War on terror = war on drugs

The suicide attacks of September 11 were both real and symbolic, an unforgettable and murderous swipe at symbols of US power and global domination.
The US and allied response to the attacks, which includes a massive war effort against Afghanistan and domestic security lockdown, troubles civil libertarians. Is the new war on terrorism just an extension of the war on drugs? What does this mean for the fate of personal freedom, and the survival of worldwide cannabis culture?

Photo: CP/ John MoorePhoto: CP/ John MooreThe oily truth

The US government has had a longstanding relationship with Osama bin Laden, a relationship that has its roots in big oil money and the drug war.

In July 2000, an oil deposit of 50 million barrels was found in the Caspian Sea, sandwiched between Russia, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, with China and Afghanistan not too far off. This was the biggest new find of oil in over 30 years, and confirmed earlier suspicions that this area contained massive oil reserves.

There was much speculation about how western oil interests would transport the expensive dead goo out of the region, especially with nearby Chinese and Russian interests complicating matters.

Dr Rahul Peter Das is an expert in sociolinguistics and middle-eastern conflict. In the fall 2000 issue of World Affairs, Das claimed that a pipeline through Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan would be the most secure for western interests, given the political climate of the surrounding countries. Indeed, western oil corporations like the US giant Unocal were seeking pipeline deals with Afghanistan even before the lucrative find, because of the wealth of oil already in surrounding regions.

Negotiations were cancelled when the unruly Taliban seized power in 1996,2 but the Caspian Sea oil find heightened interest in making the pipeline happen. The question became how to build a pipeline despite the Taliban-affiliated, America-hating Islamic militants who controlled the area.

The Taliban, who began negotiating the same oil deals as their predecessors, quickly lost favor when closely related Islamic militant organizations, like that of Osama bin Laden, were accused of anti-US terrorism. Bin Laden and his cadre were suspected of bombing the World Trade Center in 1993, of bombing the American Embassy in East Africa in 1998, and of the suicide attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Two interconnected strategies would help Western corporations and government allies gain unhindered access to the region’s oil without all-out war on the Taliban.

First, they needed to get the Taliban to hand over anti-US Islamic militant bin Laden, which would create a rift between the Taliban and their guerrilla/terrorist network, powerful all throughout the Middle East. Future Taliban cooperation and US military protection for the pipeline would be assured, because the Taliban would need the US to survive. Second, a US drug war in Afghanistan would be a convenient explanation for US military presence in the region, a presence that could be used to suppress the inevitable Islamic guerrilla movement and protect Western investments, a common pattern for third-world domination.

As for the first strategy, ever since the Caspian Sea oil find, the US had been asking the Taliban to extradite bin Laden and threatening war if their demands weren’t met. According to The Far East Economic Review, US officials met with the Taliban four months after the oil find to deliver an ultimatum: Hand over bin Laden or face the consequences ? which included the US targeting “Taliban military assets ? airports, ammunition dumps and military bases.”

A BBC story on September 2001 revealed that the US had been planning an October attack on Afghanistan for many months, should the Taliban continue to hold out on extraditing the world’s most wanted terrorist.

The drug war connection

The second strategy has been an encore success in South America. The White House faced a similar resource-extraction problem in Colombia: massive oil reserves that need transport and protection from a hostile government with ties to even unfriendlier militant groups, both financed by a rich supply of euphoric plants ? poppies in Afghanistan and coca in Colombia.

The ongoing US drug war in Colombia solved many of these dilemmas, establishing a US military presence, providing a pretext to attack anti-corporate Marxist rebels (the FARC) as narcoguerrillas, and installing a pro-US government agreeable to extradition treaties and free trade agreements that made oil extraction easier (CC#20, South American Holocaust).

The US drug war got a strong foothold in Colombia around 1990, and not coincidentally, so did free trade. Since then, Colombia’s oil production has risen by over 78%, mostly accounted for by exports to the US.3

The White House took the first steps along the same drug-war path with Afghanistan. In July 2000 ? the same month as the Caspian Sea oil find ? the Taliban passed a ban on opium at the request of US officials. The Taliban opium ban was likely made only to gain favor from western powers, in exchange for oil-pipeline security. So far the Afghanistan government had been “decertified,” a process by which the White House cuts off foreign aid, imposes trade sanctions and denies loans from US and world banking institutions to countries not deemed to be supportive of the US drug war.

A year 2000 United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) report found a substantial decrease in opium production in Afghanistan. Yet in February 2001, when it came time for the White House to announce which countries were certified as “allies in the drug war,” Afghanistan didn’t make it onto the list. In March, the US State Department and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) alleged that the Taliban had stockpiled opium, and used the ban to drive up the price 900%, from as much as $844 US per kilo to $8400 per kilo.4

Over the next few months, the US continued to play good-cop/bad-cop with Afghanistan. In April 2001, a DEA presence was established in Afghanistan, with Taliban approval. In May 2001, the US gave the Taliban $43 million in aid, much of it in the form of food. The aid was seen as a reward for Taliban drug-war cooperation.

Then, during the summer of 2001, relations between the Taliban and the US deteriorated again, and the UN imposed restrictive sanctions against Afghanistan.

In an interview with Cannabis Culture, Dr Fiona Hill revealed why. Dr Hill is the founder of the Caspian Studies Program at the Kennedy School of Government. Over the past ten years, her work has covered the economic and political transformations in Russia and the New Independent States, post-Soviet ethnic conflicts, and strategic issues in the Caspian Basin.

“There has been a long term deterioration of those relations, especially with the long term basing of bin Laden there,” said Dr Hill. “This is something that has been a major problem for the last two years. But of course there was an increase in tensions over the last summer, especially as it became clear that bin Laden was planning attacks on US targets, although obviously people didn’t anticipate the September 11 crisis.”

End the war

Are you supporting anti-American terrorist organizations by smoking pot?

In the eyes of our drug warriors, drugs replaced communism as the chief source of terrorist funding after the cold war. “Drugs have taken over as the chief means of financing terrorism,” said Interpol’s chief drugs officer, Iqbal Hussain Rizvi in 1994. “There are no more free gifts from earlier patrons,” he said, by which he meant the former USSR.

Dr Fiona Hill commented on the possibility that the war on terrorism might become a war on drugs.

“If we are trying to cut off any sources of financial assistance to the Al-Qaida and other terrorist networks and if drugs are involved in this, I am sure that it will be part of that campaign. But this is just one of their sources of funding within the region, obviously there are other funding sources for these networks elsewhere.”

In the US’ global trade/drug war, coca, opium and marijuana have become prime sources of funding for groups that resist western military presence and market dominance, and governments everywhere know it.

Near the end of 2000, Bill Clinton’s advisors testified before a congressional panel, revealing that illegal drug sales fund both the anti-US FARC rebels in Colombia and bin Laden’s terrorist Al-Qaida network in Afghanistan.

In May 2001, Dr Alain Labrousse of the Organization Geopolitical Drugwatch told the Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs that illicit drug sales had created a scourge of terrorism around the world. Labrousse listed 29 countries in which black-market drug profits fueled insurgency and unrest, including Afghanistan, Colombia and Kosovo ??the three main places where the US has focused its military efforts over the last decade.

The answer to the problem, said Labrousse, is to end prohibition. No more illegal drug market means no more illegal drug profits. Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer and a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, agrees.

“Without prohibition,” said Oscapella, “the drugs that are allegedly funding the Taliban and the Colombian left wing guerrillas and about 25 other groups around the world would not be nearly as lucrative. There would be no significant money in selling those drugs.”

Of course, the DEA has different ideas. On October 3, 2001 they announced that they were ready to jump on board the international war on terrorism.

“We see in [drug traffickers]today a merger of international organized crime and terror,” DEA Director Asa Hutchinson told the US Congressional Committee on Criminal Justice and Drug Policy. “While the DEA does not specifically target terrorists per se, we can and will target and track down drug traffickers involved in terrorist acts, wherever in the world we can find them.”

Patriotic pot?

Actually, a spliff a day ? even the occasional line of coke or puff of heroin ? might be more pro-government than you would think. Black-market drug sales fund pro-US rebel and terrorist groups as well as anti-US groups of the same ilk. In Kosovo, in 1999, the US-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are widely known to have trafficked in heroin to support their war against Kosovo’s head of state, Slobodan Milosevic. Like the war in Afghanistan, the war in Kosovo was fueled in large part by US oil and other resource interests (CC#19, Kosovo Drug War).

Interestingly, in the US State Department listed the KLA as an international terrorist organization in 1998, saying it had bankrolled its operations with proceeds from the international heroin trade and with loans and training from Osama bin Laden.5 This was forgotten by 1999, when the US declared the KLA to be US allies in the war against Milosevic.

Other cases of US-backed, drug-dealing militant groups are documented in Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair’s Whiteout, an excellent expos? of the CIA. Cockburn and St Clair reveal that US-friendly paramilitary forces use cocaine sales to finance their war against FARC guerrillas in Colombia. They also provide extensive evidence that during the 80’s, the CIA transported cocaine into the US and used the profits to buy weapons for the US-friendly Contra rebels in Nicaragua ? a charge that rocked Reagan’s presidency.

The authors also assert that during the early 60’s, the CIA transported heroin by plane to the US via the now infamous Air America. They used the profits to fund the growth and operations of General Vang Pao’s army, as part of their general plan to incite Laos against Vietnam.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in Afghanistan today US-backed Northern Alliance Rebels who are helping to fight the Taliban also reap huge dividends from the opium trade.6 Ending prohibition and the high-priced illicit drug market it creates would result in a huge funding problem for all of these US-backed organizations.

The hypocrisy of the war on drugs has created some confusion in the new war on terrorism. For example, with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair complaining bitterly about heroin on British Streets, “90% of which comes from Afghanistan,” one wonders if the UK shouldn’t be charging the US government for conspiring with the terrorist Northern Alliance. Of course Blair claimed it all came from the Taliban.

So what does the US-led “alliance” mean when it says it will be going after the funding of terrorist groups around the world? It means that it will be targeting the drug profits of its enemies, not its friends. In the US, UK and Canada, money laundering legislation is aimed at a list of terrorist groups designated by the governments of those countries, a sure way to make sure that “friendlies” don’t get caught in the drug dragnet. Not on the White House’s list of 28 terrorist groups are the US-friendly Colombian paramilitary forces, the US-friendly KLA, or Afghanistan’s US-friendly Northern Alliance, all of whom profit from drugs.

Photo: CP ArchivePhoto: CP ArchiveDeath of liberty

Interestingly, US officials haven’t made any explicit mentions of drugs in their anti-terrorist legislation. The only bill that specifically mentions drugs is a money laundering act that deals with “bulk cash smuggling,” which makes a criminal charge of crossing the border with more than $10,000 in hard bills. Another reference to drugs appeared in an early draft of the new US anti-terrorism act, and called for the creation of a DEA office in the Middle East ? a provision that was removed on October 2, 2001, the same day that the bill was reported in Congress.

Does this mean that there will be less of a focus on the war on drugs and more focus on terrorism? Some believe this to be true. But the potential also exists for more heinous abuses against the cannabis community. So says Press Secretary George Getz from the US Federal Libertarian Party.

“The government is going to use one to enforce the other? they are going to use the war on terrorism to ratchet up the war on drugs,” said Getz. “We Libertarians have said for a long time that the war on drugs is the greatest threat to civil liberties that this country faces. At least that is what we said before September 11. Now it may very well be that the war on terrorism is the greatest threat this country faces. And the government is doing some of the same things to fight terrorism as it has in the past done supposedly to fight drugs.”

Including, said Getz, “sneak and peak” searches where police search your home while you’re away and don’t tell you, expanded e-mail snooping using the FBI’s new Carnivore System and censoring the internet. All of these tactics have appeared in previous bills targeting illegal drugs, and all were stripped from those bills by the diligent efforts of civil liberties groups. Now they are back in the US’ new anti-terrorism legislation, the USA Act of 2001 which, as of this writing, has already been passed in two slightly different versions by the US Congress and Senate.

“I think looking down the road here,” said Getz, “for people who smoke marijuana or whatever, it is fair to ask whether these kinds of laws can be applied to you at some point. I predict that the power [of these bills]will broaden.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a press release and public alert, which notes other potential abuses of the act, including “minimized judicial supervision of federal telephone surveillance by law enforcement authorities, granting the FBI access to business records without evidence of a crime, and large-scale investigation of citizens for intelligence purposes.”
Are you a terrorist?

Perhaps the most troubling part of the USA Act is a provision that allows police to throw people in jail without probable cause on the mere suspicion that they are terrorists. Canada and the UK have similar provisions in their anti-terrorism bills, and it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that they might be used against cannabis growers, dealers or users.

Simply buying a hit from your dealer could land you in big trouble under the new laws. In Canada, the US and the UK, unwittingly giving money to a terrorist group ? even through another person or organization that seems totally harmless ? means that your assets can be seized, your accounts frozen, or your ass thrown in jail for decades or even life. Since most of the coke and heroin in the US, Canada and the UK originate from “terrorist” groups who use it for funding, these laws have effectively extra-criminalized hundreds of thousands if not millions of drug users.

“The argument has been made by certain people in the US government that if you buy drugs you are aiding terrorism,” said Oscapella, echoing the sentiments of George Getz. “They will use that as an excuse to ratchet up the war on drugs, by allying people who use drugs to terrorists.”

Marijuana activists and protesters also have reason for concern. The Senate version of the USA Act says that protesters who endanger human life are terrorists? even if they the lives they are endangering are only their own! Similarly, Canada’s new laws say that you are a terrorist if you seriously endanger human life or if you threaten public security by disrupting a public service for a political, religious or ideological purpose. Fairly broad concepts that might conceivably include, for example, an unapproved marijuana protest filling a street when an ambulance happens along.

“Members of Operation Rescue, the Environmental Liberation Front and Greenpeace, for example, have all engaged in activities that could subject them to prosecution as terrorists,” reads a press release from the ACLU.

Dana Beal, organizer of the yearly Million Marijuana March, which has hundreds of thousands of pot smokers take to the streets of cities around the world every year, is also concerned.

“If you shut down legitimate protest by the fear that something may happen, more damage is done to democratic freedom than any terrorist could do with a jet plane or bomb,” explained Beal. “We’re very sensitive to these charges because we are in New York, where it is of course ground zero, and there is a super police state in effect. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who made 10% of all cannabis arrests in the US in the five boroughs of NY? has been itching for all this time to impose a police state, and now he has it.”

In Canada, the US and the UK, governments are now designating groups as terrorists, after which they will be kept on a list. Intelligence-gathering communities like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the FBI will likely have a large say in which groups are candidates for such lists. Herein lies the danger. CSIS’ definition of terrorist groups focuses strongly on organizations that ? in CSIS’ own words ? “share a mutual antipathy for multinational corporate power.”

Similarly, the FBI defines domestic terrorists as left-wing, anarchist, extremist socialist and special interest groups? supposedly only ones that engage in violence for political ends. As examples, however, the FBI identifies the Carnival against Capitalism and Seattle’s 1999 globalization protesters? revealing an agenda dominated more by multinational corporate interests than concern about violence.

Katherine Hoyt is a representative from the Alliance for Global Justice, an anti-globalization organization that was involved in the Seattle protests.

“I think that we don’t fit the definition,” Hoyt told Cannabis Culture. “Terrorists have been defined by scholars as people who target innocent civilians for violent action, for political ends. We are a non-violent group. We protest in the streets, we launch teddy bears over barricades, people may even throw themselves at barricades?”

Certainly, some globalization protesters are more physical than Hoyt’s group, such as the Black Bloc, which attacked various “corporate targets” in downtown Seattle during the 1999 protests. But there is a tendency to paint peaceful globalization protesters, the Black Bloc and the terrorists who blew up the WTC with the same bushy brush.

According to US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, free trade is now a national security concern for the US. “Today’s enemies will learn that America is the economic engine for freedom, opportunity, and development,” said Zoellick. “To that end, US leadership in promoting international economic and trading systems is vital. Trade? promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle.”7

Photo: CP/ John MoorePhoto: CP/ John MooreCrisis and leviathan

Of course, there have always been good reasons to attack organizations that threaten western economic interests, and those reasons have evolved over time. Colombia is a perfect example of such evolution.

When the cold war ended and the drug war got underway, the US began giving the Colombian government billions in aid, supposedly for drug interdiction, and not for use against leftist revolutionaries that threatened control of Colombia’s oil. Yet most of it went to the war against leftist revolutionaries anyway, and when the American media eventually got wind of the deception, public support for the drug war decreased substantially. Now that the war on terrorism is under way, Colombia’s leftist revolutionaries have been added to the US’ list of 28 most-wanted terrorists, again demonstrating how the war on terrorism has evolved directly out of the war on drugs.

Meanwhile, the power elite are using the war on terrorism as an opportunity to get the extra authority they need to negotiate free trade agreements, leveraging yet more resources from debt-ridden third world countries. On September 25, 2001, US Republican Congressman Bill Thomas introduced a rough draft of a bill to fast track free trade agreements. On October 6, the G7 announced that central bankers would make “increased efforts to locate and freeze terrorists’ assets and to stimulate world economic growth by promoting free trade.” So far the official policy of the central banks has been to destroy drug economies and replace them with economies of “free trade.” Considering that terrorist assets are largely drug profits, the central bankers and politicians are just saying the same thing using different words.

“The president is attempting to use the present terrorist crisis to leverage his acquisition of discretionary authority he has been seeking all along,” said Dr Robert Higgs in an interview with Cannabis Culture.

Dr Higgs teaches at universities across the US, is a fellow with the Hoover Institute, the National Science Foundation, and is a senior fellow in Political Economy with the Independent Institute, a think tank with a Libertarian bent. He is the author of several books including Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of the American Government. I asked what he thought of the free trade agreements. Libertarians generally support a free market ideology, meaning no tariffs or duties, but Higgs saw “free trade” as anything but free market.

“Indeed, they are not free-trade agreements,” said Higgs. “Establishing free trade can be done in one sentence. Agreements running hundreds of pages are packed with provisions that give special status to various interests (not all of them corporate), ostensibly during some long-run transition to free trade, but more likely only for as long as the existing political deals remain in effect.”

Higgs sees the war on terrorism as the latest manifestation of a continuing crisis that has led to ever-increasing government powers and shrinking civil liberties. In Crisis and Leviathan, Higgs traces this process back to the Civil War, then shows how it continued through two world wars and the cold war. He sees the drug war as a continuation of the same civil-liberty destroying and government-increasing force.

“The drug war, especially since the mid-1980’s, has done much to increase the power of government at every level,” said Higgs. “Not only the incarceration of persons guilty of violating no one’s just rights, but especially the use of civil forfeiture laws to allow police to seize people’s property, has put the police in the position of pirates loosed on society.”

In the same way, “free trade” and drug war agreements have put the US’ battalions in the position of pirates loosed upon the world. How much more looting will take place in the new war on terrorism, where anyone who opposes market dominance by multinational corporations is considered an enemy of the state?

The war on terrorism is simply another incarnation of the war on drugs: an unwinnable, everlasting war that crosses all national boundaries and erodes freedom on the homefront. Further, both these wars are excuses to enforce international compliance with US foreign policy, and to guarantee US access to international oil reserves.

America’s leaders are painting this conflict as a battle between “good” and “evil.” Yet these labels change with the political winds, and many of those who are now called “evil” were also trained and funded by the US government.

Politicians say they are out to destroy despicable killers, but they are also poised to smash political groups that oppose the status quo. Police powers are being drastically increased in what is almost certain to be an ever-expanding war on personal liberty. Drug-policy reform advocates, anti-globalization protesters and other social reformers all face the possibility of being scooped up in the widening terrorist net.

What happened to the thousands of people in the World Trade Centre is a tremendous tragedy. But their deaths should not be used as an excuse to expand upon a murderous foreign policy, nor to attack the freedoms enshrined in the American constitution.

If the American people truly want to fight a war against terrorism, they should start with their own government, and put an end to the drug war which destabilizes governments, funds violence, and kills many thousands of innocents around the globe.Photo: CP/ John Moore

? For more on terrorism, oil and drug war: www.cannabisculture.com/news/terrorism


1. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, US State Department, 2001.
2. Fact Sheet on Afghanistan, Yahoo International Finance Centre.
3. The Real Reason for US Aid to Colombia. Michael Klare, Pacific News Service, April 7, 2000.
4. Remarks by Asa Hutchinson, DEA Administrator, before the House Committee on Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, regarding “Drug Trade and the Terror Network” October 3, 2001.
5. KLA finances war with heroin sales, by Jerry Seper The Washington Times, May 3, 1999.
6. In Targeting Terrorists’ Drug Money, US puts itself in an Awkward Position, by Alan Cullison and James Dorsey. Wall Street Journal, Oct 2, 2001.
7. Republicans Exploit Tragedy of Sept 11 in Attempt to Pass Fast Track. Press Release by CISPES/Mexico Solidarity Network/Campaign for Labor Rights, October 3, 2001.