Drug Abuse: Helping Terrorists Win?

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Drug Abuse: Helping Terrorists Win?

Mar 14th, 2002 3 min read

Senior Policy Analyst

Even before the New England Patriots had arrived home to celebrate their Super Bowl victory, the pro-drug forces were swinging into action.

They didn't like the TV ad that debuted during the Super Bowl -- one noting how Americans who buy illegal drugs unwittingly subsidize terrorism. So the Libertarian Party raced into production an ad designed to parody it.

The Libertarian counter-ad features an actor portraying John Walters, who directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "This week, I had lunch with the president, testified before Congress and helped funnel $40 million in illegal drug money to groups like the Taliban," the fake Walters says.

The ad goes on to say that the war on drugs "boosts the price of drugs by as much as 17,000 percent, funneling huge profits to terrorist organizations." In other words, it's the enforcement that makes the drug trade so profitable. Cut that out, and the price of drugs collapses and, with it, the huge profits that fund terrorism.

Neat argument. Full marks for originality. But it's not that simple.

Osama bin Laden confirmed as much when he justified exporting Afghanistan's poppy crop as one half of a two-pronged approach to bring down America and the West. The other prong: outright terror, financed by drugs sales.

Like it or not, drug-users in America do help finance the terrorists who attack us. The sellers rely on volume for their profits; as long as we continue to purchase and use in bulk, they can count on steady and expanding profits as far as the eye can see.

Many Americans, including businessmen, politicians, doctors, lawyers, even presidents, have experimented with drugs at some point. But no matter how "recreational" the user, the drug wholesaler on the other end almost always has a deadly serious purpose, whether it's fomenting communist revolution in Colombia or exporting terror from Afghanistan.

Terrorist groups have turned increasingly to the drug trade in recent years to compensate for the declining flow of money from traditional state sponsors of terrorism, according to former Drug Enforcement Administration head Donald Marshall. Another unhappy coincidence is that drug traffickers and terrorists tend to gravitate to the same lawless places -- such as rural Colombia, Afghanistan and parts of Asia -- where they can establish large operations uninterrupted by police or others.

The United Wa State Army, a terrorist drug trafficking group active in the Burmese sector of the golden triangle (Laos, Burma, and Thailand), reportedly buys its weapons from North Korea -- a member of the "Axis of Evil" that President Bush warned about in his State of the Union address. And terrorists elsewhere have begun raising money by assisting in the trafficking, transportation and storage of illegal drugs, says Marshall.

It's big money, too. A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office notes that Colombian rebels earn up to $600 million a year taxing, protecting and smuggling drugs. The rebels use this to bolster their armed forces, which now rival the Colombian army in strength and weaponry.

In the late 1990s, Afghanistan produced three-quarters of the world's opium supply. Americans spend nearly $10 billion a year on illegal opium derivatives, and Europeans -- with whom the drug is more popular -- spend billions more.

About 14 million Americans used drugs last month, according to the National Council of Drug Policy. Increased border security since Sept. 11 has slowed the flow of some drugs, but as long as demand remains constant -- as it has the last two years, according to the Council -- suppliers will find a way to bring in drugs.

President Bush has offered a plan to reduce drug use by 10 percent over the next two years and 25 percent over the next five. His plan centers on reducing public tolerance of drugs, said Walters.

As such, perhaps an appeal to patriotism is in order. Hard-core addicts probably won't kick their habits for the good ol' U. S. of A. But casual users just might.

Especially if we help them understand that it's time to stop channeling American money to the terrorists who have declared war on the West. 

Dexter Ingram is the database editor for the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire