On March 16, 1998, the CIA’s Inspector General, Fred Hitz, finally let the cat out of the bag in an aside at a Congressional Hearing. Hitz told the US Reps that the CIA had maintained relationships with companies and individuals the Agency knew to be involved in the drug business. Even more astonishingly, Hitz revealed that back in 1982 the CIA had requested and received from Reagan’s Justice Department clearance not to report any knowledge it might have of drug-dealing by CIA assets.
With these two admissions, Hitz definitively sank decades of CIA denials, many of them under oath to Congress. Hitz’s admissions also made fools of some of the most prominent names in US journalism, and vindicated investigators and critics of the Agency, ranging from Al McCoy to Senator John Kerry.
The involvement of the CIA with drug traffickers is a story that has slouched into the limelight every decade or so since the creation of the Agency. Most recently, in 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published a sensational series on the topic, "Dark Alliance", and then helped destroy its own reporter, Gary Webb.
In Whiteout, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair finally put the whole story together from the earliest days, when the CIA’s institutional ancestors, the OSS and the Office of Naval Intelligence, cut a deal with America’s premier gangster and drug trafficker, Lucky Luciano.
They show that many of even the most seemingly outlandish charges leveled against the Agency have basis in truth. After the San Jose Mercury News series, for example, outraged black communities charged that the CIA had undertaken a program, stretching across many years, of experiments on minorities. Cockburn and St. Clair show how the CIA imported Nazi scientists straight from their labs at Dachau and Buchenwald and set them to work developing chemical and biological weapons, tested on black Americans, some of them in mental hospitals.
Cockburn and St. Clair show how the CIA’s complicity with drug-dealing criminal gangs was part and parcel of its attacks on labor organizers, whether on the docks of New York, or of Marseilles and Shanghai. They trace how the Cold War and counterinsurgency led to an alliance between the Agency and the vilest of war criminals such as Klaus Barbie, or fanatic heroin traders like the mujahedin in Afghanistan.
Whiteout is a thrilling history that stretches from Sicily in 1944 to the killing fields of South-East Asia, to CIA safe houses in Greenwich Village and San Francisco where CIA men watched Agency-paid prostitutes feed LSD to unsuspecting clients. We meet Oliver North as he plotted with Manuel Noriega and Central American gangsters. We travel to little-known airports in Costa Rica and Arkansas. We hear from drug pilots and accountants from the Medillin Cocaine Cartel. We learn of DEA agents whose careers were ruined because they tried to tell the truth.
The CIA, drugs … and the press. Cockburn and St. Clair dissect the shameful way many American journalists have not only turned a blind eye on the Agency’s misdeeds, but helped plunge the knife into those who told the real story.
Here at last is the full saga. Fact-packed and fast-paced, Whiteout is a richly detailed excavation of the CIA’s dirtiest secrets. For all who want to know the truth about the Agency this is the book to start with.
It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Alexander Cockburn, our good friend and staunch comrade, a wonderfully gifted writer and courageous journalist. We were privileged to publish half a dozen of his books, each major contributions to the culture and politics of the Left. Corruptions of Empire, published in 1988, displayed the impressive range of his writings, from trenchant indictments of imperialism and biting satire of liberal humbug to lyrical memories of his childhood and sardonic observation of the ruling order. Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon, written with Susanna Hecht, remains an exemplary account of a ravaged planet. Washington Babylon, written with Ken Silverstein, is a classic exposé of US politics and business. Each of these books went through many editions.
Across more than four decades Cockburn was a relentless and prophetic opponent of US militarism—his brothers Patrick and Andrew ensured that Alexander’s polemics were very well informed. We were proud to publish such works as Imperial Crusades (2004), written with Jeffrey St Clair and exploring the interconnections of the US wars of intervention. Alexander wrote for a wide spectrum of publications, with columns at different epochs in the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal as well as the Village Voice (in its heyday) and the Nation. ‘Press Clips’ in the Village Voice set new standards for scrutiny of print and broadcast media. Alexander’s ‘Beat the Devil’ column in the Nation ran for nearly three decades and established him as the most radical, literate, consistent, uncompromising—and witty—voice of the Left in the United States. Cockburn was a long-time editor of the London-based New Left Review. In the 1990s, with Jeffrey St Clair, Alexander founded Counterpunch, the much-consulted political newsletter and website. The response to 9/11 was soon to show the necessity for independent media outlets. At some future date we hope to contribute to an appropriate memorial to ‘Alexander the Brilliant’ - as Edward Said once called him. In the meantime, all our sympathy goes out to his cruelly-bereaved family and friends.