Homeland Security Mission Creep: The Drug War

In recent columns, I’ve been discussing the way that the national security state, given an almighty big hammer in the name of “fighting terrorism,” is finding nails all over the place.  Suppressing the anti-globalization movement, fighting the Drug War, and fighting “intellectual property crime” all fall under the post-9/11 security state’s expansive reading of its counter-terror mission.

Specifically, I’ve recently been examining the work of retired USAF Colonel Jennifer Hesterman, a national security scholar whose body of research covers the very broad area where counter-terrorism meets all those other missions.

Her monograph “Transnational Crime and the Criminal-Terrorist Nexus” (Maxwell AFB, Alabama:  Air University Press, 2005) devotes considerable space to the international drug trade as a support for international terrorism.  She notes:  “The once-clear lines between the international drug trade, terrorism, and organized crime are now blurring, crossing, and mutating as never before.” Laundered money from narco-trafficking is a source of funds for terrorists.

Col. Hesterman gets the causality pretty much backward on all this.  The black market for drugs is a lucrative source of money because, and only because, drugs are illegal.  Repeat after me:  the narco-traffickers are the world’s biggest supporters of the drug war — just as Al Capone was Prohibition’s number one fan.  You can bet that one of the biggest sources of campaign funding for any hardline Drug Warrior politician is laundered drug money.

The drug trade is a source of funds for terrorism because of black market prices.  If you could buy marijuana, coca, opium and their derivatives in any store for a nickel on the dollar of their current price, that international black market money would dry up overnight.

The primary effect of drug prohibition is to turn the country over to organized crime gangs fighting to control the illegal drug trade, just as Prohibition did ninety years ago.  What’s more, drug prohibtion has had the effect of turning police forces into just another criminal gang fighting to control the black market money.  As Willie Nelson says, he gets his best weed from his cop friends.  All kidding aside, the domestic Drug War machine is one of the most powerful criminal gangs in the United States — an Evil Empire built on civil asset forfeiture, no-knock raids on non-violent offenders, coerced testimony from jailhouse snitches, warrants obtained by perjury, planted evidence, entrapment, and all the rest of it.  Police forces have been militarized and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments turned into toilet paper.

Internationally, the biggest narco-trafficking operation of them all is the one involved in funding the U.S. government’s Black Ops around the world.  Drug money does, indeed, fund terrorism.  Gangsters like the CIA and Ollie North depend on it for funds to support terrorists from the Khmer Rouge and the Contras to the Kossovar Liberation Army (as Gary Webb demonstrated pretty effectively in regard to the Contras in particular).

So while lower and mid-level policy analysts (including, with all due respect, Col. Hesterman) may want to win the Drug War, and useful idiots like Bill Bennett may spout its propaganda, the Big Dawgs at the top most decidedly don’t want it ever to come to a victorious conclusion.  The big drug cartels, the international terrorist movements, and the American national security state — like the three superpowers in “1984” — prop each other up.  Orwell used the image of three sheafs of corn leaning against each other.

And that’s precisely why the drug trade will never be stamped out.  The drug cartels aren’t the enemy of the state, any more than the neighboring farmers were the enemies of the pigs at Animal Farm.  The drug cartels and the state prop each other up.

The enemy is you.

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