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Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosionby Gary Webb
Synopses & Reviews
Gary Webb was a cherished friend of ours, and one of the best investigative reporters we've ever known. He attacked stories with a unique blend of zeal and skepticism. Gary had no axe to grind, and typically Gary himself didn't fully believe in his own stories until he'd finished them. If he could overcome his own skepticism then he'd done his job. Anything less than that would have been unworthy of him, and he was incapable of lowering his standards, although he must have been tempted sometimes. It is important to note that the objections to the "Dark Alliance" series were obscure and unsubstantiated, and that when the book Dark Alliance was published it was highly praised not only in the alternative press but also in the mainstream media-including several of the same publications, such as the Washington Post, that had earlier attacked Webb for sloppy journalism. That Gary was vilified on Page One of the New York Times and the Washington Post is something many people still remember. That both papers ultimately treated Webb's book with due respect is forgotten. That Webb's own newspaper distanced itself from the "Dark Alliance" story is remembered. That the Justice Department's formal internal investigation largely confirmed Webb's own conclusions is hardly mentioned. That Webb won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team reporting on the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake is another salient fact that hasn't been mentioned in many of the obituaries being published in newspapers across the country. Gary never got over having been betrayed by many of his own peers. He knew his work was deserving of their respect. He knew he was one of the best. It baffled him that other newspapers didn't pick up and run with the CIA-Contras-Crack Cocaine story after he'd busted it wide open. And it puzzled him that even after all his awards-even after newspapers of record wrote in their reviews of his book that it specifically put to rest the earlier allegations against him-he'd remained something of an outcast. Gary had a great time writing Dark Alliance. For awhile we had daily phone meetings to review drafts of the text chapter by chapter. The only time that was possible for Gary was at the end of his work day, so I'd call him at around 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time, which was 9:00 p.m. for me, and we'd go for two or three hours. For both of us this meant shutting doors on our families and after a couple weeks we were weary of spending our evenings this way. But that didn't change how fantastic our process was. Over and over Gary said what a joy it was to have an editor who kept asking him to write more, after all the years having to continually cut back his copy length for space considerations at the newspapers where he'd worked. And often when I queried him about a specific fact, I'd get back a fresh story and new characters that were riveting. Dark Alliance isn't a short book, but one thing I learned in those conversations was that in order to write it Gary had had to go so deeply into the worlds he was writing about that he'd found enough material for ten books, and that part of what made him so good was that he understood you've always got to get more material than you'll ever be able to use. Often newspaper writers have trouble transitioning to books. Gary was such a skilled writer on the page that he took to writing his first book with a natural ease and would have written many more. Seven Stories and FAIR will co-host a memorial celebration of Gary Webb's life and work in late January, date and place to be announced.- Daniel Simon, Publisher Seven Stories Press
Read Gary's introduction to Censored 1999.
Read Gary's timeline of the events in Dark Alliance.
Robert Parry on Gary.Jeff Cohen on Gary. Dark Alliance is a book that should be fiction, whose characters seem to come straight out of central casting: the international drug lord, Norwin Meneses; the Contra cocaine broker with an MBA in marketing, Danilo Blandon; and the illiterate teenager from the inner city who rises to become the king of crack, "Freeway" Ricky Ross. But unfortunately, these characters are real and their stories are true.
In August 1996, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb stunned the world with a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News reporting the results of his year-long investigation into the roots of the crack cocaine epidemic in America, specifically in Los Angeles. The series, titled "Dark Alliance," revealed that for the better part of a decade, a Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to Los Angeles street gangs and funneled millions in drug profits to the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras.
Now Gary Webb has pushed his investigation even further in his book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. Drawing from recently declassified documents, undercover DEA audio and videotapes that have never been publicly released, federal court testimony, and interviews, Webb demonstrates how our government knowingly allowed massive amounts of drugs and money to change hands at the expense of our communities. Congressional inquiries into these allegations are ongoing; results of the internal investigations by both the CIA and the Justice Department are pending.
Webb's original article spurred an immediate outcry. Within days of publication, both of California's senators made formal requests for investigations of the U.S. government's relationship with the cocaine ring. As a result, public demonstrations erupted in L.A., Washington D.C., and New York. Then-chief of the CIA, John Deutsch, made an unprecedented attempt at crisis control by going to South Central L.A. to hold a public forum. Representative Maxine Waters later said in George magazine, "I was shocked by the level of corruption and deceit and the way the intelligence agencies have knowledge of big-time drug dealing."
The allegations in Webb's story blazed over the Internet and the Mercury News' website on the series was deluged with hits--over a million in one day. A Columbia Journalism Review cover story called it, "the most talked-about piece of journalism in 1996 and arguably the most famous--some would say infamous--set of articles of the decade."
And Webb's own stranger-than-fiction experience is woven into the book. His excoriation by the media--not because of any wrongdoing on his part, but by an insidious process of innuendo and suggestion that in effect blamed Webb for the implications of the story--had been all but predicted. Webb was warned off doing a CIA expose by a former Associated Press journalist who lost his job when, years before, he had stumbled onto the germ of the "Dark Alliance" story. Webb, who was eventually pushed out of the Mercury News, now works for the California State Legislature Task Force on Government Oversight.
The updated paperback edition of Dark Alliance features revelations in just-released reports from the Department of Justice, internal CIA investigations, and a new cache of recently declassified secret FBI, DEA, and INS files-much of which was not known to Webb when writing the first edition of this book. Webb further explains the close working relationship that major drug traffickers had with U.S. Government agencies-particularly the DEA-and recounts the news of the past year regarding this breaking story.
After more than two years of career-damning allegations leveled at Webb, joined in the past year by glowing reviews of the hardcover edition of Dark Alliance from shore to shore, the core findings of this courageous investigative reporter's work-once fiercely denied-are becoming matters of public record. The updated paperback edition of Dark Alliance adds yet another layer of evidence exposing the illegality of a major CIA covert operation.
About the Author
\Gary Webb (1955 -2004) was a Pulitizer Prize-winning investigative journalist best known for his 1996 "Dark Alliance" series of articles written for the San Jose Mercury News and later published as a book. Webb investigated Nicaraguans linked to the CIA-backed Contras who smuggled cocaine into the U.S. that was distributed as crack in LA and funneled profits to the Contras.
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