The Narcotic-Terrorism Connection
By The Wall Street Journal | by Rachel Ehrenfeld and Michael Kahan
Monday, February 10th, 1986 @ 3:38AM
“A growing narcotics network is only a part of an increased trend of international lawlessness,” said Secretary of State George Shultz in a 1984 address to the Miami Chamber of Commerce. The Reagan administration is increasingly emphasizing the link between drug traffickers, terrorists and organized crime, to a sometimes skeptical audience. But those links have been known for years. Scholars studying this connection have long thought of the neighborhood pusher as connected to terrorism. Unfortunately, most Americans think that drug abuse is a matter of individual behavior — either a personal character defect or a community social problem. In fact, it is an international problem in which the individual user-victim is actually the indirect financier of terrorist activities.
To the extent that we ignore the problem, we are aiding and abetting the very people who attacked the Achille Lauro and the counters at the Rome and Vienna airports, and who everyday threaten Israel with annihilation. Nobody knows for certain the scope of the drug trade. According to the State Department, the 1984 consumption estimates for the U.S. were 5.9 metric tons of imported heroin, 55 to 76 metric tons of imported cocaine, and 7,800 to 9,200 metric tons of marijuana, most of it imported. Whatever the figures, we should keep in mind that they may be a minimum. Even so, the magnitude demonstrates that given the narco-terrorist connection, severing the growing international drug traffic would be a serious blow to international terrorism.
In Latin America, for instance, various criminal organizations operate like any multinational corporation, with separate divisions for cultivating the drugs, exports, transportation, distribution and finance. Guerrillas protect the drug traffickers because the latter supply weapons mainly from Cuba and Libya. These guerrillas reportedly attacked prisons to free drug traffickers who were, for example, caught along the northern coast of Colombia. Terrorists and guerrillas use international drug trafficking for two major purposes. It finances their operations and undermines the social, moral and economic structure of Western countries. Drug traffickers and guerrilla organizations in Latin America exchange not only arms, but also intelligence and services for money laundering. The drugs provide quick and assured financial gain, and they also serve as an international currency funding terrorist activities and guerrilla warfare.
The quid pro quo is an exchange of elements needed for the activities of the different players: arms for drugs; arms for nuclear technology to Libya; false passports for terrorists on the run; or “safe houses.” The common thread connecting international drug trafficking with terrorism is an attempt to undermine the West, directed mainly by the Soviet Union and her allies. Two Soviet satellites play the most important part in this game: Cuba and Bulgaria.
In spite of the growing evidence coming to light about this connection, theories indicating international conspiracy are not given credence in Western societies. And with the “help” of disinformation instigated by Moscow, many people are discouraged from looking for the real sources behind the increased terrorist and drug-related activities in their own countries. Congressional hearings, held in Miami in 1983, developed evidence that Cuba sought not only direct financial gain (approximately $500,000) from each drug shipment, but also expansion of the drug market. According to the testimony of Mario Estevez Gonzalez, a former drug dealer, tried in U.S. District Court in Miami in 1983, Cuban Vice Adm. Aldo Santamaria-Cuadrando told the crew of a cargo ship smuggling $10 million in drugs into the U.S.: “We are going to fill Miami completely with the drugs . . . so that more young Americans will die.” According to congressional testimony, fugitive financier Robert Vesco was involved in a two-way trade, importing drugs to the U.S. and exporting embargoed high-technology equipment to Cuba and weapons to Colombia’s M-19 guerrillas. Vesco and the Colombians started to collaborate with the Cubans in 1980. Cuba, with the reported approval of Fidel Castro, provided a safe haven for Vesco’s smuggling boats in return for their use in running arms from Cuba to other Latin American countries. Vesco, with Mr. Castro’s blessing and support, runs this network like this: Cocaine is smuggled from Colombia and Bolivia to Nicaragua, and from there to Western Europe and the U.S. Some of the profits are transferred to Libya for weapons, which are then shipped to Latin America aboard Bulgarian freighters and Libyan aircraft. Another part of the profits is transferred to Kintex — the Bulgarian state import-export house, which according to various intelligence sources is responsible for the shipping of half the heroin reaching Western Europe.
The profits from this business are also used for arms supplied to Latin American countries, according to 1984 testimony before a Senate subcommittee on drugs and terrorism. In Latin America, guerrilla organizations obtain control over peasant populations in rural areas with rugged or uncultivated soil, in countries such as Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia, by encouraging or forcing them to grow plants that are refined into such drugs as cocaine and opium. The peasants probably collaborate because they earn considerably more from growing such plants than from other export commodities. The guerrillas, at the same time, corrupt the local security forces with bribes, and are assured supplies of arms and financing for their domestic operations. These guerrilla organizations often find it more profitable and more convenient to connect with terrorist organizations and with organized-crime drug traffickers to achieve their purposes.
The drug trade earns more profit than any other illegal activity. If recent agreements between guerrillas in Colombia and the Colombian cocaine families are any indication, insurgent drug resources could total $1.5 billion in the 12 months ended Sept. 30. This should be compared with the more usual guerrilla activities of kidnapping and bank robberies; it is estimated, for example, that these activities netted the Salvadoran guerrillas a total of about $75 million in the period from the mid-1970s to 1981.
Another advantage in such an alliance is the ability to erode the security establishments in target countries. If such an alliance becomes permanent, these countries will face a considerably more serious security, economic and social threat than they are currently facing. Terrorist activities become international when this convergence of interests occurs between various partners. The convergence may develop for different political and economic reasons, but the target is the same — to weaken Western societies, especially the U.S. What has just been described is only the tip of the iceberg in narco-terrorism and its international implications. Two essential ingredients need to be included in any attempt to probe the real size of the iceberg. The first is an awareness campaign, which would follow from Secretary Shultz’s excellent but limited beginning in Miami in 1984. Responsible public officials must have the courage to describe the dimensions of the problem. The public will at first be reluctant to believe the existence of such a grand conspiracy between international political and criminal forces. But the effort must be made. A careful assessment of Soviet involvement in drug trafficking is important because the activity may constitute a massive weapon in their arsenal of active measures against the West. Such an analysis would allow greater coordination between Western intelligence agencies that now handle only individual elements of this problem. Facing up to the Soviet role could provide a valuable weapon in galvanizing democratic opinion against the narco-terrorist phenomenon.
— Ms. Ehrenfeld is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs. Mr. Kahan is an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College.