How Gary Webb Changed the Web with Dark Alliance

in Deep Diveslast year (edited)

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democracy now

After spending three years of my life looking into this, I am more convinced than ever that the U.S. government's responsibility for the drug problems in South Central Los Angeles and other inner cities is greater than I ever wrote in the newspaper.


I recently finished reading Gary Webb’s masterstroke, Dark Alliance.
Webb's explosive reporting on the origins of the crack 'epidemic' in Southern California in the early 1980s showed that the bulk of the cocaine influx came from a single source.

Dark Alliance presented a mountain of evidence confirming the CIA’s close involvement in cocaine distribution in America, and in South Central L.A. in particular. The cocaine proceeds were used to covertly finance and arm the CIA-backed Contra forces attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

The original publishing of his series of the same title in the San Jose Mercury News in August 1996 was a watershed moment for journalism.

Not only did the publishing of Webb’s reporting become a legendary piece of investigative work in the field of journalism but the way in which the story was told online was truly groundbreaking.

I’d known about the book for years but only recently got my hands on a copy.
Reading the book is a bitter sweet experience, as most readers known the tragic ending to the story.

In my opinion, this should be required reading for any investigative journalist. It’s a master class in research, journalistic integrity, dogged determinism and commitment to speaking truth to power.

Ultimately, Webb’s commitment to telling the truth about the USG, DEA, FBI and CIA resulted in Webb paying the ultimate price for his unflinching journalism, it cost him his career and eventually, it cost him his life.

Original Newspaper Series - Dark Alliance 1996

Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion

Book Version - Dark Alliance 1999

Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Explosion

For anyone interested in learning more about Gary Webb, I highly recommend @corbettreport’s series - Requiem for the Suicided. Webb is featured in episode #117 titled: Requiem for the Suicided: Gary Webb

Trail Blazing

The Dark Alliance series was a veritable heavyweight one-two combination of investigative journalism coupled with technological distribution. Very few people grasped the significance of the San Jose Mercury News piece at that point in time and many still remain unaware of its lasting impact today.

Institutional news media outlets had successfully dismissed similar allegations about the CIA's illegal funding of Contra armies, such as the Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense (FDN), for the better part of a decade. As is so often the case, this sort of reporting was labelled as 'conspiracy theories' with no basis in reality.

Yet, the Dark Alliance story, backed by US government documentation, would blow the lid off the secret CIA operation. The mainstream media had initially ignored the series and paid little or no attention to its publication. However, not long after publication the national media narrative controllers were caught flat-footed and were forced to cover Webb's investigation as it began to spread like wildfire across the United States.

This was unprecedented.

The explosive story about the CIA's involvement in international drug trafficking wasn't uncovered by a prestigious news media organization but by a little-known reporter from a regional newspaper in San Jose, California.

The entire story may have simply disappeared into obscurity but for one significant factor – the San Jose Mercury News website.

The Internet

The publishing of Dark Alliance to the San Jose Mercury News website was a watershed moment in the history of journalism.

The fact that the San Jose Mercury News was located in the heart of the American technological revolution in 1996 played a critical role in the phenomena unfolding around Gary Webb’s revelations.

The Mercury editors decided to put their state-of-the-art website to good use and published the investigative piece on the front page of their newspaper and uploaded the series to the World Wide Web in tandem on August 18th 1996.

Although the print version received little fanfare initially, it would gain moment as more and more people visited the newspaper’s website in the weeks and months that followed.

When the story was published, it coincided with the week separating both the Republican Democratic national conventions that traditionally dominate the news cycle. Meaning, that the majority of US government officials were focusing their attention on the leadership races. At the same time, major media institutions such as the New York Times, Washington Post and the LA Times paid no attention to the revelation of the true origins of the LA crack epidemic had roots in the Contra war Webb was exposing.

But then something unexpected happened.

Traffic on the San Jose Mercury News website began to erupt. People from across the country, and around the world, started visiting the website in droves. Enraged African American’s, in particular, rushed to log-in online to learn about the secret CIA network responsible for the crack epidemic that plagued their communities and neighbourhoods across the country. Some had never used the internet before the publishing of the series.

Reportedly, the website received 1 million hits per day at its peak, a feat that was unheard of in 1996.

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Project Censored

New Media

At the request of Webb’s editors, the internet version of the story included an image of a user smoking crack cocaine superimposed over the CIA’s official seal, something that Webb was not enthusiastic about.

Despite his misgivings about the choice of imagery,Gary Webb himself was extremely impressed with the ‘eye popping’ job the Mercury’s website developer team had pulled off. As Webb wrote:

It was something right out of the movies: full color animated maps, one click access to uncut source documents, unpublished photos, audio clips from undercover DEA and Danilo Blandon's federal court testimony, a bibliography, a timeline, all in far more depth and detail than we were able to get in the newspaper.
For investigative reporting, the Web was a dream come true. No longer did the public have to rely on the word of sources or the reporter's version of what the documents meant, The Web made it possible to share your files directly with your readers. If they cared to, they could read and hear exactly what you had read and heard and make up their own minds about the story. It was raw interactive journalism, perhaps too interactive for some.
- Gary Webb "Dark Alliance" (1999)

Providing an interactive website version of the article to thousands of readers allowed for a higher degree of immersion in the story. Thus, bringing people that much closer to the investigation.

Almost overnight, the reach of a regional Californian newspaper grew exponentially. It was now possible to disseminate information with a scope few had thought possible. Dark Alliance helped to change the way that people obtained their news information at a fundamental level.

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New York Times


More than any other factor that made the Dark Alliance series so impactful was the ability for readers to access, consider and assess the significance of the source material on their own.

Up until the late 90s, it wasn't possible to easily access source material without visiting a government building or a national library, to obtain certain documentation or any existing copies in the public domain. Certainly, it was a painstaking process that most citizens had little desire to perform. Sending away for copies of transcripts, making a FOIA request or receiving court documents were options in those days but could take months or even years to receive a response. Additional printing and shipping costs would also be incurred in many instances.

Furthermore, in the past investigative journalists were known to clam-up if asked to reveal their sources. Keeping sources secret was an essential element of a reporter's toolbox if one wanted to prevent another from 'out-scooping' or from having their story poached by a rival.

Even today, many mainstream outlets continue the practice of relying heavily on unnamed sources for their reporting. Terms such as: "senior Whitehouse officials", "sources close to the matter","anonymous government officials" or "experts believe" are as commonplace as they are meaningless. Dark Alliance helped change that. It upped the ante on both transparency and reliability throughout the industry.

Furthermore, the fact that source documents, unabridged, were made available to the viewing public was nothing short of a monumental. This shift towards the sharing of source material helped to pave-the-way for more transparent, open and credible reporting. It also allowed for a higher degree of verification and reliability.

These days, sharing sources goes without question. Embedding source material and links inside of one's reporting is now ubiquitous across platforms and has come to be considered an indispensable part of any significant piece of journalism.


I highly recommend Dark Alliance to all of my readers. It's a fascinating and often riveting account of the investigation by the author in his own words.

Gary Webb never got to experience his vindication, as he died of an alleged 'suicide' in 2004. After his death, much of what he had exposed would be further corroborated. I think he would be heartened to know his work has inspired researchers and journalists the world over.

He remains a veritable legend in investigative journalism and his influence over the field is undeniable.

Gary Webb - A True Hero of the People

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Part of the problem I think, is that people like Webb are out there all alone breaking these stories, giving the powers that be, a single point of attack.

Others like Karen Silkwood and Michael Ruppert, take things on all by themselves, shining like a bright light, which makes them easier to be extinguished.

I wish Dark Alliance had been published by a group of reporters, taking the weight off of any one person, making it harder to "Assange" or "Manning" any one individual.

You raise an interesting point and I think over the years journalists have learned it IS better to work on stories together.

A great example of Journalists working together is the release of the Panama Papers and Paradise Leaks. A single journalist working on this story would have been a disaster and the story would have been spiked by his/her editor. The reason the Panama Papers were so effective is that Journalists worked closely together, in secret, researching the trove of information they had obtained and published a range of international headline stories synchronistically. The ICIJ was the group that worked on this story.

Perhaps we can think of it as - power in numbers. Isolating and silencing an individual is much easier than a group consisting of hundreds of reporters in dozens of countries around the world.

I'm convinced from my time in SE Asia that the CIA was running heroin out of the Golden Triangle -- one example being an op in Laos to take out a target 15 miles from the CIA outpost there, something they could as easily handled. Again in Central America in the late 70s we were getting top-notch supplies and giving the "insurgents" old M-1 carbines and other leftovers from WWII and Korea. There was talk of drugs being used to purchase weapons then. The scuttlebut among mercs has always been that the CIA has been involved in smuggling drugs. Coca Cola is also involved.

Right, CIA drug trafficking networks likely have their origins in SEA in connection to the Vietnam war.

It's wild that you experienced some of these things first hand in Central America and in Vietnam.

Sounds like someone was profiting off the weapons trade, especially if they are switching out the products with WW2 leftovers. It sounds like this sort of thing is common as many players in the drug and arms trades are focused on personal profits and care little about the ideological battles or objectives of their organizations and governments.

I have been reading a book off-and-on about the Phoenix program, which you first introduced me to!
But there was another book I read last year called the Crimes of Patriots which goes into depth about drug trafficking, arms dealing and most importantly money laundering in SEA involving a bank known as Nugan Hand. Nugan Hand's board of directors was made up of ex-military officials in the region, special ops, and high ranking CIA officials.
It's a slog to read, I'll admit that. But it does demonstrate how these networks are created and how they function. Eventual Nugan Hand imploded and the banker ,Nugan, was found dead from an apparent suicide in his car in Australia. The CIA and Military officials basically wipe their hands clean of the dirty business and claimed ignorance to the banks fraudulent activities.

There's another American bank controlled by the CIA, the name of which escapes me. I wrote about it on Steemit a couple of years ago, but the search option no longer functions. It was run by the father of one of the Kavanaugh accusers who died.

The Phoenix Program I believe set the paradigm for irregular warfare, still being used in the middle east. Now they've refined it adding in companies like DynCorp (who you introduced me to) and Blackwater. They've also changed the role of JSOC to integrate military and ex-military in black ops. Before the CIA would contact guys like me for in-country ops (the CIA isn't allowed to operate within the US) when they needed something done. Now it's "official" effectively circumventing the no ops in America rule by using JSOC. I think Craig Sawyer is one of the JSOC lackeys.

They always profit from the weapons trade. By using WWII surplus they evade suspicion... it would have looked very suspicious if the Contras and other "freedom fighters" were equipped with brand new M-16s.

An excellent piece my friend and a fitting tribute to a man that changed the face of investigative journalism. The Dark Alliance series most certainly set a benchmark and was equally an instrumental aspect of my own research .. indeed, you might recall the piece I wrote on gang warfare that touched on Webb. If there were more journalists with his bravery and fortitude, the world would be a very different place.

Copy paste hacks now, and 1917 tells us why.

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Thank you and Webb has had a huge influence on many of us. It's a sad tale and I wish his editors had the balls to stand by him and his work. It's infuriating considering his meticulous sourcing. The other part that really got to me reading his book was the fact that it was his EDITORS who made him rewrite his drafts to FOCUS on the CIA. He even repeatedly warned them about the sort of repercussions they would face if they focused primarily on the CIA (guilty as they were). Later, the CIA also said they were mainly enraged with the use of the CIA seal with the crack smoker superimposed on top - again, this was the decision of his editors and it was another idea that Webb pushed back on.

I too wish there were more journalists with his skill, bravery and integrity.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, as always.

It's the first time I'm hearing about him. Seems like this stuff has been going on forever. Thank you for enlightening us!

The other thing that's on my mind - how am I finding Deep Dives just now? It's still better now than never but I still don't get it.

Peace and love!

You're welcome, I definitely recommend his book if you're interested, it's really fascinating and also goes into the history of LA crack dealing kingpin 'Highway Rick Ross" in the opening chapters.

Deep Dives has been around since 2018, but there was a period of inactivity for a few months so it may have flown under the radar for many.

You're welcome to join subscribe to the community if you're interested.
Deep Dives is basically meant to be a place to conduct research into publicly available databases and for participants to see what they can find by digging around and coming up with interesting stories.

For some users it seems a little bit intimidating but we don't bite, we're very supportive of one another.

It certainly sounds intriguing and due to the fact that I haven't been reading lately, it's a way I can improve.

Thank you - I love reading unusual stories, conspiracies (which usually turn out true) and other meaningful stuff. In times when many choose to post their food, I choose to search for the truth.

Thank you for the introduction. I will create a post pretty soon.

Gary Webb did some of the best investigative journalism the world has seen...and for that, he was suicided!

Tragic really, and the corporate media attack dogs tore away at any slight errors they could find in his well sourced series. It was a disgusting display of hostility towards a single journalist by the major players in the media. They focused completely on attempting to discredit Webb and they never followed up on his findings on the CIA. Mostly, they used the denials of high ranking CIA 'officials' to dismiss his research.
It really reminds me of how institutions such as the NY Times, the Guardian, the BBC, and many more have vilified and Julian Assange. The comparison is quite striking in many ways.

Interesting that they would do that. I guess the CIA got to them. Focusing on discrediting a reporter rather than focusing on his work is against the true spirits of journalism.

That's half of the answer, yes. The other half is that the legacy media outlets were livid that a small newspaper like the Mercury News broke such a massive story. One that they had dismissed for many years. Institutional media traditionally sets the news and the narrative framing those events - like letting the rest of the media know HOW a story should be told and therefore are the gatekeepers of the news. They are the opinion makers and they truly believe that their voice is more legitimate than all others.

Yes, attacking a journalist in this manner was absolutely against the spirit of actual journalism. At the same time, it fits the behavior of corporate newsmakers deciding on what's fact and what's fiction.

This explains their rage better. History has shown that no one ever takes it lightly when they sleep on their oars while innovative people to take the lead. In the end, they're forced to adapt. Only, these ones decided to focus their resources on resentment first, thereby tarnishing or rather revealing their true image; Attack dogs for corrupt politicians.

Whatever happened to Mercury News? Did they land on their feet?

It's the same playbook, decade after decade - with some slight tweaks of course. Some of the individual names and faces change, but the institutional spin and obfuscation remains the same in general. Nothing has changed!


I read that to conclusion, superb information as I for one had never known about him or this before.

I do feel the need to say though, with the current copy paste hacks that use Reuters material, re word it, then print is as truth around the globe, there simply are none of these left "In my opinion, this should be required reading for any investigative journalist. It’s a master class in research, journalistic integrity, dogged determinism and commitment to speaking truth to power."

And this is nothing new. 1917 article in print.

free press.jpeg


Interesting find here. I suppose we owe a lot of thanks to Webb and the pioneers of the publishing of journalistic works on the internet. The style seems to have stuck without most people even understanding its origin. These days, I discredit anything I read on the internet without links to veritable sources.

Thanks for writing.

Agreed! It's hard to imagine reading a piece today without copious references and source material to help tell the story and also to reinforce it. Although Webb is no longer with us, he made a lasting contribution made to all forms of journalism.

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What a strange Webb we weave...
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That's crazy that the website 1 mil hits. I could imagine what everything would be like back then.