Pubdate: Thu, 04 Oct 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Section: International
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Author: Barry Meier
Bookmark: (Heroin)



The terror network headed by Osama bin Laden has tried to develop a 
high-strength form of heroin that it planned to export to the United States 
and Western Europe, according to intelligence reports received by United 
States officials.

An informer and a foreign law enforcement agency alerted American officials 
about two years ago that the network was seeking to recruit chemists to 
work on the effort, a federal official said.

The official said the goal of the project, which apparently did not 
succeed, was to create a high-potency heroin that would produce greater 
addiction and havoc than drugs available in Western cities.

The plan was supposedly developed in retaliation for the United States 
missile attack in August 1998 against terrorist training camps in 
Afghanistan, the official said.

In an telephone interview yesterday, Drug Enforcement Administrator Asa 
Hutchinson confirmed that the D.E.A. had received "limited information" 
about the reported heroin effort.

The announcements were made as United States officials, gearing up for 
possible military action in Afghanistan, are seeking to portray the 
governing Taliban officials and Mr. bin Laden as critical cogs in the world 
drug trade.

Although there is little dispute that the Taliban derived millions of 
dollars from opium production, the intelligence reports, if accurate, would 
provide a rare link between Mr. bin Laden's organization and drugs.

American officials have been hard pressed to make that connection.

At a hearing yesterday in Washington by the House Subcommittee on Criminal 
Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, Mr. Hutchinson and William Bach, 
a narcotics expert in the State Department, testified that narcotics 
provided important revenue for the Taliban.

But they said in their statements that federal officials did not have 
direct evidence of Mr. bin Laden's involvement.

Asked why he did not release the intelligence reports on Mr. bin Laden at 
the hearing, Mr. Hutchinson said that was because the information was 
classified and could not be released at a public hearing.

"It would be available to the committee if they request it," he said.

At the hearing, Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Bach said it was their belief that 
the close ties between the Taliban and Mr. bin Laden's network made some 
interaction on illegal drugs inevitable.

That view is also backed by a United Nations panel that found that the 
Taliban used money derived from opium and heroin production to finance, 
among other activities, "the training of terrorists and support the 
operation of extremists in neighboring countries and beyond."

Faced with international pressure, the Taliban announced last year that it 
was banning the production of opium poppies. But most drug experts say they 
believe that large supplies of raw opium or heroin are stockpiled around 
Afghanistan and that some of those supplies are slipping across the porous 
borders as war appears more and more imminent.

Others in the region, including the opposition Northern Alliance, also 
control opium-growing regions.

One federal official likened Mr. bin Laden's role in the Afghan heroin 
trade to that of a facilitator rather than a direct participant.

The official said Mr. bin Laden's network appeared to provided protection 
for processing plants that convert opium into heroin, as well as for 
smugglers who carry drugs into neighboring countries. Those drugs mostly 
make their way to Europe, with 10 percent of the heroin derived from Afghan 
production reaching the United States.

Mr. bin Laden's role, however, may have shifted dramatically for a time 
after the American missile attack in 1998 on training camps that his forces 

The United States launched that strike in retaliation for the bombings of 
two American Embassies in East Africa.

It was at that point that American officials received information from the 
informer and the foreign law enforcement agency that Mr. bin Laden or his 
network were preparing to become directly involved in the heroin trade by 
developing a superpotent form of the heroin.

One Federal official said Washington had not able to confirm the reports 
independently, but added that the foreign law enforcement agency that had 
provided the information had proved reliable in the past.
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