Last evening, I attended a virtual lecture on disinformation in which the claim was made that the Russians were responsible for the narrative that the US government created the 1990’s crack epidemic in Los Angeles.
In discussion of the topic however, the presenter did not provide the source for the claim, but related it to the well-known case of Operation Infektion or Denver, in which the KGB had created disinformation that the US had begun the AIDS epidemic as a biological warfare program targeting Black people.
While I had previously researched a hunch that the claim of CIA involvement in the crack cocaine epidemic was Russian disinformation, I was unable to find a Russian source; forcing me to leave it in the ‘unverified’ column. The best I could find was that such claims officially started with American journalist and author Gary Webb, best remembered for his “Dark Alliance” article series (1996) and book (1998).
Riding partly on the lingering antiwar buzz of the Iran-Contra scandal, Webb claimed that CIA involvement in the drug trade stemmed from its cooperation with Nicaraguan Contra fighters seeking to overturn the (Soviet-instilled and KGB-linked Sandinista) government of Nicaragua. (Official retrospective investigations revealed some of these resistance fighters backed by the CIA were involved in drug smuggling activities; but not at the scale which has been alleged by Webb.)
Despite my suspicions about Webb, since I hadn’t ‘cracked the crack story’ as Russian disinformation, I’ve looked into Webb on this blog only so much in the case of his close collaboration with the independent journalist Kristina Borjesson who has been responsible for building a conspiratorial case that the 1996 TWA Flight 800 disaster over Long Island Sound was the result of a missile shootdown – possibly by the US Navy – and was covered up by the FBI.
My conclusions from that research into the 1996 TWA conspiracy theories were that they were more plausibly linked to an Iranian disinformation campaign in retaliation for the 1988 US Navy shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 in Iranian territorial waters – than that of a Russian one.
However, there was also some evidence that (much like the Nicaragua Sandinistas,) the terrorist groups implicated in previous Iranian retaliatory actions for the 1988 accident (such as the PFLP-GC) had strong linkages to the legacy of the KGB.
Another parallel in the work of Webb and Borjesson seems to be that their anti-American perspectives align with some of the first viral conspiracy theories to emerge on the 1990’s worldwide web.
In the case of the TWA 800 narratives, there is acknowledgement that Pierre Salinger had been responsible for amplifying a chain email containing probable Iranian disinformation at a public press conference he called on the subject. It’s been explored as one of the first instances of viral internet misinformation going viral in the mainstream media.
In our “information battle-hardened” world of 2021, such viral internet conspiracies of 1996 as ‘TWA Flight 800 shot down by US Navy’, and the “Dark Alliance” series might have gotten more potential scrutiny as Iranian or Russian information warfare. But in 1996, it seems the acknowledgement was minimal due to presumably what was our societal naivete with such concepts.
As I curiously dug into last evening’s presentations’ unsubstantiated claim about Russian responsibility for the crack cocaine stories, I contacted a noted journalist who was skeptical of Webb’s 1990s work. He dismissed the idea to me that Webb’s stories could likely have been Russian disinformation due to the fact that Russia’s government in 1990s under Boris Yeltsin was ostensibly friendly to America. It was noted however that at the time, the stories were heavily taken up by Maxine Waters and the “alternative press”.
On the surface, this conclusion seems reasonable to me too. There is evidence on the surface to link the TWA Flight 800 story to Iranian disinformation. The US was openly hostile to Iran in the 1990s as opposed to Russia which it was (in retrospect naively) courting as a nascent democracy. Many reports circulated that Iran was likely responsible for TWA Flight 800 if it was terrorism. In this sense, on the surface, we might also wonder if maybe Iran-Contra somehow played a role in the Webb narratives, which could link the story plausibly to the interests of an Iranian disinformation strategy.
However, when we reflect on the history of Russia and active measures today, we can say that there was continuity in KGB-FSB (and GRU) activities, which never truly ceased in the transition from the Soviet Union to the modern Russian Federation. Disinformation was often housed within the secret services. Knowing the below the surface continuity of Russian intelligence activity in the Yeltsin years, the above the surface friendliness of Yeltsin might not mean much.
Why you ask? Putin of course, silly.
The “Aha!” moment for me today in this matter which makes a clear connection to an official Russian strategy in the narrative works of Gary Webb is the knowledge that in the 1990s, Vladimir Putin was personally involved with the development of the Columbian drug trade as revealed by intelligence agents like Alexander Litvinenko as well as the KGB-linked father of Andrii Derkach (in a secretly recorded conversation). This also seems to have been proven in criminal investigations in Germany.
Later, incredibly close connections formed between Russian mafia and figures connected to Russian intelligence who dominated the Cali Cartel, which came to be known in US law enforcement as the “Cali KGB”. Throughout the 1990’s, a number of high profile investigations discovered close Russian cooperation in the building and/or deployment of drug submarines and other illegal drug shipments. Of course, no CIA linked drugs have ever been found.
It does seem quite coincidental to me that at the same time of apparent Russian attempts to enter and dominate the cocaine and heroin trade in the 1990s under the leadership of then-unknown KGB-FSB agent Vladimir Putin – that Gary Webb would simultaneously accuse US intelligence of purposely fomenting the USA crack epidemic, through a system of control which resulted from a clandestine war on a Russian intelligence ally (Sandinistas).
You also have the very similar viral conspiracy theories about TWA Flight 800 which spread in the same internet networks and could be linked to Iran. Webb’s stories opposed support for a group linked to a prior Iranian scandal (Iran-Contra). Despite the legitimate Iranian connections in both cases, both cases demonstrate strong linkages to the Kremlin’s terrorist proxies (The Sandinistas and groups like PFLP-GC).
When you add in Putin, it just looks like more of the same thing we’re dealing with today. Specifically, it looks like Webb’s stories could support a 1990s “active measure” led by Putin to enter the global drug trade, but to blame the US for the Russian activity in the typical “false flag” manner.
Therefore, when considering these false flag narratives (both the crack story and the TWA story), I might increasingly start to lean towards Russian disinformation strategy rather than to the Iranian today as the higher order influence (below the surface), with Iran looking particularly like a (surface) proxy who could have been used to launder internet conspiracy narratives during a time the Russian intelligence services were superficially trying to appear as a potential ally of the US.
While there might not yet be a smoking gun, I think I might be standing on firmer ground logically than Webb when I suggest that he may have had it all wrong. It seems it might be more likely he was a dupe of Russia and that Russia was behind the 1990s crack epidemic and disinformation about it in America than the CIA was.
I guess I’ll be looking more into Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes’ background next and whether as a source for Webb, he could have been some kind of disinformation cutout for Russia.