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Best Books of the Year So Far
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"…a densely researched, passionately argued, acronym-laden 548-page volume." —Michael Massing, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review
"I find his argument to be very well documented, very careful and very convincing. In fact, the readability of the book suffers a bit from what seems to have been a fear that if he didn't include absolutely every bit of evidence he had unearthed, he would open himself up to new criticisms of inadequate reporting—but this editor's quibble shouldn't stop anyone from buying and reading Dark Alliance. Long-time followers of the contra tale are likely to find new revelations in the book…" —Jo Ann Kawell, The Nation
About the Author
In 1996, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist GARY WEBB (1955–2004) wrote a shocking series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News exposing the CIA’s link to Nicaraguan cocaine smuggled into the US by the Contras, which had fueled the widespread crack epidemic that swept through urban areas. Webb’s bold, controversial reporting was the target of a famously vicious media backlash that ended his career as a mainstream journalist. When Webb persisted with his research and compiled his findings in the bookDark Alliance, some of the same publications that had vilified Webb for his series retracted their criticism and praised him for having the courage to tell the truth about one of the worst official abuses in our nation’s history. Others, including his own former newspaper and the New York Times, continued to treat him like an outlaw for the brilliant and courageous work he’d done. Webb’s death on December 10, 2004, at the age of 49, was determined to be a suicide.
I am probably the only reviewer who was a clandestine case officer (three back to back tours), who participated in the Central American follies as both a field officer and a desk officer at CIA HQS, who is also very broadly read.
With great sadness, I must conclude that this book is truthful, accurate, and explosive.
The book lacks some context, for example, the liberal Saudi funding for the Contras that was provided to the National Security Council (NSC) as a back-door courtesy.
There are three core lessons in this book, supported by many books, some of which I list at the end of this review:
1) The US Government cannot be trusted by the people. The White House, the NSC, the CIA, even the Justice Department, and the Members of Congress associated with the Administration's party, are all liars. They use "national security" as a pretext for dealing drugs and screwing over the American people.
2) CIA has come to the end of its useful life. I remain proud to have been a clandestine case officer, but I see now that I was part of the "fake" CIA going through the motions, while extremely evil deeds were taking place in more limited channels.
3) In the eyes of the Nicaraguan, Guatemalan, and Honduran people, among many others, the US Government, as represented by the CIA and the dark side Ambassadors who are partisan appointees rather than true diplomats, is evil. It consorts with dictators, condones torture, helps loot the commonwealths of others, runs drugs, launders money, and is generally the bully on the block.
I have numerous notes on the book, and will list just a few here that are important "nuggets" from this great work:
1) The CIA connection to the crack pandemic could be the crime of the century.Read more ›
I followed the "Dark Alliance" story from the time it was published in the San Jose Mercury News to the time it was ridiculed by the country's largest newspapers and Gary Webb was hung out to dry by his own paper. I picked up the book with an open mind but no expectation of being convinced. I was not only convinced, I was stunned by the story from start to finish. Webb has assembled not shadowy sources leaking dark innuendos but a thorough reporting of facts taken from congressional testimony, court testimony, declassified documents and personal interviews. It's clear, at a minimum, that the US government was connected to the people responsible for a large piece of the cocaine trade. The only thing that remains uncertain is whether US officials actually participated in the drug trade directly with these people or simply forged a marriage of convenience and looked the other way. It's worth noting that a large amount of information comes from documents that are only partially declassified -- meaning that plenty of incriminating information remains to be disclosed. Years from now we'll finally see what is still being concealed, and I suspect we'll learn that the story goes beyond the basic verifiable information that Webb reports here. For those who believed the NY Times' cursory dismissal of this story, please note the Times' record in the case of El Mozote as told in the book "The Massacre at El Mozote" by Mark Danner. The Times pulled its own Latin American correspondent off the story of a massacre by US-supported Salvadoran troops when the government went on the attack. Ten years later, the hundreds of bodies were found and the whole story was confirmed. The Times was left looking as if it had participated in the official coverup, and maybe it did. It would be no surprise to find out a similar story in this case.
This book takes us back to the 1980's, the dark days of Oliver North's "neat idea," Reagan's Freedom Fighters, and the crack cocaine explosion. The evidence is overwhelming that agencies of the U.S. government were complicit in the importation of cocaine, and Oliver North was even more deserving than I originally believed of a long-term stay in a prison cell (too bad Alcatraz is no longer a federal prison - it's where Ollie belongs!). We probably can never know the extent of CIA involvement as then U.S. Attorney General William French Smith exempted the CIA on behalf of then CIA Director William Casey from having to report illegal drug activities. If you don't have to report it, you don't have to keep records - therefore, there are no records and the Inspector General's report can truthfully say - "We can find no records." Thank you Gary Webb for writing this book. I am truly sorry this cost you your job at the San Jose Mercury News.
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This is a remarkable book. My first inclination was to disregard it as another conspiracy theory. After reading it and checking some of the sources, however, I have concluded that it is accurate. Gary Webb traces the introduction of crack cocaine into Los Angeles in the early 1980's and followed its rise to a full blown epidemic by the mid to late 80's. Undoubtedly, agents of the CIA and DEA, and most certainly Oliver North and his Contra operation were aware of the source of the cocaine. Indeed, it is apparent that the White House knew and acted to protect the drug pipeline in order to keep the money flowing to the Contra organization. Ronald Reagan was clearly more interested in fighting the war on communism than the war on drugs. The hypocrisy of the Reagan administration is apparent when we realize that Reagan declared illicit drugs a national security issue and championed the most draconian drug laws written to that date. Would crack cocaine have become an epidemic without CIA support? Probably, Webb points out that the development of a similar drug in Latin America by the 1970's had been studied and scientists warned that a similar epidemic in the U.S. was imminent. Would it have happened as fast or been as bad without government protection? No one knows the answer to that question. Ultimately, there were two big losers. Inner city dwellers were hit hardest. Not only were they exposed to this incredibly addicting drug, but they bore the brunt of the government crack-down on illicit drugs. The other loser was Ronald Reagan, whose legacy of integrity and honor is destroyed in his ends justifies the means approach to government. Anyone who reads this book will never look at Ronald Reagan or Oliver North in quite the same way.
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