Managing a Nightmare: How the CIA Watched Over the Destruction of the Reporter Who Exposed Its Role in the Crack Epidemic
With their cocaine smuggling the CIA managed to kill two birds with one stone: 1) They funded and armed right-wing terrorist in Latin America, 2) They crippled the black community and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of black people.
|Jeremy Renner stars as Gary Webb, in the new film, Kill The Messenger. (Screen |
capture from YouTube video)
Eighteen years after it was published, “Dark Alliance,” the San Jose Mercury News’s bombshell investigation into links between the cocaine trade, Nicaragua’s Contra rebels, and African American neighborhoods in California, remains one of the most explosive and controversial exposés in American journalism.
The 20,000-word series enraged black communities, prompted Congressional hearings, and became one of the first major national security stories in history to blow up online. It also sparked an aggressive backlash from the nation’s most powerful media outlets, which devoted considerable resources to discredit author Gary Webb’s reporting. Their efforts succeeded, costing Webb his career. On December 10, 2004, the journalist was found dead in his apartment, having ended his eight-year downfall with two .38-caliber bullets to the head.
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These days, Webb is being cast in a more sympathetic light. He’s portrayed heroically in a major motion picture set to premiere nationwide next month. And documents newly released by the CIA provide fresh context to the “Dark Alliance” saga — information that paints an ugly portrait of the mainstream media at the time.
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On September 18, the agency released a trove of documents spanning three decades of secret government operations. Culled from the agency’s in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, the materials include a previously unreleased six-page article titled “Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story.” Looking back on the weeks immediately following the publication of “Dark Alliance,” the document offers a unique window into the CIA’s internal reaction to what it called “a genuine public relations crisis” while revealing just how little the agency ultimately had to do to swiftly extinguish the public outcry.
(Dujmovic’s name was redacted in the released version of the CIA document, but was included in a footnote in a 2010 article in the Journal of Intelligence. Dujmovic confirmed his authorship to The Intercept.)
RELATED STORY: EXPOSED - Reporter Who Revealed the True Role of the US Government in the Crack Epidemic Was Discredited By Big Media With CIA HelpWebb’s troubles began in August 1996, when his employer, the San Jose Mercury News, published a groundbreaking, three-part investigation he had worked on for more than a year. Carrying the full title “Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion,” Webb’s series reported that in addition to waging a proxy war for the U.S. government against Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s, elements of the CIA-backed Contra rebels were also involved in trafficking cocaine to the U.S. in order to fund their counter-revolutionary campaign. The secret flow of drugs and money, Webb reported, had a direct link to the subsequent explosion of crack cocaine abuse that had devastated California’s most vulnerable African American neighborhoods.
Derided by some as conspiracy theory and heralded by others as investigative reporting at its finest, Webb’s series spread through extensive talk radio coverage and global availability via the internet, which at the time was still a novel way to promote national news.
Though “Dark Alliance” would eventually morph into a personal crisis for Webb, it was initially a PR disaster for the CIA. In “Managing a Nightmare,” Dujmovic minced no words in describing the potentially devastating effect of the series on the agency’s image:
The charges could hardly be worse. A widely read newspaper series leads many Americans to believe CIA is guilty of at least complicity, if not conspiracy, in the outbreak of crack cocaine in America’s cities. In more extreme versions of the story circulating on talk radio and the internet, the Agency was the instrument of a consistent strategy by the US Government to destroy the black community and keep black Americans from advancing. Denunciations of CIA–reminiscent of the 1970s–abound. Investigations are demanded and initiated. The Congress gets involved.
Dujmovic acknowledged that Webb “did not state outright that CIA ran the drug trade or even knew about it.” In fact, the agency’s central complaint, according to the document, was over the graphics that accompanied the series, which suggested a link between the CIA and the crack scare, and Webb’s description of the Contras as “the CIA’s army” (despite the fact that the Contras were quite literally an armed, militant group not-so-secretly supported by the U.S., at war with the government of Nicaragua).
But newspapers like the Times and the Post seemed to spend far more time trying to poke holes in the series than in following up on the underreported scandal at its heart, the involvement of U.S.-backed proxy forces in international drug trafficking. The Los Angeles Times was especially aggressive. Scooped in its own backyard, the California paper assigned no fewer than 17 reporters to pick apart Webb’s reporting. While employees denied an outright effort to attack the Mercury News, one of the 17 referred to it as the “get Gary Webb team.” Another said at the time, “We’re going to take away that guy’s Pulitzer,” according to Kornbluh’s CJR piece. Within two months of the publication of “Dark Alliance,” the L.A. Times devoted more words to dismantling its competitor’s breakout hit than comprised the series itself.
RELATED STORY: USA Today - Still Not Too Late to Attack Gary Webb — News Outlet Still Covering For CIA Drug TraffickingThe document chronicles the shift in public opinion as it moved in favor of the CIA, a trend that began about a month and a half after the series was published. “That third week in September was a turning point in media coverage of this story,” Dujmovic wrote, citing “[r]espected columnists, including prominent blacks,” along with the New York Daily News, the Baltimore Sun, The Weekly Standard and the Washington Post. The agency supplied the press, “as well as former Agency officials, who were themselves representing the Agency in interviews with the media,” with “these more balanced stories,” Dujmovic wrote. The Washington Post proved particularly useful. “Because of the Post‘s national reputation, its articles especially were picked up by other papers, helping to create what the Associated Press called a ‘firestorm of reaction’ against the San Jose Mercury News.” Over the month that followed, critical media coverage of the series (“balanced reporting”) far outnumbered supportive stories, a trend the CIA credited to the Post, The New York Times, “and especially the Los Angeles Times.” Webb’s editors began to distance themselves from their reporter.