Gary Stephen Webb (August 31, 1955 – December 10, 2004) was an American investigative journalist. Webb is best known for his “Dark Alliance” series, which appeared in San Jose The Mercury News in 1996. The series examined the origins of the crack cocaine trade in Los Angeles and claimed that members of the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua had played a major role in creating the trade, using cocaine profits to support their struggle. It also suggested that the Contras may have acted with the knowledge and protection of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The series provoked outrage, particularly in the Los Angeles African-American community, and led to four major investigations of its charges.
The lead of the first article set out the series’ basic claims: “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 run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.” This drug ring “opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles” and, as a result, “The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America.”
To show this, the series focused on three men: Ricky Ross, Oscar Danilo Blandón, and Norwin Meneses. Ross was a major drug dealer in Los Angeles. Blandón and Meneses were Nicaraguans who smuggled drugs into the U.S. and supplied dealers like Ross. After introducing the three, the first article discussed primarily Blandón and Meneses, and their relationship with the Contras and the CIA. Much of the article highlighted the failure of law enforcement agencies to successfully prosecute them and suggested that this was largely due to their Contra and CIA connections.
The second article described Blandón’s background and how he began smuggling cocaine to support the Contras. Meneses, an established smuggler and a Contra supporter as well, taught Blandón how to smuggle and provided him with cocaine. When Ross discovered the market for crack in Los Angeles, he began buying cocaine from Blandón. Blandón and Meneses’ high-volume supply of low-priced high-purity cocaine “allowed Ross to sew up the Los Angeles market and move on. In city after city, local dealers either bought from Ross or got left behind.”
The third article discussed the social effects of the crack trade, noting that it had a disparate effect on African-Americans. Asking why crack became so prevalent in the black community of Los Angeles, the article credited Blandón, referring to him as “the Johnny Appleseed of crack in California.” It also found disparities in the treatment of black and white traffickers in the justice system, contrasting the treatment of Blandón and Ross after their arrests for drug trafficking. Because Blandón cooperated with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), he spent only 28 months in prison, became a paid government informer, and received permanent resident status. Ross was also released early after cooperating in an investigation of police corruption, but was rearrested a few months later in a sting operation arranged with the help of Blandón. The article suggested this was in retribution for Ross’ testimony in the corruption case.
California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein also took note and wrote to CIA director John Deutch and Attorney General Janet Reno, asking for investigations into the articles. Maxine Waters, the Representative for California’s 35th district, which includes South-Central Los Angeles, was also outraged by the articles and became one of Webb’s strongest supporters. Waters urged the CIA, the Department of Justice, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate.
By the end of September, three federal investigations had been announced: an investigation into the CIA allegations conducted by CIA Inspector-General Frederick Hitz, an investigation into the law enforcement allegations by Justice Department Inspector-General Michael Bromwich, and a second investigation into the CIA by the House Intelligence Committee.
Webb’s continuing reporting also triggered a fourth investigation. The first article in “Dark Alliance” that discussed the failure of law enforcement agencies to prosecute Blandón and Meneses had mentioned several cases. One of these was a 1986 raid on Blandón’s drug organization by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which the article suggested had produced evidence of CIA ties to drug smuggling that was later suppressed. When Webb wrote another story on the raid evidence in early October, it received wide attention in Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department began its own investigation into the “Dark Alliance” claims.
Webb strongly disagreed with Ceppos’s column and in interviews, was harshly critical of the paper’s handling of the story. He resigned from the paper in November 1997.
The reports of the three federal investigations into the claims of “Dark Alliance” were not released until over a year after the series’ publication. The reports rejected the series’ main claims but were critical of some CIA and law enforcement actions.
In interviews after leaving The Mercury News, Webb described the 1997 controversy as media manipulation. “The government side of the story is coming through the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post“, he stated. “They use the giant corporate press rather than saying anything directly. If you work through friendly reporters on major newspapers, it comes off as The New York Times saying it and not a mouthpiece of the CIA.” Webb’s longest response to the controversy was in “The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On,” a chapter he contributed to an anthology of press criticism:
If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me … And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job … The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.
Webb was found dead in his Carmichael home on December 10, 2004, with two gunshot wounds to the head. His death was ruled a suicide by the Sacramento County coroner’s office.
Adler Berriman “Barry” Seal (July 16, 1939 – February 19, 1986) was an American airline pilot who became a major drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel. When Seal was convicted of smuggling charges, he became an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administrationand testified in several major drug trials. He was murdered in 1986 by contract killers hired by Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellín Cartel.
Seal, born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was the son of Mary Lou (née Delcambre) and Benjamin Curtis Seal, a candy wholesaler. Seal began flying as a teenager. According to his flight instructor, he was a naturally gifted pilot. He earned his student pilot certificate at 16 and a private pilot’s certificate at 17.
In 1961, Seal enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard for six years, serving with the 20th Special Forces Group. He graduated from United States Army Airborne School but never completed United States Army Special Forces selection and training. Seal later served in the 245th Engineer Battalion with his MOS being radio telephone operator.
Seal joined TWA as a flight engineer in 1964, and was soon promoted to first officer, then captain, flying a Boeing 707 on a regular Western Europe route. He was one of the youngest 707 command pilots in the TWA fleet.
Seal’s career with TWA ended in July 1972 when he was arrested for involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle a shipment of plastic explosives to Mexico using a DC-4. The case was eventually dismissed in 1974 for prosecutorial misconduct, but TWA in the meantime fired Seal, who had falsely taken medical leave to participate in the scheme.
According to statements Seal later made after he became a DEA informant, he began smuggling small quantities of marijuana in 1976. By 1978, however, he had begun flying significant loads of cocaine because pound-for-pound it was more profitable.
In December 1979, Seal was arrested in Honduras after returning from a drug smuggling trip to Ecuador. Although the Honduran police did not find any cocaine, they did find an M-1 rifle, and Seal was imprisoned until July 1980. Undeterred by his arrest, Seal expanded his operations on his return to the United States. He hired William Bottoms, his ex-brother-in-law as a pilot and from 1980 on, Bottoms was the main pilot in Seal’s smuggling, while Seal oversaw planning and operations.
Seal later began working for the Medellín Cartel as a pilot and drug smuggler. He transported numerous shipments of cocaine from Colombia and Panama to the United States and earned as much as $1,300,000 per flight.
After successful runs at his home base in Louisiana he moved operations to Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport, an airport facility in Mena, Arkansas. There he bought, sold, and operated many planes.
Seal was eventually arrested in connection with his drug smuggling activities. In a Florida federal court, he was indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After his sentencing, Seal approached the DEA and offered to cooperate with the government as an informant. Federal officials agreed to use him as an informant and mentioned his cooperation during hearings in which Seal sought a reduction of his sentence. With an agreement reached, Seal began working as a federal informant in March 1984.
According to the Frontline: Godfather of Cocaine investigation, Ernst “Jake” Jacobson was Seal’s DEA handler during this period. Jacobson claims he still has the high-tech message encrypter which he gave Seal. “We made sure all of his aircraft were equipped with the most expensive cryptic radio communications we had ever seen at that time,” said Jacobsen. In order to mitigate his 1984 arrest in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for money laundering and Quaalude smuggling, Seal agreed to testify against his former employers and associates in the drug trade, and thereby contributed to putting several of them in jail. Among those against whom Seal testified were Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Norman Saunders and members of the Medellín Cartel. Seal also testified before the President’s Commission on Organized Crime in October 1985.
In 1988, Jacobsen told a House Judiciary Committee that Seal had flown to an airstrip in Nicaragua in an airplane that had cameras installed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Seal took pictures during the Nicaragua sting operation that showed Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vásquez, and other members of the Medellín Cartel loading kilos of cocaine onto a C-123 transport plane. Federico Vaughan, whom Seal claimed was a top aide of Tomas Borge, the Sandinista Minister of the Interior, was also photographed with Sandinista soldiers helping load the plane.
Seal was both a smuggler and a DEA informant/operative in this sting operation against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In 1984, Seal flew from Nicaragua to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida with a shipment of cocaine that had been allegedly brokered through the Sandinista government. This cocaine was seized by the DEA and was never received by the cartel’s distribution handlers in Florida, which in Medellín caused suspicion to fall upon Seal as the person responsible for this lost shipment.
A report in the July 17, 1984 issue of the Washington Times by Edmond Jacoby linked officials in the Sandinista government to the Medellín cartel and discussed Seal’s mission to Nicaragua. The public disclosures jeopardized Seal’s life and quickly brought an end to the sting operation designed to capture the cartel’s leaders. Questioned about the identity of the source, Jacobsen replied “I heard that the leak came from an aide in the White House.” He stated that Iran–Contra figure Oliver North had attended two meetings on the sting operation and had motivation to release the information. UPI reported: “By linking the Sandinistas with drug traffic… aid to the rebels accused of human rights violations might seem more palatable.” Subcommittee chairman William J. Hughes strongly suggested that North was the source of the leak, but Representative Bill McCollum said, “…we don’t know who leaked this. No one has been able to tell us.” Citing testimony of John C. Lawn, the report of the Kerry Committee released in December 1988 pinned the leak on North stating he “decided to play politics with the issue”. In an interview with Frontline, North said he was told by his superiors on the National Security Council to brief Senator Paula Hawkins about the operation, but he denied leaking the report. Hawkins told Frontline that neither she nor her staff leaked the information after the briefing. Jacoby later denied that North was the source of his story, and attributed it to a deceased staff member for Representative Dan Daniel.
The Wall Street Journal also printed the story. The media coverage indirectly exposed Seal’s involvement in the operation. The articles also exposed the Colombian cartel leaders and Nicaraguan Interior Minister who had been photographed moving cocaine onto Seal’s aircraft. Despite these pressures, Seal went ahead and testified with the pictures taken during the trip showing Sandinista officials in Nicaragua brokering a cocaine deal with members of Colombia’s Medellín Cartel.
Seal was sentenced to work in public service at the Salvation Army facility on Airline Highway (U.S. 61) in Baton Rouge, as a modification by the judge to Seal’s original plea bargain. On February 19, 1986, Seal was shot to death in front of the site. Seal’s shooting abruptly brought the DEA’s investigation to an end.
Colombian assassins sent by the Medellín Cartel were apprehended while trying to leave Louisiana soon after Seal’s murder. Authorities thus concluded Seal’s murderers were hired by Ochoa. The killers were indicted by a state grand jury on March 27, 1986. In May 1987, Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz, Miguel Velez (died in custody 2015), and Bernardo Antonio Vasquez were convicted of first degree murder in Seal’s death, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Louisiana Attorney General William Guste wrote to United States Attorney General Edwin Meese criticizing the government’s failure to protect Seal as a witness. At Guste’s request, Meese launched an investigation to determine if attorneys in Louisiana, Miami, and Washington mishandled the case and to determine if Seal should have been forced into protective custody. Government attorneys stated that Seal placed himself in danger by refusing to move his family and enter a witness protection program.
On March 16, 1986, one month after Seal’s death, President Reagan sought to bolster Congressional support for the Contras, by showing on television one of the photographs Seal had taken. He suggested that a top ranking Sandinista official was involved in drug smuggling.
In 1991, cartel member Max Mermelstein testified that he had been instructed in December 1984 either to kidnap Seal and return him to Colombia, or to murder him. The reward to kidnap Seal was $1 million, and the reward to kill him was $500,000.
Is it really the 41st President of the United States George Bush Sr. – not Lucky Luciano or Sam Giancana or Pablo Escobar or Joaquin Guzman Loera – who can accurately be called the biggest (and most dangerous) drug criminal who has ever lived? Is it really the Central Intelligence Agency – and not the Mafia or the Medellin Cartel or Sinaloa Cartel – that is the biggest drug-smuggling organization?
Is Bush Sr. – along with his sons (George W. Bush and Jeb Bush) – really guilty of drug smuggling, gun-running, murder, and treason? Was JFK’s assassination tied to CIA drug trafficking? Was Bush Sr. the second-highest ranking member of the CIA to be in Dealey Plaza at the time of JFK’s assassination? How important is illegal drug trafficking to US – and world – politics? How many US Presidents – or foreign heads of state – can connect their rise – or fall – to profits from illegal drugs?
A number of allegations have been made about the use of Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport as a CIA drop point in large scale cocaine trafficking, beginning in the latter part of the 1980s. Several local, state, and federal investigations have taken place in relation to these allegations. The topic has received some press coverage that has included allegations of awareness, participation and/or coverup involving prominent figures such as Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Governor Jeb Bush and Saline County prosecutor Dan Harmon (who was convicted of numerous felonies including drug and racketeering charges in 1997).