CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

1996

San Jose Mercury News Story on Contras and Crack

Materials arranged chronologically.

Webb, Gary.

1. "Dark Alliance." San Jose Mercury News, 18 Aug. 1996 [from Mercury Center Web site at http://www.sjmercury.com].

Clark comment: This is the original article, followed by two additional pieces in the series, that launched the idea that California cocaine dealers who claimed connections with the Nicaraguan Contra rebels were responsible for introducing crack cocaine into black neighborhoods in the 1980s. The drug trafficking was supposedly condoned by the CIA because the dealers were helping to fund the Contras. The story launched a fire storm of criticism and investigation, and still resonates throughout the African-American community. The fact that it was patently false in its implications and perhaps false even in its basic outline seemingly was irrelevant to the story's lifecycle.

Referring to the power and effect of myth, Abraham H. Miller, "How the CIA Fell Victim to Myth Posing as Journalism," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 10, no. 3 (Fall 1997), 257-268, makes a valiant effort to explain the unexplainable. Whether Miller has the answer or not, his hypothesis is better than most. See also, Abraham H. Miller, "The CIA and the Crack Cocaine Story: Fact or Fiction?" The World and I, Feb. 1998, 304-317.

Interestingly, the original version of the story disappeared from the Mercury Center Web Site sometime around midyear 1997 (unwisely, I never copied it from that site).

Clearly not one to let an attention-getting and/or moneymaking proposition slip away, Webb has turned his exercise in journalistic excess into a book (see below).

2. Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998.

Even someone as anti-CIA as David Corn, Washington Post, 9 Aug 1998, has some problems with this book: Webb's "threshold of proof is on the low side. In one instance, he passes on ... the allegations of a drug dealer who claimed Vice President George Bush met with (and posed for a photo with) Colombian dealers to craft an agreement under which the traffickers could smuggle coke into America if they supplied weapons to the contras. And Webb is indiscriminate in his use of the term 'CIA agent,' making it appear as if Blandon and Meneses were dealing with James Bond-like officials of the CIA, when actually their contacts were Nicaraguan contras on the Agency payroll."

Abraham H. Miller, IJI&C 12.1, cuts Webb considerable slack in reviewing Dark Alliance: "Whatever one may think of his conclusions, or the inferential leaps that got him there, there is some excellent journalism" in the book, and Webb "strongly believes everything he has written." However, "in the final analysis, he is not convincing.... [T]he preponderance of evidence is against him."

Vistica, Gregory L., and Vern E. Smith. "Was the CIA Involved in the Crack Epidemic?" Newsweek, 30 Sep. 1996, 72.

This article reports Gary Webb's story carried by the San Jose Mercury News.

Fletcher, Michael A. "Crack, Blacks and the CIA: Belief in a Conspiracy Is Widespread." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 14-20 Oct. 1996, 29-30.

"Even if a major investigation into the allegations is done, it is unlikely to quell the certainty among many African Americans that the government played a role in bringing the crack epidemic to black communities."

Golden, Tim. "Tale of C.I.A. and Drugs Has Life of Its Own." New York Times, 21 Oct. 1996, A1, A10 (N).

"The force of the Mercury News account appears to have relatively little to do with the quality of the evidence that it marshals.... [T]here is scant proof to support the paper's contention that Nicaraguan rebel officials linked to the C.I.A. played a central role in spreading crack through Los Angeles and other cities." Nevertheless, the Mercury News story "found fertile ground."

Golden also has a sidebar story, "Pivotal Figures of Newspaper Series May Be Only Bit Players," New York Times, 21 Oct. 1996, A10 (N), about the two Nicaraguan drug traffickers -- Juan Norwin Meneses Canterero and Oscar Danilo Blandón -- at the center of the accusations.

New York Times. "[Editorial:] The C.I.A. and Drugs." 5 Nov. 1996, A18 (N).

"[N]o one, including the Mercury News, has so far produced credible evidence that the C.I.A. organized or took part in drug dealing by the contras or that the rebels flooded Los Angeles with drugs to finance their war against the Sandinistas.... [Nevertheless,] the series did find drug-smuggling and dealing by Nicaraguans with at least tentative connections to the contras. Journalists and investigators should determine whether this activity was more than incidental to contra operations, and whether the C.I.A. played any role in it."

New York Times. "C.I.A. Uncovers No Nicaraguan Connection: Agency Investigating Charges of Involvement with Drug Dealers." 7 Nov. 1996, A9 (N).

Documents filed in Federal District Court in San Diego on 4 November say that the CIA had no record of a relationship with Nicaraguan drug dealers or other alleged operators of a 1980s cocaine ring in California. An internal investigation by CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz is continuing.

Johnson, Christopher. "CIA, Contras and Drugs: Questions Linger." Washington Post, 8 Nov. 1996. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

Turner, Richard. "Cracks in the Story." Newsweek, 11 Nov. 1996, 64-65.

The San Jose Mercury News' story about Nicaraguan drug dealers with connections to the contras and the CIA "has largely been discredited because it promised more than it could deliver.... [T]he paper overhyped and overpackaged the story. The big papers ... trundled out reams of evidence to demolish [the story's] simplistic contention."

New York Times. "In Los Angeles, Inquiry Finds No C.I.A. Link in Drug Dealing." 12 Dec. 1996, A12 (N).

"The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has reported that it found no evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency was involved in cocaine dealing in Los Angeles."

 

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