In Memoriam: GARY WEBB
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 1998 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Used by permission
Investigative reporter and author Gary Webb was found dead in his home in the Sacramento area on December 10, 2004, of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The obituaries in the Los Angeles Times and other mainstream papers largely continued the character assassination that had plagued him during the last eight years of his life, especially since he had uncovered the story of how the Nicaraguan contras, U.S.-backed terrorists seeking to overthrow the progressive Sandinista government, financed their war in part by introducing crack cocaine to the U.S. drug market — and how the CIA and other federal agencies ran interference for them against the efforts of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department in particular to stop the crack business before it could take off.
Zenger’s covered a San Diego appearance by Gary Webb in September 1998. The article below originally appeared in the special election issue of Zenger’s that year.
Today Gary Webb is a consultant to the California state legislature’s task force on government oversight, but in 1996 he was a reporter for the San José Mercury-News who felt he had uncovered the story of his lifetime (now available, at greater length than the newspaper published, in his book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion): documentation that the epidemic of crack cocaine use that swept the African-American ghettoes in the mid-1980’s had actually been started as a fundraising device for the Nicaraguan contras. What’s more, his evidence indicated that the CIA had not only looked the other way when the contras they were supporting sold crack and other drugs to African-American dealers for ghetto consumption, their agents actively intervened to protect the contra drug lords from other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Webb wasn’t prepared for the criticism that erupted after the Mercury-News published his stories on the CIA/contra/crack connection that summer. Reporters for the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and CNN — some of whom turned out to have CIA connections themselves — attacked him and criticized him for saying something he’d never said: that the CIA had actually masterminded the introduction of crack cocaine into African-American communities, both to fund the contras’ war against Nicaragua’s Left-wing Sandinista government at a time when Congress wouldn’t and as part of a long-term racist agenda to wipe out Black Americans. At the same time, a number of African-American activists seized on Webb’s work to support this conspiratorial view of the CIA’s activities in connection with the contras and crack — a view Webb himself has never held.
“Not everything is a conspiracy, but sometimes it looks like the same thing,” Webb said on September 26 at a meeting at the Pilgrim Progressive Baptist Church in the largely African-American community of southeast San Diego. “I don’t think the events in South-Central Los Angeles [when crack was introduced there by contra-connected African-American drug dealer ‘Freeway Ricky’ Ross in 1982] were a conspiracy. I think they were a chain reaction. But the government’s hands are not clean. After three years of research, I believe the problem of drugs in the inner city is more the result of the government than less.”
Webb’s original research traced a long and elaborate pipeline through which cocaine originally produced by the Calí cartel in Colombia — virtually ignored by international law enforcement in the early 1980’s, but now acknowledged as the most powerful of Colombia’s drug cartels now that the more famous Medellín cartel’s leader, Pablo Escobar, has been killed — was marketed in the U.S. by a contra-based organization led by Norwin “El Perico” Meneses and Danilo “Chinchin” Blandón. It was Blandón, Webb argued, who targeted the African-American community and supplied “Freeway Ricky” Ross with bulk cocaine for conversion to crack — and Ross who set up a network of dealers, first in L.A. and then nationwide, through already existing gangs whose members actually merchandised the crack on the streets. In turn, as a result of the profits from crack, these gangs — the now-infamous “Crips” and “Bloods” — were transformed from minor nuisances to major criminal organizations with lethal weapons arsenals and a willingness to use them at the slightest provocation.
“Crack was coming to the U.S. before this,” Webb acknowledged. “It started in Peru, worked its way up South America, and got to L.A. in 1981 — just about the time the CIA took over the contras. These guys were not ‘the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers’ [as then-President Ronald Reagan called them]; they were gangsters, war criminals and drug dealers — and the CIA signed them up. In late 1981 Reagan authorized the CIA to spend $19 million to run the contra war. Well, in this day $19 million doesn’t do much, so they needed more money and a way to fight their war without direct U.S. government involvement. So the contras decided to fund it by selling cocaine, and Danilo Blandón was one of the guys sent to L.A. to do that.”
Webb stressed that the people involved in the contras’ drug efforts were all professionals. Blandón himself had an M.B.A. in marketing. Their security consultant, Ronald Lister, had been a 13-year veteran of various Southern California police departments. Norwin Meneses, Blandón’s superior, “had dealt cocaine before the cartels existed,” Webb said. And the man doing their money laundering had been a macro-economist in the previous Nicaraguan government of Anastasio Somoza — overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979 — and had managed the Somoza family’s own businesses. In 1982 the Nicaraguans hooked up with Ross, and “very quickly they had a major drug operation in an area that had not seen cocaine before because it had been too expensive,” Webb explained.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Webb conceded. “This stuff took time to evolve. It was a match made in hell. By 1983-84 you had a drug habit in L.A. raging out of control. Crack is one of the most addictive drugs known, and in 1978-79 cocaine experts tried to get Congress to act. When the Nicaraguans got here, it was at the wrong moment in history. … By 1985, L.A. was saturated and people started to take their act out of town. It was all across the country by 1989. When I wrote this — and this was all based on government documents and Congressional testimony — the mainstream media went nuts. They said, ‘This can’t have happened because everyone knows crack suddenly appeared in 1986.’ That’s not true, but that’s the way they had reported it. And the question they had trouble answering is, why was it only in Black neighborhoods? To understand that, you have to realize what happened in South-Central L.A. The Black dealers in L.A. were two years ahead of everyone else, so they hit these other cities with their sources of supply.”
Webb’s work has sometimes been criticized for suggesting that had the contras not hit upon cocaine sales as a means of funding their revolution, the U.S. would never have had a crack problem. Asked about this at the September 26 meeting, Webb replied that if the contras and the CIA hadn’t got involved, “Yes, we would have had crack, but we don’t know if it would have been concentrated in Black neighborhoods. … These people had protection for five years at the heart of the drug war. The CIA, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice knew this drug ring was operating — and the only people who tried to stop it were the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”
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Something this article failed to mention was that the coroner noted two bullets had entered his brain, something rare (though not impossible) in a suicide..
To prevent accusations of "lunatic conspiracy theorist", this fact needs to be addressed in a logical way. How can a person shoot themselves in the head twice? What is the probability of this happening? Equally compare this to the probability of a homicide..
The depression theory also has some holes, he just recently had a front page article in the Sacramento News and Review about the military monitoring top scores on a army type video game and keeping files on the top scoring accurate sharpshooters, mostly teenagers and/or adolescents. The recent death threats (last few weeks) could be a result of this article that indicated the military is interested in long term occupation of Iraq based on their interest in young teenagers computerized target practice accuracy..
The media and Gary's ex-wife state that Gary was depressed because he couldn't get a job for a major corporate newspaper. Sure, after having gotten fired from the San-Jose Mercury News for exposing the CIA-Contra crack cocaine import to South Central LA i'm sure he was just groveling to get his old job back in corporate media..
His ex-wife seems all too willing to agree with the coroner's cause of death as suicide, that his breakup with her was enough to push him to take his own life, even after he just recently had the article published about the military war games?
So forget helping people through investigative journalism that exposes corporate government corruption/deceit, now that he can't continue with his significant other and get a corporate media job, the only other option is suicide?
Or did Gary uncover something new that the right-wingers just couldn't handle?
4 more info on Gary Webb and the upcoming Memorial Service this Saturday in Sacramento, visit;
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