Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Taliban-Heroin Connection
The case of Khan Mohammed is drawing wide-spread coverage, and rightly so. He is the first known Taliban to convicted of drug trafficking. He was sentenced yesterday to two life sentences.

It was another (along with Viktor Bout, Monzar al Kassar, and other "shadow facilitators") in a series of successful, aggressive moves by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in tackling not just drugs, but those that use the money to arm those who want to carry out attacks around the globe, particularly aimed at the United States.

As prosecutor Matthew Stiglitz said in court yesterday, Mohammed's "significance ultimately rests with the symbiotic confluence of two worlds: drugs and terrorism. Without him or men like him, there is no effective insurgency in Afghanistan."

The same can be said for numerous insurgent groups that continue to exist because of the money generated from the nexus to organized crime.

I know I have hammered on this point a lot recently, but there is still so little attention focused on this that I think it is necessary, especially when the concept is so strongly reinforced by a tangible case.

This is the future, and we must understand what is coming at us if effective policies are going to be made, and resources allocated, to combat it. There is no doubt states such as Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Russia present a host of challenges. There is also no doubt that these states need and profit from non-state groups that rely on these shadow facilitators and criminal/terrorist organizations to carry out certain policy objectives.

The FARC in Colombia and the resurgent Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru are examples in our own hemisphere of these groups.

The FARC is actively working to sustain armed groups in Latin America (see this paper I did for the NEFA Foundation for details.)
FARC drug trafficking is helping sustain the apparatus around Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. At least 30 percent of Colombian cocaine is now shipped out through Venezuela, which is showing no enforcement capacity at all, and much of the cocaine ends up in West Africa (on Venezuelan ships and airplanes) before being shipped onward to Europe.

The proceeds, as shown by the documents taken from the Reyes computer, provide senior Venezuelan military and intelligence officials with "supplemental" funds, so they don't have to tap into the rapidly-diminishing oil revenue. It is worth noting that Venezuela's budget assumed at least a price of $90 a barrel, and it is now less than $40, meaning the shortfall has to be made up somewhere.

Chavez's continuation in power, in turn, is vital to the pushing the radical Islamist agenda of Iran, as well as the expansionist agenda of Russia (along with the Russian strong economic interest selling weapons in the region, to the tune of $4.5 billion to Venezuela alone.)

Afghanistan has a similar cycle that has implications far beyond Afghanistan. The $400 million a year the Taliban can generate from the opium trade allows it to operate not only in Afghanistan, but to continue to destabilize Pakistan and perhaps aid its brothers in Somalia and elsewhere. It is worth noting that the Somali camps of Al Shabaab are growing increasingly sophisticated.

My point is that drugs, terrorism, organized crime and many of the world's state governments are no longer separate and discreet entities. There is a great deal of common interest and common connectors between them. And if we don't understand this, we will pay a heavy price.
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