THE CIA-CONTRA-CRACK COCAINE CONTROVERSY:
A REVIEW OF THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT'S
INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS
Chapter I: Introduction
A. The San Jose Mercury News Articles
On August 18, 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published the first installment of a three-part series of articles concerning crack cocaine, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Nicaraguan Contra army. The introduction to the first installment of the series read:
For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found.
This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the "crack" capital of the world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America . . . and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.'s gangs to buy automatic weapons.
The three-day series of articles, entitled "Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion," told the story of a Los Angeles drug operation run by Ricky Donnell Ross, described sympathetically as "a disillusioned 19-year-old . . . who, at the dawn of the 1980s, found himself adrift on the streets of South-Central Los Angeles." The Dark Alliance series recounted how Ross began peddling small quantities of cocaine in the early 1980s and rapidly grew into one of the largest cocaine dealers in southern California until he was convicted of federal drug trafficking charges in March 1996. The series claimed that Ross' rise in the drug world was made possible by Oscar Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses, two individuals with ties to the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN), one group comprising the Nicaraguan Contras. Blandon and Meneses reportedly sold tons of cocaine to Ross, who in turn converted it to crack and sold it in the black communities of South Central Los Angeles. Blandon and Meneses were said to have used their drug trafficking profits to help fund the Contra army's war effort.
Stories had previously been written about the Contras' alleged ties to drug trafficking. For example, on December 20, 1985, an Associated Press article claimed that three Contra groups "engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua." Rumors about illicit activities on the part of the Contras had also been probed in Senate hearings in the late 1980s. However, the Mercury News series contained -- or at least many readers interpreted it to contain -- a new sensational claim: that the CIA and other agencies of the United States government were responsible for the crack epidemic that ravaged black communities across the country. The newspaper articles suggested that the United States government had protected Blandon and Meneses from prosecution and either knowingly permitted them to peddle massive quantities of cocaine to the black residents of South Central Los Angeles or turned a blind eye to such activity.
The Mercury News later proclaimed that the article did not make these allegations. However, notwithstanding the Mercury News' proclamations, involvement by the CIA and the United States government in the crack crisis was implied through oblique references and the juxtaposition of certain images and phrases in the Dark Alliance articles: the Contras, who purportedly received drug money from Blandon and Meneses, were referred to as the "CIA's army" and links between the CIA and the leadership of the Contra movement were repeatedly emphasized throughout the articles; the stories reported how investigations into Blandon's cocaine operation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were allegedly dropped without cause or shunted aside for unexplained reasons; the articles told how United States prosecutors invoked the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) to prevent certain testimony concerning Blandon from being presented to a jury in the interest of national security during Ross' federal trial; and, from August 1996 until October 1996, the image of a crack smoker silhouetted against the emblem of the CIA was emblazoned on the Mercury News web page carrying the Dark Alliance stories.
The news media picked up on the Mercury News series' insinuation and made it explicit in coverage of the series. On August 20, 1996, the headline of the first article to cover the Mercury News series, published by the Associated Press, stated, "Newspaper Alleges that CIA Helped Spark Crack Cocaine Plague." It was followed by other articles and editorials declaring that the crack cocaine crisis had been created by the CIA and/or agents of the United States government: "CIA's War Against America," (Palm Beach Post, September 14, 1996); "The U.S. Government Was the First Big Crack Pusher," (Boston Globe, September 11, 1996); "Thanks to the U.S. Government, Oscar Blandon Reyes is Free and Prosperous Today; One Man is Behind L.A. Tide of Crack," (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, September 16, 1996).
Critics and commentators would later debate whether the Mercury News articles in fact accused the United States government of being responsible for the nation's crack cocaine epidemic. In an October 2, 1996, Washington Post article, Gary Webb, the reporter who wrote the Dark Alliance series, asserted that the article had not claimed that the CIA knew about Blandon's drug trafficking. The Washington Post article quoted Webb as saying, "We've never pretended otherwise . . . This doesn't prove the CIA targeted black communities. It doesn't say this was ordered by the CIA.. . . Essentially, our trail stopped at the door of the CIA. They wouldn't return my phone calls." Webb would say as late as June 22, 1997, in an interview with The Revolutionary Worker, "We had The Washington Post claim that the stories were insinuating that the CIA had targeted Black America. It's been a very subtle disinformation campaign to try to tell people that these stories don't say what they say. Or that they say something else, other than what we said. So people can say, well, there's no evidence of this, you know . . . You say, well, this story doesn't prove that top CIA officials knew about it. Well, since the stories never said they did, of course they don't."(1)
According to The Washington Post, Mercury News editor Jerry Ceppos stated that he was troubled by the interpretive leap many people made about the article's claims of CIA involvement in the growth of crack cocaine. Ceppos was quoted as saying, "Certainly talk radio in a lot of cities has made the leap. We've tried to correct it wherever we could . . . People [have been] repeating the error again and again and again." Approximately a month and a half after the Dark Alliance series was posted on the Mercury News website, the newspaper changed the introduction to the articles, in apparent recognition that certain wording had contributed to the misunderstanding. Rather than stating:
For the better part of a decade, a Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency . . .
the Dark Alliance website introduction was altered to read:
The Mercury News published a three-part series in late August that detailed how a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the street gangs of South-Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, sending some of the millions in profits to the Contras. The series never reported direct CIA involvement, although many readers drew that conclusion.
Regardless of the intent of the Mercury News, the accusation of government involvement in the crack epidemic had taken root. This dramatic interpretation of the series continued to build with ferocious velocity, especially in black communities, as the Mercury News story attracted the attention of newspapers across the country.
Throughout September 1996, the Dark Alliance series was published in one newspaper after another: the Raleigh News and Observer ran the articles on September 1, 1996; the Denver Post published them on September 13, 1996; the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran them on September 15, 1996; and so on. While many other newspapers did not publish the Dark Alliance series, they carried stories about the sensation created by the series' claims. The story garnered further exposure from television and radio talk show appearances by Gary Webb. Ricky Ross' attorney, Alan Fenster, also made several appearances on television shows to assert that the government, not his client, was responsible for cocaine dealing in South Central Los Angeles.
Many African-American leaders were particularly troubled by the articles, mindful of the frequency with which young black men were being incarcerated for drug offenses. If the Mercury News was right, it appeared that the same government that was arresting so many black men had played a role in creating the drug crisis that precipitated their arrest. This point was emphasized by the Mercury News' Dark Alliance series, which included articles entitled, "War on drugs has unequal impact on black Americans; Contras case illustrates the discrepancy: Nicaraguan goes free; L.A. dealer faces life"; and "Flawed sentencing the main reason for race disparity; In 1993, crack smokers got 3 years; coke snorters got 3 months." The president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP issued the following statement in response to the Dark Alliance series: "We believe it is time for the government, the CIA, to come forward and accept responsibility for destroying human lives." In a letter dated August 30, 1996, Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the House Judiciary Committee conduct investigations of the allegations. The Congressional Black Caucus and many leaders in the black community also insisted upon an investigation into the charges raised by the Mercury News.
B. The Contra Story
As noted above, the Mercury News series was not only a story about the United States government and crack cocaine. It also revisited allegations concerning the Contras and drug trafficking that has been reported upon and investigated for many years. In 1987, the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations began an investigation focusing on allegations received by the subcommittee chairman, Senator John Kerry, concerning illegal gun-running and narcotics trafficking associated with the Contras. A two-year investigation produced a 1,166-page report in 1989 analyzing the involvement of Contra groups and supporters in drug trafficking, and the role of United States government officials in these activities. Allegations of cocaine trafficking by Contras also arose during the investigation conducted by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh into the Iran-Contra affair. Drug trafficking allegations, however, were not the focus of that inquiry and the Walsh report included no findings on these allegations.
The issue of drug trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contras has also been the subject of books: e.g., On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency, by Mark Hertsgaard, 1989; Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, 1991. It was also reported upon in the news media. Following the December 1985 piece mentioned above from the Associated Press, the San Francisco Examiner ran stories in 1986 about Norwin Meneses, Carlos Cabezas (an individual with links to Contra organizations who was convicted in the mid-1980s of drug charges), and drug trafficking by the Contras.
It is undisputed that individuals like Meneses and Blandon, who had ties to the Contras or were Contra sympathizers, were convicted of drug trafficking, either in the United States or Central America. There is also undeniable evidence that certain groups associated with the Contras engaged in drug trafficking. The pervasiveness of such activities within the Contra movement and the United States government's knowledge of those activities, however, are still the subject of debate, and it is beyond the scope of the OIG's investigation, which we describe below. Yet it is noteworthy that, as interesting as the story of Contras and illicit drug deals may be, it was not the catalyst for the public's or the media's interest in the Dark Alliance series. Investigations into the alleged connection between Contras and cocaine dealing were conducted and articles were printed in the late 1980s, at a time when interest in the Iran-Contra story was cresting. Neither those investigations nor the published articles tracking the allegations sparked a firestorm of outrage comparable to that created by the Dark Alliance series. The furor over the Mercury News series was driven by the allegations of the government's complicity in cocaine deals within black communities. If the Dark Alliance series had been limited to reporting on Contras, it seems unlikely that the groundswell of press and public attention would have occurred.
C. Reaction from the Journalism Community
Notwithstanding the Mercury News' explosive allegations, the series did not receive extensive coverage from major newspapers in either August or September 1996. The Los Angeles Times briefly discussed the Mercury News series in several articles in August and September 1996 that covered Ross' postponed sentencing and other events in the Ross trial. Similarly, the Dark Alliance series did not initially receive much television coverage. With the exception of CNN, which ran several pieces on the story in September, and the NBC Nightly News, which ran a piece about the allegations on September 27, 1996, the story received little national television news coverage. By early October 1996, however, that changed.
The Washington Post weighed in first on October 2, 1996, with a short analysis -- "Running with the CIA Story: Reporter Says Series Didn't Go as Far as Readers Took It" -- noting that the allegation of CIA involvement in drug trafficking in the United States had not actually been made in the article. The Washington Post followed-up two days later, on October 4, 1996, with a story entitled, "The CIA and Crack: Evidence Is Lacking of Alleged Plot." The Washington Post piece concluded that "available information does not support the conclusion that the CIA-backed Contras -- or Nicaraguans in general -- played a major role in the emergence of crack as a narcotic in widespread use across the United States." The Washington Post article mainly addressed the Mercury News series' claims about Ross' and Blandon's roles in the growth of crack cocaine. It did not, for the most part, wrestle with the series' claims about drug dealing by the Contras. The Washington Post noted that the series had been selective in its use of Blandon's testimony to support its claims:
The Mercury News uses testimony from Blandon in establishing that Nicaraguans selling drugs in California sent profits to the Contras. But if the whole of Blandon's testimony is to be believed, then the connection is not made between Contras and African American drug dealers because Blandon said he had stopped sending money to the contras by [the time he began selling to Ross].
And if Blandon is to be believed, there is no connection between Contras and the cause of the crack epidemic because Blandon said Ross was already a well-established dealer with several ready sources of supply by the time he started buying cocaine from Blandon.
The Washington Post piece also emphasized apparent contradictions between Ross' and Blandon's accounts. For example, while Blandon claimed to have been a used car salesman in 1982 who on the side sold two kilograms of cocaine for Meneses, Ross said Blandon was instead handling bulk sales of 100 kilograms of cocaine for Meneses at the time. The article did not seek to resolve these issues and merely noted the conflicts.
The Washington Post piece was followed on October 20 and 21, 1996, by two New York Times articles that also found fault with the Mercury News series. One article, "Though Evidence Thin, Tale of CIA and Drugs Has Life of Its Own," primarily reported on the reactions within the black community to the series. The other article, "Pivotal Figure of Newspaper Series May Be Only Bit Player," noted problems with the series' portrayal of Blandon and Meneses. It concluded, after conducting interviews of various unnamed sources:
[W]hile there are indications in American intelligence files and elsewhere that Mr. Meneses and Mr. Blandon may indeed have provided modest support for the rebels, including perhaps some weapons, there is no evidence that either man was a rebel official or had anything to do with the C.I.A. Nor is there proof that the relatively small amounts of cocaine they sometimes claimed to have brokered on behalf of the insurgents had a remotely significant role in the explosion of crack that began around the same time.
After reportedly assigning three editors and fourteen reporters to the story, the Los Angeles Times published its own three-part analysis of the Mercury News piece, which ran from October 20 to October 22, 1996. The Los Angeles Times concentrated on three claims raised by the Mercury News series: 1) that a drug ring related to the CIA had sent millions of dollars to the Contras; 2) that the same drug ring had created a cocaine epidemic in South Central Los Angeles and other United States cities, and 3) that the CIA had approved a plan for the ring to raise money for the Contras through drug trafficking or had deliberately turned a blind eye to the drug ring's activities. The Los Angeles Times found that "the available evidence, based on an extensive review of court documents and more than 100 interviews in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and Managua, fails to support any of those allegations."
The first installment of the Los Angeles Times series was devoted to a discussion of the origins of crack cocaine. It found that crack cocaine existed in Los Angeles long before Ross began selling it. In response to the claim that Ross had played a principal role in bringing cocaine to South Central Los Angeles, it identified several drug dealers from South Central Los Angeles who were contemporaries of Ross and were reputed to have sold similar quantities of cocaine.
The second installment of the Los Angeles Times series explored whether there was in fact a CIA-sanctioned operation that funneled millions of dollars into the Contras. It found no proof that Blandon and Meneses had given millions of dollars to the Contra party and could confirm only that Blandon had given about $50,000. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times article concluded that the Mercury News had arrived at its million-dollar estimate of Meneses' and Blandon's donations based on its own calculations derived from "the volume of cocaine that they were selling, and Blandon's statement that what he sold, he gave to the Contras."(2) Rejecting the Dark Alliance assertion that Blandon had sent profits to the Contras from 1981 to 1986, the Los Angeles Times found, based upon Blandon's testimony, that he had sent profits to the Contras in only one year. The second installment of the Los Angeles Times series also suggested, based on interviews with various CIA officials and former government officials, that CIA involvement in such a scheme was improbable. But the article quoted the chief investigator for Senator Kerry's subcommittee investigation, Jack Blum, as saying that, while the CIA did not have agents selling drugs to fund the Contras, the United States government may have opened channels that helped drug dealers bring drugs into the United States and protected them from law enforcement.
The last installment of the Los Angeles Times series examined the reaction in black communities to the series, particularly the proliferation of conspiracy theories.
The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post articles were criticized by some who believed that the mainstream press was attempting to minimize a story that it had failed to cover. Some accused the papers of erecting strawmen by accusing the Mercury News of making allegations that it had not in fact made: e.g., that the CIA "targeted" communities into which crack cocaine was distributed. Others stated that the major papers had committed the same mistakes it criticized the Mercury News of making: e.g., selectively picking from among available information to support their conclusions, crediting information provided by suspicious sources, and failing to evaluate contradictory evidence.(3)
Despite the major newspapers' mounting criticism of the Dark Alliance series, the Mercury News continued to defend its story. However, in the meantime the paper launched its own investigation of the claims made by the Dark Alliance series. On May 11, 1997, Jerry Ceppos, the Executive Editor of the Mercury News, published the results of the newspaper's analysis of its own series. Ceppos wrote that the story had four short-comings: 1) it presented only one side of "complicated, sometimes-conflicting pieces of evidence"; 2) it failed to identify the estimate of Blandon's financial contributions to the Contra movement as an "estimate"; 3) it "oversimplified the complex issue of how the crack epidemic in America grew," and 4) it contained imprecise language and graphics that fostered the misinterpretation concerning the CIA and crack dealing. Ceppos attributed some of these problems to the newspaper's failure to present conflicting evidence that challenged its conclusions. The column also revealed that the same debate over the correct interpretation of the Mercury News' conclusions found in the press also existed in the Mercury News newsroom:
The drug ring we wrote about inflicted terrible damage on inner-city Los Angeles, and that horror was indeed spread to many other places by L.A. gangs. Webb believes that is what our series said. I believe that we implied much more, that the ring was the pivotal force in the crack epidemic in the United States. Because the national crack epidemic was a complex phenomenon that had more than one origin, our discussion of this issue needed to be clearer.
Some of the reporting on Ceppos' column by the major newspapers failed to recognize that it was not intended as a repudiation of the entire Dark Alliance series. Rather, it was a limited admission that portions of the story had been misleading and should have been subjected to more rigorous editing. Ceppos specifically did not disclaim what he believed were the articles' central allegation -- that a drug ring "associated with the Contras sold large quantities of cocaine in inner-city Los Angeles in the 1980s at the time of the crack explosion there" and that "some of the profits went to the Contras." It is noteworthy, however, that the facets of the article about which Ceppos had the greatest reservations were the articles' most sensational claims -- the way crack cocaine spread in the United States, and the ties between the CIA and the spread of crack.
D. What Did the San Jose Mercury News Articles Allege?
It is difficult to discern which allegations the Mercury News intended to make, in large part because the series is replete with innuendo and implication that verge on making assertions that are in fact never made. Many readers interpreted the series to assert that the CIA and other agencies of the United States government had intentionally funneled crack cocaine into black communities by either permitting or endorsing cocaine trafficking by Blandon and Meneses. Others interpreted the Dark Alliance series to charge that the spread of crack cocaine was the unintended -- but proximate -- result of actions taken by the United States government to promote the Contra war effort. While the series does not allege that there was a deliberate plan to target black communities by the CIA or other agencies of the United States government mentioned in the article (e.g., DEA, U.S. Attorney's Offices, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the articles strongly imply such a plot.
First, the title of the series, "Dark Alliance," is itself ambiguous, since the series fails to identify the parties to the purported "alliance." One interpretation is that it refers to the link between Blandon and Ross. However, another interpretation, bolstered by the repeated mention of the CIA throughout the series, is that the title refers to an agreement between the CIA and drug-trafficking Contras. The web page bearing the "Dark Alliance" title and the image of a crack smoker silhouetted against the CIA emblem strengthened the insinuation. The Dark Alliance story also included leaps of logic that suggested direct CIA involvement in Blandon's trafficking activities. For example, the article notes: "The most Blandon would say in court about who called the shots when he sold cocaine for the FDN was that 'we received orders from the -- from other people.'" An explanation of how the CIA created the FDN from various anti-communist factions immediately follows the quote. The writer's implication is patent: the CIA was giving "orders" to the FDN about cocaine deals.
One oft-quoted portion of the articles relates to a meeting that allegedly occurred in Honduras among Meneses, Blandon, and Enrique Bermudez, a leader of the FDN's military effort. The preceding paragraph in the article recounted how cocaine "has spread across the country . . . turning entire blocks of major cities into occasional war zones." The paragraph that immediately followed reads:
"There is a saying that the ends justify the means," former FDN leader and drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes testified during a recent cocaine trafficking trial in San Diego. "And that's what Mr. Bermudez (the CIA agent who commanded the FDN) told us in Honduras, OK? So we started raising money for the Contra revolution."
The implication of this paragraph, made through its juxtaposition to the discussion of black communities ravaged by cocaine, is that a "CIA agent" decided to raise money for the Contras by any means, including by selling cocaine in black communities. It is noteworthy that the parenthetical reference to Bermudez as a "CIA agent who commanded the FDN" was added by the Mercury News and was not a statement actually made by Blandon. The parenthetical underscores reputed ties between Bermudez and the CIA.
The specter of a government-wide plan to target black communities is raised throughout the article in other ways, but mostly through innuendo. The subtext of the article seems to be: If there was no government plot, why else would an Assistant U.S. Attorney prevent evidence relating to Blandon's drug trafficking from being raised in open court under the claim of protecting classified information during a 1990 federal trial?; how else would Blandon have escaped more vigorous prosecution by the Department of Justice or other prosecutor's offices for drug trafficking?; why else would federal agents descend upon the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to claim evidence obtained in a search of Blandon's home in 1986?; and how else would Meneses escape arrest and prosecution in the United States or be allowed by the INS to freely enter and exit the country? While the allegation of a deliberate government plan was not explicitly made, the drumbeat of questions insinuated a multi-agency, government scheme designed to protect Blandon's illegal activities, which "opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles."
The Mercury News stated repeatedly that the series was not intended to allege a deliberate government scheme to use cocaine dealing in black communities to finance the Contra effort, notwithstanding the logical inference that could be drawn from the series' substance. But while it is true that the articles did not explicitly allege a government conspiracy, the path charted by the Dark Alliance series' trail of implications led to that conclusion. In fact, a prophetic editorial that appeared in the Mercury News on August 21, 1996, the day after the Dark Alliance series finished running in the paper, made just that point. It read:
[T]he CIA-Contra story can only feed longstanding rumors in black communities that the U.S. government "created" the crack cocaine epidemic to kill and imprison African-Americans and otherwise wreak havoc in inner cities.
At times, the Mercury News sent conflicting messages that confounded attempts to correct misconceptions about the article. While the newspaper was disavowing allegations of CIA involvement in the spread of crack, the articles' author was making public comments to the contrary. In an article entitled, "The CIA-crack connection: The story nobody wants to hear: Your worst fears are true -- the CIA did help to smuggle drugs into American ghettos, says an investigative reporter," Webb was asked whether his story had confirmed the suspicion within the black community "that the crack cocaine epidemic might be part of a government conspiracy." He replied:
It confirms the suspicion that government agents were involved. Clearly, when you're talking about drug dealers meeting with CIA agents it does go a long way toward validating this suspicion. There's a grain of truth to any conspiracy theory and it turns out there are a lot of grains of truth to this one. If you want to stretch it to its logical conclusion, the government was involved in starting the crack epidemic, because it was this pipeline that did it. Now we know what we didn't know in the '80's -- which is where they were selling the stuff. We were able to close the circle and show how this affected American citizens, whereas before it was some sort of nebulous foreign policy story. Now we can see the damage. Whether or not these guys were part of our government or just contract agents is unclear.
Further, the newspaper itself was sending mixed messages. An August 21, 1996, Mercury News editorial supported claims of CIA or United States government involvement. The editorial, entitled "Another CIA disgrace: Helping the crack flow," stated:
It's impossible to believe that the Central Intelligence Agency didn't know about the Contras' fund-raising activities in Los Angeles, considering that the agency was bankrolling, recruiting and essentially running the Contra operation. The CIA has a long history of embarrassing the country it is supposed to work for, from the Bay of Pigs in Cuba to the jungles of Vietnam. But no action that we know of can compare to the agency's complicity, however tacit, in the drug trade that devastated whole communities in our own country.
1. In contrast, Webb has made other statements all but stating that the Dark Alliance series did demonstrate CIA involvement in the spread of crack in America. In September 1996, in the immediate wake of the Dark Alliance series, Webb reportedly posted the following comment on the Mercury News electronic bulletin board: "One thing I did want to respond to directly is the writer who claimed there wasn't any 'proof ' of CIA involvement in this thing. That's like saying there's no proof of General Motors involvement in making Chevrolets. I also heard a great line while I was doing a radio show in Florida yesterday: `Now we know what CIA really stands for: Crack in America.'"
2. In a response to a May/June 1997 Columbia Journalism Review article analyzing the Mercury News series, Webb more specifically explained how he arrived at a figure, which he believed to be between $12 million and $18 million: "My stories were about the drug money [Blandon] admitted delivering to Meneses for the FDN. When you look at that cash, the sums are obvious. Blandon told a federal grand jury in 1994 that he sold between 200 and 300 kilos of cocaine for Meneses in L.A. In court, Blandon swore that all the profits from that cocaine went to the contras, and said he was selling it for $60,000 a kilo ... Some might call it an extrapolation to describe $12 million to $18 million as 'millions.' I call it math."
3. See, e.g., Columbia Journalism Review, January-February 1997, at 33.