Cover of the 1998 first edition
|Publisher||Seven Stories Press|
|November, 1998 (hardcover)|
|Media type||hardcover, paperback|
Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion is a 1998 book by journalist Gary Webb. The book is based on "Dark Alliance", Webb's three-part investigative series published in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996. The original series claimed that, in order to help raise funds for efforts against the Nicaraguan Sandinista Government, the CIA supported cocaine trafficking into the US by top members of Nicaraguan Contra Rebel organizations and allowed the subsequent crack epidemic to spread in Los Angeles. The book expands on the series and recounts media reaction to Webb's original newspaper expose.
Webb supports his thesis with the testimony of cocaine smugglers Oscar Danilo Blandon and Juan Norwin Meneses, as well as documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He also took much from the earlier reporting on the Iran-Contra scandal by Robert Parry, whose footsteps he followed in his investigation for the piece.
Dark Alliance was published in 1998 by Seven Stories Press, with an introduction by U.S. Representative Maxine Waters. A revised edition was published in 1999. The same year the book won a Pen Oakland Censorship Award and a Firecracker Alternative Book Award. It served as part of the basis for Kill the Messenger, a 2014 movie based on Webb's life.
According to Webb, in the 1980s when the CIA exerted a certain amount of control over Contra groups such as the FDN, the agency granted amnesty to and put on the agency’s bankroll important leaders known to be cocaine smugglers. Later, at the behest of Oliver North, the Reagan Administration began to use Contra drug money to support the Nicaraguan rebel’s efforts against the Sandinista government. The Sandinistas were disliked by the administration for their support of “Marxist” revolutions happening throughout Central and South America.
Blandon, a cocaine smuggler who founded an FDN chapter in Los Angeles, was a major supplier for Freeway Ricky Ross. With access to cheap, pure cocaine and the idea to cook the cocaine into crack, Ross established a major drug network and fueled the popularity of crack. At his peak, Ross was selling $3 million worth of product a day. All the while, Webb alleges, the CIA was supporting the Contras supplying him with the cocaine.
Webb also discusses his experiences writing the investigative series that the book expands on. He notes that the use of the Internet and the uploading of the documents on which his assertions rest helped ensure his articles would not be stamped out by the government. Nonetheless, the media slowly turned against Webb and attempted to discredit him. Notably, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times ran articles calling his argument unfounded. The Mercury News originally stood by Webb’s reporting, but, amidst the denunciations by other news sources, executive editor Jerry Ceppos published an apology for much of the series’ content in May 1997.
Reviewers' opinions of the book were mixed. David Corn, Washington editor for The Nation magazine, reviewed the book in the Washington Post. Corn had previously been critical of aspects of the "Dark Alliance" newspaper series, and he found that the book "reflects the positives and negatives of the original series." He noted that Webb "deserves credit for pursuing an important piece of recent history and forcing the CIA and the Justice Department to investigate the contra-drug connection," but remained critical of several aspects of the book, observing that Webb's "threshold of proof is on the low side."
Michael Massing, an investigative reporter and associate editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, reviewed Dark Alliance in the Los Angeles Times. Massing found that Webb "seems on solid ground in arguing that money from Nicaraguan traffickers ended up in Contra coffers," but observed that "the sums involved are in question." He believed that Webb does not demonstrate that the CIA was involved in or sanctioned these activities, but did show that agency officials "heard allegations ... but did little to intervene." For the claim that the CIA and the Contras "helped to set off the nation's crack explosion, Massing claims "Webb's account is at its most shaky," and that Webb's overall thesis "seems fantastic." He is also critical of Webb's contacts with Ricky Ross's lawyer Alan Fenster, as recounted in Dark Alliance.
James Adams, Washington correspondent for the Sunday Times, wrote a largely negative review for the New York Times. Adams was especially critical of Webb's failure to contact the CIA to "cross-check sources and allegations," and concluded that "For investigative reporters determined to uncover the truth, procedures like these are unacceptable. Neither the editors of The San Jose Mercury News nor the publishers of these books should have allowed their writers to take such relaxed approaches to a serious subject."
One of the most negative reviews was written by Glenn Garvin in Reason Magazine. Garvin, a reporter who served as Managua bureau chief for the Miami Herald, was highly critical of Webb's treatment of sources and evidence: "No subject is too great, too small, or too far afield for Webb to distort or falsify," Garvin claimed. While Garvin said that "a few contra pilots and their associates, particularly on the so-called south front" were involved with narcotraffickers, he rejected Webb's account of contra involvement with cocaine trafficking, which he said is "almost entirely drawn from the claims of a few Nicaraguan traffickers facing long jail terms who were using a the-CIA-made-me-do-it defense." According to Garvin, Webb substantially overstated both the importance of these dealers to the Contras and their actual role in the cocaine trade.
- "Pen Oakland Award Winners". Pen Oakland. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- "Firecracker Alternative Book Awards". Readers Read. Retrieved 2015-02-01.
- Corn, David (August 9, 1998). "Dark Alliance". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- Massing, Michael (1999-01-24). "Dead End". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-02-01.
- Adams, James (September 27, 1998). "Moonlighting?". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- Garvin, Glenn (Jan 1999). "Hooked on Fantasies". Reason: 66–68.