Joined: 25 Jul 2005 Posts: 13533 Location: St. Pauls, Bristol, England
Posted: Thu Jul 22, 2010 6:54 pm Post subject:
Worthy Music release and excellent video
This is how they control the people on the slave colonies. They solve the basic problems of food, clothing & shelter by providing you with jobs. Every two weeks they pay you in debt notes & within ten days you have given it all back. You don't even know it's not real money & that the nations are all bankrupt & under bankruptcy everything is prepaid. You are so brainwashed you can't believe it, you deny it & you continue to go along with the corporate central bank tax scam. That leaves you free to solve more pressing problems like pizza or burgers, wine or beer, window or aisle, smoking or non, I love Lucy or American Idol Worship. You work all day in a corporate sweat shop. You pay taxes to the corporation of [your country name] then you watch Fake news scare you to death with war, murder, rape & corruption. You watch some sitcom Friends lie & cheat on each other for a laugh then you finish off the evening by witnessing some Criminal Minds plot & commit murder
America's "War on Drugs": CIA- Recruited Mercenaries and Drug-Traffickers
by Michael Levine
Global Research, January 13, 2011
When Nixon first declared war on drugs in 1971, there were fewer than 500,000 hard-core addicts in the nation, most of whom were addicted to heroin. Three decades later, despite the expenditure of $1 trillion in tax dollars, the number of hard-core addicts is shortly expected to exceed five million. Our nation has become the supermarket of the drug world, with a wider variety and bigger supply of drugs at cheaper prices than ever before. The problem now not only affects every town on the map, but it is difficult to find a family anywhere that is not somehow affected. (pp. 158, 159)
The Chang Mai factory the CIA prevented me from destroying was the source of massive amounts of heroin being smuggled into the US in the bodies and body bags of GIs killed in Vietnam. (p. 165)
My unit, the Hard Narcotics Smuggling Squad, was charged with investigating all heroin and cocaine smuggling through the Port of New York. My unit became involved in investigating every major smuggling operation known to law enforcement. We could not avoid witnessing the CIA protecting major drug dealers. Not a single important source in Southeast Asia was ever indicted by US law enforcement. This was no accident. Case after case was killed by CIA and State Department intervention and there wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it. CIA-owned airlines like Air America were being used to ferry drugs throughout Southeast Asia, allegedly to support our “allies.” CIA banking operations were used to launder drug money. (pp. 165, 166)
In 1972, I was assigned to assist in a major international drug case involving top Panamanian government officials who were using diplomatic passports to smuggle large quantities of heroin and other drugs into the US. The name Manuel Noriega surfaced prominently in the investigation. Surfacing right behind Noriega was the CIA to protect him from US law enforcement. As head of the CIA, Bush authorized a salary for Manuel Noriega as a CIA asset, while the dictator was listed in as many as 40 DEA computer files as a drug dealer. (pp. 166, 167)
The CIA and the Department of State were protecting more and more politically powerful drug traffickers around the world: the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan, the Bolivian cocaine cartels, the top levels of Mexican government, Nicaraguan Contras, Colombian drug dealers and politicians, and others. Media’s duties, as I experienced firsthand, were twofold: first, to keep quiet about the gush of drugs that was allowed to flow unimpeded into the US; second, to divert the public’s attention by shilling them into believing the drug war was legitimate by falsely presenting the few trickles we were permitted to indict as though they were major “victories,” when in fact we were doing nothing more than getting rid of the inefficient competitors of CIA assets. (pp. 166, 167)
On July 17, 1980, drug traffickers actually took control of a nation. Bolivia at the time [was] the source of virtually 100% of the cocaine entering the US. CIA-recruited mercenaries and drug traffickers unseated Bolivia’s democratically elected president, a leftist whom the US government didn’t want in power. Immediately after the coup, cocaine production increased massively, until it soon outstripped supply. This was the true beginning of the crack “plague.” (pp. 167, 168)
The CIA along with the State and Justice Departments had to combine forces to protect their drug-dealing assets by destroying a DEA investigation. How do I know? I was the inside source. I sat down at my desk in the American embassy and wrote the kind of letter that I never myself imagined ever writing. I detailed three pages typewritten on official US embassy stationary—enough evidence of my charges to feed a wolf pack of investigative journalists. I also expressed my willingness to be a quotable source. I addressed it directly to Strasser and Rohter, care of Newsweek. Two sleepless weeks later, I was still sitting in my embassy office staring at the phone. Three weeks later, it rang. It was DEA’s internal security. They were calling me to notify me that I was under investigation. I had been falsely accused of everything from black-marketing to having sex with a married female DEA agent. The investigation would wreak havoc with my life for the next four years. (pp. 168-171)
In one glaring case, an associate of mine was sent into Honduras to open a DEA office in Tegucigalpa. Within months he had documented as much as 50 tons of cocaine being smuggled into the US by Honduran military people who were supporting the Contras. This was enough cocaine to fill a third of US demand. What was the DEA response? They closed the office. (p. 175)
Sometime in 1990, US Customs intercepted a ton of cocaine being smuggled through Miami International Airport. A Customs and DEA investigation quickly revealed that the smugglers were the Venezuelan National Guard headed by General Guillen, a CIA “asset” who claimed that he had been operating under CIA orders and protection. The CIA soon admitted that this was true. If the CIA is good at anything, it is the complete control of American mass media. So secure are they in their ability to manipulate the mass media that they even brag about it in their own in-house memos. The New York Times had the story almost immediately in 1990 and did not print it until 1993. It finally became news that was “fit to print” when the Times learned that 60 Minutes also had the story and was actually going to run it. The highlight of the 60 Minutes piece is when the administrator of the DEA, Federal Judge Robert Bonner, tells Mike Wallace, “There is no other way to put it, Mike, [what the CIA did] is drug smuggling. It’s illegal [author's emphasis].” (pp. 188, 189)
The fact is – and you can read it yourself in the federal court records – that seven months before the attempt to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, the FBI had a paid informant, Emad Salem, who had infiltrated the bombers and had told the FBI of their plans to blow up the twin towers. Without notifying the NYPD or anyone else, an FBI supervisor “fired” Salem, who was making $500 a week for his work. After the bomb went off, the FBI hired Salem back and paid him $1.5 million to help them track down the bombers. But that’s not all the FBI missed. When they finally did catch the actual bomber, Ramzi Yousef (a man trained with CIA funds during the Russia-Afghanistan war), the FBI found information on his personal computer about plans to use hijacked American jetliners as fuel-laden missiles. The FBI ignored this information, too. (p. 191)
Michael Levine is a 25-year veteran of the DEA turned best-selling author and journalist. His articles and interviews on the drug war have been published in numerous national newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Esquire.
The Reporter Who Broke the Story of CIA Involvement in Drug Smuggling Found Dead
Remember my February 22 article about CIA's involvement in drug smuggling? Here is the tragic story of Gary Webb, the Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who broke the story of the CIA's involvement in the importation of cocaine into the U.S.
He was found dead December 10, 2004, reportedly from 'self-inflicted' gunshots to the head.
It was a tragic end to a brilliant, and tragic, career.
In August 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published Webbs 20,000 word, three-part series entitled Dark Alliance. The articles detailed the nexus between a California coke kingpin, CIA officials and assets and the Nicaraguan Contra army, whose funding had been cut off by an act of Congress in the mid-80s. Webb found evidence that the CIA had direct contact with the smugglers, knew the proceeds were going to fund the murderous Contras, and tried to cover it up when other law enforcement agencies began investigating. The most troubling aspect to the story was that the central player was no ordinary drug lord. He was the man many credit for popularizing crack, the highly addictive, smoke-able form of cocaine.
For many African-Americans, the story smacked of a grand conspiracy to destroy the black community. There were rallies in Watts and Compton, and heated discussions on black media across the country. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for a federal investigation. In November 1996, CIA director John Deutch appeared at Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles to personally answer to the allegations. He was met with loud jeers. It was a PR disaster.
But it was Webb who found himself on the ropes. Ironically, the CIA did little to publicly counter his allegations. Instead, the media did its dirty work for them, most notably the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. The mainstream media accused Webb of exaggerating his findings.
For Webb, the most confounding part of the whole affair was that he ended up being accused of making allegations he never made specifically that the CIA-crack connection was part of a larger, genocidal plot to kill off black people. Webb never made that claim though he noted in his book, "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion," the inherent racism in a covert policy that reaped so much destruction on such a vulnerable segment of society.
He wrote, Dark Alliance does not propound a conspiracy theory; there is nothing theoretical about history. In this case, it is undeniable that a wildly successful conspiracy to import cocaine existed for many years, and that innumerable American citizensmost of them poor and blackpaid an enormous price as a result. This book was written for them, so that they may know upon what altars their communities were sacrificed.
The fact is by 1996 it was common knowledge in the so-called alternative media that there were connections between the Contras, the Agency and drugs. In 1988, a Senate subcommittee investigation headed by Sen. John Kerry concluded the links were there. Oliver Norths own diary noted, $14 million to buy arms for the Contras came from drugs.
Nevertheless, Webbs editors at the Mercury News hung him out to dry, without ever providing any evidence that any of his reporting was wrong. He was reassigned, then forced out. Webb went on to work as an investigator for the state of California, penning a report on racial profiling by state police. More recently, he landed a reporting job at a Sacramento newspaper.
In honor of Webbs legacy of authentic journalism, GNN presents this exclusive interview, in which Webb discusses Dark Alliance, the media maelstrom, and the storys historical importance.
The video was produced by a team of GNNs video students at the School of Authentic Journalism 2002 seminar in Merida, Mexico.
Director: Anthony Lappé & Stephen Marshall Producer: Guerrilla News Network in association with NarcoNews.com
Production Company: Guerrilla News Network
Audio/Visual: sound, color
Keywords: Gary Webb; War on Drugs; CIA
Contact Information: www.gnn.tv
Produced at the School of Authentic Journalism
Merida, Mexico 2002
Ana Cernov, Andrea Daugirdas, Blanca Eekhout, Helena Klang, Zabeth Flores, Carola Mittrany, Karine Melissa Muller, Ugo Vallauri, Adriana Veloso Meireles
Directed and edited by:
Anthony Lappé & Stephen Marshall
Guerrilla News Network
Special thanks Al Giordano
Publisher, NarcoNews Bulletin
Dean, School of Authentic Journalism
Gary Webb - CIA Drug Smuggling 
Link _________________ 'Come and see the violence inherent in the system.
Help, help, I'm being repressed!'
“The more you tighten your grip, the more Star Systems will slip through your fingers.”
In 1999, Seven Stories Press published Webb's Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, complete with extensive source citations. The book received mixed reviews.
The book includes an account of a meeting between a pilot (who was making drug/arms runs between San Francisco and Costa Rica) with two Contra leaders who were also partners with the San Francisco-based Contra/drug smuggler Norwin Meneses. According to eyewitnesses, Ivan Gomez, identified by one of the Contras as a CIA agent, was allegedly present at the drug transactions. The pilot told Hitz that Gomez said he was there to "ensure that the profits from the cocaine went to the Contras and not into someone's pocket."
According to Webb, Judd Iverson, a San Francisco defense attorney who represented former Contra Julio Zavala, discovered compelling evidence demonstrating that "agents of the U.S. government were intricately involved in sanctioning cocaine trafficking to raise funds for Contra revolutionary activity." Soon after, members of the Justice Department persuaded U.S. District Court Judge Robert Peckham to seal the documents in the case.
Webbs reporting on the CIAs dealings with cocaine dealers was not without its critics. The Nation magazine contributor David Corn, while crediting him that "it is only because of Webb that US citizens have confirmation from the CIA that it partnered up with suspected drug traffickers in the just-say-no years and that the Reagan Administration, consumed with a desire to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, allied itself with drug thugs. " also criticized Webb for overstating the case and for not proving "his more cinematic allegations."
Five years ago, a tragedy occurred in American journalism: Investigative reporter Gary Webb – who had been ostracized 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. Share this article
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 Times, 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 rehabilitated. 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.
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.
Webb 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.
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 scandals 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 that 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 – “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post sniffed – and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted – that it had not “played a 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 role 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 wrote. “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.
On May 11, 1997, Ceppos published a front-page column saying the series “fell short of my standards.” He criticized the stories because they “strongly implied CIA knowledge” of contra connections to U.S. drug dealers who were manufacturing crack-cocaine. “We did not have proof that top CIA officials knew of the relationship,” Ceppos wrote.
The big newspapers and Reagan’s defenders celebrated Ceppos’s retreat as vindication of their own dismissal of the contra-cocaine stories.
Ceppos next pulled the plug on the Mercury News’ continuing contra-cocaine investigation and reassigned Webb to a small office in Cupertino, California, far from his family. Webb resigned the paper in disgrace.
For undercutting Webb and other Mercury News reporters working on the contra investigation, Ceppos was lauded by the American Journalism Review and was given the 1997 national “Ethics in Journalism Award” by the Society of Professional Journalists.
While Ceppos won raves, Webb watched his career collapse and his marriage break up.
Still, Gary Webb had set in motion internal government investigations that would bring to the surface long-hidden facts about how the Reagan administration had conducted the contra war.
The CIA published the first part of Inspector General Hitz’s findings on Jan. 29, 1998. Despite a largely exculpatory press release, Hitz’s Volume One admitted that not only were many of Webb’s allegations true but that he actually understated the seriousness of the contra-drug crimes and the CIA’s knowledge.
Hitz acknowledged that cocaine smugglers played a significant early role in the Nicaraguan contra movement and that the CIA intervened to block an image-threatening 1984 federal investigation into a San Francisco-based drug ring with suspected ties to the contras, the so-called “Frogman Case.”
On May 7, 1998, another disclosure shook the earlier presumptions of the Reagan administration’s innocence. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, introduced into the Congressional Record a Feb. 11, 1982, letter of understanding between the CIA and the Justice Department.
The letter, which had been requested by CIA Director William Casey, freed the CIA from legal requirements that it must report drug smuggling by CIA assets, a provision that covered both the Nicaraguan contras and Afghan rebels who were fighting a Soviet-supported regime in Afghanistan and who were implicated in heroin trafficking.
The next break in the cover-up was a report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Bromwich. Given the hostile climate surrounding Webb’s series, Bromwich’s report also opened with criticism of Webb. But, like the CIA’s Volume One, the contents revealed new details about government wrongdoing.
According to evidence cited by Bromwich, the Reagan administration knew almost from the outset of the contra war that cocaine traffickers permeated the paramilitary operation. The administration also did next to nothing to expose or stop the crimes.
Bromwich’s report revealed example after example of leads not followed, corroborated witnesses disparaged, official law-enforcement investigations sabotaged, and even the CIA facilitating the work of drug traffickers.
The report showed that the contras and their supporters ran several parallel drug-smuggling operations, not just the one at the center of Webb’s series.
The report also found that the CIA shared little of its information about contra drugs with law-enforcement agencies and on three occasions disrupted cocaine-trafficking investigations that threatened the contras.
Though depicting a more widespread contra-drug operation than Webb had understood, the Justice report also provided some important corroboration about a Nicaraguan drug smuggler, Norwin Meneses, who was a key figure in Webb’s series.
Bromwich cited U.S. government informants who supplied detailed information about Meneses’s drug operation and his financial assistance to the contras.
For instance, Renato Pena, a money-and-drug courier for Meneses, said that in the early 1980s, the CIA allowed the contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them and keep the proceeds.
Pena, who was the northern California representative for the CIA-backed FDN contra army, said the drug trafficking was forced on the contras by the inadequate levels of U.S. government assistance.
The Justice report also disclosed repeated examples of the CIA and U.S. embassies in Central America discouraging Drug Enforcement Administration investigations, including one into contra-cocaine shipments moving through the international airport in El Salvador.
Inspector General Bromwich said secrecy trumped all. “We have no doubt that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy were not anxious for the DEA to pursue its investigation at the airport,” he wrote.
Despite the remarkable admissions in the body of these reports, the big newspapers showed no inclination to read beyond the criticism of Webb in the press releases.
Cocaine Crimes & Monica
By fall 1998, Official Washington was obsessed with the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, which made it easier to ignore even more stunning contra-cocaine disclosures in the CIA’s Volume Two.
In Volume Two, published on Oct. 8, 1998, CIA Inspector General Hitz identified more than 50 contras and contra-related entities implicated in the drug trade. He also detailed how the Reagan administration had protected these drug operations and frustrated federal investigations throughout the 1980s.
According to Volume Two, the CIA knew the criminal nature of its contra clients from the start of the war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
The earliest contra force, called ADREN or the 15th of September Legion, had chosen “to stoop to criminal activities in order to feed and clothe their cadre,” according to a June 1981 draft CIA field report.
According to a September 1981 cable to CIA headquarters, two ADREN members made the first delivery of drugs to Miami in July 1981.
ADREN's leaders included Enrique Bermudez and other early contras who would later direct the major contra army, the CIA-organized FDN. Throughout the war, Bermudez remained the top contra military commander.
The CIA later corroborated the allegations about ADREN’s cocaine trafficking, but insisted that Bermudez had opposed the drug shipments to the United States which went ahead nonetheless.
Ends and Means
The truth about Bermudez’s supposed objections to drug trafficking, however, was less clear. According to Hitz’s Volume One, Bermudez enlisted Norwin Meneses, a large-scale Nicaraguan cocaine smuggler, to raise money and buy supplies for the contras.
Volume One had quoted a Meneses associate, another Nicaraguan trafficker named Danilo Blandon, who told Hitz’s investigators that he and Meneses flew to Honduras to meet with Bermudez in 1982.
At the time, Meneses’s criminal activities were well known in the Nicaraguan exile community. But Bermudez told the cocaine smugglers that “the ends justify the means” in raising money for the contras.
After the Bermudez meeting, contra soldiers helped Meneses and Blandon get past Honduran police who briefly arrested them on drug-trafficking suspicions. After their release, Blandon and Meneses traveled on to Bolivia to complete a cocaine transaction.
There were other indications of Bermudez’s drug-smuggling tolerance. In February 1988, another Nicaraguan exile linked to the drug trade accused Bermudez of participation in narcotics trafficking, according to Hitz’s report.
After the contra war ended, Bermudez returned to Managua, where he was shot to death on Feb. 16, 1991. The murder has never been solved.
Along the Southern Front, in Costa Rica, the drug evidence centered on the forces of Eden Pastora, another leading contra commander. But Hitz discovered that the U.S. government may have made matters worse.
Hitz revealed that the CIA put an admitted drug operative – known by his CIA pseudonym “Ivan Gomez” – in a supervisory position over Pastora. Hitz reported that the CIA discovered Gomez’s drug history in 1987 when Gomez failed a security review on drug-trafficking questions.
In internal CIA interviews, Gomez admitted that in March or April 1982, he helped family members who were engaged in drug trafficking and money laundering. In one case, Gomez said he assisted his brother and brother-in-law in transporting cash from New York City to Miami. He admitted that he “knew this act was illegal.”
Later, Gomez expanded on his admission, describing how his family members had fallen $2 million into debt and had gone to Miami to run a money-laundering center for drug traffickers. Gomez said “his brother had many visitors whom [Gomez] assumed to be in the drug trafficking business.”
Gomez’s brother was arrested on drug charges in June 1982. Three months later, in September 1982, Gomez started his CIA assignment in Costa Rica.
Years later, convicted drug trafficker Carlos Cabezas alleged that in the early 1980s, Ivan Gomez was the CIA agent in Costa Rica who was overseeing drug-money donations to the contras.
Gomez “was to make sure the money was given to the right people [the contras] and nobody was taking ... profit they weren’t supposed to,” Cabezas stated publicly.
But the CIA sought to discredit Cabezas at the time because he had trouble identifying Gomez’s picture and put Gomez at one meeting in early 1982 before Gomez started his CIA assignment.
While the CIA was able to fend off Cabezas’s allegations by pointing to these discrepancies, Hitz’s report revealed that the CIA was nevertheless aware of Gomez’s direct role in drug-money laundering, a fact the agency hid from Sen. Kerry’s investigation in 1987.
The Bolivian Connection
There also was more about Gomez. In November 1985, the FBI learned from an informant that Gomez’s two brothers had been large-scale cocaine importers, with one brother arranging shipments from Bolivia’s infamous drug kingpin Roberto Suarez.
Suarez already was known as a financier of right-wing causes. In 1980, with the support of Argentine’s hard-line anti-communist military regime, Suarez bankrolled a coup in Bolivia that ousted the elected left-of-center government.
The violent putsch became known as the Cocaine Coup because it made Bolivia the region's first narco-state. Bolivia’s government-protected cocaine shipments helped transform the Medellin cartel from a struggling local operation into a giant corporate-style business for delivering cocaine to the U.S. market.
Flush with cash in the early 1980s, Suarez invested more than $30 million in various right-wing paramilitary operations, including the contra forces in Central America, according to U.S. Senate testimony by an Argentine intelligence officer, Leonardo Sanchez-Reisse.
In 1987, Sanchez-Reisse said the Suarez drug money was laundered through front companies in Miami before going to Central America. There, other Argentine intelligence officers – veterans of the Bolivian coup – trained the contras.
Inspector General Hitz added another piece to the mystery of the Bolivian-contra connection. One contra fund-raiser, Jose Orlando Bolanos, boasted that the Argentine government was supporting his contra activities, according to a May 1982 cable to CIA headquarters.
Bolanos made the statement during a meeting with undercover DEA agents in Florida. He even offered to introduce them to his Bolivian cocaine supplier.
Containing the Scandal
Despite all this suspicious drug activity around Ivan Gomez and the contras, the CIA insisted that it did not unmask Gomez until 1987, when he failed a security check and confessed his role in his family’s drug business.
The CIA official who interviewed Gomez concluded that “Gomez directly participated in illegal drug transactions, concealed participation in illegal drug transactions, and concealed information about involvement in illegal drug activity," Hitz wrote.
But senior CIA officials still protected Gomez. They refused to refer the Gomez case to the Justice Department, citing the 1982 DOJ-CIA agreement that spared the CIA from a legal obligation to report narcotics crimes by non-employees. Gomez was an independent contractor who worked for the CIA.
The CIA eased Gomez out of the agency in February 1988, without alerting law enforcement or the congressional oversight committees.
When questioned about the case nearly a decade later, one senior CIA official who had supported the gentle treatment of Gomez had second thoughts.
“It is a striking commentary on me and everyone that this guy’s involvement in narcotics didn’t weigh more heavily on me or the system,” the official acknowledged.
A Medellin drug connection arose in another section of Hitz’s report, when he revealed evidence suggesting that some contra trafficking may have been sanctioned by Reagan's National Security Council.
The protagonist for this part of the contra-cocaine mystery was Moises Nunez, a Cuban-American who worked for Oliver North’s NSC contra-support operation and for two drug-connected seafood importers, Ocean Hunter in Miami and Frigorificos de Puntarenas in Costa Rica.
Frigorificos de Puntarenas was created in the early 1980s as a cover for drug-money laundering, according to sworn testimony by two of the firm’s principals – Carlos Soto and Medellin cartel accountant Ramon Milian Rodriguez.
Drug allegations were swirling around Moises Nunez by the mid-1980s. His operation was one of the targets of our investigation at the AP in 1985.
Finally reacting to these suspicions, the CIA questioned Nunez on March 25, 1987, about his alleged cocaine trafficking. He responded by pointing the finger at his NSC superiors.
“Nunez revealed that since 1985, he had engaged in a clandestine relationship with the National Security Council,” Hitz reported, adding:
“Nunez refused to elaborate on the nature of these actions, but indicated it was difficult to answer questions relating to his involvement in narcotics trafficking because of the specific tasks he had performed at the direction of the NSC. Nunez refused to identify the NSC officials with whom he had been involved.”
After this first round of questioning, CIA headquarters authorized an additional session, but then senior CIA officials reversed the decision. There would be no further efforts at “debriefing Nunez.”
Hitz noted that “the cable [from headquarters] offered no explanation for the decision” to stop the Nunez interrogation.
But the CIA’s Central American task force chief Alan Fiers said the Nunez-NSC drug lead was not pursued “because of the NSC connection and the possibility that this could be somehow connected to the Private Benefactor program [the contra money handled by North]. A decision was made not to pursue this matter.”
Joseph Fernandez, who had been the CIA’s station chief in Costa Rica, later confirmed to congressional Iran-Contra investigators that Nunez “was involved in a very sensitive operation” for North’s “Enterprise.” The exact nature of that NSC-authorized activity has never been divulged.
At the time of the Nunez-NSC drug admissions and his truncated interrogation, the CIA’s acting director was Robert M. Gates, who is now President Barack Obama’s Defense Secretary.
The CIA also worked directly with other drug-connected Cuban-Americans on the contra project, Hitz found.
One of Nunez’s Cuban-American associates, Felipe Vidal, had a criminal record as a narcotics trafficker in the 1970s. But the CIA still hired him to serve as a logistics coordinator for the contras, Hitz reported.
The CIA also learned that Vidal’s drug connections were not only in the past.
A December 1984 cable to CIA headquarters revealed Vidal’s ties to Rene Corvo, another Cuban-American suspected of drug trafficking. Corvo was working with anti-communist Cuban Frank Castro, who was viewed as a Medellin cartel representative within the contra movement.
There were other narcotics links to Vidal. In January 1986, the DEA in Miami seized 414 pounds of cocaine concealed in a shipment of yucca that was going from a contra operative in Costa Rica to Ocean Hunter, the company where Vidal worked.
Despite the evidence, Vidal remained a CIA employee as he collaborated with Frank Castro’s assistant, Rene Corvo, in raising money for the contras, according to a CIA memo in June 1986.
By fall 1986, Sen. Kerry had heard enough rumors about Vidal to demand information about him as part of a congressional inquiry into contra drugs. But the CIA withheld the derogatory information.
On Oct. 15, 1986, Kerry received a briefing from the CIA’s Alan Fiers, who didn’t mention Vidal’s drug arrests and conviction in the 1970s.
But Vidal was not yet in the clear. In 1987, the U.S. Attorney in Miami began investigating Vidal, Ocean Hunter and other contra-connected entities.
This prosecutorial attention worried the CIA. The CIA’s Latin American division felt it was time for a security review of Vidal. But on Aug. 5, 1987, the CIA’s security office blocked the review for fear that the Vidal drug information “could be exposed during any future litigation.”
As expected, the U.S. Attorney did request documents about “contra-related activities” by Vidal, Ocean Hunter and 16 other entities. The CIA advised the prosecutor that “no information had been found regarding Ocean Hunter,” a statement that was clearly false.
The CIA continued Vidal’s employment as an adviser to the contra movement until 1990, virtually the end of the contra war.
Hitz revealed that drugs also tainted the highest levels of the Honduran-based FDN, the largest contra army.
Hitz found that Juan Rivas, a contra commander who rose to be chief of staff, admitted that he had been a cocaine trafficker in Colombia before the war. The CIA asked Rivas, known as El Quiche, about his background after the DEA began suspecting that Rivas might be an escaped convict from a Colombian prison.
In interviews with CIA officers, Rivas acknowledged that he had been arrested and convicted of packaging and transporting cocaine for the drug trade in Barranquilla, Colombia. After several months in prison, Rivas said, he escaped and moved to Central America where he joined the contras.
Defending Rivas, CIA officials insisted that there was no evidence that Rivas engaged in trafficking while with the contras. But one CIA cable noted that he lived an expensive lifestyle, even keeping a $100,000 thoroughbred horse at the contra camp.
Contra military commander Bermudez later attributed Rivas’s wealth to his ex-girlfriend’s rich family. But a CIA cable in March 1989 added that “some in the FDN may have suspected at the time that the father-in-law was engaged in drug trafficking.”
Still, the CIA moved quickly to protect Rivas from exposure and possible extradition to Colombia. In February 1989, CIA headquarters asked that DEA take no action “in view of the serious political damage to the U.S. Government that could occur should the information about Rivas become public.”
Rivas was eased out of the contra leadership with an explanation of poor health. With U.S. government help, he was allowed to resettle in Miami. Colombia was not informed about his fugitive status.
Another senior FDN official implicated in the drug trade was its chief spokesman in Honduras, Arnoldo Jose “Frank” Arana.
The drug allegations against Arana dated back to 1983 when a federal narcotics task force put him under criminal investigation because of plans “to smuggle 100 kilograms of cocaine into the United States from South America.”
On Jan. 23, 1986, the FBI reported that Arana and his brothers were involved in a drug-smuggling enterprise, although Arana was not charged.
Arana sought to clear up another set of drug suspicions in 1989 by visiting the DEA in Honduras with a business associate, Jose Perez. Arana’s association with Perez, however, only raised new alarms.
If “Arana is mixed up with the Perez brothers, he is probably dirty,” the DEA responded.
Through their ownership of an air services company called SETCO, the Perez brothers were associated with Juan Matta Ballesteros, a major cocaine kingpin connected to the murder of a DEA agent, according to reports by the DEA and U.S. Customs.
Hitz reported that someone at the CIA scribbled a note on the DEA cable about Arana stating: “Arnold Arana ... still active and working, we [CIA] may have a problem.”
Despite its drug ties to Matta Ballesteros, SETCO emerged as the principal company for ferrying supplies to the contras in Honduras.
During congressional Iran-Contra hearings, FDN political leader Adolfo Calero testified that SETCO was paid from bank accounts controlled by Oliver North. SETCO also received $185,924 from the State Department for ferrying supplies to the contras in 1986.
Hitz found that other air transport companies, which were used by the contras, also were implicated in the cocaine trade. Even FDN leaders suspected that they were shipping supplies to Central America aboard planes that might be returning with drugs.
Mario Calero, the chief of contra logistics, grew so uneasy about one air-freight company that he notified U.S. law enforcement that the FDN only chartered the planes for the flights south, not the return flights north.
Hitz found that some drug pilots simply rotated from one sector of the contra operation to another. Donaldo Frixone, who had a drug record in the Dominican Republic, was hired by the CIA to fly contra missions from 1983-85.
In September 1986, however, Frixone was implicated in smuggling 19,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States. In late 1986 or early 1987, he went to work for Vortex, another U.S.-paid contra supply company linked to the drug trade.
A Fig Leaf
By the time that Hitz’s Volume Two was published in fall 1998, the CIA’s defense against Webb’s series had shrunk to a fig leaf: that the CIA did not conspire with the contras to raise money through cocaine trafficking.
But Hitz made clear that the contra war took precedence over law enforcement and that the CIA withheld evidence of contra crimes from the Justice Department, the Congress and even the CIA’s own analytical division.
Besides tracing the evidence of contra-drug trafficking through the decade-long contra war, the inspector general interviewed senior CIA officers who acknowledged that they were aware of the contra-drug problem but didn’t want its exposure to undermine the struggle to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
According to Hitz, the CIA had “one overriding priority: to oust the Sandinista government. … [CIA officers] were determined that the various difficulties they encountered not be allowed to prevent effective implementation of the contra program.”
One CIA field officer explained, “The focus was to get the job done, get the support and win the war.”
Hitz also recounted complaints from CIA analysts that CIA operations officers handling the contras hid evidence of contra-drug trafficking even from the CIA’s analysts.
Because of the withheld evidence, the CIA analysts incorrectly concluded in the mid-1980s that “only a handful of contras might have been involved in drug trafficking.” That false assessment was passed on to Congress and the major news organizations – serving as an important basis for denouncing Gary Webb and his series in 1996.
Although Hitz’s report was an extraordinary admission of institutional guilt by the CIA, it passed almost unnoticed by the big American newspapers. [For more details on the report, see Parry’s Lost History.]
See No Evil
On Oct. 10, 1998, two days after Hitz’s Volume Two was posted at the CIA’s Internet site, the New York Times published a brief article that continued to deride Webb but acknowledged the contra-drug problem may have been worse than earlier understood.
Several weeks later, the Washington Post weighed in with a similarly superficial article. The Los Angeles Times never published a story on the release of Volume Two.
To this day, no editor or reporter who missed the contra-cocaine story has been punished for his or her negligence. Indeed, some of them rose to become top executives at their news organizations. On the other hand, Gary Webb’s career never recovered.
Unable to find decent-paying work in a profession where his past awards included a Pulitzer Prize, Webb grew despondent. His marriage broke up. By December 2004, he found himself having to move out of his rented house near Sacramento.
Instead, Webb decided to end his life.
Webb’s suicide offered the New York Times, the Washington Post and the L.A. Times one more chance to set matters right, to revisit the CIA’s admissions in 1998 and to exact some accountability from the Reagan-era officials implicated in the contra crimes.
But all that followed Gary Webb’s death was more trashing of Gary Webb.
The L.A. Times ran its mean-spirited obituary that made no mention of the admissions in the CIA’s Volume Two. No one reading this obit would have understood the profound debt that American history owed to Gary Webb, who deserved the lion’s share of the credit for forcing the CIA to make its extraordinary admissions.
Though a personal tragedy for his family and friends, Webb’s suicide conveyed a larger message, too. Gary Webb was a kind of canary in the American mine shaft. His fate represented a warning about the dangers that can befall a nation whose journalists care more about their salaries and status than the truth and the public’s right to know.
The fifth anniversary of Webb’s death should be a moment for reflection, too, by progressives and independent-minded Americans that it is long past time to build media institutions that can support brave journalists who dare to tell difficult truths.
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Federal Judge Bonner and Former head of the DEA reveals he intercepted CIA cocaine shipments
This news report reveals how Federal Judge Bonner intercepted CIA cocaine shipments when he was the head of the DEA.
Release Date: October 10, 2014 (limited; expansions: Oct. 17 & 24)
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Michael Cuesta
Screenwriter: Peter Landesman
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Paz Vega, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Andy Garcia
Genre: Drama, Thriller
MPAA Rating: Not Available
Two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner ("The Bourne Legacy") leads an all-star cast in a dramatic thriller based on the remarkable true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb. Webb stumbles onto a story which leads to allegations that the CIA was aware of major dealers who were smuggling cocaine into the U.S., and using the profits to arm rebels fighting in Nicaragua. Webb keeps digging to uncover a conspiracy with explosive implications -- and draws the kind of attention that threatens not just his career, but his family and his life.
If someone told you today that there was strong evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency once turned a blind eye to accusations of drug dealing by operatives it worked with, it might ring some distant, skeptical bell. Did that really happen?
That really happened. As part of their insurgency against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, some of the C.I.A.-backed contras made money through drug smuggling, transgressions noted in a little-noticed 1988 Senate subcommittee report.
Gary Webb, a journalist at The San Jose Mercury News, thought it was a far-fetched story to begin with, but in 1995 and 1996, he dug in and produced a deeply reported and deeply flawed three-part series called “Dark Alliance.”
That groundbreaking series was among the first to blow up on the nascent web, and he was initially celebrated, then investigated and finally discredited. Pushed out of journalism in disgrace, he committed suicide in 2004. “Kill the Messenger,” a movie starring Jeremy Renner due Oct. 10, examines how much of the story he told was true and what happened after he wrote it. “Kill the Messenger” decidedly remains in Mr. Webb’s corner, perhaps because most of the rest of the world was against him while he was alive. Rival newspapers blew holes in his story, government officials derided him as a nut case and his own newspaper, after initially basking in the scoop, threw him under a bus. Mr. Webb was open to attack in part because of the lurid presentation of the story and his willingness to draw causality based on very thin sourcing and evidence. He wrote past what he knew, but the movie suggests that he told a truth others were unwilling to. Sometimes, when David takes on Goliath, David is the one who ends up getting defeated.
“There were flaws in his writing and flaws in his life,” Mr. Renner, who plays Webb in the film, said in a phone interview. “But that doesn’t mean he was wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean he deserved what he got.”
The film argues that the same reflexes in the newspaper business that hold others to account can become just as merciless when the guns are pointed inside the corral. Big news organization like The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post tore the arms and legs off his work. Despite suggestions that their zeal was driven by professional jealousy, some of the journalists who re-reported the story said they had little choice, given the deep flaws. Tim Golden in The New York Times and others wrote that Mr. Webb overestimated his subjects’ ties to the contras as well as the amount of drugs sold and money that actually went to finance the war in Nicaragua.
But Mr. Webb had many supporters who suggested that he was right in the main. In retrospect, his broader suggestion that the C.I.A. knew or should have known that some of its allies were accused of being in the drug business remains unchallenged. The government’s casting of a blind eye while also fighting a war on drugs remains a shadowy part of American history.
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Mr. Webb eventually wrote his own book, “Dark Alliance: The C.I.A., The Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion,” and Nick Schou, a journalist who covered significant parts of Webb’s downfall, wrote “Kill the Messenger: How the C.I.A.’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb.” Both books deeply inform the movie, making the argument that journalism more or less ate itself while the government mostly skipped away with its secret doings intact.
Mr. Webb was a talented investigative reporter who concentrated on local corruption when he worked at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and then The San Jose Mercury News. When he was first approached about C.I.A. duplicity, he was deeply skeptical. But when the tipster, the girlfriend of a drug dealer on trial, said her boyfriend had ties to the C.I.A., she had enough evidence to convince him to read that 1988 report from a special Senate subcommittee documenting instances in which drug dealing by crucial allies, including some in Nicaragua, was tolerated in the name of national security. Major news outlets gave scant attention to the report.
Mr. Webb was not the first journalist to come across what seemed more like an airport thriller novel. Way back in December 1985, The Associated Press reported that three contra groups had “engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua.” In 1986, The San Francisco Examiner ran a large exposé covering similar terrain. Again, major news outlets mostly gave the issue a pass.
It was only when Mr. Webb, writing 10 years later, tried to tie cocaine imports from people connected to the contras to the domestic crisis of crack cocaine in large cities, particularly Los Angeles, that the story took off. Mr. Webb zeroed in on “Freeway” Ricky Ross, a gang-affiliated drug boss in Los Angeles, who flooded streets with crack. He then drew a line from Mr. Ross to the C.I.A.-backed contras, writing, “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 Democrática Nicaragüense,” or the FDN, one of several contra groups.
The headline, graphic and summary language of “Dark Alliance” was lurid and overheated, showing a photo of a crack-pipe smoker embedded in the seal of the C.I.A. The three-part series would, the summary promised, reveal, among other things, how “a 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.”
But if the series was oversold, it certainly delivered on the promise of what the web could do for journalism. A pioneering effort in transparency, the report was accompanied by a digital library of source documents, a timeline of events and a list of characters, among other web-only features that have now become commonplace. It was, by most accounts, the first newspaper series to go viral before there were even words to describe the phenomenon.
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At first, major news outlets shrugged. But leaders of the drug-ridden communities did not, drawing a line that Mr. Webb had not by suggesting that the C.I.A. had deliberately set out to addict urban black populations.
Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, led protests by the Congressional Black Caucus, and the comedian Dick Gregory was arrested after trying to put crime tape at the entrance to the C.I.A. headquarters.
But Mr. Webb’s victory lap was short lived, as other news organizations responded with significant stories, and his editors at The Mercury News backed away slowly, then all at once. The paper walked back the findings in a 1997 letter to readers signed by the executive editor at the time, Jerry Ceppos. “I feel that we did not have proof that top C.I.A. officials knew of the relationship” between members of a drug ring and contra leaders paid by the C.I.A., he wrote, adding that the series “erroneously implied” that the connection between Mr. Ross and Nicaraguan traffickers “was the pivotal force in the crack epidemic in the United States.”
In a phone call, Mr. Ceppos said good news organizations should hold themselves accountable to the same degree they do others.
“We re-reported the series, and I don’t know of too many publications that have done that,” he said. “We couldn’t support some of the statements that had been made. It was our re-reporting that influenced me the most.”
He added that he had no regrets about that open letter to Mercury readers.
“I would do exactly the same thing 18 years later that I did then, and that is to say that I think we overreached,” he said.
Peter Landesman, an investigative journalist who wrote the screenplay, was struck by the reflex to go after Mr. Webb.
“Planeloads of weapons were sent south from the U.S., and everyone knows that those planes didn’t come back empty, but the C.I.A. made sure that they never knew for sure what was in those planes,” he said. “But instead of going after that, they went after Webb, who didn’t really know what he had gotten into or where he was. The most surprising thing in doing the work to write this movie is how easy it was to destroy Gary Webb.”
Even at the time, some thought the backlash against Mr. Webb was misplaced.
Geneva Overholser, then the ombudsman of The Washington Post, wrote that the newspaper “showed more passion for sniffing out the flaws in San Jose’s answer than for sniffing out a better answer themselves.”
Mr. Golden, who had an extensive background covering the C.I.A. and Central America, said the hand that struck Mr. Webb was mostly his own.
“Webb made some big allegations that he didn’t back up, and then the story just exploded, especially in California,” he said in an email. “You can find some fault with the follow-up stories, but mostly what they did was to show what Webb got wrong.”
The director of “Kill the Messenger,” Michael Cuesta, has also directed several episodes of “Homeland” and knows the C.I.A. has many faces. He said he worked to shrink a sprawling story with global dimensions by showing how it landed on one man.
“There were many things that went wrong,” he added, “the packaging of the story, how it was received and grew, the fact that he was not backed up by his editors. But I was struck by the fact that journalism, which had been the source of his purpose, his bliss, turned on him. It’s tragic.”
While Mr. Webb died alone, after two self-inflicted gunshots, he lived long enough to know that he did not make the whole thing up.
In 1998, Frederick P. Hitz, the C.I.A. inspector general, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that after looking into the matter at length, he believed the C.I.A. was a bystander — or worse — in the war on drugs.
“Let me be frank about what we are finding,” he said. “There are instances where C.I.A. did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug-trafficking activity, or take action to resolve the allegations.”
However dark or extensive, the alliance Mr. Webb wrote about was a real one.
El Paso| A group of minutemen watching the Mexican Border for illegal migrants and drug traffickers, have proceeded to the citizen arrest of two men in an SUV, carrying 1300 pounds of cocaine. The volunteers were completely astonished when the two arrestees pulled out CIA ID cards and explained they were actually carrying the drug as part of their duties and that the cargo belonged to the Central Intelligence Agency.
The incident took place last night, in the Chihuahuan desert, near the Texan city of El Paso. A group of seven minutemen saw a large black SUV drive rapidly across the border. They chased the vehicle in their own trucks and achieved to immobilize it after a chase of more than 15 miles.
The vigilantes arrested the two men on board and called the border patrol, who proceeded to search the vehicle. They discovered dozens of packages of cocaine, totalling an incredible 618.4 kilograms (1363 pounds).
The search of the vehicle revealed 36 packages of cocaine, all marked with the symbol of the Sinaloa Cartel, representing a black scorpion.
The two men claim to be CIA operatives based in Mexico and explained that the drug was actually part of an operation of the agency. They presented identity cards that seem to validate their claim, but the CIA spokesperson, Dean Boyd, has officially denied any link between the organization and the two men.
“The CIA doesn’t take part in drug smuggling operations at the US-Mexican border” said M. Boyd. “I do not know, for now, if the men are actually affiliated to the agency in any way, but I can tell you the cocaine doesn’t belong to the CIA.”
Both the border patrol officers and minutemen seem unconvinced, however, and many of them seem to believe that the secret service agency is hiding something. The U.S. custom services have even announced a thorough investigation to try and verify the two men’s story.
“Both of them had valid accreditations and a receipt for their cargo” says Shawn Francis Miller, spokesman of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the El Paso sector. “What drug dealer in his right mind, demands a receipt for 1300 pounds of cocaine? There is really something strange about these guys, and we believe the CIA possibly knows more than what it is ready to admit.”
The custom services have confirmed that the two men, who can’t be identified due to the Intelligence Identities and Protection Act of 1982, did carry valid CIA identifications and that the vehicle was indeed registered as a service vehicle of the organization.
The two men remain under the custody of the custom services at the moment, and are still being interrogated in a facility near El Paso. They are facing charges of possessing, trafficking and importing illegal drugs, and could face other criminal charges once the investigation is over.
Pablo Escobar was “the first to understand that it’s not the world of cocaine that must orbit around the markets, but the markets that must rotate around cocaine”.
Of course, Escobar didn’t put it that way: this heretical truth was posited by Roberto Saviano in his latest book Zero Zero Zero, the most important of the year and the most cogent ever written on how narco-traffic works. Here is a book that speaks what must be told at the end of another year of drug war spreading further and deeper, that tells what you will not learn from Narcos, Breaking Bad or the countless official reports.
The realisation that cocaine capitalism is central to our economic universe made Escobar the Copernicus of organised crime, argues Saviano, adding: “No business in the world is so dynamic, so restlessly innovative, so loyal to the pure free-market spirit as the global cocaine business.” It sounds simple, but it isn’t – it is revolutionary and, says Saviano, it explains the world.
The City of London is a far more important centre for laundering criminal money than the Cayman Islands
Saviano – who lives in hiding under 24/7 guard, after death threats arising from Gomorrah, his book about the Neapolitan mafia – and I were due to discuss Zero Zero Zero at the Hay Arequipa book festival in Peru this month. But Saviano was unable to make it, because of difficulties in arranging his movements. For eight years, he has lived in undisclosed venues, with a permanent dispatch of seven carabinieri guards, rarely spending more than a few nights in the same bed. A video link to Peru proved too complicated, but what Saviano had to say was too important to let go, too pressing and radical to lose in the ether of the logistics. In the end we spoke by telephone last weekend.
“Capitalism,” says Saviano, “needs the criminal syndicates and criminal markets… This is the most difficult thing to communicate. People – even people observing organised crime – tend to overlook this, insisting upon a separation between the black market and the legal market. It’s the mentality that leads people in Europe and the USA to think of a mafioso who goes to jail as a mobster, a gangster. But he’s not, he’s a businessman, and his business, the black market, has become the biggest market in the world.”
Roberto Saviano and bodyguards attend the 2013 Giffoni film festival in Italy.
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Roberto Saviano and bodyguards attend the 2013 Giffoni film festival in Italy. Photograph: Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images
This is Saviano’s sagacious heresy. For decades, writing on global mafia has presumed a Manichean schism between cops and robbers; our healthy society and law enforcement on one hand battling organised crime on the other (with occasional erring by the former). But the trail blazed by Saviano and very few others demolishes that account, backed by every recent development in Mexico’s narco-nightmare, including and especially the escape, again, of the heir to Escobar’s mantle, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, from supposedly maximum-security jail. Narco cartels like Guzman’s are not adversaries of global capitalism, nor even pastiches of it; they are integral to – and pioneers of – the free market. They are its role model.
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We hear much these days about the pros and cons of legalising drugs, but very little about narco-traffic as political economy. Now, Saviano articulates and demonstrates what many of us who write about mafia have been trying for years to shout from rooftops, only none of us climbed high enough, cried as loud, or crystallised it like he does. Here it is, the lie of any dividing line between legal and illegal. Here it is, laid bare: cartel as corporation, corporation as cartel; cocaine as pure capitalism, capitalism as cocaine, known in its purest form as zero-zero-zero – a wry reference to the name of the best grade of flour, ideal for pasta.
Saviano writes in his own distinct style of narrative literary reportage, at once factually informative and impressionistic. He opens Zero Zero Zero with a scathing tragicomic reflection on who in your life uses cocaine: “If it’s not your mother or father… then the boss does. Or the boss’s secretary… the oncologist… the waiters who will work the wedding… If not them, then the town councillor who just approved the new pedestrian zones.” Within three-score pages he has stripped bare the system whereby – and why – the white powder got up their noses. “Cocaine,” he concludes, applying the logic of business school, “is a safe asset. Cocaine is an anticyclical asset. Cocaine is the asset that fears neither resource shortages nor market inflation.” Of course, cocaine capitalism – as brazenly as any other commodity, possibly more so – has “both feet firmly planted in poverty… [and] unskilled labour, a sea of interchangeable subjects, that perpetuates a system of exploitation of the many and enrichment of the few”.
“Cocaine becomes a product like gold or oil,” he adds in conversation, “but more economically potent than gold or oil. With these other commodities, if you don’t have access to mines or wells, it’s hard to break into the market. With cocaine, no. The territory is farmed by desperate peasants, from whose product you can accumulate huge quantities of capital and cash in very little time.
“If you’re selling diamonds, you have to get them authenticated, licensed – cocaine, no. Whatever you have, whatever the quality, you can sell it immediately. You are in perfect synthesis with the everyday life and ethos of the global markets – and the ignorance of politicians in the west to understand this is staggering. The European world, the American world, don’t understand these forces, they don’t have the will to understand narco-traffic.”
In a previous book, soon to be translated, called Vieni Via Con Me – Come Away With Me – Saviano talked about the “ecomafia” for which it is “always fundamental to be looking for terrain and spaces in which to conceal and proliferate itself”, just as a corporation carves out markets. In Zero Zero Zero, he writes about what might be called the genealogy of narco-syndicates, from their paternalistic period of “conservative capitalism” to the lean, mean multinational corporations they have become: buying failing banks, working the credit economy, taking over interbank loans. Permeating the system until they become indistinct from it, until (writes Saviano in Vieni Via Con Me): “democracy is literally in danger”, and we become “all equal, all contaminated… in the machine of mud”.
“So the story of narco-traffic,” he says now, “is not something that happens far away. People like to think of this disgusting violence as something distant, but it’s not. Our entire economy is infused with this narrative.”
For some reason, he says, the Anglo-Saxon world is slower to understand the innate criminality of the “legal” system than Latin societies. “I think the Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-American world is infused by a kind of Calvinist positivism; people want to believe in the health of their society,” says Saviano, even though “what this all means is that, for instance, the City of London is a far more important centre for laundering criminal money than the Cayman Islands”.
The mafia, he argues, has a particular way of entrenching its presence and increasing its strength, in a manner almost Darwinian, evolutionary: “the force of the mafia is this. If a mafioso messes up, he dies – and thus they develop a system of survival. When they make a mistake, they are killed and replaced by someone even more ruthless, so that the organisation becomes even stronger.”
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At the start of this year, writing from New York, Saviano described his threatened life under guard in our sister paper, the Guardian, and in this book that followed he asks himself, poignantly: “Is it really worth it?”
“I write about Naples, but Naples plugs her ears,” he laments. It is, he writes, “my fault if the articles I keep writing about the blood spilled in the cocaine markets fall upon deaf ears”. Any reporter or writer on these subjects feels a version of these feelings, but – apart from our colleagues in Mexico or Colombia – with so much less to pay than Saviano has paid: with his liberty and security.
“Sometimes I think I’m obsessed,” he reflects in the book, but “other times I’m convinced these stories are a way of telling the truth”. Here we have it. Whether obsessed or not, Saviano realises the brutal truth: that to understand narco-traffic is to understand the modern world. “You can’t understand how the global economy functions if you don’t understand narco-traffic”, he says in conversation.
A remarkable passage in Zero Zero Zero explains why: a transcription of an FBI tape recording of a seasoned Italian mafioso in New York schooling young Mexican footsoldiers in the difference between law and “the rules”. Laws are there to be broken, he urges, but the rules of the organisation are sacrosanct, on pain of death. “The law is supposed to be for everybody,” Saviano tells me, “but the rules are made by the so-called men of honour. This is how narco-traffic explains the world, by embracing all the contradictions of the world. To succeed in narco-traffic, you apply the rules to break the law. And today, any big corporation can only succeed if it adopts the same principle – if its rules demand that it break the law.”
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