon as a full-time, paid informant after his release from prison.''
And since it would be hard to do that job with parole officers snooping around, O'Neale added, the government wanted him turned loose without any supervision. Motion granted. O'Neale declined to comment.
After only 28 months in custody, most of it spent with federal agents who debriefed him for ''hundreds of hours,'' he said, Blandon walked out of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, was given a green card and began working on his first assignment: setting up his old friend ''Freeway Rick'' for a sting operation.
[URL=""][Image: paper.gif]
Motion for reduction of sentence for Oscar Danilo Blandon[/URL] Targeted for a sting while sitting in prison

Records show Ross was still behind bars, awaiting parole, when San Diego DEA agents targeted him for a ''reverse'' sting -- one in which government agents provide the drugs and the target provides the cash. The sting's author, DEA agent Chuck Jones, [url=
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
How the Colombia cocaine cartels
made the California connection

[/URL] [Image: pipemap.gif]

Land, sea and air: the smuggling routes. Meneses began bringing cocaine powder into the United States in the mid-1970s. At first, the drug was carried across the border hidden in suitcases and shoes. As the industry grew, the cartels expanded and shipped by cargo ships, planes, stolen cars and trucks.
Map by Staff Artist Pai Wei


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Mid-1970s: Stolen cars

Luxury cars stolen in California were driven to Nicaragua, where they were officially imported by the Nicaraguan military to avoid stiff excise taxes, and sold to wealthy Managuans.


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Mid-to-late 1970s: Peruvian cocaine

Peruvian cocaine was smuggled to Panama, secreted in suitcases and shoes with false bottoms and carried into the U.S. by airline passengers. Points of entry included San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and New Orleans.


[Image: 3anim.gif] Late 1970s to 1983: New Cali cartel

Cocaine from the new Cali cartel in Colombia was loaded onto freighters owned by the Gran Colombia line. The freighters were offloaded in the ports of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.


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Early 1980s: Bahamas connection

Cocaine was flown from Colombia to the Bahamas, where it was loaded aboard small planes and flown into Miami. From there, couriers took it to California aboard commercial airliners.

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Early to mid-1980s: Contras

As part of the Contra supply operation, Salvadoran air force planes flew to Colombia, load up with cocaine and land at a U.S. Air Force base in Texas. Dealers then flew the money out of the U.S. aboard commerical jets to Costa Rica and Honduras.

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Late 1980s: Coffee, tea or coke?

Colombian cocaine was flown aboard private planes into small airfields in northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua. Super DC3s leaving from San José, Costa Rica, loaded with general merchandise would touch down briefly, take on a cocaine load and continue on to U.S. airports.


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1990-'91: Nicaragua to Bay Area

Small Colombian planes flew to a remote airstrip in La Rosita, Nicaragua, and cocaine was unloaded into army transport trucks, which were driven to Managua. The cocaine was stored in a series of underground military bunkers built during the war. Mercedes-Benz autos were exported from Miami to the port of Rama, driven to Managua and cut apart so tubes filled with cocaine could be inserted. The cars were loaded onto a transporter and driven north to Los Angeles and San Diego. Rental cars then ferried the cocaine to the Bay Area and points north.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
From Columbia Journalism Review (January/February 1997)
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[Image: garywebb.gif]
by Peter Kornbluh [B]Photos: San Jose Mercury News

After Gary Webb spent more than a year of intense investigative reporting and weeks of drafting, his editors at the San Jose Mercury News decided to run his three-part series late last August, when the nation's focus was divided between politics and vacation. The series, DARK ALLIANCE: THE STORY BEHIND THE CRACK EXPLOSION, initially "sank between the Republican and Democratic Conventions," Webb recalls. "I was very surprised at how little attention it generated."
Webb needn't have worried. His story subsequently became the most talked-about piece of journalism in 1996 and arguably the most famous--some would say infamous--set of articles of the decade. Indeed, in the five months since its publication, "Dark Alliance" has been transformed into what New York Times reporter Tim Weiner calls a "metastory"--a phenomenon of public outcry, conspiracy theory, and media reaction that has transcended the original series itself.
The series, and the response to it, have raised a number of fundamental journalistic questions. The original reporting--on the links between a gang of Nicaraguan drug dealers, CIA-backed counterrevolutionaries, and the spread of crack in California--has drawn unparalleled criticism from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Their editorial decision to assault, rather than advance, the Mercury News story has, in turn, sparked critical commentary on the priorities of those pillars of the mainstream press.
Yet in spite of the mainstream media, the allegations generated by the Mercury News continue to swirl, particularly through communities of color. Citizens and journalists alike are left to weigh the significant flaws of the piece against the value of putting a serious matter, one the press has failed to fully explore, back on the national agenda.


Although many readers of the Mercury News articles may not have known it, "Dark Alliance" is not the first reported link between the contra war and drug smuggling. More than a decade ago, allegations surfaced that contra forces, organized by the CIA to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, were consorting with drug smugglers with the knowledge of U.S. officials. The Associated Press broke the first such story on December 20, 1985. The AP's Robert Parry and Brian Barger reported that three contra groups "have engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua." Dramatic as it was, that story almost didn't run, because of pressure by Reagan administration officials (see "Narco-Terrorism: A Tale of Two Stories" CJR, September/October, 1986). Indeed, the White House waged a concerted behind-the-scenes campaign to besmirch the professionalism of Parry and Barger and to discredit all reporting on the contras and drugs. Whether the campaign was the cause or not, coverage was minimal. While regional papers like the San Francisco Examiner--which ran a June 23, 1986 front-page exposé on Norvin Meneses, a central figure in the Mercury News series--broke significant ground on contra-drug connections, the larger papers and networks (with the exception of CBS) devoted few resources to the issue. The attitude of the mainstream press was typified during the November 1987 press conference held to release the final report of the Congressional Joint Iran-Contra Committees. When an investigative reporter rose to ask the lead counsel of the committees whether the lawmakers had come across any connection between the contras and drug-smuggling, a New York Times correspondent screamed derisively at him from across the aisle: "Why don't you ask a serious question?"
Even when a special Senate subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, chaired by Senator John Kerry, released its long-awaited report, Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy, big-media coverage constituted little more than a collective yawn. The 1,166-page report--it covered not only the covert operations against Nicaragua, but also relations with Panama, Haiti, the Bahamas, and other countries involved in the drug trade--was the first to document U.S. knowledge of, and tolerance for, drug smuggling under the guise of national security. "In the name of supporting the contras," the Kerry Committee concluded in a sad but stunning indictment, officials "abandoned the responsibility our government has for protecting our citizens from all threats to their security and well-being."
Yet when the report was released on April 13, 1989, coverage was buried in the back pages of the major newspapers and all but ignored by the three major networks. The Washington Post ran a short article on page A20 that focused as much on the infighting within the committee as on its findings; the New York Times ran a short piece on A8; the Los Angeles Times ran a 589-word story on A11. (All of this was in sharp contrast to those newspapers' lengthy rebuttals to the Mercury News series seven years later [Image: meneses.gif] --collectively totalling over 30,000 words.) ABC's Nightline chose not to cover the release of the report. Consequently, the Kerry Committee report was relegated to oblivion; and opportunities were lost to pursue leads, address the obstruction from the CIA and the Justice Department that Senate investigators say they encountered, and both inform the public and lay the issue to rest. The story, concedes Doyle McManus, the Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, "did not get the coverage that it deserved."


The Mercury News series "touched a raw nerve in the way our stories hadn't," observes Robert Parry. One reason is that Parry and Barger's stories had focused on the more antiseptic smuggling side of drug trafficking in far-off Central America. Webb's tale brought the story home, focusing on what he identified as the distribution network and its target. the inner cities of California. Particularly among African-American communities, devastated by the scourge of crack and desperate for information and answers, Webb's reporting found ready constituencies. From Farrakhan followers to the most moderate of black commentators, the story reverberated. "If this is true, then millions of black lives have been ruined and America's jails and prisons are now clogged with young African-Americans because of a cynical plot by a CIA that historically has operated in contempt of the law,'' wrote Carl T. Rowan, the syndicated columnist. The wildfire-like sweep of "Dark Alliance" was all the more remarkable because it took place without the tinder of the mainstream press. Instead, the story roared through the new communications media of the Intemet and black talk radio--two distinct, but in this case somewhat symbiotic, information channels. With the Internet, as Webb put it. "you don't have be the New York Times or the Washington Post to bust a national story anymore." Understanding this media reality, Mercury Center, the Mercury News's sophisticated online service, devoted considerable staff time to preparing for simultaneous online publishing of the "Dark Alliance" stories on the World Wide Web. In the online version, many of the documents cited in the stories were posted on the Mercury Center site, hyperlinked to the story; audio recordings from wiretaps and hearings, follow-up articles from the Mercury News and elsewhere, and, for a time, even Gary Webb's media schedule were also posted.
As Webb began giving out his story's Mercury Center website address ( on radio shows in early September, the number of hits to the Center's site escalated dramatically, some days reaching as high as 1.3 million. Over all, Bob Ryan, who heads Mercury Center, estimates a 15% visitor increase since the stories appeared. "For us," he says, "it has certainly answered the question: Is there anyone out there listening?" The demographics of Web traffic are unknown, but some media specialists believe that the rising numbers at Mercury Center in part reflect what the Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist Clarence Page calls an emerging "black cyber-consciousness.'' Online newsletters and other net services made the series readily available to African-American students, newspapers, radio stations, and community organizations. Patricia Turner, author of I Heard it Through the Grapevine, the definitive study on how information travels through black America, suggests that this marked the "first time the Intemet has electrified African-Americans" in this way. "The 'black telegraph,'" noted Jack While, a Time magazine colum- nist, referring to the informal word-of: mouth network used since the days of slavery, "has moved into cyberspace."
Black-oriented radio talk shows boosted this phenomenon by giving out the website address. At the same time, the call-in programs themselves became a focal point of information and debate. African-American talk-show hosts used their programs to address the allegations of CIA complicity in the crack epidemic, and the public response was forceful. The power of talk radio was demonstrated when Congresswoman Maxine Waters was a guest on WOL's Lisa Mitchell show in Baltimore on September 10, and announced that the Congressional Black Caucus meeting that week would address the issues raised by "Dark Alliance." Two hundred people were expected; nearly two thousand attended.
Political pressure, organized at the grassroots level around the country and channeled through the Black Caucus in Washington, pushed both the CIA and the Justice Department to initiate internal investigations into the charges of government complicity in the crack trade. In November, John Deutch, then the director of the CIA, even left the secure confines of Langley headquarters to travel to Watts and address a town meeting of concered citizens on the Mercury News allegations--an unprecedented event. By then, the"Dark Alliance" series had become the journalistic Twister of 1996, with information, misinformation, allegations, and speculations hurtling across the airwaves day after day. A common charge emerged on black talk-radio programs: the U.S. government had conspired to use the crack trade to deliberately harm the African-American community. "CIA" now meant "Crack in America," or as Rep. Cynthia McKinney stated on the floor of Congress, "Central Intoxication Agency." Thousands of copies of "Dark Alliance'- were handed out at town meetings across the country, playing "into the deepest fears--sometimes plunging into paranoia--that have haunted the subject of race in America," the Boston Globe editorialized in October. "We've always speculated about this," said Joe Madison, a Washington talk-show host, who along with the activist Dick Gregory was arrested in front of the CIA in mid-September in an act of civil disobedience. ''Now we have proof."


In the very first Washington Post treatment of the San Jose Mercury News phenomenon--appearing in the Style section on October 2--media reporter Howard Kurtz noted "just one problem" with the controversy: despite broad hints, Gary Webb's stories never "actually say the CIA knew about the drug trafficking." In an interview with Kurtz, Webb stated that his story "doesn't prove the CIA targeted black communities. It doesn't say this was ordered by the CIA." What did the Mercury News stories actually say? The long three-part series covered the lives and connections of three career criminals: "Freeway" Ricky Ross, perhaps L.A.'s most renowned crack dealer in the 1980s; Oscar Danilo Blandón Reyes, a right-wing Nicaraguan expatriate, described by one U.S. assistant district attorney as "the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in the United States"; and Juan Norvin (Norwin in some documents) Meneses Cantarero, a friend of the fallen dictator Anastasio Somoza, who allegedly brought Blandón into the drug business to support the contras and supplied him, for an uncertain amount of time, with significant quantities of cocaine. The first installment of the series, headlined CRACK PLAGUE'S ROOTS ARE IN NICARAGUAN WAR, opened with two dramatic statements:
For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funnelled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
The second paragraph, which captured even more public attention, read:
This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the 'crack' capital of the world.
The rest of the article attempted to flesh out those assertions and explain "how a cocaine-for-weapons trade supported U.S. policy and undermined black America." The second installment, entitled ODD TRIO CREATED MASS MARKET FOR 'CRACK,' provided far more detail on the alliance between Ross, Blandón, and Meneses and their role in the crack explosion. Part three, WAR ON DRUGS' UNEQUAL IMPACT ON U.S. BLACKS, focused on an issue that outrages many in the African-American community: sentencing discrepancies between blacks and whites for cocaine trafficking, as illustrated by the cases of Blandón and Ross. Ross received a life sentence without the possibility of parole; Blandón served twenty-eight months and became a highly paid government informant. In a defense of Webb's work published in the Baltimore Sun, Steve Weinberg, a former executive director of Investigative Reporters & Editors (and a CJR contributing editor), argues that the reporter
took the story where it seemed to lead--to the door of U.S. national security and drug enforcement agencies. Even if Webb overreached in a few paragraphs--based on my careful reading, I would say his overreaching was limited, if it occurred at all-he still had a compelling, significant investigation to publish.
Indeed, the series did provide a groundbreaking and dramatic story of two right-wing Nicaraguans with clear--although not necessarily strong--connections to the FDN "freedom fighters," who became major drug dealers, inexplicably escaped prosecution, and made a significant contribution to the thousands of kilos of coke that flowed into the inner cities of California. "They pay cash," a wiretapped audio on the website records Blandón as telling an associate who complained he didn't "like niggers." Blandón continues: "I don't deal with anybody else. They buy all the time. They buy all the time." Blandón's grand jury and trial testimony--which Webb often over-dramatically sources as "court records"--along with a 1986 sheriff's department search warrant and affidavit and a 1992 Probation and Parole Department report, documented that an undetermined amount of drug funds was going into the contra coffers, possibly as late as 1986. Far less compelling was the evidence the Mercury News presented to the the Nicaraguans to the CIA itself. But not for lack of trying. Speculative passages like "Freeway Rick had no idea just how 'plugged' his erudite cocaine broker [Blandón] was. He didn't know about Norwin Meneses or the CIA," were clearly intended to imply CIA involvement. As implied evidence of CIA knowledge of and participation in the drug trade, the articles emphasized the meetings between Blandón and Meneses (identified without supporting evidence as FDN officials) and FDN leaders Adolfo Calero (identified without corroboration as "a longtime CIA operative") and Enrique Bermúdez (identified as a "CIA agent"). To be sure, the FDN was, as the articles described it, the "CIA's army"--a paramilitary force created, trained, financed, equipped, and largely directed by the CIA. Nevertheless, the articles failed to distinguish between CIA officers who ran the contra war--none of whom are identified or quoted in the articles--and Nicaraguan "agents" or "operatives" such as Calero and Bermúdez, who were put on the CIA payroll for purposes of control, support, and/or information. While to some this may seem a trivial distinction--"It doesn't make any difference whether [the CIA] delivered the kilo themselves, [Image: blandon.gif] or they turned their heads while somebody else delivered it, they are just as guilty," Representative Maxine Waters said in one L.A. forum--the articles did not even address the likelihood that CIA officials in charge would have known about these drug operations. Moreover, a critical passage Webb wrote to suggest that Blandón himself had CIA connections that the government was trying to cover up, quoted court documents out of context. Webb reported that "federal prosecutors obtained a court order preventing [Ross's] defense lawyers from delving into [Blandón's] ties to the CIA." He then quoted this motion to suppress as stating that Blandón "will admit that he was a large-scale dealer in cocaine, and there is no additional benefit to any defendant to inquire as to the Central Intelligence Agency." But Webb omitted another part of that sentence, which reads, "the threat to so inquire is simply a gambit," as well as the opening para- graph of the motion, which states:
The United States believes that such allegations are not true, and that the threat to make such allegations is solely intended to dissuade the United States from going forward with the prosecution....
These omissions left the impression that Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O'Neale was allempting to conceal a CIA connection, when a reading of the full motion showed that his stated purposewas to keep Ricky Ross's defense lawyer from sidetracking the prosecution. Blandón, according to Webb's story, implied CIA approval for the cocaine trafficking when he told a federal grand jury in San Francisco that after the contras started receiving official CIA funds, the agency no longer needed drug money. "When Mr. Reagan get in the power, we start receiving a lot of money," he stated. "And the people that was in charge, it was the, the CIA, so they didn't want to raise any [drug] money because they have, they had the money that they wanted." At that point, he said, "we started doing business by ourselves."
Intriguing as that statement is, neither Webb nor his editors appear to have noticed that it contradicted the thrust of ''Dark Alliance." Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981; the CIA received its seed authorization of $19.9 million later that year to organize the covert war against Nicaragua. If Blandón and Meneses stopped sup- porting the FDN at that point, it could not be true that "for the better part of a decade" drug profits in the millions were channeled to the contras. Nor, then, could it be true that this dark alliance with the contras was responsible for the crack epidemic in Califomia in the early 1980s.
This inconsistency demonstrates the overarching problem in the series: the difficulty in using Blandón's grand jury and court testimony, which is often imprecise--Blandón at one point appeared to date Reagan's rise to power in 1983--and contradictory. Particularly regarding the timeline of when he met Meneses, supported the contras, broke with Meneses, and became Ricky Ross's mentor and supplier--a series of dates critical to the central allegation, that this Nicaraguan drug ring opened the inner city market to the crack trade to finance the contra war--Blandón's testimony and other documents are vague or inconsistent or both.
In an unusual follow-up evaluating the controversy over "Dark Alliance," thirty-year Mercury News veteran Pete Carey rcviewed the discrepancies in Blandón's testimony and other records. Webb, according to Carey, acknowledged that it would be damaging to the series "if you looked only at the [Blandón] testimony. But we didn't. We looked at other sources." The other evidence, Carey pointed out, included the 1986 L.A. County Sheriff's affidavit for searching the homes of Blandón in which "three confidential informants said that Blandón was still sending money to the contras." While Carey laid out all the differing evidence "for the readers to make up their own mind," he says, the original series did not. That omission left the series wide open to attack.


Initially the national media greeted the series with a deafening silence. No in-depth articles were published in the major papers in the month of September on the growing controversy. The networks were similarly silent that month, with the exception of CNN, which ran several pieces, and NBC, which did an in-depth Nightly News report on September 27. Despite pressure from some staffers and outsiders, Ted Koppel's Nightline did nothing until November 15, when CIA Director Deutch held his town meeting in Watts; PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer also used the Deutch peg for its first piece on the subject, on November 18. In some cases, the absence or delay of coverage reflected the deep-rooted skepticism of veteran reporters who had covered the contra war. One newspaper reporter who has written on intelligence for a decade compared the articles to "a crime scene that has been tampered with," rendering the true story difficult to obtain. "Dark Alliance, he suggested, was "a stew of hard fact, supposition, and wild guesswork.'' For David Corn of The Nation, 1 Webb's "claims were not well substantiated; that was pretty obvious from reading the story." The New York Times's Weiner agreed that the opening declaration that millions in drug funds had been kicked back to the contras "was unsupported in the body of the story." Upon first read, the Los Angeles Times's Washington bureau chief, Doyle McManus, thought "Dark Alliance" was "a hell of a story"; after further review, he concluded that "most of the things that are new aren't true, and most of the things that are true aren't new." Of all the contra-war journalists polled, only the one who originally broke the contra/drug story, Robert Parry, felt "Dark Alliance" was credible. "It didn't strike me as 'Oh wow, that's outlandish.'"
It was public pressure that essentially forced the media to address Webb's allegations. The Washinton Post, after an internal debate on how to handle the story, weighed in first on October 4 with THE CIA AND CRACK: EVIDENCE IS LACKING OF ALLEGED PLOT, a lengthy--and harsh--report written by Roberto Suro and Walter Pincus. "A Washington Post investigation," the article declared, had determined that "available information does not support the conclusion that the CIA-backed contras--or Nicaraguans in general--played a major role in the emergence of crack as a narcotic in widespread use across the United States"--an odd argument since "Dark Alliance" had focused mostly on the rise of crack in California. The article emphasized parts of Blandón's court testimony, where he limited the time he was connected to the contras to 1981-82, but failed to mention, let alone evaluate, contradictory evidence that Blandón's drug money was being laundered through a Miami bank for contra arms purchases possibly into 1986. The Suro/Pincus dismissal of the series, combined with a companion piece on the black community's susceptibility to conspiracy theories, only served to stir the controversy.
On October 21, the New York Times covered the same ground as the Post--finding "scant proof" for the Mercury News's contentions--but with a more measured approach. A lengthy article by Tim Golden, THOUGH EVIDENCE lS THIN, TALE OF CIA AND DRUGS HAS LIFE OF ITS OWN, examined how and why "Dark Alliance" had resounded throughout Alrican-American communities, the problems with the evidence, and the politics surrounding the issue.
Long as it was, the Golden piece was overshadowed by a massive three-part rebuttal in the Los Angeles Times that began on October 20. Unlike the East Coast papers, the Los Angeles Times had been scooped in its own backyard about events that took place in its own city. "When I first saw the series," Leo Wolinsky, Metro editor for the Times told L.A. Weekly, "it put a big lump in my stomach." Still, it took almost a month for editors (who blame vacation plans and the conventions for the delay) to begin to focus on how to follow up on the Mercury News. A query to the Washington bureau for direction and advice brought a substantive memo, written by McManus, that made three points:
  • The Washington bureau had no expertise on the history of crack in California; the L.A. desk would have to take up that issue on its own.
  • There had been earlier reporting on the contras and drugs, including in California--most notably by Seth Rosenfeld of the San Francisco Examiner in 1986. Although the lead allegation of "millions" in drug revenues going to the contras was not substantiated, "There is something there."
  • The allegations of government protection of Meneses and Blandón from prosecution were the "most convincing and troubling" part of the Mercury News exposé and fertile ground for further investigation. On that, the memo recommended a full-court press.
As McManus characterized his response, "I said: 'This goddamn thing is full of holes. There is no sourcing or terribly weak sourcing in the story. There is phraseology in here that is dishonest. But it is obviously worth going back and seeing what we can establish. '" Both McManus and Wolinsky deny that the Times response was ever intended, as Wolinsky put it, "as a knockdown of the Mercury News series." But one Times reporter characterized himself as being "assigned to the 'get Gary Webb team'" and another was heard to say "We're going to take away that guy's Pulitzer." The opening "About this series" teaser made it clear that the Times pieces would explicitly address, and deny, the validity of all the main assertions in "Dark Alliance." For all the effort spent trying to highlight the shortcomings of the Mercury News, however, the Times stumbled into some of the same problems of hyperbole, selectivity, and credibility that it was attempting to expose. For example, the first installment highlighted many of the dealers who had played a role in the advent of crack in L.A. The point was to show that Ricky Ross may have been a big player, but was not the player, as Webb had suggested, in the arrival of crack into the black neighborhoods of L.A. "The story of crack's genesis and evolution . . . is filled with a cast of interchangeable characters, from ruthless billionaires to strung-out curb dealers, none of whom is central to the drama," Jesse Katz wrote, based on his reporting and that of six other Times reporters. "Even on the best day Ricky Ross had, there was way more crack cocaine out there than he could ever control," Katz quoted a San Fernando narcotics detective as stating, and then noted: "How the crack epidemic reached that extreme, on some level, had nothing to do with Ross. Before, during, and after his reign, a bewildering roster of other dealers and suppliers helped fuel the crisis."
Less than two years earlier, however, the same Jesse Katz had described Ross as the veritable Dr. Moriarty of crack. Katz's December 20, 1994 article, DEPOSED KING OF CRACK, opened with this dramatic statement:
If there was an eye to the storm, if there was a criminal mastermind behind crack's decade-long reign, if there was one outlaw capitalist most responsible for flooding Los Angeles streets with mass-marketed cocaine, his name was Freeway Rick.... Ricky Donnell Ross did more than anyone else to democratize [crack], boosting volume, slashing prices, and spreading disease on a scale never befor conceived.
Either Katz was guilty of of vast exaggeration in 1994 or of playing down evidence that he had in 1996. If Ross was "key to the drug's spread in L.A.," as the Times said in 1994, then his key supplier, Blandón, bore at least some of the responsibility for the "democratization" of crack that Gary Webb ascribed to him.
The second installment, written by McManus, drew on three unnamed associates of Blandón and Meneses, who denied that the two had sent "millions" to the contras; they believed the figure closer to $50,000, because the drug smugglers were awash in debt, not profit, in the early years. Perhaps more importantly, the Los Angeles Times obtained an admission from Dawn Garcia, who edited the piece at the Mercury News, that the "millions" figure was an extrapolation, based on the amount of coke Blandón and Meneses had sold between 1981 and 1986 combined with Blandón's testimony that everything went to the contras.
But the Times, like the Post, drew on the pieces on Blandón's testimony in which he confined his contra drug dealings to a short period in 1981 and 1982--using the same kind of selectivity in highlighting evidence as the Mercury News, but to arrive at opposite conclusions, and failing to pursue leads in the other contradictory testimony and documents that Webb had used to present his case.
At the same time as it sought to undermine the specifics of "Dark Alliance," the McManus piece actually advanced its contra/crack connection thesis. To the two Nicaraguan drug dealers that Webb had written about, the Times added two more members of that ring: Meneses's nephew, Jairo Morales Meneses, and Renato Peria Cabrera. Both were arrested on cocaine charges in November, 1984. Unlike Blandón and Norvin Meneses, whose depiction in Webb's series as FDN offi- cials was challenged by critics, Peria had a verifiable role, having served as an FDN press secretary in California.
The McManus piece credulously painted a portrait of the CIA as a law- abiding, conscientious agency. It included an abundance of denials from prominent CIA and Justice Department officials--while failing to inform readers of their roles in some of the scandals of the contra war--that the CIA would ever tolerate drug smuggling or that there had ever been any government interference with prosecuting drug smugglers connected to the contras. This despite documentation to the contrary.
Indeed, all three papers ignored evidence from declassified National Security Council e-mail messages and the New York Times and the Washington Post ignored evidence, from Oliver North's notebooks, which lend support to the underlying premise of the Mercury News series--that U.S. officials would both condone and protect drug traffickers if doing so advanced the contra cause. The October 21 New York Times piece didn't even mention the Kerry Committee report. "A decade ago. the national media low- balled the contra-drug story," David Corn observed in The Nation. "Now it's, Been there, done that."


On October 23, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held its first hearing on the controversy surrounding contra-drug allegations. Jack Blum, the former lead investigator for the Kerry committee, was the lead witness. Blum testified that his investigators had found no evidence whatsoever that the African-American community was a particular target of a plot to sell crack cocaine or that high U.S. officials had a policy of supporting the contras through drug sales. But, he testified further, "if you ask whether the United States government ignored the drug problem and subverted law enforcement to prevent embarrassment and to reward our allies in the contra war, the answer is yes." In a long session, he also detailed the Reagan Administration's obstruction of the Kerry investigation. A story on ABC's World News Tonight about the hearing led with Blum's ''no evidence" statement but excluded any reterence to the rest of his testimony. The New York Times ran an AP story on the hearing but cut references to Blum's testimony. The Los Angeles Times covered the hearing but failed even to mention the lead witness or his testimony.
For conspiracy buffs, this non-coverage raised the specter of a government/media collaboration to bury the contra-cocaine story. That is far-fetched. Yet the furor over "Dark Alliance" and the mainstream media's response to it dramatically raise the issue of responsible and irresponsible journalism--particularly in an era of growing public cynicism toward both the government and the institutional press.
For many in the media, Webb's reporting remains at the core of the debate over journalistic responsibility. One veteran TV producer decried the impact of "Dark Alliance" on the profession: "Those stories have cheapened the coin of the realm." Another veteran reporter asks, "Can anyone doubt that Gary Webb added two plus two and came out with twenty-two?" At the Washington Post, senior management, led by Steven Rosenfeld, deputy editorial-page editor, even refused to print a letter to the editor written by Jerry Ceppos, the Mercury News's executive editor, regarding the Post's critique of the series. Although Ceppos had redrafted the letter several times at the demand of the Post, Rosenfeld disparaged it as misinformation.
In her November 10 column, the Post's own ombudsman, Geneva Overholser, objected to that decision, as well as to the Post's response to ''Dark Alliance.'' "There is another appropriate response, a more important one, and that is: 'Is there anything to the very serious question the series raised?' "
Overholser's point resonated inside the Post "There was a lot of unhappiness," says one editor. "A lot of frustration. Why pick on the Mercury News? There was a recognition that it would be appropriate to do something else." That recognition led to the publication of a follow-up piece headlined CIA, CONTRAS AND DRUGS: QUESTIONS ON LINKS LINGER. It reported that in 1984 the CIA had authorized a contra group in Costa Rica to take planes and cash from a prominent Colombian drug dealer then under indictment in the U.S. The planes, according to the drug dealers, were used to ferry arms to the contras and then drugs to the United States.
Clearly, there was room to advance the contra/drug/CIA story rather than simply denounce it. Indeed, at the Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other major oracles, the course of responsible joumalism could have taken a number of avenues, among them: a historical treatment of drug smuggling as part of CIA covert operations in Indochina, Afghanistan, and Central America; an investigation into the alleged obstruction, by the Justice Department and the CIA, of the Kerry Committee's inquiry in the late 1980s; an evaluation of Oliver North's mendacious insistence, after the Mercury News series was published, that "no U.S. government official" ever "tolerated" drug smuggling as part of the contra war; and a follow-up on the various intriguing leads in "Dark Alliance."
"The big question is still hanging out there," said one Los Angeles Times reporter who disagreed with his editors' decision to simply trash "Dark Alliance." What did the government know and when did they know it? This story is not put to rest by a long shot."
To be sure, the "Dark Alliance" series was an overwritten and problematically sourced piece of reporting. It repeatedly promised evidence that, on close reading, it did not deliver. In so doing, the Mercury News bears part of the responsibility for the sometimes distorted public furor the stories generated. (A thorough editing job might have spared the Mercury News such responsibility and still resulted in a major exposé.) "Webb has convinced thousands of people of assertions that are not yet true or not supported," McManus points out. "That pollutes the public debate."
Yet the Mercury News was single-handedly responsible for stimulating this debate. This regional newspaper accomplished that neither the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, nor The New York Times had been willing or able to do--revisit a significant story that had been inexplicably abandoned by the mainstream press, report a new dimension to to it, and thus put it back on the national agenda where it belongs. "We have advanced a ten-year story that is clearly of great interest to the American public," Ceppos could rightfully claim.
The unacknowledged negligence of the mainstream press made that possible. Indeed, if the major media had devoted the same energy and ink to investigating the contra drug scandal in the 1980s as they did attacking the Mercury News in 1996, Gary Webb might never have had his scoop.
And having shown itself still unwilling to follow the leads and lay the story to rest, the press faces a challenge in the contra-cocaine matter not unlike the government's: restoring its credibility in the face of public distrust over its perceived role in the handling of these events. "A principal responsibility of the press is to protect the people from government excesses," Overholser pointed out. "The Post (and others) showed more energy for protecting the CIA from someone else's journalistic excesses." The mainstream press shirked its larger duty; thus it bears the larger burden.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
Why the CIA decided it was time 4Journalist G.Webb 2Commit Suicide-

Let the people do what they want, you get Woodstock. Let the government do what it wants, you get WACO!....Mary X.

Why Journalist Gary Webb Died http://www.lewrockw parry1.html
Why the CIA decided it was time 4Journalist G.Webb 2Commit Suicide

Why Journalist Gary Webb Died
by Robert Parry

http://www.lewrockw parry1.html

Five years ago, a tragedy occurred in American journalism: Investigative reporter Gary Webb –

who had been ostraccized by his own colleagues for forcing a spotlight back onto an ugly government scandal they wanted to ignore – was driven to commit suicide.

But the tragedy had a deeper meaning.
Webb's death on the night of Dec. 9, 2004, came as the U.S. press corps was at a nadir, having recently aided and abetted President George W. Bush in taking the country to war in Iraq under false pretenses. The press corps also had performed abysmally in Bush's two presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, hesitant to take on the powerful Bush Family.

In retrospect, Webb's suicide could be viewed as an exclamation point on that sorry era, which had begun a quarter century earlier with the rise of Ronald Reagan and the gradual retreat – under right-wing fire – of what had once been Washington's Watergate/Pentagon Papers watchdog press corps.

Yet, five years after Webb's death, the U.S. news media continues to scrape along the bottom, still easily intimidated by the bluster of right-wing media attack groups and fast-talking neoconservatives and still gullible in the face of lies and myths used to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the sad tale of Gary Webb remains instructive for anyone wanting to understand what went wrong with the U..S. news media and why much more work is needed to rebuild an independent press corps as a safeguard for the American Republic.

Webb's important historical role began in 1996 when his "Dark Alliance" investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News revived public interest in the CIA's tolerance of cocaine trafficking by President Reagan's beloved Nicaraguan contra rebels in the 1980s, at a time when Reagan was promoting a "just say no/zero tolerance/war on drugs."

The scandal of contra cocaine trafficking and the CIA's protection of these crimes had surfaced in the 1980s, but the Big Three newspapers – New York Timees, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times – paid the scandal little heed, mostly accepting the denials of Reagan administration insiders.

So, when Webb shed new light on the scandal in 1996, the same newspapers subjected Webb to a merciless assault and rejoiced when Webb's editors caved in to the pressure and forced Webb to quit in disgrace.

Nevertheless, Webb's series prompted an internal CIA investigation by Inspector General Frederick Hitz who issued two reports in 1998 containing devastating admissions about the CIA's knowledge and protection of contras known to be active in the cocaine trade.

The Big Three newspapers' response was mostly to downplay or ignore Hitz's findings, rather than to correct the record.
Because of this misused power of the Big Three in this case, to protect the reputation of the Reagan administration and their own failings – Webb's reputation was never rehabbilitated. He was unable to find decent-paying work in his profession; his marriage fell apart; he struggled to pay bills; and he was faced with a move out of a modest rental house near Sacramento.

A Tragedy

So, on Dec. 9, 2004, the 49-year-old Webb typed out suicide notes to his ex-wife and his three children; he laid out a certificate for his cremation; he taped a note on the door telling movers – who were coming the next morning – to instead call 911.

Weebb then took out his father's pistol and shot himself in the head. The first shot was not lethal, so he fired once more.

Even with Webb's death, the big newspapers that had played key roles in his destruction couldn't bring themselves to show Webb any mercy.

After Webb's body was found, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who knew that I was one of Webb's few journalistic colleagues who had defended him and his work. Back in 1985 for the Associated Press, I also had co-written with Brian Barger the first story exposing the contra-cocaine scandal.

I told the L.A. Times reporter that American history owed a great debt to Gary Webb because he had forced out important facts about Reagan-era crimes.

But I added that the L.A. Times would be hard-pressed to write an honest obituary because the newspaper had not published a single word on the contents of the CIA inspector general's final report, which had largely vindicated Webb.

To my disappointment but not my surprise, I was correct. The L.A. Times ran a mean-spirited obituary that made no mention of either my defense of Webb, nor the CIA's admissions in 1998. The Times obituary was republished in other newspapers, including the Washington Post.

In effect, Webb's suicide had enabled senior editors at the Big Three newspapers to breathe a little easier, since one of the few people who understood the true and ugly story of not only the Reagan administration's protection of the contra-cocaine trafficking but the U.S. media's complicity in the cover-up was now silenced.

To this day, none of the journalists or media critics who participated in the destruction of Gary Webb has been punished for their actions. None has faced the sort of humiliation that Webb had to endure. Instead, the death of Gary Webb and the circumstances surrounding it have remained one of the U.S. news media's dirty little secrets.

In recognition of that continuing injustice, I believe it's fitting on the fifth anniversary of Webb's death to remind the American people of what Webb's work helped expose.

Dark Alliance

Webb's suicide in 2004 had its roots in his fateful decision eight years earlier to write a three-part series for the San Jose Mercury News that challenged a potent conventional wisdom shared by the elite U.S. news organizations – that one of the most shocking scandalls of the 1980s just couldn't possibly be true.

Webb's "Dark Alliance" series, published in August 1996, revived the decade-old allegations that the Reagan administration in the 1980s had tolerated and protected cocaine smuggling by its client army of Nicaraguan rebels known as the contras.

Though substantial evidence of the contra crimes had surfaced in the mid-1980s (initially in an article that Brian Barger and I wrote for the Associated Press in December 1985 and later at hearings conducted by Sen. John Kerry), the major news outlets had refused to take the disclosures seriously.

For instance, reflecting the dominant attitude toward Kerry and his work on the contra-cocaine scandal, Newsweek dubbed the Massachusetts senator a "randy conspiracy buff." [For details, see Consortiumnews. com's "Kerry's Contra-Cocaine Chapter" or Robert Parry's Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & Project Truth.]

Thus, the truth of the contra-cocaine scandal was left in that netherworld of uncertainty, largely proven with documents and testimony but never accepted by Official Washington.

But Webb's series thrust the scandal back into prominence by connecting the contra-cocaine trafficking to the spread of crack that ravaged Los Angeles and other American urban centers in the 1980s. For that reason, African-American communities were up in arms as were their elected representatives in the Congressional Black Caucus.

Webb's "Dark Alliance" series offered a unique opportunity for the major news outlets to finally give the contra-cocaine scandal the attention it deserved.

But that would have required some painful self-criticism among Washington journalists whose careers had advanced in part because they had not offended Reagan supporters who had made an art out of punishing out-of-step reporters for pursuing controversies like the contra-cocaine scandal.

Also, by the mid-1990s, a powerful right-wing news media had taken shape and was in no mood to accept the notion that many of President Reagan's beloved contras were drug traffickers. That recognition would have cast a shadow over the Reagan Legacy, which the Right was busy elevating into mythic status.

There was the turf issue, too. Since Webb's stories coincided with the emergence of the Internet as an alternate source for news and the San Jose Mercury News was at the center of Silicon Valley, the big newspapers saw a threat to their historic dominance as the nation's gatekeepers for what information should be taken seriously.

Plus, the major media's focus in the mid-1990s was on scandals swirling around Bill Clinton, such as some firings at the White House Travel Office and convoluted questions about his old Whitewater real-estate deal.

In other words, there was little appetite to revisit scandals from the Reagan years and there were strong motives to disparage what Webb had written.

Rev. Moon's Newspaper

It fell to Rev. Sun Myung Moon's right-wing Washington Times to begin the counterattack. The Washington Times turned to some ex-CIA officials, who had participated in the contra war, to refute the drug charges.

Then – in a pattern tthat would repeat itself over the next decade – the Washington Post and other mainstream newspapers quickly lined up behind the right-wing press. On Oct. 4, 1996, the Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb's story, although acknowledging that some contra operatives did help the cocaine cartels.

The Post's approach was twofold: first, it presented the contra-cocaine allegations as old news – â"even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers," the Post sniffed – aand second, the Post minimized the importance of the one contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted – that it had not "played aa major role in the emergence of crack."

A Post side-bar story dismissed African-Americans as prone to "conspiracy fears."

Soon, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times joined in the piling on against Gary Webb. The big newspapers made much of the CIA's internal reviews in 1987 and 1988 – almost a decade earlier – that supposedly had cleared the spy agency of a rrole in contra-cocaine smuggling.

But the CIA's decade-old cover-up began to weaken on Oct. 24, 1996, when CIA Inspector General Hitz conceded before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the first CIA probe had lasted only 12 days, the second only three days. He promised a more thorough review.

Nevertheless, Webb was becoming the target of media ridicule. Influential Post media critic Howard Kurtz mocked Webb for saying in a book proposal that he would explore the possibility that the contra war was primarily a business to its participants.

"Oliver Stone, check your voice mail," Kurtz smirked. [Washington Post, Oct. 28, 1996]
Webb's suspicion was not unfounded, however.

Indeed, White House aide Oliver North's chief contra emissary Rob Owen had made the same point in a March 17, 1986, message about the contra leadership.

"Few of the so-called leaders of the movement … really care about the boys in the field," Owen wrotee.. "THIS WAR HAS BECOME A BUSINESS TO MANY OF THEM." [Capitalization in the original.]
In other words, Webb had been right and Kurtz had been wrong.

Mercury News Retreat

Still, although Kurtz and other big-name journalists may have been ignorant of key facts about the contra war, they still pilloried Gary Webb.

The ridicule also had a predictable effect on the executives of the Mercury News. By early 1997, executive editor Jerry Ceppos was in retreat.
Read the rest of the article

January 14, 2010
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
I think also that Webb's editor at the time the Dark Alliance series was published behaved disgracefully and should go down in history for the complete coward he was for buckling to the pressure he did to later criticize Webb for the articles and then treat him so badly thereafter.
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.
Carl Jung - Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
Gary Webb Speaks on CIA Connections to Contra Drug Trafficking (and Related Topics)

From Dave Emory's SpitfireList @

Posted by ftrreading ⋅ May 25, 2005

See also tran*scripts from Gary Webb’s orig*i*nal San Jose Mer*cury News series:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Date: Jan*u*ary 16, 1999
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Loca*tion: First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive St., Eugene, Oregon

Gary Webb: I look like an idiot up here with all these mikes, the CIA agents are prob*a*bly behind one or the other... [laugh*ter from the audi*ence]. It’s really nice to be in Eugene — I’ve been in Madi*son, Wis*con*sin talk*ing about this, I’ve been in Berke*ley, I’ve been in Santa Mon*ica, and these are sort of like islands of san*ity in this world today, so it’s great to be on one of those islands.
One of the things that is weird about this whole thing, though, is that I’ve been a daily news reporter for about twenty years, and I’ve done prob*a*bly a thou*sand inter*views with peo*ple, and the strangest thing is being on the other side of the table now and hav*ing reporters ask me ques*tions. One of them asked me about a week ago — I was on a radio show — and the host asked me, “Why did you get into news*pa*per report*ing, of all the media? Why did you pick news*pa*pers?” And I really had to admit that I was stumped. Because I thought about it — I’d been doing news*pa*per report*ing since I was four*teen or fif*teen years old — and I really didn’t have an answer.
So I went back to my clip books — you know, most reporters keep all their old clips — and I started dig*ging around try*ing to fig*ure out if there was one story that I had writ*ten that had really tipped the bal*ance. And I found it. And I wanted to tell you this story, because it sort of fits into the theme that we’re going to talk about tonight.
I think I was fif*teen, I was work*ing for my high school paper, and I was writ*ing edi*to*ri*als. This sounds silly now that I think about it, but I had writ*ten an edi*to*r*ial against the drill team that we had for the high school games, for the foot*ball games. This was ’71 or ’72, at the height of the protests against the Viet*nam War, and I was in school then in sub*ur*ban Indi*anapo*lis — Dan Quayle coun*try. So, you get the idea of the fla*vor of the school sys*tem. They thought it was a cool idea to dress women up in mil*i*tary uni*forms and send them out there to twirl rifles and bat*tle flags at half*time. And I thought this was sort of out*ra*geous, and I wrote an edi*to*r*ial say*ing I thought it was one of the sil*li*est things I’d ever seen. And my news*pa*per advi*sor called me the next day and said, “Gosh, that edi*to*r*ial you wrote has really prompted a response.” And I said, “Great, that’s the idea, isn’t it?” And she said, “Well, it’s not so great, they want you to apol*o*gize for it.” [Laugh*ter from the audience.]
I said, “Apol*o*gize for what?” And she said, “Well, the girls were very offended.” And I said, “Well, I’m not apol*o*giz*ing because they don’t want my opin*ion. You’ll have to come up with a bet*ter rea*son than that.” And they said, “Well, if you don’t apol*o*gize, we’re not going to let you in Quill & Scroll,” which is the high school jour*nal*ism soci*ety. And I said, “Well, I don’t want to be in that orga*ni*za*tion if I have to apol*o*gize to get into it.” [More laugh*ter from the audi*ence, scat*tered applause.]
They were sort of pow*er*less at that point, and they said, “Look, why don’t you just come down and the cheer*lead*ers are going to come in, and they want to talk to you and tell you what they think,” and I said okay. So I went down to the news*pa*per office, and there were about fif*teen of them sit*ting around this table, and they all went around one by one telling me what a scum*bag I was, and what a ter*ri*ble guy I was, and how I’d ruined their dates, ruined their com*plex*ions, and all sorts of things... [Laugh*ter and groans from the audi*ence.] ...and at that moment, I decided, “Man, this is what I want to do for a liv*ing.” [Roar of laugh*ter from the audi*ence.] And I wish I could say that it was because I was infused with this sense of the First Amend*ment, and think*ing great thoughts about John Peter Zenger and I.F. Stone... but what I was really think*ing was, “Man, this is a great way to meet women!” [More laughter.]
And that’s a true story, but the rea*son I tell you that is because it’s often those kinds of weird moti*va*tions and unthink*ing con*se*quences that lead us to do things, that lead us to events that we have absolutely no con*cept how they’re going to turn out. Lit*tle did I know that twenty-five years later, I’d be writ*ing a story about the CIA’s wrong*do*ings because I wanted to meet women by writ*ing edi*to*ri*als about cheerleaders.
But that’s really the way life and that’s really the way his*tory works a lot of times. You know, when you think back on your own lives, from the van*tage point of time, you can see it. I mean, think back to the deci*sions you’ve made in your life*times that brought you to where you are tonight, think about how close you came to never meet*ing your wife or your hus*band, how eas*ily you could have been doing some*thing else for a liv*ing if it hadn’t been for a deci*sion that you made or some*one made that you had absolutely no con*trol over. And it’s really kind of scary when you think about how capri*cious life is some*times. That’s a theme I try to bring to my book, Dark Alliance, which was about the crack cocaine explo*sion in the 1980s.
So for the record, let me just say this right now. I do not believe — and I have never believed — that the crack cocaine explo*sion was a con*scious CIA con*spir*acy, or anybody’s con*spir*acy, to dec*i*mate black Amer*ica. I’ve never believed that South Cen*tral Los Ange*les was tar*geted by the U.S. gov*ern*ment to become the crack capi*tol of the world. But that isn’t to say that the CIA’s hands or the U.S. government’s hands are clean in this mat*ter. Actu*ally, far from it. After spend*ing three years of my life look*ing into this, I am more con*vinced than ever that the U.S. government’s respon*si*bil*ity for the drug prob*lems in South Cen*tral Los Ange*les and other inner cities is greater than I ever wrote in the newspaper.
But it’s impor*tant to dif*fer*en*ti*ate between malign intent and gross neg*li*gence. And that’s an impor*tant dis*tinc*tion, because it’s what makes pre*med*i*tated mur*der dif*fer*ent from manslaugh*ter. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve got a body on the floor, and that’s what I want to talk about tonight, the body.
Many years ago, there was a great series on PBS — I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remem*ber this — it was called Con*nec*tions. And it was by a British his*to*rian named James Burke. If you don’t remem*ber it, it was a mar*velous show, very influ*en*tial on me. And he would take a seem*ingly incon*se*quen*tial event in his*tory, and fol*low it through the ages to see what it spawned as a result. The one show I remem*ber the most clearly was the one he did on how the scarcity of fire*wood in thirteenth-century Europe led to the devel*op*ment of the steam engine. And you would think, “Well, these things aren’t con*nected at all,” and he would show very con*vinc*ingly that they were.

/>In the first chap*ter of the book on which the series is based, Burke wrote that “His*tory is not, as we are so often led to believe, a mat*ter of great men and lonely geniuses point*ing the way to the future from their ivory tow*ers. At some point, every mem*ber of soci*ety is involved in that process by which inno*va*tion and change come about. The key to why things change is the key to everything.”
What I’ve attempted to demon*strate in my book was how the col*lapse of a bru*tal, pro-American dic*ta*tor*ship in Latin Amer*ica, com*bined with a deci*sion by cor*rupt CIA agents to raise money for a resis*tance move*ment by any means nec*es*sary, led to he for*ma*tion of the nation’s first major crack mar*ket in South Cen*tral Los Ange*les, which led to the arm*ing and the empow*er*ment of LA’s street gangs, which led to the spread of crack to black neigh*bor*hoods across the coun*try, and to the pas*sage of racially dis*crim*i*na*tory sen*tenc*ing laws that are lock*ing up thou*sands of young black men today behind bars for most of their lives.
But it’s not so much a con*spir*acy as a chain reac*tion. And that’s what my whole book is about, this chain reac*tion. So let me explain the links in this chain a lit*tle better.
The first link is this fel*low Anas*ta*sio Somoza, who was an American-educated tyrant, one of our bud*dies nat*u*rally, and his fam*ily ruled Nicaragua for forty years — thanks to the Nicaraguan National Guard, which we sup*plied, armed, and funded, because we thought they were, you know, anti-communists.
Well, in 1979, the peo*ple of Nicaragua got tired of liv*ing under this dic*ta*tor*ship, and they rose up and over*threw it. And a lot of Somoza’s friends and rel*a*tives and busi*ness part*ners came to the United States, because we had been their allies all these years, includ*ing two men whose fam*i*lies had been very close to the dic*ta*tor*ship. And these two guys are sort of two of the three main char*ac*ters in my book — a fel*low named Danilo Blandón, and a fel*low named Nor*win Meneses.
They came to the United States in 1979, along with a flood of other Nicaraguan immi*grants, most of them middle-class peo*ple, most of them for*mer bankers, for*mer insur*ance sales*men — sort of a cap*i*tal*ist exo*dus from Nicaragua. And they got involved when they got here, and they decided they were going to take the coun*try back, they didn’t like the fact that they’d been forced out of their coun*try. So they formed these resis*tance orga*ni*za*tions here in the United States, and they began plot*ting how they were going to kick the San*danistas out.
At this point in time, Jimmy Carter was pres*i*dent, and Carter wasn’t all that inter*ested in help*ing these folks out. The CIA was, how*ever. And that’s where we start get*ting into this murky world of, you know, who really runs the United States. Is it the pres*i*dent? Is it the bureau*cracy? Is it the intel*li*gence com*mu*nity? At dif*fer*ent points in time you get dif*fer*ent answers. Like today, the idea that Clin*ton runs the United States is nuts. The idea that Jimmy Carter ran the coun*try is nuts.
In 1979 and 1980, the CIA secretly began vis*it*ing these groups that were set*ting up here in the United States, sup*ply*ing them with a lit*tle bit of money, and telling them to hold on, wait for a lit*tle while, don’t give up. And Ronald Rea*gan came to town. And Rea*gan had a very dif*fer*ent out*look on Cen*tral Amer*ica than Carter did. Rea*gan saw what hap*pened in Nicaragua not as a pop*ulist upris*ing, as most of the rest of the world did. He saw it as this band of com*mu*nists down there, there was going to be another Fidel Cas*tro, and he was going to have another Cuba in his back*yard. Which fit in very well with the CIA’s think*ing. So, the CIA under Rea*gan got it together, and they said, “We’re going to help these guys out.” They autho*rized $19 mil*lion to fund a covert war to desta*bi*lize the gov*ern*ment in Nicaragua and help get their old bud*dies back in power.
Soon after the CIA took over this oper*a*tion, these two drug traf*fick*ers, who had come from Nicaragua and set*tled in Cal*i*for*nia, were called down to Hon*duras. And they met with a CIA agent named Enrique Bermúdez, who was one of Somoza’s mil*i*tary offi*cials, and the man the CIA picked to run this new orga*ni*za*tion they were form*ing. And both traf*fick*ers had said — one of them said, the other one wrote, and it’s never been con*tra*dicted — that when they met with the CIA agent, he told them, “We need money for this oper*a*tion. Your guy’s job is to go to Cal*i*for*nia and raise money, and not to worry about how you did it. And what he said was — and I think this had been used to jus*tify just about every crime against human*ity that we’ve known — “the ends jus*tify the means.”
Now, this is a very impor*tant link in this chain reac*tion, because the means they selected was cocaine traf*fick*ing, which is sort of what you’d expect when you ask cocaine traf*fick*ers to go out and raise money for you. You shouldn’t at all be sur*prised when they go out and sell drugs. Espe*cially when you pick peo*ple who are like pio*neers of the cocaine traf*fick*ing busi*ness, which Nor*win Mene*ses cer*tainly was.
There was a CIA cable from I believe 1984, which called him the “king*pin of nar*cotics traf*fick*ing” in Cen*tral Amer*ica. He was sort of like the Al Capone of Nicaragua. So after get*ting these fundrais*ing instruc*tions from this CIA agent, these two men go back to Cal*i*for*nia, and they begin sell*ing cocaine. This time not exclu*sively for them*selves — this time in fur*ther*ance of U.S. for*eign pol*icy. And they began sell*ing it in Los Ange*les, and they began sell*ing it in San Francisco.
Some*time in 1982, Danilo Blandón, who had been given the LA mar*ket, started sell*ing his cocaine to a young drug dealer named Ricky Ross, who later became known as “Free*way” Rick. In 1994, the LA Times would describe him as the mas*ter mar*keter most respon*si*ble for flood*ing the streets of Los Ange*les with cocaine. In 1979, he was noth*ing. He was noth*ing before he met these Nicaraguans. He was a high school dropout. He was a kid who wanted to be a ten*nis star, who was try*ing to get a ten*nis schol*ar*ship, but he found out that in order to get a schol*ar*ship you needed to read and write, and he couldn’t. So he drifted out of school and wound up sell*ing stolen car parts, and then he met these Nicaraguans, who had this cheap cocaine that they wanted to unload. And he proved to be very good at that.
Now, he lived in South Cen*tral Los Ange*les, which was home to some street gangs known as the Crips and the Bloods. And back in 1981–82, hardly any*body knew who they were. They were mainly neigh*bor*hood kids — they’d beat each other up, they’d steal leather coats, they’d steal cars, but they were really noth*ing back then. But what they gained through this orga*ni*za*tion, and what they gained through Ricky Ross, was a built-in dis*tri*b*u*tion net*work through*out the neigh*bor*hood. The Crips and the Bloods were already sell*ing mar*i*juana, they were already sell*ing PCP, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for them to sell some*thing new, which is what these Nicaraguans were bring*ing in, which was cocaine.
This is where these forces of his*tory come out of nowhere and col*lide. Right about the time the con*tras got to South Cen*tral Los Ange*les, hooked up with “Free*way” Rick, and started sell*ing pow*der cocaine, the peo*ple Rick was sell*ing his pow*der to started ask*ing him if he knew how to make it into this stuff called “rock” that they were hear*ing about. This obvi*ously was crack cocaine, and it was already on its way to the United States by then — it started in Peru in ’74 and was work*ing its way upward, and it was bound to get here sooner or later. In 1981 it got to Los Ange*les, and peo*ple started fig*ur*ing out how to take this very expen*sive pow*dered cocaine and cook it up on the stove and turn it into stuff you could smoke.
When Ricky went out and he started talk*ing to his cus*tomers, and they started ask*ing him how to make this stuff, you know, Rick was a smart guy — he still is a smart guy — and he fig*ured, this is some*thing new. This is cus*tomer demand. If I want
to progress in this busi*ness, I bet*ter meet this demand. So he started switch*ing from sell*ing pow*der to mak*ing rock him*self, and sell*ing it already made. He called this new inven*tion his “Ready Rock.” And he told me the sce*nario, he said it was a sit*u*a*tion where he’d go to a guy’s house, he would say, “Oh man, I want to get high, I’m on my way to work, I don’t have time to go into the kitchen and cook this stuff up. Can’t you cook it up for me and just bring it to me already made?” And he said, “Yeah, I can do that.” So he started doing it.
So by the time crack got a hold of South Cen*tral, which took a cou*ple of years, Rick had posi*tioned him*self on top of the crack mar*ket in South Cen*tral. And by 1984, crack sales had sup*planted mar*i*juana and PCP sales as sources of income for the gangs and drug deal*ers of South Cen*tral. And sud*denly these guys had more money than they knew what to do with. Because what hap*pened with crack, it democ*ra*tized the drug. When you were buy*ing it in pow*dered form, you were hav*ing to lay out a hun*dred bucks for a gram, or a hun*dred and fifty bucks for a gram. Now all you needed was ten bucks, or five bucks, or a dol*lar — they were sell*ing “dol*lar rocks” at one point. So any*body who had money and wanted to get high could get some of this stuff. You didn’t need to be a middle-class or wealthy drug user anymore.
Sud*denly the mar*ket for this very expen*sive drug expanded geo*met*ri*cally. And now these deal*ers, who were mak*ing a hun*dred bucks a day on a good day, were now mak*ing five or six thou*sand dol*lars a day on a good day. And the gangs started set*ting up fran*chises — they started fran*chis*ing rock houses in South Cen*tral, just like McDonald’s. And you’d go on the streets, and there’d be five or six rock houses owned by one guy, and five or six rock houses owned by another guy, and sud*denly they started mak*ing even more money.
And now they’ve got all this money, and they felt ner*vous. You get $100,000 or $200,000 in cash in your house, and you start get*ting kind of antsy about it. So now they wanted weapons to guard their money with, and to guard their rock houses, which other peo*ple were start*ing to knock off. And lo and behold, you had weapons. The con*tras. They were sell*ing weapons. They were buy*ing weapons. And they started sell*ing weapons to the gangs in Los Ange*les. They started sell*ing them AR-15s, they started sell*ing them Uzis, they started sell*ing them Israeli-made pis*tols with laser sights, just about any*thing. Because that was part of the process here. They were not just drug deal*ers, they were tak*ing the drug money and buy*ing weapons with it to send down to Cen*tral Amer*ica with the assis*tance of a great num*ber of spooky CIA folks, who were get*ting them [audio glitch — “across the bor*der”?] and that sort of thing, so they could get weapons in and out of the coun*try. So, not only does South Cen*tral sud*denly have a drug prob*lem, they have a weapons prob*lem that they never had before. And you started see*ing things like drive-by shoot*ings and gang bangers with Uzis.
By 1985, the LA crack mar*ket had become sat*u*rated. There was so much dope going into South Cen*tral, dope that the CIA, we now know, knew of, and they knew the ori*gins of — the FBI knew the ori*gins of it; the DEA knew the ori*gins of it; and nobody did any*thing about it. (We’ll get into that in a bit.)
But what hap*pened was, there were so many peo*ple sell*ing crack that the deal*ers were jostling each other on the cor*ners. And the smaller ones decided, we’re going to take this show on the road. So they started going to other cities. They started going to Bak*ers*field, they started going to Fresno, they started going to San Fran*cisco and Oak*land, where they didn’t have crack mar*kets, and nobody knew what this stuff was, and they had wide open mar*kets for them*selves. And sud*denly crack started show*ing up in city after city after city, and often*times it was Crips and Bloods from Los Ange*les who were start*ing these mar*kets. By 1986, it was all up and down the east coast, and by 1989, it was nationwide.
Today, for*tu*nately, crack use is on a down*ward trend, but that’s some*thing that isn’t due to any great progress we’ve made in the so-called “War on Drugs,” it’s the nat*ural cycle of things. Drug epi*demics gen*er*ally run from 10 to 15 years. Heroin is now the lat*est drug on the upswing.
Now, a lot of peo*ple dis*agreed with this sce*nario. The New York Times, the LA Times and the Wash*ing*ton Post all came out and said, oh, no, that’s not so. They said this couldn’t have hap*pened that way, because crack would have hap*pened any*way. Which is true, some*what. As I pointed out in the first chap*ter of my book, crack was on its way here. But whether it would have hap*pened the same way, whether it would have hap*pened in South Cen*tral, whether it would have hap*pened in Los Ange*les at all first, is a very dif*fer*ent story. If it had hap*pened in Eugene, Ore*gon first, it might not have gone any*where. [Rest*less shuf*fling and the sounds of throats being cleared among the audi*ence.] No offense, but you folks aren’t exactly trend set*ters up here when it comes to drug deal*ers and drug fads. LA is, how*ever. [Soft laugh*ter and mur*mur*ing among the audience.]
You can play “what if” games all you like, but it doesn’t change the real*ity. And the real*ity is that this CIA-connected drug ring played a very crit*i*cal role in the early 1980s in open*ing up South Cen*tral to a crack epi*demic that was unmatched in its sever*ity and influ*ence any*where in the U.S.
One ques*tion that I ask peo*ple who say, “Oh, I don’t believe this,” is, okay, tell me this: why did crack appear in black neigh*bor*hoods first? Why did crack dis*tri*b*u*tion net*works leapfrog from one black neigh*bor*hood to other black neigh*bor*hoods and bypass white neigh*bor*hoods and bypass His*panic neigh*bor*hoods and Asian neigh*bor*hoods? Our gov*ern*ment and the main*stream media have given us vary*ing expla*na*tions for this phe*nom*e*non over the years, and they are nice, com*fort*ing, gen*eral expla*na*tions which absolve any*one of any respon*si*bil*ity for why crack is so eth*ni*cally spe*cific. One of the rea*sons we’re told is that, well, it’s poverty. As if the only poor neigh*bor*hoods in this coun*try were black neigh*bor*hoods. And we’re told it’s high teenage unem*ploy*ment; these kids gotta have jobs. As if the hills and hol*lows of Appalachia don’t have teenage unem*ploy*ment rates that are ten times higher than inner city Los Ange*les. And then we’re told that it’s loose fam*ily struc*ture — you know, pre*sum*ing that there are no white sin*gle moth*ers out there try*ing to raise kids on low-paying jobs or wel*fare and food stamps. And then we’re told, well, it’s because crack is so cheap — because it sells for a lower price in South Cen*tral than it sells any*where else. But twenty bucks is twenty bucks, no mat*ter where you go in the country.
So once you have elim*i*nated these sort of non-sensical expla*na*tions, you are left with two the*o*ries which are far less com*fort*able. The first the*ory — which is not some*thing I per*son*ally sub*scribe to, but it’s out there — is that there’s some*thing about black neigh*bor*hoods which causes them to be genet*i*cally pre*dis*posed to drug traf*fick*ing. That’s a racist argu*ment that no one in their right mind is advanc*ing pub*licly, although I tell you, when I was read*ing a lot of the sto*ries in the Wash*ing*ton Post and the New York Times, they were talk*ing about black Amer*i*cans being more sus*cep*ti*ble to “con*spir*acy the*o*ries” than white Amer*i*cans, which is why they believe the story more. I think that was sort of the under*ly*ing cur*rent there. On the other hand, I didn’t see any sto*ries about all the white peo*ple who think Elvis is alive still, or that Hitler’s brain is pre*served down in Brazil to await the Fourth Reich... [laugh*ter from the audi*ence] ...which is a par*tic*u*larly white con*spir*acy the*ory, I didn’t see any sto*ries in the New York Times about that...
The other more palat*able rea*son which in my mind comes closer to the truth, is that some*one started bring*ing cheap cocaine into black neigh*bor*hoods right at the
time when drug users began fig*ur*ing out how to turn it into crack. And this allowed black drug deal*ers to get a head start on every other eth*nic group in terms of set*ting up dis*tri*b*u*tion sys*tems and traf*fick*ing systems.
Now, one thing I’ve learned about the drug busi*ness while research*ing this is that in many ways it is the epit*ome of cap*i*tal*ism. It is the purest form of cap*i*tal*ism. You have no gov*ern*ment reg*u*la*tion, a wide-open mar*ket, a buyer’s mar*ket — any*thing goes. But these things don’t spring out of the ground fully formed. It’s like any busi*ness. It takes time to grow them. It takes time to set up net*works. So once these dis*tri*b*u*tion net*works got set up and estab*lished in pri*mar*ily South Cen*tral Los Ange*les, pri*mar*ily black neigh*bor*hoods, they spread it along eth*nic and cul*tural lines. You had black deal*ers from LA going to black neigh*bor*hoods in other cities, because they knew peo*ple there, they had friends there, and that’s why you saw these net*works pop up from one black neigh*bor*hood to another black neighborhood.
Now, exactly the same thing hap*pened on the east coast a cou*ple of years later. When crack first appeared on the east coast, it appeared in Caribbean neigh*bor*hoods in Miami — thanks largely to the Jamaicans, who were using their drug prof*its to fund polit*i*cal gains back home. It was almost the exact oppo*site of what hap*pened in LA in that the pol*i*tics were the oppo*site — but it was the same phe*nom*e*non. And once the Miami mar*ket was sat*u*rated, they moved to New York, they moved east, and they started bring*ing crack from the east coast towards the mid*dle of the country.
So it seems to me that if you’re look*ing for the root of your drug prob*lems in a neigh*bor*hood, noth*ing else mat*ters except the drugs, and where they’re com*ing from, and how they’re get*ting there. And all these other rea*sons I cited are used as expla*na*tions for how crack became pop*u*lar, but it doesn’t explain how the cocaine got there in the first place. And that’s where the con*tras came in.
One of the things which these news*pa*pers who dissed my story were say*ing was, we can’t believe that the CIA would know about drug traf*fick*ing and let it hap*pen. That this idea that this agency which gets $27 bil*lion a year to tell us what’s going on, and which was so inti*mately involved with the con*tras they were writ*ing their press releases for them, they wouldn’t know about this drug traf*fick*ing going on under their noses. But the Times and the Post all uncrit*i*cally reported their claims that the CIA didn’t know what was going on, and that it would never per*mit its hirelings to do any*thing like that, as unseemly as drug traf*fick*ing. You know, assas*si*na*tions and bomb*ings and that sort of thing, yeah, they’ll admit to right up front, but drug deal*ing, no, no, they don’t do that kind of stuff.
Unfor*tu*nately, though, it was true, and what has hap*pened since my series came out is that the CIA was forced to do an inter*nal review, the DEA and Jus*tice Depart*ment were forced to do inter*nal reviews, and these agen*cies that released these reports, you prob*a*bly didn’t read about them, because they con*tra*dicted every*thing else these other news*pa*pers had been writ*ing for the last cou*ple of years, but let me just read you this one excerpt. This is from a 1987 DEA report. And this is about this drug ring in Los Ange*les that I wrote about. In 1987, the DEA sent under*cover infor*mants inside this drug oper*a*tion, and they inter*viewed one of the prin*ci*pals of this orga*ni*za*tion, namely Ivan Tor*res. And this is what he said. He told the informant:
“The CIA wants to know about drug traf*fick*ing, but only for their own pur*poses, and not nec*es*sar*ily for the use of law enforce*ment agen*cies. Tor*res told DEA Con*fi*den*tial Infor*mant 1 that CIA rep*re*sen*ta*tives are aware of his drug-related activ*i*ties, and that they don’t mind. He said they had gone so far as to encour*age cocaine traf*fick*ing by mem*bers of the con*tras, because they know it’s a good source of income. Some of this money has gone into num*bered accounts in Europe and Panama, as does the money that goes to Man*agua from cocaine traf*fick*ing. Tor*res told the infor*mant about receiv*ing coun*ter*in*tel*li*gence train*ing from the CIA, and had avowed that the CIA looks the other way and in essence allows them to engage in nar*cotics trafficking.”
This is a DEA report that was writ*ten in 1987, when this oper*a*tion was still going on. Another mem*ber of this orga*ni*za*tion who was affil*i*ated with the San Fran*cisco end of it, said that in 1985 — and this was to the CIA — “Cabezas claimed that the con*tra cocaine oper*ated with the knowl*edge of, and under the super*vi*sion of, the CIA. Cabezas claimed that this drug enter*prise was run with the knowl*edge of CIA agent Ivan Gómez.”
Now, this is one of the sto*ries that I tried to do at the Mer*cury News was who this man Ivan Gómez was. This was after my orig*i*nal series came out, and after the con*tro*versy started. I went back to Cen*tral Amer*ica, and I found this fel*low Cabezas and he told me all about Ivan Gómez. And I came back, I cor*rob*o*rated it with three for*mer con*tra offi*cials. Mer*cury News wouldn’t put it in the news*pa*per. And they said, “We have no evi*dence this man even exists.”
Well, the CIA Inspec*tor General’s report came out in Octo*ber, and there was a whole chap*ter on Ivan Gómez. And the amaz*ing thing was that Ivan Gómez admit*ted in a CIA-administered poly*graph test that he had been engaged in laun*der*ing drug money the same month that this man told me he had been engaged in it. CIA knew about it, and what did they do? Noth*ing. They said okay, go back to work. And they cov*ered it up for fif*teen years.
So, the one thing that I’ve learned from this whole expe*ri*ence is, first of all, you can’t believe the gov*ern*ment — on any*thing. And you espe*cially can’t believe them when they’re talk*ing about impor*tant stuff, like this stuff. The other thing is that the media will believe the gov*ern*ment before they believe anything.
This has been the most amaz*ing thing to me. You had a sit*u*a*tion where you had another news*pa*per who reported this infor*ma*tion. The major news orga*ni*za*tions in this coun*try went to the CIA, they went to the Jus*tice Depart*ment, and they said, what about it? And they said, oh, no, it’s not true. Take our word for it. And they went back and put it in the news*pa*per! Now, I try to imag*ine what would hap*pen had reporters come back to their edi*tors and said, look, I know the CIA is involved in drug traf*fick*ing. And I know the FBI knows about it, and I’ve got a con*fi*den*tial source that’s telling me that. Can I write a story about that? What do you think the answer would have been? [Mur*murs of “no” from the audi*ence.] Get back down to the obit desk. Start crank*ing out those sports scores. But, if they go to the gov*ern*ment and the gov*ern*ment denies some*thing like that, they’ll put it in the paper with no cor*rob*o*ra*tion whatsoever.
And it’s only since the gov*ern*ment has admit*ted it that now the media is will*ing to con*sider that there might be a story here after all. The New York Times, after the CIA report that came out, ran a story on its front page say*ing, gosh, the con*tras were involved in drugs after all, and gosh, the CIA knew about it.
Now you would think — at least I would think — that some*thing like that would war*rant Con*gres*sional inves*ti*ga*tion. We’re spend*ing mil*lions of dol*lars to find out how many times Bill Clin*ton had sex with Mon*ica Lewin*sky. Why aren’t we inter*ested in how much the CIA knew about drug traf*fic? Who was prof*it*ing from this drug traf*fic? Who else knew about it? And why did it take some guy from a Cal*i*for*nia news*pa*per by acci*dent stum*bling over this stuff ten years later in order for it to be impor*tant? I mean, what the hell is going on here? I’ve been a reporter for almost twenty years. To me, this is a nat*ural story. The CIA is involved in drug traf*fick*ing? Let’s know about it. Let’s find out about it. Let’s do some*thing about it. Nobody wants to touch this thing.
And the other thing that came out just recently,
which nobody seems to know about, because it hasn’t been reported — the CIA Inspec*tor Gen*eral went before Con*gress in March and tes*ti*fied that yes, they knew about it. They found some doc*u*ments that indi*cated that they knew about it, yeah. I was there, and this was funny to watch, because these Con*gress*men were up there, and they were ready to hear the abso*lu*tion, right? “We had no evi*dence that this was going on...” And this guy sort of threw ‘em a curve ball and admit*ted that it had happened.
One of the peo*ple said, well geez, what was the CIA’s respon*si*bil*ity when they found out about this? What were you guys sup*posed to do? And the Inspec*tor Gen*eral sort of looked around ner*vously, cleared his throat and said, “Well... that’s kind of an odd his*tory there.” And Nor*man Dix from Wash*ing*ton, bless his heart, didn’t let it go at that. He said, “Explain what you mean by that?” And the Inspec*tor Gen*eral said, well, we were look*ing around and we found this doc*u*ment, and accord*ing to the doc*u*ment, we didn’t have to report this to any*body. And they said, “How come?” And the IG said, we don’t know exactly, but there was an agree*ment made in 1982 between Bill Casey — a fine Amer*i*can, as we all know [laugh*ter from the audi*ence] — and William French Smith, who was then the Attor*ney Gen*eral of the United States. And they reached an agree*ment that said if there is drug traf*fick*ing involved by CIA agents, we don’t have to tell the Jus*tice Depart*ment. Hon*est to God. Hon*est to God. Actu*ally, this is now a pub*lic record, this doc*u*ment. Max*ine Waters just got copies of it, she’s putting it on the Con*gres*sional Record. It is now on the CIA’s web site, if you care to jour*ney into that area. If you do, check out the CIA Web Site for Kids, it’s great, I love it. [Laugher from the audi*ence.] I kid you not, they’ve actu*ally got a web page for kids.
The other thing about this agree*ment was, this wasn’t just like a thirty-day agree*ment — this thing stayed in effect from 1982 until 1995. So all these years, these agen*cies had a gentleman’s agree*ment that if CIA assets or CIA agents were involved in drug traf*fick*ing, it did not need to be reported to the Jus*tice Department.
So I think that elim*i*nates any ques*tions that drug traf*fick*ing by the con*tras was an acci*dent, or was a mat*ter of just a few rot*ten apples. I think what this said was that it was antic*i*pated by the Jus*tice Depart*ment, it was antic*i*pated by the CIA, and steps were taken to ensure that there was a loop*hole in the law, so that if it ever became pub*lic knowl*edge, nobody would be pros*e*cuted for it.
The other thing is, when George Bush par*doned — remem*ber those Christ*mas par*dons that he handed out when he was on his way out the door a few years ago? The media focused on old Cas*par Wein*berger, got par*doned, it was ter*ri*ble. Well, if you looked down the list of names at the other par*dons he handed out, there was a guy named Claire George, there was a guy named Al Fiers, there was another guy named Joe Fer*nán*dez. And these sto*ries sort of brushed them off and said, well, they were CIA offi*cials, we’re not going to say much more about it. These were the CIA offi*cials who were respon*si*ble for the con*tra war. These were the men who were run*ning the con*tra oper*a*tion. And the text of Bush’s par*don not only par*dons them for the crimes of Iran-contra, it par*dons them for every*thing. So, now that we know about it, we can’t even do any*thing about it. They all received pres*i*den*tial pardons.
So where does that leave us? Well, I think it sort of leaves us to rely on the judg*ment of his*tory. But that is a dan*ger*ous step. We didn’t know about this stuff two years ago; we know about it now. We’ve got Con*gress*men who are no longer will*ing to believe that CIA agents are “hon*or*able men,” as William Colby called them. And we’ve got approx*i*mately a thou*sand pages of evi*dence of CIA drug traf*fick*ing on the pub*lic record finally.
That said, let me tell you, there are thou*sands of pages more that we still don’t know about. The CIA report that came out in Octo*ber was orig*i*nally 600 pages; by the time we got ahold of it, it was only 300 pages.
One last thing I want to men*tion — Bob Parry, who is a fine inves*tiga*tive reporter, he runs a mag*a*zine in Wash*ing*ton called I.F. Mag*a*zine, and he’s got a great web*site, check it out — he did a story about two weeks ago about some of the stuff that was con*tained in the CIA report that we didn’t get to see. And one of the sto*ries he wrote was about how there was a sec*ond CIA drug ring in South Cen*tral Los Ange*les that ran from 1988 to 1991. This was not even the one I wrote about. There was another one there. This was classified.
The inter*est*ing thing is, it was run by a CIA agent who had par*tic*i*pated in the con*tra war, and the rea*son it was clas*si*fied is because it is under inves*ti*ga*tion by the CIA. I doubt very seri*ously that we’ll ever hear another word about that.
But the one thing that we can do, and the one thing that Max*ine Waters is try*ing to do, is force the House Intel*li*gence Com*mit*tee to hold hear*ings on this. This is sup*posed to be the over*sight com*mit*tee of the CIA. They have held one hear*ing, and after they found out there was this deal that they didn’t have to report drug traf*fick*ing, they all ran out of the room, they haven’t con*vened since.
So if you’re inter*ested in pur*su*ing this, the thing I would sug*gest you do is, call up the House Intel*li*gence Com*mit*tee in Wash*ing*ton and ask them when we’re going to have another CIA/contra/crack hear*ing. Believe me, it’ll drive them crazy. Send them email, just ask them, make sure — they think everybody’s for*got*ten about this. I mean, if you look around the room tonight, I don’t think it’s been for*got*ten. They want us to for*get about it. They want us to con*cen*trate on sex crimes, because, yeah, it’s tit*il*lat*ing. It keeps us occu*pied. It keeps us diverted. Don’t let them do it.
Thanks very much for your atten*tion, I appre*ci*ate it. We’ll do ques*tions and answers now for as long as you want.
[Robust applause.]
Ques*tion and Answer Session
Gary Webb: I’ve been instructed to repeat the ques*tion, so...
Voice From the Audi*ence: You talked about George Bush par*don*ing peo*ple. Given George Bush’s his*tory with the CIA, do you know when he first knew about this, and what he knew?
Gary Webb: Well, I didn’t at the time I wrote the book, I do now. The ques*tion was, when did George Bush first know about this? The CIA, in its lat*est report, said that they had pre*pared a detailed brief*ing for the vice pres*i*dent — I think it was 1985? — on all these alle*ga*tions of con*tra drug traf*fick*ing and deliv*ered it to him per*son*ally. So, it’s hard for George to say he was out of the loop on this one.
I’ll tell you another thing, one of the most amaz*ing things I found in the National Archives was a report that had been writ*ten by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa — I believe it was 1987. They had just busted a Colom*bian drug traf*ficker named Allen Rudd, and they were using him as a coop*er*at*ing wit*ness. Rudd agreed to go under*cover and set up other drug traf*fick*ers, and they were debrief*ing him.
Now, let me set the stage for you. When you are being debriefed by the fed*eral gov*ern*ment for use as an infor*mant, you’re not going to go in there and tell them crazy-sounding sto*ries, because they’re not going to believe you, they’re going to slap you in jail, right? What Rudd told them was, that he was involved in a meet*ing with Pablo Esco*bar, who was then the head of the Medel*lín car*tel. They were work*ing out arrange*ments to set up cocaine ship*ments into South Florida. He said Esco*bar started rant*ing and rav*ing about that damned George Bush, and now he’s got that South Florida Drug Task Force set up which has really been mak*ing things dif*fi*cult, and the man’s a trai*tor. And he used to deal with us, but now he wants to be pres*i*dent and thinks that he’s double-crossing us. And Rudd said, well, what are you talk*ing about? And Esco*bar said, we made a deal
with that guy, that we were going to ship weapons to the con*tras, they were in there fly*ing weapons down to Colum*bia, we were unload*ing weapons, we were get*ting them to the con*tras, and the deal was, we were sup*posed to get our stuff to the United States with*out any prob*lems. And that was the deal that we made. And now he double-crossed us.
So the U.S. Attor*ney heard this, and he wrote this pan*icky memo to Wash*ing*ton say*ing, you know, this man has been very reli*able so far, every*thing he’s told us has checked out, and now he’s say*ing that the Vice Pres*i*dent of the United States is involved with drug traf*fick*ers. We might want to check this out. And it went all the way up — the funny thing about gov*ern*ment doc*u*ments is, when*ever it passes over somebody’s desk, they have to ini*tial it. And this thing was like a lad*der, it went all the way up and all the way up, and it got up to the head of the Crim*i*nal Divi*sion at the Jus*tice Depart*ment, and he looked at it and said, looks like a job for Lawrence Walsh! And so he sent it over to Walsh, the Iran-contra pros*e*cu*tor, and he said, here, you take it, you deal with this. And Walsh’s office — I inter*viewed Walsh, and he said, we didn’t have the author*ity to deal with that. We were look*ing at Ollie North. So I said, did any*body inves*ti*gate this? And the answer was, “no.” And that thing sat in the National Archives for ten years, nobody ever looked at it.
Voice From the Audi*ence: Is that in your book?
Gary Webb: Yeah.
Voice From the Audi*ence: Thank you.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #1: Well, first of all, I’d like to thank you for pur*su*ing this story, you have a lot of guts to do it.
[Applause from the audience.]
Gary Webb: This is what reporters are sup*posed to do. This is what reporters are sup*posed to do. I don’t think I was doing any*thing special.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #1: Still, there’s not too many guys like you that are doing it.
Gary Webb: That’s true, they’ve all still got jobs.
[Laugh*ter, scat*tered applause.]
Audi*ence Mem*ber #1: I just had a cou*ple of ques*tions, the first one is, I fol*lowed the story on the web site, and I thought it was a really great story, it was really well done. And I noticed that the San Jose Mer*cury News seemed to sup*port you for a while, and then all the sud*den that sup*port col*lapsed. So I was won*der*ing what your rela*tion*ship is with your edi*tor there, and how that all played out, and when they all pulled out the rug from under you.
Gary Webb: Well, the sup*port col*lapsed prob*a*bly after the LA Times... The Wash*ing*ton [Post] came out first, the New York Times came out sec*ond, and the LA Times came out third, and they started get*ting ner*vous. There’s a phe*nom*e*non in the media we all know, it’s called “pil*ing on,” and they started see*ing them*selves get*ting piled on. They sent me back down to Cen*tral Amer*ica two more times to do more report*ing and I came back with sto*ries that were even more out*ra*geous than what they printed in the news*pa*per the first time. And they were faced with a sit*u*a*tion of, now we’re accus*ing Oliver North of being involved in drug traf*fick*ing. Now we’re accus*ing the Jus*tice Depart*ment of being part and par*cel to this. Geez, if we get beat up over accus*ing a cou*ple of CIA agents of being involved in this, what the hell is going to hap*pen now? And they actu*ally said, I had memos say*ing, you know, if we run these sto*ries, there is going to be a firestorm of criticism.
So, I think they took the easy way out. The easy way out was not to go ahead and do the story. It was to back off the story. But they had a prob*lem, because the story was true. And it isn’t every day that you’re con*fronted with how to take a dive on a true story.
They spent sev*eral months — hon*estly, lit*er*ally, because I was get*ting these drafts back and forth — try*ing to fig*ure out how to say, we don’t sup*port this story, even though it’s true. And if you go back and you read the editor’s col*umn, you’ll see that the great dif*fi*culty that he had try*ing to take a dive on this thing. And he ended up talk*ing about “gray areas” that should have been explored a lit*tle more and “sub*tleties” that we should have not brushed over so lightly, with*out dis*clos*ing the fact that the series had orig*i*nally been four parts and they cut it to three parts, because “nobody reads four part series’ any*more.” So, that was one reason.
The other rea*son was, you know, one of the things you learn very quickly when you get into jour*nal*ism is that there’s safety in num*bers. Edi*tors don’t like being out there on a limb all by them*selves. I remem*ber very clearly going to press con*fer*ences, com*ing back, writ*ing a story, send*ing it in, and my edi*tor call*ing up and say*ing, well gee, this isn’t what AP wrote. Or, the Chron*i*cle just ran their story, and that’s not what the Chron*i*cle wrote. And I’d say, “Fine. Good.” And they said, no, we’ve got to make it the same, we don’t want to be dif*fer*ent. We don’t want our story to be dif*fer*ent from every*body else’s.
And so what they were see*ing at the Mer*cury was, the Big Three news*pa*pers were sit*ting on one side of the fence, and they were out there by them*selves, and that just pan*icked the hell out of them. So, you have to under*stand news*pa*per men*tal*ity to under*stand it a lit*tle bit, but it’s not too hard to under*stand cow*ardice, either. I think a lot of that was that they were just scared as hell to go ahead with the story.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #1: Were they able to look you in the eye, and...
Gary Webb: No. They didn’t, they just did this over the phone. I went to Sacramento.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #1: When did you find out about it, and what did you...
Gary Webb: Oh, they called me up at home, two months after I turned in my last four sto*ries, and said, we’re going to write a col*umn say*ing, you know, we’re not going ahead with this. And that’s when I jumped in the car and drove up there and said, what the hell’s going on? And I got all these mealy-mouthed answers, you know, geez, gray areas, sub*tleties, one thing or another... But I said, tell me one thing that’s wrong with the story, and nobody could ever point to any*thing. And today, to this day, nobody has ever said there was a fac*tual error in that story.
[Inaudi*ble ques*tion from the audience.]
Gary Webb: The ques*tion was, the edi*tors are one thing, what about the read*ers? Um... who cares about the read*ers? Hon*estly. The reader’s don’t run the newspaper.
[Another inaudi*ble ques*tion from the audi*ence regard*ing let*ters to the edi*tor and boy*cotts of the newspaper.]
Gary Webb: Well, a num*ber of them did, and believe me, the news*pa*per office was flooded with calls and emails. And the news*pa*per, to their credit, printed a bunch of them, call*ing it the most cow*ardly thing they’d ever seen. But in the long run, the read*ers, you know, don’t run the place. And that’s the thing about news*pa*per mar*kets these days. You folks really don’t have any choice! What else are you going to read? And the edi*tors know this.
When I started in this busi*ness, we had two news*pa*pers in town where I worked in Cincin*nati. And we were deathly afraid that if we sat on a story for 24 hours, the Cincin*nati Inquirer was going to put it in the paper, and we were going to look like dopes. We were going to look like we were cov*er*ing stuff up, we were going to look like we were pro*tect*ing some*body. So we were putting stuff in the paper with*out think*ing about it some*times, but we got it in the paper. Now, we can sit on stuff for months, who’s going to find out about it? And even if some*body found out about it, what are they going to do? That’s the big dan*ger that every*body has sort of missed. These one-newspaper towns, you’ve got no choice. You’ve got no choice. And tele*vi*sion? Television’s not going to do it. I mean, they’re down film*ing ani*mals at the zoo!
[Laugh*ter and applause.]
Audi*ence Mem*ber #2: I assume you have talked to John Cum*mings, the one that wrote Com*pro*mised, that book?
br />Gary Webb: I talked to Terry Reed, who was the prin*ci*pal author on that, yeah.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #2: Well, that was a well-documented book, and I had just fin*ished read*ing this when I hap*pened to look down and see the head*lines on the Sun*day paper. And he stated that Oliver North told him per*son*ally that he was a CIA asset that man*u*fac*tured weapons.
Gary Webb: Right.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #2: When he dis*cov*ered that they were import*ing cocaine, he got out of there. And they chased him with his fam*ily across coun*try for two years try*ing to catch him. But he had said in that book that Oliver North told him that Vice Pres*i*dent Bush told Oliver North to dirty Clinton’s men with the drug money. Which I assumed was what White*wa*ter was all about, was find*ing the laun*der*ing and try*ing to find some*thing on Clin*ton. Do you know any*thing about that?
Gary Webb: Yeah, let me sum up your ques*tion. Essen*tially, you’re ask*ing about the goings-on in Mena, Arkansas, because of the drug oper*a*tions going on at this lit*tle air base in Arkansas while Clin*ton was gov*er*nor down there. The fel*low you referred to, Terry Reed, wrote a book called Com*pro*mised which talked about his role in this cor*po*rate oper*a*tion in Mena which was ini*tially designed to train con*tra pilots — Reed was a pilot — and it was also designed after the Boland Amend*ment went into effect to get weapons parts to the con*tras, because the CIA couldn’t pro*vide them any*more. And as Reed got into this weapons parts busi*ness, he dis*cov*ered that the CIA was ship*ping cocaine back through these weapons crates that were com*ing back into the United States. And when he blew the whis*tle on it, he was sort of sent on this long odyssey of crim*i*nal charges being filed against him, etcetera etcetera etcetera. A lot of what Reed wrote is accu*rate as far as I can tell, and a lot of it was documented.
There is a House Bank*ing Com*mit*tee inves*ti*ga*tion that has been going on now for about three years, look*ing specif*i*cally at Mena, Arkansas, look*ing specif*i*cally at a drug traf*ficker named Barry Seal, who was one of the biggest cocaine and mar*i*juana importers in the south side of the United States dur*ing the 1980s. Seal was also, coin*ci*den*tally, work*ing for the CIA, and was work*ing for the Drug Enforce*ment Administration.
I don’t know how many of you remem*ber this, but one night Ron*nie Rea*gan got on TV and held up a grainy pic*ture, and said, here’s proof that the San*danistas are deal*ing drugs. Look, here’s Pablo Esco*bar, and they’re all load*ing cocaine into a plane, and this was taken in Nicaragua. This was the eve of a vote on the con*tra aid. That pho*to*graph was set up by Barry Seal. The plane that was used was Seal’s plane, and it was the same plane that was shot down over Nicaragua a cou*ple of years later that Eugene Hasen*fus was in, that broke open the whole Iran-contra scandal.
The Bank*ing Com*mit*tee is sup*posed to be com*ing out with a report in the next cou*ple of months look*ing at the rela*tion*ship between Barry Seal, the U.S. gov*ern*ment and Clinton’s folks. Alex Cock*burn has done a num*ber of sto*ries on this com*pany called Park-On Meter down in Rus*sel*lville, Arkansas, that’s hooked up with Clinton’s fam*ily, hooked up with Hillary’s law firm, that sort of thing. To me, that’s a story peo*ple ought to be look*ing at. I never thought White*wa*ter was much of a story, frankly. What I thought the story was about was Clinton’s buddy Dan Lasater, the bond bro*ker down there who was a con*victed cocaine traf*ficker. Clin*ton par*doned him on his way to Wash*ing*ton. Lasater was a major drug traf*ficker, and Terry Reed’s book claims Lasater was part and par*cel with this whole thing.
Voice From the Audi*ence: Cockburn’s newslet*ter is called Coun*ter*punch, and he’s done a good job of defend*ing you in it.
Gary Webb: Yeah, Cock*burn has also writ*ten a book called White*out, which is a very inter*est*ing look at the his*tory of CIA drug traf*fick*ing. Actu*ally, I think it’s sell*ing pretty well itself. The New York Times hated it, of course, but what else is new?
Audi*ence Mem*ber #2: Well I just wanted to men*tion that he states also — I guess it was Terry Reed who was actu*ally doing the work — he said Bush was run*ning the whole thing as vice president.
Gary Webb: I think that George Bush’s role in this whole thing is one of the large unex*plored areas of it.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #2: Which is why I think Rea*gan put him in as vice pres*i*dent, because of his posi*tion with the CIA.
Gary Webb: Well, you know, that whole South Florida Drug Task Force was full of CIA oper*a*tives. Full of them. This was sup*posed to be our van*guard in the war against cocaine car*tels, and if those Colom*bians are to be believed, this was the vehi*cle that we were using to ship arms and allow cocaine into the coun*try, this Drug Task Force. Nobody’s looked at that. But there are lots of clues that there’s a lot to be dug out.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #3: Thank you, Gary. I lost my fea*ture colum*nist posi*tion at my col*lege paper for writ*ing a satire of Chris*tian*ity some years ago, and...
Gary Webb: That’ll do it, yeah. [Laugh*ter from the audience.]
Audi*ence Mem*ber #3: And I lost my job twice in the last five years because of my activism in the com*mu*nity, but I got a job [inaudi*ble]. But my ques*tion is, I knew some*one in the mid-‘80s who said that he was in the Navy, and that he had infor*ma*tion that the Navy was involved in deliv*er*ing cocaine to this coun*try. Another kind of bomb*shell, I’d like to have you com*ment on it, I saw a video some years ago that said the UFO research that’s being done down in the south*west is being funded by drug money and cocaine deal*ings by the CIA, and that there are 25 top secret lev*els of gov*ern*ment above the Top Secret cat*e*gory, and that there are some lev*els that even the pres*i*dent doesn’t know about. So there’s another topic for another book, I just wanted to have you comment...
Gary Webb: A num*ber of top*ics for another book. [Laugh*ter from the audi*ence.] I don’t know about the UFO research, but I do know you’re right that we have very lit*tle idea how vast the intel*li*gence com*mu*nity in this coun*try is, or what they’re up to. I think there’s a great story brew*ing — it’s called the ECHELON pro*gram, and it involves the shar*ing of eaves*dropped emails and cell phone com*mu*ni*ca*tions, because it is ille*gal for them to do it in this coun*try. So they’ve been going to New Zealand and Aus*tralia and Canada and hav*ing those gov*ern*ments eaves*drop on our con*ver*sa*tions and tell us about it. I’ve read a cou*ple of sto*ries about it in the Eng*lish press, and I read a cou*ple of sto*ries about it in the Cana*dian press, but I’ve seen pre*cious lit*tle in the Amer*i*can press. But there’s stuff on the Inter*net that cir*cu*lates about that, if you’re inter*ested in the topic. I think it’s called the ECHELON program.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #4: I’m glad you brought up James Burke and his Con*nec*tions, because there are a lot of con*nec*tions here. One I didn’t hear too much about, and I know you’ve done a lot of research on, was how com*put*ers and high tech was used by the Crips and Bloods early on. I lived in south LA prior to this, knew some of these peo*ple, and you’re right, they had vir*tu*ally no edu*ca*tion. And to sud*denly have an oper*a*tion that’s com*puter lit*er*ate, rid*ing out of Bak*ers*field, Fresno, on north and then east in a very quick period — I’m still learn*ing the com*puter, I’m prob*a*bly as old as you are, or older — so I’d like to hear some*thing on that. The whole dis*lo*ca*tion of south LA that occurred — the Watts Fes*ti*val, the whole empow*er*ment of the black com*mu*nity was occur*ring begin*ning in the late ‘60s and into the early ‘70s and mid-‘70s, and then col*lapses into a sea of flip*ping demo*graph*ics, and sud*denly by 1990 it is El Salvadoran-dominated. And that’s another curi*ous part of this equa*tion as we talk about drugs.
Gary Webb: Well, that’s quite a bevy of things there. As far as the sophis*ti*ca*tion of the Crips and the Bloods, the one thing that I prob*a*bly should have men*tioned was that
when Danilo Blandón went down to South Cen*tral to start sell*ing this dope, he had an M.B.A. in mar*ket*ing. So he knew what he was doing. His job for the Somoza gov*ern*ment was set*ting up whole*sale mar*kets for agri*cul*tural prod*ucts. He’d received an M.B.A. thanks to us, actu*ally — we helped finance him, we helped send him to the Uni*ver*sity of Bogata to get his M.B.A. so he could go back to Nicaragua, and he actu*ally came to the United States to sell dope to the gangs. So this was a very sophis*ti*cated operation.
One of the money laun*der*ers from this group was a macro-economist — his uncle, Orlando Murillo, was on the Cen*tral Bank of Nicaragua. The weapons advi*sor they had was a guy who’d been a cop for fif*teen years. They had another weapons advi*sor who had been a Navy SEAL. You don’t get these kinds of peo*ple by putting ads in the paper. This is not a drug ring that just sort of falls together by chance. This is like an all-star game. Which is why I sus*pect more and more that this thing was set up by a higher author*ity than a cou*ple of drug dealers.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #5: Hi Gary, I just want to thank you for going against the traf*fic on this whole deal. I’m in the jour*nal*ism school up at U. of O., and I’m inter*ested in the story behind the story. I was hop*ing you could share some anec*dotes about the kind of activ*ity that you engaged in to get the story. For exam*ple, when you get off a plane in Nicaragua, what do you do? Where do you start? How do you talk to “Free*way” Ricky? How do you go against a gov*ern*ment stonewall?
Gary Webb: The ques*tion is, how do you do a story like this, essen*tially. Well, thing I’ve always found is, if you go knock on somebody’s door, they’re a lot less apt to slam it in your face than if you call them up on the tele*phone. So, the rea*son I went down to Nicaragua was to go knock on doors. I didn’t go down there and just step off a plane — I found a fel*low down in Nicaragua and we hired him as a stringer, a fel*low named George Hidell who is a mar*velous inves*tiga*tive reporter, he knew all sorts of gov*ern*ment offi*cials down there. And I speak no Span*ish, which was another hand*i*cap. George speaks like four lan*guages. So, you find peo*ple like that to help you out.
With these drug deal*ers, you know, it’s amaz*ing how will*ing they are to talk. I did a series while I was in Ken*tucky on orga*nized crime in the coal indus*try. And it was about this mass of stock swindlers who had looted Wall Street back in the ‘60s and moved down to Ken*tucky in the ‘70s while the coal boom was going on, dur*ing the energy short*age. The les*son I learned in that thing — I thought these guys would never talk to me, I fig*ured they’d be crazy to talk to a reporter about the scams they were pulling. But they were happy to talk about it, they were flat*tered that you would come to them and say, hey, tell me about what you do. Tell me your great*est knock-off. Those guys would go on for*ever! So, you know, every*body, no mat*ter what they do, they sort of have pride in their work... [Laugh*ter from the audi*ence.] And, you know, I found that when you appeared inter*ested, they would be happy to tell you.
The peo*ple who lied to me, the peo*ple who slammed doors in my face, were the DEA and the FBI. The DEA called me down — I wrote about this in the book — they had a meet*ing, and they were telling me that if I wrote this story, I was going to help drug traf*fick*ers bring drugs into the coun*try, and I was going to get DEA agents killed, and this, that and the other thing, all of which was utterly bull*shit. So that’s the thing — just ask. There’s really no secret to it.
Audi*ence Mem*ber #6: I’d like to ask a cou*ple of ques*tions very quickly. The first one is, if you wouldn’t mind being a ref*er*ence librar*ian for a moment — there was the Golden Tri*an*gle. I was just won*der*ing if you’ve ever, in your curios*ity about this, touched on that — the drug rings and the heroin trade out of South*east Asia. And the sec*ond one is about the fel*low from the Hous*ton Chron*i*cle, I don’t remem*ber his name right off, but you know who I’m talk*ing about, if you could just touch on that a lit*tle bit...
Gary Webb: Yes. The first ques*tion was about whether I ever touched on what was going on in the Golden Tri*an*gle. For*tu*nately, I didn’t have to — there’s a great book called The Pol*i*tics of Heroin in South*east Asia, by Alfred McCoy, which is sort of a clas*sic in CIA drug traf*fick*ing lore. I don’t think you can get any bet*ter than that. That’s a great ref*er*ence in the library, you can go check it out. McCoy was a pro*fes*sor at the Uni*ver*sity of Wis*con*sin who went to Laos dur*ing the time that the secret war in Laos was going on, and he wrote about how the CIA was fly*ing heroin out on Air Amer*ica. That’s the thing that really sur*prised me about the reac*tion to my story was, it’s not like I invented this stuff. There’s a long, long his*tory of CIA involve*ment in drug traf*fic which Cock*burn gets into in Whiteout.
And the sec*ond ques*tion was about Pete Brew*ton — there was a reporter in Hous*ton for the Hous*ton Post named Pete Brew*ton who did the series — I think it was ’91 or ’92 — on the strange con*nec*tions between the S&L col*lapses, par*tic*u*larly in Texas, and CIA agents. And his the*ory was that a lot of these col*lapses were not mis*man*age*ment, they were inten*tional. These things were looted, with the idea that a lot of the money was siphoned off to fund covert oper*a*tions over*seas. And Brew*ton wrote this series, and it was funny, because after all hell broke loose on my story, I called him up, and he said, “Well, I was wait*ing for this to hap*pen to you.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “I was exactly like you are. I’d been in this busi*ness for twenty year
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