#223 Drug War Finances Terrorism

Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2001
Subject: #223 Drug War Finances Terrorism

Drug War Finances Terrorism


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #223 Tuesday October 16, 2001

The all too real threat of international terrorism makes the $50
billion war on some drugs seem ludicrous in comparison. Reasonable
people will agree that mass murder and consensual vices are two very
different things. With the war on terrorism now the number one
national security priority, drug warriors are seeking to capitalize on
the nation’s tragedy in order to minimize the inevitable shift in
resources. We cannot stand idle while drug war profiteers attempt to
link the war on terrorism to the war on drugs in the public’s mind.
Now is the time to make clear to Americans that patriotism and
opposition to the drug war are not mutually exclusive.

As reformers, we need to be supportive of a war on terrorism that
enjoys overwhelming public support, while tactfully pointing out the
potential collateral damage of a war on drugs that is viewed as a
failure by a majority of Americans. Potential LTE talking points
include the following:

* Dropping the zero tolerance approach to drugs and implementing
demand reduction strategies like prescription heroin maintenance for
existing addicts will do more to undermine the Taliban than the failed
drug war.

* The Taliban have already voluntarily limited production in order to
increase the value of their current opium stockpile. A further
intensification of the drug war threatens to provide the brutal
Taliban regime with additional price supports.

* Drug warriors have spent billions trying to eradicate coca and
heroin in South America. It’s had the perverse effect of empowering
communist guerilla movements by limiting supply of illegal drugs while
demand remains constant. The various armed factions tearing Colombia
apart are financially dependent on the U.S. drug war.

* Separating the hard and soft drug markets via marijuana regulation
is critical. As long as marijuana remains illegal, consumers of the
most popular illicit drug will continue to come into contact with
sellers of harder drugs.

* The vast majority of illicit heroin produced in Afghanistan is
consumed in Europe. The unlikely possibility of a successful
eradication campaign could potentially lead to a massive crime wave on
the European continent when desperate addicts increase criminal
activity to feed desperate habits.

* As long as the drug war continues to generate inflated black market
profits, any fringe group with a militant agenda can tap into the
black market to fund terrorist activities.

Please write a letter to the USA Today and explain that the drug war
is part of the problem, not the solution. If possible, take care to
include support for the war on terrorism. It’s critical that the two
are de-linked.


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Contact Info:

Source: USA Today (US)
Contact: editor@usatoday.com



Pubdate: Tue, 16 Oct 2001
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Page: 1A – Front Page – Cover Story
Contact: editor@usatoday.com
Website: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nfront.htm
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/466
Authors: Donna Leinwand, Toni Locy and Vivienne Walt, USA TODAY
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?203 (Terrorism)


As American bombers continue to pound Taliban facilities in
Afghanistan, U.S. officials say the campaign against the
terrorist-friendly regime inevitably will target its biggest
moneymaker: a vibrant drug network that supplies more than 70% of the
world’s opium. Authorities in the USA and Europe already have frozen
an estimated $24 million in assets linked to Osama bin Laden, his
al-Qa’eda terrorist network and the Taliban. But the American-led
effort is just beginning to put a dent in a drug trade that U.S.
officials believe nets the Taliban up to $30 million a year in taxes
and tolls that it collects from Afghan drug rings.

The opium continues to flow from Afghanistan, U.S. officials say, even
though the Taliban last year vowed to ban opium cultivation and to
direct farmers toward crops that would help feed millions who live in
poverty. Taliban leaders declared that heroin, which is derived from
opium, was anti-Islam.

The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan’s opium crop seems to
have dropped by more than 90% this year from the nearly 3,300 metric
tons produced in 2000. But now the Taliban either is unwilling or
unable to enforce the opium ban, which U.S. and U.N. officials say
appears to have been largely a ploy to drive up opium prices by
limiting the supply.

U.N. officials say that for the past several years, Afghan drug rings
have been stockpiling about 60% of their annual opium harvests. Those
reserves, which intelligence sources say were being held in at least
40 warehouses throughout Afghanistan earlier this year, have been a
financial safeguard for the Taliban. U.S. officials suspect the
reserves also have been part of an effort by the Taliban and drug
groups to control heroin prices worldwide, just as oil cartels
manipulated crude prices in the 1970s.

If that was the Taliban’s strategy, it worked – for a

In July 2000, when the Taliban told Afghan farmers to stop growing
opium or risk execution, a kilogram of the drug sold for about $44
wholesale, the U.N. says. A year later, a kilogram cost $400. But
since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the USA, opium prices have
plummeted and now are back below $100 a kilogram. Still, street prices
for heroin across Europe have remained low, an indication that
Afghanistan likely has kept the supply of opium steady by releasing
its reserves. U.S. and U.N. analysts say that Afghan drug rings now
are dumping some opium reserves onto the market in an effort to empty
warehouses before U.S.-led air raids can destroy them.

“When there is a war, everyone tries to convert everything into cash,”
says Mohammad Fallah, head of the drug-control program in neighboring
Iran, where anxious officials say the bombing in Afghanistan is likely
to create waves of opium smugglers trying to cross the border.

Iran is a popular thoroughfare for smugglers traveling from
Afghanistan to western Europe, where officials say most of the heroin
on the streets originates in Afghanistan. (About 5% of the heroin from
Afghanistan winds up in the USA, where most of the heroin comes from
Mexico and Colombia.)

Analysts say the importance of drug money to the Taliban offers U.S.
officials the chance to launch a major strike against the worldwide
heroin trade as part of their anti-terrorism campaign.

U.S. officials “realize that the (drug) money is critical” to the
Taliban, says Neil Livingstone, author of several books on terrorism
and chairman of Global Options, an international risk management
company in Washington, D.C. “Afghanistan has no means of supporting
its military, except with opium (sales). Everyone recognizes the need
to go after the opium.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has declined to say how or when U.S.
forces might do that.

“The heroin trade is ultimately very important (to U.S. anti-terrorism
efforts) because it’s a revenue source for a very dangerous regime,”
says Asa Hutchinson, administrator of the Drug Enforcement
Administration. “Without curtailing the heroin trade, you cannot
succeed in Afghanistan.”

An Opium Nation

In a rugged, mostly barren nation of 27 million people that has been
decimated by war, poverty and drought, opium dominates not just the
economy but everyday life. It is grown in 22 of Afghanistan’s 30
provinces, and for struggling farmers across the nation the poppy
literally has been a lifesaver.

Opium has been in Afghanistan for centuries, but became an economic
force only after the end of Afghanistan’s 10-year war with the Soviet
Union in 1989. That conflict, along with an ongoing civil war,
destroyed Afghanistan’s crop irrigation system. Because opium poppies
require little water or maintenance and are in demand worldwide, many
food-producing farmers turned to the drug trade. That shut down much
of Afghanistan’s already tenuous food supply chain.

Today, opium isn’t just Afghanistan’s only significant cash crop –
it’s the dominant currency. Opium and its derivatives made through
chemical processing – heroin, morphine base and opium gum – are traded
for guns, food and shelter. The footprints of the Afghan opium trade
can be seen throughout Asia and Europe. Drug addiction is a growing
problem in Afghanistan, drug policy analysts say. In neighboring Iran
and Pakistan border jails are filled with drug smugglers, and
officials are struggling to deal with an estimated 2.5 million addicts.

In Germany, Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe, officials say
Afghanistan is by far the leading source of heroin.

“We know the Taliban regime is largely funded by the drug trade and
that 90% of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan,”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair says.

The Complexities Of A Drug War

Because Afghanistan’s opium trade is such a menace to its neighbors,
some officials in Europe and western Asia are hoping that the U.S.-led
war on terrorism takes down the Afghan drug trade along with the Taliban.

A U.S. official who asked not to be identified said that given the
opium trade’s importance to those who support terrorism, American
forces would be justified in spraying Afghan fields to kill opium
poppies, and in destroying stockpiles of opium or processed heroin.
Such spraying could be done in February, when the next crop of opium
poppies begins to blossom.

“It’s a logical step,” the official says.

Livingstone says he’s “100% sure” that U.S. forces have made plans to
disrupt and destroy Afghanistan’s drug trade.

But U.S. officials acknowledge that going after Afghanistan’s drug
trade is fraught with complications:

* Harvested opium and processed heroin are easy to hide, and U.S.
officials aren’t sure where all of Afghanistan’s stockpiled opium is.

* After the opium crops are dead, then what? Analysts say that any
effort to eliminate the backbone of Afghanistan’s economy would have
to be followed with a massive aid program to help feed millions and
help farmers make the switch to legitimate crops.

Before the bombs began falling in Afghanistan, the U.N. estimated that
$250 million in aid would be needed to help Afghan farmers switch from
opium to food crops.

Many Afghans who are struggling to stay fed and clothed rely on the
opium trade as their sole means of support and might rebel against
anyone who took away their livelihood, analysts say.

* The Northern Alliance, the USA’s ally of convenience, doesn’t appear
to be that different from the Taliban when it comes to skimming money
from drug networks. Although the alliance controls only a small
percentage of the land used to grow opium in Afghanistan, U.N.
officials say they believe that drug money is key to the alliance’s

If the alliance rises to power and winds up in position to collect as
much in opium “taxes” as the Taliban did, it’s unclear whether the
alliance really would agree to crack down on cultivation of the poppy.

“Prospects for progress on drug-control efforts in Afghanistan remain
dim as long as the country remains at war,” a State Department report
said in March. “Nothing indicates that either the Taliban or the
Northern Alliance intend to take serious action to destroy heroin or
morphine base laboratories, or stop drug trafficking.”

“The more turmoil in (Afghanistan), the more opium will play a role,”
says Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the U.N.’s drug control
program. Arlacchi says that once the shooting stops in Afghanistan –
and the Taliban presumably is ousted – the world should help to
rebuild the troubled nation. That sentiment has been echoed by
President Bush, who says the USA’s disinterest in helping Afghanistan
after its war with the Soviet Union help to create its current unrest
and desperation.

Teaching Afghanistan’s farmers to grow something besides opium will be
key, Arlacchi says.

“Otherwise, we will be pumping money into Afghanistan that will go
into the wrong hands, and Afghanistan will continue to be the headache
to the international community that it has been for 200 years.”



To the editor of the USA Today:

Like many Americans I’m very concerned with national security these
days. As a patriot and a taxpayer, I find it very disturbing that
entrenched interests in Washington are seeking to capitalize on
America’s tragedy. I’m referring to the various drug warriors quoted
in your Oct. 16th article on the brutal Taliban regime’s taxation of
the countries opium crop. Drug warriors have good reason to worry.
The all too real threat of international terrorism makes the $50
billion war on consensual vices seem ludicrous in comparison. A long
overdue shift in government resources is inevitable.

Clearly the Taliban need to be removed from power for harboring the
evil terrorists who attacked America on Sep. 11th. However, in this
instance the drug war is part of the problem, not the solution. As
noted in your article, the Taliban have already voluntarily limited
production in order to increase the value of their current opium
stockpile. A further intensification of the drug war threatens to
provide the brutal Taliban regime with additional price supports.

Look no further than America’s backyard for proof of the drug war’s
collateral damage. The various armed factions tearing Colombia apart
are financially dependent on profits engendered by the U.S. drug war.
As long as drug prohibition remains in effect, any terrorist group can
tap into the black market’s outrageously inflated profits to finance
death and destruction. Alcohol prohibition once financed organized
crime and violence too, which is precisely why it was repealed in
1933. Can we really afford to continue subsidizing terrorists and
criminals with our tax dollars?

Robert Sharpe

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