While hemp food activists were holding taste test protests last on December 4 at Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters in Arlington, VA, the agency had other things on its mind. Deep in the bowels of the well-guarded glass tower a select coterie of drug war bureaucrats, anti-drug groups and sympathetic media figures were gathered in an effort to tie the tarnished drug war to the sleek and shiny new war on terror. The event, billed as the first-ever symposium on narco-terrorism, went under the name of "Target America: Traffickers, Terrorists, and Your Kids," but the real goal was to somehow make Osama bin Laden a poster boy for the war on drugs.
Although the DEA has admitted it has no direct evidence linking bin Laden or his inheritance-funded Al Qaeda network to the drug trade, that has not stopped the agency and its drug war cohorts from attempting to play the narco-terror card.
"The line between [terrorists and drug dealers] is growing increasingly difficult to draw," warned panelist Raphael Perl, senior policy analyst on international terrorism and drug issues for the Congressional Research Service, Congress' in-house policy think tank. "Income from the drug trade has become increasingly important to terrorist organizations," he said. "State sponsors are increasingly difficult to find. What world leader in his right mind will risk global sanctions by openly sponsoring Al Qaeda or funding it?"
One reason that line is increasingly difficult to draw is its deliberate blurring by drug warriors within the US government. When the State Department defines belligerent groups involved in a civil war -- such as the FARC and ELN in Colombia (or more recently and grudgingly the prodigiously violent, government-linked right-wing AUC paramilitaries) -- it becomes easier to link terror and the drug trade.
That didn't stop DEA intelligence chief Steven Casteel from attempting a connection between threatened terror attacks with weapons of mass destruction and the drug trade. According to Casteel, Al Qaeda makes the ABC of atomic, biological, or chemical warfare into an ABCD of atomic, biological, chemical, and drug warfare. "Drugs are a weapon of mass destruction that can be used against Western societies and help bring them down," Castell preached to the choir.
While Casteel's words were eerily reminiscent of Harry Anslinger's diatribes against the Red Chinese, whom he accused in the 1950s of attempting to destroy Western Civilization through opium exports, the downright McCarthyite atmosphere of the conference was also signaled by the drawing accompanying the DEA's announcement of the event. Showing a shadowy figure standing astride the globe, showering pills, capsules and syringes down to an eagerly waiting multitude with one hand and clutching missiles behind his back with the other, his back pockets stuffed with cash, the cartoon is easily the equal of the countless propagandistic "communist menace" caricatures that regaled and frightened Americans during the Cold War. (View the drawing and conference info by going to http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/deamuseum/home.htm and clicking on "National Symposium.")
The main panel of the symposium, chaired by media bigfoot Bob Novak, also included Ret. Gen. Jose Rosso Serrano of the Colombian National Police, Larry Johnson of Berg Associates, a consulting groups whose web site lists its twin tasks as providing business security and fighting organized crime; Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA) president Stephen Pasierb and Brian Dyak of the Entertainment Industries council. Pasierb and the PDFA took the occasion to announce that, according to their polls, the drug-terror link would serve as a valuable tool in deterring drug use among young people.
In a press release the same day as the conference, Pasierb said PDFA's polling found that six out of ten American teenagers said knowing there was a drug-terror link would make them less likely to use drugs. "Many Americans are now considering the impact of terrorism on their daily lives," said Pasierb. "For us, it made sense to see what Americans thought about the possibility of a link between drugs and terrorism. Clearly teens and parents believe the link exists, and since there's no question that globally drug money does sustain international terrorism, this points to a possible new direction for the Partnership's anti-drug efforts."
The polls, conducted by RoperASW/BRUSKIN, found that 54% of parents and 46% of teens thought that "international terrorism is financed at least in part by the drug trade," and that 62% of the teens thought that knowing this information would make them less likely to use drugs.
But Pasierb and PDFA were not the only ones trying to start a media bandwagon on the narco-terror theme. Novak, who appears on three different public affairs programs on CNN, and whose syndicated column appears in hundreds of newspapers, used the symposium as a point of departure for a column this week whose goal was much broader than keeping kids off drugs.
In a column titled "America's Two Wars Must Be Linked" (as it appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times), the conservative fixture bashed President Bush for not employing the phrase "narco-terrorism" in the three months since September 11. Citing the PDFA polling, Novak called it "an opportunity that can be exploited by the government's massive microphone, especially the presidential bully pulpit." Novak also called for the DEA, who he wrote were "widely considered to have the best intelligence operations," to have a seat at the inter-agency anti-terrorism table.
But in his haste to make his case, Novak had little time or inclination to get the details right. Accusing the State Department of turning a blind eye to the Columbian FARC guerrillas, Novak wrote that "the FARC guerrillas from the start have been financed by illegal narcotics." Unfortunately for Novak's thesis, the FARC, which formed in 1964, had already been in existence for decades before Colombian drug trafficking exploded in the 1980s.
As the twin propaganda campaigns -- one directed at youth, one directed at the national political leadership -- get underway, it would be nice if they got the facts right. But war is war, and truth is the first casualty.