In response to:
The New Mafia from the December 3, 1992 issue
To the Editors:
Evil Money is about corruption. It is about the profound subversive effect drug money laundering has on democratic society and about the creation of immense market power in the hands of a few demonstrably corrupt and evil people.
For Michael Massing [“The New Mafia,” NYR, December 3, 1992] “conservatives” who have the temerity to note the corruption and the subversive international activities of the Soviet Union prior to its collapse must now, after the Cold War, be simply itching for a new figure to demonize. For Rachel Ehrenfeld, says Massing, the new demon is Islam. Therefore, my conclusions must be motivated not by facts but only by “animosity” and thus ipso facto be false. Massing presents not a single alternative fact or counter-argument in support of his presumptions of disbelief. My books are based on original and detailed personal investigation, in six languages, of primary sources throughout the world—sources which unfortunately often must, given the nature of my subject, remain confidential.
The veracity of the documentation in my book Narco-Terrorism—in which I show conclusively how the Soviets used drug abuse and the drug culture in the US to their advantage—has been repeatedly reconfirmed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Similarly, the cooperation of Islamic groups, the KGB, and various radical groups worldwide is an amply documented fact.
Mr. Massing also disputes my information about the support of BCCI and of the Abu Nidal organization for the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru without presenting a single contradictory fact. While condemning my citation of a congressional Task Force document without footnoting individual authors, almost in the same breath he too quotes congressional hearings without identifying specific authors. It may come as a surprise to Massing, but Switzerland is often described as a police state—a fact he can easily ascertain if he bothers to look into the matter. First hand investigations of narco-terrorism and international money laundering operations do indeed put investigators in danger. Massing’s attitudinalizing merely reflects his own ignorance of the subject, and of the nature of real investigative research.
That Agha Hasan Abedi intended to form a Muslim bank in order to revive the economies of the Third World along Islamic principles is likewise no mere bizarre and unsupported fabrication of mine. Abedi and his friends stole billions of dollars from those desperately impoverished Third World countries and pocketed the money. This has been documented by the Kerry Committee and the international press. Evil Money is not about Arabs and Muslims trying to destroy the US, as Mr. Massing implies. It is about how greed on a world class scale enabled a small group of people with strong ethnic ties and similar religious beliefs to steal billions of dollars—largely by taking advantage of a free market world financial system. The use of violence by Muslims is also not my invention. The Koran calls for it. It is called “Jihad,” and it is an ideological factor motivating Islamic fundamentalist states that cannot be ignored by any responsible Western government.
Massing’s political agenda in his review of, or rather diatribe about my book is clear. Through insinuation, misinformation, and occasionally outright lies, Massing tries to dismiss reality. Had Massing read my books rather than skimming through them, he could not have written the same review. Both Narco-Terrorism and Evil Money deal with a serious threat that exists in the world today that has defied all attempts at solution and Massing’s panacea, legalizing drugs is a misguided and simplistic solution.
Rachel Ehrenfeld, Ph.D.
New York City
To the Editors:
Michael Massing, in his review of the essay collection War on Drugs, quotes my thesis that “Washington’s overt (n.b.) and covert alliances” with major drug traffickers and their backers overseas have been the key to changes (n.b.) in the overall pattern of drug flows into the United States. Once again however (as in the Nation a year ago), he declines to review what he himself calls the “dense statistics” in the support of this claim, preferring instead to refute his own parody of a different argument.
The “dense statistics” which followed in my next paragraph are in fact simple enough for most other readers to understand. After the US disengaged from Laos, opium production there plummeted, from 200 tons in 1975 to 30 tons by 1984. But it increased dramatically in Afghanistan after 1979, when the US began to support drug-trafficking guerrillas in that country. Heroin from the Afghan-Pakistan border area had not played a significant role in the US market before 1979; by 1984 (some say by 1981) the Reagan Administration itself estimated that this area supplied over 50 percent of the heroin consumed in the US. And by 1984, for the first time, the region supplied 70 percent of the highgrade heroin in the world, and had created a new army of 650,000 addicts in Pakistan itself.
Witnesses have confirmed that the drug was shipped out of the area on the same Pakistan Army trucks which shipped in “covert” US military aid. Massing clearly does not want to deal with these “dense statistics,” but he will not have rebutted our thesis until he does.
Let us turn now to Central America, and the dramatic increase in cocaine smuggling in that region during Reagan’s support for the contras. It is false, and indeed mendacious, for Massing to write that we “conveniently overlook the fact that the drug is produced not in Central America but in the Andes.” I cited repeated instances (some reported to the Kerry Committee by their pilots) in which planes, having gained protection by supplying the contras in Honduras or Costa Rica or El Salvador, would then dare to fly drugs from anywhere, including Panama or Colombia, into the Bahamas or even the United States. As I noted, the first drug case on which Noriega was ultimately indicted involved drugs coming from Colombia via a prominent contra support network. It was typical of this indictment that it was delayed until after the particular contra support operation had ended.
The present mess confirms, rather than refutes, the thesis outlined above, Massing himself draws attention to the increased flow of drugs through Panama under Noriega’s successors like Endara, conveniently omitting to note that these men were selected and installed by the US. Even more dishonest is his claim that we do not charge the CIA with covert alliances in Colombia and Peru. The charge was rather that the US Army has established overt links with those Colombian and Peruvian military elements engaged in counterinsurgency, some of which are closely allied with the traffickers.
Much of Massing’s conventional wisdom about the complexity of the problem is indeed true and pertinent. Not all drug producers are creatures of the CIA, and there are areas (e.g. Laos) where the CIA’s enemies appear to have played the same role after US withdrawal. The fact that the US helped install drug-corrupted military regimes in eastern Burma, Thailand, or Guatemala certainly does not mean that the situation can be easily reversed, even when US policy changes. As the case of Afghanistan should remind us, it is easier for government policies to augment drug flows than to cut them back.
But there cannot be a sound US strategy for the drug crisis we now confront, until we have analyzed and corrected the errors committed, in the name of national security, over the past four decades. Massing’s deviousness may help postpone, but cannot ultimately prevent, this overdue reckoning.
Peter Dale Scott
Michael Massing replies:
It is not Ms. Ehrenfeld’s conservatism to which I object, but her extremism. In Narco-Terrorism, for instance, she maintains not only that the Soviet Union was involved in drug-related violence—an unremarkable assertion—but that Marxist-Leninists are responsible for most of the world’s drug-related violence. In fact, many of the world’s violent trafficking organizations, like the Colombian cartels, are decidedly right-wing in orientation. In Evil Money, Ms. Ehrenfeld makes a series of sensational claims—that Sierra Leone has become “an international terrorist center,” that BCCI “cemented the symbiotic relationship between Peruvian terrorists and drug traffickers,” that Abu Nidal trained Shining Path members in urban guerrilla warfare, helping to set up a “dormant terrorist infrastructure” in the United States. In my review, I noted how little evidence Ms. Ehrenfeld offered to back up these claims. She does no better in her letter, preferring to take cover behind the claim of confidentiality—a lame excuse in any language. The “congressional Task Force” she mentions—and on which her book relies so heavily—is the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. It is an organ of the partisan House Republican Research Committee, chaired by Bill McCollum and Dana Rohrabacher, two of the most right-wing members of Congress. The task force’s reports were pasted together by staff researchers from press clippings. The reports are so inflammatory that each carries a disclaimer: “This paper may not necessarily reflect the views of all of the Members of the Republican Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. It is intended to provoke discussion and debate.” This is a very slender reed on which to support such sweeping assertions. By contrast, the congressional hearings I discussed were conducted by the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations. The subcommittee’s investigation of BCCI lasted four years and involved hundreds of witnesses; the findings, spanning 794 pages in two volumes, were endorsed by Republican and Democratic committee members alike.
Law-enforcement agencies in Switzerland are no doubt intrusive, but the country does have a constitution, elections, a free press, and due process of law; to refer to it as a “police state,” on a level with Cuba or North Korea, raises serious questions of political judgment. Perhaps Ms. Ehrenfeld was in danger from those prying Swiss police, but her melodramatic descriptions (“even my typist requested anonymity”) seem unnecessarily self-serving.
Drug statistics are Peter Dale Scott’s obsession. Unfortunately, such figures are notoriously unreliable. Officials attempting to estimate the production, shipment, and consumption of cocaine and heroin generally attempt to extrapolate from drug seizures—an inherently imprecise exercise. Mr. Scott, however, accepts on faith the flimsiest of figures, as long as they support his wild theories. To cite one example, Mr. Scott writes confidently in War on Drugs that the “Honduran Connection, during the years of contra support activities, supplied (according to US experts) from 20 to 50 percent of America’s cocaine.” Two pages later, he explains the source of this data: “DEA experts told reporter Mort Rosenblum [in an article for Vanity Fair] that ‘only a fifth of America’s cocaine was passing through Honduran-military hands.’ But Rosenblum heard from other sources that in the fifteen-month period ending in 1988, ‘perhaps as much as fifty tons moved through Honduras—nine tons of which was seized—amounting to half the estimated consumption in the United States.”’ Here, then, Mr. Scott is relying on a Vanity Fair reporter quoting unnamed “sources” offering an extremely imprecise estimate of the amount of drugs passing through Honduras, and expressing it as a proportion of the overall amount of cocaine consumed in the United States—an even more unknowable figure.
The statistics he cites on opium production in Laos are no more precise. During the early 1980s, the country was largely off-limits to US officials, and it’s unlikely that Mr. Scott’s source—the US General Accounting Office—had any real clue about what was going on there. Even so, Mr. Scott misses the real point, cited in my article, which is that the heroin entering the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s came not from Southeast Asia but from Turkey. The subsequent reduction in supplies in this country occurred not because US forces left Indochina but because the Turkish government banned local opium production.
Opium production in Afghanistan did rise after 1979, owing to the collapse in social order during the civil war there; no doubt the CIA looked the other way when its mujaheddin allies transported opium, but to hold the agency responsible for the flow of narcotics out of Afghanistan seems ridiculous. What’s more, heroin consumption during the late 1970s and early 1980s declined in the United States, even as production in Afghanistan was rising. Only recently has consumption in the US begun to rise. As I pointed out in my article, most of the heroin entering the United States today originates in Burma, the world’s leading producer of opium. No one—not even Mr. Scott—charges the CIA with having anything to do with Burmese opium production.
In Latin America, Mr. Scott, drawing on links between the US Army and military forces in Colombia and Peru, concludes—with no supporting evidence—that the US is tacitly supporting drug traffickers in those countries. How, then, to explain the decade-long US effort to press the Colombian and Peruvian governments to fight the drug traffickers in their countries? The extended 1989–1990 offensive against the Medellín Cartel, in which scores of traffickers were killed, dozens of labs destroyed, and hundreds of airplanes seized, came about because of unrelenting pressure from the Bush administration. Was this a public relations exercise? If the US secretly approved of Noriega’s drug trafficking, as Mr. Scott implies, why did we send 25,000 American troops to grab him? The US installed Guillermo Endara as Noriega’s successor because he won the election that took place before the invasion and would have taken office had Noriega not annulled the results. To believe that the White House installed Endara so that he could increase the flow of cocaine through Panama, as Mr. Scott implies, seems preposterous.