Crack, the CIA, and the Contras
October 13, 2014 7:34 AM   Subscribe

In 1996, Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News exposed a shocking series of facts: that the CIA and the Reagan administration were covertly funding the Contras in Nicaragua by aiding and abetting the flow of crack cocaine to America, particularly inflicting terrible damage on inner-city black communities. In response, the Washington Post, New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times all began vicious campaigns to attack and discredit Webb. Although Webb was later vindicated by a CIA Inspector General report among other things, the damage was done, and the story still has an air of obfuscation and confusion around it. Along with the release of a new documentary, Freeway: Crack in the System, as well as a feature film starring Jeremy Renner as Gary Webb, Kill the Messenger, key figures in the CIA-crack cocaine scandal are beginning to come forward. Could this be the start of a renewed exploration of the government's complicity in the rise of crack in America?
posted by naju (94 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bonus listening: Killer Mike - "Reagan"
posted by naju at 7:52 AM on October 13, 2014 [29 favorites]


I didn't immediately see it in the links, here's the original Dark Alliance stories.
posted by HumanComplex at 7:57 AM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Now we know where Poppy Bush got that bag of crack for his speech about drugs.
posted by briank at 7:59 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is truly awful (in both the classical and modern senses of the word) how the Reagan administration was and is the cause of so much suffering in the US and the world as a whole over the last several decades. They were truly the poisonous tree bearing nothing but tainted fruit that is killing our world. Whatever minor good they ever did is so vastly overwhelmed by the evil as to essentially be irrelevant. It's a damn shame the lot of them suffered nothing, but instead gained even more money and power than they originally dreamed of. Nixon's team were bumbling amateurs in comparison to Reagan's (with the exceptions of those that managed to slip the noose that came around the former and join the latter), and we still have several more decades until we ever find out how horrible they really were, if ever.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:03 AM on October 13, 2014 [69 favorites]


The linked LA Weekly piece has a powerful ending:

Sadly, because Webb shot himself in the head twice — the first bullet simply went through his cheek — many falsely believe the CIA killed him. As Katz, if not the rest of the Times crew, knows, it wasn't the CIA that helped load the gun that killed Gary Webb.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 8:06 AM on October 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


I remember when the "CIA is dealing crack" talk started back in the 80's. I'm ashamed to say, even though I was strongly against Reagan, I thought this was just paranoid conspiracy mongering, and I dismissed it. Apparently, I was not cynical enough. Sigh. My apologies to those whom I dismissed in my thoughts at the time.

And that's the trouble with not being able to ever say "surely they would not stoop to that" - conspiracy theories can flourish. It's getting to the point I dread the day I'll have to apologize to the guy living in the dumpster a few streets over, who, every time I pass him, tells me the CIA implanted transmitters in his teeth - "sorry for all the times I thought you needed mental health care, instead of taking your claims at face value".

I do know there were very credible reports of CIA involvement in the heroin trade in Indochina during the Vietnam war period, but I thought those were semi-rogue operations. Now this crack stuff, and not even semi-rogue.

If there is one thing I'm quite sure of, it is that our intelligence services are involved - right this second - in some kind of utterly vile crimes we'll probably never find out about. At this point, I put as much store in these institutions as I do in the KGB. Irredeemably corrupt and a cancer on our society.
posted by VikingSword at 9:13 AM on October 13, 2014 [24 favorites]


hurf durf fight the commies over-rode a whole hell of a lot of common sense.

The poison fruit that came out of WW2, the men involved in it, and the policies they set going forward, and reenforced by all politicians.. Yes, Regan was the man at the helm, but the ship was set on that path since the early 50s.
posted by k5.user at 9:19 AM on October 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


Not all conspiracy theories come from the tin-foil hat brigade.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]




Bonus listening:

Full Metal Jackoff wherein Jello Biafra and DOA (normally known for shorter, sharper eruptions) take 14-minutes-plus to elucidate the enormity of the evil in question. Actually, it's all quite sharp.
posted by philip-random at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2014 [10 favorites]


as the noose of narco-militarism tightens around our necks,
we worry over burning flags and pee in jars at work to keep our jobs


ah, the 1980s. It was morning again in America.
posted by philip-random at 9:55 AM on October 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


from TFA: “It’s not a situation where the government or the CIA sat down and said, 'Okay, let’s invent crack, let’s sell it in black neighborhoods, let’s decimate black America,’” Webb says. “It was a situation where, 'We need money for a covert operation, the quickest way to raise it is sell cocaine, you guys go sell it somewhere, we don’t want to know anything about it.’”


It was semi-rougue…this is the part that people have seemed to have been confused about, ever since the story broke. They just hear the sound byte “The CIA is responsible for the crack epidemic” repeated over and over again by the likes of Maxine Waters, and they think they know the whole story, or they write it off as conspiratorial BS, depending on their preference.

It was always more subtle and complicated than that.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2014 [15 favorites]


It was always more subtle and complicated than that.

which is the nut of what's wrong with most conspiracy thinking. We insert malevolent genius where stupidity would fill in the blanks just as well. Or to be more specific in this case, willful arrogance. Who the fuck cares what happens to a bunch of losers on the wrong side of town as long as we can manifest our primary objective?

Which speaks magnitudes for US foreign policy in general -- all manner of necessary evils being justified in the name of righteous ends. Which is stupid. Because even if it wasn't a deliberate by-the-book conspiracy to both fund contras and militarize the stateside police forces, that Biafra/DOA rant ("as the noose of narco-militarism tightens around our necks, we worry over burning flags and pee in jars at work to keep our jobs") speaks to a more or less inevitable by-product of the kind of cynicism that could justify "... covertly funding the Contras in Nicaragua by aiding and abetting the flow of crack cocaine to America".

Reminds me of something a friend used to say. "Is it a conspiracy, or is it just really stupid? What it is, is a really stupid conspiracy."
posted by philip-random at 10:16 AM on October 13, 2014 [15 favorites]


adamvasco: "Probably ongoing
Was Operation Fast And Furious Really Part Of A Secret Deal Between The DEA And Mexico's Sinaloa Drug Cartel?.
More from al Jazeera
"


Interesting that it goes back to 2000. I wouldn't be surprised if Clinton was involved (since the Iran/Contra thing, IIRC, did have some ties to an Arkansas base, which the Repubs tried to bring up to smear him - ignoring their own role in the game)... Now it may not have been Clinton - I wonder how much of this could be tied, like the original "delay the hostage release" in 1979 backchannel diplomacy between Reagan and Iran...

The National Security State is a dirty dirty thing that, as k5.user points out, has been going on since WW2.

You almost wonder if Eisenhower was really screaming his head off with the warning about the "Military Industrial Complex". I mean, he said it very diplomatically, but that's probably as loud as he could get.

I love the line (though I don't believe it the way it's phrased, but surely there's some truth behind it) where Bill Hicks says they take you in on your first day as President, say nothing, lower a screen and play footage of the Kennedy assassination from an angle nobody's ever seen before.

I have no doubt that the Bush's have a key role since before WW2 in a lot that has happened this past century. I sure would like to prevent more of that. But to pin the blame on only the Bush clan as if the whole system isn't tainted at this point is to ignore that very fact: The entire system is broken and conspiracy or not, you can no more remove a few "bad apples" in the name of reform than you can fire a single cop to end the endemic of police brutality.

I sure would like some way to evolve towards a more Northern European model, but we're so addicted to our police state, I see nothing but more and more violence perpetrated upon the populace (in the 1st world and in the 3rd, mostly of the darker skinned folks).

And seconding Full Metal Jackoff - it's such a classic track. Gets me pumped up.
posted by symbioid at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


They just hear the sound byte “The CIA is responsible for the crack epidemic” repeated over and over again by the likes of Maxine Waters, and they think they know the whole story, or they write it off as conspiratorial BS, depending on their preference.

It was always more subtle and complicated than that.


It is complicated, yes... but I believe the suggestion that this was merely about funding, and that any of the damaging aspects re: drugs and black communities were simply incidental, an accident, is also overly simplistic. The reality (I think) is that the two goals were intertwined, part of a dual-purpose program. These decisions aren't made without considering ramifications and consequences. And indeed, we can see the rest of it play out with the Reagan administration's incarceration policies and the fallout of the war on drugs.

But this is where we get into hidden motivations and conversations that haven't, and may not ever, come to light, so we're in less verifiable territory.

A commenter on HuffPo makes this case:

I think most in the Black communities of LA (and America for that matter) knew Webb's story to be true before it came out. It was no coincidence that the CIA and the Reagan administration began importing drugs into Black communities while simultaneously announcing a "war on drugs" (which the American media, the appointed spokespeople for the government, happily played up and created a good level of crack hysteria), a "war on drugs" that even today, is primarily designed to target mostly Black men.

For Reagan, and conservatives in general, these programs killed two birds with one big stone: Provide covert funds to defeat the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua and provide the US government a reason to incarcerate as many Black and Brown men as our prisons could hold (with the aim of removing as many productive-age men from those communities). Congressional response? Pass harsh drug sentencing guidelines to ensure long incarceration and a basic loss of rights after a sentence served.

Heads should be rolling and investigations should be taking place for this, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

posted by naju at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2014 [11 favorites]


On the plus side - isn't it a good thing they had to sell drugs for money, instead of simply receiving baled bills plastic - wrapped to pallets?

(There's gotta be a pony in here!)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:28 AM on October 13, 2014


Who the fuck cares what happens to a bunch of losers on the wrong side of town as long as we can manifest our primary objective?

Die from crack or die from a bullet in a foreign country ... Either way, just another underclass casualty of war.

/snark
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:53 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


The reality (I think) is that the two goals were intertwined, part of a dual-purpose program.

Usually when I examine a conspiracy theory my first question is: "To what end?". To say that part of the CIA-Contra Coke Connection was a plan to decimate black America I can't really find an answer to my question. What's the end goal of unleashing a wave of drug dependency, murder and various and sundry drug related crimes? Lock-up more black men? To what end? How does that really benefit anyone? There has be some sort goal for this to be believable (unless you're proposing that it just gives some evil, racist, elderly white men a chance to sit around cackling maniacally about the high murder and incarceration rates).
posted by MikeMc at 11:01 AM on October 13, 2014 [11 favorites]


The poison fruit that came out of WW2, the men involved in it, and the policies they set going forward, and reenforced by all politicians.. Yes, Regan was the man at the helm, but the ship was set on that path since the early 50s.

Oh, earlier than that. Serious American imperialism and dubious means of implementing it began back with McKinley and Roosevelt I, expanded under Wilson (lots of overseas incursions under Woodrow to make Latin America safe for democracy of something, and that before our, shall we say, debatable, entry into WWI), and have only gotten bigger and more senseless as the years have gone by. And it's quite bipartisan.

Usually when I examine a conspiracy theory my first question is: "To what end?".

This. American streets were not a target, more like collateral damage ("not my department") and in any event t the true believers a small price to pay for the larger goal of spreading democracy around the world. Vanity and a profession of (perhaps even genuine belief in) one's own good intentions can quash a whole mess of common sense.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:12 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


What's the end goal of unleashing a wave of drug dependency, murder and various and sundry drug related crimes?

The goal was to remove a regime hostile to the US from our traditional sphere of influence - the Americas. The money required to do this was not forthcoming from congress, so needed to be acquired with the power of the executive branch, drug-running and arms deals, mostly. Drug running has the problem that you don't want your kids on the drugs you're importing, and so drugs popular with white kids - pot, powder cocaine, heroine, LSD - are no good. Crack is a new form of drugs cheap enough to sell in the inner-city, and new enough where you can market it as a "Black thing" or "inner city drug." Disenfranchised communities don't have the resources to find out who's selling their kids addictive drugs, so the likelyhood of discovery and answering to congress is lower, too, so win/win.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:19 AM on October 13, 2014 [12 favorites]


What's the end goal of unleashing a wave of drug dependency, murder and various and sundry drug related crimes? Lock-up more black men? To what end? How does that really benefit anyone?

I can think of some reasons, though I don't know whether they hold water: Provides cheap prison labor; keeps the intransigent whites happy; quashes political action from the disenfranchised & prevents them from voting. There are probably some more, but I'm not familiar with the literature.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:25 AM on October 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


"To what end" is a good way to evaluate the goal of a conspiracy, but not the effect. A conspiracy run by people making racist assumptions operating in a racist system will be a racist conspiracy. How many people thinking things like "they're going to get it somewhere anyway" does it take to direct the flow of drugs into black populations? How many pragmatic calculations like that Slap*Happy notes: that it's easier to target disenfranchised groups? Was the goal racist? I have no idea. But the result was.
posted by Nothing at 11:26 AM on October 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


Indirectly, this ties into the profiteering off of the prison population too. Someone saw a skyrocketing population of exploitable labor and no one told them 'no'.

Though you watch, now that I've put that down someone will walk out of a shadowy office and announce that this too was part of the plan 'because cheap offshore labor' or something was threatening our economic position.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:27 AM on October 13, 2014


I can think of some reasons,

So as not to abuse the edit window, I mean I can think of some reasons for introducing crack to black neighorhoods as a pretext for ramping up the war on drugs and mass incarceration.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:28 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


The goal was to remove a regime hostile to the US from our traditional sphere of influence - the Americas.

Yeah, I got that part. I was questioning that there was an actual plan to wreak havoc on the black community with crack (as opposed to just not caring).
posted by MikeMc at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Usually when I examine a conspiracy theory my first question is: "To what end?".

This. American streets were not a target, more like collateral damage ("not my department")


and yet I'm entirely open to the possibility that certain deep cynics saw an opportunity in this collateral damage to pursue their own profitable ends (ie: the prison industrial complex, other stuff that Rustic Etruscan just said). Conspiracy talk is necessarily complex, because humans are complex and we've been conspiring for millennia.
posted by philip-random at 11:30 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


And, in case anyone thinks this is old news, the wonks that were responsible for this sort of thing under Reagan still have jobs in conservative think-tanks training the next generation of wonks, got foreign policy and national security appointments under G.W. Bush, and are likely to get appointments by a future Republican administration.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:31 AM on October 13, 2014 [9 favorites]


Usually when I examine a conspiracy theory my first question is: "To what end?". To say that part of the CIA-Contra Coke Connection was a plan to decimate black America I can't really find an answer to my question. What's the end goal of unleashing a wave of drug dependency, murder and various and sundry drug related crimes? Lock-up more black men? To what end? How does that really benefit anyone? There has be some sort goal for this to be believable (unless you're proposing that it just gives some evil, racist, elderly white men a chance to sit around cackling maniacally about the high murder and incarceration rates).

This is a subject that requires an entire book to fully come to terms with - in this case, the book is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It goes in depth into the war on drugs, the CIA-crack connection, the mass incarceration of blacks, and puts it into the context of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Act, etc. Essentially the book argues that actions like this were a form of social control, an attempt to create a new racial caste system once the old ones had died out. It's really not that hard to believe if you've followed the throughline of racial politics and policy from the 60s to the present. A section from the book:

"Most people assume the War on Drugs was launched in response to the crisis caused by crack cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods. This view holds that the racial disparities in drug convictions and sentences, as well as the rapid explosion of the prison population, reflect nothing more than the government’s zealous—but benign—efforts to address rampant drug crime in poor, minority neighborhoods. This view, while understandable, given the sensational media coverage of crack in the 1980s and 1990s, is simply wrong.

"While it is true that the publicity surrounding crack cocaine led to a dramatic increase in funding for the drug war (as well as to sentencing policies that greatly exacerbated racial disparities in incarceration rates), there is no truth to the notion that the War on Drugs was launched in response to crack cocaine. President Ronald Reagan officially announced the current drug war in 1982, before crack became an issue in the media or a crisis in poor black neighborhoods. A few years after the drug war was declared, crack began to spread rapidly in the poor black neighborhoods of Los Angeles and later emerged in cities across the country. The Reagan administration hired staff to publicize the emergence of crack cocaine in 1985 as part of a strategic effort to build public and legislative support for the war. The media campaign was an extraordinary success. Almost overnight, the media was saturated with images of black 'crack whores,' 'crack dealers,' and 'crack babies'— images that seemed to confirm the worst negative racial stereotypes about impoverished inner-city residents. The media bonanza surrounding the ‘new demon drug” helped to catapult the War on Drugs from an ambitious federal
policy to an actual war."
posted by naju at 11:35 AM on October 13, 2014 [39 favorites]


(ugh, sorry for typos)
posted by naju at 11:41 AM on October 13, 2014


the wonks that were responsible for this sort of thing under Reagan still have jobs in conservative think-tanks training the next generation of wonks, got foreign policy and national security appointments under G.W. Bush, and are likely to get appointments by a future Republican administration.

Check again. Not merely Republican. How about under Obama? Obama retained the "foreign policy and national security" apparatchiks in greater numbers than has been done before, when going from an administration of one political party to another. In the name of what, I don't know - it has been suggested that he wanted to have a free hand in making big changes to our healthcare situation, so he gave the Repubs everything on national security. Not that they paid him back with kindness. And the country was the loser in this. I have no doubt that we're better off there compared to what it would have been with the batshit insane foreign policies of a McCain or Romney, but we've still been dragged into idiocy in Libya and now Syria and a quagmire that will only get worse. Same idiots pushing the same failed policies and mischief-making. And the national security apparatus is immune and untouchable and unaccountable.
posted by VikingSword at 11:42 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


These decisions aren't made without considering ramifications and consequences.

I think I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there. American history, particularly foreign policy & spook crap, is rife with "oops, we didn't think that would happen."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:46 AM on October 13, 2014 [10 favorites]


What's the end goal of unleashing a wave of drug dependency, murder and various and sundry drug related crimes? Lock-up more black men? To what end? How does that really benefit anyone? There has be some sort goal for this to be believable (unless you're proposing that it just gives some evil, racist, elderly white men a chance to sit around cackling maniacally about the high murder and incarceration rates).

Well, if you want to be really paranoid, differential incarceration serves the same purpose as punitive voter-registration laws and red-state gerrymandering of representative districts and city boundaries.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


American history, particularly foreign policy & spook crap, is rife with "oops, we didn't think that would happen."

Is "oops, we didn't think that would happen" really credible?

Allow huge amounts of crack to be sold in inner-city neighborhoods, protect and support the drug dealers, subsequently publicize the crack epidemic and crack down on it ----> oops, we didn't know that this would have an impact on inner-city neighborhoods, our bad. Which way does Occam's Razor point on this one?
posted by naju at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


While laughing manically, those evil, racist, elderly white men also get to consolidate their power, and count loads more money off the backs of the black and brown people that their racist policies incarcerate.

In the context of a massive civil rights movement less than a decade prior, that was anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist; the capitalist elite chose the drug war as one of its tools to dismantle the organized radical black socialist left. IMO.
posted by nikoniko at 11:55 AM on October 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


Perhaps not in this specific case. I was responding to the notion that "These decisions aren't made without considering ramifications and consequences." They very often are, demonstrably so. See, e.g., arming various different groups in the Middle East over the years.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:57 AM on October 13, 2014


More listening: MURS - "The Science"
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:00 PM on October 13, 2014


Even more listening: Immortal Technique - "Peruvian Cocaine"
posted by nikoniko at 12:02 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Additionally, the drug war provides a great context/cover for maintaining a military presence in Latin America.
posted by nikoniko at 12:03 PM on October 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


Full Metal Jackoff wherein Jello Biafra and DOA (normally known for shorter, sharper eruptions) take 14-minutes-plus...

To be fair, it could use some editing. Perhaps its because I'm not fan-ist but 2:32 of introductory chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chugga-guh-nuh-nuh-nuh-chugaga could probably be pared down without much dilution of the overall effort..

posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2014


To say that part of the CIA-Contra Coke Connection was a plan to decimate black America I can't really find an answer to my question. What's the end goal of unleashing a wave of drug dependency, murder and various and sundry drug related crimes? Lock-up more black men? To what end?

deniable genocide
posted by pyramid termite at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Is "oops, we didn't think that would happen" really credible?

Yes, very. In fact if you look at the reports on the run-up to the Iraq War, that's basically exactly what happened. The people in charge really seemed to believe that everything would just fall into place when they knocked out Saddam. A good book on this subject is Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA which details how, rather than the genius manipulator seven steps ahead of everyone else, the CIA has largely bumbled its way from crisis to crisis with very little planning or thought as to what their actions might cause down the line.

Allow huge amounts of crack to be sold in inner-city neighborhoods, protect and support the drug dealers, subsequently publicize the crack epidemic and crack down on it ----> oops, we didn't know that this would have an impact on inner-city neighborhoods, our bad. Which way does Occam's Razor point on this one?

It points to what was said above: the CIA just didn't give a shit what happened as long as it got its money, and poor, largely black neighborhoods turned out to be good places for the cartels to unload their product.

naju's comments and others in this thread are displaying a classic problem with conspiratorial thinking: "the government" is not some monolithic machine. It's a collection of hundreds of agencies (thousands when you include the states) and countless individuals.

People upthread talk about the "prison-industrial complex" being helped, but that implies that such a group and the CIA were in cahoots and planned this. What's more likely is that business interests took advantage of the drug situations to cash in. Law enforcement at various levels in various jurisdictions did as well. Politicians in various places saw an opportunity to make themselves look "tough on crime" by supporting crackdowns, and the white majority was happy to go along since it was sold as a black thing.

That's what Occam's Razor points to, not some grand conspiracy where every level of government planned and coordinated the destruction of black America.

It's because these problems are systemic, not deliberate, that they're so insidious. It's what Chomsky talks about when he writes on media narratives. There's no one evil force guiding it all, it's that the systems of racism and capitalism create the conditions in which these kinds of results occur.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:51 PM on October 13, 2014 [32 favorites]


American history, particularly foreign policy & spook crap, is rife with "oops, we didn't think that would happen."

aka plausible deniability.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:56 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I find it perfectly plausible that think tanks, leaders and a few key players can lead to a conscious shaping of policies and behaviors. I don't think that requires thousands of actors moving in monolithic lockstep toward a secret sinister plot. I do think that actors can be shaped by forces with deliberate agendas and ideas for control and dominance. It seems like you're accusing me of magical thinking, whereas I simply believe there's far more deliberate coercion of narratives than you and I are led to believe.
posted by naju at 12:58 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's no one evil force guiding it all, it's that the systems of racism and capitalism create the conditions in which these kinds of results occur.

True, but that doesn't preclude a confluence of interests of elite white men who are uncomfortable with a politically active black underclass. It's pretty clear that our intelligence agencies were also active in quashing African American political movements, so I don't think it's really a conspiracy theory to link this operation to those efforts; especially when many of the cointel programs had to be shut down (supposedly) after the Church Committee hearings.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:01 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


There has be some sort goal for this to be believable

We need to get rid of the idea that racists are just evil, elderly white men.

/snark

Snark? What snark?
posted by carping demon at 1:13 PM on October 13, 2014


Usually when I examine a conspiracy theory my first question is: "To what end?"

This kind of thinking is not so useful in racist America. Black people live in ghettos - to what end? Did they chose to live there? If no, who decided they should live there, and to what end?

I can't believe people think the CIA wouldn't realise the impact of selling crack. And don't forget, a lot of the leaders of business, state and places like the CIA all come from the same class, the same schools. You have your own old-boys network now! A little chat down the mens club...
posted by marienbad at 1:13 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can't believe people think the CIA wouldn't realise the impact of selling crack.

I believe that they just didn't care. They knew drugs are harmful, but they just didn't care, and your own comment explains why: they all come from the same pool. It's not their people who are going to suffer, so they don't care who does. I think people imagine malice when indifference would suffice. No one has to hate you to hurt you.

Just like with all the other fallout from all the other things the US has done over the years: the people involved just didn't care. US multinationals don't set out to poison people in poor countries, they just aren't concerned with whether their activities do so or not. The CIA found a source for the money they needed, no one on their team would get hurt, so the problem was solved. If that caused communities to collapse, what did the CIA care? That's not their problem.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:30 PM on October 13, 2014 [7 favorites]


And that's why what they did was treasonous: waging war on American citizens to pay for another war.

W. is the second worst president ever. I shudder to think what it would take to take the crown from Reagan.
posted by bigbigdog at 1:35 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Usually when I examine a conspiracy theory my first question is: "To what end?". To say that part of the CIA-Contra Coke Connection was a plan to decimate black America I can't really find an answer to my question. What's the end goal of unleashing a wave of drug dependency, murder and various and sundry drug related crimes? Lock-up more black men? To what end? How does that really benefit anyone? There has be some sort goal for this to be believable (unless you're proposing that it just gives some evil, racist, elderly white men a chance to sit around cackling maniacally about the high murder and incarceration rates).

Uhm, you realize that the "Black Power" movement had all sorts of suggested associations with Marxism and EVIL IN GENERAL and the self-determination of black people was perceived as a threat by the FBI and other institutions basically forever? Many inner cities were built around industries that have long gone, even back then. Crack was an instant "make-work" program and you get the side benefit of having willful slaves (prisoners performing nearly free labor sentenced to obscene lengths that make the most mundane labor feel like a treat).

Do you not really believe there has been a concerted effort through all of American history to marginalize, "degrade" and even destroy the advancement of black people as a group in this country?
posted by aydeejones at 1:57 PM on October 13, 2014 [11 favorites]


I mean all of this paranoid raving shit was about fear of Communism and Marxism. My dad was a true believer at the time that everything we did in Central and South America was for the betterment of America because Communism. Witnessing the sequels playing out after 2001 and having a politically aggressive son helped disabuse him of any pretense that conservatives have been on the side of reason or humanity for the past several decades.

Blacks like Mohammad Ali were saying things in the 70's like "why should I fight Vietnam, they didn't hurt me...white men hurt me." Real quote at the bottom. The FBI took that shit seriously. The CIA? Well, let's just say that maybe we don't need to all-out destroy black communities, but we can certainly kill one bird and degrade the other with a single stone, and then point at them and say "bootstraps motherfucker, don't you have them."


Muhammed Ali
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

posted by aydeejones at 2:01 PM on October 13, 2014 [39 favorites]


I find it perfectly plausible that think tanks, leaders and a few key players can lead to a conscious shaping of policies and behaviors. I don't think that requires thousands of actors moving in monolithic lockstep toward a secret sinister plot.

what it requires is thousands of "true believers" who either never learned critical thinking or gave it up early in their careers as a hindrance to their ambitions.

Brings to mind my friend Chris (not his real name), who grew up in communist Poland, finally sneaking out in his early twenties, still over a decade before the walls started crumbling. One remark of his that has long haunted me, was that only two kinds of people believed in Eastern Block Socialism: cynics and fools. Cynics because they saw lots of opportunity for personal advancement in such an inherently corrupt system, fools because the cynics used their misguided enthusiasm as the fuel to keep things going.

Ever since then, whenever I've looked at a BIG institution that was doing bad things in the world (who cares about its avowed politics?), I've seen the same dynamic at work. Cynics consciously shaping policies and behaviors, and fools believing. This certainly resonates with America in Iraq.
posted by philip-random at 2:02 PM on October 13, 2014 [12 favorites]


Another way of putting this all is simply "disaster capitalism." The world is in a sort of decline and every disaster is an opportunity. Private prisons, DEA jobs, whatever. Crime and chaos pay huge dividends so long as they can be cordoned off.
posted by aydeejones at 2:05 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Do you not really believe there has been a concerted effort through all of American history to marginalize, "degrade" and even destroy the advancement of black people as a group in this country?

The question is whether or not marginalizing/degrading/destroying the advancement of black people as a group in this country using crack cocaine was explicitly a conspiracy by the C.I.A..
posted by MikeMc at 2:08 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


American history, particularly foreign policy & spook crap, is rife with "oops, we didn't think that would happen."

Incompetence has a huge place in American history but most of the biggest fuckups seem to provide an endless stream of revenue-generating conflict. Oops, we created the mujahadeen. Oops, we trained ISIS. Oops, we destroyed Iraq's infrastructure. Might as well draw some borders. Oops, we deposed a democratically elected Iranian President and now they're all radical and shit and we have a boogey man to point at until we make a worse one. Oopsily-doozily!

Of course powerful Americans are extremely good at turning anything into money and using crises to precipitate change (Deltron!) and basically turn the world upside down to shake the change out of our pockets. So there's just a certain amount of hubris in knowing that so long as we don't completely destroy White Middle and Upper Class America, "we" will recover and make money on it.
posted by aydeejones at 2:09 PM on October 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


The question is whether or not marginalizing/degrading/destroying the advancement of black people as a group in this country using crack cocaine was explicitly a conspiracy by the C.I.A..

If we're hung up on actual intent, would you settle for willful reckless action, a shade below intentional harm? Where are you personally drawing the line of intentionality, and why?
posted by naju at 2:14 PM on October 13, 2014


The question is whether or not marginalizing/degrading/destroying the advancement of black people as a group in this country using crack cocaine was explicitly a conspiracy by the C.I.A..

No that's not the question. As I said there doesn't have to be a formal conspiracy; merely a confluence of interests which to outside observers has all the appearances of a formal cigar smoke filled room conspiracy.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:15 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


I believe that they just didn't care.

there's a case to be made that indifference can be as deadly as hate - and in its way, just as intentional
posted by pyramid termite at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


If we're hung up on actual intent, would you settle for willful reckless action, a shade below intentional harm? Where are you personally drawing the line of intentionality, and why?

No that's not the question. As I said there doesn't have to be a formal conspiracy; merely a confluence of interests which to outside observers has all the appearances of a formal cigar smoke filled room conspiracy

It's the difference between a conspiracy theory and an actual conspiracy. The conspiracy to distribute drugs to fund the Contras was bad and the effects devastated a lot of lives but an active conspiracy to destroy black communities in America using crack cocaine by parts of the U.S. government would be several orders of magnitude worse.
posted by MikeMc at 2:33 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


A lot of government policy goals seem to be emergent and contingent, not planned from the outset. Initially, you have a lot of separate players with their own agendas. Then it turns out that two or more agendas mesh: the shady characters that are funneling your money to "the resistance" are connected with drug traffickers. You don't want to shut down your conduit, so you double-down on it: the drug traffickers are protected as long as "the resistance" is funded. So now there's more drugs flowing into the country and something has to be done about that, but you can't shut down the drug pipeline. Instead, you pour money into a highly-visible "war" on drugs, and law enforcement learns that it isn't good to enquire too closely about the source of those drugs. Drug warriors' careers effectively depend on the drug trade, and the users and distributors of crack cocaine provided a steady source of vulnerable targets. But that doesn't mean that the regional US drug warriors had anything to do with US policy in Nicaragua. It's just how it all worked out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:38 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which way does Occam's Razor point on this one?

Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity?
posted by sneebler at 2:45 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


We agree on 1) the primary facts of what happened, and 2) the effects of those actions. The only thing we're disagreeing on is the mental intent of the key players pulling the strings. This is what is separating "crazy batshit conspiracy" from "bad unfortunate thing", apparently. Because the facts are all out there to see, and have been verified. "We will protect you if you funnel drugs into inner-city Los Angeles black communities" is a verified thing that happened. So knowing that, it appears there was either an active intent to damage, or gross negligence/recklessness to the degree where they should've realized that there would be community devastation but ignored it. I'm fine with either intent being awful and leading to the culpability of everyone involved.
posted by naju at 2:46 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity?

See, in my dictionary, malice is just a special case of stupid, so my system doesn't generate this useless conundrum.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:05 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Some sort of goal to make it believable.

How about this: Providing crack to inner city blacks has had the effect of moving their focus inward (inner city blacks developing and controlling local markets for their product), rather than outward (recognizing and lashing out at the progenitors of their injust socio-economic plight).

Rodney King notwithstanding, there hasn't been race/class warfare in South Central since 1967. Classic Machiavellianism.

ymmv.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 3:29 PM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Slightly OT: I was looking for the coroner's report on Gary Webb's death, recently. Does anyone have a copy? I'm really curious about how a man plausibly shoots himself in the head twice.
posted by fivebells at 3:33 PM on October 13, 2014




Oliver North and John Poindexter should still be in fucking jail. Treasoners both.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:51 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


Was it a primary goal? Perhaps not. But it beggars the imagination that the agency responsible (among other things) for analyzing data regarding the economic balance of trade and production, legal and illegal, had no understanding of exactly what was going where in that transaction. It wasn't exactly classified information. The State Department was publicly involved in anti-drug treaty negotiations over the same period.

Someone did the pragmatic calculus that a certain class of American lives were a reasonable price for supporting anti-communist goons. I don't know why it's inconceivable that wonks who supported and covered-up the wholesale slaughter of entire communities in Latin America would be indifferent to communities in American cities.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:54 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]


In one documentary I saw - unfortunately don't remember the title - about the Black Panthers, there was a brief bit about how ultimately the drug epidemic that took hold of black neighborhoods leading into the 70's was the single most destructive factor in draining political energy and protest out of the community. It was heroin, and it was the time when the CIA heroin operation was active. At the time, there were those in the community who seeing the political effect, thought that there was an intentional policy by the government to flood them with heroin. It also was one of the primary factors in destroying the Black Panther Party. Obviously, it's conspiracy thinking - but today, I can no longer say confidently "I am sure nothing like that ever happened". We do know that the government was aware that U.S. soldiers were coming back from Vietnam with drug habits which they then took into their neighborhoods. We know that the CIA had a hand in supporting the trade. We know that domestic intelligence services were obsessively focused on the BPP and political dissent in minority communities, and that legalities never stopped them. Now, it's possible that it was a non-coordinated confluence of all those forces that allowed for that disaster to unfold, but I wouldn't swear that there was nobody in a position of power and decision-making who didn't perhaps turn a blind eye or even profit from this trade knowing the political fallout of destroying minority communities. For that matter, we do know that ex-CIA operators made a ton of money from heroin at that very time, they found it far more profitable to resign their positions and use their contacts and know-how to profit from the drug trade. That whole story has never been written to any detail, and may never be fully written. We have hints and testimonies, but nobody has been indicted and nobody did a clean accounting of it. It's just another crime that's been swept under and is rapidly receding into the mists of history. We - and particularly the black community - just get to live with the consequences.
posted by VikingSword at 4:25 PM on October 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


The damage to the American public was purely collateral damage. The people responsible for setting everything in motion were neocon ideologues who ONLY cared about their mission to fund the Contras. Never let it be forgotten that the whole thing was a blatantly treasonous operation in direct defiance of the Boland Amendment - which SPECIFICALLY outlawed funding of the Contras.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:31 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


The damage to the American public was purely collateral damage.

I've said this before but the concept of collateral damage is an exercise in intellectual depravity of the highest order. How can something that is a known quantity be accidental? This is the height of Orwellian doublespeak. You can't accidentally do something that is a forgone conclusion. Now of course one can argue that the CIA and U.S. government in general couldn't foresee the effects of crack on the Black community, but to me this seems to strain at the limits of credulity.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:42 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


My point is that Ollie North and his co-conspirators just didn't care about any fallout; they were focused on their political objective. I totally agree with you on it being intellectual depravity of the highest order.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


And then there is the Afghani Opium
According to a recent report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013 saw opium production surge to record highs:
“The harvest this May resulted in 5,500 metric tons of opium, 49 percent higher than last year and more than the combined output of the rest of the world.”
posted by adamvasco at 5:08 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I totally agree with you on it being intellectual depravity of the highest order.

Sorry if it came across like I was attacking you personally, I should have been more clear. Your disdain for the conspirators was obvious.

My point is that Ollie North and his co-conspirators just didn't care about any fallout; they were focused on their political objective.

Ah yes, but that doesn't preclude the possibility that there were other factions within the U.S. intelligence community whose primary goal was to disrupt African American social and political movements. I mean that such factions were in existence is pretty heavily attested to in the congressional record.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:18 PM on October 13, 2014


I remember when the "CIA is dealing crack" talk started back in the 80's. I'm ashamed to say, even though I was strongly against Reagan, I thought this was just paranoid conspiracy mongering, and I dismissed it. Apparently, I was not cynical enough.

I also remember when the allegations came out, and it just sounded like one of those "Castro killed JFK in order to put fluoride in the drinking water" things to me at the time. Clearly I was not cynical enough, either.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:20 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations; National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2

Lot's of good stuff here which mostly paints the connection as one of indifference on the part of the Iran Contra conspirators.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:22 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


What is frequently forgotten / not mentioned is Israels part in being the major arms supplier for this sordid episode. The arms of course paid for by the CIA's money raising drug dealing entrepreneurship.
posted by adamvasco at 6:12 PM on October 13, 2014


One of the more remarkable moments captured by CSPAN
posted by gorbweaver at 6:20 PM on October 13, 2014 [9 favorites]


There's a certain point where depraved indifference is indistinguishable from deliberate intent to harm. If I drop a thousand large ball bearings off the Empire State Building at lunchtime, the argument that "I didn't see anyone down there" is basically irrelevant.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:16 PM on October 13, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is worth watching, Connections between Freeway Ricky Ross, the Bush Administration, and the crack cocaine epidemic.

I am looking forward to seeing the films Freeway: Crack in the System and Kill the Messenger.
posted by dougzilla at 9:37 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]




I saw the movie over the weekend, and I really recommend it. It's a compelling, frustrating story, and it's told well.
posted by naju at 10:24 PM on October 13, 2014


The arms of course paid for by the CIA's money raising drug dealing entrepreneurship.

I think the Iranians paid for their weapons. When the deals continued there, the surplus we made on weapons sales started getting funneled to the contras. Then someone came up with the crack idea.
posted by stinkfoot at 6:07 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


soundtrack: Kendrick Lamar - Ronald Reagan Era
posted by kliuless at 7:43 AM on October 14, 2014


There's a goed essay by Gary Webb in Into the Buzzsaw, along with other examples of stories being stomped on. A quote from Webb in the link:
"...I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been," he writes. "The reason I'd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn't been, as I'd assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job ... The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn't written anything important enough to suppress."
posted by ianso at 7:45 AM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Southeast asian opium during the Vietnam era, South American coca during the Reagan era interventions down there, now Afghani opium during the modern middle eastern wars... By gum, it's almost as if the drug trade is a consistently useful way to raise money for off the books shenanigans...
posted by stenseng at 11:26 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


stinkfoot: this is a bit of a derail but Israel did not wait until late 1985 to become involved with the United States in covert operations; it began arming the contras as early as 1982
Also in Colombia U.S., Israeli, and British military instructors were hired to teach at paramilitary training centers (wiki) See also Yair Klein who is rumoured also to have been approved by the Colombian government (and thus their American allies) to train FARC.

Follows a list of 143 names of suggested witnesses for the closed door hearings on CIA drug trafficking held in Los Angeles in 1999.
posted by adamvasco at 5:22 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you don't think they discussed this, then maybe you should go listen to (or read transcripts of) the Nixon Whitehouse tapes. Listen to how they talk about black people and jewish people ("jew york"), swearing and laughing and being racist as all hell. In the Oval Office. It is so far removed from them, it is like a game.
posted by marienbad at 11:32 AM on October 15, 2014


The CIA had its own airline to fly heroin out of Vietnam: Air America.
posted by marienbad at 11:44 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]




'Barry Seal: The Musical'
posted by clavdivs at 10:21 PM on October 18, 2014


In-depth article on Webb and the movie in the newly defunct San Francisco Bay Guardian, including quotes from star Jeremy Renner who grew up in Modesto!
posted by telstar at 3:34 PM on October 20, 2014


That article turns out to be a derivative of this article in the Sacramento News and Review.
posted by telstar at 5:11 PM on October 20, 2014




VikingSword, I wonder if you're talking about The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. (Great documentary, if anybody hasn't seen it...)
posted by duffell at 10:59 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


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