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Gary Webb and the 2014 Sandinistas

The new movie “Kill the Messenger,” about journalist Gary Webb’s investigation into the connection between Contra drug running and the CIA in the 80s, is not exactly watercooler material at the moment. As of this writing Box Office Mojo has its widest release as 427 theaters (compare to 3,173 for the current box office champ), and it doesn’t seem to have much of a marketing push behind it (your mileage may vary). But what it lacks in mainstream buzz it’s making up for in political controversy. Washington Post assistant managing editor Jeff Leen published a piece last Friday decrying Webb’s “canonization” on film, and in doing so invited a new round of scrutiny of the Contra/CIA connection.

The best place to start reviewing the story is the 1989 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled Drugs, Law Enforcement And Foreign Policy (I’ve scanned it with optical character recognition at the original post if you’d like to copy and paste as well as read). It covers a lot of territory, but the sections on Nicaragua are especially interesting when considering Webb’s reporting seven years later.

What did the Committee have to say? First, on page 6 (page 16 of the PDF – add ten pages to the PDF to get to the corresponding Committee pagination) it acknowledges one of the difficulties with investigating a criminal enterprise: “A number of witnesses and prospective witnesses were convicted felons, having been imprisoned for narcotics-related offenses. The Subcommittee made use of these witnesses in Accordance with the practice of Federal and State prosecutors, who routinely rely on convicts as witnesses in criminal trials because they are the ones with the most intimate knowledge of the criminal activity.” When wading into a cesspool of corruption it is often difficult to figure out which scumbag to believe. Relying on things like statements against interest can help sort things out, but it’s obviously going to be an inexact science.

That acknowledged, here’s what they found. The Contras were involved in drug running and US agencies knew it (p. 36):

While the contra/drug question was not the primary focus of the investigation, the Subcommittee uncovered considerable evidence relating to the Contra network which substantiated many of the initial allegations laid out before the Committee in the Spring of 1986. On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter.

The entire gun/drug scene was mercenary (pp. 36-7):

The Subcommittee found that the links that were forged between the Contras and the drug traffickers were primarily pragmatic, rather than ideological. The drug traffickers, who had significant financial and material resources, needed the cover of legitimate activity for their criminal enterprises. A trafficker like George Morales hoped to have his drug indictment dropped in return for his financial and material support of the Contras. Others, in the words of Marcos Aguado, Eden Pastora’s air force chief:

…took advantage Of the anti-communist sentiment which existed in Central America … and they undoubtedly used it for drug trafficking.

While for some Contras, it was a matter of survival, for the traffickers it was just another business deal to promote and protect their own operations.

They apparently were graduates not of the School of the Americas but the Milo Minderbinder Institute for Profiteering (p. 40):

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Gary Webb and the 2014 Sandinistas

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

The new movie “Kill the Messenger,” about journalist Gary Webb’s investigation into the connection between Contra drug running and the CIA in the 80s, is not exactly watercooler material at the moment. As of this writing Box Office Mojo has its widest release as 427 theaters (compare to 3,173 for the current box office champ), and it doesn’t seem to have much of a marketing push behind it (your mileage may vary). But what it lacks in mainstream buzz it’s making up for in political controversy. Washington Post assistant managing editor Jeff Leen published a piece last Friday decrying Webb’s “canonization” on film, and in doing so invited a new round of scrutiny of the Contra/CIA connection.

The best place to start reviewing the story is the 1989 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled Drugs, Law Enforcement And Foreign Policy (I’ve scanned it with optical character recognition at the original post if you’d like to copy and paste as well as read). It covers a lot of territory, but the sections on Nicaragua are especially interesting when considering Webb’s reporting seven years later.

What did the Committee have to say? First, on page 6 (page 16 of the PDF – add ten pages to the PDF to get to the corresponding Committee pagination) it acknowledges one of the difficulties with investigating a criminal enterprise: “A number of witnesses and prospective witnesses were convicted felons, having been imprisoned for narcotics-related offenses. The Subcommittee made use of these witnesses in Accordance with the practice of Federal and State prosecutors, who routinely rely on convicts as witnesses in criminal trials because they are the ones with the most intimate knowledge of the criminal activity.” When wading into a cesspool of corruption it is often difficult to figure out which scumbag to believe. Relying on things like statements against interest can help sort things out, but it’s obviously going to be an inexact science.

That acknowledged, here’s what they found. The Contras were involved in drug running and US agencies knew it (p. 36):

While the contra/drug question was not the primary focus of the investigation, the Subcommittee uncovered considerable evidence relating to the Contra network which substantiated many of the initial allegations laid out before the Committee in the Spring of 1986. On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter.

The entire gun/drug scene was mercenary (pp. 36-7):

The Subcommittee found that the links that were forged between the Contras and the drug traffickers were primarily pragmatic, rather than ideological. The drug traffickers, who had significant financial and material resources, needed the cover of legitimate activity for their criminal enterprises. A trafficker like George Morales hoped to have his drug indictment dropped in return for his financial and material support of the Contras. Others, in the words of Marcos Aguado, Eden Pastora’s air force chief:

…took advantage Of the anti-communist sentiment which existed in Central America … and they undoubtedly used it for drug trafficking.

While for some Contras, it was a matter of survival, for the traffickers it was just another business deal to promote and protect their own operations.

They apparently were graduates not of the School of the Americas but the Milo Minderbinder Institute for Profiteering (p. 40): (more…)

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