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Gary Webb Speaks on CIA Connections to Contra Drug Trafficking (and Related Topics)

See also tran­scripts from Gary Web­b’s orig­i­nal San Jose Mer­cury News series:
Part 1 [1] | Part 2 [2] | Part 3 [3] | Part 4 [4] | Part 5 [5] | Part 6 [6] | Part 7 [7]

Date: Jan­u­ary 16, 1999
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Loca­tion: First Unit­ed Methodist Church, 1376 Olive St., Eugene, Ore­gon

Gary Webb: I look like an idiot up here with all these mikes, the CIA agents are prob­a­bly behind one or the oth­er... [laugh­ter from the audi­ence]. It’s real­ly nice to be in Eugene — I’ve been in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin talk­ing about this, I’ve been in Berke­ley, I’ve been in San­ta Mon­i­ca, and these are sort of like islands of san­i­ty in this world today, so it’s great to be on one of those islands.

One of the things that is weird about this whole thing, though, is that I’ve been a dai­ly news reporter for about twen­ty years, and I’ve done prob­a­bly a thou­sand inter­views with peo­ple, and the strangest thing is being on the oth­er side of the table now and hav­ing reporters ask me ques­tions. One of them asked me about a week ago — I was on a radio show — and the host asked me, “Why did you get into news­pa­per report­ing, of all the media? Why did you pick news­pa­pers?” And I real­ly had to admit that I was stumped. Because I thought about it — I’d been doing news­pa­per report­ing since I was four­teen or fif­teen years old — and I real­ly did­n’t have an answer.

So I went back to my clip books — you know, most reporters keep all their old clips — and I start­ed dig­ging around try­ing to fig­ure out if there was one sto­ry that I had writ­ten that had real­ly tipped the bal­ance. And I found it. And I want­ed to tell you this sto­ry, because it sort of fits into the theme that we’re going to talk about tonight.

I think I was fif­teen, I was work­ing for my high school paper, and I was writ­ing edi­to­ri­als. This sounds sil­ly now that I think about it, but I had writ­ten an edi­to­r­i­al against the drill team that we had for the high school games, for the foot­ball games. This was ’71 or ’72, at the height of the protests against the Viet­nam War, and I was in school then in sub­ur­ban Indi­anapo­lis — Dan Quayle coun­try. So, you get the idea of the fla­vor of the school sys­tem. They thought it was a cool idea to dress women up in mil­i­tary uni­forms and send them out there to twirl rifles and bat­tle flags at half­time. And I thought this was sort of out­ra­geous, and I wrote an edi­to­r­i­al say­ing I thought it was one of the sil­li­est things I’d ever seen. And my news­pa­per advi­sor called me the next day and said, “Gosh, that edi­to­r­i­al you wrote has real­ly prompt­ed a response.” And I said, “Great, that’s the idea, isn’t it?” And she said, “Well, it’s not so great, they want you to apol­o­gize for it.” [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.]

I said, “Apol­o­gize for what?” And she said, “Well, the girls were very offend­ed.” And I said, “Well, I’m not apol­o­giz­ing because they don’t want my opin­ion. You’ll have to come up with a bet­ter rea­son than that.” And they said, “Well, if you don’t apol­o­gize, we’re not going to let you in Quill & Scroll,” which is the high school jour­nal­ism soci­ety. And I said, “Well, I don’t want to be in that orga­ni­za­tion if I have to apol­o­gize to get into it.” [More laugh­ter from the audi­ence, scat­tered applause.]

They were sort of pow­er­less at that point, and they said, “Look, why don’t you just come down and the cheer­lead­ers are going to come in, and they want to talk to you and tell you what they think,” and I said okay. So I went down to the news­pa­per office, and there were about fif­teen of them sit­ting around this table, and they all went around one by one telling me what a scum­bag I was, and what a ter­ri­ble guy I was, and how I’d ruined their dates, ruined their com­plex­ions, and all sorts of things... [Laugh­ter and groans from the audi­ence.] ...and at that moment, I decid­ed, “Man, this is what I want to do for a liv­ing.” [Roar of laugh­ter from the audi­ence.] And I wish I could say that it was because I was infused with this sense of the First Amend­ment, and think­ing great thoughts about John Peter Zenger and I.F. Stone... but what I was real­ly think­ing was, “Man, this is a great way to meet women!” [More laugh­ter.]

And that’s a true sto­ry, but the rea­son I tell you that is because it’s often those kinds of weird moti­va­tions and unthink­ing con­se­quences that lead us to do things, that lead us to events that we have absolute­ly no con­cept how they’re going to turn out. Lit­tle did I know that twen­ty-five years lat­er, I’d be writ­ing a sto­ry about the CIA’s wrong­do­ings because I want­ed to meet women by writ­ing edi­to­ri­als about cheer­lead­ers.

But that’s real­ly the way life and that’s real­ly the way his­to­ry works a lot of times. You know, when you think back on your own lives, from the van­tage point of time, you can see it. I mean, think back to the deci­sions you’ve made in your life­times that brought you to where you are tonight, think about how close you came to nev­er meet­ing your wife or your hus­band, how eas­i­ly you could have been doing some­thing else for a liv­ing if it had­n’t been for a deci­sion that you made or some­one made that you had absolute­ly no con­trol over. And it’s real­ly kind of scary when you think about how capri­cious life is some­times. That’s a theme I try to bring to my book, Dark Alliance, which was about the crack cocaine explo­sion in the 1980s.

So for the record, let me just say this right now. I do not believe — and I have nev­er believed — that the crack cocaine explo­sion was a con­scious CIA con­spir­a­cy, or any­body’s con­spir­a­cy, to dec­i­mate black Amer­i­ca. I’ve nev­er believed that South Cen­tral Los Ange­les was tar­get­ed by the U.S. gov­ern­ment to become the crack capi­tol of the world. But that isn’t to say that the CIA’s hands or the U.S. gov­ern­men­t’s hands are clean in this mat­ter. Actu­al­ly, far from it. After spend­ing three years of my life look­ing into this, I am more con­vinced than ever that the U.S. gov­ern­men­t’s respon­si­bil­i­ty for the drug prob­lems in South Cen­tral Los Ange­les and oth­er inner cities is greater than I ever wrote in the news­pa­per.

But it’s impor­tant to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between malign intent and gross neg­li­gence. And that’s an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion, because it’s what makes pre­med­i­tat­ed mur­der dif­fer­ent from manslaugh­ter. That said, it does­n’t change the fact that you’ve got a body on the floor, and that’s what I want to talk about tonight, the body.

Many years ago, there was a great series on PBS — I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remem­ber this — it was called Con­nec­tions. And it was by a British his­to­ri­an named James Burke. If you don’t remem­ber it, it was a mar­velous show, very influ­en­tial on me. And he would take a seem­ing­ly incon­se­quen­tial event in his­to­ry, and fol­low it through the ages to see what it spawned as a result. The one show I remem­ber the most clear­ly was the one he did on how the scarci­ty of fire­wood in thir­teenth-cen­tu­ry Europe led to the devel­op­ment of the steam engine. And you would think, “Well, these things aren’t con­nect­ed at all,” and he would show very con­vinc­ing­ly that they were.

In the first chap­ter of the book on which the series is based, Burke wrote that “His­to­ry is not, as we are so often led to believe, a mat­ter of great men and lone­ly genius­es point­ing the way to the future from their ivory tow­ers. At some point, every mem­ber of soci­ety is involved in that process by which inno­va­tion and change come about. The key to why things change is the key to every­thing.”

What I’ve attempt­ed to demon­strate in my book was how the col­lapse of a bru­tal, pro-Amer­i­can dic­ta­tor­ship in Latin Amer­i­ca, com­bined with a deci­sion by cor­rupt CIA agents to raise mon­ey for a resis­tance move­ment by any means nec­es­sary, led to he for­ma­tion of the nation’s first major crack mar­ket in South Cen­tral Los Ange­les, which led to the arm­ing and the empow­er­ment of LA’s street gangs, which led to the spread of crack to black neigh­bor­hoods across the coun­try, and to the pas­sage of racial­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry sen­tenc­ing laws that are lock­ing up thou­sands of young black men today behind bars for most of their lives.

But it’s not so much a con­spir­a­cy as a chain reac­tion. And that’s what my whole book is about, this chain reac­tion. So let me explain the links in this chain a lit­tle bet­ter.

The first link is this fel­low Anas­ta­sio Somoza, who was an Amer­i­can-edu­cat­ed tyrant, one of our bud­dies nat­u­ral­ly, and his fam­i­ly ruled Nicaragua for forty years — thanks to the Nicaraguan Nation­al Guard, which we sup­plied, armed, and fund­ed, because we thought they were, you know, anti-com­mu­nists.

Well, in 1979, the peo­ple of Nicaragua got tired of liv­ing under this dic­ta­tor­ship, and they rose up and over­threw it. And a lot of Somoza­’s friends and rel­a­tives and busi­ness part­ners came to the Unit­ed States, because we had been their allies all these years, includ­ing two men whose fam­i­lies had been very close to the dic­ta­tor­ship. And these two guys are sort of two of the three main char­ac­ters in my book — a fel­low named Dani­lo Bland­ón, and a fel­low named Nor­win Mene­ses.

They came to the Unit­ed States in 1979, along with a flood of oth­er Nicaraguan immi­grants, most of them mid­dle-class peo­ple, most of them for­mer bankers, for­mer insur­ance sales­men — sort of a cap­i­tal­ist exo­dus from Nicaragua. And they got involved when they got here, and they decid­ed they were going to take the coun­try back, they did­n’t like the fact that they’d been forced out of their coun­try. So they formed these resis­tance orga­ni­za­tions here in the Unit­ed States, and they began plot­ting how they were going to kick the San­danistas out.

At this point in time, Jim­my Carter was pres­i­dent, and Carter was­n’t all that inter­est­ed in help­ing these folks out. The CIA was, how­ev­er. And that’s where we start get­ting into this murky world of, you know, who real­ly runs the Unit­ed States. Is it the pres­i­dent? Is it the bureau­cra­cy? Is it the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty? At dif­fer­ent points in time you get dif­fer­ent answers. Like today, the idea that Clin­ton runs the Unit­ed States is nuts. The idea that Jim­my Carter ran the coun­try is nuts.

In 1979 and 1980, the CIA secret­ly began vis­it­ing these groups that were set­ting up here in the Unit­ed States, sup­ply­ing them with a lit­tle bit of mon­ey, and telling them to hold on, wait for a lit­tle while, don’t give up. And Ronald Rea­gan came to town. And Rea­gan had a very dif­fer­ent out­look on Cen­tral Amer­i­ca than Carter did. Rea­gan saw what hap­pened in Nicaragua not as a pop­ulist upris­ing, as most of the rest of the world did. He saw it as this band of com­mu­nists down there, there was going to be anoth­er Fidel Cas­tro, and he was going to have anoth­er Cuba in his back­yard. Which fit in very well with the CIA’s think­ing. So, the CIA under Rea­gan got it togeth­er, and they said, “We’re going to help these guys out.” They autho­rized $19 mil­lion to fund a covert war to desta­bi­lize the gov­ern­ment in Nicaragua and help get their old bud­dies back in pow­er.

Soon after the CIA took over this oper­a­tion, these two drug traf­fick­ers, who had come from Nicaragua and set­tled in Cal­i­for­nia, were called down to Hon­duras. And they met with a CIA agent named Enrique Bermúdez, who was one of Somoza­’s mil­i­tary offi­cials, and the man the CIA picked to run this new orga­ni­za­tion they were form­ing. And both traf­fick­ers had said — one of them said, the oth­er one wrote, and it’s nev­er been con­tra­dict­ed — that when they met with the CIA agent, he told them, “We need mon­ey for this oper­a­tion. Your guy’s job is to go to Cal­i­for­nia and raise mon­ey, and not to wor­ry about how you did it. And what he said was — and I think this had been used to jus­ti­fy just about every crime against human­i­ty that we’ve known — “the ends jus­ti­fy the means.”

Now, this is a very impor­tant link in this chain reac­tion, because the means they select­ed was cocaine traf­fick­ing, which is sort of what you’d expect when you ask cocaine traf­fick­ers to go out and raise mon­ey for you. You should­n’t at all be sur­prised when they go out and sell drugs. Espe­cial­ly when you pick peo­ple who are like pio­neers of the cocaine traf­fick­ing busi­ness, which Nor­win Mene­ses cer­tain­ly was.

There was a CIA cable from I believe 1984, which called him the “king­pin of nar­cotics traf­fick­ing” in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca. He was sort of like the Al Capone of Nicaragua. So after get­ting these fundrais­ing instruc­tions from this CIA agent, these two men go back to Cal­i­for­nia, and they begin sell­ing cocaine. This time not exclu­sive­ly for them­selves — this time in fur­ther­ance of U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy. And they began sell­ing it in Los Ange­les, and they began sell­ing it in San Fran­cis­co.

Some­time in 1982, Dani­lo Bland­ón, who had been giv­en the LA mar­ket, start­ed sell­ing his cocaine to a young drug deal­er named Ricky Ross, who lat­er became known as “Free­way” Rick. In 1994, the LA Times would describe him as the mas­ter mar­keter most respon­si­ble for flood­ing the streets of Los Ange­les with cocaine. In 1979, he was noth­ing. He was noth­ing before he met these Nicaraguans. He was a high school dropout. He was a kid who want­ed to be a ten­nis star, who was try­ing to get a ten­nis schol­ar­ship, but he found out that in order to get a schol­ar­ship you need­ed to read and write, and he could­n’t. So he drift­ed out of school and wound up sell­ing stolen car parts, and then he met these Nicaraguans, who had this cheap cocaine that they want­ed to unload. And he proved to be very good at that.

Now, he lived in South Cen­tral Los Ange­les, which was home to some street gangs known as the Crips and the Bloods. And back in 1981–82, hard­ly any­body knew who they were. They were main­ly neigh­bor­hood kids — they’d beat each oth­er up, they’d steal leather coats, they’d steal cars, but they were real­ly noth­ing back then. But what they gained through this orga­ni­za­tion, and what they gained through Ricky Ross, was a built-in dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work through­out the neigh­bor­hood. The Crips and the Bloods were already sell­ing mar­i­jua­na, they were already sell­ing PCP, so it was­n’t much of a stretch for them to sell some­thing new, which is what these Nicaraguans were bring­ing in, which was cocaine.

This is where these forces of his­to­ry come out of nowhere and col­lide. Right about the time the con­tras got to South Cen­tral Los Ange­les, hooked up with “Free­way” Rick, and start­ed sell­ing pow­der cocaine, the peo­ple Rick was sell­ing his pow­der to start­ed ask­ing him if he knew how to make it into this stuff called “rock” that they were hear­ing about. This obvi­ous­ly was crack cocaine, and it was already on its way to the Unit­ed States by then — it start­ed in Peru in ’74 and was work­ing its way upward, and it was bound to get here soon­er or lat­er. In 1981 it got to Los Ange­les, and peo­ple start­ed fig­ur­ing out how to take this very expen­sive pow­dered cocaine and cook it up on the stove and turn it into stuff you could smoke.

When Ricky went out and he start­ed talk­ing to his cus­tomers, and they start­ed ask­ing him how to make this stuff, you know, Rick was a smart guy — he still is a smart guy — and he fig­ured, this is some­thing new. This is cus­tomer demand. If I want
to progress in this busi­ness, I bet­ter meet this demand. So he start­ed switch­ing from sell­ing pow­der to mak­ing rock him­self, and sell­ing it already made. He called this new inven­tion his “Ready Rock.” And he told me the sce­nario, he said it was a sit­u­a­tion where he’d go to a guy’s house, he would say, “Oh man, I want to get high, I’m on my way to work, I don’t have time to go into the kitchen and cook this stuff up. Can’t you cook it up for me and just bring it to me already made?” And he said, “Yeah, I can do that.” So he start­ed doing it.

So by the time crack got a hold of South Cen­tral, which took a cou­ple of years, Rick had posi­tioned him­self on top of the crack mar­ket in South Cen­tral. And by 1984, crack sales had sup­plant­ed mar­i­jua­na and PCP sales as sources of income for the gangs and drug deal­ers of South Cen­tral. And sud­den­ly these guys had more mon­ey than they knew what to do with. Because what hap­pened with crack, it democ­ra­tized the drug. When you were buy­ing it in pow­dered form, you were hav­ing to lay out a hun­dred bucks for a gram, or a hun­dred and fifty bucks for a gram. Now all you need­ed was ten bucks, or five bucks, or a dol­lar — they were sell­ing “dol­lar rocks” at one point. So any­body who had mon­ey and want­ed to get high could get some of this stuff. You did­n’t need to be a mid­dle-class or wealthy drug user any­more.

Sud­den­ly the mar­ket for this very expen­sive drug expand­ed geo­met­ri­cal­ly. And now these deal­ers, who were mak­ing a hun­dred bucks a day on a good day, were now mak­ing five or six thou­sand dol­lars a day on a good day. And the gangs start­ed set­ting up fran­chis­es — they start­ed fran­chis­ing rock hous­es in South Cen­tral, just like McDon­ald’s. And you’d go on the streets, and there’d be five or six rock hous­es owned by one guy, and five or six rock hous­es owned by anoth­er guy, and sud­den­ly they start­ed mak­ing even more mon­ey.

And now they’ve got all this mon­ey, and they felt ner­vous. You get $100,000 or $200,000 in cash in your house, and you start get­ting kind of antsy about it. So now they want­ed weapons to guard their mon­ey with, and to guard their rock hous­es, which oth­er peo­ple were start­ing to knock off. And lo and behold, you had weapons. The con­tras. They were sell­ing weapons. They were buy­ing weapons. And they start­ed sell­ing weapons to the gangs in Los Ange­les. They start­ed sell­ing them AR-15s, they start­ed sell­ing them Uzis, they start­ed sell­ing them Israeli-made pis­tols with laser sights, just about any­thing. Because that was part of the process here. They were not just drug deal­ers, they were tak­ing the drug mon­ey and buy­ing weapons with it to send down to Cen­tral Amer­i­ca with the assis­tance of a great num­ber of spooky CIA folks, who were get­ting them and that sort of thing, so they could get weapons in and out of the coun­try. So, not only does South Cen­tral sud­den­ly have a drug prob­lem, they have a weapons prob­lem that they nev­er had before. And you start­ed see­ing things like dri­ve-by shoot­ings and gang bangers with Uzis.

By 1985, the LA crack mar­ket had become sat­u­rat­ed. There was so much dope going into South Cen­tral, dope that the CIA, we now know, knew of, and they knew the ori­gins of — the FBI knew the ori­gins of it; the DEA knew the ori­gins of it; and nobody did any­thing about it. (We’ll get into that in a bit.)

But what hap­pened was, there were so many peo­ple sell­ing crack that the deal­ers were jostling each oth­er on the cor­ners. And the small­er ones decid­ed, we’re going to take this show on the road. So they start­ed going to oth­er cities. They start­ed going to Bak­ers­field, they start­ed going to Fres­no, they start­ed going to San Fran­cis­co and Oak­land, where they did­n’t have crack mar­kets, and nobody knew what this stuff was, and they had wide open mar­kets for them­selves. And sud­den­ly crack start­ed show­ing up in city after city after city, and often­times it was Crips and Bloods from Los Ange­les who were start­ing these mar­kets. By 1986, it was all up and down the east coast, and by 1989, it was nation­wide.

Today, for­tu­nate­ly, crack use is on a down­ward trend, but that’s some­thing that isn’t due to any great progress we’ve made in the so-called “War on Drugs,” it’s the nat­ur­al cycle of things. Drug epi­demics gen­er­al­ly run from 10 to 15 years. Hero­in is now the lat­est drug on the upswing.

Now, a lot of peo­ple dis­agreed with this sce­nario. The New York Times, the LA Times and the Wash­ing­ton Post all came out and said, oh, no, that’s not so. They said this could­n’t have hap­pened that way, because crack would have hap­pened any­way. Which is true, some­what. As I point­ed out in the first chap­ter of my book, crack was on its way here. But whether it would have hap­pened the same way, whether it would have hap­pened in South Cen­tral, whether it would have hap­pened in Los Ange­les at all first, is a very dif­fer­ent sto­ry. If it had hap­pened in Eugene, Ore­gon first, it might not have gone any­where. [Rest­less shuf­fling and the sounds of throats being cleared among the audi­ence.] No offense, but you folks aren’t exact­ly trend set­ters up here when it comes to drug deal­ers and drug fads. LA is, how­ev­er. [Soft laugh­ter and mur­mur­ing among the audi­ence.]

You can play “what if” games all you like, but it does­n’t change the real­i­ty. And the real­i­ty is that this CIA-con­nect­ed drug ring played a very crit­i­cal role in the ear­ly 1980s in open­ing up South Cen­tral to a crack epi­dem­ic that was unmatched in its sever­i­ty and influ­ence any­where in the U.S.

One ques­tion that I ask peo­ple who say, “Oh, I don’t believe this,” is, okay, tell me this: why did crack appear in black neigh­bor­hoods first? Why did crack dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works leapfrog from one black neigh­bor­hood to oth­er black neigh­bor­hoods and bypass white neigh­bor­hoods and bypass His­pan­ic neigh­bor­hoods and Asian neigh­bor­hoods? Our gov­ern­ment and the main­stream media have giv­en us vary­ing expla­na­tions for this phe­nom­e­non over the years, and they are nice, com­fort­ing, gen­er­al expla­na­tions which absolve any­one of any respon­si­bil­i­ty for why crack is so eth­ni­cal­ly spe­cif­ic. One of the rea­sons we’re told is that, well, it’s pover­ty. As if the only poor neigh­bor­hoods in this coun­try were black neigh­bor­hoods. And we’re told it’s high teenage unem­ploy­ment; these kids got­ta have jobs. As if the hills and hol­lows of Appalachia don’t have teenage unem­ploy­ment rates that are ten times high­er than inner city Los Ange­les. And then we’re told that it’s loose fam­i­ly struc­ture — you know, pre­sum­ing that there are no white sin­gle moth­ers out there try­ing to raise kids on low-pay­ing jobs or wel­fare and food stamps. And then we’re told, well, it’s because crack is so cheap — because it sells for a low­er price in South Cen­tral than it sells any­where else. But twen­ty bucks is twen­ty bucks, no mat­ter where you go in the coun­try.

So once you have elim­i­nat­ed these sort of non-sen­si­cal expla­na­tions, you are left with two the­o­ries which are far less com­fort­able. The first the­o­ry — which is not some­thing I per­son­al­ly sub­scribe to, but it’s out there — is that there’s some­thing about black neigh­bor­hoods which caus­es them to be genet­i­cal­ly pre­dis­posed to drug traf­fick­ing. That’s a racist argu­ment that no one in their right mind is advanc­ing pub­licly, although I tell you, when I was read­ing a lot of the sto­ries in the Wash­ing­ton Post and the New York Times, they were talk­ing about black Amer­i­cans being more sus­cep­ti­ble to “con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries” than white Amer­i­cans, which is why they believe the sto­ry more. I think that was sort of the under­ly­ing cur­rent there. On the oth­er hand, I did­n’t see any sto­ries about all the white peo­ple who think Elvis is alive still, or that Hitler’s brain is pre­served down in Brazil to await the Fourth Reich... [laugh­ter from the audi­ence] ...which is a par­tic­u­lar­ly white con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, I did­n’t see any sto­ries in the New York Times about that...

The oth­er more palat­able rea­son which in my mind comes clos­er to the truth, is that some­one start­ed bring­ing cheap cocaine into black neigh­bor­hoods right at the
time when drug users began fig­ur­ing out how to turn it into crack. And this allowed black drug deal­ers to get a head start on every oth­er eth­nic group in terms of set­ting up dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tems and traf­fick­ing sys­tems.

Now, one thing I’ve learned about the drug busi­ness while research­ing this is that in many ways it is the epit­o­me of cap­i­tal­ism. It is the purest form of cap­i­tal­ism. You have no gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion, a wide-open mar­ket, a buy­er’s mar­ket — any­thing goes. But these things don’t spring out of the ground ful­ly formed. It’s like any busi­ness. It takes time to grow them. It takes time to set up net­works. So once these dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works got set up and estab­lished in pri­mar­i­ly South Cen­tral Los Ange­les, pri­mar­i­ly black neigh­bor­hoods, they spread it along eth­nic and cul­tur­al lines. You had black deal­ers from LA going to black neigh­bor­hoods in oth­er cities, because they knew peo­ple there, they had friends there, and that’s why you saw these net­works pop up from one black neigh­bor­hood to anoth­er black neigh­bor­hood.

Now, exact­ly the same thing hap­pened on the east coast a cou­ple of years lat­er. When crack first appeared on the east coast, it appeared in Caribbean neigh­bor­hoods in Mia­mi — thanks large­ly to the Jamaicans, who were using their drug prof­its to fund polit­i­cal gains back home. It was almost the exact oppo­site of what hap­pened in LA in that the pol­i­tics were the oppo­site — but it was the same phe­nom­e­non. And once the Mia­mi mar­ket was sat­u­rat­ed, they moved to New York, they moved east, and they start­ed bring­ing crack from the east coast towards the mid­dle of the coun­try.

So it seems to me that if you’re look­ing for the root of your drug prob­lems in a neigh­bor­hood, noth­ing else mat­ters except the drugs, and where they’re com­ing from, and how they’re get­ting there. And all these oth­er rea­sons I cit­ed are used as expla­na­tions for how crack became pop­u­lar, but it does­n’t explain how the cocaine got there in the first place. And that’s where the con­tras came in.

One of the things which these news­pa­pers who dissed my sto­ry were say­ing was, we can’t believe that the CIA would know about drug traf­fick­ing and let it hap­pen. That this idea that this agency which gets $27 bil­lion a year to tell us what’s going on, and which was so inti­mate­ly involved with the con­tras they were writ­ing their press releas­es for them, they would­n’t know about this drug traf­fick­ing going on under their noses. But the Times and the Post all uncrit­i­cal­ly report­ed their claims that the CIA did­n’t know what was going on, and that it would nev­er per­mit its hirelings to do any­thing like that, as unseem­ly as drug traf­fick­ing. You know, assas­si­na­tions and bomb­ings and that sort of thing, yeah, they’ll admit to right up front, but drug deal­ing, no, no, they don’t do that kind of stuff.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, though, it was true, and what has hap­pened since my series came out is that the CIA was forced to do an inter­nal review, the DEA and Jus­tice Depart­ment were forced to do inter­nal reviews, and these agen­cies that released these reports, you prob­a­bly did­n’t read about them, because they con­tra­dict­ed every­thing else these oth­er news­pa­pers had been writ­ing for the last cou­ple of years, but let me just read you this one excerpt. This is from a 1987 DEA report. And this is about this drug ring in Los Ange­les that I wrote about. In 1987, the DEA sent under­cov­er infor­mants inside this drug oper­a­tion, and they inter­viewed one of the prin­ci­pals of this orga­ni­za­tion, name­ly Ivan Tor­res. And this is what he said. He told the infor­mant:

“The CIA wants to know about drug traf­fick­ing, but only for their own pur­pos­es, and not nec­es­sar­i­ly for the use of law enforce­ment agen­cies. Tor­res told DEA Con­fi­den­tial Infor­mant 1 that CIA rep­re­sen­ta­tives are aware of his drug-relat­ed activ­i­ties, and that they don’t mind. He said they had gone so far as to encour­age cocaine traf­fick­ing by mem­bers of the con­tras, because they know it’s a good source of income. Some of this mon­ey has gone into num­bered accounts in Europe and Pana­ma, as does the mon­ey that goes to Man­agua from cocaine traf­fick­ing. Tor­res told the infor­mant about receiv­ing coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence train­ing from the CIA, and had avowed that the CIA looks the oth­er way and in essence allows them to engage in nar­cotics traf­fick­ing.”

This is a DEA report that was writ­ten in 1987, when this oper­a­tion was still going on. Anoth­er mem­ber of this orga­ni­za­tion who was affil­i­at­ed with the San Fran­cis­co end of it, said that in 1985 — and this was to the CIA — “Cabezas claimed that the con­tra cocaine oper­at­ed with the knowl­edge of, and under the super­vi­sion of, the CIA. Cabezas claimed that this drug enter­prise was run with the knowl­edge of CIA agent Ivan Gómez.”

Now, this is one of the sto­ries that I tried to do at the Mer­cury News was who this man Ivan Gómez was. This was after my orig­i­nal series came out, and after the con­tro­ver­sy start­ed. I went back to Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, and I found this fel­low Cabezas and he told me all about Ivan Gómez. And I came back, I cor­rob­o­rat­ed it with three for­mer con­tra offi­cials. Mer­cury News would­n’t put it in the news­pa­per. And they said, “We have no evi­dence this man even exists.”

Well, the CIA Inspec­tor Gen­er­al’s report came out in Octo­ber, and there was a whole chap­ter on Ivan Gómez. And the amaz­ing thing was that Ivan Gómez admit­ted in a CIA-admin­is­tered poly­graph test that he had been engaged in laun­der­ing drug mon­ey the same month that this man told me he had been engaged in it. CIA knew about it, and what did they do? Noth­ing. They said okay, go back to work. And they cov­ered it up for fif­teen years.

So, the one thing that I’ve learned from this whole expe­ri­ence is, first of all, you can’t believe the gov­ern­ment — on any­thing. And you espe­cial­ly can’t believe them when they’re talk­ing about impor­tant stuff, like this stuff. The oth­er thing is that the media will believe the gov­ern­ment before they believe any­thing.

This has been the most amaz­ing thing to me. You had a sit­u­a­tion where you had anoth­er news­pa­per who report­ed this infor­ma­tion. The major news orga­ni­za­tions in this coun­try went to the CIA, they went to the Jus­tice Depart­ment, and they said, what about it? And they said, oh, no, it’s not true. Take our word for it. And they went back and put it in the news­pa­per! Now, I try to imag­ine what would hap­pen had reporters come back to their edi­tors and said, look, I know the CIA is involved in drug traf­fick­ing. And I know the FBI knows about it, and I’ve got a con­fi­den­tial source that’s telling me that. Can I write a sto­ry about that? What do you think the answer would have been? [Mur­murs of “no” from the audi­ence.] Get back down to the obit desk. Start crank­ing out those sports scores. But, if they go to the gov­ern­ment and the gov­ern­ment denies some­thing like that, they’ll put it in the paper with no cor­rob­o­ra­tion what­so­ev­er.

And it’s only since the gov­ern­ment has admit­ted it that now the media is will­ing to con­sid­er that there might be a sto­ry here after all. The New York Times, after the CIA report that came out, ran a sto­ry on its front page say­ing, gosh, the con­tras were involved in drugs after all, and gosh, the CIA knew about it.

Now you would think — at least I would think — that some­thing like that would war­rant Con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tion. We’re spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to find out how many times Bill Clin­ton had sex with Mon­i­ca Lewin­sky. Why aren’t we inter­est­ed in how much the CIA knew about drug traf­fic? Who was prof­it­ing from this drug traf­fic? Who else knew about it? And why did it take some guy from a Cal­i­for­nia news­pa­per by acci­dent stum­bling over this stuff ten years lat­er in order for it to be impor­tant? I mean, what the hell is going on here? I’ve been a reporter for almost twen­ty years. To me, this is a nat­ur­al sto­ry. The CIA is involved in drug traf­fick­ing? Let’s know about it. Let’s find out about it. Let’s do some­thing about it. Nobody wants to touch this thing.

And the oth­er thing that came out just recent­ly,
which nobody seems to know about, because it has­n’t been report­ed — the CIA Inspec­tor Gen­er­al went before Con­gress in March and tes­ti­fied that yes, they knew about it. They found some doc­u­ments that indi­cat­ed that they knew about it, yeah. I was there, and this was fun­ny to watch, because these Con­gress­men were up there, and they were ready to hear the abso­lu­tion, right? “We had no evi­dence that this was going on...” And this guy sort of threw ’em a curve ball and admit­ted that it had hap­pened.

One of the peo­ple said, well geez, what was the CIA’s respon­si­bil­i­ty when they found out about this? What were you guys sup­posed to do? And the Inspec­tor Gen­er­al sort of looked around ner­vous­ly, cleared his throat and said, “Well... that’s kind of an odd his­to­ry there.” And Nor­man Dix from Wash­ing­ton, bless his heart, did­n’t let it go at that. He said, “Explain what you mean by that?” And the Inspec­tor Gen­er­al said, well, we were look­ing around and we found this doc­u­ment, and accord­ing to the doc­u­ment, we did­n’t have to report this to any­body. And they said, “How come?” And the IG said, we don’t know exact­ly, but there was an agree­ment made in 1982 between Bill Casey — a fine Amer­i­can, as we all know [laugh­ter from the audi­ence] — and William French Smith, who was then the Attor­ney Gen­er­al of the Unit­ed States. And they reached an agree­ment that said if there is drug traf­fick­ing involved by CIA agents, we don’t have to tell the Jus­tice Depart­ment. Hon­est to God. Hon­est to God. Actu­al­ly, this is now a pub­lic record, this doc­u­ment. Max­ine Waters just got copies of it, she’s putting it on the Con­gres­sion­al Record. It is now on the CIA’s web site, if you care to jour­ney into that area. If you do, check out the CIA Web Site for Kids, it’s great, I love it. [Laugh­er from the audi­ence.] I kid you not, they’ve actu­al­ly got a web page for kids.

The oth­er thing about this agree­ment was, this was­n’t just like a thir­ty-day agree­ment — this thing stayed in effect from 1982 until 1995. So all these years, these agen­cies had a gen­tle­man’s agree­ment that if CIA assets or CIA agents were involved in drug traf­fick­ing, it did not need to be report­ed to the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

So I think that elim­i­nates any ques­tions that drug traf­fick­ing by the con­tras was an acci­dent, or was a mat­ter of just a few rot­ten apples. I think what this said was that it was antic­i­pat­ed by the Jus­tice Depart­ment, it was antic­i­pat­ed by the CIA, and steps were tak­en to ensure that there was a loop­hole in the law, so that if it ever became pub­lic knowl­edge, nobody would be pros­e­cut­ed for it.

The oth­er thing is, when George Bush par­doned — remem­ber those Christ­mas par­dons that he hand­ed out when he was on his way out the door a few years ago? The media focused on old Cas­par Wein­berg­er, got par­doned, it was ter­ri­ble. Well, if you looked down the list of names at the oth­er par­dons he hand­ed out, there was a guy named Claire George, there was a guy named Al Fiers, there was anoth­er guy named Joe Fer­nán­dez. And these sto­ries sort of brushed them off and said, well, they were CIA offi­cials, we’re not going to say much more about it. These were the CIA offi­cials who were respon­si­ble for the con­tra war. These were the men who were run­ning the con­tra oper­a­tion. And the text of Bush’s par­don not only par­dons them for the crimes of Iran-con­tra, it par­dons them for every­thing. So, now that we know about it, we can’t even do any­thing about it. They all received pres­i­den­tial par­dons.

So where does that leave us? Well, I think it sort of leaves us to rely on the judg­ment of his­to­ry. But that is a dan­ger­ous step. We did­n’t know about this stuff two years ago; we know about it now. We’ve got Con­gress­men who are no longer will­ing to believe that CIA agents are “hon­or­able men,” as William Col­by called them. And we’ve got approx­i­mate­ly a thou­sand pages of evi­dence of CIA drug traf­fick­ing on the pub­lic record final­ly.

That said, let me tell you, there are thou­sands of pages more that we still don’t know about. The CIA report that came out in Octo­ber was orig­i­nal­ly 600 pages; by the time we got ahold of it, it was only 300 pages.

One last thing I want to men­tion — Bob Par­ry, who is a fine inves­tiga­tive reporter, he runs a mag­a­zine in Wash­ing­ton called I.F. Mag­a­zine, and he’s got a great web­site, check it out — he did a sto­ry about two weeks ago about some of the stuff that was con­tained in the CIA report that we did­n’t get to see. And one of the sto­ries he wrote was about how there was a sec­ond CIA drug ring in South Cen­tral Los Ange­les that ran from 1988 to 1991. This was not even the one I wrote about. There was anoth­er one there. This was clas­si­fied.

The inter­est­ing thing is, it was run by a CIA agent who had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the con­tra war, and the rea­son it was clas­si­fied is because it is under inves­ti­ga­tion by the CIA. I doubt very seri­ous­ly that we’ll ever hear anoth­er word about that.

But the one thing that we can do, and the one thing that Max­ine Waters is try­ing to do, is force the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee to hold hear­ings on this. This is sup­posed to be the over­sight com­mit­tee of the CIA. They have held one hear­ing, and after they found out there was this deal that they did­n’t have to report drug traf­fick­ing, they all ran out of the room, they haven’t con­vened since.

So if you’re inter­est­ed in pur­su­ing this, the thing I would sug­gest you do is, call up the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in Wash­ing­ton and ask them when we’re going to have anoth­er CIA/contra/crack hear­ing. Believe me, it’ll dri­ve them crazy. Send them email, just ask them, make sure — they think every­body’s for­got­ten about this. I mean, if you look around the room tonight, I don’t think it’s been for­got­ten. They want us to for­get about it. They want us to con­cen­trate on sex crimes, because, yeah, it’s tit­il­lat­ing. It keeps us occu­pied. It keeps us divert­ed. Don’t let them do it.

Thanks very much for your atten­tion, I appre­ci­ate it. We’ll do ques­tions and answers now for as long as you want.

[Robust applause.]

Ques­tion and Answer Ses­sion

Gary Webb: I’ve been instruct­ed to repeat the ques­tion, so...

Voice From the Audi­ence: You talked about George Bush par­don­ing peo­ple. Giv­en George Bush’s his­to­ry with the CIA, do you know when he first knew about this, and what he knew?

Gary Webb: Well, I did­n’t at the time I wrote the book, I do now. The ques­tion was, when did George Bush first know about this? The CIA, in its lat­est report, said that they had pre­pared a detailed brief­ing for the vice pres­i­dent — I think it was 1985? — on all these alle­ga­tions of con­tra drug traf­fick­ing and deliv­ered it to him per­son­al­ly. So, it’s hard for George to say he was out of the loop on this one.

I’ll tell you anoth­er thing, one of the most amaz­ing things I found in the Nation­al Archives was a report that had been writ­ten by the U.S. Attor­ney’s Office in Tam­pa — I believe it was 1987. They had just bust­ed a Colom­bian drug traf­fick­er named Allen Rudd, and they were using him as a coop­er­at­ing wit­ness. Rudd agreed to go under­cov­er and set up oth­er drug traf­fick­ers, and they were debrief­ing him.

Now, let me set the stage for you. When you are being debriefed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for use as an infor­mant, you’re not going to go in there and tell them crazy-sound­ing sto­ries, because they’re not going to believe you, they’re going to slap you in jail, right? What Rudd told them was, that he was involved in a meet­ing with Pablo Esco­bar, who was then the head of the Medel­lín car­tel. They were work­ing out arrange­ments to set up cocaine ship­ments into South Flori­da. He said Esco­bar start­ed rant­i­ng and rav­ing about that damned George Bush, and now he’s got that South Flori­da Drug Task Force set up which has real­ly been mak­ing things dif­fi­cult, and the man’s a trai­tor. And he used to deal with us, but now he wants to be pres­i­dent and thinks that he’s dou­ble-cross­ing us. And Rudd said, well, what are you talk­ing about? And Esco­bar said, we made a deal
with that guy, that we were going to ship weapons to the con­tras, they were in there fly­ing weapons down to Colum­bia, we were unload­ing weapons, we were get­ting them to the con­tras, and the deal was, we were sup­posed to get our stuff to the Unit­ed States with­out any prob­lems. And that was the deal that we made. And now he dou­ble-crossed us.

So the U.S. Attor­ney heard this, and he wrote this pan­icky memo to Wash­ing­ton say­ing, you know, this man has been very reli­able so far, every­thing he’s told us has checked out, and now he’s say­ing that the Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States is involved with drug traf­fick­ers. We might want to check this out. And it went all the way up — the fun­ny thing about gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments is, when­ev­er it pass­es over some­body’s desk, they have to ini­tial it. And this thing was like a lad­der, it went all the way up and all the way up, and it got up to the head of the Crim­i­nal Divi­sion at the Jus­tice Depart­ment, and he looked at it and said, looks like a job for Lawrence Walsh! And so he sent it over to Walsh, the Iran-con­tra pros­e­cu­tor, and he said, here, you take it, you deal with this. And Wal­sh’s office — I inter­viewed Walsh, and he said, we did­n’t have the author­i­ty to deal with that. We were look­ing at Ollie North. So I said, did any­body inves­ti­gate this? And the answer was, “no.” And that thing sat in the Nation­al Archives for ten years, nobody ever looked at it.

Voice From the Audi­ence: Is that in your book?

Gary Webb: Yeah.

Voice From the Audi­ence: Thank you.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #1: Well, first of all, I’d like to thank you for pur­su­ing this sto­ry, you have a lot of guts to do it.

[Applause from the audi­ence.]

Gary Webb: This is what reporters are sup­posed to do. This is what reporters are sup­posed to do. I don’t think I was doing any­thing spe­cial.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #1: Still, there’s not too many guys like you that are doing it.

Gary Webb: That’s true, they’ve all still got jobs.

[Laugh­ter, scat­tered applause.]

Audi­ence Mem­ber #1: I just had a cou­ple of ques­tions, the first one is, I fol­lowed the sto­ry on the web site, and I thought it was a real­ly great sto­ry, it was real­ly well done. And I noticed that the San Jose Mer­cury News seemed to sup­port you for a while, and then all the sud­den that sup­port col­lapsed. So I was won­der­ing what your rela­tion­ship is with your edi­tor there, and how that all played out, and when they all pulled out the rug from under you.

Gary Webb: Well, the sup­port col­lapsed prob­a­bly after the LA Times... The Wash­ing­ton [Post] came out first, the New York Times came out sec­ond, and the LA Times came out third, and they start­ed get­ting ner­vous. There’s a phe­nom­e­non in the media we all know, it’s called “pil­ing on,” and they start­ed see­ing them­selves get­ting piled on. They sent me back down to Cen­tral Amer­i­ca two more times to do more report­ing and I came back with sto­ries that were even more out­ra­geous than what they print­ed in the news­pa­per the first time. And they were faced with a sit­u­a­tion of, now we’re accus­ing Oliv­er North of being involved in drug traf­fick­ing. Now we’re accus­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment of being part and par­cel to this. Geez, if we get beat up over accus­ing a cou­ple of CIA agents of being involved in this, what the hell is going to hap­pen now? And they actu­al­ly said, I had mem­os say­ing, you know, if we run these sto­ries, there is going to be a firestorm of crit­i­cism.

So, I think they took the easy way out. The easy way out was not to go ahead and do the sto­ry. It was to back off the sto­ry. But they had a prob­lem, because the sto­ry was true. And it isn’t every day that you’re con­front­ed with how to take a dive on a true sto­ry.

They spent sev­er­al months — hon­est­ly, lit­er­al­ly, because I was get­ting these drafts back and forth — try­ing to fig­ure out how to say, we don’t sup­port this sto­ry, even though it’s true. And if you go back and you read the edi­tor’s col­umn, you’ll see that the great dif­fi­cul­ty that he had try­ing to take a dive on this thing. And he end­ed up talk­ing about “gray areas” that should have been explored a lit­tle more and “sub­tleties” that we should have not brushed over so light­ly, with­out dis­clos­ing the fact that the series had orig­i­nal­ly been four parts and they cut it to three parts, because “nobody reads four part series’ any­more.” So, that was one rea­son.

The oth­er rea­son was, you know, one of the things you learn very quick­ly when you get into jour­nal­ism is that there’s safe­ty in num­bers. Edi­tors don’t like being out there on a limb all by them­selves. I remem­ber very clear­ly going to press con­fer­ences, com­ing back, writ­ing a sto­ry, send­ing it in, and my edi­tor call­ing up and say­ing, well gee, this isn’t what AP wrote. Or, the Chron­i­cle just ran their sto­ry, and that’s not what the Chron­i­cle wrote. And I’d say, “Fine. Good.” And they said, no, we’ve got to make it the same, we don’t want to be dif­fer­ent. We don’t want our sto­ry to be dif­fer­ent from every­body else’s.

And so what they were see­ing at the Mer­cury was, the Big Three news­pa­pers were sit­ting on one side of the fence, and they were out there by them­selves, and that just pan­icked the hell out of them. So, you have to under­stand news­pa­per men­tal­i­ty to under­stand it a lit­tle bit, but it’s not too hard to under­stand cow­ardice, either. I think a lot of that was that they were just scared as hell to go ahead with the sto­ry.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #1: Were they able to look you in the eye, and...

Gary Webb: No. They did­n’t, they just did this over the phone. I went to Sacra­men­to.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #1: When did you find out about it, and what did you...

Gary Webb: Oh, they called me up at home, two months after I turned in my last four sto­ries, and said, we’re going to write a col­umn say­ing, you know, we’re not going ahead with this. And that’s when I jumped in the car and drove up there and said, what the hel­l’s going on? And I got all these mealy-mouthed answers, you know, geez, gray areas, sub­tleties, one thing or anoth­er... But I said, tell me one thing that’s wrong with the sto­ry, and nobody could ever point to any­thing. And today, to this day, nobody has ever said there was a fac­tu­al error in that sto­ry.

[Inaudi­ble ques­tion from the audi­ence.]

Gary Webb: The ques­tion was, the edi­tors are one thing, what about the read­ers? Um... who cares about the read­ers? Hon­est­ly. The read­er’s don’t run the news­pa­per.

[Anoth­er inaudi­ble ques­tion from the audi­ence regard­ing let­ters to the edi­tor and boy­cotts of the news­pa­per.]

Gary Webb: Well, a num­ber of them did, and believe me, the news­pa­per office was flood­ed with calls and emails. And the news­pa­per, to their cred­it, print­ed a bunch of them, call­ing it the most cow­ard­ly thing they’d ever seen. But in the long run, the read­ers, you know, don’t run the place. And that’s the thing about news­pa­per mar­kets these days. You folks real­ly don’t have any choice! What else are you going to read? And the edi­tors know this.

When I start­ed in this busi­ness, we had two news­pa­pers in town where I worked in Cincin­nati. And we were death­ly afraid that if we sat on a sto­ry for 24 hours, the Cincin­nati Inquir­er was going to put it in the paper, and we were going to look like dopes. We were going to look like we were cov­er­ing stuff up, we were going to look like we were pro­tect­ing some­body. So we were putting stuff in the paper with­out think­ing about it some­times, but we got it in the paper. Now, we can sit on stuff for months, who’s going to find out about it? And even if some­body found out about it, what are they going to do? That’s the big dan­ger that every­body has sort of missed. These one-news­pa­per towns, you’ve got no choice. You’ve got no choice. And tele­vi­sion? Tele­vi­sion’s not going to do it. I mean, they’re down film­ing ani­mals at the zoo!

[Laugh­ter and applause.]

Audi­ence Mem­ber #2: I assume you have talked to John Cum­mings, the one that wrote Com­pro­mised, that book?
br />Gary Webb: I talked to Ter­ry Reed, who was the prin­ci­pal author on that, yeah.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #2: Well, that was a well-doc­u­ment­ed book, and I had just fin­ished read­ing this when I hap­pened to look down and see the head­lines on the Sun­day paper. And he stat­ed that Oliv­er North told him per­son­al­ly that he was a CIA asset that man­u­fac­tured weapons.

Gary Webb: Right.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #2: When he dis­cov­ered that they were import­ing cocaine, he got out of there. And they chased him with his fam­i­ly across coun­try for two years try­ing to catch him. But he had said in that book that Oliv­er North told him that Vice Pres­i­dent Bush told Oliv­er North to dirty Clin­ton’s men with the drug mon­ey. Which I assumed was what White­wa­ter was all about, was find­ing the laun­der­ing and try­ing to find some­thing on Clin­ton. Do you know any­thing about that?

Gary Webb: Yeah, let me sum up your ques­tion. Essen­tial­ly, you’re ask­ing about the goings-on in Mena, Arkansas, because of the drug oper­a­tions going on at this lit­tle air base in Arkansas while Clin­ton was gov­er­nor down there. The fel­low you referred to, Ter­ry Reed, wrote a book called Com­pro­mised which talked about his role in this cor­po­rate oper­a­tion in Mena which was ini­tial­ly designed to train con­tra pilots — Reed was a pilot — and it was also designed after the Boland Amend­ment went into effect to get weapons parts to the con­tras, because the CIA could­n’t pro­vide them any­more. And as Reed got into this weapons parts busi­ness, he dis­cov­ered that the CIA was ship­ping cocaine back through these weapons crates that were com­ing back into the Unit­ed States. And when he blew the whis­tle on it, he was sort of sent on this long odyssey of crim­i­nal charges being filed against him, etcetera etcetera etcetera. A lot of what Reed wrote is accu­rate as far as I can tell, and a lot of it was doc­u­ment­ed.

There is a House Bank­ing Com­mit­tee inves­ti­ga­tion that has been going on now for about three years, look­ing specif­i­cal­ly at Mena, Arkansas, look­ing specif­i­cal­ly at a drug traf­fick­er named Bar­ry Seal, who was one of the biggest cocaine and mar­i­jua­na importers in the south side of the Unit­ed States dur­ing the 1980s. Seal was also, coin­ci­den­tal­ly, work­ing for the CIA, and was work­ing for the Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion.

I don’t know how many of you remem­ber this, but one night Ron­nie Rea­gan got on TV and held up a grainy pic­ture, and said, here’s proof that the San­danistas are deal­ing drugs. Look, here’s Pablo Esco­bar, and they’re all load­ing cocaine into a plane, and this was tak­en in Nicaragua. This was the eve of a vote on the con­tra aid. That pho­to­graph was set up by Bar­ry Seal. The plane that was used was Seal’s plane, and it was the same plane that was shot down over Nicaragua a cou­ple of years lat­er that Eugene Hasen­fus was in, that broke open the whole Iran-con­tra scan­dal.

The Bank­ing Com­mit­tee is sup­posed to be com­ing out with a report in the next cou­ple of months look­ing at the rela­tion­ship between Bar­ry Seal, the U.S. gov­ern­ment and Clin­ton’s folks. Alex Cock­burn has done a num­ber of sto­ries on this com­pa­ny called Park-On Meter down in Rus­sel­lville, Arkansas, that’s hooked up with Clin­ton’s fam­i­ly, hooked up with Hillary’s law firm, that sort of thing. To me, that’s a sto­ry peo­ple ought to be look­ing at. I nev­er thought White­wa­ter was much of a sto­ry, frankly. What I thought the sto­ry was about was Clin­ton’s bud­dy Dan Lasater, the bond bro­ker down there who was a con­vict­ed cocaine traf­fick­er. Clin­ton par­doned him on his way to Wash­ing­ton. Lasater was a major drug traf­fick­er, and Ter­ry Reed’s book claims Lasater was part and par­cel with this whole thing.

Voice From the Audi­ence: Cock­burn’s newslet­ter is called Coun­ter­punch, and he’s done a good job of defend­ing you in it.

Gary Webb: Yeah, Cock­burn has also writ­ten a book called White­out, which is a very inter­est­ing look at the his­to­ry of CIA drug traf­fick­ing. Actu­al­ly, I think it’s sell­ing pret­ty well itself. The New York Times hat­ed it, of course, but what else is new?

Audi­ence Mem­ber #2: Well I just want­ed to men­tion that he states also — I guess it was Ter­ry Reed who was actu­al­ly doing the work — he said Bush was run­ning the whole thing as vice pres­i­dent.

Gary Webb: I think that George Bush’s role in this whole thing is one of the large unex­plored areas of it.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #2: Which is why I think Rea­gan put him in as vice pres­i­dent, because of his posi­tion with the CIA.

Gary Webb: Well, you know, that whole South Flori­da Drug Task Force was full of CIA oper­a­tives. Full of them. This was sup­posed to be our van­guard in the war against cocaine car­tels, and if those Colom­bians are to be believed, this was the vehi­cle that we were using to ship arms and allow cocaine into the coun­try, this Drug Task Force. Nobody’s looked at that. But there are lots of clues that there’s a lot to be dug out.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #3: Thank you, Gary. I lost my fea­ture colum­nist posi­tion at my col­lege paper for writ­ing a satire of Chris­tian­i­ty some years ago, and...

Gary Webb: That’ll do it, yeah. [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.]

Audi­ence Mem­ber #3: And I lost my job twice in the last five years because of my activism in the com­mu­ni­ty, but I got a job [inaudi­ble]. But my ques­tion is, I knew some­one in the mid-’80s who said that he was in the Navy, and that he had infor­ma­tion that the Navy was involved in deliv­er­ing cocaine to this coun­try. Anoth­er kind of bomb­shell, I’d like to have you com­ment on it, I saw a video some years ago that said the UFO research that’s being done down in the south­west is being fund­ed by drug mon­ey and cocaine deal­ings by the CIA, and that there are 25 top secret lev­els of gov­ern­ment above the Top Secret cat­e­go­ry, and that there are some lev­els that even the pres­i­dent does­n’t know about. So there’s anoth­er top­ic for anoth­er book, I just want­ed to have you com­ment...

Gary Webb: A num­ber of top­ics for anoth­er book. [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.] I don’t know about the UFO research, but I do know you’re right that we have very lit­tle idea how vast the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty in this coun­try is, or what they’re up to. I think there’s a great sto­ry brew­ing — it’s called the ECHELON pro­gram, and it involves the shar­ing of eaves­dropped emails and cell phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions, because it is ille­gal for them to do it in this coun­try. So they’ve been going to New Zealand and Aus­tralia and Cana­da and hav­ing those gov­ern­ments eaves­drop on our con­ver­sa­tions and tell us about it. I’ve read a cou­ple of sto­ries about it in the Eng­lish press, and I read a cou­ple of sto­ries about it in the Cana­di­an press, but I’ve seen pre­cious lit­tle in the Amer­i­can press. But there’s stuff on the Inter­net that cir­cu­lates about that, if you’re inter­est­ed in the top­ic. I think it’s called the ECHELON pro­gram.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #4: I’m glad you brought up James Burke and his Con­nec­tions, because there are a lot of con­nec­tions here. One I did­n’t hear too much about, and I know you’ve done a lot of research on, was how com­put­ers and high tech was used by the Crips and Bloods ear­ly on. I lived in south LA pri­or to this, knew some of these peo­ple, and you’re right, they had vir­tu­al­ly no edu­ca­tion. And to sud­den­ly have an oper­a­tion that’s com­put­er lit­er­ate, rid­ing out of Bak­ers­field, Fres­no, on north and then east in a very quick peri­od — I’m still learn­ing the com­put­er, I’m prob­a­bly as old as you are, or old­er — so I’d like to hear some­thing on that. The whole dis­lo­ca­tion of south LA that occurred — the Watts Fes­ti­val, the whole empow­er­ment of the black com­mu­ni­ty was occur­ring begin­ning in the late ’60s and into the ear­ly ’70s and mid-’70s, and then col­laps­es into a sea of flip­ping demo­graph­ics, and sud­den­ly by 1990 it is El Sal­vado­ran-dom­i­nat­ed. And that’s anoth­er curi­ous part of this equa­tion as we talk about drugs.

Gary Webb: Well, that’s quite a bevy of things there. As far as the sophis­ti­ca­tion of the Crips and the Bloods, the one thing that I prob­a­bly should have men­tioned was that
when Dani­lo Bland­ón went down to South Cen­tral to start sell­ing this dope, he had an M.B.A. in mar­ket­ing. So he knew what he was doing. His job for the Somoza gov­ern­ment was set­ting up whole­sale mar­kets for agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts. He’d received an M.B.A. thanks to us, actu­al­ly — we helped finance him, we helped send him to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Boga­ta to get his M.B.A. so he could go back to Nicaragua, and he actu­al­ly came to the Unit­ed States to sell dope to the gangs. So this was a very sophis­ti­cat­ed oper­a­tion.

One of the mon­ey laun­der­ers from this group was a macro-econ­o­mist — his uncle, Orlan­do Muril­lo, was on the Cen­tral Bank of Nicaragua. The weapons advi­sor they had was a guy who’d been a cop for fif­teen years. They had anoth­er weapons advi­sor who had been a Navy SEAL. You don’t get these kinds of peo­ple by putting ads in the paper. This is not a drug ring that just sort of falls togeth­er by chance. This is like an all-star game. Which is why I sus­pect more and more that this thing was set up by a high­er author­i­ty than a cou­ple of drug deal­ers.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #5: Hi Gary, I just want to thank you for going against the traf­fic on this whole deal. I’m in the jour­nal­ism school up at U. of O., and I’m inter­est­ed in the sto­ry behind the sto­ry. I was hop­ing you could share some anec­dotes about the kind of activ­i­ty that you engaged in to get the sto­ry. For exam­ple, when you get off a plane in Nicaragua, what do you do? Where do you start? How do you talk to “Free­way” Ricky? How do you go against a gov­ern­ment stonewall?

Gary Webb: The ques­tion is, how do you do a sto­ry like this, essen­tial­ly. Well, thing I’ve always found is, if you go knock on some­body’s door, they’re a lot less apt to slam it in your face than if you call them up on the tele­phone. So, the rea­son I went down to Nicaragua was to go knock on doors. I did­n’t go down there and just step off a plane — I found a fel­low down in Nicaragua and we hired him as a stringer, a fel­low named George Hidell who is a mar­velous inves­tiga­tive reporter, he knew all sorts of gov­ern­ment offi­cials down there. And I speak no Span­ish, which was anoth­er hand­i­cap. George speaks like four lan­guages. So, you find peo­ple like that to help you out.

With these drug deal­ers, you know, it’s amaz­ing how will­ing they are to talk. I did a series while I was in Ken­tucky on orga­nized crime in the coal indus­try. And it was about this mass of stock swindlers who had loot­ed Wall Street back in the ’60s and moved down to Ken­tucky in the ’70s while the coal boom was going on, dur­ing the ener­gy short­age. The les­son I learned in that thing — I thought these guys would nev­er talk to me, I fig­ured they’d be crazy to talk to a reporter about the scams they were pulling. But they were hap­py to talk about it, they were flat­tered that you would come to them and say, hey, tell me about what you do. Tell me your great­est knock-off. Those guys would go on for­ev­er! So, you know, every­body, no mat­ter what they do, they sort of have pride in their work... [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.] And, you know, I found that when you appeared inter­est­ed, they would be hap­py to tell you.

The peo­ple who lied to me, the peo­ple who slammed doors in my face, were the DEA and the FBI. The DEA called me down — I wrote about this in the book — they had a meet­ing, and they were telling me that if I wrote this sto­ry, I was going to help drug traf­fick­ers bring drugs into the coun­try, and I was going to get DEA agents killed, and this, that and the oth­er thing, all of which was utter­ly bull­shit. So that’s the thing — just ask. There’s real­ly no secret to it.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #6: I’d like to ask a cou­ple of ques­tions very quick­ly. The first one is, if you would­n’t mind being a ref­er­ence librar­i­an for a moment — there was the Gold­en Tri­an­gle. I was just won­der­ing if you’ve ever, in your curios­i­ty about this, touched on that — the drug rings and the hero­in trade out of South­east Asia. And the sec­ond one is about the fel­low from the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle, I don’t remem­ber his name right off, but you know who I’m talk­ing about, if you could just touch on that a lit­tle bit...

Gary Webb: Yes. The first ques­tion was about whether I ever touched on what was going on in the Gold­en Tri­an­gle. For­tu­nate­ly, I did­n’t have to — there’s a great book called The Pol­i­tics of Hero­in in South­east Asia, by Alfred McCoy, which is sort of a clas­sic in CIA drug traf­fick­ing lore. I don’t think you can get any bet­ter than that. That’s a great ref­er­ence in the library, you can go check it out. McCoy was a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin who went to Laos dur­ing the time that the secret war in Laos was going on, and he wrote about how the CIA was fly­ing hero­in out on Air Amer­i­ca. That’s the thing that real­ly sur­prised me about the reac­tion to my sto­ry was, it’s not like I invent­ed this stuff. There’s a long, long his­to­ry of CIA involve­ment in drug traf­fic which Cock­burn gets into in White­out.

And the sec­ond ques­tion was about Pete Brew­ton — there was a reporter in Hous­ton for the Hous­ton Post named Pete Brew­ton who did the series — I think it was ’91 or ’92 — on the strange con­nec­tions between the S&< col­laps­es, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Texas, and CIA agents. And his the­o­ry was that a lot of these col­laps­es were not mis­man­age­ment, they were inten­tion­al. These things were loot­ed, with the idea that a lot of the mon­ey was siphoned off to fund covert oper­a­tions over­seas. And Brew­ton wrote this series, and it was fun­ny, because after all hell broke loose on my sto­ry, I called him up, and he said, “Well, I was wait­ing for this to hap­pen to you.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “I was exact­ly like you are. I’d been in this busi­ness for twen­ty years, I’d won all sorts of awards, I’d lec­tured in col­lege jour­nal­ism cours­es, and I wrote a series that had these three lit­tle let­ters C‑I-A in it. And sud­den­ly I was unre­li­able, and I could­n’t be trust­ed, and Reed Irvine at Accu­ra­cy In Media was writ­ing nasty things about me, and my edi­tor had lost con­fi­dence in me, so I quit the busi­ness and went to law school.”

Brew­ton wrote a book called George Bush, CIA and the Mafia. It’s hard to find, but it’s worth look­ing up if you can find it. It’s all there, it’s all doc­u­ment­ed. See, the dif­fer­ence between his sto­ry and my sto­ry was, we put ours out on the web, and it got out. Brew­ton’s sto­ry is sort of con­fined to the print­ed page, and I think the Wash­ing­ton Jour­nal­ism Review actu­al­ly wrote a sto­ry about, how come nobody’s writ­ing about this, nobody’s pick­ing up this sto­ry. Nobody touched this sto­ry, it just sort of died. And the same thing would have hap­pened with my series, had we not had this amaz­ing web page. Thank God we did, or this thing would have just slipped under­neath the waves, and nobody would have ever heard about it.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #7: I’m glad you’re here. I guess the CIA, there was some­thing I read in the paper a cou­ple of years ago, that said the CIA is actu­al­ly mur­der­ing peo­ple, and they admit­ted it, they don’t usu­al­ly do that.

Gary Webb: It’s a new burst of hon­esty from the new CIA.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #7: They’ll mur­der us with kind­ness. In the Chica­go police force, there were about 10 offi­cers who were kicked off the police force for doing drugs or sell­ing drugs, and George Bush or some­thing... I heard that he had a bud­dy who had a lot of mon­ey in drug test­ing equip­ment, so that’s one rea­son every­body has to pee in a cup now... [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.] The oth­er thing I found, there was a meth lab close to here, and some­body who was­n’t even involved with it, he was par­a­lyzed... And as you know, we have the “Just Say No to Drugs” deal... What do you think we can do to stop us, the Peo­ple, from being hyp­no­tized once again from all these shenani­gans, doing oth­er peo­ple injury in terms of these kinds of mes­sages, at the same time they’re sell­ing. Because all this mon­ey is being spent for all this...

Gary Webb: I guess the ques­tion is, what could you do to keep from being hyp­no­tized by the media mes­sage, specif­i­cal­ly on the Drug War? Is
that what you’re talk­ing about?

Audi­ence Mem­ber #7: Yeah, or all the funds... like, there’s anoth­er thing here with the meth lab, they say we’ll kind of turn peo­ple in...

Gary Webb: Oh yeah, the nation of inform­ers.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #7: Yeah.

Gary Webb: That’s some­thing I have to laugh about — up until I think ’75 or ’76, prob­a­bly even lat­er than that, you could go to your doc­tor and get metham­phet­a­mine. I mean, there were house­wives by the hun­dreds of thou­sands across the Unit­ed States who were tak­ing it every day to lose weight, and now all the sud­den it was the worst thing on the face of the earth. That’s one thing I got into in the book, was the sort of crack hys­te­ria in 1986 that prompt­ed all these crazy laws that are still on the books today, and the 100:1 sen­tenc­ing ratio... I don’t know how many of you saw, on PBS a cou­ple of nights back, there was a great show on infor­mants called “Snitch.” [Mur­murs of recog­ni­tion from the audi­ence.] Yeah, on Front­line. That was very heart­en­ing to see, because I don’t think ten years ago that it would have stood a chance in hell of get­ting on the air.

What I’m see­ing now is that a lot of peo­ple are final­ly wak­ing up to the idea that this “drug war” has been a fraud since the get-go. My per­son­al opin­ion is, I think the main pur­pose of this whole drug war was to sort of erode civ­il lib­er­ties, very slow­ly and very grad­u­al­ly, and sort of put us down into a police state. [Robust burst of applause from the audi­ence.] And we’re pret­ty close to that. I’ve got to hand it to them, they’ve done a good job. We have no Fourth Amend­ment left any­more, we’re all pee­ing in cups, and we’re all doing all sorts of things that our par­ents prob­a­bly would have marched in the streets about.

The solu­tion to that is to read some­thing oth­er than the dai­ly news­pa­per, and turn off the TV news. I mean, I’m sor­ry, I hate to say that, but that’s mind-rot. You’ve got to find alter­na­tive sources of infor­ma­tion. [Robust applause.]

Voice From the Audi­ence: How can you say that it was all a chain reac­tion, that it was not done delib­er­ate­ly, and on the oth­er hand say it has at the same time delib­er­ate­ly erod­ed our rights?

Gary Webb: Well, the ques­tion was, how can I say on one hand it was a chain reac­tion, and on the oth­er hand say the drug war was set up delib­er­ate­ly to erode our rights. I mean, you’re talk­ing about sort of macro ver­sus micro. And I do not give the CIA that much cred­it, that they could plan these vast con­spir­a­cies down through the ages and have them work — most of them don’t.

What I’m say­ing is, you have police groups, you have police lob­by­ing groups, you have prison guard groups — they seize oppor­tu­ni­ties when they come along. The Drug War has giv­en them a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties to say, okay, now let’s length­en prison sen­tences. Why? Well, because if you keep peo­ple in jail longer, you need more prison guards. Let’s build more pris­ons. Why? Well, peo­ple get jobs, prison guards get jobs. The police stay in busi­ness. We need to fund more of them. We need to give big­ger bud­gets to the cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ties. This is all very con­scious, but I don’t think any­body sat in a room in 1974 and said, okay, by 1995, we’re going to have X num­ber of Amer­i­cans locked up or under parole super­vi­sion. I don’t think they mind — you know, I think they like that. But I don’t think it was a con­scious effort. I think it was just one bad idea, after anoth­er bad idea, com­pound­ed with a stu­pid idea, com­pound­ed with a real­ly stu­pid idea. And here we are. So I don’t know if that answers your ques­tion or not...

Audi­ence Mem­ber #8: To me, the Iran-con­tra sto­ry was one of the most inter­est­ing and total­ly frus­trat­ing things. And the more infor­ma­tion, the more about it I heard — we don’t know any­thing about it, I mean, if you look for any offi­cial data, they deny every­thing. And to see Ollie North, the upstand­ing blue-eyed Amer­i­can, stand­ing there lying through his teeth, and we knew it... [Inaudi­ble com­ment, “before Con­gress and the Pres­i­dent”?] What galls me is that these peo­ple who are guilty of high crimes and mis­de­meanors are now get­ting these enor­mous pen­sions, and we have to pay for these bums. It sick­ens me!

Gary Webb: Right.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #8: And I actu­al­ly have a ques­tion — this is my ques­tion, by the way, I know you have a thou­sand oth­er ques­tions [laugh­ter from the audi­ence] — but the one that stays with me, and has always both­ered me, was the Chris­tic Insti­tute, and I thought it was fan­tas­tic. And they were hit with this enor­mous law­suit, and they had to bail out. This needs to be [“rehired”?] because they knew what they were doing, they had all the right answers, and they were run out of office, so to say, in dis­grace, because of this law­suit.

Gary Webb: The ques­tion was about the Chris­tic Insti­tute, and about how the Iran-con­tra con­tro­ver­sy is prob­a­bly one of the worst scan­dals. I agree with you, I think the Iran-con­tra scan­dal was worse than Water­gate, far worse than this non­sense we’re doing now. But I’ll tell you, I think the press played a very big part in down­play­ing that scan­dal. One of the peo­ple I inter­viewed for the book was a woman named Pam Naughton, who was one of the best pros­e­cu­tors that the Iran-con­tra com­mit­tee had. And I asked her, why — you know, it was also the first scan­dal that was tele­vised, and I remem­ber watch­ing them at night. I would go to work and I’d set the VCR, and I’d come home at night and I’d watch the hear­ings. Then I’d pick up the paper the next morn­ing, and it was com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent! And I could­n’t fig­ure it out, and this has both­ered me all these years.

So when I got Pam Naughton on the phone, I said, what the hell hap­pened to the press corps in Wash­ing­ton dur­ing the Iran-con­tra scan­dal? And she said, well, I can tell you what I saw. She said, every day, we would come out at the start of this hear­ings, and we would lay out a stack of doc­u­ments — all the exhibits we were going to intro­duce — stuff that she thought was extreme­ly incrim­i­nat­ing, front page sto­ry after front page sto­ry, and they’d sit them on a table. And she said, every day the press corps would come in, and they’d say hi, how’re you doing, blah blah blah, and they’d go sit down in the front row and start talk­ing about, you know, did you see the ball game last night, and what they saw on John­ny Car­son. And she said one or two reporters would go up and get their stack of doc­u­ments and go back and write about it, and every­body else sat in the front row, and they would sit and say, okay, what’s our sto­ry today? And they would all agree what the sto­ry was, and they’d go back and write it. Most of them nev­er even looked at the exhibits.

And that’s why I say it was the press’s fault, because there was so much stuff that came out of those hear­ings. That used to just dri­ve me crazy, you would nev­er see it in the news­pa­per. And I don’t think it’s a con­spir­a­cy — if any­thing, it’s a con­spir­a­cy of stu­pid­i­ty and lazi­ness. I talked to Bob Par­ry about this — when he was work­ing for Newsweek cov­er­ing Iran-con­tra, they weren’t even let­ting him go to the hear­ings. He had to get tran­scripts mes­sen­gered to him at his house secret­ly, so his edi­tors would­n’t find out he was actu­al­ly read­ing the tran­scripts, because he was writ­ing sto­ries that were so dif­fer­ent from every­body else’s.

Bob Par­ry tells a sto­ry of being at a din­ner par­ty with Bob­by Inman from the CIA, the edi­tor of Newsweek, and all the muck­i­ty-mucks — this was his big intro­duc­tion into Wash­ing­ton soci­ety. And they were sit­ting at the din­ner table in the midst of the Iran-con­tra thing, talk­ing about every­thing but Iran-con­tra. And Bob said he had the bad taste of bring­ing up the Iran-con­tra hear­ing and men­tion­ing one par­tic­u­lar­ly bad aspect of it. And he said, the edi­tor of Newsweek looked at him and said, “You know, Bob, there are just some things that it’s bet­ter the coun­try just does­n’t know about.” And all these admi­rals and gen­er­als sit­ting around the table all nod­ded their heads in agree­ment, and
they want­ed to talk about some­thing else.

That’s the atti­tude. That’s the atti­tude in Wash­ing­ton. And that’s the atti­tude of the Wash­ing­ton press corps, and nowa­days it’s even worse than that, because now, if you play the game right, you get a TV show. Now you’ve got the McLaugh­lin Group. Now you get your mug on CNN. You know. And that’s how they keep them in line. If you’re a rab­ble rouser, and a shit-stir­rer, they don’t want your type on tele­vi­sion. They want the pun­dits.

The oth­er ques­tion was about the Chris­tic Insti­tute. They had it all fig­ured out. The Chris­tic Insti­tute had this thing fig­ured out. They filed suit in May of 1986, alleg­ing that the Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion, the CIA, this sort of par­al­lel gov­ern­ment was going on. Oliv­er North was involved in it, you had the Bay of Pigs Cubans that were involved in it down in Cos­ta Rica, they had names, they had dates, and they got mur­dered. And the Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion’s line was, they’re a bunch of left-wing lib­er­al cra­zies, this was con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry. If you want to see what they real­ly thought, go to Oliv­er North’s diaries, which are pub­lic — the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Archive has got them, you can get them — all he was writ­ing about, after the Chris­tic Insti­tute’s suit was filed, was how we’ve got to shut this thing down, how we have to dis­cred­it these wit­ness­es, how we’ve got to get this guy set up, how we’ve got to get this guy out of the coun­try... They knew that the Chris­tic Insti­tute was right, and they were death­ly afraid that the Amer­i­can pub­lic was going to find out about it.

I am con­vinced that the judge who was hear­ing the case was part and par­cel to the prob­lem. He threw the case out of court and fined the Chris­tic Insti­tute, I think it was $1.3 mil­lion, for even bring­ing the law­suit. It was deemed “friv­o­lous lit­i­ga­tion.” And it final­ly bank­rupt­ed them. And they went away.

But that’s the prob­lem when you try to take on the gov­ern­ment in its own are­na, and the fed­er­al courts are def­i­nite­ly part of its own are­na. They make the rules. And in cas­es like that, you don’t stand a chance in hell, it won’t hap­pen.

Voice From the Audi­ence: But if you can­not get the truth in the courts, if you can­not write it in the papers, then what do you do?

Gary Webb: You do it your­self. You do it your­self. You’ve got to start rebuild­ing an infor­ma­tion sys­tem on your own. And that’s what’s going on. It’s very small, but it’s hap­pen­ing. Peo­ple are talk­ing to each oth­er through news­groups on the Inter­net. Peo­ple are doing Inter­net newslet­ters.

Voice From the Audi­ence: Do you have a web­site?

Emcee: Let’s use the mike, let’s use the mike.

Gary Webb: The ques­tion is, do I have a web­site. No, I don’t, but I’m build­ing one.

[Inaudi­ble ques­tion from the audi­ence.]

Gary Webb: Well, let’s let these peo­ple who have been stand­ing in line...

[Com­mo­tion, mur­mur­ing. Some­one calls out, “Please use the mike.”]

Audi­ence Mem­ber #9: When you men­tioned pris­ons a moment ago, I could­n’t help but remem­ber that it is Amer­i­ca’s fastest-grow­ing indus­try, the “prison indus­try” — which is a hell of a phrase unto itself. But it seems that the CIA had peo­ple aligned through­out Cen­tral Amer­i­ca at one point, and El Sal­vador, with the con­tras, and in Hon­duras and Nicaragua, and in Pana­ma, Manuel Nor­ie­ga...

Gary Webb: Our “man in Pana­ma,” that’s right.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #9: Yeah. But some­thing went wrong with him, and he got pinched in pub­lic. And I’m inter­est­ed to know what you think about that.

Gary Webb: The ques­tion is about Manuel Nor­ie­ga, who was our “man in Pana­ma” for so many years. What hap­pened to Nor­ie­ga is that — I don’t think it had any­thing to do with the fact that he was a drug traf­fick­er, because we knew that for years. What it had to do with was what is going to hap­pen at the end of this year, which is when con­trol of the Pana­ma Canal goes over to the Pana­ma­ni­ans. If you read the New York Times sto­ry that Sey­mour Hersh wrote back in June of 1986 that exposed Nor­ie­ga pub­licly as a drug traf­fick­er and mon­ey laun­der­er, there were some very telling phras­es in it. All unsourced, nat­u­ral­ly, you know — unat­trib­uted com­ments from high-rank­ing gov­ern­ment offi­cials — but they talked about how they were ner­vous that Nor­ie­ga had become unre­li­able. And with con­trol of the Pana­ma Canal revert­ing to the Pana­man­ian gov­ern­ment, they were very ner­vous at the idea of hav­ing some­body as “unsta­ble” as Nor­ie­ga run­ning the coun­try at that point. And I think that was a well-found­ed fear. You’ve got a major drug traf­fick­er con­trol­ling a major mar­itime thor­ough­way. I can see the CIA being ner­vous about being cut out of the busi­ness. [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.]

But I think that’s what the whole thing with Nor­ie­ga was about — they want­ed him out of there, because they want­ed some­body that they could con­trol a lit­tle more close­ly in pow­er in Pana­ma for when the canal gets revert­ed back to them.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #9: Was there much of a prof­it dif­fer­ence between Nicaragua and Pana­ma as far as the drugs went?

Gary Webb: Well, what Nor­ie­ga had done was sort of cre­ate an inter­na­tion­al bank­ing cen­ter for drug mon­ey. That was his part of it. Nicaragua was noth­ing ever than just a trans-ship­ment point. Cen­tral Amer­i­ca was nev­er any­thing more than a trans-ship­ment point. Colum­bia Peru and Bolivia were the pro­duc­ers, and the planes need­ed a place to refu­el, and that’s all that Cen­tral Amer­i­ca ever was. The bank­ing was all done in Pana­ma.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #10: You talk about how they sat on their sto­ries, the news­pa­pers? Why did they sud­den­ly decide to pur­sue the sto­ries?

Gary Webb: Which sto­ries are these?

Audi­ence Mem­ber #10: The sto­ries about the crack deal­ing and the CIA. Why did they sud­den­ly decide that, well, actu­al­ly...

Gary Webb: The ques­tion was — cor­rect me if I’m wrong — the ques­tion raised the fact that the oth­er news­pa­pers did­n’t do any­thing about this sto­ry for a while, and then after I wrote it they came after me. Is that what you’re ask­ing?

Audi­ence Mem­ber #10: Well, yeah, and then even­tu­al­ly the CIA admit­ted it... and I mean, why are peo­ple ask­ing, it sat for a long time, and then sud­den­ly every­one was on it. What was the turn­ing point that made them decide to pur­sue it?

Gary Webb: The turn­ing point that made them decide to pur­sue the sto­ry was the fact that it had got­ten out over the Inter­net, and peo­ple were call­ing them up say­ing, why don’t you have the sto­ry in your news­pa­per? You know, I don’t think the sub­ject mat­ter fright­ened the major media as much as the fact that a lit­tle news­pa­per in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia was able to set the nation­al agen­da for once. And peo­ple were march­ing in the streets, peo­ple were hold­ing hear­ings in Wash­ing­ton, they were demand­ing Con­gres­sion­al hear­ings, you had John Deutch, the CIA direc­tor, go down on that sur­re­al trip down to South Cen­tral to con­vince every­one that every­thing was okay... [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.] And all of this was hap­pen­ing with­out the big media being involved in it at all. And the rea­son that hap­pened was because we had an out­let — we had the web. And the peo­ple at the Mer­cury News did a fan­tas­tic job on this web­site.

And so, news was march­ing on with­out them. There’s a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin who’s done a paper on the whole “Dark Alliance” thing, and her the­sis is that this sto­ry was shut down more because of how it got out than for what it actu­al­ly said. That it was an attempt by the major media to regain con­trol of the Inter­net, and to sug­gest that unless they’re the ones who are putting it out, it’s unre­li­able. Which I think you see in a lot of sto­ries. The main­stream press glad­ly pro­motes the idea that you can’t believe any­thing you read on the Inter­net, it’s all kooks, it’s all con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists... And there are, I mean, I admit, there are a lot of them out there, but it’s not all false. But the idea that we’re being taught is, unless it’s got our name on it, you
can’t believe it. So they can retain con­trol of the means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion any­way.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #11: You men­tioned Iran-con­tra, which was pri­vate for­eign pol­i­cy in defi­ance of Con­gress, which means it was a high crime. From there, we get more drugs, we get ero­sion of civ­il lib­er­ties and the loss of the Fourth Amend­ment, which you men­tioned. And we have to get that back, because with­out it, we’re just com­modi­ties to one anoth­er. So what I’d like to ask you is, what are you work­ing on now? And do you have your own jour­nal­is­tic chain of reac­tion? Are you going to be doing some­thing that con­nects back to this?

Gary Webb: The ques­tion is what am I doing now — believe it or not, I’m work­ing for the gov­ern­ment. [Laugh­ter from the audi­ence.] I work for the Cal­i­for­nia leg­is­la­ture, and I do inves­ti­ga­tions of state agen­cies. I just wrote a piece for Esquire mag­a­zine which should be out in April on anoth­er fab­u­lous DEA pro­gram that they’re run­ning. Actu­al­ly, part of it’s based here in Ore­gon, called Oper­a­tion Pipeline. That sto­ry is com­ing out in April, and Esquire told me they want me to write more stuff for them, they want me to do some inves­tiga­tive report­ing for them, so I’ll be work­ing for them. And I’m putting togeth­er anoth­er book pro­pos­al, and a cou­ple of oth­er things. I’m not going to work for news­pa­pers any more, I learned my les­son.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #12: A year ago the edi­tor of your news­pa­per was here to speak, spon­sored by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon School of Jour­nal­ism. Before I got up here, I took a casu­al look around — I don’t know all of the mem­bers of the jour­nal­ism fac­ul­ty, but I did­n’t rec­og­nize any. We did have a stu­dent here who got up and asked a ques­tion. That leads to this ques­tion: I’d like, if you don’t mind, to ask if there is some­one from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon jour­nal­ism fac­ul­ty here, would they mind being acknowl­edged and rais­ing their hand?

Gary Webb: All right, there’s one back there.

Audi­ence Mem­ber #12: There is one. Okay. [Applause from the audi­ence.] I’m pleased to see it. There is that one per­son. My point is, I think much of what you’ve said this evening con­sti­tutes an indict­ment — and a valid indict­ment — of the uni­ver­si­ty jour­nal­ism pro­grams in this coun­try. [Applause.] Most Amer­i­cans and I believe — and I’m inter­est­ed in your reac­tion — that it rein­forces that indict­ment when we see, to that per­son­’s cred­it, that she is the only fac­ul­ty mem­ber from our school of jour­nal­ism to hear you tonight.

Gary Webb: I think the gen­er­al ques­tion was about the state of the jour­nal­ism schools. The one thing jour­nal­ism schools don’t teach, by and large, is inves­tiga­tive report­ing. They teach stenog­ra­phy very well. That’s why I con­sid­er most of jour­nal­ism today to be stenog­ra­phy. You go to a press con­fer­ence, you write down the quotes accu­rate­ly, you come back, you don’t pro­vide any con­text, you don’t pro­vide any per­spec­tive, because that gets into analy­sis, and heav­ens knows, we don’t want any analy­sis in our news­pa­pers.

But you report things accu­rate­ly, you report things fair­ly, and even if it’s a lie you put it in the news­pa­per, and that’s con­sid­ered jour­nal­ism. I don’t con­sid­er that jour­nal­ism, I con­sid­er that stenog­ra­phy. And that is the way they teach jour­nal­ism in school, that’s the way I was taught. Unless you go to a very dif­fer­ent jour­nal­ism school from the kinds that most kids go to, that’s what you’re taught. Now, there are spe­cial­ized jour­nal­ism schools, there are mas­ter’s pro­grams like the Kiplinger Pro­gram at Ohio State, that’s very good.

So, I’m not say­ing that all jour­nal­ism schools are bad, but they don’t teach you to be jour­nal­ists. They dis­cour­age you from doing that, by and large. And I don’t think it’s the fault of the jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sors, I just think that’s the way things have been taught in this coun­try for so long, that they just do it auto­mat­i­cal­ly. I’d be inter­est­ed in hear­ing the pro­fes­sor’s thoughts about it, but that’s sort of the way I look at things. I spent way too many years in jour­nal­ism school. I kind of got shed of those notions after I got out in the real world.

[End of tran­script.]

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Tran­scrip­tions from the orig­i­nal San Jose Mer­cury News series:
Part 1 [1] | Part 2 [2] | Part 3 [3] | Part 4 [4] | Part 5 [5] | Part 6 [6] | Part 7 [7]