Pubdate: Wed, 21 Apr 1999
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: The Scotsman Publications Ltd 1999


Politicians vow ad infinitum that the West will win the war on drugs.
They should get real, writes Chloe Fox, because we've already lost

EIGHT o'clock on a rainy spring morning in Paris and French customs
officer Roland has just come into his discreet city office from a
night of surveillance. He has been waiting near a suburban warehouse
for a drug pick-up that never happened. Cold, tired and worn-out, he
discusses the night with his boss. A heated discussion produces two
basic theories: that the information they had was old or wrong, or
that the police were also working on the case and got there before
customs did. The only point of agreement is that despite everyone's
efforts, the state has lost the war against drugs - a long time ago.

"Regionally, nationally, internationally ... everyone knows this. And
it is lost irrevocably. We lost this war, oh, many years ago.
Certainly the new Europe is a Europe without borders - which is good
for smugglers, drug traffickers, petty criminals, but not for us,"
says Roland despondently.

"It is actually getting worse now. New routes open up every week.
These people are more organised than you would ever believe; I mean,
they are a step ahead of us every time."

The steps are not always massive but they can be significant. An
example: mobile phones. In France, drug seizures at border checks
plummeted five years ago when smugglers started sending their escort
cars ten minutes ahead. If the escort spotted a guard, or border
checks being carried out, they would simply call the smuggler and warn
them off. Simple but devastating.

With annual profits of UKP2.5 billion, the drug industry naturally
sees any ruse a small price to pay for being one step ahead. Methods
change, routes change, carriers change. The growth of the drug market
can partly be explained by increasing demand, but also by the
development of new and increasingly effective operating procedures.
The industry's success is due to an ability to innovate and maintain
operations - despite defections and arrest - while increasing
operating efficiency.

Money is being laundered more efficiently than ever before. The
massive, almost unimaginable profits made by the industry are becoming
part of legitimate economies all around the world. Interpol says it is
undeniable that drug money, or "narco-dollars" threaten the stability
of legitimate markets and political processes, diminishing public
confidence in the state's ability to govern efficiently.

"The illegal trade in narcotics is increasingly interwoven with the
regular economy, at a national as well as international level," says
Raymond Kendall, former Scotland Yard officer and now head of
Interpol, which is based in France's second-largest city, Lyon, and
co-ordinates the world-wide police fight against drugs. "This
interweaving makes the combating of the drug trade on the financial
front all the more difficult. Countries now face the increasing
globalisation of crime and criminal organisations. Approximately 50
per cent of all seizure/arrest reports received at the Interpol
General Secretariat are related to drug trafficking, and this is a
growing area of the organisation's work."

Drug trafficking can touch any economy, not just heavy drug-producing
countries such as Colombia or Afghanistan. Three years ago in the
French port of Le Havre, customs installed an enormous x-ray machine,
big enough to fit a lorry. Within an instant, anything suspicious was
identified and the truck would be searched.

But the X-rays took time and time is money. So shipping
companies moved to other less vigilant, more efficient
ports, unconsciously following in the wake of the drug
dealers. Result: a community temporarily drained of
legitimate and illegal business.

Police officers and customs officers seize an estimated 8 to 10 per
cent of the drugs that are sent across the invisible European borders
into France every year.

Unfortunately, seizures are not on the increase - but opportunities
for drug trafficking are. As restrictions on international travel are
lifted and transport and communications improve, the loopholes for
drug trafficking are widening.

The United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) says
that at least 75 per cent of drug shipments would have to be seized to
make an impact on the drug trade. It is enough to fill any law
enforcement officer's heart with despair.

Working in and around the French borders, 60 hours a week for UKP1,300
a month, Roland spends what little spare time he has trying to think
one step ahead. Mostly working out of uniform and just inside the
border, he tries not to stop "the obvious ones".

"As we see it, there are certain classic routes for drug trafficking,"
he explains. "There is the North/South route, where heroin flows down
from places like Poland to the south of Europe and then to Spain, from
where it is shipped all over the world. Then you have the South/North
route - cannabis from Morocco is shipped to France or Spain, and
driven up through France, Italy and Germany toHolland."

He has certain basic information at his fingertips which helps him out
but it is never enough. Cannabis harvests take place in June, so by
September traffickers are preparing to ship their commodity north.
Until November, there is generally a customs blitz against vehicles
travelling north through Europe fromMorocco.

Last year during this time, Roland hit upon the idea of stopping cars
with large families or handicapped occupants and came up with some
surprisingly large hauls.

"People are uncomfortable with the idea of stopping these kind of
people," he chuckles. "Smugglers gamble on the assumption that we will
be uncomfortable too. They take the risk, and last year we caught
quite a few." He's not quite so cheerful when he considers the other
drug trafficking routes that are expanding rapidly.

"Turkey," he sighs. "Turkey is a big, big problem. They produce and
export a lot of heroin, and have been doing so for some time. I think
this is one of the reasons that other Europeans do not want them
joining the European Union."

Raymond Kendall agrees that Turkish drug distribution networks are a
thorn in Interpol's side. "The distribution networks have changed,
with the most noticeable ones being Turkish (heroin and cocaine),
Colombian (cannabis, cocaine and heroin) and Nigerian (cannabis,
cocaine and heroin)," he says. "But the consumer countries continue to
be the same."

The growth of the drug market can only be in part explained by
increasing demand. The industry's explosion is also due to
thedevelopment of new and increasingly effective operating procedures
by the syndicates.

So should the producers or the consumers be attacked first in this
failing war against drugs? Different countries have remarkably
different policies, which can make it difficult for Interpol to
co-ordinate global anti-drug measures.

"To fight this, it is imperative that a two-pronged attack is in
place. It means that supply and demand should be tackled
simultaneously," says Kendall.

Unfortunately, countries such as France and the United States have
legislation which requires them to concentrate on the consumer rather
than the trafficker. While the politicians agonise over whether to
change this legislation, the drug traffickers are merrily reaping in
the profits.

And it is, as Kendall says, the traffickers who profit. More than 90
per cent of drug profits go directly to the trafficker because the
trafficking is the crucial link between production and consumption. At
the end of the pecking order, the farmers of illicit drugs will see a
paltry 2 per cent.

Or perhaps the farmer is the penultimate end of the pecking order.
Because all financial considerations aside, at the end of the food
chain is the user. In human terms, users and their families pay the
highest price.

At the end of the day, people like Roland keep on doing their job
because they believe in it. Roland says that "ordinary" people who
live honestly and pay taxes should not have to pay the staggering
social, cultural and economic price imposed by the drug industry.

And Roland's team will try to carry out, in the midst of defeat,
as honourably as they can.

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