Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Cocaine Explosion in the US

Gary Webb, Dark Alliance. San Jose Mercury News (online at Narco News), 18, 19 and 20 August 1996 and 16 September 1996. Part One, 18 August 1996: “America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua war. Colombia-SanFrancisco Bay Area drug pipeline helped finance CIA-backed Contras. Backers of CIA-led Nicaraguan rebels brought cocaine to poor L.A. neighborhoods in early ’80s to help finance war–and a plague was born.” Part Two, 19 August 1996: “How a smuggler, a bureaucrat and a driven ghetto teen-ager created the cocaine pipeline, and how crack was ‘born’ in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1974. [In the] shadowy origins of ‘crack’ epidemic, [the] role of CIA-linked agents [was] a well-protected secret until now [August 1996]. Part Three, 20 August 1996: [The] war on drugs has [an] unequal impact on black Americans. [The] Contra case illustrates the discrepancy: Nicaraguan goes free; L.A. dealer faces life.”

Excerpts from stories:

“For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army [Nicaraguan Contras] run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found. This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now [1996] known as the ‘crack’ capital of the world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.’s gangs to buy automatic weapons….

If they’d been in a more respectable line of work, Norwin Meneses, Danilo Blandon and ‘Freeway Rick’ Ross would have been hailed as geniuses of marketing. This odd trio–a smuggler, a bureaucrat and a driven ghetto teen-ager–made fortunes creating the first mass market in [the US] for a product so hellishly desirable that consumers will literally kill to get it: ‘crack’ cocaine.

Federal lawmen will tell you plenty about Rick Ross, mostly about the evils he visited upon black neighborhoods by spreading the crack plague in Los Angeles and cities as far east as Cincinnati. On Aug. 23, they hope, Freeway Rick will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But those same officials won’t say a word about the two men who turned Rick Ross into L.A.’s first king of crack, the men who, for at least five years, supplied him with enough Colombian cocaine to help spawn crack markets in major cities nationwide. Their critical role in the country’s crack explosion, a Mercury News investigation found, has been a strictly guarded secret–until now….

Barbara Bliss Osborn, ‘Are You Sure You Want to Ruin Your Career?’ Gary Webb’s fate a warning to gutsy reporters. FAIR, 1 March 1998.

Update: Ryan Devereaux, Managing a Nightmare: How the CIA Watched Over the Destruction of Gary Webb. The Intercept, 25 September 2014.