|Week Online: Your institute has
come under attack from some corners as being "right-wing" or anti-immigrant.
How do you respond to those criticisms?
John C. Thompson: We are a group
that provides research and comment on anything to do with political violence
and instability. In doing so, we make enemies. We have reported
on the Tamil Tigers, who are busy here raising money to finance their civil
war in Sri Lanka. Their supporters do not like us. Similarly,
we have criticized the Mohawk Warrior Society, which is much liked by some
of the radical left. So, yes, I've been called a right-winger.
I've also been called a Jew-loving race traitor, so go figure.
WOL: The term "terrorism" is getting
thrown around quite a bit these days. Who is a "terrorist"?
Do all guerrilla armies or national liberation movements that use violence
qualify as "terrorists"? What about national governments?
Thompson: Trying to use exact definitions
in this area is dangerous, the boundaries are wide and mushy. The
term is normally reserved for small groups that use violence for political
purposes, but you also have to recognize that terror is used as an instrument
of statecraft. I prefer to use the term "insurgent" instead.
In the 1980s, I was sympathetic to the Contras in Nicaragua, and I would
spend countless hours arguing about whether they were "freedom fighters"
or "terrorists." In my book, if you commit acts of terror, you're
WOL: How do these armed political
groups finance themselves?
Thompson: Take the Tamil Tigers --
there is nothing they don't do. They use legitimate means, such as
charitable organizations to which you can donate money, voluntary donations
when the bucket is passed, they sell their atrocity photos, their t-shirts,
their posters. Then there's the "war tax" on merchants. And
such groups can even solicit government funds for cultural groups in places
like Canada, some of which money may be being diverted. Then there
is the illegal side -- drugs, guns, fraud, extortion, counterfeiting.
You name it, there's an insurgent group somewhere using these criminal
means to finance their activities. Remember, the Chinese triads and
the Italian-American Mafias started off as political groups, insurgent
groups, and have devolved into merely criminal organizations.
WOL: What is the role of funds from
the illicit drug trade in funding political violence?
Thompson: In the case of Osama bin
Laden, although we don't know precisely his involvement in the opium and
heroin trade, we do know that Afghanistan is one of the main heroin production
areas in the world. I estimated that Islamic radical groups may get
25-30% of their funding from the drug trade, but that is really a finger-in-the-wind
guess. In other areas, the connection is both more clear and more
direct. In the Golden Triangle, another huge opium production area,
both the Burmese government and opposition groups such as the United Wa
Army are involved. The PKK [Kurdish liberation group] was heavily
involved in hashish, from production to distribution. And Hezbollah
in Lebanon was also into hash. The Kosovo Liberation Army made a
bundle facilitating smuggling in and through the Balkans. Guns and
drugs out, stolen cars in. In the African wars of the last decade,
contraband diamonds have been the big money-maker. And in Colombia,
cocaine fuels that conflict.
And that raises an interesting point.
In Colombia, the FARC has for the past three years had the opportunity
to try and arrange peace, but they don't seem to be interested in anything
but the status quo. Eventually you compromise your ideology to stay
with the money from drugs. I will mention once again the Triads and
the Mafia, both of which were once flawlessly ideological revolutionary
WOL: Could ending drug prohibition
help decrease political violence and instability?
Thompson: I'm afraid of the social
pathologies that could result from legalization, but I think so.
Look at what happened with cigarettes in Canada. When the government
raised taxes on them so high, they became a contraband commodity.
In 1993 in Canada, taxed cigarette prices were three times those in US.
Canadians went into cigarette smuggling wholesale, helped by the Mohawk
Warriors [on reservations straddling the US-Canada border]. By the
next year, when the government announced a cigarette tax cut, 40% of all
cigarettes in Canada were illegal cigarettes. That generated something
like $2.5 billion in free money, a lot of which went to the Warriors, whose
hold on the reservation became almost absolute. The Warriors talked
about all the good things they were doing, but their kids were smuggling
across the river instead of getting real jobs. When the Canadian
government revoked the cigarette taxes, that changed almost overnight.
That's what got me thinking narcotics.
I don't like narcotics and I don't like the people who use them.
But drying up the flow of money by regulating the trade could only help.
We've watched how narcotics distribution networks work up here, and it's
really free money for a lot of unsavory people. It has opened up
conduits that could be used for other purposes, including terrorism.
There is also a historical argument: If you look at the American
Mafia, it suffered through lean times in the 1930s and 1940s, after the
end of Prohibition. They never regained the influence they had during
Prohibition. Under Prohibition, Al Capone ran Chicago. With
all the money derived from illicit drug profits, you can finance all kinds
WOL: Marijuana cultivation in British
Columbia is creating billions of dollars in profits. What impact
would ending prohibition have on the British Columbia marijuana industry?
Thompson: It would damage the British
Columbia economy in general, but in would also damage the organized crime
elements -- the bikers, the Asian gangs -- that have gotten involved because
of all the profits. Those growers out there don't want to see pot
legalized. And when it comes to legalization, I'm sure the average
cartel guy is more conservative than the Republicans.
WOL: In the wake of the September
11 attacks, there has been much talk of tightening US borders with Canada
and Mexico or, alternatively, of a continental security zone, the so-called
"North American shield." What is your take on these proposals?
Thompson: Trying to beef up the US-Canada
border would be counterproductive because so much legitimate commerce crosses
that border. With the current crackdown at points of entry, auto
plants in Detroit are idled because they can't get their parts from Ontario.
Meanwhile, on the quiet back roads, the smuggling continues. What
would be more useful would be for the US and Canada to harmonize their
admission requirements, who gets visas and work permits and the like.
We're lucky the whole crop of September 11 hijackers didn't come through
Canada. As for the North American shield, if you include Mexico,
you have a Fortress America where the roof is sound, but the basement is
leaky. Maybe we should be helping the Mexicans get things under control
-- there is evidence that some terror groups, such as the Basque ETA, operate
there. Perhaps that is the sort of assistance the US should be providing
Mexico. And as Mexico's economy picks up, you'll have to help in