On December 10, 2004, the body of journalist Gary Webb, 49, was discovered in his home near Sacramento after a moving company worker found a note posted to his front door that read: “Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance.”
Webb’s death was listed as a suicide, but Webb was found with two bullet holes in the head, indicating that he was executed.
In the days leading up to his death, Webb had told friends that he was receiving death threats, being regularly followed by what he thought were government agents, and that he was concerned about strange individuals who were seen breaking into and leaving his house.
In the late 1990s, Webb had written a series of stories for the San José Mercury News, which provided the basis for his book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998).
In it, Webb detailed how the explosion of crack cocaine in South Central Los Angeles during the 1980s was sparked by two Nicaraguan émigrés, Danilo Blandón and Norwin Meneses, who sold huge amounts of cocaine to raise funds for a CIA-backed rebel army—the Contras.
Webb was a Pulitzer Prize winner whose “Dark Alliance” series went viral in the early days of the internet. It caused a firestorm that led to the resignation of CIA Director John Deutch after he was grilled by angry Black activists at a meeting in L.A.
In August 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published a groundbreaking investigation, a year in the making, written by journalist Gary Webb entitled “Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion.”
The series examined the origins of crack cocaine in Los Angeles that devastated vulnerable African American neighborhoods. Webb claimed the Contra rebels in Nicaragua were shipping cocaine into the U.S. Crack was then flooding Compton and South-Central Los Angeles in the mid-80s after being turned into crack. Relatively new at the time, crack was a highly addictive substance sold in rocks that could be smoked.
Webb reported that the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua had played a major role in creating the U.S. cocaine trade. The profits supported their fight against Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s.
The Contras were right-wing rebel groups backed and funded by the U.S. and active from 1979 to the early ’90s. They opposed the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Webb suggested that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) knew about the Contras and protected their cocaine trade. The series findings enraged readers, particularly in the Los Angeles African-American community, and led to four major investigations.
The secret flow of drugs and money, Webb reported, had a direct link to the crack epidemic that devastated California’s most vulnerable African American neighborhoods.
Here are 10 things to know about Gary Webb and his report that linked the CIA to crack cocaine.