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Apparent Suicide
December 13, 2004 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Investigative journalist Gary Webb found dead of an apparent suicide. Webb is known for his Dark Alliance series, linking the CIA to drug trafficking. As you can imagine, not everyone responded well to his work, especially his employer. An interview with Webb can be found here.

Gary Webb: I look like an idiot up here with all these mikes, the CIA agents are probably behind one or the other... [laughter from the audience]. - Jan 16, 1999
posted by odinsdream (45 comments total)

 
It really is an amazing coincidence how people who piss off the CIA are all disturbed enough to commit suicide
posted by bas67 at 9:09 AM on December 13, 2004 [1 favorite]


Very sad. And yes, it is one of those cases where there will always be some speculation about whether it really was suicide. The whole truth about the CIA cocaine connection will never be known, but some of his evidence was pretty convincing.

As a former resident of Eugene, Oregon, I appreciated his description of that city as an 'island of sanity.'
posted by wadefranklin at 9:12 AM on December 13, 2004


Yeah. Funny, that....
posted by Doohickie at 9:13 AM on December 13, 2004


He died of a gunshot wound to the head and there was a note on his front door saying, "Please do not enter. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance." Why would you assume this was a suicide?
posted by driveler at 9:15 AM on December 13, 2004


David Kelly also committed suicide. Or did he?
posted by chaz at 9:30 AM on December 13, 2004


I assumed he had the forethought to consider his cleaning lady's feelings.
posted by TheNakedPixel at 9:30 AM on December 13, 2004


Why would you assume this was a suicide?

Because then you do not need to round up the usual suspects.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:34 AM on December 13, 2004


Suicide. Yeah. Of course it was.

It really is an amazing coincidence how people who piss off the CIA are all disturbed enough to commit suicide
posted by bas67


Spooky, ain't it? Unless of course you're an administration neocon that outs an agent for revenge...then it's all good.
posted by dejah420 at 9:41 AM on December 13, 2004


This is terrible news. Webb was a courageous, thorough reporter. We've lost a great one.
posted by jeffmshaw at 9:58 AM on December 13, 2004


I suppose I should have said "found dead of what's being called a suicide," since it certainly doesn't seem like an apparent suicide to me. I heard about this on NPR while driving in to work, and couldn't believe it was being called a suicide.
posted by odinsdream at 10:24 AM on December 13, 2004


I suppose I should have said "found dead of what's being called a suicide," since it certainly doesn't seem like an apparent suicide to me.

Based on your extensive knowledge of the crime scene?

Spooky, ain't it? Unless of course you're an administration neocon that outs an agent for revenge...then it's all good.

Yes, revenge for articles that were written in 1996, when a different administration was in power.

I assumed he had the forethought to consider his cleaning lady's feelings.

Why assume something logical when you can freely speculate a good murder conspiracy theory? Let's ignore the fact that he was divorced, or that he recently lost a job, or that his expose was found lacking by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. Obviously it was vengeful neocons who killed him!
posted by pardonyou? at 10:32 AM on December 13, 2004


I had also assumed his stories were lacking, but from the interview you linked, it sounds like he did a thorough and credible job of reporting. I'm sorry to about his death.
posted by atchafalaya at 10:42 AM on December 13, 2004


Based on your extensive knowledge of the crime scene?

No, because "what's being called a suicide" is more impartial than what I already wrote. For the very reason that I wasn't at the crime scene, I think it really isn't my place to say "an apparent suicide."

My opinion aside, I do think it would be clearer to say that it's being called a suicide, rather than just accept it was one without any evidence.
posted by odinsdream at 10:51 AM on December 13, 2004


Yes, revenge for articles that were written in 1996, when a different administration was in power.

Well...does the administration ever really change?

I agree we should be careful to avoid jumping to conclusions, but to rule it out completely in spite of everything we know about how the CIA works would be a bit hopeful and a little naive. Come on...motive, opportunity, means...and (ahem) precedent.
posted by RockCorpse at 11:06 AM on December 13, 2004


His expose was not found lacking at all. In fact, the CIA has admitted that they were engaged in drug trafficking. The reaction to his reports and the meager coverage of the CIA admissions tells you everything you need to know about how the media covers stories.

Webb's story was also one of the first to make use of the web. He published tons of source material and background along with the original SJ Mercury articles .
posted by euphorb at 11:09 AM on December 13, 2004


No, because "what's being called a suicide" is more impartial than what I already wrote.

That's true, and I didn't have a problem with that part. It was this that I questioned: "...since it certainly doesn't seem like an apparent suicide to me." The authorities who have actually investigated indicated that it seems like an apparent suicide. Yet you have some information that contradicts that?

Come on...motive, opportunity, means...and (ahem) precedent.

The motive to get back at him for articles he wrote over eight years ago? Since we're speculating, I think it was some disgruntled traffic court employee getting back at Webb for what he wrote a couple of weeks ago.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:15 AM on December 13, 2004


pardonyou? The Nixon administration was tied to a break--in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, and Nixon was all set to be impeached for that and the Watergate cover-up before he resigned. The reason for the break-in? The former RAND Corp. analyst's leaking of the Pentagon Papers, which were damning to the previous presidential administration, that of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Just sayin'.
posted by raysmj at 11:16 AM on December 13, 2004


pardonyou?: I should have been more careful to separate my opinion from my revision. My apologies. I'm glad you question that bit of my statement.

I do think that if you replaced "CIA" with "random drug cartel," nobody would have any qualms about questioning whether it was a suicide. I still think journalists ought to question it regardless, yes, even if the police say it was a suicide, it should still be questioned.
posted by odinsdream at 11:26 AM on December 13, 2004


Gosh--a guy whose major reporting had been discredited, who was demoted from one job and fired from the next, who left a pretty typical suicide note, is found dead! Clearly a murder conspiracy! A sad day when the Fark discussion of this event is more rational than the one here.
posted by LarryC at 11:26 AM on December 13, 2004


Right-wing Latin American drug dealers were helping finance a CIA-run covert war in Nicaragua by selling tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods in LA, who were turning it into crack and spreading it through black neighborhoods nationwide. And all the available evidence pointed to the sickening conclusion that elements of the US government had known of it and had either tacitly encouraged it or, at a minimum, done absolutely nothing to stop it.

i think the evidence still does. i'm wiling to consider alternative theories, but i haven't seen many good ones.

of course he might have killed himself, but i doubt (from anecdotal sources, of course) the harassment he received wasn't just about "articles that were written in 1996." i wouldn't be surprised if everyday life was very difficult for him and he lost it, or if he had found some new evidence and was about to blow something wide open.

the truth is, we have no idea unless we have access to the crime scene, or inside info. it still looks suspicious to me, though. an obvious determining factor would be the handwriting on the note (not that the CIA couldn't handle a simple forgery).
posted by mrgrimm at 11:27 AM on December 13, 2004


i doubt
posted by mrgrimm at 11:28 AM on December 13, 2004


Well...does the administration ever really change?

Well, that administration changes slowly, but it does change. But since 1996...I would imagine, not much. But then again, this is not our fathers' CIA. It's leaner, has far fewer field assets, and thinks in a much more media-conscious way than the version of the Company that spawned School of the Americas.

My question regarding suicide would be: Why bother? The CIA-drug connection is old, old, old news, already "debunked" enough that people immediately remark that his reportage on the subject was "lacking", as their first reaction. He was arguably of more value to the Company as a disgraced, live journalist, than he will be as dead conspiracy-fodder. So unless he had something really mind-blowing, what would be the point? And honestly, I have a hard time imagining anything big enough that you couldn't manage it with media spin control, much more effectively than you could with a bullet and a team of cleaners.

Life in the shadow of disregard can be a cold and lonely thing. Eventually, even a saint gets tired.
posted by lodurr at 11:48 AM on December 13, 2004


... oh, and, Pardonyou?: Why do you have such a hard-on for the conspiracy guys? We all know the CIA's done plenty of this shit in the past. You have valid points to make; but they'd be a lot more convincing if they weren't delivered with a knee-jerk sneer.
posted by lodurr at 11:51 AM on December 13, 2004


pardonyou?

"Yes, revenge for articles that were written in 1996, when a different administration was in power."

Easy. It's not about who was in power when the articles were written, it's about who's culpable in those articles.

Look up the Wikipedia entry for current US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte and see how he relates to US actions in Central America as well as the whole Contra/cocaine scandal, (or Webb for that matter).

Tom Tomorrow (This Modern World) hit the nail right on the head:

"Webb tried to take a serious look at the ties between US foreign policy in Latin America and the flow of cocaine into the US in those days, and was driven out of journalism for daring to suggest that the US government might have looked the other way while its momentary allies in a proxy war behaved in a less than ethical manner. The New York Times, to its eternal discredit, led the charge. Even the obit, linked above, notes that the series of articles were "later discredited", which is bullshit. Major newspapers did not "discredit parts of his work" so much as they set up complete straw men and then knocked those straw men right down and declared it a good day's work done. And in the long run, they may have destroyed a man's life."

Look, I'm not saying he most definitely was iced by a wet opp team from Langley, but just because he wrote about this stuff 8 years ago doesn't obviate payback from the company, they've got a longstanding rep for crap like this.
posted by Relay at 12:05 PM on December 13, 2004


Either way, though -- suicide or a hit -- the company gets what it wants, right? In spook-world, the best revenge is to suffer no consequences, and really, that's what's happened. With the bonus of making Webb's life miserable.
posted by lodurr at 12:09 PM on December 13, 2004


One thing to keep in mind is that people who feel persecuted sometimes do take their own lives precisely because they know it will cause some (many?) to put the blame on their tormentor. Case in point is the Sherlock Holmes article from the New Yorker that was posted on MeFi a few weeks back.
posted by chaz at 12:14 PM on December 13, 2004


... oh, and, Pardonyou?: Why do you have such a hard-on for the conspiracy guys?

Because I find conspiracy theories that imply homicide based on no evidence whatsoever to be morally repugnant and irresponsible. See also Foster, Vince.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:25 PM on December 13, 2004


Reminds me of Danny Casolaro's suicide.
posted by f5seth at 12:30 PM on December 13, 2004


whenever political bodies hit the pavement or civil liberties are clogging up the shredder, pardonyou? can be counted upon to sally forth, slaying the harbingers of reasonable doubt with fusilades of withering sarcasm in his quest to paint the stench of decay over with Chanel No. 5.
posted by quonsar at 12:46 PM on December 13, 2004


That was downright poetic, quonsar. Indeed, your eloquence has convinced me to leave and let you all enjoy this dark hothouse of rank speculation. I will sally somewhere else, saving my fusilades and paint for another day.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:56 PM on December 13, 2004


I'm with pardonyou? ...
Why should Webb, who's been out of the news for ages, be of more concern than a hoarde of current and very recent employees of the CIA that are at odds with the administration?

I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy ... but this one ain't holding water.
posted by forforf at 1:18 PM on December 13, 2004


Why should Webb, who's been out of the news for ages, be of more concern than a hoarde of current and very recent employees of the CIA that are at odds with the administration?

He's not.

But here's the thing: he's dead, and they're alive.

For the record, conspiracy theories make me itch, but my cynicism makes me feel hijacked and slightly stupid for letting it happen.
posted by RockCorpse at 1:37 PM on December 13, 2004


This reminds me of the mechanic who says to the astronomer, "People used to think the sun goes around the earth because that's the way it looks."
The astronomer says, "How would it look if the earth rotated?"
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:56 PM on December 13, 2004


That stuff in the Mercury News was amazing--and i can't believe it was allowed to be published at all. What a great job he did. (and how much we need people like him--now more than ever--unafraid to get the dirt.) This is a shame.
posted by amberglow at 4:21 PM on December 13, 2004


That Tom Tomorrow post nailed it: regardless of who pulled the trigger, Gary Webb had his life dismantled brick by brick for the crime of trying to tell the truth about one of the darkest chapters in recent American history. The cowardice of his employer for throwing a great and principled investigative reporter to the wolves at the time he most needed institutional support, and the careerist eagerness of his "colleagues" at major media outlets across America who jumped like jackals at the chance to finish him off - these represent an equally dark chapter in the annals of American journalism.

The only good thing that could come of this is if the publicity surrounding his death encourages more people to read Webb's book, Dark Alliance. It is reported with a meticulousness and professionalism that would shame most of the journalists writing for the newspapers that allegedly "discredited" it, and it's better written to boot.

Read it. Please. It's one of the most important books I've ever read on the frontline realities of American foreign policy.

And while there's not even the barest whiff of conspiracy-theorizing in the book itself - Webb was a reporter, and a damn good one - I'll say this about the nascent conspiracy theory surrounding Webb's death: his book implicates several of the current Bush Administration's most powerful figures in the most egregious breach of the Constitution ever perpetrated by a US government. (Though of course this is true of any book that tells the whole story of Iran-Contra.) It would be ridiculously naive to think that these sorts of people would simply forget about the man who came closest to exposing the ugliest truths about it - and about them. Poweful men with blood on their hands can't afford that kind of laissez-faire attitude. See also Kissinger, Henry.

RIP, Mr Webb. Here's hoping your life's work lives on, and that justice is one day finally served.
posted by gompa at 4:37 PM on December 13, 2004


Well...does the administration ever really change?

For over 1500 years, through good rulers, bad rulers, too many rulers and sometimes no rulers at all, the Roman- Byzantine Empire functioned fairly well, because of the bureaucratic "caste" that ran the actual administration, what we would call "the executive branch". Trotsky and Djilas weren't talking about anything new nor restricted to any particular ideological system. Consider where the people who ran the OSS and the CIA came from, or I should say consider who their families and family friends are.
posted by davy at 5:10 PM on December 13, 2004


Another Webb post that Tom Tomorrow added

More on Webb

Jeff Cohen:
In this weekend's mainstream media reports on Gary Webb's death, it's no surprise that a key point has been overlooked -- that the CIA's internal investigation sparked by the Webb series and resulting furor contained startling admissions. CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz reported in October 1998 that the CIA indeed had knowledge of the allegations linking many Contras and Contra associates to cocaine trafficking, that Contra leaders were arranging drug connections from the beginning and that a CIA informant told the agency about the activity.

When Webb stumbled onto the Contra-cocaine story, he couldn't have imagined the fury with which big-foot reporters from national dailies would come at him -- a barrage that ultimately drove him out of mainstream journalism. But he fought back with courage and dignity, writing a book (Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion) with his side of the story and insisting that facts matter more than established power or ideology. He deserves to be remembered in the proud tradition of muckrakers like Ida Tarbell, George Seldes and I.F. Stone.

http://www.thismodernworld.com/weblog/mtarchives/week_2004_12_12.html#001943
posted by Relay at 6:56 PM on December 13, 2004


yup. He really did good in the world. I hope he didn't think otherwise.
posted by amberglow at 7:23 PM on December 13, 2004


Well, I'd lean toward thinking that a suicide is more likely, seeing as how they did destroy his life, except for this:

He died of a gunshot wound to the head

Not true. He died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head:
Mr. Webb, 49, was found dead in his Carmichael home Friday morning of gunshot wounds to the head, the Sacramento County Coroner's Office said Saturday.
From the Sacramento Bee. Funny how the "mulitiple self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head" method seems to be so popular among those who annoy the powers that be. Is it possible to shoot yourself in the head several times? Probably, depending on the type of gun (which isn't detailed anywhere I've been able to find) — it's certainly possible to survive a point-blank shot to the head with, say, a .22, though I doubt most of the people who do so are in any condition to fire a second shot — but I find it a bit unlikely and certainly odd enough that I think the media is being delinquent in failing to seek out furthur details.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:41 AM on December 14, 2004


IshmaelGraves, the SacBee article here says: "Webb died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to the Sacramento County coroner's office."

Do you have a link to your quote?
posted by Floydd at 7:32 AM on December 14, 2004


What gompa said.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:41 AM on December 14, 2004


San Jose Mercury News: killed by gunshot wounds to the head
posted by RockCorpse at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2004


Floydd: this SacBee story is where I got the quote.

However, now I'm seeing stories in the SacBee (which you linked), the Mercury News, and the LA Times which have 'wound' in the singular, so perhaps it was a mistake. It looks like both the SacBee story I quoted and the Merc News story RockCorpse linked are the same AP wire story.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:36 AM on December 14, 2004


Thanks, guys.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Typo, or typical?
Plot, or conspiracy?
Makes me want to see the coroner's report. I hope the Smoking Gun comes up with it.

(wrinkling my tinfoil hat a little to make it more effective)
posted by Floydd at 10:47 AM on December 14, 2004


No, because "what's being called a suicide" is more impartial than what I already wrote.

well, it sort of implies that perhaps it's being mislabeled. "apparent suicide" seems pretty neutral to me - if it was murder, it was murder intended to appear to be suicide, hence, 'apparent' suicide.

Seems like it would be a waste of the CIA's time to risk such an undertaking for someone who wasn't having much impact on public perception to begin with.

But with regard to conspiracy theories in general, how many people would have to be involved for it to be an 'official' conspiracy as opposed to some crazy pissed off official out for personal revenge? If it turned out to be the latter, could we still blame the "evil gov't machine" or whatever? Or would it just come down to, yikes, our gov't employed a psycho?

If we stick to the 'evil gov't machine' theory, doesn't it seem pretty hard to believe that a significant number of people could know that plots like this were acceptable, and yet no one would break and reveal the story? Whether due to pressure from the conscience, or simply the difficulty of keeping an enormous secret, I just don't think people are that good at hiding things.

Basically, I'm skeptical about conspiracy theories because to me they give too much credit to the idiots who run these operations... perhaps that's naive, and given that people love conspiracy theories so much, there may well be those who love to conspire, but still, it seems to me that we romanticize the power, stoicism, resolve, precision, and general 'evil genius-ness' of authorities a bit.
posted by mdn at 12:42 PM on December 14, 2004


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