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July 23, 2004 - The Drug War Chronicle (US-Web)

Commentary: Drugs and the 9/11 Commission Report

By David Borden, Executive Director, DRCNet

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Drugs and drug policy are everywhere -- even in the final report released yesterday by the 9-11 Commission. Drugs were a decidedly secondary issue for the commission, understandably -- we are able to include literally every excerpt on the topic in this short article -- but the report information of some relevance and importance to the topic nonetheless.

Page 17, NORAD Mission and Structure: "The threat of Soviet bombers diminished significantly as the Cold War ended, and the number of NORAD alert sites was reduced from its Cold War high of 26. Some within the Pentagon argued in the 1990s that the alert sites should be eliminated entirely. In an effort to preserve their mission, members of the air defense community advocated the importance of air sovereignty against emerging 'asymmetric threats' to the United States: drug smuggling, 'non-state and state-sponsored terrorists,' and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile technology."

Drug War Chronicle comments: It's no surprise and not new news that officials would seek to preserve their Cold War budgets and programs by using the drug argument. But that doesn't make it useful to others besides them. Supply will always fill demand, which makes military activity a ridiculous way to reduce substance use or abuse. During his confirmation hearings in January 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Senators, "If demand [for drugs] persists, it's going to find ways to get what it wants. And if it isn't from Colombia, it's going to be from someplace else." It's been reported to DRCNet that during the 1990s, now-Secretary of State Colin Powell, responding to a question asked following an unrecorded speech at a college in New York, said "We will never solve the drug problem militarily."

Page 74, The Justice Department and the FBI: "[P]riorities were driven at the local level by the [FBI's] field offices, whose concerns centered on traditional crimes such as white-collar offenses and those pertaining to drugs and gangs. Individual field offices made choices to serve local priorities, not national priorities."

DWC: The FBI fighting drugs instead of the FBI fighting terrorism -- misplaced priorities, perhaps missed opportunities.

Page 76-77, FBI Organization and Priorities: "FBI, Justice, and Office of Management and Budget officials said that FBI leadership seemed unwilling [during the 1990s] to shift resources to terrorism from other areas such as violent crime and drug enforcement... With a few notable exceptions, the field offices did not apply significant resources to terrorism and often reprogrammed funds for other priorities... In 2000, there were still twice as many agents devoted to drug enforcement as to counterterrorism."

DWC: Misplaced priorities...

Page 80, Other Law Enforcement Agencies: "The [Justice] department's Drug Enforcement Administration had, as of 2001, more than 4,500 agents. There were a number of occasions when DEA agents were able to introduce sources to the FBI or CIA for counterterrorism use."

DWC: Drug war supporters might argue that this is an argument for continuing to wage the drug war -- sometimes the information that drug agents find is useful for counterterrorism. The argument would be flawed, however -- clearly any resources and manpower applied deliberately to counterterrorism would be likely to accomplish more for counterterrorism than counternarcotics efforts then and now might occasionally accomplish by accident.

Page 100, Counterterrorism: "President Clinton's first national security advisor, Anthony Lake, had retained from the Bush administration the staffer who dealt with crime, narcotics, and terrorism (a portfolio often known as 'drugs and thugs'), the veteran civil servant Richard Clarke."

Page 171, General Financing [of al Qaeda]: "Al Qaeda has been alleged to have used a variety of illegitimate means, particularly drug trafficking and conflict diamonds, to finance itself. While the drug trade was a source of income for the Taliban, it did not serve the same purpose for al Qaeda, and there is no reliable evidence that Bin Ladin was involved in or made his money through drug trafficking."

DWC: If any terrorists do use drug trafficking to finance their operations, and there is some evidence for it, that is a much better argument for legalization of drugs, not for fighting them. Of course, the commission did not raise that subject.

Page 179, [Attempted LA Airport Bombing Plotter] Ahmed Ressam: "Inspectors examining Ressam's rental car found the explosives concealed in the spare tire well, but at first they assumed the white powder and viscous liquid were drug related -- until an inspector pried apart and identified one of the four timing decides concealed with black boxes."

DWC: Another example drug warriors might use to argue for the drug war as helping the fight against terror. Also invalid, though -- there's no reason to believe in this day and age that inspectors spotting white powder hidden in a rental car's spare tire compartment would not think to investigate further.

Page 186, Terrorist Financing: "Treasury regulators, as well as US financial institutions, were generally focused on finding and deterring or disrupting the vast flows of US currency generated by drug trafficking and high-level international fraud. Large-scale scandals, such as the use of the Bank of New York by Russian money launderers to move millions of dollars out of Russia, captured the attention of the Department of the Treasury and of Congress. Before 9/11, Treasury did not consider terrorist financing important enough to mention in its national strategy for money laundering."

DWC: Another case of misplaced priorities, but more -- why is there such a vast flow of laundered US currency? As the commission noted, partly from drug trafficking. How can we get rid of it? Only through legalization, of course -- but again, of course, the commission didn't bring that up.

Page 209, Military Plans: "The FBI was struggling to build up its institutional capabilities to do more against terrorism, relying on a strategy called MAXCAP 05 that had been unveiled in the summer of 2000. The FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, Dale Watson, told us that he felt the new Justice Department leadership was not supportive of the strategy. Watson had the sense that the Justice Department wanted the FBI to get back to the investigative basics: guns, drugs, and civil rights... On May 9, the attorney general [John Ashcroft] testified at a congressional hearing concerning federal efforts to combat terrorism. He said that 'one of the nation's most fundamental responsibilities is to protect its citizens... from terrorist attacks.' The budget guidance issued the next day, however, highlighted gun crimes, narcotics trafficking, and civil rights as priorities. Watson told us that he almost fell out of his chair when he saw this memo, because it did not mention counterterrorism."

DWC: Our nation's misplaced priority of the misguided drug fight seems to emanate right from the top.

Pages 383-384, Protect Against and Prepare for Terrorist Attacks: "In the decade before September 11, 2001, border security -- encompassing travel, entry, and immigration -- was not seen as a national security matter. Public figures voiced concern about the 'war on drugs,' the right level and kind of immigration, problems along the southwest border, migration crises originating in the Caribbean and elsewhere, or the growing criminal traffic in humans."

DWC: Denial of reality -- it is well demonstrated from decades of experience that border enforcement cannot possibly stop the drug traffic, nor even reduce it enough to raise the price of drugs. Whether border security can protect us from terrorists either, I don't know. But drugs? Not a chance.

The 9/11 Commission Report is available at online.

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