Source: San Francisco Bay Guardian
Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jul 1998

In August 1996, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb's "Dark Alliance"
series documented how the CIA helped Nicaragua's contras sell crack cocaine
in South Central Los Angeles. The contras used the drug money to finance
their war against Nicaragua's leftist government.

To most readers, the credibility of Webb's investigation was beyond
dispute. The articles spurred congressional hearings and reports from
departments such as the federal customs Office corroborating Webb's
allegations, even though many government agencies tried to withhold
information from investigators. The northern California chapter of the
Society of Professional Journalists named Webb journalist of the year for
the "Dark Alliance" series.

But the mainstream news media -most prominently the Washington Post, the
New York Thues, and the Los Angeles Times - scrambled to discredit his
findings. Either they were embarrassed they got scooped or they refused to
believe their high-placed government friends were re-sponsible for the
nation's devastating crack boom.

Then the Mercury publicly disowned the story-without ever giving Webb or
readers a convincing reason why. The paper's editors had encouraged Webb in
his research, but in the firestorm that followed "Dark Alliance"'s
publication they retracted their support for the series. After the
controversy, the Merc, which is owned by media giant Knight-Ridder, exiled
Webb from its Sacramento bureau to the police beat in Cupertino.

Webb left the paper and expanded "Dark Alliance" into a book of the same
name. Just published by Seven Stories, it reinforces Webb's investigations
with newly uncovered evidence.

But the mainstream media are ignoring this new evidence too: the Post, the
New York Times, and the L.A. Titnes have all ignored Webb's book-no
reviews, no news stories, no coverage at all.

But as Rep. Maxine Waters (who wrote a strong introduction for the book)
told me, "Gary Webb has uncovered one of the dirtiest little secrets of the
Reagan administration -that we, as a government, introduced a drug to
America's inner cities that is literally killing thousands of kids, and
that we did it purely for short-term political gain in support of a cause
that didn't deserve our support in any way. For reporting that, Webb lost
his job. But the book provides vindication."

We interviewed Webb by telephone while he was in Seattle promoting his book.

Bay Guardian: Did you do much new reporting and research for the book after
the series ran?

Gary Webb: A lot of stuff came out after the series ran. We got 3,000 pages
of new documents from the L.A. Sheriff's Department's investigation that
was just amazing. Probably 90 percent of the book is new.

BG:	What were your most interesting or unexpected new findings?

GW: Some of the most interesting is the stuff the Mercurys News chickened
out on and wouldn't run. What was going on in the DEA's office in Costa
Rica, where the U.S. drug agents were supposed to be investigating drug
crimes but were either looking the other way or, as a cus-toms
investigation found, were trafficking drugs themselves. This conspiracy
went farther than the CIA. It was so liberating to have the chance to lay
out everything you have in context and explain to people why it matters.

BG:	How did you get the new information?

GW: FOIA requests, tips, and the CIA Inspector General's January report.
And anytime you do a big story people come out of the woodwork, and we had
a number of those --specifically this fellow Enrique Miranda, who was an
aide to drug lord Norwin Meneses.

BG:	One of the main criticisms nf the series was that you didn't have a
smoking gun. Do you think you have one now?

GW: When you're dealing with the CIA, you're lucky to find any fucking
paper at all, much less a smoking gun. You're never going to find a CIA
memo that says, "Go sell crack in L.A." So you have to gather as much
evidence as you can, take a good hard look at what you've got, and a
legitimate conclusion can become very obvious.

BG:	Why do you think the mainstream press --from your own paper to the
Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and the New York Times -- went so far out
of their way to discredit your series?

GW: Because it's a very dangerous story. It makes people think bad things
about their country and their government. Newspapers will let you think bad
things about a certain politician, but when you start questioning the
foundations of our democracy they say, "He's a troublemaker, a zealot, a

BG:	Were there any valid criticisms that you went back and reconfirmed, or
any holes that you subsequently filled?

GW: Sure, absolutely. I've said all along that some parts of that series
should have been explained more fully. It was accurate but incomplete. What
I tried to do with the book is show all the other evidence that we couldn't
get into the newspaper, or were actually prohibited from writing for the
newspaper. Initially it was a problem of space, but in the end it was
self-censorship on behalf of Mercury News management.

BG:	Do you think the decision was made in Knight-Ridder's
super-headquarters, or was it strict1y Merc management?

GW: I don't know, but I do know Knight-Ridder has backed the decision all
the way. I think the thing that frightened them the most about my story was
that suddenly there was this whole reactivation of activist black groups
getting together and demanding some political changes in Washington. And I
think, honest to god, that they were more scared by the Senate Intelligence
Committee hearings than anything, when hundreds of citizens actually showed
up to watch their government in action and started hooting at the antics
they were witnessing. It scared the living hell out of them.

BG: So what happens next? Do you hope Congress finally moves to do a full

GW: I think we may actually create enough pressure to force the government
to release the rest of the reports we've done on this. The public has to
get riled up, though, or the government won't do anything. I've been told
that the key 600-page report on this, the one that contains the secret
agreement between the Justice Department and the CIA allowing the CIA not
to report drug trafficking, will never be released, will never be
declassified. I don't imagine the CIA will ever be very eager to let that
one loose.

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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski