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Drug War Experiences Help in War on Terror

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2004 – Experience gained combating drugs has come in handy in the global war on terrorism, said DoD's top counternarcotics official.

Mary Beth Long, deputy assistant defense secretary for counternarcotics, said "it would be a mistake" to compare the two and say they are the same. Still, there are lessons from the war on drugs that are directly and indirectly applicable to the war on terror, she said.

An important aspect of the war on terror is interdicting terrorists and their capabilities. This includes stopping their support mechanisms and their weapons, which could include chemical and biological weapons, as far away from the United States as possible.

The same idea has been a cornerstone of counternarcotics activities for decades, Long said. "Lots of interdiction activities have been carried out for decades by law enforcement and law enforcement with DoD help," she said. U.S. agencies including the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Southern Command have all gained experience in drug interdiction. It's "been there, done that" for them, Long said.

These agencies and others have experience in dealing with an enemy that is not an "official" enemy, Long said. Narcoterrorists and terrorists move and evolve, she said. Terrorist chiefs and drug kingpins are smart and flexible and have money to work with. They move below the radar and seldom, if ever, challenge the strengths of the United States. "It's something that the counterdrug folks have been dealing with for decades," she said. "There are lots of lessons to be learned there."

The other aspect of the war that officials are already pursuing is the anti- narcotics tactic of "following the money." Money is an intelligence weapon against terrorists and druggies and a commodity they must have to operate and survive. Officials can use bank records to trace terrorists and can choke off money to groups to make them ineffective.

Long called terrorism "an illicit activity on steroids." Terrorists support themselves through legal and illicit activities, and there are direct connections between the drug world and that of international terrorism. "One of the things we're learning is, for example, the Madrid bombings were financed in part through the sale of methamphetamines," she said. "Terrorists in Afghanistan are financing their activities through the drug trade. We're attacking one of the support mechanisms (of terrorism). It's the financing, it's the transportation, it's the smuggling aspects of the drug trade that fit in with terrorists."

Drug smugglers and terrorists are natural allies. "I would propose that in a many parts of the world where smuggling is part of the culture, they don't make a distinction whether (they're smuggling) opiates one day or Pakistani television sets the next or a Taliban fighter the next day," Long said. This already-established transportation network works against the United States and its allies.

"If we ignore them, we do so at our own peril," she said. "Because these guys are smart. The terrorists are not going to invent a new network where one already exists; they are going to piggyback. And there are smuggling networks into our own country that have been well developed for narcotics or alien smuggling. And we are taking a new look at (these) to see whether they are vulnerabilities."

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Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counternarcotics Mary Beth Long

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