Pubdate: Mon, 04 Feb 2002
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2002 Hearst Communications Inc.
Note: Chronicle staff writer Ray Delgado and the Washington Post contributed
to this report.


Linking Street Buys To Funding Militant Networks Draws Fire

The Bush administration took a new approach to the war on drugs yesterday 
with Super Bowl advertisements that linked the illegal narcotics trade with 

If you buy drugs, you might be helping to fund terrorist activities, the 
advertisements warned, the first time the link between drug activity and 
terrorism had ever been used in a government-sponsored anti-drug ad.

Until yesterday, the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy 
typically ran advertisements that focused on how users harm themselves, the 
classic example being the "this is your brain on drugs" advertisement with 
an egg sizzling in a frying pan.

The new approach has sparked a range of reactions from drug treatment experts.

"It's a cynical, cheap shot to take in the current political environment," 
said Matthew Briggs, an assistant director of New York's Drug Policy 
Alliance, which advocates changes in drug laws. "To make it sound like a 
kid who smokes pot is responsible for putting cash in the hands of Osama 
bin Laden is ludicrous."

The two Super Bowl ads, which cost nearly $3.5 million to place during the 
widely watched Fox television broadcast, claim that money to purchase drugs 
likely ends up in the hands of terrorists and narco- criminals.

"Where do terrorists get their money?" asks one of the ads, which portrays 
a terrorist buying explosives, weapons and fake passports. "If you buy 
drugs, some of it might come from you."

About half of the 28 organizations identified as terrorist by the State 
Department are funded by sales of illegal drugs, according to the drug office.

The two 30-second ads (which aired a total of three times before and during 
the game) were funded by the drug office's $180 million advertising budget, 
the largest of any government agency.

The ads kick off a four-to-six-week nationwide campaign, which also 
includes ads on radio and in 293 newspapers, an augmented Web site (www. and teaching materials to be distributed to middle and 
high school students. John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug 
Control Policy, estimated the campaign's cost at $10 million.

"Considering that Americans spend over $60 billion on (illegal) drugs a 
year, this is a pretty well-leveraged investment," he said.

Chris Canter, the director of the Walden House Foundation in San Francisco, 
which offers a variety of drug treatment programs, said he didn't object to 
the ads, but felt they missed the target audience.

"My initial reaction is that I thought it was kind of compelling," Canter 
said. "But when you think about it, probably your most problematic addicts 
aren't watching the game anyway."

Canter said he felt the government's previous ads warning users about the 
harm they do to themselves were more effective. These ads, he said, seemed 
motivated by the current political climate.

"It seems like everybody is trying to link everything to terrorism," Canter 
said. "This ad, I felt, missed its mark. It was not money well spent."

Briggs added, "There is something very disturbing about the fact that the 
federal government is spending almost $3.5 million to blame nonviolent 
Americans for funding terrorism when . . . people who need drug treatment 
can't get it."

Walters, who was chief of staff under former drug czar William Bennett, 
defended the new approach.

"We're not blaming Americans for terrorism, we're blaming terrorists for 
terrorism," Walters said. "We're telling Americans that if they use drugs, 
they should be aware that some of that money is being used to support 
terrorism in many cases."

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the drug office contacted New York 
advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather, asking for ideas on how to link the war 
on drugs to terrorism in an ad campaign. The drug office knew the Taliban 
was partially funded by sales of opium, which can be refined into heroin.

What followed, said British film and commercial director Tony Kaye, who 
produced the ads, was unprecedented fact-checking between the drug office 
and government agencies, including the FBI, DEA, CIA, and the departments 
of defense and state. Details down to the price of AK-47 assault rifles, 
featured in one ad, were debated. "The FBI said, 'Is the price retail or 
black market?' " said Alan Levitt, chief of the drug office's education 

Each line of dialogue is explained by a story on the agency's Web page. For 
instance, in one of the ads, a teen actor says, "I helped kill a judge." On 
the Web page, that line is linked to a drug-related killing in South America.

The ads were shown to teenagers in focus groups. The teens showed "a strong 
decline in intention to use" drugs after seeing the ads, Levitt said. And, 
he said, parents called them a "powerful way to initiate conversations" 
with their children.
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