Don’t Kill the Messenger: Looking Back at the Death of Reporter Gary Webb

Gary Webb

Robert O’Dowd and Tim King

Gary Webb reported treasonous activities within the US govt relating to the Contra rebels and lost his life in a most unusual manner.

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Investigative reporting is not for the faint hearted. Gary Webb, an excellent investigative reporter, was dead eight years on December 10, 2012. Webb’s death from two gun shots wounds to the head was ruled a suicide by Sacramento County coroner Robert Lyons.

The “Dark Alliance” series reported by Webb in August 1996 for the San Jose Mercury News reported that Nicaraguan drug traffickers sold crack cocaine in Los Angeles during the 1980s, and used the drug profits to fund the Contra War Nicaragua.

Could Webb’s reporting may have put him a hit list? Was he writing a follow-up book to Dark Alliance? Be prepared to be labeled a ‘conspiracy nut’ if you tell some that Gary Webb may have been murdered, forced to write a suicide note before another pulled the trigger.

Webb was an experienced reporter with 19 years of working for the print media, including 9 nine years with the San Jose Mercury News. He won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the 1989 California earthquake.

In 1998, Seven Stories Press published Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and The Crack Cocaine Explosion.

Webb wrote about the use of military aircraft to ferry drugs from South and Central America into the U.S. in, “The only air force base near Fort Worth at the time of the alleged drug flights from Ilopango was the now closed Carswell Air Force Base, the home of a Strategic Air Command squadron.”

Allen Paul Rudd, a Colombian drug trafficker turned undercover government informant, described to Federal officials a supply chain that ferried guns to the Colombian cartel, “off-loaded the guns, put cocaine abroad the planes and the cocaine was taken to United States military bases.”

The guns were delivered and sold to the Contras in Nicaragua by the Cartel.” [1]

Webb reported on a 1988 memo from U.S. Attorney Walter E. Furr of testimony from Allen Raul Rudd that the Medellin cartel’s Pablo Escobar told him “had made a deal with Vice President George Bush to supply American weapons to the Contras in exchange for free passage for their cocaine deliveries into the U.S.” [2]

The “proof” according to Escobar was a photo of Bush with another known cartel member standing in front of a suitcase full of money. The alleged photo never showed up and Escobar was killed in a 1993 shootout.

Gary Webb

Other than Rudd’s testimony, there’s no hard evidence to support his allegation.

While this sounds like a tall tale, the Reagan Administration made no secret about their support of the Contras and their opposition to the Sandinistas. The Boland Amendments in the 1980s outlawed assistance to the Contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government.

The Iran-Contra Affair attempted to circumvent Congress by using the profits from the sales of weapons to Iran to fund the Contras. Supplies were air dropped to Contras in Nicaragua.

This all came to an end when a Southern Air Transport C-123K aircraft (a CIA proprietary aircraft) was shot down on a resupply mission in Nicaragua in October 1986. The flight logs found in this aircraft showed a ‘history of involvement with cocaine, the Medellin cartel, and the CIA,” according to Webb.

A Second Impossible Suicide

n January 1991, the Marine Corps Inspector General few into Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro in Orange County, California, immediately before the start of the Gulf air war to investigate the personal misuse of government aircraft on the base. At least, that’s the official story.

Colonel James E. Sabow had a reputation as a straight arrow Marine.  He could toss a football with teenagers waiting for the school in the early morning, but never accept the use of the base to support narcotrafficing activities.

In reality, the IG inspection may have been made to shut down a rogue drug running operation, which used civilian aircraft flown by CIA proprietary airlines to support the Contra War. The Contra War ended in early 1990 and there were no reasons for the base to be used for continuing weapon resupply missions. The ensuing investigation resulted in the relief of two senior Marine officers.

Colonel Underwood, El Toro’s Chief of Staff and Colonel Sabow’s next door neighbor, was forced to retire from the Corps in 1991. The alleged allegations included use of military aircraft for golf juntas. Banned from the base by Brigadier General Wayne T. Adams, The Los Angeles Times quoted Underwood known as “the mayor of the El Toro base during a sometimes stormy four-year stint as chief of staff that he had done nothing wrong in his use of base C-12 Beechcraft planes and Adams had reneged on promises to end the matter quietly.”

Colonel James E. Sabow vehemently objected to allegations that he had personally misused government aircraft.

Colonel Sabow as El Toro’s Assistant Chief of Staff and later Chief of Operations for the Western Area, Marine Corps had to know about the authorized shipment of guns to Central and South American but not the illegal shipment of drugs on return flights into the U.S.  Accused of personal misuse of military aircraft, he refused to go quietly, demanding a courts martial to clear his name. In doing so, he may have unknowingly signed his own death warrant.

Colonel Sabow was found dead on January 22, 1991 by his wife in their quarters at El Toro. At first, it looked like a suicide from a shotgun blast in the mouth. There was no suicide note though, and he gave no indications to his wife and others that he was depressed. A combat Veteran of Vietnam with 221 combat missions, he had faced death many times. Seemingly unconcerned about the eventual outcome of the investigation of the alleged misused of government aircraft, he had tossed a football the morning of his death with neighborhood kids, a common practice he was known for.

The Department of Defense labeled Colonel Sabow’s death a suicide, despite the overwhelming evidence of murder. An independent investigation by Dr. David Sabow, his younger brother, and a court recognized forensic neurologist, and other independent medical experts and scientists, support homicide as the cause of death.

Col Sabow lost a total of one ounce of blood from his suicide blast to the mouth from a shotgun, that is quite obviously because he was already dead, people tend to gush blood from an injury like that.

Before his death, Gary Webb, who may have been writing a follow-up to Dark Alliance, told others that he had received death threats was being followed.

Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson reported “Evidence Begins To Indicate Gary Webb Was Murdered” in an internet article in 2004 that “Webb spoke of death threats, government people around his home.”  

To believe the suicide call, Gary Webb had to shoot himself to death in the head twice.  Surely this has to be a world record.

[1] The only air force base near Fort Worth:  Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, Seven Stories Press, New York. 1996, pg. 251.

[2] Testimony from Allen Raul Rudd: Webb, op. cit., pg. 253.


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Robert O’Dowd served in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings during 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. While at MCAS El Toro for two years, O'Dowd worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated work space in Hangar 296 in MWSG-37, the most industrialized and contaminated acreage on the base. Robert is a two time cancer survivor and disabled veteran. Robert graduated from Temple University in 1973 with a bachelor’s of business administration, majoring in accounting, and worked with a number of federal agencies, including the EPA Office of Inspector General and the Defense Logistics Agency. After retiring from the Department of Defense, he teamed up with Tim King of to write about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps bases (MCAS El Toro and MCB Camp Lejeune), the use of El Toro to ship weapons to the Contras and cocaine into the US on CIA proprietary aircraft, and the murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and others who were a threat to blow the whistle on the illegal narcotrafficking activity. O'Dowd and King co-authored BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-Up. The book is available as a soft cover copy and eBook from See: