Several years ago, the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, headed by Sen. John Kerry, held hearings on allegations that the contra forces fielded by the U.S. in its war against Nicaragua were using "national security" as a cover for cocaine smuggling; Oliver North, who was one of the primary organizers of the terrorists, wrote in his diary that at least $14 million that went to his arms operations came from drug kingpins. In its final report, the subcommittee was able to establish, despite stonewalling by the Reagan administration and shortages of staff and time that caused it to cut short many intriguing leads, that involvement of the contras in drug smuggling had been pervasive, with at least four of the "humanitarian" organizations set up to funnel tax money to the front being run by known traffickers.
Other published reports in the mid-Eighties indicated that the Afghani "freedom fighters" that the CIA armed and trained in its biggest operation of the post-Vietnam Cold War were responsible for between 40 and 80 per cent of the heroin coming into the United States during those years.
Nor is the involvement of the CIA and its sister agencies in the international narcotics pipeline a recent phenomenon; in the 1950s there was the Burmese and Nationalist Chinese Golden Triangle, source of most of the world's opium; in the 1960s, Gen. Vang Pao and the Hmong growers, who served as the CIA's secret army in exchange for the Agency's aid in transporting its opium to the West; and in the 1970s, the "rogue" operations of Ted Shackley, Edwin Wilson and the Australian Nugan Hand Bank, "rogue" only in the sense that the CIA maintained its deniability and jettisoned the high-level officers in charge when their role threatened to become known. And throughout, there were the experiments with LSD on U.S. citizens, along with other operations whose records were deliberately destroyed when Congress began investigating them after Watergate.
Indeed, the complicity of the U.S. and other intelligence communities in the drug trade is so widespread that last year Shapolsky Publishers titled an expose by a former CIA agent, Ken Bucchi, "C.I.A.: Cocaine In America?"
A number of other well-documented books have traced the sordid facts. Among the best are Alfred McCoy's classic The Politics of Heroin (originally published in 1972 as The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, and reissued in greatly revised and expanded format in 1991); The Great Heroin Coup: Drugs, Intelligence, & International Fascism, by Danish journalist Henrik Kruger (1980); The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic, by former top DEA agent Michael Levine (1993); Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall (1991); The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA, by former Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny (1987); In Banks We Trust, by the late Penny Lernoux (1984); Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, by Jay Stevens (1987; the chapter titled "Noises Offstage," regarding CIA MK-Ultra experiments using LSD on unsuspecting American citizens in the Fifties and Sixties); and Acid Dreams: the CIA, LSD and the Sixties Rebellion, by Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain (1985).
Despite overwhelming evidence of the direct involvement of agents of the State in pushing both heroin and cocaine, the official stance of the apparat is that it is diligently pursuing a "zero-tolerance" strategy aimed at eliminating the "scourge of illegal drugs" from our society. As the cliche has it, the first casualty in this war has been the truth.
We are now in the 24th year of the Drug War, a war first declared by Richard Nixon during his re-election campaign, and rededicated, as the Boston Globe noted, by "every President within living memory". As a result of the War, the U.S. prison population is now over a million, the highest or second-highest rate in the industrialized world. Almost five out of every eight federal prisoners are in for drug-related crimes, primarily personal possession of marijuana, referred to by a DEA Administrative Law Judge as "the safest therapeutically active substance known to humankind." Growing an acre of hemp, or marijuana, can net you the death penalty, while the crime bill presently before Congress would strip courts of their jurisdiction over prison conditions, declaring that routine brutality and stifling overcrowding are, by legislative fiat, neither cruel nor unusual. Certainly not unusual.
Federal forfeiture laws have ensured the deepest levels of corruption of local law enforcement officials all across the country, as municipalities and counties strapped for cash have taken advantage of the provisions that allow the agencies to keep or dispose of assests supposedly accumulated through drug profits, without having to go through the rigmarole of convincing a jury of guilt; without, in fact, having to bring charges at all.
As I write, police forces from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and all points in between are under investigation for fabricating evidence, torturing prisoners to obtain confessions, and numerous other violations of fundamental rights - primarily in drug cases, and primarily though by no means exclusively directed against minorities. (In Los Angeles County, no white person has been prosecuted through the federal courts on crack cocaine offenses in recent years; the state courts through which their cases are channeled average eight years less in sentencing for the same offense than the feds, who concentrate on Blacks and Latinos. Nationally, first time possession of powder cocaine, an expensive form of the drug favored by white lawyers and yuppies, is treated one hundred times as leniently as first time possession of the same amount of the crack form - cheap, and favored by poorer, darker, inner city residents.)
The "zero tolerance" game has also been used to accustom the average citizen to intrusive urine tests, radar surveillance of neighborhoods, random stop-and-searches of automobiles or persons, and other tools of the totalitarian corporate state. Drug hysteria among officialdom, whether genuine or manufactured to serve the agenda of oligarchy, is so pronounced that bills are introduced to deny tax exempt status to any organization that proposes the legalization of drugs - a position taken by such radicals as pundit William F. Buckley, former Secretary of State George Schulz, and Baltimore Mayor Kurt Shmoke.
"If war is the logical extension of diplomacy, ... organized crime is the logical extension of business. It is sharp practice turned murderous, tax avoidance made systematic, competition followed to its logical conclusion." --from a 1980 Forbes business magazine article
During a brief lull in its habitual somnolence throughout the Reagan era, one of the sleepy lapdogs of the Fourth Estate had the temerity to object to National Security Advisor John Poindexter's memorandum in which he had outlined (and subsequently carried out) a program of disinformation aimed at the domestic media, in order to build a consensus for an attack on Libya. In response, he blandly quoted Churchill to the effect that the truth was so "precious" that it had to be protected by a "bodyguard of lies."
Part of the reason for prohibiting discussion of alternatives such as legalization is that the proponents of "tough love" and tougher sentences frequently have no honest argument to make, so that in a genuine debate, they would be almost certain to lose. Thus in 1989 Parents for a Drug Free America was forced to acknowledge that it had been using footage of the brain waves of a person in a coma to represent those of a person under the influence of marijuana - a lapse that they indicated they felt perfectly justified in undertaking, though they refrained from following Poindexter's example in quoting Churchill.
During the campaign to reinstitute prohibition in Alaska, a DEA officer claimed at a meeting in Anchorage that no one ever died from tobacco use. Other troopers in the bodyguard that surfaced during that extended campaign were the old "gateway drug" argument, the claim that marijuana grown then was more than ten times as powerful as that grown fifteen years earlier, and the insinuation of permanent sterility from casual use.
Every major episode of drug hysteria in this country has been manufactured through the adroit use of lies and propaganda, combined with appeals to fear and racism. At the turn of the century, lurid stories of "opium fiends" and "dens of iniquity," illustrated with drawings of slimy Orientals helping disrobe an innocent-looking Caucasian woman, helped lead to the passage of the first U.S. anti-drug legislation, the Harrison Act, in 1914. Headlines of the time linked cocaine usage with race riots, while New York police blamed no less than 60 per cent of all violent crime on use of the drug, and proposed deporting users to "addict farms."
Sound familiar? Also familiar was the strategy adopted to combat dangerous drugs: blame foreigners. While Americans were consuming ten times more drugs than the residents of any other country, authorities blamed supplier nations such as England and Japan, threatening to send the fleet to "cut off the source of supply."
The corruption of present-day law enforcement had its counterpart as well; investigations of the dope ring led by Arnold Rothstein just before the onset of the Great Depression revealed that the head of the U.S. drug police, established barely half a decade before, had been on his payroll as a lawyer.
In the 1930s, newly appointed head of the newly reorganized Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger campaigned vigorously for harsher laws to combat the "new menace" of marijuana use, targeting especially the role of "jazz musicians" (read Blacks) and mules from Mexico (read "Wetbacks"). The Sunday Oregonian cooperated by denouncing "the Great American Brain-Killer ... Dance Music," while much of the media, when not recirculating fanciful stories about "muggles" orgies leading to death, waxed by turns sentimentally protective ("Dragging the Children Down with Dope") and sternly censorious ("Hollywood Actress Nabbed with Dope"; "Her Film Career Now Closed by Death").
The hysteria drummed up by Anslinger succeeded in thwarting the movement to repeal the Harrison Act on the grounds that it was doing more harm than good, and led instead to the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act - which placed a prohibitive tax on the possession of hemp, and thus succeeded in outlawing Constitutionally protected private behavior, while being promoted ostensibly as a revenue enhancer.
Hemp, not so incidentally, was poised at that time to revolutionize the paper and textile industries, as a cheap decorticator had recently been introduced, allowing the highly pulpy plant to be fully utilized for the first time. The timber subsidiaries of the Hearst newspaper chain, which led the outcry against what Hearst first popularized as "marijuana," stood to lose a great deal of money should hemp become widely used.
Meanwhile, the DuPont Corporation had just patented a highly polluting sulfuric-acid process for wood pulp paper, and told its stockholders that this process would account for 80 per cent of its pulp shipments over the next fifty years. DuPont's chief financial backer was President Hoover's Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon of the Mellon Bank; in his role as Secretary, he was responsible for the appointment of Anslinger, who later married his niece.
Thus the "threat" of competition was removed through the power of the State, at the same time as a further tool of repression was added to the arsenal of the Control Lobby.
Returning from our expedition to the past, we find - more of the same. Even as the last veneer of Constitutional protection of individual rights is stripped away, and the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (as a treaty, legally binding on every agent of the government in the United States) become a dead letter, all purportedly in order to stop the use of certain officially disapproved psychoactive substances, the marketing of other such substances, far more deadly, proceeds apace - not only under the benevolent eye of Big Brother, but with subsidies provided courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Citizen.
Jesse Helms, who blames AIDS victims for their disease, declares that the government ought to be putting more money into researching the cause and prevention of heart disease - whose single largest cause, as he knows full well, is the use of tobacco, the main cash crop in his home state of North Carolina. Tobacco is not only subsidized by taxpayers, but enjoys the services, gratis, of the U.S. Trade Representative whenever the governments of third world nations assert their intention to reduce consumption of the crop by their citizenry. Other subsidies help the tobacco giants develop stronger and more addictive strains of nicotine to enable them to increase market share. Meanwhile, tobacco kills 450,000 U.S. citizens a year, used as intended by the manufacturer. To my knowledge, no one has suggested that the tobacco barons be sentenced to death for growing and processing their lethal crop.
The second largest serial killer of note, alcohol, is also a mass-marketed commodity, and despite heroic efforts by well-meaning goups such as AA, is largely off the agenda when it comes to discouraging drug use. A beer after a football game is as traditional as tailgate picnics at Indy, but few would suggest that anyone should go out and shoot some smack after a victory. Yet alcohol is at least as deadly as heroin, and in fact produces similar sensations of euphoria and well-being. Its use, again as intended by the manufacturer, is responsible for over a hundred thousand deaths of our countrymen and women each year, not counting homicides and drunken driving accidents. Legal prescription drugs - prozac, valium, lithium, demerol, xanex - kill thousands more.
Less deadly to the body, perhaps, but at least as insidiously deadly to the spirit, are the many other substances that escape classification as drugs altogether, despite numerous studies that demonstrate their psychoactive properties. Sugar, coffee, chocolate, religious cults, television, Nintendo, the endless consumption of useless commodities: America is a nation of addicts, endlessly groping for a substitute for community, for self-esteem, for partnership and cooperation, for the good society.
Dysfunction and its handmaidens are, in fact, the motor force of the economy, the guarantor of profit and the sine qua non of control and stability. After all, a healthy population contented with the Socratic examination of life, the rewards of meaningful relationships, and the pursuit of a Higher Good is hardly a demographically desirable market audience. (As President Eisenhower put it during the recession of 1957, "Buy something! Buy anything! But buy, buy, buy!")
In the mid-Sixties, when the populations of America's ghettos rose up against institutional and pervasive racism and repression, the availability of heroin increased dramatically. Pure "China White" was suddenly cheaper than rotgut, while Speedballs (heroin mixed with cocaine in injectable form) made their first appearance in the hippie enclaves and countercultural atolls of the East and West coasts. Militant Blacks, who had chased the pushers out of their communities, found people too high to listen to their rhetoric. Meanwhile, the hippies who had begun to ally with certain sectors of the radical left were kept busy putting up posters warning that "Speed Kills," and trying to recover "meth monster" friends too strung out to know their own name.
These days, the crack cocaine "epidemic" serves a not dissimilar purpose in distracting the surplus population of the city from uniting to change its desperate situation, while enabling the control combine to whip up support for repealilng the Constitution piecemeal. Dissidents of little or no means, especially those outside the mainstream, can likewise be dealt with through the repressive apparatus, as in Wisconsin, Iowa and California's Humboldt County, all of which have recently featured the killing of people in their homes for possession of a harmless herb. For the relatively affluent, on the other hand, the usual co-opting strategies will have to serve; after all, they do possess disposable income, and they tend to vote.
Perhaps it is time to consider, not just the legalization of illicit drugs, but the outlawing of capitalism, the banning of hierarchy, and the abolition of meaningless, numbing and antisocial jobs, labor and production.
Send comments and suggestions to: Ron Reed firstname.lastname@example.org