Follow the Money

Halt terrorists’ cash flow by making sale of illicit drugs unprofitable

One of the overwhelmingly difficult things we face when confronted with a tragedy of the magnitude and complexity of Sept. 11 is frustration that we as individuals cannot think of anything constructive to do about it. Well, this time we can.

Remember the advice that “Deep Throat” purportedly gave to Woodward and Bernstein to “follow the money” during the Watergate investigation? That advice holds true with regard to the financing of terrorism as well. The key is still the money! Fanaticism without funding is far less dangerous.

Terrorists like Osama bin Laden are almost always in the business of selling illicit drugs, and they launder huge amounts of money from that trade in order to finance large parts of their operations. This is nothing new, of course, because repressive regimes and terrorist and revolutionary groups around the world have been using money from illicit drug sales to finance their bloody deeds for decades. These include Fidel Castro and Muammar Kaddafi’s governments in Cuba and Libya, the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s government in Iran, and the former governments of Manuel Noriega and Erich Honecker in Panama and East Germany. The government of Bulgaria has used the sale of drugs effectively in its attempts to dislodge the government of neighboring Turkey. Many of the civil wars in Afghanistan and Lebanon were fought over who would control the vast profits from the production, refining and distribution of hashish, heroin and cocaine. The Shining Path in Peru and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerilla movements are almost completely financed by the sale of illicit drugs, and both the Serbs and the Kosovo Liberation Army financed much of their black-market gun purchases by drug trafficking.

So if we really want to do something significant to reduce the danger of terrorism in our country and around the world, we must reduce the financing for that terrorism. Unfortunately, there is presently a movement to try to accomplish this by further intruding upon our civil liberties by having banks increase their surveillance of their customers’ financial transactions in order to “crack down” on drug money launderers. But we have tried that and it doesn’t work. Billions of dollars in profits stimulate amazing creativity, and this always keeps the drug traffickers and money launders a few steps ahead of the regulators. Trying to decrease the financing of terrorism by further increasing government intrusions into private transactions is like trying to stop a waterfall by standing under it with a bucket. You can fill up lots of buckets, but you cannot do anything to shut off the flow.

Instead, if we really want to deal a major blow to bin Laden and other terrorists around the world, we should repeal drug prohibition. Let’s put our heads together and find a way to de-profitize the sale of these illicit drugs. Some positive results have been obtained by several programs in Western Europe, and we should investigate and utilize some of those programs. This is critical, because it isn’t the drugs themselves, it is the prohibition of drugs that is the Golden Goose of terrorism. Although alcohol continues in some cases to be dangerous and addictive, repealing alcohol prohibition seriously reduced the funding for violent gangsters like Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. We can do the same thing with terrorists like bin Laden.

When we finally see and understand the direct connection between illicit drug sales and terrorism, we will repeal our laws of drug prohibition that have funneled so much money into the forces of fear and destruction that all civilized people despise. And this we can do. 

Judge Gray is an Orange County Superior Court judge and is the author of “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It ‘ A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs.”

Orange County Register
The Orange County Register on Friday, November 30, 2001 in the Opinion Section, page Local 10.