Narco-terrorists and the international criminal organizations that thrive on the illegal drug trade now threaten the national security of many nations. The nexus between transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups does not end with illegal drug trafficking. Their partnerships are complex, linking illegal drugs, money, geography and politics. Yet, U.S. and international law-enforcement agencies overlook the connections between them, thereby unwittingly abetting the escalation in terrorism.
Terrorists' and criminals' mutually beneficial activities include: illegal arms trafficking, extortion and protection rackets; kidnapping; prostitution rings and human trafficking; credit card, social security and immigration fraud and identity theft; tax fraud; counterfeiting currencies, pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, alcohol, etc.; pirating videos, compact discs, tapes, and software; and illegal oil trade. The hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues fill the war chests of terrorists and criminals alike. Some of that money is used to undermine the political systems where these groups operate or target.
The March 2009 U.S. Department of State's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report documents "a direct connection between traditional Colombian drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and Middle Eastern money launderers tied to Hezbollah."
Back in 1987, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), then Chairman of the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, warned: "If we are to wage an effective war on drugs, we must have a successful campaign in Mexico." Judging by the expansion of heroin and cocaine production and trafficking from Latin America, and the escalating violence in Mexico that now spills over to the United States and Canada, we are not winning.
And the threat is not limited to Mexican drug cartels; many criminal and drug trafficking organizations in the Western Hemisphere collaborate with Muslim terrorist groups like al- Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The Tri-Border Area (TBA -- Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay), for example, is a known center of their operations.
These anti-American narco-terrorist groups found a good ally in Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who stopped cooperating with the U.S. drug eradication efforts in 2005. Chavez provides these groups with a safe haven from which to transfer money, arms and operatives to and from Syria, Southern Lebanon and Iran.
Meeting in Vienna on March 11, the 52nd session of the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), acknowledged that heroin and cocaine consumption had increased globally, while enforcement failed. Yet, the meeting did not offer better policies to reduce illegal drug production and consumption, which would lead to less crime and funding for terrorists.
Instead, it called to treat the problem "less like a war, and more like an effort to cure a social illness." Moreover, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, sees the users as victims, and therefore the "war" on drugs" as a human rights violation. "All too often, drug users suffer discrimination, [they] are forced to accept treatment," she said.
Incredibly, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca argued: "We can't go against a culture, and that's what the international community has to understand." Similarly, the Economist's cover story argued for drug legalization since "prohibition seems even more harmful, especially for the poor and weak of the world" -- implying that drug addiction afflicts only the poor.
However, at the same time, the U.N. study on Organized Crime and Its Threat to Security, warns that: "Because drug trafficking enriches criminals, destroys communities and even threatens nations, it has to be dealt with urgently and forcefully." Indeed, the report goes on to say that uncontrollable drug trade "even" causes terrorism.
The estimated $518 million that the Taliban collected from the heroin trade in 2007, according to the International Narcotics Control Board, facilitated their resurgence, growing influence and violence and forced the U.S. to deploy 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan -- in addition to the 38,000 already there.
On March 9, the Chief of U.S. National Guard Bureau Gen. Craig McKinley warned of the growing threat to U.S. national security through "the linkages between drug cartels through organized crime back to terrorist organizations [which] cannot be disputed."
Despite these recent acknowledgments, the U.S. seems reluctant to use the solution for this festering problem. Mycoherbicides, "fungus naturally existing in the soil," could safely control the opium poppy, coca plant, and cannabis, rendering them worthless. Section 1111 of Public Law 109-469, which was signed into law on December 29, 2006, required that the Drug Czar's office submit a plan within 90 days for an expedited scientific study of "the use of mycoherbicide as a means of illicit drug crop elimination...[it] shall include an evaluation of all likely human health and environmental impacts of mycoherbicides derived from the fungus naturally existing in the soil."
Twenty-six months later, this provision in the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 300-5 and unanimously in the Senate, has gone nowhere. Yet, the use of mycoherbicides in South America and Afghanistan will mitigate the production of heroin and cocaine and cut off the narco-terrorists' major money supply. This would free up billions of dollars used to fight the opium and coca trafficking and addiction and make those monies available to help fight terrorism directly. It would also free up funds for an array of social and governmental reforms in affected countries, and reduce the threat to our national security.
President Obama should immediately authorize the study as ordered in Section 1111 of Public Law 109-469. The completion of the study could help the U.S. to win the battle against terrorism, drug trafficking, and international crime.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It, is director of American Center for Democracy.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld
March 17, 2009