War's New Target: Drugs

  War's New Target: Drugs

Posted by FoM on February 11, 2002 at 07:55:36 PT
By Mary Jacoby, Times Staff Writer 
Source: St. Petersburg Times 

With the cultivation of opium poppies on the rise in post-Taliban Afghanistan, President Bush has proposed joining the war on drugs with the war on terrorism. Bush has requested $52.4-million in next year's federal budget for counterterrorism activities of the Drug Enforcement Administration, including $17.4-million for a new Afghanistan initiative. "Operation Containment," as the Afghanistan program is dubbed, will attempt to reopen a DEA office in Kabul that has been shuttered since 1989 and, if the diplomats agree, possibly even seek to destroy poppy fields in Afghanistan. 
Poppy plants are the source of heroin, which is refined in laboratories in Afghanistan and Pakistan then smuggled abroad, mostly to Western Europe and Russia. Afghanistan's former rulers, the Taliban, financed themselves by taxing the drug trade. The Taliban in turn hosted Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida terrorist network is suspected of selling protection to traffickers. About half of the 28 groups officially designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department are believed to have ties to drug trafficking. "There's a significant amount of overlap between terrorist activities and drug trafficking," said Frank Kalder, the DEA's chief financial officer. "What we're trying to do now is be more proactive" in gathering intelligence and funneling it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In addition to the $17.4-million for Operation Containment, Bush has requested $35-million in new funds to beef up the DEA's international intelligence gathering capabilities. Some of that money may be used to pay informers. A significant amount will go to revamping the DEA's secure computer systems so the FBI can access information in its databases about possible terrorists. The DEA, an agency of the Department of Justice, will not say how many agents it hopes to add to Central Asia. It does say there are 400 DEA agents now working abroad in 56 countries. Overall, the DEA's budget is slated to rise 6 percent next year, to $1.7-billion, pending congressional approval. The $17.4-million for Operation Containment comes from unspent funds already available to the DEA; the extra $35-million for terrorist-related intelligence gathering will be funneled through Attorney General John Ashcroft's office, allowing him more control. Before the Taliban imposed a poppy-cultivation ban that greatly reduced the size of the 2001 harvest, Afghanistan was producing an estimated 70 percent of the world's heroin. Only a small percentage of Afghan heroin came to the United States, where the heroin sold on the streets comes mainly from Colombia and Mexico, government analysts say. The effect of the Taliban's poppy-growing ban was minimal on world drug markets, however, because the Islamic fundamentalist government had been stockpiling as much as 65 percent of previous years' harvests, said Will Glaspy, a spokesman for the DEA. In issuing the poppy-growing ban in July 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar said drugs were inconsistent with Islam. But DEA analysts believe he was trying to manipulate markets. After the ban helped drive up the world price for heroin, the Taliban then sold from its reserves, getting a higher price, Glaspy said. Heroin prices then dropped after Sept. 11, an effect DEA analysts attribute to the Taliban selling even more reserves in anticipation of U.S. military strikes. But now, with the Taliban gone and farmers in worn-torn Afghanistan desperate to support themselves, poppy cultivation has skyrocketed, analysts say. Widespread planting this winter is expected to bring a glut of heroin to streets in the West in early summer. In addition to being a source of funds for terrorist groups and a social problem for Western societies, drug trafficking offers terrorists a way to smuggle nuclear bombs or nuclear material into Western countries. "If you wanted to smuggle bombs into America, there is a ready-made network to do that. It is the drug network," said Tom Riley, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Popularly known as the drug czar's office, ONDCP is spending $10-million on an advertising campaign that links Americans' drug use to narcoterrorism. Two much-discussed ads aired during the Feb. 3 Super Bowl and were aimed at teenagers. In one, a series of black-and-white images of men renting safe houses and buying box cutters ended with the question, "Where do terrorists get their money? If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you." In the other, the actions of young Americans who say they take drugs for fun are linked to killings and torture of people who stand in the way of narcotraffickers abroad. "It's not saying every dollar goes to Osama bin Laden, but when you put your money in this stream, it does end up in the hands of some really terrible people," Riley said. Details of Operation Containment are still being worked out. Because the DEA's work abroad is overseen by the State Department, much of what it will be able to do in Afghanistan will have to be approved by U.S. diplomats. That means the drug agency's hopes to build a poppy-crop eradication program are uncertain. Such crop eradication programs have been controversial in other countries, most notably Colombia, because they leave already poor subsistence farmers with few viable alternative means of support. A State Department official said any such program would have to be linked to providing aid for farmers to grow other crops. The State Department spent $1.8-million on alternative crop programs in Afghanistan between 1997 and 1999. The programs, which provided farmers with plum, pear and walnut trees, were administered by non-governmental organizations, primarily Oregon-based Mercy Corps International and the United Nations Drug Control Program. As a means of reducing demand in the West for heroin, a crop eradication program is likely to have little effect, said Jack Riley, director of the criminal justice program at Rand, a think tank. The economic theory behind crop eradication is that it increases the cost of production, which should increase the street price and thus lower demand, Riley said. But in reality, farmers are paid only a fraction of what heroin brings on the street in the West. So even if drug traffickers have to pay more for production, there is room for them to absorb cost increases without having to raise the end price prohibitively, he said. "I'm not going to say that crop substitution and eradication has no value. They can be useful as political symbols," Riley said. "It's probably worth the effort to try to convince the people who might otherwise engage in poppy production that aid is out there, and there are alternatives." Note: Afghanistan: Plan cites overlap between terrorist activities and drug trafficking. Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)Author: Mary Jacoby, Times Staff WriterPublished: February 11, 2002 Copyright: 2002 St. Petersburg TimesContact: letters sptimes.comWebsite: Articles:Kabul Bans Opium Poppy Growing, Trafficking General Sets Sights on Desert Traffickers Turn To Old Friend: Opium 

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Comment #2 posted by krutch on February 12, 2002 at 17:14:33 PT:
The Hydra
Dear US Government:Go and set up a DEA office in Afghanistan. Burn all their opium fields. But opium is grown ,as it has been for centuries, in many other places in Asia. Some of these places (like China) are not going to be amenable to the DEA or the US military burning the opium fields. The opium producers in other nations can't wait for you to eliminate the competition.
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Comment #1 posted by Jose Melendez on February 11, 2002 at 09:13:35 PT:
insanity repeated 
Lets see... out of the last $43 million the US spent on the Taliban, 10 million was approved as earmarked to prohibit opium, which the State Department (Rand Beers) admitted increased the street value of the stockpiled drugs.
Now 10 million is being spent on a fraudulent ad campaign that ignores these expenditures, despite the fact that they are higher than the amount spent by Americans on Afghanistans illicit drugs. 
Adding insult to injury, another 17.5 million is being spent on opium prohibition, despite aerial photos which PROVE that eradication of coca in Columbia INCREASED the total hectares of drug crops in the overall region, especially the more hardy poppies.
Maybe the U.S. drug warrriors have other concerns, such as increasing the budgets of pet projects such as prison building. That would explain why they insist on driving up the value and demand for illicit drugs. Seems to me the Justice Department needs to look into the criminal acts - of prohibitionists.
Arrest Prohibition - Drug War is TREASON!
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