Gary Webb's Last Story:
The Killing Game

by Ellen Komp

When investigative reporter Gary Webb was found dead of a gunshot wound on December 10, 2004 the initial reports all called it an apparent suicide, despite the fact that no crime scene details or reasons why Webb would have taken his own life were revealed. The LA Times, which led what called "damage control for the CIA" on Webb's San Jose Mercury News series linking the CIA with drug trafficking, broke the story of Webb's death on Sunday and all news outlets dutifully followed suit with their reports.

The Sacramento coroner's office, which has been deluged with phone calls about the incident, confirmed that Webb had been shot two times in a statement released the following Tuesday. The Sacramento Bee interviewed Webb's ex-wife, Sue Bell, who said that Webb had been despondent over his inability to get a job with a major newspaper and the theft of his motorcycle just before his death helped push him to suicide, in her opinion. The Bee reported Webb had paid for his own cremation earlier this year, had just sold his house because he was unable to meet mortgage payments, and shot himself with his father's .38 caliber gun.

Ed Smith, spokesperson for the Sacramento coroner's office, said by telephone that the office would release no further information until the case is closed, in perhaps two months' time. Smith said that it is not uncommon for suicide victims to be shot twice, but would not say where the bullets pierced Mr. Webb or if his fingerprints were found on the weapon. According to Smith, no sheriff's investigator has been assigned to the case and it was a Sacramento patrol officer who reported Mr. Webb's death to the coroner.

Ray Horton of the Humboldt County coroner's office said in an interview for KMUD radio in Redway that "the flags go up" at his office when a suicide victim is shot twice. Two-shot suicides almost always involve smaller caliber weapons, Horton said, adding that the fact that a .38 was used in Webb's death "should be highly suspicious."

Webb, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, was most famous for writing that Nicaraguan drug traffickers had sold tons of crack cocaine in Los Angeles and funneled millions of dollars in profits to the CIA-supported Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980s. As was Senator John Kerry before him, Webb was discredited for his investigations, even though a report by the CIA later confirmed them. In 1997, then-Mercury News executive editor Jerry Ceppos backed away from Webb's series, and later received an ethics award from the Society of Newspaper Editors. After quitting the newspaper in December 1997, Webb continued to defend his reporting with his 1999 book "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion." remarks that Webb joins artist Mark Lombardi, J.H. Hatfield (author of "Fortunate Son"), and journalist Danny Casolaro as the fourth 'suicide' by a researcher "who had a detailed understanding of the structure and function of the Bush Crime Family."  But liberal commentators from the Nation to Counterpunch discounted such talk, wondering aloud why Webb would be targeted so long after his explosive series was published.

Webb was most recently employed by the Sacramento News and Review as a reporter for their Chico weekly. Chillingly, Webb's last article for that paper was a cover story that ran on October 21, 2004 titled "The Killing Game." It was an expose of the US Army's development of video games that simulate warfare and its use of them to recruit young warriors.

According to Webb's article, the Army and civilian directors of a Navy think tank at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey joined together in 1999 to develop "America's Army," an online computer game used to attract computer gamers into the military.

America's Army was released to the public on the July 4, 2002 (the first fourth of July after 9/11). There are now more than 4 million registered users of the game, mostly 13- and 14-year-olds, more than half of whom have completed the required preliminary weapons training and gone online to play. The Army says the game has 500 fan sites on the Web, and recruiters have been busy setting up local tournaments and cultivating an America's Army "community" on the Internet.

According to Webb's article, the Army has been collecting player information in a vast relational database system called "Andromeda" that recruiters will be able to use to look up a player's statistics if one of them shows up in a recruiting office. Currently, Army game developers are in the process of creating a statistics-tracking system that can tell how much time a player spends online, how many kills he's made, which battlefields he's best at, how many kills he averages an hour and similar minutiae.

"Suppose you played extremely well, and you stayed in the game an extremely long time," military economist Col. Casey Wardynski told Webb. "You might just get an e-mail seeing if you'd like any additional information on the Army."

Through an exclusive long-term contract the Army signed with the French software company Ubisoft, America's Army will be out in a "console" version, for use with Xbox and Sony game machines. Currently, it is playable only on high-end PCs, "which reaches a certain demographic for household income," Wardynski tells an interviewer. "We'd like to reach a broader audience, and consoles get you there. For every PC gamer, there are four console gamers." Also in the works, he says, are an America's Army clothing line, comic books and toy action figures.

When American's Army was released, Webb reported, Miami attorney Jack Thompson went on ABC News and threatened to seek an injunction, saying it wasn't the government's job to provide kill 'em games to youngsters. "He was deluged with angry e-mail and allegedly received death threats," the article states.

In an interview by telephone, Thompson said he reported death threats he received by email through chatrooms to America's Army website administrators after he appeared on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings in 2002. He called those idle threats, but opined, "I wouldn't be surprised if DOD and/or the video game industry had [Webb] killed... A lot of money and power is at stake." The commercial video game industry is grossing $15 billion yearly, according to Thompson.

Thompson recently wrote a letter to Sen. John McCain calling for the ouster of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld because of his support of the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICI) at the University of Southern California (USC). Thompson writes, "It is now known that ITC has taken taxpayer dollars and created an urban warfare virtual reality simulator for our soldiers a) which is being sold as a commercial game to civilian teenagers, with Rumsfeld's approval, and b) and which is being used by foreign terrorists to train their operatives to repulse our troops in Iraq."

On November 20, USC announced it received a second five-year grant for ICI, with the U.S. Army more than doubling its support to $100 million. The endowment represents the largest research grant ever received by USC. With the $45 million the University has spent since 1999, it developed two games, Full Spectrum Command (PC) and Full Spectrum Warrior (Xbox), which has since become a top-selling consumer game. Imbued with a high level of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, both games contain features tailored to the Army's training methods and were developed with teaching personnel at the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, according to a USC press release.

In a bizarre coincidence, as reports of Webb's death were circulating, Oracle software announced it finally succeeded in its hostile takeover of PeopleSoft. Webb had worked for the state of California as a member of an audit committee investigating former Gov. Gray Davis' controversial award of a $95 million no-bid contract to Oracle Corp. in 2001. Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, was quoted in Webb's obituaries around the state as a fellow member of that committee.

During the lead up to the announcement of the Scott Peterson death penalty verdict on Monday, Fox News ran an interview with Oracle chief Larry Ellison claiming the US economy is on the upswing, while the news runner at the bottom of the screen attempted to debunk stories run by all the major networks that Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned. Fox's Bill O'Reilly reportedly told his former producer that critic Al Franken "would get a knock on his door" someday. What passes for news and the thuggery that accompanies it in the wake of Gary Webb's passing is even more chilling than his death.

Robert Parry, who published an article on Webb at, also makes the case on that site for liberals to support independent media. Webb's tragic apparent suicide makes it very clear that this is desperately needed.

See Webb's last story at

By Ellen Komp © updated 12/17/04