Historical Article: “Red Light, Green Cash” by Gary Webb

Gary Webb was the fearless American journalist who wrote theDark Alliance series, which put a spotlight on the CIA’s unholy alliance with Nicaraguan anti-communist guerrillas and their drug-trafficking supporters. Webb wasn’t the first journalist to note the Nicaraguan Contras were smuggling drugs into the US while the CIA looked the other way, but he delved deeper and joined the dots in a way no other journalist had done before.

Rather than praise Webb for his ground-breaking work and expand upon his findings, major news outlets – primarily the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Times (the latter two having a long and incestuous relationship with the CIA) – suspiciously began a sleazy campaign aimed at discrediting Webb (LA Times journalists later revealed the Anti-Webb unit established at their paper was known as the Get Gary Webb Team). In their frenzied mission to discredit Webb, these outlets twisted his words, seized upon every possible minor flaw in his story, and even dug up less-than-flattering (and often utterly irrelevant) aspects of his past.

Their mission to discredit Webb succeeded. Instead of standing by their star reporter, the San Jose Mercury News relocated him to an isolated bureau where he was forced to cover trivial local stories. Webb eventually quit the paper, and had trouble finding new employment in an industry that had gone out of its way to destroy him. His marriage disintegrated, he sunk into depression, and on December 10, 2004 he committed suicide.

As award-winning filmmaker Marc Levin notes, “whatever shortcomings there were in Webb’s reporting, his overall thesis was right on target.”

“The idea that the CIA works with drug traffickers and other criminals and sometimes facilitates their operations and protects them as assets in return for their help in defeating our enemies (i.e. Communists during the Cold War and now Islamic fundamentalists) is not ‘an extraordinary claim.’ It’s a fact.”

A fact that was confirmed both by a Commission led by Senator John Kerry and a subsequent CIA internal report. The latter detailed a secret agreement made at the beginning of the Reagan administration between William Casey’s CIA and the Justice Department. It stipulated the CIA didn’t have to report criminal activities of its shady associates, assets and agents (including drug traffickers). As long as these unsavory agents did the CIA’s dirty work, they were protected from the US criminal justice system.

But this arrangement was never revealed to Congress (which is supposed to oversee the intelligence community) until CIA Inspector General Federick Hitz’s report in 1998.

Despite the shocking nature of the CIA revelations, they received much less coverage than the reports discrediting Webb’s journalism. Rather than swallow the proverbial bitter pill and admit their anti-Webb muck-raking was totally uncalled for and ultimately wrong, media outlets instead eagerly diverted the nation’s attention to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

“Red Light, Green Cash”: Gary Webb’s Exposé on Sacramento’s Shady Traffic Camera System

Several months before his untimely passing, Webb got a job with the Sacramento News & Review. His last ever story, “Red Light, Green Cash”, was published on November 24, 2004. The story revealed how local judges routinely upheld traffic violations snapped by unreliable, privately owned red light cameras.

Australian readers wondering about the relevance of a 2004 story from California should note the numerous similarities between the Sacramento situation and the current state of Australian traffic enforcement:

-The inbuilt legal assumption that cameras were technically beyond reproach, despite having previously been found to be flawed (in San Diego in 2001, a judge had even ruled ACS cameras were “untrustworthy and unreliable”).

-Judges convicting people on what was essentially hearsay evidence (as is the case here in Australia, police officers using the equipment were not present when the equipment was allegedly calibrated, and were therefore relying on unverifiable third-party assurances that it was working correctly).

-The arrogant traffic cop who rationalized away his involvement in the extortionist, revenue-raising scheme by claiming it improved road safety;

-The ex-traffic cop who stated forthrightly that the camera system wasn’t about road safety: “It’s about money. That’s why our fines are so high.”

Red Light, Green Cash, the last published article by the brilliant Gary Webb, is freely available at the following link:


N.B. This document is to be used Without Prejudice towards the author. All rights reserved.

Please follow and like us: