Reporter's 'suicide' from two gunshots to head

Garry Webb authored criticized 1996 series that alleged CIA-drug trade link

Former San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb’s death Dec. 10, 2004, was ruled a suicide by the Sacramento, Calif., County Coroner’s Office. The Sacramento Bee reported Dec. 12 that Webb died from two gunshots to the head from a 0.38-caliber pistol, which was owned by his father.

Most media, including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, reported Dec. 13 Webb was killed by a single gunshot to the head.

The Sacramento Bee article said Webb’s ex-wife, Sue Bell, thought Webb had been “distraught for some time over his inability to get a job at another major newspaper.” Sacramento County Coroner Robert Lyons said “It’s unusual in a suicide case to have two shots…but it has been done in the past, and it is, in fact, a distinct possibility.”

Word that Webb suffered two gunshots fueled Internet conspiracy theorists’ chat that Webb was likely killed by government agents or Central American freedom fighters.

Webb authored the controversial three-part news series in August 1996 titled “Dark Alliance,” which examined a drug ring during the 1980s that linked Central Intelligence Agency officials in Central America, a San Francisco drug trafficker and a Los Angeles drug dealer.

According to a Frontline report produced by the Public Broadcasting System, Webb’s series accused the CIA and its operatives of using proceeds from the sale of crack cocaine to support CIA operations in Central America.

The series was highly criticized by other newspapers, including the The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. Webb’s own newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News, later concluded “the series did not meet its standards.”

Webb’s death spurred some support for his series in the media because it prompted calls from elected officials for the CIA to investigate the extent of Webb’s accusations.

In October 1998, CIA Inspector General Frederick R. Hitz issued his findings in the report “Allegations of connections between CIA and the Contras in cocaine trafficking to the United States.” The report reads, “no information has been found to indicate that CIA as an organization or its employees conspired with, or assisted, Contra-related organizations or individuals in drug trafficking to raise funds for the Contras or for any other purpose.”

However, according to a Nov. 9, 1996, article in The Washington Post, Hitz acknowledged he did not investigate specific charges, and that his report was “based almost exclusively on information in CIA files or provided by current or former CIA employees.”

Don Wycliff, public editor for the Chicago Tribune, said in his Jan. 6 column, “I still think Gary Webb had it mostly right.”

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