Pubdate: Sun, 03 Feb 2002
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 2002 The Orange County Register
Author: Alan Bock
Note: Mr. Bock is an editorial writer for the Register.


Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 Secretary of State Powell 
seconded President Bush by promising that the United States would attack 
terrorism on every front, saying "we have to make sure that we go after 
terrorism and get it by its branch and root." This has meant not only stern 
warnings and threats to countries that harbor or finance terrorists, but 
getting at those who support terrorism financially.

If U.S. officials are even remotely serious about cutting off a significant 
portion of the money that finances terrorist activities - and political 
violence in general that might or might not fit a narrower definition of 
terrorism - one of the options on the table should be ending the War on 
Drugs. There is little doubt - although experts vary about specific 
percentages as is understandable when dealing with covert and clandestine 
activities - that the policy of drug prohibition is an enormously important 
factor that makes it probably the single biggest financier of terrorist 
activities around the world.

A few drug warriors have made the connection, in a popular yet illogical 
way. House Speaker Dennis Hastert unveiled a new Speaker's Task Force for a 
Drug Free America in September, noting that "the illegal drug trade is the 
financial engine that fuels many terrorist organizations around the world, 
including Osama bin Laden. By going after the illegal drug trade, we reduce 
the ability of these terrorists to launch attacks against the United 
States." President Bush in December noted that illegal drug use puts money 
in the hands of terrorists and regimes that support them. There's a speck 
of truth in these contentions, but Bush and Hastert have the cause and 
effect precisely wrong.

It is not the drugs themselves but the policy of drug prohibition that, as 
Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, author of the recent book 
"Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It," has pointed 
out, radically "profitizes" the drug trade and makes enormous sums of money 
available to those skilled in intimidation, bribery, inducing corruption 
and perpetrating violence. Prohibition creates what economists - see Mark 
Thornton's excellent 1991 book, "The Economics of Prohibition," - call a 
"risk premium," an opportunity for those willing to take the risks of 
engaging in an illicit business to reap enormous profits.

The structure created by prohibition and efforts to evade it means that 
cocaine and heroin sell in the United States and other developed countries 
for 20 to 40 times what they otherwise would. That means there's plenty of 
money to spread around among criminals, and to engage in other activities. 
Drug traffickers and international terrorists - as well as guerrillas, 
revolutionaries and x other perpetrators of politically inspired violence - 
share certain common interests that make it likely that they would make 
some connections.

They share interests in finding secure hiding places and bases of 
operations, relatively secure transit routes for contraband and people, 
large sums of hard-to-trace cash and large quantities of weapons. It is 
logical that terrorists and drug traffickers would hook up eventually.

And sure enough, they have. John Thompson of the McKenzie Institute, a 
Canadian think tank, recently explained some of the dynamics to Ottawa 
Citizen writer Dan Gardner. "It used to be that terrorism was funded by 
nation states, particularly the old Soviet Union," he said. "But as the 
Soviet Union weakened in the 1980s, more and more insurgent groups, 
terrorist groups, started to resort to organized criminal activities to pay 
their bills."

A few state sponsors remain, including North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Syria, 
though they try to hide their activity. Insurgent groups raise money from 
expatriates, either through voluntary means or extortion. And a few wealthy 
individuals like Osama bin Laden fund terrorism through their personal 

But, says Thompson, "the big money earner for most of them seems to be 
narcotics." As the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy 
( emphasizes, "Remember, it is drug prohibition that 
generates huge profits for these groups. Without prohibition, drug profits 
would be a small fraction of what they are now." Common Sense for Drug 
Policy in the United States has set up a Web site ( 
with numerous links that explain the connections between prohibition and 

Law enforcement officials reinforce the point. In a 1994 interview Iqbal 
Hussain Rizvi, chief drugs officer for Interpol, told Reuters, "Drugs have 
taken over as the chief means of financing terrorism." Alain Labrousse, of 
the French organization Observatoire francais des drogues et des 
toxicomanies, told a Canadian Senate hearing that "the creation of the KLA 
[Kosovo Liberation Army] was financed by intense heroin trafficking from 

The ongoing civil war in Colombia has been made much more intense and 
violent by prohibition. The FARC insurgent group in the 1980s found it 
could sustain and enhance its insurgency by "protecting" and "taxing" 
cocaine growers. The right-wing paramilitaries, formed to protect farmers 
and plantation owners from leftist guerrillas, are believed to get about 
two-thirds of their funding from the drug trade. Concentrating on the war 
on drugs has not only helped to finance terrorism and political violence 
worldwide, it has led to strange anomalies that have helped terrorism. 
Before Sept. 11 the United States was one of the few countries in the world 
to financially support the oppressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

With about $125 million in 2001. Why? Because the regime had officially 
banned opium poppy production and was considered a loyal ally in the Holy 
War on Drugs. (The amount stored was plenty to keep the trade 
uninterrupted, however.) So the U.S. government's attitude before September 
was: "Oppress women, persecute Christians and harbor terrorists? No problem 
if you pretend to control drugs."

The Boston Herald ran a story in October detailing how the FBI in the 1990s 
missed a chance to penetrate and perhaps neutralize the al-Qaida network 
due to focusing on drugs. They had a confidential informant named Raed 
Hijazi who practically begged them to pay attention to Nabil al-Marabh, an 
al-Qaida member involved in a terrorist cell who ended up being arrested 
after Sept. 11. But the FBI was interested only in people involved in 
heroin trafficking.

That points up another reason to reconsider prohibition. Speaker Hastert's 
preference, "going after the drug trade," "would tend to increase the risks 
of drug trafficking, eliminate competitors, and raise profits," as Jacob 
Sullum pointed out in the December issue of Reason magazine, so it would be 
counterproductive. Even more significant, as Sullum noted, U.S. resources 
are finite.

"Every dollar spent intercepting drugs is a dollar that could be spent 
intercepting bombs. Every agent infiltrating a drug cartel is an agent who 
could be infiltrating a terrorist cell." I'm making an assumption here with 
which some may disagree, that the War on Drugs cannot be "won" no matter 
how much money and resources are poured into it.

I would hope that 80 years of futility would be enough to convince most 
people. Sir Keith Morris, who was the UK's ambassador to Colombia during 
much of the 1990s, finally came around. In a July 2001 article for The 
Guardian he wrote: "Colombia has now been involved in anti- narcotics 
efforts under U.S. pressure for 30 years ... and for the past 12 years 
there has been intense international cooperation.

But as General Serrano, the highly respected former commander of the 
Colombian police told me in March, in spite of all that the flow of drugs 
has increased. The cost: tens of thousands dead, more than a million 
displaced people, political and economic stability undermined and the 
country's image ruined."

The United States has interrupted some of the financial tentacles of 
terrorist organizations by freezing funds and shutting down ostensibly 
charitable organizations with connections to terrorists. But the single 
most significant thing it could do to defund terrorists and other dealers 
in political violence worldwide would be to end the War on Drugs.

The fact that such a step would also reduce wasted government spending, 
reduce corruption, enhance property rights and civil liberties and reduce 
the harm caused by drugs would be a welcome side benefit.
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