- August 4: Miami Herald reporter Tom Fiedler, hardly a friend of Democrats, writes a scathing indictment of both the right-wing conspiracy theorists who are pushing the Clinton investigations and the journalists who enable them. Fiedler writes, in part, "[N]o matter how much Rush Limbaugh and the conspiracy theorists who bottom-feed on the Internet wish otherwise, none of the remaining matters raise legal questions of the sort that lead to indictments of the president's inner circle, including Mrs. Clinton. ...All of which should raise this question in the public's mind: How could such a nothing loom so large for so long over the national scene? Two things: superheated partisan politics and lousy journalism." Fiedler continues, "For me, the more troubling part of Whitewater is what it says about the state of American journalism. Many scholars and fellow journalists have documented well in recent years the danger of a national news media that practices a sort of ready- fire-aim sort of journalism. ...Reporting on Whitewater and all its aspects is beginning to become a textbook example of ready-fire-aim journalism run amok. Ironically, about the only place in America that wasn't sucked in on all the alleged misdeeds has been Little Rock, where the local news media -- even the newspaper long dedicated to trashing the Clintons -- has pooh-poohed Whitewater as a non-story concocted by Arkansas Republicans that only the most gullible outsiders would swallow. ...The first reporter to fall for the tale was the New York Times' Jeff Gerth, an investigative reporter. He produced an almost incomprehensible report on the Clintons' Whitewater land investments in early 1992. But incomprehensible or not, the fact that it appeared in so prestigious a paper as the New York Times insinuated that something must have been wrong. And that meant that every other baying hound in the pack had to give chase." (Media Matters)
- August 13: Unocal and Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia agree to cooperate with agencies in Turkmenistan and Russia to build a 900-mile natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, to Pakistan. The major financial backer of Delta Oil is Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi, who is closely linked with Khalid bin Mahfouz. Both are known to be heavily involved in al-Qaeda. The cost of the pipeline is expected to run around $2 billion. (CCR, Albion Monitor/AlterNet, Unocal/Killtown)
- August 20: Susan McDougal is sentenced to federal prison for her convictions involving fraud at Madison Guaranty; her lawyers appeal the verdict. The OIC submits evidence that she falsified two job resumes for positions she had applied for, by understating her actual work and education experience; they also show that, to avoid questions about her involvement with Madison Guaranty, she used her sister's name to apply for a credit card. The OIC asks for the maximum sentence; Judge George Howard gives her two years. US marshals shackle her hand and foot (a treatment usually reserved for violent criminals) and "perp-walk" her by the waiting TV cameras to the prison van. At the Pulaski County jail, she is stripped naked, given a full-body cavity search, and doused with delousing chemicals: again, treatment usually reserved for dangerous, repeat offenders.
- While still in court, she is subpoenaed by the OIC to appear before the Whitewater grand jury on September 4; her lawyers inform the OIC that she will refuse to speak. She decides to tell her story in an interview with Diane Sawyer in late August. Sawyer and ABC producer Chris Vlasto agree not to ask about anything regarding Whitewater, because of her scheduled appearance before the grand jury. After the interview is underway, Sawyer begins questioning her about Whitewater. She explains that she can't answer those questions, and eventually her lawyers demand that the cameras be turned off three separate times. The last question Sawyer asks is if her trial lawyers were representing McDougal or just fronting for the White House. McDougal snaps, "That's ridiculous," but Vlasto insists that he has information that confirms the lawyers were in contact with the White House during the trial. She realizes that Vlasto's source has to be James McDougal. To smooth over any hard feelings, Vlasto takes Susan and her party to dinner; over drinks, Vlasto reveals that he has a personal axe to grind with Hillary Clinton, who had him blackballed from covering the Clintons during the first term. It is obvious that he has a deep hatred for Hillary Clinton, and he declares that he's determined to "pay her back." Vlasto, who has been working closely with the OIC, then begins to press Susan to cooperate with the OIC. It becomes plain that the entire point of the interview is to try to dig up dirt on the Clintons.
- When Prime Time Live broadcasts the interview, it shows only ten minutes of Susan squirming and refusing to answer questions about the Clintons. "The questions that Vlasto had promised to cut became the cornerstone of the segment," McDougal writes. "Viewers were treated to shots of Diane Sawyer earnestly asking me the out-of-bounds questions, followed by close-ups of me frantically looking to one side, at someone unseen off the camera. ...This was tabloid journalism at its worst." She decides again to refuse to cooperate with the Whitewater grand jury, and accept the possibility that she will be jailed for civil contempt of court. Her reasoning is simple: she does not feel that the OIC is interested in the truth, and will not accept anything less than a dishy story about the Clintons' criminal behavior. She is afraid of having her words twisted to represent something she isn't saying. And she's afraid that, since the jury has already accepted the falsehoods and lies of David Hale and her ex-husband, that if she tells the truth, it will conflict so heavily with Hale's and James McDougal's testimony that she will be charged with perjury. (Her fears about perjury are proven out several months later when Julie Hiatt Steele testifies truthfully that she knows nothing about Kathleen Willey's accusations of being groped by Clinton; Steele is hounded for years, in the process losing her house, having her finances gutted, and having the OIC attempt to wrest custody of her adopted son from her.) (Susan McDougal, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
Dark Alliance investigative reports document Reagan-era connections between the CIA, Nicaraguan Contras, and the influx of cocaine into California
- August 22: The first major influx of Colombian cocaine into Los Angeles was financed and orchestrated by CIA officials since 1979. Hard as it is to believe, the deep and secretive connections leading from Colombia to Compton, through the CIA and the Reagan-Bush administrations, are tracked down and documented by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Gary Webb, in a series of articles entitled "Dark Alliance." Webb will originally publish his articles in the San Jose Mercury News, but the crackdown by the US government and the disbelief by mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post will result in Webb's discrediting and the removal of the entire Webb series by the News. In spite of the government's attempts to silence Webb, the documentation is clear: the US government is responsible for the epidemic of "crack" cocaine flooding the streets of Los Angeles, and eventually the entire US. The CIA, in particular Oliver North, knew of the cocaine flooding the West Coast, and repeatedly interfered with the prosecutions of Nicaraguan drug dealers with ties to the agency, refusing to provide critical information, seizing boxloads of documents, blocking introduction of sensitive information in court, and in one case, bringing corruption charges against a defense attorney who attempted to use some of those documents in the defense of his client.
- However, journalist Webb was never able to directly prove a link between the CIA and the Nicaraguan drug dealers, and was careful in his reporting never to make such a link. Webb has said that his research into the CIA-crack connection "ended at the CIA's door," but did not firmly establish a link between the agency and the crack epidemic of the 1980s. Many observers, particularly in the African-American community, will seize on Webb's series as final proof that the CIA is directly responsible for introducing crack into the black communities of California; others will attack Webb's series as a skein of misinformation and omissions. In May 1997, the executive editor of the News, Jerry Ceppos, will say that the series is riddled with omissions and flaws, the main one being that Nicaraguan drug runner and DEA informer Danilo Blandon stopped sending drug profits to the Contras after a year or so, and instead began keeping the profits for himself. Regardless of the News's backing away from its story, a number of FBI and other investigations into the connections between the CIA and cocaine sales in California will be carried out, none of which reach any real conclusions. Webb will later write a book, Dark Alliance, which, like his stories, never directly link the CIA to the crack explosion in the US.
- In January 1999, Webb will tell an audience, "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 US government to become the crack capitol of the world. But that isn't to say that the CIA's hands or the US 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 US 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.... 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 the 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. ...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 US." Webb also notes that several CIA internal reviews documented the fact that CIA agents in Nicaragua knew about the drug running, and that the profits were being funnelled into the Contras, and the decision was made somewhere in Langley to "look the other way" and let it continue as long as the Contras were being funded, including a 13-year agreement (1982-1995) between CIA director William Casey and the Justice Department for the CIA not to inform DoJ about drug trafficking cases involving their agents or informants. Webb also notes that three of the men pardoned by George Bush in 1993, Clair George, Al Fiers, and Joe Fernandez, were the architects of the Contra insurgency. The blanket presidential pardons cover any crimes they may have committed -- so whatever they did, they will never be prosecuted for it. Nor will we ever know the extent of their crimes. He also points out the existence of a second CIA-run drug ring in Los Angeles, documented by investigative journalist Robert Parry, from 1988-1991, whose existence was classified. Webb's career as a journalist was effectively ended by his reporting. In 2004, shortly after resuming his career with the Sacramento News and Review, Webb will be found dead from a gunshot wound to the head. The death is ruled a suicide. The Los Angeles Times will run an obituary on Webb that continued to smear and discredit his work, without acknowleding the numerous internal investigations by the CIA, the Department of Justice, and other reporters that prove the legitimacy of his work.
- In January 1998, CIA inspector general Frederick Hitz will publish an internal review that confirms the bulk of Webb's reporting, including CIA complicity in Nicaraguan drug running. A June 1998 report by DoJ inspector general Michael Bromwich will confirm that the Reagan-Bush administration was aware of cocaine traffickers in the contra movement and did nothing to stop the criminal activity. The report also will reveal a pattern of discarded leads and witnesses, sabotaged investigations, instances of the CIA working with drug traffickers, and the discouragement of DEA investigations into contra-cocaine shipments. The CIA's refusal to share information about contra drug trafficking with law-enforcement agencies is also documented. Hitz will publish a second volume of his internal investigation in October 1998, which will describe how the Reagan-Bush administration had protected more than 50 contras and other drug traffickers, and by so doing, deliberately thwarted federal investigations into drug crimes. Hitz will publish evidence that drug trafficking and money laundering had made its way into Reagan's National Security Council where Oliver North oversaw the operations of the contras. According to the report, the contra war took precedence over law enforcement. To that end, the internal investigation will reveal that the CIA routinely withheld evidence of contra crimes from the Justice Department, Congress and even the analytical division of the CIA itself. Further, the report will confirm Webb's claims regarding the origins and the relationship of contra fundraising and drug trafficking. More importantly, the internal CIA report documented a cover-up of evidence which had led to false intelligence assessments. According to Robert Parry, these erroneous assessments were passed on to Congress and eventually, major media outlets, which used the false datasets to criticize the accuracy of Webb's "Dark Alliance" expose.
- The cocaine was sold in Los Angeles, and the cash used to finance arms and weapons purchases by the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense, one of the largest of the anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan resistance groups known as the Contras. "There is a saying that the ends justify the means," former FDN leader and drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes testified during a March 1996 cocaine-trafficking trial in San Diego. "And that's what [Colonel Enrique] Bermudez told us in Honduras, OK? So we started raising money for the contra revolution." (Bermudez was the Somoza government's liason to Washington, and a CIA asset. He was chosen by the CIA to lead the FDN. He received regular CIA payments until shortly before his still-unsolved murder in Managua in 1991.) Blandon's damning testimony was countered by government requests to prevent his defense team from digging into his CIA background. Blandon, one of the FDN's founders in California, "will admit that he was a large-scale dealer in cocaine, and there is no additional benefit to any defendant to inquire as to the Central Intelligence Agency," Assistant US Attorney L.J. O'Neale will argue in his motion shortly before the trial of crack dealer Ricky Donnell "Freeway Rick" Ross on cocaine-trafficking charges in March 1996. Blandon himself was a minor member of the Somoza government who fled the Nicaraguan capital of Managua in July 1979 during the uprising that placed the Sandinistas in power.
- The FDN was founded in 1981 when the CIA combined several anti-Sandinista resistance groups into a unified force that it hoped would overthrow the Sandinista goverment of Nicaragua. From 1982 through 1986, the FDN waged a losing war against the Sandinistas. In December 1981, Reagan issued a secret order authorizing to begin covert paramilitary operations against the Sandinistas, but authorized only $19.9 million for the program, a figure the CIA saw as far too little. With the CIA's approval, the FDN turned to selling cocaine in the US to raise money for their operations. Bermudez brought in Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero, known in Nicaragua as the "King of Drugs," to oversee fund-raising for the FDN. Meneses was welcomed into the US in July 1979 in spite of a stack of law-enforcement reports describing him as a major drug trafficker; he settled in the San Francisco Bay area and for the next six years oversaw the importation and sales of thousands of kilos of cocaine throughout California. Blandon, who began running drugs for the FDN in 1981, testified that he helped sell almost a ton of cocaine in the US that year, bringing in somewhere around $54 million. Blandon says that the profits from the drug sales went directly to "the contra revolution." Blandon, at the time inexperienced in cocaine sales, took the drugs provided to him by Meneses and went to the black gang members of Los Angeles. He and other Nicaraguans struck it rich through a stroke of luck: bringing in huge amounts of cocaine at the same time street gangs were discovering how to make cocaine into "crack." Crack is "a substance that is tailor-made to addict people," Dr. Robert Byck, a Yale University cocaine expert, said during congressional testimony in 1986. "It is as though [McDonald's founder] Ray Kroc had invented the opium den." The amount of profits from crack sales was astonishing. Ross told the court that he and other dealers could move $2 to $3 million worth of crack in a single day. "Our biggest problem had got to be counting the money," Ross testified. "We got to the point where it was like, man, we don't want to count no more money." Nicaraguan cocaine dealer Jacinto Torres, another former supplier of Ross and a sometime-partner of Blandon, told drug agents in a 1992 interview that after a slow start, "Blandon's cocaine business dramatically increased.... Norwin Meneses, Blandon's supplier as of 1983 and 1984, routinely flew quantities of 200 to 400 kilograms from Miami to the West Coast." Ross "was one of the main distributors down here," said former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics detective Steve Polak, who was part of the Freeway Rick Task Force, which was set up in 1987 to put Ross out of business. "And his poison, there's no telling how many tens of thousands of people he touched. He's responsible for a major cancer that still hasn't stopped spreading."
- Ross wasn't the first, or the only, crack dealer in LA, but he had something most of the others didn't -- access to the Nicaraguans, who provided him with cut-rate cocaine. "I'm not saying I wouldn't have been a dope dealer without Danilo," Ross said. "But I wouldn't have been Freeway Rick." Ross did not know about the Nicaraguan Contra connection for another ten years. In 1995 Blandon told the DEA that he was selling Ross up to 100 kilos of cocaine a week, which was then "rocked up" and distributed "to the major gangs in the area, specifically the Crips and the Bloods," the DEA report said. At wholesale prices, that's roughly $65 million to $130 million worth of cocaine every year, depending on the going price of a kilo. After intensive investigations into South Central LA's crack epidemic began in 1987, Ross moved to Cincinnati, where he opened new markets for crack -- using the same Nicaraguan connections as in LA -- throughout the Midwest. His reign over the Midwestern markets lasted until 1988, when he was found out and eventually convicted of drug trafficking. Blandon himself, feeling the heat, moved to Miami with $1.6 million in cash and began quietly investing in businesses. It wasn't long before he moved back to the Bay Area and began selling cocaine again for the Contras, but this time the police were constantly dogging his tracks. In 1989 he was arrested by the LAPD, but released due to the intervention of the Justice Department. Soon after, the DEA arrested both Blandon and his wife Chepita, along with several other Nicaraguans. The Blandons were jailed without bond; prosecutor O'Neale told a federal judge that Blandon had sold so much cocaine in the United States his mandatory prison sentence was "off the scale." Then Blandon "just vanished," said Juanita Brooks, a San Diego attorney who represented one of Blandon's co-defendants. "All of a sudden his wife was out of jail and he was out of the case." The reasons were contained in a secret Justice Department memorandum filed in San Diego federal court in late 1993. Blandon, O'Neale wrote, had become "valuable in major DEA investigations of Class I drug traffickers." And even though probation officers were recommending a life sentence and a $4 million fine, O'Neale said the government would be satisfied if Blandon got 48 months and no fine. The motion was granted. Less than a year later, O'Neale recommended that Blandon be released entirely, in order to take a federal job that was waiting for him. Blandon "has almost unlimited potential to assist the United States," O'Neale wrote, saying the government wanted "to enlist Mr. Blandon as a full-time, paid informant after his release from prison." After only 28 months in custody, most of it spent with federal agents who debriefed him for "hundreds of hours," he said, Blandon walked out of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, was given a green card and began working on his first assignment: setting up his old friend, "Freeway Rick," for a sting. Records show Ross was still behind bars, awaiting parole, when San Diego DEA agents targeted him. Soon after Ross went to prison for the Cincinnati bust, federal prosecutors offered him a deal. His ten-year term would be shortened by five years in return for testimony in a federal case against Los Angeles County Sheriff's detectives that included members of the old Freeway Rick Task Force. Within days of Ross' parole in October 1994, he and Blandon were back in touch, and their conversation quickly turned to cocaine. According to tapes Blandon made of some of their discussions, Ross repeatedly told Blandon that he was broke and couldn't afford to finance a drug deal. But Ross did agree to help his old mentor, who was also pleading poverty, find someone else to buy the 100 kilos of cocaine Blandon claimed he had. On March 2, 1995, in a shopping-center parking lot in National City, near San Diego, Ross poked his head inside a cocaine-laden Chevy Blazer, and the place exploded with police. Ross tried to escape, but was captured, and has been held without bond since then. On the strength of Blandon's testimony, Ross and two other men were convicted of cocaine-conspiracy charges in San Diego last March. While Ross languishes in prison, Blandon enjoys a lavish lifestyle, shuttling between Managua and San Diego, and trying to recover Nicaraguan properties seized in 1979, when the Sandinistas took power.
- Crack itself is the product of Northern California cocaine dealers' attempts to replicate the South American "base" (pronounced bah-say), a crude, toxin-laden cocaine paste; hence the nickname "freebase." Crack is cocaine powder transmuted into smokable "rocks." "When they looked it up in the Merck Manual, they saw cocaine base and thought, well, yeah, this is it," says Ronald Siegel, a nationally known drug researcher. "They mispronounced it, misunderstood the Spanish, and thought ['base'] was cocaine base." The new substance was an immediate, if unintentional, hit. "They were wowed by it," Siegel said. "They thought they were smoking 'base.' They were not. They were smoking something nobody on the planet had ever smoked before." Siegel wrote a study of crack use in California that the government refused to publish, ostensibly due to budgetary reasons. Concerned that researchers would be denied his data, he published it himself in a small medical journal in 1982.
- Besides being a FDN leader and a drug dealer, Blandon is an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and has been so since the Department of Justice had him released from prison in 1994. Though Blandon admitted to crimes that have sent others away for life, the Justice Department turned him loose on unsupervised probation after only 28 months behind bars and has paid him more than $166,000 since. He has a spacious new home in Nicaragua and a business exporting precious woods, courtesy of the US government. "He has been extraordinarily helpful," federal prosecutor O'Neale told Blandon's judge in a plea for his trafficker's release in 1994. Though O'Neale once described Blandon to a grand jury as "the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in the United States," the prosecutor refuses to discuss him with the press. Blandon's boss in the FDN's cocaine operation, Meneses, has never spent a day in a US prison, even though the federal government has been aware of his cocaine dealings since at least 1974. Meneses, who ran the drug ring from his homes in the Bay Area, is listed in the DEA's computers as a major international drug smuggler and was implicated in 45 separate federal investigations. Yet he and his cocaine-dealing relatives lived quite openly in the Bay Area for years, buying homes, bars, restaurants, car lots and factories. "I even drove my own cars, registered in my name," Meneses said during a recent interview in Nicaragua. Meneses' organization was "the target of unsuccessful investigative attempts for many years," O'Neale stated in a 1994 affidavit. But records and interviews revealed that a number of those probes were stymied not by the elusive Meneses but by agencies of the US government.
- Investigations by at least four different agencies, including the DEA, US Customs, the LA County Sheriff's Department, and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, were hampered and impeded by the CIA or by unnamed "national security" interests. One 1988 investigation by a U.S. Senate subcommittee ran into a wall of official secrecy at the Justice Department. In that case, congressional records show, Senate investigators were trying to determine why the US attorney in San Francisco, Joseph Russoniello, had given $36,000 back to a Nicaraguan cocaine dealer arrested by the FBI. The money was returned, court records show, after two Contra leaders sent letters to the court swearing that the drug dealer had been given the cash to buy weapons for guerrillas. After Nicaraguan police arrested Meneses on cocaine charges in Managua in 1991, his judge expressed astonishment that the infamous smuggler went unmolested by American drug agents during his years in the United States. His seeming invulnerability amazed American authorities as well. A Customs agent who investigated Meneses in 1980 before transferring elsewhere said he was reassigned to San Francisco seven years later "and I was sitting in some meetings and here's Meneses' name again. And I can remember thinking, 'Holy cow, is this guy still around?'"
- Blandon enjoyed similar immunity for five years while he sold massive amounts of cocaine to LA gang members. But on October 27, 1986, agents from the FBI, the IRS, local police, and the LA County sheriff's department raided over a dozen Southern California locations associated with Blandon's coke operation. Blandon and his wife, along with a number of his Nicaraguan associates, were arrested on drug and weapons charges. According to the search warrant affidavit, local drug agents knew about Blandon's involvement with cocaine and the CIA for almost 10 years. "Danilo Blandon is in charge of a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and distribution organization operating in Southern California," L.A. County sheriff's Sgt. Tom Gordon said in the 1986 affidavit. "The monies gained from the sales of cocaine are transported to Florida and laundered through Orlando Murillo, who is a high-ranking officer of a chain of banks in Florida named Government Securities Corporation. From this bank the monies are filtered to the contra rebels to buy arms in the war in Nicaragua." Unfortunately, and in spite of the authorities' knowledge of Blandon's operations, the raids were complete failures. All the locations had been cleaned out and no one was ever prosecuted for anything. An LA Sheriff's Department spokesman, Ron Spear, said it was obvious Blandon knew about the surveillance and the raids beforehand. FBI records show that soon after the raids, Blandon's defense attorney, Bradley Brunon, called the sheriff's department to suggest that his client's troubles stemmed from a most unlikely source: a recent congressional vote authorizing $100 million in military aid to the contras. According to a December 1986 FBI teletype, Brunon told the officers that the "CIA winked at this sort of thing.... [Brunon] indicated that now that US Congress had voted funds for the Nicaraguan contra movement, US government now appears to be turning against organizations like this." The FBI report is part of the files of former Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, but was made public only last year. Blandon has also implied that his cocaine sales were, for a time, CIA-approved. He told a San Francisco federal grand jury in 1994 that once the FDN began receiving American taxpayer dollars, the CIA no longer needed his kind of help. The government agencies known to have been involved with Blandon and Meneses have refused to comply with FOIA requests for information about the two. Blandon's lawyer, Brunon, said in an interview that his client never told him directly that he was selling cocaine for the CIA, but the prominent Los Angeles defense attorney drew his own conclusions from the "atmosphere of CIA and clandestine activities" that surrounded Blandon and his Nicaraguan friends. "Was he involved with the CIA? Probably. Was he involved with drugs? Most definitely," Brunon said. "Were those two things involved with each other? They've never said that, obviously. They've never admitted that. But I don't know where these guys get these big aircraft."
- In 1992, Meneses was arrested for cocaine trafficking in Nicaragua after being caught with a 750-kilo shipment of cocaine. His chief accuser was his friend Enrique Miranda, a relative and former Nicaraguan military intelligence officer who had been Meneses' emissary to the cocaine cartel of Bogota, Colombia. Miranda pleaded guilty to drug charges and agreed to cooperate in exchange for a seven-year sentence. In a handwritten statement he read to Meneses' jury, Miranda revealed many of the secrets of the Meneses drug ring, earning his old boss a 30-year prison sentence in the process. "He [Norwin] and his brother Luis Enrique had financed the contra revolution with the benefits of the cocaine they sold," Miranda wrote. "This operation, as Norwin told me, was executed with the collaboration of high-ranking Salvadoran military personnel. They met with officials of the Salvadoran air force, who flew [planes] to Colombia and then left for the US, bound for an Air Force base in Texas, as he told me." Meneses, who has close personal and business ties to a Salvadoran air-force commander and former CIA agent named Marcos Aguado, is scheduled to be paroled in the summer of 1996, after nearly five years in custody. GAO records confirm that El Salvador's air force was supplying the CIA's Nicaraguan guerrillas with aircraft and flight support services throughout the mid-1980s. As for Miranda, he agreed to be interviewed by Webb, and disappeared the same day. He has not been seen since.
- Aguado is a well-known Nicaraguan who works for the Salvadoran Air Force, and has been identified as a CIA agent. Aguado's name came up in a deposition in the Iran-Contra trial of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. He was identified in 1987 congressional testimony as a CIA agent who helped the contras get weapons, airplanes and money from a major Colombian drug trafficker named George Morales. Robert Owen, a courier for North, testified he knew Aguado as a contra pilot and said there was "concern" about his being involved with drug trafficking. In 1985, the DEA agent assigned to El Salvador, Celerino Castillo, began receiving reports that cocaine was being flown into the US from Ilopango Air Base, where Aguado was assigned, as part of a Contra-related covert operation. After exhaustively documenting the cocaine flights, Castillo turned over his information to the DEA. Instead of the DEA investigating the drug flights, Castillo was targeted for an investigation. Castillo took a disability retirement in 1991. "Basically, the bottom line is it was a covert operation and they (DEA officials) were covering it up," says Castillo. "You can't get any simpler than that. It was a cover-up." (San Jose Mercury News/Seattle Times/AMPP [multiple articles], Wikipedia, Alternet)
- Consortium News founder Robert Parry, then a reporter with the Associated Press and a friend of reporter Gary Webb, speaks in February 2007 of the reaction to Webb's Contra-CIA-cocaine story. Parry says, "As [Webb's story] spread, and as demands for investigations grew, the response from the traditional media was increasingly hostile. First, the Washington Times, the right-wing paper that Reverend Moon supports, attacked the reporting, quoting CIA people, including some who had been involved in the operation, as denying that this could be possible. Then those kinds of denunciations were carried by the bigger papers -- Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. They all ran pieces, even though they would acknowledge in the stories that, oh, yes, some of the Contras were involved in drug trafficking. They focused their stories on Gary Webb and on alleged minor inaccuracies or exaggerations in the series. They essentially nitpicked the series, as opposed to dealing with the larger issue of the fact that the United States government had tolerated drug trafficking by this client force, the Contras.
- Parry's interviewer, a writer for the liberal news site Buzzflash, asks, "What we have here is the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, choosing to attack a story that subsequently, and prior to that, was proved basically true. What was going on here? If they do have a responsibility, as they claim, to pursue the news and the truth, why weren't they hopping on this and reconfirming the story, and finding other facets of it, instead of attacking the story and Gary Webb? His basic story proved to be true. So why did the 'liberal establishment papers' go after Gary Webb and his story, even though it was basically true?" Parry answers, "Many of the journalists had been around in the 1980s. Many of them were involved on the fringes of dealing with the Iran-Contra scandal, and most of them had failed at that. For the sake of their careers, they had avoided the tough stories. They backed down. And nobody who has failed to live up to the standards of their profession wants to admit that. That was a hard story to do in the Eighties, and if anyone really tried, as we tried at the AP, they faced serious attack. So most of these journalists who were reporters in the Eighties, by the time they got to the 1990s, they were bureau chiefs and deputy managing editors, and they'd moved up, because they'd protected their careers. If they had done the hard stories, it would have gotten them in hot water. So you're looking now at people with a self interest in knocking down Webb's story. So, one, they hadn't done the story, and they should have. Two, here was this upstart regional paper [the San Jose Mercury News] with a website, challenging their gatekeeper role. And third, by the time you get to the mid-Nineties, there's this attitude that all stories should be about personalities -- OJ Simpson, or Bill Clinton's sex life. That attitude is evolving.
- "So the way the story was defined was around Gary Webb, the person -- why is this guy doing this? Who is he? Rather than around the issue, which was somewhat historical, about why did the US government allow these Contras to bring drugs into the United States? The US government felt at the time that it was more important to overthrow the government in Nicaragua than to enforce the laws. That's kind of a more esoteric story in the view of the media by the mid-1990s. And it was easier to write a story about this character, Gary Webb. For instance, Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post media critic, at one point got his hands on Gary Webb's book proposal. In the book proposal, Gary Webb had written that some of the Contras had seen their operation more as a business than a movement. And Howard Kurtz wrote in his piece: 'Oliver Stone, check your voicemail,' making fun of Webb as a conspiracy nut. Now a piece I did at that time for consortiumnews, which existed by then, was to point out that, if Kurtz had known about and they followed the Contra war in the mid-1980s, he should have known that one of North's emissaries, Robert Owen, had written a memo to North in which Owen himself says, 'For many of these Contra leaders, this is a business.' ...Kurtz was accepting the conventional wisdom of that time, which was that the Contras were this noble effort sponsored by Ronald Reagan to bring freedom and democracy to Nicaragua. Those of us who covered the Contras and knew them quite well knew, understood there was a very different reality to them. Many of them were guys who had lost power when the Sandinistas came in. They wanted to get power back. They wanted money. Many of them didn't care how they got the money, which should not be surprising. This is the real world. But in the Washington world of the mid-1990s, the thinking was sort of a rose-colored look back on the Reagan era. The idea that any of this was even possible was rejected."
- Parry continues, "By 1996, the Republicans had taken control of Congress and they were naming everything they could after Ronald Reagan. It was a hard story for the reporters to face at that time because, one, it would have suggested they had not done their job back in the Eighties, and they didn't. And two, it would acknowledge that there was this upstart thing called the Internet, and this regional paper that had scooped them on much of it. And, three, it would put them at odds with the very powerful Republican party that was at that point in control of Washington."
- The impact on Webb's career and his life was devastating. Parry recalls, "His executive editor, Jerry Ceppos, first backed him. But then as these waves of ridicule swept over the San Jose Mercury News and the Knight-Ridder company, the pressures built on Ceppos to essentially abandon Webb. And he did that. He backed away from the story, at least in part. Even though there was only a partial retraction, it was seized upon by the papers as vindication of their attacks. Ceppos ordered the investigation of the Contra drug issue to stop. He also then transferred Webb to a small bureau, and Webb was forced to resign in disgrace."
- What Gary did set in motion, however, was finally an internal examination into these allegations by inspectors general at the CIA and the Justice Department. Basically, while the press releases or the executive summaries on these reports tended to dump on Gary Webb, the government reports contained major admissions of wrongdoing in the body of the report. But the major media didn't bother to actually read or understand the bodies of these reports. The government eventually acknowledged, I think, more than fifty cases of Contras and Contra units being involved in cocaine trafficking in the 1980s. They admitted that a number of investigations, that had been started by law enforcement, had been shut down. And investigations by Congress -- i.e., John Kerry -- were denied key information to let them understand the bigger picture. So you had government admissions of knowledge about the crimes committed by these clients, the Contras, but also admission that the US government systematically intervened to stop criminal and Congressional investigations of these clients. These were dramatic admissions. But the major media essentially ignored them. The New York Times did grudgingly say eventually that it turned out there was more to this than they had previously understood. They divided their story -- half of the story admitted that the CIA was saying these crimes had been tolerated, and then the other half continued to attack Gary Webb. The Washington Post did a similar kind of piece. The L.A. Times never reported on the final CIA report.
- "Gary Webb's career was never given a chance to recover. He held some jobs for the State of California, and he did some work for a weekly newspaper in the Sacramento area. But his life spiraled down. His marriage broke up. He ended up struggling financially. Finally, in December of 2004, in a state of depression, he took his own life."
- Parry concludes, "In the case of Gary Webb, it was easier to make fun of him. The major news organizations also ridiculed the African American community. There were stories about how the African American community was conspiracy prone. It was an ugly reaction by the major news organizations in 1996 to the Gary Webb series, and to the complaints by the African American community about what the government had tolerated in the drug trafficking. So it was easier across the board to create a common narrative, if you will. The common narrative is that Gary Webb is a sloppy reporter, that not much had happened, and that African Americans are kind of conspiracy prone. Then people could go back to their vacations or their cozy existence in their news organizations. To me, anyway, as someone who's been in those circumstances and seen how it works, that's what I was watching happen during that difficult period of the mid-1990s." (Buzzflash)
"Dark Alliance" logo originally used by the San Jose Mercury News
on Web articles from the series. The logo will be taken down within days.
- August 23: Al-Qaeda financier Osama bin Laden issues a clear set of demands on the terrorist organization's Web site, a "Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places -- Expel the Infidels From the Arab Peninsula." Written in English so Westerners could easily understand, the document demands that US troops immediately leave Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest of cities, Mecca and Medina. On April 29, 2003, days before Bush struts on the flight deck of the USS Lincoln to announce "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, he quietly orders all US troops out of Saudi Arabia, giving bin Laden what he demanded years before. "That's astonishing," writes investigative journalist Greg Palast. "Until George W. Bush, the United States of America has never, ever, removed all our military bases from a foreign land no matter how much locals b*tched or moaned. We even keep troops in Okinawa over the island's strong objections, and World War II ended sixty years ago. ...Bush was correct in announcing, 'Mission Accomplished.' However, it was not America's mission that was accomplished. It was Osama's." In the document, bin Laden also adjures other Muslims not to destroy oil industries in Arab nations: "I would like here to alert my brothers, to protect this oil wealth and not to include it in the battle." And he gives as his prime reason for declaring hostilities against the US as "the presence of the USA Crusader military forces on land, sea and air in the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger threatening the largest oil reserve in the world." Like Bush and other Americans, bin Laden, the son of a wealthy oil and construction family in Saudi Arabia, seems quite committed to preserving the oil fields of the Arabian Peninsula.
- After working with the CIA to remove the Soviets from Afghanistan, bin Laden moved to the Sudan, an oil-rich country in Africa, where at the time oil experts expected to find huge new reserves. For years bin Laden targeted Iran, another oil-rich country, for aggression, believing that the Shi'a regime there was making it difficult for him to connect, through Afghanistan, with fundamentalist militants in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, two former Soviet republics sitting atop the Caspian Sea oil fields. Bin Laden will order the murder of the entire Iranian diplomatic legation to Afghanistan as part of his efforts to clear his path; after eliminating his Shi'ite competitors in Afghanistan, bin Laden will help finance the Wahabi-influenced Taliban. He will not object whatsoever to the Taliban's deals with American oil firms to build a Caspian oil pipeline. Bin Laden is less ideologically opposed to America as he is in competition with it to control Arab oil fields, with the ultimate goal of creating an Islamic "caliphate" stretching from the Sudan to Kazakhstan, with every province an oil state and a powerful competitor with the US and Europe. (Greg Palast)
- August 29: Veteran political consultant and Clinton advisor Dick Morris abruptly resigns after stories concerning his relationship with prostitute Sherry Rowlands hit the media. Morris, an advisor to both Democratic and Republican politicians, including Jesse Helms and Trent Lott, had been quite effective in limiting the damage and fallout from previous Clinton scandals and psuedo-scandals that affected the administration, and was a key element in Clinton's shift towards more rightist policies. The allegations include Rowlands' claim that Morris divulged inside information about the Clinton White House to her, and allowed her to listen in to phone calls between Morris and Clinton; Morris allegedly brags to Rowlands that he "holds the leash...around Clinton's neck." Media stories focus on the lurid allegations from Rowlands that Morris favors "toesucking." Morris will resurface years later as a right-wing pundit and semi-professional Clinton basher. (PBS, Washington Post, Slate)
"Environmentalists are a socialist group of individuals that are the tool of the Democrat Party. I'm proud to say that they are my enemy. They are not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans." -- Republican representative Don Young, Alaska Public Radio, August 19, quoted by Brandi Mills