The Skeptic Tank Chairman comments: I have received this material from +quot;Larry-Jennie+

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The Skeptic Tank Chairman comments: I have received this material from "Larry-Jennie", (lar-jen@interaccess.com) on Sat, 11 Jan 1997 at 08:37:59 -0600, under the subject heading "CIA drugs: Urban legend?" It came in with various other files which I've enumerated below. There is further materials of the same nature to be found at ftp://pencil.cs.missouri.edu/pub/mena/ though I have not examined them. I have left the text alone however I have reformatted it to make it easier to read. - Fredric L. Rice, (frice@stbbs.com) (818) 335-9601 24 hours C:\WWFILES\NORTH6IC.TXT, C:\WWFILES\BLUMCIA.TXT, C:\WWFILES\UPI11106.TXT, C:\WWFILES\CAQ59.TXT, C:\WWFILES\SJMREBUT.TXT, C:\WWFILES\SJMCIA26.TXT -=- Begin text -=- [Welcome to Mercury Center] [Postscript] [Dark Alliance] Frames: [ Enable | Disable ] 'Dark Alliance' series takes on a life of its own Analyzing criticism of drug series Published: Oct. 13, 1996 BY PETE CAREY Mercury News Staff Writer It's unusual when a newspaper becomes the news, but [Other stories] that's what happened Sunday, Aug. 18, when the Mercury News began publishing a three-day series that offered a CIA's chief shocking theory for the origins of the ''crack'' cocaine wants longer epidemic that eventually spread among young, inner-city drug probe blacks across America. Published: Oct. 11, The epidemic, reporter Gary Webb wrote, was sparked in 1996 part by two Nicaraguan emigres -- Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandon -- who were raising money for a Central Intelligence Agency-controlled army of Nicaraguan rebels Previously in Central America, the Contras. published postscript To raise millions of dollars, they sold large quantities stories of cocaine to a South-Central Los Angeles street hustler Last named Ricky Donnell Ross, who converted it into crack. updated: Ross and his customers then helped spread the drug across Oct. 12, the country, beginning the craze for crack cocaine that 1996 has devastated inner cities across America. The series offered evidence of Contra involvement at the early stages of this epidemic and raised the possibility of CIA The original awareness of it. series Published: The articles provoked a firestorm of reaction. Aug. 18-20, 1996 In particular, blacks, many of whom had harbored similar suspicions for years, called for immediate investigations. Radio/television appearances ''As someone who has seen how the crack cocaine trade has by Gary Webb devastated the South-Central Los Angeles community, and Last as a public official, I cannot exaggerate my feelings of updated: dismay that my own government may have played a part in Oct. 12, the origins and history of this problem,'' Rep. Maxine 1996 Waters, D-Los Angeles, wrote to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. The Department of Justice will investigate the allegations, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., [document link] announced last month. Biographical information Others variously said the findings overreached, were on Oscar absurd, old news or inconclusive. The CIA denied them, Danilo and some experts questioned the assertion that Blandon, Nicaraguans helped spark the spread of smoked cocaine -- Norwin called rock at first and later crack. Meneses and Ricky Ross ''Although I believe there is no substance to the allegations in the Mercury News, I do wish to dispel any lingering public doubt on the subject,'' said John Deutch, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Deutch said he has asked the CIA's inspector general to investigate the charges. Earlier this month, the Washington Post published a [web link] 5,000-word package attacking the series, saying that it was weak on evidence and that a Post investigation Washington ''found that the available information does not support Post article the conclusion that the CIA-backed Contras -- or criticizing Nicaraguans in general -- played a major role in the series emergence of crack as a narcotic in widespread use in the United States.'' The Boston Globe, however, reported that the series documented ''in persuasive detail'' that supporters of the Nicaraguan Contras sold drugs in inner-city Los Angeles and that ''at least some of the proceeds went to the rebels' efforts to overthrow their country's Sandinista government.'' Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who headed a Senate inquiry [web link] into Contra drug connections in the 1980s, said he has been ''impressed by the reporting of the San Jose Mercury Selections News. ... We never found specific evidence of a drug from Senate pipeline to targeted cities. We did, however, determine inquiry into that certain rogue agents may have looked the other way, Contra drug and that people affiliated with the CIA and carrying its connections credentials were involved in drug trafficking in their support for the Contras. I remain very concerned about the new findings reported by the Mercury News, and I support continuing efforts to search for the truth.'' The firestorm has left the newspaper in the awkward position of continuing to report developments of the story while needing to evaluate -- and to take note of in print -- the criticism it has received. As a result, Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos asked this reporter and editors not associated with the series to lay out and attempt to evaluate for Mercury News readers the top findings of the series and the major issues raised by its critics. Reporter Webb and top Mercury News editors continue to stand by the story, saying they believe it represents a significant advance on the long-running story of Contra drug dealing; is the most detailed account of Contra agents selling drugs in U.S. cities; and is the first linking the Contra operation with cocaine use in urban, black America. ''People have been sniffing around this issue since Iran-Contra,'' said Paul Van Slambrouck, an assistant managing editor and one of those who edited the stories. ''We've added a couple of bricks to this edifice. I think we've made a significant contribution to what is one of the best stories of the decade.'' The strongest media challenge was the major deconstruction by the Washington Post on Oct. 4. Among the prominent points raised by the Post and others: * The two drug dealers may not have sent money to the Contras from California during the time they were trading with Ross. * They were less than the Contra leaders the series claimed they are. * The crack cocaine epidemic was already under way when the drug dealing described in the series took place; there was no ''Johnny Appleseed of crack,'' as the Mercury News called Blandon, and the epidemic would have happened with or without the trio of Meneses, Blandon and Ross. * The series clearly left the impression that the CIA was directly linked to the drug dealing in South-Central Los Angeles. Here is an examination of each point: The time line Series cited evidence that Blandon had dates wrong The Mercury News reported that for the better part of the 1980s, money from the sale of cocaine to street gangs in Los Angeles was funneled to the Contras. The Post reported that, according to Blandon's own [Image]Although testimony, he did little or no business with Ross during the time Blandon was supposedly sending money to the I believe Contras. Blandon twice testified that he stopped sending there is no money to the Contras around 1982-1983, and that he met substance to Ross in 1982. This deals a blow to the idea that cocaine the profits extracted from blacks went to the CIA-backed allegations Contras for five years or more. in the Mercury Blandon's dates are plausible because President Ronald News, I do Reagan ordered a covert operation in support of the wish to Contras on Dec. 1, 1981, and $19.95 million was dispel any eventually allocated to them, reducing the need for drug lingering money. Blandon said in Ross' trial this year that he public doubt stopped sending money sometime after the United States on the approved $19 million for the Contras. subject. [Image] Webb said Blandon's dates ''didn't make sense'' because in 1984, the Contras needed money more than ever after -- CIA Congress forced a halt to all covert military aid. That Director ban was lifted in 1986, when $100 million was authorized John Deutch by Congress. [Image] Blandon ''is bad with dates,'' Webb said, and the series did not quote the part of his testimony with the 1983 date. Webb also said Blandon could have been referring to a second $19 million secretly authorized by Congress in September 1983. ''We don't put a date on it in the series; it was unclear from his testimony,'' Webb said. ''He was all over the map on when he allegedly stopped doing this (sending money). First he said he stopped in 1982. (It was) pointed out, "how could you stop then when you started in 1982?' Then he said it was 1983, possibly; he couldn't remember. That's why we never had him saying definitively.'' Webb acknowledged that it would be damaging to his series ''if you only looked at the testimony. But we didn't. We looked at other sources. ... Even he (Blandon) admitted he couldn't be accurate, because he was very bad with dates.'' Unable to interview Blandon directly, Webb relied instead on other evidence to decide that Blandon continued sending money to the Contras until 1986. A 1986 Los Angeles County sheriff's affidavit for [document link] searches of the homes and business of Blandon and members Affidavit to of his drug ring shows that the Contra connection lasted search homes into the mid-1980s. In the 1986 affidavit, three and business confidential informants said that Blandon was still of Oscar sending money to the Contras. There is no date for when Danilo the informants provided this information. Two had given Blandon their information to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, which passed it on to the sheriff's department. But one informant named a relative of Blandon's as his launderer of Contra money, saying it went through a business in Florida that the relative didn't work for until 1984. During Ross' trial, Webb met with Ross' attorney, Alan Fenster. Webb said Fenster invited him to lunch and said he didn't know what to ask Blandon. Webb said he told Fenster he had several questions. The questions, Webb said, were about Blandon's relationship with the Contras and Meneses. That afternoon and the following morning, Fenster also asked Blandon questions of his own. Webb said these helped verify the information in the affidavit. ''Fenster took him through that list of names, one by one,'' said Webb. ''Blandon identified every one of them, said everyone was in his drug operation.'' The Post was less impressed with the informants' stories contained in the affidavit, said Walter Pincus, co-author of the Post's story. Pincus said he found things in it that are ''just dead wrong'' and that he does not trust it. Webb says, ''I haven't found a false statement in it (the affidavit) yet.'' Webb's suggesting questions to Fenster also was criticized by some in the media as going beyond acceptable journalistic practice. Webb has no regrets. ''I got the best interview I've ever had -- while the man was under oath in a federal court and being vouched for by two federal agencies.'' Chieftains or crooks? Contra evidence mixed; amounts involved unclear Another issue is more subtle: Were Blandon and Meneses two Contra officials who became drug smugglers and dealers to support their guerrilla army, or were they drug smugglers and dealers who for a while sent money to the Contras? This is important because it helps determine the closeness of the links between the drug selling and the CIA, which supported the Contra operation. The Post reported that Adolfo Calero, the Contras' chief [document link] political leader, denied that Blandon and Meneses were Biographical ever among the guerrilla army's leaders. information on Adolfo ''Neither Meneses nor Blandon were 'leaders of the FDN Calero and (the Contras), any time or any place,''' the Post quoted Enrique Calero as saying. Bermudez The Mercury News series called them ''financiers'' and [Photo link] said that others considered them to be important Contra Calero, officials. They had visited Contra military commander Meneses and Enrique Bermudez at a secret camp of the Fuerza others at a Democratica Nicaraguense (the official name of the meeting in Contras) in Honduras in 1981, and hosted dinners for San Contra officials in California. Francisco Webb interviewed Eden Pastora, an original Contra commander, who said that both Blandon and Meneses were original Contras. Meneses also told a Nicaraguan magazine he had raised money for the Contras in California for several years. He also was a professional drug smuggler with a large ring operating in California. John Mattes, a Miami attorney and investigator who assisted a Senate inquiry into Contra drug dealing in the mid-1980s, said the Honduran visit is a sign Meneses and Blandon were more than just members of a Contra fan club. ''They were visiting the Contra camp,'' noted Mattes. ''What is it, Club Med down there? Who would have been traveling to the Central American jungle to visit with the Contras but a Contra-related individual?'' The question of how much money they sent from California is unclear, however. Though the first paragraph of the series says ''millions,'' that is a conclusion based on the amount of cocaine the two Nicaraguans were selling and Blandon's testimony that ''everything'' was going to the Contras. There are no hard figures. Mattes said the Contra drug dealings he uncovered were not solely or even primarily for the revolutionary cause. ''Was it for war effort exclusively? No, they funded their condominiums, they funded their Mercedeses and could afford to throw a few pennies to the Contra campesinos,'' he said. ''Those associated with narcotics trafficking in the Contras were good enough businessmen not to give away their money.'' Trio's role in crack trade Accelerated but didn't originate, some say Another element of the Mercury News series that has prompted controversy is the role in the crack explosion it gives to Meneses, Blandon and Ross. The story declares that cocaine was ''a drug that was [Image]This virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before members of the CIA's army brought it into South-Central is a (Los Angeles) in the 1980s at bargain basement prices.'' disgraceful And it says that ''the L.A. gangs ... used their enormous newspaper cocaine profits to arm themselves and spread crack across series in the country.'' that it offers no Several experts who have studied the use and spread of proof. drugs said the Meneses-Blandon-Ross connection is not [Image] responsible for the crack epidemic, although several grant that the trio played a role as a mass market -- Tucker developed in Los Angeles. Carlson of the Weekly ''You don't need a Ricky Ross to sell cocaine,'' said Standard, Ronald Siegel, a drug expert at of the University of from CNN's California, Los Angeles. ''It sells itself.'' "Both Sides." Siegel said he wasn't impressed with the claims about [Image] Ross' pre-eminence in the crack market. ''It spread well before Ricky Ross was even heard of, probably,'' he said. ''I don't think he did (start the epidemic). It was well on its way,'' Siegel said. ''The crack epidemic started in a lot of places at similar times,'' said Robert Byck, Yale University professor of psychiatry and pharmacology. ''Once you have a product which can be made by anybody and sold in unit dosages ... then you have something which is a fabulous product.'' Byck added, ''Maybe Ricky Ross was the entrepreneur that was required, I do not know. It is not unreasonable to think that was one of the points of infection.'' The Los Angeles Times, in a 1994 series on cocaine, said that ''if there was one outlaw capitalist most responsible for flooding Los Angeles' streets with mass-marketed cocaine, it was 'Freeway Rick' (Ross).'' Malcolm Klein, a University of Southern California social scientist who has studied gang migration and the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic, disagreed with the Mercury News finding that gangs played a significant role in the spread of crack. ''You're looking at the same thing that happened in Los Angeles happening elsewhere,'' said Klein, who directs USC's Social Science Research Institute. He said his research in Los Angeles found that only 25 to 30 percent of the crack arrests involved one or more gang members, which suggests 75 percent was in the hands of non-gang dealers. ''You don't need the CIA to explain it,'' Klein said. ''You really don't need the gang involvement either, although the gangs got involved. There's a market. There's the technology. It is very simple. It's going to happen sooner or later. Was it accelerated by Blandon? It certainly was. Was it accelerated by Ricky Ross? It certainly was.'' Webb replies, ''His (Klein's) argument is that we pin this only on the gangs. Rick Ross was selling to everybody. Even Ricky Ross doesn't know where this was going. He was the biggest crack wholesaler in South-Central Los Angeles.'' What story did, didn't say About the extent of CIA link to drug traffic Perhaps the most difficult issue is how far the newspaper went in linking the CIA to the illegal activities of two Contra supporters in California. Webb said his research ended at the CIA's door, but did not draw direct ties to the agency. But would a reasonable person reading the series think that the agency either sanctioned or directed the drug-selling efforts? Did the story make it appear the CIA had been caught acquiescing to illegal acts, or was some of the outrage the series generated by a misreading -- deliberate or otherwise -- of the series' conclusions? The notion that crack cocaine was a government-sponsored [Image]How plot was quickly accepted by many people who read about or heard about the series. The series did not speculate the U.S. about why cocaine was sold by Contra associates to a government dealer in heavily black South-Central Los Angeles. The spread crack closest the story comes to an explanation is in numerous cocaine in references to the fact that there was a lot of money to the black be made. ghetto [Image] ''I'm not sure everyone who talked about the series read it,'' said Mercury News Executive Editor Ceppos. ''But -- Headline talk show hosts put together a set of conclusions (of in Minister their own) with the conclusions of the series. Louis Farrakhan's ''Can I say people drew conclusions we didn't? weekly Absolutely. Do I wish we hadn't run the series? paper, the Absolutely not. It seems to me the way the press works is Final Call you run the information and let the readers draw their [Image] own conclusions.'' [See Fredric Rice note 1 below] The editors who handled the series say that the original articles never proved direct CIA involvement in the Nicaraguan drug ring, although they say the evidence pointed in that direction. But just as there was no explicit language in the series tying the CIA to the drug sales, there was no paragraph that expressly stated that the newspaper had found no evidence that the CIA ordered or sanctioned the distribution of the cocaine. Nor did the original series contain comment from the CIA denying the allegations, an omission that has been sharply criticized. The misreading on the first point was so widespread that news media continue to repeat the error. The Los Angeles Daily News described ''reports that the Central Intelligence Agency provided crack cocaine to street gangs to finance the Contra forces in Nicaragua in the 1980s.'' The Mercury News' editorial page staff, which works separately from the news staff, put the following headline on its editorial about the issue: ''Another CIA disgrace: Helping the crack flow.'' Of the lack of CIA comment, Webb said that he did not call the CIA for a final, official comment on his series just before it was published, nor was he asked to by editors. He did exchange calls and letters on Freedom of Information Act requests for documents in December, January and March. The CIA denied his requests. Did the presentation of the series contribute to the misunderstanding? * The story called the Contras ''the CIA's army'' and identified the two drug dealers as leaders of the army. While the CIA organized the army, supplied it and paid its leaders, the army was not made up of CIA professionals. The phrase was a shorter way of saying ''a Latin-American guerilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency,'' and was used to make the story flow, said City Editor Dawn Garcia, one of those who edited the series. ''It's a phrase that has been more misunderstood than I thought it would be,'' said Garcia. ''We do use it a few times. We explain on Day 1 (the first day of the series) what that means.'' * Bermudez, the Contra army's military leader, is identified as a CIA agent, the correct terminology for a contractor, but some readers might believe that a CIA agent is a professional CIA employee or policy-maker, similar to an FBI agent's relationship to the FBI. Reporter Webb argues that the distinction is simply a [Image]We've nicety. always ''These guys (the Contras) were directly controlled by speculated CIA case agents, which makes them much closer to the about this, agency and its officials than most contractors,'' he but now said. we've got proof. * A logo that appeared in Mercury Center and reprints of [Image] the series depicts a crack smoker superimposed on a filmy CIA seal. (The logo also appeared on the front page of -- Joe the first and third installments, in a promotion for the Madison, a Web page.) Washington, D.C. Below the image were the words: ''The story behind the talk-radio crack explosion.'' Some critics say this amounted to host [Image] implicating the CIA. The logo was removed from the Web site, and the reprints were discarded Wednesday and will be redone. ''For more than five weeks after publication of the series, no one to my knowledge in the world raised a question about the logo,'' said Executive Editor Ceppos on Thursday. ''It was raised in a Washington Post column. I believe that the logo said to the reader, 'This is a story about the CIA and cocaine.' But because I don't want a discussion about logos to cloud the significant issues, we changed the Web site last night and are remaking the reprint.'' * The closest direct CIA link established was to Bermudez, the Contra military commander. Bermudez, the former military attache in Washington for the deposed Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza, was paid by the CIA to organize the army. In a time-line graphic of the events that ran with the series, Blandon was erroneously described as meeting ''the CIA's military chief'' in 1981, although the stories clearly describe the man he met with as Bermudez, the Contra military commander. A former investigator for the Senate committee that documented in extensive detail the dealings of various Contra officials and their henchmen, and CIA awareness of the drug dealings, said that in his view, the lack of direct evidence implicating the CIA made the series controversial. ''You have to show they (the CIA) knew about the smuggling and either did nothing about it or actively abetted it,'' said the investigator, who asked not to be named. ''This is what the series has not done. Instead, it has drawn a strong circumstantial case that Contra officials who were paid by the CIA knew about it and looked the other way.'' In fact, said this former Senate investigator, ''to call it the CIA is a little simplistic, because it was the USG (U.S. government), not the CIA; (it) was a group of people operating alongside and largely outside of the system. They were Ronald Reagan's freedom fighters.'' Responds Ceppos: ''Our job is not to prosecute the case by courtroom standards. ... Our job is to make a fair and accurate report, and then let the reader and government agencies take it from there. Part of our job is digging out and shining a light on injustice. That is what we did.'' Ceppos said it falls within the newspaper's [Image]The responsibilities to expose serious questions about possible governmental wrongdoing without supplying final key finding proof. of the series that Many of the series' critics praise the depth of its people reporting, and many of its findings remain unchallenged. associated with the CIA The series showed the inner workings of a also sold California-Nicaragua cocaine ring as it imported tons of many tons of the drug into the West Coast. At the same time, it cocaine has connected their activities directly to a black inner-city not been drug ring in Los Angeles and showed in detail how the challenged. costly cocaine powder smuggled by Nicaraguans linked to The beauty the Contras was converted by the ring into cheap cocaine of the rocks, or crack, which could be bought one dose at a time series is by poor, inner-city blacks. And the story continues to that it develop. clearly went that far and Martin Schram, a columnist who writes on the media, didn't go policy and politics for Scripps-Howard News Service in any further Washington, D.C., called the series ''a work in than that.. progress.'' [Image] Although harshly critical of the way the series was -- Jerry executed, he said, ''It may indeed be true. ... The CIA Ceppos, over the years and government in general have done so Mercury News many things that reach so far beyond the pale and are so Executive far out of bounds, that these things all do somehow have Editor a ring of plausibility, even if they are not proven at [Image] the time ... ''There are a lot of good things in the series, but I thought it was undercut by trying to reach beyond what it had already grasped,'' he said. Web multiplies reaction Mercury Center gets 100,000 extra 'hits' a day Behind at least part of the swift reaction to the series was a burgeoning technology. The Internet contributed to the rapid spread of the explosive information contained in the newspaper's three installments. As the series began running, Mercury Center, the paper's electronic publishing arm that carried the entire series, recorded a rough average of 100,000 more ''hits'' each day than the 700,000 to 750,000 it normally sees. It also solicited reader comment. ''What do you think?'' the site asked. More than 300 responses have been posted in the site's forum and hundreds of e-mail letters have been received. Judging from the e-mail, many respondents seemed to think the Mercury News had proved that the CIA was covertly involved in the sales of crack cocaine to young, black Americans. ''There's a significant number of people ... extremely receptive to the suggestion that the government is engaged in a well-organized effort to oppress certain constituent groups in American society, and they are well-represented in the online world,'' said Bob Ryan, director of Mercury Center. The electronic version of the series represents an unprecedented use of the Internet to promote and circulate an investigative story by a major newspaper. The Web site contains much more information than the newspaper does. Text, photographs, charts, diagrams and even the documentary evidence -- transcripts, recordings of trial testimony and other findings -- are hyperlinked to the stories and can be listened to and viewed. The interactive display was a groundbreaking use of the Internet by a major news organization. Mercury Center staffers also did more than ask for comment on the Web site. They sent messages to several Internet news groups -- online discussion forums on different subjects -- alerting them to the series, which helped spread the word about the effort. As a result, the story spun out into the world in a way that editors hadn't foreseen. The series almost instantly took on a life of its own. ''It's an open information system that's not dependent on the size of the gas tanks on our trucks,'' Ryan said. The newspaper also has produced a CD-ROM of the series, which has not yet been circulated. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Go to: Home | Dark Alliance: --------------------------------------------------------------------------- [NCA] | Mercury Center Home | Index | Feedback | 1996 Mercury Center. The information you receive on-line from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material. -=- [Fredric Rice note 1] There is a comment made above: ''... Absolutely not. It seems to me the way the press works is you run the information and let the readers draw their own conclusions.'' This is a fairly new phenomena in "news reporting". Previously there was some measure of integrety wherein the news reporter verified his or her sources and materials and specifically spelled-out what aspects of a news story are verified and accurate and which aspects of a story are either yet to be ascertained or are merely unevidenced opinion. The newer thinking in journalism is to throw up anything which will sell newspapers, television air time, magazines and radio air time, and allowing the consuming audience pick out what they will believe and what they will not (usually predicated upon preconcieved notions.)

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