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Since the attacks on the United States on September 11th there has been much talk and speculation between the relationship of drug money and the funding of terrorist activity. This not only applies to the terrorist attacks on the United States but also the terrorist attacks and activity all over the world.
Attacks on the United States
The attacks of September 11th were a planned simultaneous multiple attack on different targets along the East Coast of the United States of America on the morning of September 11, 2001. Multiple alleged members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network hijacked four commercial airliners, crashing two of the planes into the "twin towers" of the World Trade Center in New York City and one outside of the Pentagon in Virginia. The fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania; its target has been speculated to either have been the U.S. Capitol or the White House in Washington D.C. It was the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States, and even caused more casualties than at the surprise attack at the Battle of Pearl Harbor in 1941 (Malkin).
The American response was a multi party, unilateral support for President George W. Bush's eventual declaration that this was an act of war. Al-Qaeda was quickly identified as behind the attacks as they had taken credit via various television stations and internet posts, with key figures being located in Afghanistan. Congress quickly passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which had the legal effect of a declaration of war. The four hijackings were timed to be simultaneous. The attackers overpowered and killed stewards and pilots with box cutters smuggled through airport security, while the new pilots turned off the transponders needed for air traffic control, and flew the planes, each loaded with over 20,000 gallons of fuel, toward their assigned targets. On most days roughly 50,000 people worked at the World Trade Center and many more had appointments there. The two planes struck at 8:46 am and 9:03 am when the North and South Tower buildings, 110 stories tall, were only half full (McCaul). The towers survived the impact of the huge aircraft, but the burning fuel weakened the steel support systems, and both collapsed straight down, leaving a gigantic hole in lower Manhattan.
The North American air defense system, North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), did have a few fighter aircraft available, but no one had planned for airliners to be turned into weapons. The U.S. on many different occasions had run security drill with near the same specifications. As these types of exercises had been run in the past it was difficult for people to determine whether this was a legitimate attack or a simulated training drill. The jets and carriers were positioned for threats coming from outside the borders of North America, never expecting to have to respond to attack from within (Ehrenfeld, 391-97). Domestic radar suitable for controlling fighters overland had long been shut down when Soviet bombers were no longer a threat to the safety of US citizens; air traffic control now uses transponders, not radar reflections like military typically uses. There was no simple way to find the aircraft. With the transponder turned off, you would literally have to be able to read the aircraft identification number on the side of the plane to determine exactly what flight it was.
Following the Money
Prior to September 11, 2001, drug trafficking and terrorist activities were usually addressed by different sections of the law enforcement community as separate issues. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, the public now identifies these two criminal activities as being intertwined into one criminal entity. For the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), investigating the link between drugs and terrorism has taken on a renewed importance.
There quite often is a linkage between terrorism and organized crime, including drug trafficking. Links between terrorist organizations and drug traffickers take many forms, ranging from facilitation -- protection, transportation, and taxation -- to direct trafficking by the terrorist organization itself in order to finance its activities. Traffickers and terrorists have similar logistical needs in terms of material and the covert movement of goods, people and money. Relationships between drug traffickers and terrorists benefit both (Steinitz). Drug traffickers benefit from the terrorists' military skills, weapons supply, and access to clandestine organizations. Terrorists gain a source of revenue and expertise in illicit transfer and laundering of proceeds from illicit transactions. Both groups bring corrupt officials whose services provide mutual benefits, such as greater access to fraudulent documents, including passports and customs papers. Drug traffickers may also gain considerable freedom of movement when they operate in conjunction with terrorists who control large amounts of territory.
Since the attacks of September 11th, the public's image of terrorism has been extremely magnified. According to an estimate from the State Department Office for International Narcotics Matters, the production of 1 kilo of cocaine costs about $3,000. The wholesale price of that kilo is about $20,000 (Hutchinson). Opium can be cultivated twice a year in Asia and the Middle East and at least three to four times in Mexico and Colombia because of the tropical climate. The production of heroin is more expensive than cocaine. It costs about $4,000 to $5,000 to produce a kilo of heroin. That kilo will sell for $250,000 to $300,000 wholesale (Schroeder). The drugs are delivered only after the money for them is paid in full. Losing drugs in shipment does not affect the dealers because they have already been paid. Largely, the drug syndicates keep 80 percent of the revenues. According to figures released by the State Department (Mora), there was over 5,000 metric tons of cocaine sold during 2001 at a street value of at least fifty billion dollars. Five hundred metric tons of heroin generated at least thirty billion dollars on the street during that same timeframe.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, heroin production has soared each year. In 1999 alone, the world production of heroin was estimated at 500 metric tons with 400 of those produced by the Taliban, allowing the availability of funds to bin Laden and his associates worldwide. President Bush used a Super Bowl to launch a new anti-drug use campaign saying: "It is so important for Americans to know that the trafficking in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists. Terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder. If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America." This effort to make the American people aware of the connection between drugs and terrorism brings home the President's message that: "if you harbor terrorists, feed them, or finance them, you are the enemy of the United States and we will find you and fight you." Since drugs, according to the President, help fund terrorism, it is not enough to tell the American people to stop using them, for there are many more millions of drug users around the world. Besides, most drugs are not grown or produced in the United States (Department of State).
There has been a term that has come to be widely accepted in the wake of the September 11th attacks and it is narco-terrorism. Any region, in which illegal drugs are cultivated, transported, distributed, or consumed, is susceptible to narco-terrorism. Throughout the world, insurgent groups, revolutionary groups, and ideological or spiritual groups, who use violence to promote their political mission may use drug proceeds to fund acts of terror in furtherance of their ideology. Leadership, cultural, political, and economic change may affect the ideology or mission of a group (Stakelbeck). Internal divisions and splinter groups may result, each seeking to pursue their goals via different avenues, be they legitimate political activity, perpetuation of violence, or criminal activity, such as drug trafficking.
History has shown that narco-terrorist organizations fall into different categories. One category includes politically motivated groups that use drug proceeds to support their terrorist activities; activities that will confer legitimacy upon them within the state. These groups usually call for a ceasefire with the government or take measures to establish a legal political party whereby their political goals are realized through nonviolent, legal means. Groups that fall into this category are generally viewed with skepticism by the state. One example of a group in this category is the Kurdistan Workers Party.
Another category consists of groups that continually pursue their ideological goals while participating in aspects of the drug trade; for example, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. This is the category in which most of the Middle Eastern drug cartels and terrorist groups fall into. There are notable examples of narco-terrorist groups in almost every corner of the world. Many insurgent and extremist groups are suspected of drug trafficking involvement, such as Hezbollah and the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) in the tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil; Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) in Peru; and the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) in Spain (Zeese). The level of involvement in drug trafficking by actual narco-terrorist groups and the evolution of the groups and their purposes are often very different.
It doesn't matter if the intentions are for political gain or just to instill fear into the citizens of another country, terrorist groups do have their agenda and it is undoubtedly being funded by drugs and the money they make selling them. It doesn't make any difference if the group is located in the Middle East or if they are in South America, when drugs are imported into the United States we are in effect just handing money over to terrorist groups so that they can spend it on planning their next attack.