Archive for  June 2009

Home / June 2009
36 Posts

A guide to Israeli settlements – Los Angeles Times

A guide to Israeli settlements

How and when did they start, why are they spreading, what are the concerns and should anything be done about them?
By Gershom Gorenberg
June 28, 2009

In Cairo this month, President Obama urged Israel to stop settlement construction in the occupied territories. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” he said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his own policy speech soon after, ardently defended the communities and the people who live in them. “The settlers are neither the enemies of the people nor the enemies of peace. Rather, they are an integral part of our people.”

So what’s all the fuss? We present a guide for the perplexed.

For starters, what’s a settlement?

As used today, the term usually refers to an Israeli community built in the territories that Israel conquered in the Six-Day War in June 1967. Israel removed its settlements from the Sinai after making peace with Egypt in 1979, and unilaterally evacuated its Gaza Strip settlements in 2005. So the dispute today deals with the Golan Heights and especially the West Bank. Some of the settlements are tiny, but many are large suburban towns such as Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, and Ariel, east of Tel Aviv. These bedroom communities have attracted Israelis, both secular and religious, looking for inexpensive homes. The fastest-growing are those intended exclusively for ultra-Orthodox Jews. With low incomes and large families, the ultra-Orthodox need cheap housing. Playing to that need, successive Israeli governments have drawn them to towns such as Modiin Illit, southeast of Tel Aviv, where more than 40,000 people now live. The great majority of settlers live in large towns, most of them close to the Green Line.

What’s the Green Line?

It’s the armistice line between Israel and its Arab neighbors, drawn in 1949 at the end of Israel’s war of independence. It’s also known as the pre-1967 border. After the Six-Day War, Israel extended Israeli law to East Jerusalem (and later, the Golan Heights), which in practical terms meant annexation. But the rest of the West Bank remained under military occupation, with Palestinian autonomous rule in some areas. No other country has recognized Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. So for international purposes, the Green Line is the border between Israel and occupied territory. The most recent Israeli figures found about 290,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, not counting East Jerusalem.

And what about East Jerusalem?

In the annexed areas, Israel has built large neighborhoods where nearly 200,000 Israelis now live. Israel considers those neighborhoods part of sovereign Israel. The U.S., like other countries, calls them settlements.

When did all this start?

The first settlement in the Golan Heights was quietly established by young Israelis from left-wing kibbutz movements in July 1967, with the quiet help of government officials and army officers. The first West Bank settlement, Kfar Etzion, was established by Orthodox Israelis in September 1967 with public fanfare and government backing.

What’s an outpost?

The outposts are small, unofficial settlements, usually clumps of mobile homes on a hilltop, created after the government stopped approving new settlements in the mid-1990s. Though they lack legal authorization, they’ve received extensive help from state agencies — as a scathing government-commissioned report documented. Under the U.S.-backed 2003 “road map” for peace, Israel is required to evacuate outposts built since 2001. So far, only a few tiny ones have been dismantled — and settlers have subsequently rebuilt them.

So why have settlements been built?

They are intended to “establish facts” — to ensure continued Israeli control of part or all of the occupied territory. For some settlement advocates, the main purpose is security — to add territory to make Israel more defensible. For others, the key point is that the West Bank — referred to as Judea and Samaria — is part of the historic Jewish homeland. Israelis learn the Bible as their national history, and places in the West Bank such as Hebron, Bethlehem and Shiloh are the setting of much of that history. Religious settlers believe God promised the land to the Jews and that Israel’s settlement of it is a fulfillment of that promise. In practice, every Israeli government since 1967 has promoted settlement — helping to fund construction and providing financial incentives to settlers. Left-wing governments have focused on areas they considered important for security and where few Palestinians live. Right-wing governments have encouraged settlement throughout the West Bank.

Why is this a problem?

Since 1967, some Israelis have argued that keeping the West Bank creates an unbearable dilemma. If Israel maintains permanent rule over the Palestinians without giving them citizenship, it ceases to be a democracy. If it annexes the territory and grants them citizenship, it will no longer be a country with a Jewish majority — contradicting the most basic goal of Zionism. Today, the only practical way out of this dilemma is a two-state solution, with the Palestinians receiving independence in the Gaza Strip and all or nearly all of the West Bank. To create a Palestinian state that is more than fragmented enclaves, most or all settlements must be evacuated. Continued construction only makes this more difficult.

Where has America been until now?

In principle, the U.S. has consistently opposed all settlements, including the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. However, most administrations have avoided confrontations over the issue, especially when peace negotiations were underway. In the meantime, settlements kept growing. Public diplomatic tussles during the Carter and George H.W. Bush administrations were exceptions.

Speaking of America, aren’t most settlers from the U.S.?

Absolutely not. The misconception that settlements are heavily American may stem from foreign correspondents looking for English-speakers to interview when they visit.

Why the tension today?

Obama is insisting that Israel freeze further building in settlements, as called for in the road map. That position fits his goal of achieving a two-state solution. Netanyahu insists that building is needed to allow for “natural growth” of settlements. But settlements have been growing much more quickly than the rest of Israel. Decisions to build, as always, are political choices intended to “create facts.” Obama doesn’t want construction to preempt negotiations. Unlike most previous presidents, he is insisting that American opposition to settlements is more than mere words.

Gershom Gorenberg is the author of “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977” and a senior correspondent for the American Prospect. He blogs at

U.S.-built bridge is windfall — for illegal Afghan drug trade | McClatchy

U.S.-built bridge is windfall — for illegal Afghan drug trade

Gateway for Afghan opium

NIZHNY PANJ, Tajikistan — In August 2007, the presidents of Afghanistan and Tajikistan walked side by side with the U.S. commerce secretary across a new $37 million concrete bridge that the Army Corps of Engineers designed to link two of Central Asia’s poorest countries.

Dressed in a gray suit with an American flag pin in his lapel, then-Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the modest two-lane span that U.S. taxpayers paid for would be “a critical transit route for trade and commerce” between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Today, the bridge across the muddy waters of the Panj River is carrying much more than vegetables and timber: It’s paved the way for drug traffickers to transport larger loads of Afghan heroin and opium to Central Asia and beyond to Russia and Western Europe.

Standing near his truck in a dusty patch on the Afghan side of the river, Yar Mohammed said it was easy to drive drugs past the Afghan and Tajik border guards.

“It’s an issue of money,” Mohammed said, to the nods and grins of the small group of truckers gathered around him near the bridge at Nizhny Panj. “If you give them money, you can do whatever you want.”

The roots of the global drug trade are often a murky tangle of poverty, addiction, violence and corruption. However, it’s clear why the dirt-poor former Soviet Central Asian republic of Tajikistan is on the verge of becoming a narco-state.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the United States and other Western powers looked the other way as opium and heroin production surged to record levels, making Afghanistan by far the world’s biggest producer.

Much of the ballooning supply of drugs shipped across Afghanistan’s northern border, up to one-fifth of the country’s output, has traveled to and through Tajikistan. The opium and heroin funded rampant corruption in Tajikistan and turned the country, still hobbled by five years of civil war in the 1990s, into what at times seems like one big drug-trafficking organization.

Every day last year — extrapolating from United Nations estimates — an average of more than 4 metric tons of opium, which can be made into some 1,320 pounds of heroin, moved on the northern route. Put another way, the equivalent of nearly 6 million doses of pure heroin — at 100 milligrams each — is carried across the northern Afghan border each day.

After it’s cut with other substances and sold on the street corners and in the apartment stairwells of Russia and Western Europe, the main retail markets for Central Asian heroin, that could produce at least 12 million doses.

Nevertheless, it’s clear even to a casual visitor at the bridge that neither the Afghan or the Tajik border guards have much interest in curbing, or even inspecting, the exports that pass in front of them.

In fact, as the Afghan drug supply has grown, Tajik seizures have fallen. In 2004, Afghanistan produced 4,200 metric tons of opium, and some 5 metric tons of heroin or its equivalent in opium were seized in Tajikistan, according to U.N. figures. Last year, with Afghan cultivation rising to 7,700 metric tons of opium, Tajik authorities seized less than 2 metric tons of heroin.

Although the United States wields enormous influence in both countries, their drug problems have taken a back seat to the war against the Taliban. Until the past year, Afghanistan’s growing drug production was at best a midlevel priority for Washington, and the U.S. hasn’t pressed Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to rein in his country’s drug trafficking, Western officials said. Nor, they said, has any other Western government with troops in Afghanistan.

All along the Afghan-Tajik border, smugglers for years have thrown sacks of heroin over the Panj River, waded across when the water is low, set up flotillas of car tires and used small ferries or footbridges.

The U.S.-financed bridge has made drug trafficking even easier, truck driver Mohammed said with a toothy smile: “You load the truck with drugs.”

The ferry that used to operate at Nizhny Panj carried about 40 trucks a day. The bridge can carry 1,000 vehicles daily.

Organized crime groups now are focusing on using official checkpoints to move their drugs, a senior official at the Tajik State Committee for National Security said, speaking to a recent meeting of Central Asian counter-narcotics officers.

“Especially through the Tajik-Afghan bridge on the Panj River,” Davlat Zarifov said.

Zarifov apparently didn’t know that a reporter was present, and he declined further comment and quickly walked away.

To try to get the Tajik government’s side of the story, a McClatchy reporter approached Sherali Mirzo, the official in charge of the country’s border guards, a man with a full mustache and medals across his uniformed chest. Mirzo said he didn’t talk to the media.

Rustam Nazarov, the director of the country’s drug control agency, said in a brief interview that the declining heroin and opium seizures suggested that there was less trafficking of those drugs through Tajikistan, an analysis that the facts on the ground would seem to contradict.

Nazarov, however, did allow that, “There is corruption in Tajikistan; no one denies that. Unfortunately, we have some civil servants who are corrupt.”

A few days later at the Afghan-Tajik border, as the sun began to dip below a horizon framed by jagged mountains, Mohammed Zahir, an Afghan truck driver, gave a simple explanation for how drugs get across the bridge.

“People involved with the drug business know the guards,” Zahir said. “Before sending their drugs across, they pay them money.”

A second driver, Qand Agha, chimed in: “If high officials on the border weren’t involved, then people like me couldn’t take drugs into their country.”

Down the road, a line of trucks was crossing the bridge.


Sitting in a $40,000 SUV with soft leather seats and a dark orange paint job, a man named Negmatullo hitched up his shirtsleeve to show the sore on his arm from the heroin he’d been shooting up. He fiddled with his designer sunglasses, absentmindedly brushed his hair and said in a junkie’s mumble that, “If you pay someone at the border, you can bring drugs up.”

Negmatullo, a thin man with dirty blond hair, had just come out of a drug treatment clinic in the town of Kurgan-Tyube, a halfway point between the border and the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. He asked that his last name not be used for his own security.

When Negmatullo was asked why guards and other Tajik law-enforcement officials would be susceptible to corruption, he rubbed his fingers together and muttered “dengi, dengi,” Russian for “money, money.”

The car’s license plate flashed by as Negmatullo pulled away; it was number 7777, a calling card of those connected to the president’s inner circle.

The spoils of the drug trade are as obvious as the shiny new BMWs speeding down the dusty roads that cut from south to north across the steppes of Tajikistan, passing hunched old men who tend the cotton fields with hoes. It’s an ancient setting: Alexander the Great and his men conquered parts of the territory in the fourth century B.C, and they’re said to have crossed the Panj River by floating on leather hides.

These days, in a nation where some 50 percent of the population makes less than $41 a month, there’s a steady stream of new Mercedes and Lexus sedans, not only in Dushanbe, but also in the hamlets that dot the way to the Afghan border.

Locals say the cars often are given in trade for loads of heroin shipped north to the Russian border. The stuff is easy to get.

“You can just take two bags over your back, walk across the Panj and bring them back filled with heroin. It’s no problem,” said Vazir, a Tajik who was released from a Russian prison last February after he was caught trying to take 600 grams of heroin through a Moscow airport. During an interview in Dushanbe, he asked that his last name not be used because he feared retribution.

Vazir continued: “You can give your bag of heroin to one of the guards, and he will carry it across for you.”


The supply chain appears to reach far beyond hustlers such as Vazir. Many Western officials and Tajik observers suspect that the Rahmon government controls the drug trade.

“I don’t know if the president is involved personally, but he gives the percentages to different groups for what they can do,” said one Western diplomat in Dushanbe, who like others spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of criticizing the regime. “Just go to the airport. There are bags of heroin going through unchecked. . . . People are pretty open about it. There’s more and more a culture of impunity.”

After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Russian troops continued to patrol the Tajik border. They withdrew from the area in 2005 after the Tajik government demanded that they leave — though it allowed them to stay in other parts of the country — asserting that as a sovereign nation Tajikistan was capable of securing its own frontiers.

An assortment of local conscripts replaced the relatively professional Russian contingent, which trained and financed the Tajik officer corps.

“You have conscripts earning maybe $3 a month stretched out over 1,344 kilometers of border” — 835 miles — said another Western diplomat in Dushanbe, discussing the problem of drug dealers paying border guards to look the other way. “It’s obvious that if you need to eat, corruption is an option.”

Some Russian and Western officials said privately that the Tajik government wanted the Russians out of the way to ensure a larger supply of opium and heroin.

It was a move designed to gain “hold of a bigger part of the drug trade,” one Western diplomat in Dushanbe said.

“Frankly speaking, there were forces in the government of Tajikistan who wanted to replace the Russian troops with Tajik troops to allow more holes in the border,” said a Russian official in Moscow who travels regularly to Tajikistan and has high-level contact with the Tajik government. “It was to make the penetration of drugs easier.”

The State Committee for National Security, Tajikistan’s version of the KGB, took control of border enforcement in 2007 and almost immediately barred the country’s Interior Ministry and drug control agency from access to the border region.


When a McClatchy reporter drove to the border at Nizhny Panj to do interviews, troops turned him back because he didn’t have official permission. A border guard supervisor in plainclothes pulled the reporter’s driver aside and suggested in a menacing tone that the driver was a spy. The Tajik government later denied McClatchy permission to visit the southern border.

The reporter resorted to crossing the bridge into Afghanistan with a routine visa, and he saw no evidence that Afghan or Tajik officials were inspecting trucks for contraband.

Despite the public nature of the drug trade and related corruption in Tajikistan, however, the West has done relatively little to pressure President Rahmon.

Some Western officials acknowledge that it’s the result of a political tradeoff: No one wants to risk alienating Rahmon on the issue of drug corruption because his authoritarian regime’s cooperation is important for preventing Islamic militants from using the Tajik-Afghan border as a sanctuary.

“The Americans want to have a logistics base here, so do you think they’re going to pressure the government about corruption?” said William Lawrence, a chief adviser for a U.N. Afghan border-management program based in Dushanbe. “The answer is no.”

The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe declined to comment, but a State Department official said that such balancing acts were common.

“There is always going to be a tradeoff based on different foreign-policy objectives, different security objectives, the tolerance for different types of corruption, different levels of corruption,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol. “I don’t think the situation in Tajikistan, frankly, is that much different than the rest of Central Asia in terms of these types of tradeoffs.”

A second Western diplomat in Dushanbe was more blunt about Western governments ignoring reports on Tajikistan’s official complicity in drug corruption.

“We send reports every month to our capitals, very negative, but they don’t (care),” said the diplomat, whose country has troops in Afghanistan. “Because it’s a so-called stable country leading to Afghanistan, we accept it.”

The diplomat said that his country had funded projects to help train and equip the Tajiks to deal with the drug problem. The United States and other Western nations have done the same.

This month, for example, the U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan broke ground on a $2.5 million project to overhaul the border guard training academy in Dushanbe. The American Embassy said in a recent news release that it had implemented more than $37.5 million of initiatives to help Tajik law enforcement since 1992.

However, the second Western diplomat said, there isn’t much arm-twisting to make sure the Tajik government cracks down.

“We don’t dare to say to the president, ‘We give you money for anti-corruption but the first thing you see on the streets is these police taking bribes,’ ” the diplomat said. “Nobody says, ‘We’ll give you money for border security, but in three years we want to see a reduction in drugs.’ ”


Afghan drug trade thrives with help, and neglect, of officials

Russian advice: More troops won’t help in Afghanistan

Agents say DEA is forcing them illegally to work in Afghanistan

Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy’s Planet Washington

How the Press Covered for the CIA in the Iran-Contra Affair

Black, Paranoid and Absolutely Right

In an excerpt from the new book, “This is Your Country on Drugs”, Ryan
Grim explains how the press covered for the CIA in the Iran-Contra drug scandal that rocked the black community in the 90s.

In the summer of 1996, the San Jose Mercury News broke the story of the connection between L.A. crack dealers and the U.S. funded Nicaraguan Contras. More than a month later, the Washington Post weighed in with a five-story, roughly 10,000-word broadside that ripped the series apart, debunking its central tenets and wondering aloud what it is about black people that makes them so paranoid.

The Post’s editorial board explained that “the shock of the story for many was not simply the sheer monstrousness of the idea of an official agency contributing to a modern-day plague—and to a plague targeted on blacks. The shock was the credibility the story seems to have generated when it reached some parts of the black community.”But it wasn’t their fault they were so gullible, the Post assured in a separate piece, blaming a “history of victimization” that had led to “outright paranoia.”

“It doesn’t matter whether the series’ claims are ‘proved’ true,” read another story. “To some folks—graduates of Watergate, Iran-contra and FBI harassment of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.—they feel so true that even if they’re refuted, they’ll still be fact to them.”

Facts, indeed, are a funny thing. The Washington Post, while it launched its assault on the Mercury News, had facts at its disposal demonstrating that the story was accurate.

The Post’s longtime Central American correspondent, Douglas Farah, was in El Salvador when the story, written by the Mercury News’ Gary Webb, broke, revealing that the Contras, a confederation of paramilitary rebels sponsored by the CIA, had been funding some of their operations by importing cocaine into the United States. One of their best customers was a man named Freeway Rick—Ricky Donnell Ross—then a Southern California dealer who was running an operation that the Los Angeles Times dubbed “the Wal-Mart of crack dealing.”

“My first thought was, ‘Holy shit!’ because there’d been so many rumors in the region of this going on,” Farah said when I interviewed him for a book on the history of drugs in America 12 years later. “There had always been these stories floating around about [the Contras and] cocaine. I knew [Contra leader] Adolfo Calero and some of the other folks there, and they were all sleazebags. You wouldn’t read the story and say, ‘Oh my god, these guys would never do that.’ It was more like, ‘Oh, one more dirty thing they were doing.’ So I took it seriously.”

Farah immediately hit the streets of Managua, which was in the midst of an election, meaning all the players he needed were right there in town. “I had an amazing run of luck where I had rounded up everybody I needed to see in 24 hours,” says Farah, who filed a lengthy exposé confirming and even advancing Webb’s story. “I thought my story was really cool.”

That’s when he ran into trouble. His story was eventually cut and buried—running on page 18 at a mere 948 words.“I did have a long and dispiriting fight with the editors at the Post because … their basic take was that I was dealing with a bunch of liars, so it was one person’s word against another person’s word, and therefore you couldn’t tell the truth. But it was pretty clear to me,” he says. “I wasn’t in general in confrontation with my editors, but this thing was weird and I knew it was weird.”

The probable cause for the downplaying of Farah’s story: It had run headlong into Post national security reporter Walter Pincus, a veteran journalist who had flirted with joining the CIA and who is routinely accused of having been an undercover asset in the ‘50s. Pincus says his role is overblown and that his involvement with a CIA front group was accidental.

“One of my big fights on this was with Pincus,” Farah recalls, “and my disadvantage was that I was in Managua, and he was sitting in on the story meetings and talking directly to the editors. And we had a disagreement over the validity of what I was finding. At the time, I didn’t realize he had been an agency employee for a while. That might have helped me understand what was going on there a bit.”

Webb based his report on court records and interviews with key drug runners. One of them, Danilo Blandón, was once described by Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O’Neale as “the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in the United States.”

Webb had been unable to get Blandón to talk, but the cocaine dealer testified at a trial shortly before the series came out. Blandón wasn’t on trial himself, wasn’t facing any jail time and was in fact being paid by the U.S. government to act as an informant. In other words, he had no obvious incentive to lie to make the United States look bad. Nevertheless, in sworn testimony, he said that in 1981 alone, his drug operation sold almost a ton of cocaine—worth millions of dollars—in the United States, and that “whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going to the Contra revolution.”

Blandón’s boss in the operation was Norwin Meneses, the head of political operations and U.S. fundraising for the Contras. Meneses was known as Rey de la Droga—“King of Drugs”—and had been under active investigation by the U.S. government since the early ‘70s as the California cocaine cartel’s top representative in Nicaragua. The Drug Enforcement Administration considered him a major trafficker, and he had been implicated in 45 separate federal investigations, Webb discovered through government documents. Regardless, Meneses had never served any time in federal prison and lived out in the open in his San Francisco home.

In 1981, Blandón testified, he and Meneses traveled to Honduras to meet Colonel Enrique Bermúdez, the military leader of the Contra army and a full-time CIA employee. “While Blandón says Bermúdez didn’t know cocaine would be the fundraising device they used,” Webb wrote, “the presence of the mysterious Mr. Meneses strongly suggests otherwise.” The reporter drew on court documents and government records to show that anyone remotely involved in, or familiar with, the drug world at the time knew exactly how Meneses went about raising revenue.

Blandón sold the Contras’ product to Ross for prices well-below what other dealers could afford, allowing him to expand his business throughout L.A., then to Texas, Ohio and beyond. Ross told Webb that he owed his rise and his astonishingly cheap coke to Blandón. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been a dope dealer without Danilo,’’ Ross said. ‘‘But I wouldn’t have been Freeway Rick.’’

Pincus brushes off the battle over the Contra story. “Originally, I didn’t do anything about it because I checked it out and didn’t believe it to be true,” he told me. “If you go look at the chronology, I didn’t write about it until the Black Caucus took it up as a serious issue …. To be honest, I can’t remember talking to Doug at the time.”

“I think very highly of Doug Farah. I think he’s an outstanding reporter,” says Robert McCartney, who edited the story. “I don’t remember there being any issue at the time of sort of significant concern over discrepancies in the reporting.”

The Post hadn’t so much discredited Webb’s story about the specific connections between the Contras and Los Angeles dealers, but rather had gone after conclusions that others had drawn about CIA intentions. The two became one and the same and the Post took them both apart.

“This has been a long time, but if I remember correctly, the thesis of Webb’s story was that the CIA deliberately used the Contras to pump crack cocaine into African-American neighborhoods,” says McCartney. Webb hadn’t reported that, but it didn’t matter.

It gets stranger: Pincus says he didn’t actually disagree with Webb’s thesis—that the Contras were running drugs—but rather objected to the idea that the CIA was running drugs. Webb had reported, rather, that the Contras were a CIA-backed army but didn’t pin the trafficking on them directly. “To me, it was no great shock that some of the people the agency was dealing with were also drug dealers. But the idea that the agency was then running the drug program was totally different.”

Pincus’ front-page piece ran at more than 4,000 words and was headlined, “CIA and Crack: Evidence Is Lacking of Contra-Tied Plot.” The evidence, in fact, was not lacking. It was on the editing room floor. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times would also weigh in with stories purporting to debunk Webb’s scoop, but only the Post, as far as I know, did so with independent evidence that backed him up.

Webb’s editor, under pressure, eventually backed off the story. Webb was demoted and sent to a dustbin bureau 150 miles from San Jose. He resigned after settling an arbitration claim and went to work for a small alternative weekly. Over the next several years, his marriage fell apart and his meager wages were garnished for child support. On Dec. 10, 2004, Webb was discovered dead, shot twice in the head with his father’s .38. The local coroner declared the death a suicide.

In 1998, an in-depth investigation by a committee run by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) established that Webb and black Americans suspicious about government complicity in the drug trade, had been, in essence, correct all along.

Yet obituaries in the major papers still referred to his “discredited” series. The Los Angeles Times obit recalls his “widely criticized series linking the CIA to the explosion of crack cocaine in Los Angeles,” noting, “Major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post, wrote reports discrediting elements of Webb’s reporting.” The New York Times ran a five-paragraph Reuters obit that remembered Gary Webb as “a reporter who won national attention with a series of articles, later discredited,” making no mention of the fact that subsequent calls for an investigation were heeded, and that the investigation confirmed a great deal of Webb’s reporting.

“Web of Deception” sat atop media critic Howard Kurtz’s write-up in the Post. “There was a time when Gary Webb was at the center of a huge, racially charged national controversy. That was eight years ago, and it turned out badly for him,” Kurtz began. “The lesson,” he concluded, “is that just because a news outlet makes sensational charges doesn’t make them true, and just because the rest of the media challenge the charges doesn’t make them part of some cover-up.”

Farah, who’s now a consultant on the drug trade with the Department of Homeland Security, speculates that the Post’s proximity to the corridors of power made it beholden to whatever the official line was at the time. He said that he saw a “great deal of weight on what the official response was, whether it was Haiti or El Salvador death squads. There was so much Washington influence that it ends up dominating the story no matter what the reality on the ground was.”

“If you’re talking about our intelligence community tolerating—if not promoting—drugs to pay for black ops, it’s rather an uncomfortable thing to do [report on] when you’re an establishment paper like the Post,” Farah says. “If you were going to be directly rubbing up against the government, they wanted it more solid than it could probably ever be done.”

Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America. He is the senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post.

An excerpt from the book This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America by Ryan Grim.