Gary Webb Interview, Part 1: Notes In The Margin (updated 10/26/2014)

[updated 10/26/2014]

As I mentioned in the preface to the interview that I put on this site as the first post, I broached some topics that fell a bit outside the scope of the material covered in Gary Webb’s original Dark Alliance series.

One of those topics refers to the CIA/NSC/Contra-related drug smuggling allegations and evidence related to an operation that occurred far from Southern California- at an airport in Mena, Arkansas in the late 1980s. These allegations were brought to light through accounts made by local investigators of some of the mysterious events in the vicinity, and from the narrative offered by a man named Terry Reed, who claimed to be a participant in Contra training and arms resupply efforts at Mena that he eventually discovered were plainly linked to drug smuggling and money laundering operations and flights run in exchange for the transfers of arms and supplies to Central America.

This is a controversial story, and one that received even more condemnation and burial in the national press than Gary Webb’s series. The allegations, by Reed and the local investigators like Bill Duncan and Russell Welch, implicate then-Governor and former US President Bill Clinton as playing at least some role in collaborating with these efforts. The airport in Mena was also used by as a base by the Arkansas Air National Guard, and it’s hardly a logical stretch to imagine the Arkansas governor providing consent and cover for a clandestine Federal government effort to arm and supply the Contras in the Reagan era. But the actual narrative supplied by the witnesses and investigators is considerably more detailed than that, and it deserves a more thorough review than it’s gotten- especially by people who aren’t out to edit the facts to serve their own partisan political views and reinforce their favored preconceptions.

I’ll do the best I can to summarize, but it’s a long story and an ongoing project. I think the best way to begin is simply by providing a few book reference links and Internet resources:

“The Crimes of Mena”, July 1995, by Sally Denton and Roger Morris

Partners in Power: the Clintons and Their America, by Sally Denton and Roger Morris

A little background blurb on authors Sally Denton and Roger Morris, related to their collaboration on a later work, the 2002 book The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, which I also recommend highly:

Roger Morris is a former member of the National Security Council who resigned after Richard Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia. His most recent available published work is a three-part series of articles entitled “The Rise and Rise of Robert Gates”, from 2007.

A brief Wiki bio and CV of Roger Morris is found here

Readers of part 1 of the interview may recall that Gary briefly mentioned knowing Sally Denton. Their acquaintance goes back to the era when she worked as a television reporter at WKYT in Kentucky, at the same time that Gary was at the nearby Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Her biography is here

Sally Denton’s first big story as a news reporter was a series of articles on- no kidding- a group of cocaine and arms smugglers who were strongly linked by a large compilation of evidence to US intelligence. She later turned her reportage into a book entitled The Bluegrass Conspiracy: an Inside Story of Power, Greed, Drugs, and Murder [re-published 2001; originally published 1990]

More about the Bluegrass Conspiracy in a bit. Lots more. I promise.

Terry Reed, the person claiming the most inside information of Federal government-protected drug smuggling operations related to Contra resupply efforts at Mena Airport, is the narrator and co-author of the 1994 book Compromised: Clinton, Bush, and the CIA, co-written with investigative reporter John Cummings.

Gary Webb’s expanded Dark Alliance book account contains several references To Terry Reed and Mena. So does the 1998 Whiteout, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, a book that I’ve been re-reading lately, and highly recommend as a tightly written, fact-packed summary of Gary Webb’s work, along with further explorations of some of the directions where Webb’s research was pointing, including a good overview of material related to the events surrounding Mena.

One of the things that first intrigued me about Reed’s book Compromised was its co-author, John Cummings. I had become aware of Cummings’ reputation through some earlier researches; an investigative reporter since the early 1960s, as a reporter for Newsday, Cummings had specialized in researching the activities of Bay of Pigs veteran Cuban exiles to such shadowy activities as the assassination of JFK and the heroin trade. While at Newsday, Cummings was responsible with Les Payne for the co-production of the Pulitzer Prize winning researches that was eventually turned into a 1974 book entitled The Heroin Trail, which detailed the continuing role of right-wing Cuban exiles in the heroin trade in the early 1970s, as well as providing the a detailed journalistic account of the fabled “French Connection.”

If Terry Reed were just some right-wing riff-raff, as he had been portrayed in various articles in large American media outlets like Time in 1992, I had to wonder what a guy with a reputation like John Cummings was doing helping him write a book.

[edit and update: 10/26/2014. mostly completed.]

As with Sally Denton’s “Bluegrass Conspiracy” reporting, I’ll be returning to Terry Reed’s saga at some point in the near future.

One last note on this 1st part of the Gary Webb interview: what’s up with that allegation by William Wahl Rudd about (then-VP) George H. W. Bush, anyway?

I don’t know. But several possibilities suggest themselves.

First, it’s entirely possible that Wahl Rudd’s allegations are false. Informants are well-known to confabulate or embellish. It’s also possible that the allegation is purposeful disinformation, intended to discredit the more incontrovertible evidence uncovered in various investigations that touched on CIA links to the cocaine trade- the Kerry Committee proceedings, the Walsh Iran-Contra probe, and Gary Webb’s later research for his reporting. Any or all of those investigations may have been the target of false information. Sensational allegations seeded into a much wider corpus of more verifiable and incriminating- but comparatively mundane- evidence often work quite well as bait. The most attention-getting findings are liable to attract the most notice from researchers and get the most attention when they’re published, and if they can later be shown up as false- or merely appear absurd on their face- the ensuing fiasco can obscure an entire body of more well-referenced and validated findings. Seeding disinformation like this is in fact a commonly employed tactic, a stock in trade for intelligence agencies who often use it advisedly and with great effectiveness the discredit the research of people who seek to scrutinize covert operations. If the allegations by Wahl Rudd are baseless, it’s possible that they may have been inserted at various points before Gary Webb obtained them. It may even be the case that they weren’t in the original document cache of Lawrence Walsh.

Personally, I find it extremely unlikely that George Bush ever met Pablo Escobar in person, although the transcript of the deposition given by the informant, Wahl Rudd, makes it sound as if that might have occurred. I think it’s entirely possible that Escobar and the other heads of the cartel had knowledge that a pipeline for a substantial amount of their product had links to the Contra resupply program; whether or not they ever were promised some sort of immunity or impunity is still a matter of speculation, I think. In any case, they should have known better. These aren’t the sort of promises that national governments as powerful as the US feel obliged to keep.

So we don’t know what Wahl Rudd’s allegations mean, taken in isolation at their face value. But that said, it was entirely within bounds for Gary Webb to report what he found. He reported them as he found them, and did not use them as a jumping off point for other conclusions or speculation about the possible role played by George H. W. Bush in the cocaine trafficking linked to the Contras and their American-supported resupply effort.

Posted in U.S. War on Drugs History
Justice For The Messenger

Gary Webb, American News Media, and the War on Drugs

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