July 9, 1998

Two New Contra-Coke Books

Two new books are throwing down the gauntlet -- again -- to the CIA on the issue of drug trafficking.

One is by former San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, who expanded his controversial three-part series, "Dark Alliance," into a full-length book by the same name. Webb's longer treatment lets him fill in some gaps that mainstream critics exploited to disparage his work.

Most importantly, Webb now has incorporated the strong historical record that was built up in the decade before his series ran. The depth of that record, blended with the real-life destruction that crack cocaine wrought upon inner-city black neighborhoods, makes the book a powerful statement about crime and geopolitics.

Webb also adds some new pieces to the ugly mosaic of official criminality. At the National Archives, he found a recently declassified document of a 1988 interview between assistant U.S. attorney Walter E. Furr and a Colombian trafficker named Allen Raul Rudd, whom prosecutors considered a reliable informant.

Rudd recounted a conversation in 1987 in which Medellin cartel boss Pablo Escobar complained that then-Vice President George Bush was a "traitor who used to deal with us, but now he is tough." According to Rudd, Escobar claimed there had been "an agreement or relationship between Bush and the American government and members of the Medellin cartel."

The deal called for U.S. planes to deliver guns to the cartel which, in turn, "put cocaine aboard the planes and the cocaine was taken to United States military base[s]," Rudd said. "The guns were delivered and sold to the contras in Nicaragua by the cartel."

Rudd's story matches others from the 1980s. For instance, federal informant Wanda Palacio testified that she was with Medellin bosses when they oversaw the loading of cocaine aboard Southern Air Transport planes at Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1983 and October 1985. At the time, Southern Air was a major air carrier for the U.S. military.

In October 1986, after a contra supply plane crashed in Nicaragua, Palacio identified its dead co-pilot, Wallace "Buzz" Sawyer, as one of the Southern Air pilots on the October 1985 cocaine flight. Sawyer's logs, recovered from the crash, later confirmed that he had flown a Southern Air plane into Barranquilla in early October 1985.

Despite the corroboration, President Reagan's Justice Department rejected Palacio as unreliable, a fate that also met other witnesses who linked cocaine shipments and the contras. Yet, possibly as disturbing as the Reagan administration's blind eye was the determination of the national press corps to avert its eyes from the evidence.

Both in the 1980s -- when the contra-drug evidence first surfaced and was confirmed by a Senate investigation -- and in 1996 -- when Webb excavated the long-buried issue -- most Washington reporters defended the Reagan administration and the CIA.

That pattern continues with Webb's new book which was virtually frozen out of early reviews. [A Lexis-Nexis search on July 7 found only one review, a favorable one in the Baltimore Sun. Another favorable review ran on June 29 in the San Francisco Chronicle.]

The Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz mentioned Webb's book in a column on July 6, but only in the mocking way that the contra-drug issue is normally dealt with by the major media.

"'Dark Alliance' is back," Kurtz wrote in the style of a horror movie. "A small house called Seven Stories is publishing the book ... after what Webb describes as a 'torrent of rejections'. ... [He] says his series did have one serious flaw: lousy editing.."

The combination of neglect and ridicule from the major newspapers, however, has not stopped Webb from drawing overflow crowds on his book tour, at stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and elsewhere.


The mainstream media hostility to the contra drug story is the focus of the second book, White-Out: The CIA, Drugs and the Press by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. White-Out details the mainstream media's campaign to destroy Webb's career and to silence black community protests over the contra-drug evidence.

Accompanying the attacks on Webb in 1996, leading American newspapers ran derogatory accounts about "black paranoia" and the gullibility of black people. Cockburn and St. Clair likened this press ridicule of blacks to "a kind of pacification program" in which blacks were beaten down in print as a way to silence their outrage.

To acclimate the reader to the troubling reality behind the drug suspicions and the "black paranoia," Cockburn and St. Clair take useful side trips into the history of government experimentation on black subjects and repression of black leaders. The authors look, as well, at the CIA's unsavory history of collaboration with Nazi war criminals and its sponsorship of anti-communist drug lords from Laos to Bolivia to Afghanistan.

[White Out is scheduled for national release in September by Verso.]

So, even as the major media continues to turn its back on the contra-drug evidence, these two new books keep kicking up a storm about one of the worst political crimes of the nation's recent past.


Copyright (c) 1998

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