What happens to people, ordinary citizens in positions to know and journalists, who report and publicize criminal acts committed by agencies in our government?
This past week, a movie opened, “Kill the Messenger,” which is the story of Gary Webb, an investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News.
In 1996, Mr. Webb wrote and had published in the Mercury News a three-part series, titled “Dark Alliance,” which he ultimately published as a book in 1998, the story of how the CIA was complicit in the marketing of crack cocaine in the U.S. in order to finance the Nicaraguan Contras’ efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government. It was Webb’s contention that it was this crack cocaine which helped to fuel the crack epidemic that effected all major U.S. cities and especially black communities in the 1980s.
Congress had passed the Boland Amendment which prohibited direct funding of the Contras, resulting in the CIA finding the marketing of Nicaraguan cocaine an alternative method of financing their efforts.
This revelation was a scandal for the CIA and incited the black communities throughout the country and especially in Los Angeles.
Initially, Webb was lauded for his long effort, 1995-1996, in investigating and putting together this important story. But, that didn’t last very long. The Los Angeles Times, which had been scooped on this story by its rival, the San Jose Mercury News, went after Webb, assigning as many as 17 of their reporters, trying to punch holes in his revelation. This was followed by the New York Times and Washington Post, the voices of the Washington establishment also trying to find fault with Webb’s efforts.
Eventually, the pressure from the CIA and the other major news publications resulted in the San Jose Mercury News turning against Webb, and in 1997, posting a letter to its readers signed by the executive editor that read, “I feel that we did not have proof that top C.I.A. officials knew of the relationship” between members of a drug ring and contra leaders paid by the CIA.
Webb was marginalized by the Mercury News and excommunicated and eventually submitted his resignation. After leaving the Mercury News, Webb worked briefly for the California Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services and the Joint Legislative and Audit Committee. Then, in 2003, he was successful in being hired by the Sacramento News & Review, a weekly publication in which he was assigned trivial stories to cover. Webb considered himself a serious investigative reporter and realized that his career as a journalist had been sabotaged. He remained extremely depressed and living alone and unemployed, supposedly committed suicide on December 10, 2004. I have difficulty with the report that he committed suicide by firing two shots to his head. But what do I know?
For your information, after ruining Mr. Webb’s life, Frederick P. Hitz, the CIA inspector general, testified before the House Intelligence Committee, in 1998, that after looking into the matter at length, he believed the CIA was a bystander—or worse—in the war on drugs.
“Let me be frank about what we are finding,” he said. “There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug-trafficking activity, or take action to resolve the allegations.”
So, we see that Gary Webb became a victim and casualty in the U.S. war on truth.
We’ve had the war on communism, the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, etc. . We are always at war but, the one war that transcends them all and remains the most consistent is the war on truth.
Gary Webb’s story happened almost 20 years ago but persists more flagrantly today.
In 2002, we have Sibel Edmonds who, while an FBI translator, was fired for attempting to report cover-ups of security issues and potential espionage.
Then there is Chelsea Manning, in 2010, who as a US Army intelligence analyst released the largest set of classified documents ever, mostly published by WikiLeaks and their media partners. The material included videos of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike and the 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan; 250,000 United States diplomatic cables; and 500,000 army reports that came to be known as the Iraq War logs and Afghan War logs. Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses and sentenced to 35 years in prison. She believed she was revealing criminal acts being committed by our military.
Then, in 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the extensive surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency on U.S. citizens, as well as people throughout the globe. Snowden’s revelations have resulted in international dialogue regarding surveillance and the loss of personal privacy. Yet, the U.S. Department of Justice charged him with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The U.S. Department of State revoked his passport, criminalizing him.
It is not only the whistleblowers who now must run for cover but the journalists who report the criminal acts being committed. Reporters Without Borders calculates the press freedom in 180 countries every year. Last year, the U.S. placed 32nd but this year fell to 46th. The US now places after Latvia, after El Salvador, after Papua New Guinea, and Romania.
James Risen of The New York Times, is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information.
Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist faces up to 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.
Delphine Halgand, U.S. Director for Reporters Without Borders, states, “Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.”
Let us not forget that the man, Barack Obama, who, while running for the presidency, promised a more transparent administration and greater protection for whistleblowers, has charged eight people under the Espionage Act—more than other previous US administrations combined.
Everything that reveals the criminal behavior of our government becomes classified for national security purposes. Are we then to believe anything they tell us?
Please take note that those who commit these criminal acts are never arrested or prosecuted but the people reporting these crimes are.
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.