Friday, November 29, 2019

How the DEA Invented NarcoTerrorism...,

propublica  |  On Sept. 11, 2001, when
 American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, DEA agents were among the first to respond, racing from their headquarters, less than half a mile away. A former special agent named Edward Follis, in his memoir, “The Dark Art,” recalls how he and dozens of his colleagues “rushed over … to pull out bodies, but there were no bodies to pull out.” The agency had outposts in more than 60 countries around the world, the most of any federal law-enforcement agency. And it had some 5,000 informants and confidential sources. Michael Vigil, who was the DEA’s head of international operations at the time, told me, “We called in every source we could find, looking for information about what had happened, who was responsible, and whether there were plans for an imminent attack.” He added, “Since the end of the Cold War, we had seen signs that terrorist groups had started relying on drug trafficking for funding. After 9/11, we were sure that trend was going to spread.”
But other intelligence agencies saw the DEA’s sources as drug traffickers — and drug traffickers didn’t know anything about terrorism. A former senior money-laundering investigator at the Justice Department told me that there wasn’t any substantive proof to support the DEA’s assertions.

“What is going on after 9/11 is that a lot of resources move out of drug enforcement and into terrorism,” he said. “The DEA doesn’t want to be the stepchild that is last in line.” Narco-terrorism, the former investigator said, became an “expedient way for the agency to justify its existence.

The White House proved more receptive to the DEA’s claims. Juan Zarate, a former deputy national-security adviser, in his book, “Treasury’s War,” says that President George W. Bush wanted “all elements of national power” to contribute to the effort to “prevent another attack from hitting our shores.” A few months after 9/11, at a gathering of community anti-addiction organizations, Bush said, “It’s so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror. If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America.” In February 2002, the Office of National Drug Control Policy turned Bush’s message into a series of publicservice announcements that were aired during the Super Bowl. Departing from the portrayal of illegal narcotics as dangerous to those who use them — “This is your brain on drugs” — the ads instead warned that getting high helped terrorists “torture someone’s dad” or “murder a family.”

In the next seven years, the DEA’s funding for international activities increased by 75 percent. Until then, the agency’s greatest foreign involvement had been in Mexico and in the Andean region of South America, the world’s largest producer of cocaine and home to violent Marxist guerrilla groups, including the FARC, in Colombia, and the Shining Path, in Peru. Both groups began, in the 1960s and early ‘70s, as peasant rebellions; before long, they started taxing coca growers and smugglers to finance their expansion. The DEA saw the organizations as examples of how criminal motivations can overlap with, and even advance, ideological ones.