It all began on July 17, 1979, when the Sandinistas finally managed to overthrow the pro-US government of Anastasio Somoza Sr in a bloody civil war, and set up their own socialist government in Nicaragua. Naturally, Somoza's cronies and business associates began to flee to the United States seeking political asylum, and they immediately began to start looking for ways to take their country back. While Jimmy Carter did not care much for these Nicaraguan émigrés, the Central Intelligence Agency did, and with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, they began to obtain some measure of presidential sympathy.
Unlike Carter, Reagan considered the success of the Sandinistas as not just an uprising to overthrow an unpopular dictatorship, but as the possibility that these Sandinistas were communists and he would soon have second Fidel Castro at his backdoor. Reagan, however, in a secret December 1, 1981 order, only authorized US$19.9 million for covert paramilitary operations against the Sandinistas, a sum that the CIA acknowledged was not nearly enough to build a credible fighting force.
So the CIA began looking for other ways of raising money to finance the guerillas who would later be known as the Contras. Two Nicaraguan émigrés who fled the country shortly before the fall of Somoza, Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes and Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero, were the key players in this sordid tale. Blandón and Meneses met and flew to Honduras to meet with a certain Enrique Bermudez. Bermudez, a former Colonel in Somoza's National Guard, and Somoza's Washington liaison to the US Military, had been hired by the CIA in mid-1980 to pull together the remnants of Somoza's National Guard. In August 1981, Bermudez unveiled his efforts as the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, which would be the largest of the military organizations that would be known as the Contras.
Shortly after the meeting with Bermudez, Blandon and Meneses "started raising money for the contra revolution." While Blandon testifies that Bermudez did not know that drug trafficking would be the primary source of this funding, the presence of Meneses argues strongly against this. Meneses had long been known in the Nicaraguan press as "Rey de la Droga" (King of Drugs), even before the fall of Somoza, and he was already under investigation by the FBI and the DEA for cocaine smuggling into the United States.
At any rate, Blandon was assigned to raise money in Los Angeles, and Meneses gave him two kilograms of cocaine to sell. At first it was slow going, and it took him four months to sell all of that first batch of coke. However, in a stroke of marketing genius that would have been applauded were he in a more legitimate business, he saw that there could be a big opportunity in marketing that most expensive street drug in California's poorest neighborhoods, as he and his compatriots had arrived in South-Central LA just as drug users began to find a way to make cocaine affordable: turning the pricey white powder into crack.
It is here that the third important player in Gary Webb's Dark Alliance appears. Ricky Donnell Ross, later known as Freeway Rick Ross, an illiterate and disillusioned high school dropout, met an associate of Blandon's who began selling him small amounts of remarkably inexpensive cocaine. Through a network of friends in the Crips and Bloods gangs, Freeway Rick steadily began to build up a clientele. His main innovation was converting the expensive powder cocaine that he ultimately received from Blandon and Meneses into crack cocaine himself, and selling that. Within a year, his crack cocaine business dominated inner-city Los Angeles, and many of the largest dealers were his customers. Shortly after, he earned his nickname Freeway Rick as he became so rich that he was buying up properties near the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles. Blandon began to see his business take a dramatic jump after a slow start. Soon enough, Meneses was routinely flying 200 to 400 kilograms of cocaine from Miami to the West Coast by 1983 and 1984.
While many dealers had already been selling crack cocaine since the mid-1970's, they lacked the one thing that made Freeway Rick Ross such a runaway success: a man like Danilo Blandon who had access to seemingly limitless quantities of high-grade, cheap cocaine. Ross never discovered just how his friend Blandon managed to get cocaine so cheaply. "I just figured he knew the people, you know what I'm saying? He was plugged."
Freeway Rick had no idea just how plugged his friend was. He had no knowledge of Meneses, or the Salvadoran planes that were flying the stuff into an air base in Texas, nor of the CIA that was turning a blind eye to this entire affair and encouraging other government agencies to do the same.
There is a great deal of evidence that shows that the El Salvadoran air force was deeply involved with the Contras, Meneses, and drug trafficking. One of Norwin Meneses's oldest friends is a former Contra pilot named Marcos Aguado, who had been named in a 1987 congressional hearing as a CIA agent who had helped the Contras get weapons, aircraft, and money from a notorious Colombian drug lord named George Morales. Aguado admitted this role in a videotaped deposition submitted to a Senate subcommittee that same year.
In 1985, the DEA agent assigned to El Salvador, Celerino Castillo III, began receiving tips that cocaine was being flown out of certain Salvadoran air force bases as part of a covert Contra operation. In January 1986, he began documenting these flights in detail, but when he submitted his reports, he was subjected to an internal DEA investigation. "Basically, the bottom line is it was a covert operation and they [DEA officials] were covering it up," Castillo said in an interview. "You can't get any simpler than that. It was a cover-up."
When Meneses was arrested in 1992 in connection with a sensational 750 kilogram cocaine bust, these connections began to appear more clearly. His chief accuser was one Enrique Miranda, a relative and former Nicaraguan military intelligence officer who had acted as Meneses' emissary to the cocaine cartels in Bogota, who testified in exchange for a reduced sentence. "He [Norwin] and his brother Luis Enrique had financed the contra revolution with the benefits of the cocaine they sold," Miranda wrote in a long, handwritten statement. "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 U.S., bound for an Air Force base in Texas, as he told me."
Records from the US General Accounting Office show that the El Salvadoran air force was supplying the CIA's contra guerillas with aircraft and flight support services throughout the mid-1980's.
Another DEA report that was recently released further details this. In 1987, the DEA sent undercover agents into one of the Los Angeles drug rings that were supplying Ricky Ross, and they interviewed one of the principals of this operation, one Ivan Torres. The report states:
"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."
Further evidence came from a recently discovered 1982 agreement between CIA director William Casey and then Attorney General William French Smith that basically said that if there was any drug trafficking involving CIA assets, it did not need to be reported to the Department of Justice.
...In light of these provisions, and in view of the fine cooperation the Drug Enforcement Administration has received from CIA, no formal requirement regarding the reporting of narcotics violations has been included in these procedures.
Copies of this incriminating agreement were obtained by Rep. Maxine Waters who used them in her subsequent congressional investigations.
And what of the players in this tale that led to the growth of the crack cocaine epidemic that still afflicts many large American cities? Danilo Blandon was eventually convicted of drug trafficking in 1992, but he received a strangely light sentence, of only 48 months in prison and no fine, despite recommendations that he receive a life sentence and a US$4 million fine, and that his mandatory sentence for the vast quantities of drugs he helped smuggle was totally off the scale. He has been working as a confidential informant for the DEA since his release in 1994, and has been described as having "almost unlimited potential to assist the United States." One of his first assignments after his release was setting up a sting operation against his old friend Ricky Ross. Ross was in the slammer after one of his loads was intercepted by a sniffer dog, and was in prison serving a mandatory ten-year prison sentence, but awaiting parole when DEA agents set up the operation to take him down hard. Within days of his parole he met up again with Blandon, and their conversations quickly turned to cocaine. On March 2, 1995, in a parking lot in National City near San Diego, Ross was arrested while poking his head into a car trunk full of cocaine provided by Blandon. He is now in prison again serving a life sentence. As for Norwin Meneses, as previously noted he was captured by the Nicaraguan authorities for drug trafficking as well, but served only a short time in prison and by 1997 was released. He still has indictments for drug-related offenses pending in San Francisco, and how he has been able to enter and leave the United States with impunity and even live openly in the US up until relatively recently in spite of the many investigations and indictments he was under has never been satisfactorily explained.
These insinuations of a dark alliance between the highest levels of the United States intelligence services and illegal narcotics trafficking were the substance of Gary Webb's explosive 1996 series that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, and were further expounded upon in his book. Despite the fact that the sordid tale of government complicity in drug trafficking has been confirmed by well-documented and reliable sources, and that subsequent documents later released by the FBI, the DEA, and even the CIA itself have all but confirmed his allegations, Webb's career as a professional journalist was destroyed by this story. He committed suicide on Friday December 10, 2004, and the spate of obituaries that followed his death have done nothing but blacken his memory.
William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
Michael Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil