Thursday, February 13, 2014

There's a lot of skepticism surrounding the alleged connections between drug trafficking and terrorism. Perhaps rightly so: shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration backed a Super Bowl commercial pushing the connection between drugs and terrorists like Osama bin Laden, much to the consternation of pro-legalization advocates. "It's a cynical, cheap shot to take in the current political environment," said one New York-based advocate of drug law reform. "To make it sound like a kid who smokes pot is responsible for putting cash in the hands of Osama bin Laden is ludicrous."

But the connection, however tenuous, is real. No, your average pot-smoking kid probably doesn't contribute to Bin Laden's riches any more than your average SUV user; but there is real concrete evidence of drug trafficking and terrorism being linked.

The reason they're usually connected is, quite simply, a matter of desperation. Terrorism tends to stem from frustration at a system that is not allowing for advancement; when terrorism fails and ideology takes a back seat, and reality hits, drug trafficking enters the picture. It's an easy way to make quick money, and it's never difficult to find new recruits to peddle your drugs. Life is hard for most people, and a desperate and exploitative person can easily find a way in. Traffickers can easily utilise the same business connections and the same underground routes that terrorists use, much in the same way an old boys' network might operate.

Look at the FARC in Colombia, which has declined in recent years in part because of dwindling ideology. Around the late 90s, it became clear the FARC's Marxist ideology was no longer carrying it forward, and that it needed to turn to drug trafficking to support itself. Already a designated terrorist organization, the FARC was now also a drug trafficking organization (or DTO, in US authorities' parlance).

Interestingly, when terrorist groups turn to drug trafficking, it apparently makes it easier for the authorities to apprehend their leadership. Since roughly 2002, US authorities have extradited dozens of senior FARC members to the US on drug trafficking charges rather than terrorism charges. Likewise senior drug warlords in Afghanistan have been brought stateside for trial on drug charges, rather than terrorism, even when they were implicated in the former.

None of this really changes the fact that U.S. and Western European consumers are responsible for the drug intake, rather than it being a national security threat, but that said, the connection between terrorism and drug trafficking is very real indeed.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's been some time since I blogged, utmost apologies. Now that I've completed my Master's Degree, I'm going to start blogging more regularly, on topics related to war.

But first, I want to comment on the schmaltz surrounding the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. While tragic, his death was marked by hundreds of articles lamenting the failure of the drug war and heroin addiction in the United States.

Not one article that I read placed the blame of heroin consumption on U.S. consumers of the drug. Not one article that I read noted that 80,000 people have died in Mexico in the past several years alone due to U.S. consumption of drugs like heroin.

Not one article that I read noted the fact that a 12-year-long war in Afghanistan is coming to an end with little progress having been made in the fight against opium production.

Not one article that I read noted that kids are dying on the streets of Chicago because of middle-class heroin use.

There's a time for mourning, and there's also a time to put things in perspective.

Addiction is indeed a serious issue, one that has long been overlooked. But not all addicts turn to heroin; not all addicts turn to methamphetamine; not all addicts turn to cocaine. Some just carry on with their daily lives, because that's what we, as humans, do.

One can certainly argue that the war on drugs is not working. Heroin use in the United States is indeed on the rise (one estimate puts the jump at 373,000 users about six years ago to 669,000 in 2012) and I've not seen any data supporting a decline in other drug use. Pill use is once again on the rise (although in parts of Florida, I gather people are now switching to street heroin because it's cheaper than pharmaceutical opiates).

But if Americans continue to use these drugs, while the DEA and other law enforcement agencies are doing their damndest to break down cartels in Mexico and elsewhere, trying to get a bead on global smuggling and the narco-terror nexus, seizing heroin mills in the Bronx capable of producing $8 million worth of heroin and stopping doctors from illegally prescribing pharmaceuticals or busting medical marijuana fraud in Detroit, then what hope is there of the drug war having any success whatsoever?

Folks, if we're going to find a solution to the drug war, it has to come from us. Drugs are not a national security threat; the enemy lies within. Yes, the violence across the southern border is a serious concern, as is the gang threat in cities like Chicago, as is the threat of terrorists hooking up with drug traffickers. But the consumers are driving the demand, and if any progress is going to be made, people are just going to have to say no. (At risk of sounding like Nancy Reagan; I know it didn't work then but there's always hope.)

Alternatively, they can find the underlying root of their addiction, and treat that with therapy, or work harder, or use their inner voice of reason. However we do it, we have to stop feeding the monster.

(Tomorrow: Understanding the narco-terror nexus)