Gary Webb: The Suppression of Uncomfortable Inquiries

Gary Webb was an award winning investigative journalist who is best known for his 1996 series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News, entitled “Dark Alliance.” The series exposed a crack-cocaine drug trafficking ring operated by associates of the Nicaraguan Contra Rebels, acting with the knowledge and protection of the CIA, which extended from Los Angeles, CA, to the Midwestern United States. Webb’s investigation revealed that Oscar Danilo Blandon, Norwin Meneses, and “Freeway” Rick Ross had been working with gangs in Los Angeles to distribute the cocaine, leading to speculation that the CIA had intentionally targeted black neighborhoods with the flow of drugs. The profits from the drug trafficking were allegedly used to help finance the CIA sponsored Contra rebel uprising against the Sandinista government.

When Webb’s story originally broke, he was viciously attacked by major media outlets, such as the N.Y. Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.  An internal CIA analysis entitled “Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story,” documents the alarm Webb’s allegations raised within the intelligence community and the efforts of the CIA public relations staff to contain the damage caused by the articles. [1]. The analysis describes how the CIA utilized its media contacts to influence public opinion and discredit Webb’s research.

Major U.S. newspapers further called the journalist’s credibility into question by falsely attributing many of the more inflammatory claims of racial genocide being made by conservative talk show radio hosts directly to Webb. During a May 22, 2013, radio interview on KPCC-FM 89.3’s AirTalk With Larry Mantle, Los Angeles Times reporter, Jesse Katz disclosed that the L.A. Times responded to Webb’s revelations by forming a “get Gary Webb team” of approximately seventeen journalists, who were specifically tasked with producing material to discredit Webb. [2]. The tremendous media pressure placed upon Mercury News’ executive editor Jerry Ceppos, eventually caused him to retract his support of Webb, who was unceremoniously forced out of his position.

Despite the CIA campaign to discredit Webb, it has since become apparent that both, the Press and the CIA, had been aware of the CIA’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking activity for over a decade prior to the publication of Webb’s articles. On Dec. 20, 1985, the Associated Press had reported a possible link between the Nicaraguan rebels and drug trafficking. [3]. In response, then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) launched a congressional investigation into the allegations in early 1986. After an internal CIA investigation, Inspector General Frederick Hitz acknowledged that CIA agents had turned a blind eye to Contra elements involved in drug smuggling during the Contra War, in an effort to avoid setbacks to the U.S. political agenda. [4]. The Inspector General found that “CIA knowledge of allegations or information indicating that organizations or individuals had been involved in drug trafficking did not deter their use by CIA.” Furthermore, the Inspector General reported the “CIA did not inform Congress of all allegations or information it received indicating that Contra-related organizations or individuals who were involved in drug trafficking.”

A 1988 report prepared by the Senate sub-committee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations in response to the Congressional hearings determined that a minimum of $800,000 in State Department funds had been paid to known drug traffickers. [5]. The report was co-sponsored by Kerry and then-Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Mass.). Kerry asserted unequivocally,“There is no question in my mind that people affiliated with, or on the payroll of, the CIA were involved in drug trafficking.”

In November 1993, C.I.A. officials also confirmed that a CIA operated program in Venezuela had been responsible for shipping tons of nearly pure cocaine into the United States. [6]. The same C.I.A. program was found to have been responsible for creating a Haitian intelligence service whose officers became involved in drug trafficking and acts of political terror.

On September 18, 1996, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California requested that the CIA determine whether the agency had any relationship with Ricky Donnell Ross, Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes, Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero, Ronald Jay Lister, or David Scott Weekly, due to the five individuals being mentioned in Webb’s August 1996 San Jose Mercury News articles. [7]. In response to the U.S. Attorney’s request, the Records Validation Officer (RVO) for the Agency’s Directorate of Operations (DO) submitted a Declaration to the U.S. District Court on November 4, 1996 in the matter of U.S. v Ricky Ross (case # 95-0353-H). [8]. The RVO’s Declaration certified that CIA records included no information of any kind concerning Ross, but that “with respect to Blandon, Meneses, Lister, and Weekly, there was relevant information in CIA files, but no information indicating any Agency relationship with these individuals. [9]. Nevertheless, the RVO’s Declaration did concede that on October 30, 1986, a cable was sent from the Directorate of Operations Foreign Resources Division to CIA Headquarters notifying them that Danilo Blandon, Norwin Meneses and Ronald Lister had been arrested by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department for narcotics trafficking and were claiming that they were connected to the CIA. [10]. On October 31, 1986, CIA Headquarters responded: “There are no [Headquarters] traces on Ronald (Lister) or Danilo (Blandon),” while acknowledging their awareness that Norwin Meneses was “well known” in the Nicaraguan Mafia for “dealing in drugs, weapons and smuggling and laundering of counterfeit money, describing “Norwing [sic] (Meneses) Cantarero as the kingpin of narcotics traffickers in Nicaragua prior to the fall of Somoza.” [11].

After being dismissed by the Mercury News, Webb worked as an investigator with the California State Legislature’s Office of Majority Services. Webb conducted an investigation into racial profiling by the California Highway Patrol, which appeared in Esquire Magazine in April 1999. [12]. In 2001, Webb investigated a $95 million no-bid contract awarded to the Oracle Corporation. [13]. After leaving his position with the Office of Majority Services in February 2004, Webb found a home as a free-lance investigative reporter for the Sacramento News and Review.

On December 10, 2004, Webb was found dead at his home in Carmichael, CA. The Sacramento County Medical Examiner classified the death as a suicide, despite the fact that Webb had suffered two gunshot wounds to the head.

In May 2013, former Los Angeles Times reporter, Jesse Katz, acknowledged that Webb had turned out to be correct and publicly apologized for the role he played in ruining the controversial journalist’s career. On October 02, 2014, N.Y. Times media critic, David Carr, admitted that the thrust of what Webb wrote about “really happened,” making passing reference to Kerry’s “little-noticed 1988 Senate subcommittee report.” [14]. Conversely, on October 17, 2014, the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, Jeff Leen, doubled down describing Gary Webb as “no hero,'” accusing his articles of containing “overblown claims and undernourished reporting.” [15].  I guess there truly is one in every crowd.

Lawrence Christopher Skufca (2015)


Sources

[1]   Stable URL:  http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/DOC_0001372115.pdf  [accessed July 6, 2015].
[4]   Stable URL:  http://fas.org/irp/congress/1998_hr/980316-ps.htm [accessed July 6, 2015].
[5]   Stable URL:  http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB113/north06.pdf. [accessed July 6, 2015].
[6] Weinert, Tim. 1993. “Anti-Drug Unit of C.I.A. Sent Ton of Cocaine to U.S. in 1990.” New York Times; New York, NY. Stable URL:  http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/20/world/anti-drug-unit-of-cia-sent-ton-of-cocaine-to-us-in-1990.html [Accessed November 23, 2015].
[8]   Ibid, Par. 93.
[9]   Ibid, Par. 94.
[10]   Ibid, Par. 97.
[11] Ibid, Par 98.
[12]  Webb, Gary. 1999. “Driving While Black.” Esquire Magazine; New York, NY. Stable URL:  http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a1223/driving-while-black-0499/ [Accessed November 23, 2015].
[13] Stable URL:  http://articles.latimes.com/2004/mar/03/local/me-oracle3 [Accessed November 23, 2015].
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