DARK ALLIANCE is Gary Webb’s investigation of the evolution of an international drug ring with ties to the CIA and the Nicaraguan Contras. A saga that has lasted more than twenty years, the story features convoluted and secretive trails of money and drugs as well as equally twisted relationships between the CIA operatives, the Contras, and crack cocaine distributors. It is all chronicled by Gary Webb in the following timeline.
June 2—Nicaraguan crime boss Norwin Meneses, who will become the leader of an international drug ring, is arrested and jailed in connection with the murder of Nicaragua’s top Customs official. His brother, Gen. Edmundo Meneses, chief of Managua’s police department believed to have been a CIA asset who coordinated couterinsurgency movements throughout Latin America in the 1970s, investigates and clears Norwin.
Spring—FBI and DEA reports together show that Norwin and Ernesto Meneses are smuggling large quantities of cocaine into the United States via commercial airliner. The DEA believes Norwin is dealing cocaine from Colombia and selling it in San Francisco and Miami. Norwin’s nephew, Jaime Meneses, is distributing the cocaine in San Francisco.
Sept. 29—Gen. Edmundo Meneses dies of wounds after being machine-gunned in Guatemala City two weeks earlier by Sandinista supporters.
June—Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandón, who would later become Los Angeles’s biggest cocaine trafficker, separately flee Nicaragua for the United States.
July 1—International cocaine conference opens in Lima, and North American scientists get first-hand reports about cocaine smoking craze in Peru.
July 17—Nicaragua falls to Sandinista rebels. Dictator Anastasio Somoza and about 100 others are airlifted to Homestead AFB in Florida.
July 19—Congress convenes cocaine hearings and receives first warnings of oncoming cocaine smoking epidemic.
December—”Freeway” Ricky Ross, an illiterate teenager from South Central L.A., sees his first rock of crack.
August—Former Nicaraguan National Guard Colonel Enrique Bermúdez goes onto CIA payroll and heads to Guatemala to take over command of the Legion of September 15, a violent gang of ex-Guardsmen and mercenaries, the forerunners of the Contras.
Sept. 17—Anastasio Somoza assassinated in Ascuncion, Paraguay.
October.-November.—Small groups of pro-Contra Nicaraguans meet in Miami to form the UDN-FARN Contra army, which buys some weapons and radio equipment.
Nov. 4—Reagan elected President.
Mar. 9—Reagan signs “finding” to begin destabilizing the Nicaraguan government. CIA gears up for covert actions.
Mid-year—Ricky Ross and his friend Ollie Newell begin selling small amounts of powder cocaine in South Central L.A., which they get from a teacher.
Aug. 10—At the CIA’s behest, UDN-FARN and the Legion of Sept. 15 form the FDN and move their base of operations to Honduras.
Nov. 23—Reagan signs NSDD #17, authorizing the CIA to spend $19.95 million to set up the Contras, a paltry sum to fund such an ambitious project.
December—FDN begins setting up support committees in various U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Houston, and Miami.
December—Blandón and Meneses “start the Contra revolution” in California. They meet with Bermúdez in Honduras to figure out how to raise money for the Contras. On return to U.S., Blandón picks up two kilos from Meneses in San Francisco and begins selling drugs in L.A.
Jan. 23—Ex-fighter pilot Carlos Cabezas is recruited in San Francisco to sell cocaine for the Contras. Obtains it from Contra supporters in Costa Rica working for Meneses.
Mid-year—Crack cocaine starts appearing in noticeable quantities on streets of South Central. Ricky Ross begins buying cocaine from Nicaraguan subordinate of Danilo Blandón.
September—Former Sandinista Edén Pastora unites with the UDN-FARN commander “El Negro” Chamorro to form ARDE, the main Contra army in Costa Rica.
Oct. 22—CIA gets information that Contras, Meneses aide Pena Cabrera, and unnamed religious group will meet in Costa Rica to discuss arms for drugs.
Nov. 8—FBI identifies Meneses lieutenants Troilo Sánchez, Fernando Sánchez and Horacio Pereira, Contra supporters operating out of Costa Rica, as sources of cocaine for San Francisco drug ring.
Late year—Ricky Ross begins marketing pre-made crack “ready rock” to other dealers.
Early—Ross’s drug enterprise has become so large he begins buying his cocaine directly from Blandón. This substantially reduces his costs, which he passes on to his customers, thereby helping to spread crack even more liberally throughout South Central L.A.
Jan. 17—Colombian freighter docked in San Francisco is raided and 430 pounds of cocaine are seized, breaking open the “Frogman Case,” the first documented instance of Contra drug dealing in the U.S. Carlos Cabezas and other Contra supporters are arrested soon after.
Summer—Crack market in South Central explodes.
Sept. 19—Reagan signs another secret finding, this one authorizing money and CIA help for paramilitary operations against the Sandinistas. Authorizes $19 million for fiscal year 1984.
Mar. 5—Norwin Meneses begins his conspiracy to distribute cocaine in San Francisco, according to a secret indictment.
May—Contras run out of money.
June 4—Norwin Meneses pays for a dinner party in San Francisco in honor of CIA agent Adolfo Calero, the political boss of the Contras. Meneses and Calero have a series of private meetings over the next few months.
July 30—CIA is told evidence in Frogman case links CIA operatives in Costa Rica to U.S. drug traffickers. Agency scrambles to keep information from public and returns $36,000 to convicted drug dealer.
Oct. 10—Congress votes to cut off all funding for the Contras.
Nov. 26—FDN official and Meneses’s nephew are busted in San Francisco for cocaine trafficking.
Dec. 5—CIA is informed that Meneses and Contra leader Sebastian “Guachan” González are involved in drug dealing and arms trafficking in Costa Rica.
March—DEA is told Chepita and Danilo Blandón are “members of a cocaine trafficking organization.” Soon, U.S. State Department grants both political asylum. By this time, Blandón reports, he and Ross are moving upwards of 100 kilos a week.
Apr. 4—Jairo Meneses implicates his uncle in drug trafficking, yet no charges are filed. Norwin soon moves to Costa Rica and goes to work for the DEA.
September—DEA identifies Blandón has the head of a cocaine distribution organization in Los Angeles. No action is taken.
September—Panamanian doctor Hugo Spadafora, a Contra leader, meets three times with DEA agent Robert Nieves in Costa Rica, reportedly to accuse Contra leader “Guachan” Gonzalez and Manuel Noriega of drug trafficking. A week later, Spadafora is decapitated.
Dec. 20—Brian Barger and Robert Parry write story for Associated Press saying Contras are dealing in cocaine and running guns. Story is largely ignored by the American press.
Mid-April—Guatemalan DEA agent Celerino Castillo III gets telegram from DEA agent Robert Nieves in Costa Rica that says Contras are involved in drug smuggling out of Hangars four and five at Ilopango in El Salvador.
June—Crack problem “discovered” by the mainstream press after college basketball player Len Bias and pro football player Don Rogers die of overdoses.
June 25—House approves $100 million Contra aid package by 221-209 vote. Senate approves it two months later.
Aug. 25-27—DEA agents in southern California debrief confidential informant inside Blandón’s operation and are told that cocaine sold in South Central is financing the Contras. L.A. County Sheriff’s office begins investigation and discovers FBI has same information.
Oct. 5—Cargo plane used by Oliver North’s illegal Contra resupply effort is shot down over Nicaragua.
Oct. 27—Blandón’s house and used car lot and a dozen other locations are raided by the L.A. County Sheriff, FBI, IRS, and Bell police. Detectives told by one suspect and Blandón’s lawyer that CIA is involved. Reagan signs bill authorizing CIA to spend $100 million on Contras.
Nov. 3—Iran arms story breaks in Beirut magazine. Two weeks later Attorney General Ed Meese and Reagan hold press conference to admit Contra diversion scheme. Iran-Contra scandal erupts.
Dec. 10—All charges against Blandón stemming from drug raid are dropped and he applies for permanent residence in U.S.
Dec. 13—Former Contra mercenary Steven Carr is found dead of a drug overdose in Los Angeles, shortly before he was to testify about Contra drug and arms dealing in Costa Rica.
Dec. 27—Assistant U.S. attorney assigned to Blandón case allegedly commits suicide in Los Angeles soon after Blandón case is rejected for prosecution in Washington, D.C.
Jan. 12—LAPD and County Sheriff form Freeway Rick Task Force.
Jan. 21—San Francisco Contra supporter Dennis Ainsworth contacts the FBI and tells them that the FDN “has become more involved in selling arms and cocaine for personal gain than in a military effort to overthrow the current Sandinistas.”
Spring—Blandón leaves L.A. and moves to Miami. FBI discontinues its investigation. Ricky Ross leaves L.A. a couple months later and Freeway Rick Task Force disbands.
November—George Bush is elected President.
March 23—Sandinistas and Contras sign truce at Sapoa.
July 7—Ross indicted in Texas on cocaine conspiracy charges.
Nov. 5—Ross moves back to L.A. from Cincinnati.
Feb. 8—Norwin Meneses is indicted by a federal grand jury in San Francisco for acts committed in 1984 and 1985. An arrest warrant is issued the same day. Both are put under seal and never made public in U.S.
June—Ricky Ross is indicted in Cincinnati.
Sept. 1—FBI sting in L.A. snares several members of Blandón raid team and Freeway Rick Task Force.
Late—Blandón returns to Southern California and resumes cocaine dealings.
Nov. 28—Ross arrested in L.A. on Cincinnati warrant and jailed.
March—DEA San Diego begins investigation of Blandón.
July 21—Undercover DEA agents meet with Blandón, who mentions that he is “due to receive $1 million dollars back from the U.S. government.”
Sept. 6—Ross pleads guilty to drug charges in Cincinnati.
Oct. 16—Defense lawyer in FBI police corruption sting tells press about Blandón and the 1986 raids, and claims CIA involvement in drugs. Attorney hit with gag order by federal judge.
Feb. 8—Ross is sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
June 13—Blandón is audio- and videotaped negotiating a 50-kilo drug deal with a DEA informant.
August—Ricky Ross begins testifying against police in the L.A. corruption trials.
November—Nicaraguan police arrest Norwin Meneses and aides and seize 725 kilos of cocaine.
Dec. 9—Blandón arrested on conspiracy and drug charges by LAPD but the charges are dropped at the request of the Justice Department.
May 15—Blandón and his wife are arrested in San Diego at the INS offices where they went to pick up Chepita’s green card.
August—Norwin Meneses convicted of cocaine trafficking in Nicaragua. Sentenced to 30 years, which he is currently serving in Tipitapa Prison.
Oct. 13—Blandón cuts a deal with government, which reduces a probable life sentence to 48 months in jail.
August—Ricky Ross released from federal prison after serving four years and starts rebuilding old theater in South Central.
Nov. 10—Ross is convicted of old conspiracy case to deliver a controlled substance in Smith County, Texas, and returns to jail.
August 12—DEA targets Ross for drug sting, a few weeks before he is released from prison.
Sept. 19—Blandón walks out of jail on the arm of an INS agent, a free man.
October—Blandón, now a DEA informant, begins negotiating a drug deal with Ross.
March—Ross arrested in DEA sting.
July—Gary Webb begins investigation of Blandón and Contra cocaine dealing, learns of drug sales to Ross in South Central.
October—DEA agents meet with Webb to dissaude him from writing about Blandón. Two weeks later, former Costa Rican DEA agent Nieves resigns from top DEA position.
November—DEA alerts CIA that Webb is investigating Contra drug dealing and is trying to locate Meneses, who DEA expects will admit Contra drug dealing.
March—Ross goes on trial in San Diego and is convicted. Blandón testifies as prosecution witness, admits Contra drug dealing.
August—”Dark Alliance” series appears in San Jose Mercury News.
September—CIA and Justice Dept. launch internal investigation of “Dark Alliance” allegations.
October—Ross sentenced to life without parole.
November—Then-chief of the CIA, John Deutsch, makes an unprecedented trip to South Central L.A. to respond to public outrage over “Dark Alliance” allegations.
May-June—Mercury News editor Jerry Ceppos recants some findings of “Dark Alliance” series. Webb disagrees with Ceppos and is yanked off the story and reassigned to a bureau 150 miles from his home.
Nov. 19—Webb quits Mercury News.
December—Attorney General Janet Reno refuses to release a declassified report by the Justice Dept.’s Inspector General on the U.S. government’s handling of Blandón and Meneses investigations.
January—CIA declassifies and releases one volume of a two-volume report on its internal investigation of Contra drug dealing. Volume two is still classified.
March—CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz tells Congress that CIA had secret deal with Justice Dept. from 1982 to 1995 which permitted the agency to avoid reporting cases of drug trafficking by its agents and assets.