By Mark Miller
Controversial but ultimately vindicated investigative journalist and author Gary Webb, who linked the 1980’s crack cocaine epidemic to elements of the US government, was reported to have committed suicide from a gunshot wound on December 10, 2004 in his Carmichael (suburban Sacramento) residence.
Webb’s body was discovered after a moving company worker found a note posted to Webb’s front door that read: "Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance."
Webb was a rare breed, one that prioritized rooting out the truth of a story ahead of career advancement. Perhaps then, it was fitting that he of all people was thrust from the anonymity of working for a local paper into national prominence with his 1996 expose in the San Jose Mercury News entitled “Dark Alliance.”
Webb’s three-part series validated the suspicions progressives had harbored for years—that the CIA, in conjunction with drug traffickers and the Nicaraguan Contras, were jointly responsible for the seemingly out-of-nowhere explosion of crack cocaine in the then predominantly African-American-populated South Central Los Angeles of the 1980’s.
“Dark Alliance” centered to a large extent on Oscar Danilo Blandon, a cocaine trafficker and informant who testified in federal court in 1996 that the crack cocaine profits in L.A. were ultimately being funneled back to the Contras.
Webb’s revelations both enraged and motivated the black community in Southern California in the mid-90’s, with street protests and calls for federal investigations. As a result, some politicians, such as US Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) of Los Angeles, have spent years carrying on the investigative baton from Webb.
The reaction by the mainstream media was equally enthusiastic to “Dark Alliance,” but only in their venomous attacks on Webb’s reportage and character. The L.A. Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post led a three-pronged orchestrated campaign to discredit Webb’s story in a manner not seen against a lone voice since Oliver Stone took a similar beating from the press following the release of his 1991 film JFK.
As was the case with Stone, the media’s protestations of Webb’s material were largely spurious. For example, the Post objected to Webb referring to the Contras as the “CIA’s army,” when there was abundant evidence that the CIA had in fact established the right-wing rebel army to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
The L.A. Times series quoted University of California professor Ronald Siegel, who said: "This was not some grand design of the drug cartels or someone at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, who was sitting around thinking up ways to raise money for the Contras."
Yet Webb never wrote that, and Prof Siegel it was later revealed, worked as a consultant to the Reagan administration.
The turning point was when the Mercury News conducted an internal “investigation,” and declared that “Dark Alliance” did not meet the paper’s own standards.
After killing his story, Webb resigned from the Merc in 1997 rather than accept a demotion to a suburban bureau.
Webb finally got the opportunity to write on the subject unencumbered with his 1999 book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, which further explored the unholy CIA-Contras-crack trinity, including the Reagan administration turning a blind eye to the whole affair. For not only were the crack profits benefiting the Contras, but also the associated problems of the drug trade were merely impairing the already downtrodden poor, African-American populated inner city of L.A.
Webb’s peers recognized him for his meticulous reporting over the years, as he garnered numerous journalistic awards, and his legacy extends even beyond the “Dark Alliance” series, as he continually strove to make a difference in the war on drugs. In 1993, Webb wrote a series of reports on asset forfeiture abuse by the government that led to a change in California law that now requires a conviction before property can be seized.
In the last years of his life, Webb ironically worked for the California government, serving on investigative committees. That Webb was genuinely more concerned with seeking truth rather than adhering to a given ideology is evident in the fact that he was involved in investigating the former Democratic governor of California, Gray Davis.
Given the corporate media’s treatment of Webb while he was alive, it hardly comes as a surprise that they disrespected him following his untimely passing, portraying Webb and the “Dark Alliance” story as being generally “discredited.”
However, just the opposite is true. A pair of reports released in 1997 and 1998 by CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz essentially corroborated Webb’s findings; that the CIA was fully aware of the allegations linking many Contras and Contra associates to cocaine trafficking, that Contra leaders arranged drug connections from the outset and that a CIA informant previously revealed all this to his superiors.
Conveniently, and not surprisingly, those internal CIA reports received considerably slighter coverage in the press than the controversy over “Dark Alliance” itself had.
Then there remains the question of Webb’s death. The official story is that he committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head, and given the tumble his career had taken since his resignation from the Mercury News (he was writing for a local Sacramento weekly at the time of his death), one could logically infer that Webb decided to take his own life.
Some who were close to Webb described him as being despondent prior to his death.
However, given the target of Webb’s most famous reportage—the CIA—one practically has the journalistic duty to at least consider the possibility of foul play.
According to InfoWars.com, sources close to Webb claimed he was receiving death threats, being regularly followed, and that he was concerned about strange individuals seen on multiple occasions breaking into and leaving his house before his apparent suicide on Dec 10.
The original entry in the Sacramento Bee (December 12), quoted officials as saying Webb died of shotgun wounds to the face. If it were a suicide, it seems improbable (if not outright impossible) Webb would have gotten off a second shot to the head.
A later story quoted the coroner as officially declaring Webb’s death a suicide from a single gunshot wound, however there is also a possibility that the coroner originally reported multiple shots and then later changed it, again according to the InfoWars article.
Certainly, Webb is not the first journalist to have died after daring to peek behind the curtain that separates the machinations of super-secret institutions like Central Intelligence from the awareness of the public at large.
In 1991, journalist Danny Casolaro, who was investigating a massive CIA-related conspiracy he dubbed “The Octopus” was found dead with deeply slashed wrists in a West Virginia hotel room. Though ruled a suicide by the ubiquitous “authorities,” the available evidence that has been unearthed over the years suggests that Casolaro was likely murdered.
And there have been other such suspicions deaths, such as those of author James Hatfield (Fortunate Son) who accused George W. Bush of indulging in cocaine, and 60’s TV personality Dorothy Kilgallen, who threatened to expose the JFK conspiracy long before Stone. However, it’s still too early in the game to add Webb’s name to the star-crossed list of journalists and who paid the ultimate price for investigating US political institutions and figures that do not wish to be investigated.
But like Webb’s journalistic revelations, the New York Times of the world would be quick to dismiss any possibility of conspiracy in his demise. Suicide further cements the distorted take on Webb; that he was a “crank,” and ultimately, “a loser who gave up on life.”
But for those in this nation who reject the bought-and-sold platitudes of the corporate media, Gary Webb’s legacy will never be forgotten. His name will always be associated specifically with disclosing the truth in the CIA-Contra-crack story and as a paragon of journalistic integrity in general.
Let’s let Gary Webb himself have the final word in this obit. As he wrote in Dark Alliance:
"The CIA’s knowledge and involvement had been far greater than I’d ever imagined. Agents and officials of the DEA had protected the traffickers from arrest, something I’d not been allowed to print. At the start of the Contra war, the CIA and Justice Department had worked out an unusual agreement that permitted the CIA not to have to report allegations of drug trafficking by its agents to the Justice Department. It was a curious loophole in the law, to say the least."
As Gary Webb said in a 1999 interview with Philadelphia City Paper:
“That’s the one thing that amazed me when I was researching this story is how little the U.S. media looks at the activities of the CIA. Almost fucking never. Seymour Hersh did it in the ’70s and got beat up for it. Bob Perry got beat up for it in the ‘80s; I got beat up for it in the ’90s. I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out whoever does it again is going to get beat up for it. But I don’t think that should stop you from doing it if you’re a true journalist.”