Is the Christian Drug Prohibitionist Seeing the Real World?
My Kuyperians co-Commenter, Steve Macias, has written an excellent piece on drug decriminalization. It is a great piece in its own right, but it also gives me an opportunity to flesh out an application of my rather abstract post on why your Christian world view blinds you.
Whether or not Christians agree with Macias on legalizing drugs, many will assume that the simple point is whether or not “the government” (conceived of as a monolithic entity rather than as many people with many different centers of power and differing interests) is “against” drugs and therefore prohibits them. But what if we take a moment and look at the world as it actually is?
Boycott the CIA; Keep Away from Cocaine… ?
Awhile back, I began to suspect that the world is a very different place than what I thought it was. The “War on Drugs” is at the center of it.
I think the first serious whiff of the problem came when I found R. Emmett Tyrrelll’s Boy Clinton: The Political Biography, and read about the cocaine shipments that came through the airport in Mena, Arkansas courtesy of the CIA’s off-book financing of Contra rebels in Nicaragua.Then I read about it again in The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. You can find many of the facts recorded in this article.
Of course, this Cocaine smuggling (which involved cover-up murders) was not done in response to Clinton’s agenda. It was simply something on the side that he allowed to happen. The prime movers were the CIA and Federal decision-makers, probably including George H. W. Bush. So it was only a matter of time, when I was able to look further, that I would discover journalist Gary Webb who broke the story in the 90s. Webb was allowed to publish his story because he supported it with evidence. But eventually the major media beat him down to the point that he (choose one) committed suicide/was suicided.
Gary’s work won him a Pulitzer Prize and then, abruptly, got him blacklisted when people who cared actually began reading his stories and starting to shake up “the establishment” in outrage. The media began slamming Gary in all sorts of ways and his own paper eventually punished him by a virtual demotion. But his stories were well-substantiated.
A few audios you can listen to, include:
If you like videos:
So that will give you some idea of what was going on. If you have any more doubts about Webb’s credibility, I found the Google Books excerpts of Whiteout by Alexander Cockburn to be quite convincing.
BUT IT GOES WAY BEYOND THE CONTRAS, AND WAY BEYOND THE CIA
So reading this stuff was, I thought at the time, a revolutionary change in perspective. I thought implicating the CIA in cocaine trafficking was simply a trope for Hollywood movies. I had no idea that it was really serious.
But there is more involved than just the CIA. Companies and banks are also involved. Consider the smuggling operations of major cigarette companies:
Mr Campbell also claimed BAT’s activities in Colombia supported the smuggling of cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin by providing tobacco products to countries that produced these drugs.
You will find more about how that worked (works?) here. It was a major story at the end of the 90s or early 2000. If I am reading this right the article seems to argue for a relationship to money laundering for drug traffickers rather than engaging in direct trafficking along with its own cigarette smuggling. Or, as reported in Autralia’s The Age in 2001:
In Colombia, tobacco companies are alleged to have helped launder drug money and worked closely with distributors involved in drug trafficking. A Colombian law suit against Philip Morris and BAT accuses them of involvement in drug money laundering through what is known as the “black market peso exchange”.
Consider this story in Bloomberg, “Banks Financing Mexico Gangs Admitted in Wells Fargo Deal,” which begins thus (emphasis added)
Just before sunset on April 10, 2006, a DC-9 jet landed at the international airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, 500 miles east of Mexico City. As soldiers on the ground approached the plane, the crew tried to shoo them away, saying there was a dangerous oil leak. So the troops grew suspicious and searched the jet.
They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million. The stash was supposed to have been delivered from Caracas to drug traffickers in Toluca, near Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors later found. Law enforcement officials also discovered something else.
The smugglers had bought the DC-9 with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp., Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its August 2010 issue.
This was no isolated incident. Wachovia, it turns out, had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers. Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Wachovia in 2008, has admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers — including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine.
The admission came in an agreement that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia struck with federal prosecutors in March, and it sheds light on the largely undocumented role of U.S. banks in contributing to the violent drug trade that has convulsed Mexico for the past four years.
And this all happened again more recently with HSBC. The media, of course, insisted on passive language. The bank “allowed money laundering” and gave the reader no historical context that this has been typical ongoing bank behavior in perhaps every major bank.
Lets keep in mind what is at stake here. In the horrific Washington Post article, Mexican Drug Cartels Targeting and Killing Children, we read this bit of re-assurance from our chief anti-drug Lord.
U.S. and Mexican officials say the grotesque violence is a symptom the cartels have been wounded by police and soldiers. “It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs,” said Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The cartels “are like caged animals, attacking one another,” she added.
Last February the U.S. extradited the son of one of the most powerful cartel leaders in Mexico to stand trial in Chicago for cocaine trafficking. The capture of Vicente Zambada-Niebla, son of Sinaloa cartel leader Ismail “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, is the DOJ’s highest-profile catch in years and a nominal drug war victory. But in July, Zambada turned the tables on his captors by claiming that he had “public authority” to traffic cocaine into the U.S. over a span of five years in exchange for providing intelligence on his rivals. For nearly two months the Justice Department declined to comment, fueling speculation that “Operation Fast and Furious,” a gun-smuggling operation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix, was part of a trend of state-sanctioned law-breaking. The DOJ’s eventual response, filed September 11, did little to assuage those concerns. Prosecutors admitted that Zambada’s lawyer in Mexico had been a confidential informant for the DEA, supplying intel that the Sinaloa cartel had gathered on its competitors to U.S. law enforcement. Prosecutors also admitted that Zambada’s lawyer had in fact arranged a meeting between his client and the DEA in 2009, but that the meeting was supposed to have been cancelled at the last minute.
“The agents who met with defendant were expressly ordered by the highest ranking DEA official in Mexico not to even meet with (Zambada-Niebla), and no official with actual authority, namely the United States Attorney General or a United States Attorney, authorized agents to promise defendant immunity,” the filing read.
If that claim sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve heard it before. Attorney General Eric Holder’s second reaction to Operation Fast and Furious (after first claiming that the allegations couldn’t possibly be true) was that the actions taken by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix couldn’t possibly have been sanctioned by the higher-ups at the Justice Department.
Zambada is not the only person to claim that the DOJ sanctions illegal activities in order to get closer to the cartels. Days after prosecutors denied Zambada’s allegations, a former law enforcement officer went to the El Paso Times with allegations that the FBI had allowed drugs to cross the border as part of a larger investigation. William Dutton, a former New Mexico livestock investigator, claimed that during his 18 months working with the FBI, he accepted several shipments of narcotics on the agency’s behalf. “The drugs were concealed in horse saddles, and we started getting a lot of them,” Dutton told the Times. “But the FBI kept putting me off when I asked for the money to pay the cartels for the drugs. I had to use my own funds. The FBI still owes me thousands of dollars for these out-of-pocket expenses.”
According to the Times, Dutton and a retired Doña Ana County sheriff’s deputy named Greg Gonzales “allege that the FBI dropped them after ‘big names’ on the U.S. side of the border began to surface in the drug investigations.” The FBI declined to comment on Dutton’s claims, telling the Times that it never reveals information about confidential informants. The Texas Department of Public Safety told the Times that Dutton “had no credibility.”
“Much of the intelligence cited by Dutton and Gonzalez does not appear to be actionable or provable, just more rumors in the swirl of half-truths found along the border,” wrote Insight Crime‘s Elyssa Pachico, an analyst who covers organized crime in Central America. Pachico also compared the charges to Zambada’s. “[T]hey hint at a deeper truth in the U.S.’s handling of the Mexican drug panorama. The border zone is filled with double agents, and often U.S. officials have to take part in morally ambiguous operations. This includes relying on informants who may continue to traffic drugs and kill people, but will still expect protection in return for their information.”
NOT MARGINAL, BUT MAINSTREAM
Let’s stop a moment and pull back to look at the international corporate context.
In PBS Frontline’s extraordinary expose “Black Money,” we get a window into a world of amazing amount of cash being used off the books to support businesses. This special is available online and I am willing to bet it is worth an hour of your time. The vice, in that documentary, however, is restricted to bribery. Here is an exchange with a Swiss Prosecutor:
And we’re not talking here about the local Mafia boss; in the United States it would be Tony Soprano. What kind of people are we talking about who are doing this bribing?
… We’re talking about corporations, managers in corporations on the one side, and we’re talking about officials, elected heads of state and so on, on the other side.
It’s not about people who are on the margins. Mafia bosses are marginal. They want to be powerful, they’re struggling to be powerful, but frankly they’re still on the margins. If you’re a drug runner, you don’t belong with legitimately powerful people.
That’s one of the very big problems with combating bribery: You’re talking about the center of legitimate power.
But is that completely true? While someone who is “only” a drug runner may merely aspire to power (or merely aspire to make a living), it is easy to imagine someone with power in the form (and the Black Money video shows that these are all present) aircraft, diplomatic passports and oodles of slushy cash might want to make a quick and huge profit.
(Another feature of the video is that it interviews a CIA agent who described his job as corporate/governmental bribery for American interests and noted that he was competing with other corporations of various nationalities. If one is aware of the CIA’s record in “off book” funding via illicit merchandise, it is hard not to imagine that corporations are also right there alongside the CIA in making money through smuggling.)
With all that in mind, lets look at the website for J. P. Morgan and read an essay posted there on “The Price of Globalization” :
Unfortunately, globalization can have a negative side. Corporations and countries desperate for foreign investment may turn a blind eye to those with nefarious intent. Irresponsible globalization of cross-border trade has allowed some countries to fund and arm oppresive regimes. U.S. journalists and news programs have reported that personal investments such as 401k accounts may be unknowingly funding terrorism. According to some highly regarded news programs, the majority of Americans have money invested in companies that do business with “rogue” nations. William Thompson, New York City Comptroller responsible for $80 billion in pension funds for city workers, said, “the revenue that is generated from the work that these companies are doing, we believe, helps to underwrite and support terrorism.” He also points out that New York City’s pension fund owns nearly $1 billion in stocks from three Fortune 500 companies which also own operations in Iran and Syria. He is angry that “these companies could be contributing to attacks on our nation.” According to James Petras, Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, “there is a consensus among U.S. Congressional Investigators, former bankers and international banking experts that U.S. and European banks launder between $500 billion and $1 trillion of dirty money each year, half of which is laundered by U.S. banks alone.” As Senator Carl Levin summarizes “Estimates are that $500 billion to $1 trillion of international criminal proceeds are moved internationally and deposited into bank accounts annually. It is estimated that half of that money comes to the United States.” Irresponsible globalization transcends corporations and large-scale financial transactions. It can also be found in the personal arena such as in our private and personal retirement funds and other investments. Curbing unethical globalization should be an individual’s personal obligation as well as a corporate responsibility.
So, American banks make a minimum of a quarter trillion dollars a year in laundering drug money. Think they are likely to want that money to go away? Do you think J. P. Morgan wringing its corporate hands over this fact means that it is one of the good guys who would never touch the filthy lucre?
Maybe this story is far far exaggerated. But shouldn’t the media show some interest in investigating such establishment statements to disprove them or verify them?
It gets even better. The Guardian/Observer ran a story in December 2009, that “Drug money saved banks in global crisis, says UN advisor.”
Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations‘ drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.
The whole story is enlightening.
With that in mind, consider this little nugget of information from FoxNews.
So we guard the poppies, allow them to be harvested, encourage them, repay them when we damage their crops, and say that we will somehow intercept these shipments later…
I don’t claim to know anything about the Taliban’s current poppy dependence, but Wikipedia says that the Taliban made great strides in eliminating it at our request before we invaded. In any case, their “culture” seems to have grown under occupation.
A lot more could be added to this subject, but I will stop here for now.
My question for you, Christian prohibitionist,
Does the sinfulness of drug abuse obligate us to support such widespread corruption by demanding that it stay criminal?
Essentially, the illegality of drugs provides for a cartel, and industry that makes high profits because of barriers to competition. Strictly “private” criminals get caught and put in prison, leaving international banks and corporations to cushion their cash flow.