Monday, February 4, 2008

Of Wolves and Sheep: The CIA and the International Drug Trade

Researchers have long argued that the proliferation of international narcotics trafficking is in direct proportion to worldwide U.S. military and intelligence operations. Endless resource wars are launched to benefit U.S. corporate overlords and guide U.S. foreign and domestic policy; all the rest are fulsome words to placate the rubes.

The latest in a deepening series of scandals, as attentive readers are aware, involves the disclosure by Mexican authorities and independent investigators in the U.S., that two CIA and Department of Homeland Security-linked jetliners busted in Mexico with multi-ton loads of cocaine may very well be the tip of a dark iceberg of official corruption, the corrosive heart of a system in need of one.

According to Daniel Hopsicker at MadCowMorningNews,

The first, a DC9 airliner (N900SA) busted carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine, had been painted to impersonate aircraft from the Dept. of Homeland Security.

The Gulfstream II business jet (N987SA) caught in September with at least 4 tons (estimates vary) had been used in the CIA's extraordinary rendition operation for several years, and, prior to that, as first reported by Narco News, by both the CIA and DEA in operations in Colombia during the 1990's.

Bill Conroy, reporting for The Narco News Bulletin tells us that,

Given these realities, attorney Mark Conrad, a former supervisory special agent with U.S. Customs, ICE's predecessor agency, speculates that the Mayan Express operation is not controlled by ICE at all, but is, in fact, a CIA-run operation using ICE as a cover. He adds that the CIA has agents operating inside many federal law enforcement agencies utilizing what is known as an "official cover."

Among the many reasons why this is the case, Douglas Valentine, an investigator who has written the definitive history of the CIA's Southeast Asia death squad operation, The Phoenix Program, argues in CounterPunch that,

The DEA and its predecessor federal drug law enforcement organizations have always been infiltrated and, to varying degrees, managed by America's intelligence agencies. The reason is simple enough: the US Government has been protecting its drug smuggling allies, especially in organized crime, since trafficking was first criminalized in 1914. Since then drug law enforcement has been a function of national security in its broadest sense; not just protecting our aristocracy from foreign enemies, but preserving the Establishment's racial, religious and class prerogatives.

In The Strength of the Wolf, Valentine traces the origins of federal efforts to stem the flow of illicit narcotics, situating repressive drugs policy within the context of state efforts to clamp down on what are perceived to be "dangerous" social elements: the poor, minorities and others viewed as threats to the established order. Federal efforts were never conceived as a means to eradicate the narcotics trade but rather, to manage it, particularly when organized crime assets centered with the deep state were concerned.

According to this reading, drug syndicates, from the Corsican-controlled heroin rackets of the 1940s and 1950s, the Nationalist Chinese bandit armies of Chiang Kai-shek who ran the Golden Triangle opium trade, the Afghan mujaheddin and their Pakistani masters in the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), through the Medellin and Cali cocaine cartels who supplied the Nicaraguan Contras with drugs that sparked the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, down to today, are viewed as crucial allies.

According to former DEA agent Celerino Castillo,

In Central America, the Contras' drug connection was no secret. The Salvadoran military knew. The U.S. Embassy knew. DEA knew. The CIA knew: "with respect to (drug trafficking by) the Resistance is not a couple of people. It a lot of people," the CIA's Central American Task Force chief would tell Congressmen a month after [Oliver] North's testimony. ... And there were indications North knew. (Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras & the Drug War, London: Sundial, 1994, p. 22)

Dubious intelligence assets such as these have one thing in common, however: like their CIA handlers and the political minders who "guide" the ship of state, they champion a far-right ideological perspective that holds no quarter with quaint notions of a "preferential option for the poor." Whether they are Corsican or Sicilian mafiosi, Cuban counter-revolutionaries, Turkish Grey Wolves, Nicaraguan Contras, Colombian sicarios or bin Laden's medieval-minded killers, fascism is their preferred methodology and terror their weapon of choice.

Why do anti-narcotics operations get sidetracked? Valentine explains:

The glitch in the system is that while investigating traffickers, federal drug agents are always unearthing the Establishment's ties to organized crime and its proxy drug syndicates. US intelligence and security agencies recognized this problem early in the early 1920s and to protect their Establishment patrons (and foreign and domestic drug smuggling allies fighting communists), they dealt with the problem by suborning well-placed drug law enforcement managers and agents.

In a new book to be published later this year, The Strength of the Pack, Valentine proposes to document how "the CIA infiltrated the DEA and how, under CIA direction, the war on drugs became a template for the war on terror."

An how has the new "war on drugs" panned out, you might ask?

With ever-greater quantities of heroin flowing out of Afghanistan and a burgeoning new opium trade in Iraq.

Business has never been better...

(Full Disclosure: As editor of the 2002 book, Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, I included Douglas Valentine's article, "Homeland Insecurity: Phoenix, CHAOS, and the Politics of Terror in America," in that volume.)

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