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The War on Drugs
June 21, 2000
Peter Dale Scott, J. Victor Marshall, Alexander Cockburn

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, my name is David Theroux and I’m the President of the Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you to our Independent Policy Forum this evening. As many of you know who have been with us before, we hold these events roughly monthly on many different major public policy issues.

This evening’s program is titled “The War on Drugs: Who is Winning? Who is Losing?” I want to take this opportunity to thank some people who helped us with this evening’s program. One is Mondavi Winery who were kind enough to donate the wine and See’s Candies who donated the truffles. Also The Customer Company is a co-sponsor of our policy forum program, this one and many of the others.

For those of you also new at the Institute, hopefully, you got a copy of the packet when you registered. You’ll find information about our program, membership, publications, and so forth in there. The Independent Institute is a rather unusual organization. It’s a non-profit academic public policy research institute. And we produce many books some of which you may have seen upstairs. We also produce a quarterly journal called The Independent Review.

The current issue is this one, which is available, but also some of you may be interested, if you’re seriously interested in the issue of the war on drugs, in some of the past issues. This was one of the early issues [Fall, 1996]. It goes back to the first year of our operation for the journal and has really a seminal piece on the origins of the current war on drugs during the Reagan Administration. And it’s a piece that I’d highly recommend. Another one that I’d recommend is this issue, here, for those of you interested in the issue of privacy and how that might relate to some of these topics.

The results of the work that we produce, in general, are published as books and in The Independent Review and in other studies. And we’ve organized many conference and media programs based on that work. Our interest is to get beyond what most people consider to be left and right, hopefully, to get to a more accurate assessment of the nature of politics, of economics, of political economy domestically and internationally. And we’re interested in serious-minded people who can develop information that contributes towards that.

I also wanted to point out another study that we did, which I hope we have up here, let’s see—anyway there are copies upstairs, it’s called Illicit Drugs and Crime and it’s by one of our research fellows whose name is Bruce Benson, who’s also the author of this book called To Serve and Protect, which also deals in part on the drug war.

Another study that we did that relates to this is this book called Taxing Choice, and it deals with the issue of the use of taxation and prohibition as a way to control populations in different ways. Many people are not aware of the fact that the Harrison Act, when it was first passed, was actually an excise tax. It was an excise tax on opiates and other drugs. It was only later converted into a prohibition, and part of the reason was allegedly that the excise tax, which engendered a black market in those substances, resulted in the usual crime that people would see, and that then led to calls for even more Draconian measures that led to outright prohibition.

In your packet, also, there’s a flyer on this evening’s program. Here’s a copy of the study that I just mentioned by Benson. In the packet, there’s also a flyer on this evening’s program which also lists another upcoming event, which is actually a broadcast of our previous event, which will be this weekend on C-SPAN.

Some of you I recognize were here last month for the program we did with Robert Stinnett and his book, Day of Deceit. Day of Deceit is a book that’s been out for about six months from the Free Press. Stinnett is a former journalist with the Oakland Tribune and he was the person who spent about 16 years, was determined to try and get the actual documents that related to the build up to the Pearl Harbor attack that led to the U.S. involvement in the European and Pacific War in the 1940s. And the story that he has to tell is pretty provocative, to say the least. Anyway, that will be broadcast this weekend on Saturday and Sunday.

For this evening, we’re very pleased to have three distinguished authors, experts on an issue that is of widespread interest. It affects people dramatically in a whole range of areas. It touches on economics, it touches on law, it touches on political issues, it touches on U.S. Foreign Policy. It’s really an amazing issue once you start looking at it.

And we’re delighted to be featuring two books. The first one is the book, Whiteout, which is now out in softcover from Verso. We’re delighted that Alex Cockburn, one of the co-authors, is here. Unfortunately his co-author, Jeffrey St. Clair, couldn’t make it for personal reasons. The other book that we’re featuring is Cocaine Politics, which is from the University of California Press, and both of its authors are here: Peter Dale Scott, who’s Professor Emeritus of English from the University of California, Berkeley, and Jonathan Marshall, who is former Economics Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. So I hope that each of you can get copies of those books before you leave.

Before we begin, I’d like to share a few recent news events, and those of you who are familiar with these events, I apologize for mentioning them again, but I think they’re somewhat germane. This past Wednesday Governor Ben Cayetano of Hawaii signed a bill decriminalizing the use of medical marijuana. Although similar laws have been passed, as many of you know, in seven states and the District of Columbia, Hawaii is the first state where the laws were enacted by a State Legislature rather than a ballot initiative as it was in California. Recent polls have found that 73 percent of Americans favor legalizing the medical use of marijuana, yet the federal government has yet to recognize any of these actions on the state level.

Number two, despite this trend, also this past week, the crusading medical marijuana activist, Peter McWilliams, suddenly died. The 50-year-old McWilliams was the author of numerous very popular personal growth and self help books, as well as collections of poetry and photography, but he may be best known for his influential book Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do. He, like so many others who were suffering from AIDS, had found that using marijuana was highly effective in reducing the nausea caused by the AIDS drug he was taking. However although Prop. 215, the California Medical Marijuana Initiative, passed overwhelmingly, federal drug and tax agents stormed his home and offices on December 17th, 1997, confiscating all of his manuscripts and equipment and effectively shutting down his publishing business. He self-published his book.

As his battle with federal authorities dragged on, McWilliams’ home life and health deteriorated to say the least. Barred from using Prop. 215 or evidence of the value of medical marijuana as defenses in a Federal courtroom, he was forced to plead guilty. Awaiting sentencing and forbidden to use marijuana by the court, McWilliams was unable to hold down his AIDS medication. As a result his viral count soared and he spent long hours in bed fighting nausea. Being unable to work, he defaulted on bankruptcy payments and then lost his home. His subsequent death was caused by choking as a result of his nausea.

Number three. Many of you are probably familiar with the recent article in The New Yorker by the investigative reporter and author, Seymour Hersh, that has raised serious questions about American actions at the end of the Gulf War, including allegations that American troops fired on hundreds of disarmed Iraqi prisoners, many of whom were wounded, and others who were trying to surrender. In one of these accounts, the forces under the command of General Barry McCaffrey moved his forces to deliberately provoke a battle with retreating Iraqi forces who were already following Allied guidelines on how to withdraw from the war zone.

McCaffrey has denied every one of these accounts. However, ABC News has since reported that perhaps as many as 200 to 300 of the surrendering Iraqis, who had been disarmed in an area known to hold disarmed prisoners, were shot and killed by a group of 14 Bradley fighting vehicles which suddenly appeared and opened up and fired on them. The Bradleys were from the 1st Brigade of the 24th Infantry Division under the command of General McCaffrey. To this day, the Army has not even interviewed the crews of all the Bradleys and those who submitted statements have denied that the incident had occurred. In fact, Colonel John LeMoyne, Commander of the 1st Brigade, has claimed that “... none, zero, soldiers. The Iraqi soldiers were never shot at ever at that point. None of us, hundreds and hundreds of us, ever saw a body. None of us.” Meanwhile one of the soldiers involved in the disarming of the Iraqi soldiers has produced an audio tape recording of the entire incident.

No doubt General McCaffrey’s particular leadership during the Gulf War was a major reason for his being named drug czar by President Clinton. [laughter] War on drugs is a war on people. And who better to head up such a war than the old General himself.

For decades now the U.S. Government has waged a relentless war on the use of marijuana, opiates and many other substances, yet illicit drugs today are more plentiful than ever. How could that be?

The war on drugs is global in scope. It has cost who knows how many billions of dollars. The war has produced mandatory bank deposit disclosures, government surveillance, civil asset forfeiture laws, prison overcrowding is an understatement, encryption software restrictions, rampant police and political corruption, the wholesale trampling of constitutional liberties by the DEA, CIA, FBI, INS and other agencies.

The format of our program tonight will be to have each of our speakers speak for about 15 minutes. Afterward we’ll open it up for Q&A. And so let’s begin.

Our first speaker is Alexander Cockburn, born and raised in Ireland. He is a syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, co-editor of CounterPunch, and we have copies here that Alex kindly brought. Oh,—I guess it’s the current issue of CounterPunch—the recent issue and everyone is, until we run out, welcome to take copies. He’s also a columnist for The Nation. He graduated with honors from Oxford University in 1963 with a degree in English Literature and Language. After two years as an editor of the London based Times Literary Supplement, he worked with the New Left Review and the New Statesman.

A permanent resident of the US since 1973, Alex wrote for many years for the Village Voice about the press and politics. Since then he’s contributed to many publications including the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, The Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal, where he held a position or he held—actually, he actually authored a regular column for 10 years through the 1980s.

In addition to his book with Jeffrey St. Clair which I just mentioned, called Whiteout, he’s the author of many, many other books including: Corruptions of Empire, The Fate of the Forest, Nightwatch Over Nature, The Golden Ages In Us, and on and on. I’m very pleased to introduce Alex Cockburn. [applause]

Alexander Cockburn

Thank you very much, David. I do like these—he mentioned trying to get beyond right and left. I think there are things that separate right and left, but I think there are many areas and many topics where people who might come out of different chunks of the political spectrum can really talk. Drugs is one of them. Anti-war activities is another. I think the current debate over hate crimes is something that might bring people from the Libertarian end and from the left end together. And I think we are in a period of flux, hopefully creative flux, in our political life.

I come from the left end of the spectrum and there is no one (no people) more dedicated to staying in their own quarters [laughter] and not putting their heads over the parapet too much than people on the left. And that’s true of other crowds as well, and anything that gets people out and shakes them up a bit, in my estimation, is to be applauded and I think the Libertarian end and the Independent Institute should be congratulated for doing that. And the more we do it, the better we’ll be off.

So here we are talking about “the drug war, who’s winning, who’s losing?” And we’ll answer the question, I think, right away, and then you can all leave. [laughter] The state is winning, the state. Other people are losing. The rationale ultimately for drug wars is the interest of the state.

You’re looking at three authors here who’ve done books, which have discussed extensively the role of intelligence agencies, the CIA, in facilitating participating in covering up for, or sponsoring the trafficking in illegal drugs. And Peter Dale Scott will go into some of the minutiae of that later on.

But one thing should be made clear, I think, is that from my point of view, the thing to remember—occasionally there’s a misleading phrase: the CIA, a rogue agency. It’s not. It doesn’t do things by and large without the absolute sanction and OK of the government. So when the CIAs is doing those things with drugs, it is operating as an executive agency of government.

And I would like to remind people that the history of government roles in advancing the sale and smuggling of drugs is a very ancient one. I won’t go back through it, but the British, of course, attacked China in the 19th Century in two wars to insure that they could sell opium in China. Savage wars in the interest of the free market. That was a drug war to make the Chinese accept—the Chinese Emperor and his government were opposed. They said, “we don’t want this drug destroying our people.” The British said, “well, it’s the free market, buddy.” And they went at it.

From the very inception of the CIA, and in the years before the CIA was created in this sort of Second World War period, there was an intimate association between U.S. intelligence agencies and criminal organizations in smuggling drugs into this country.

There were structural reasons for that. To wit, that intelligence agencies have a need for criminal elements to do some of the dirty work they don’t want to do themselves. By and large criminal organizations and intelligence agencies are right wing, pro-capitalists, anti-insurgency, anti-left. Their interests are very often common. And so you can go through postwar history from the association of Naval Intelligence and the OSS—this is before the CIA was created with Luciano and the Mafia—to the earliest days of the CIA and the Nationalist Chinese to Southeast Asia. The association of the agency with drug smuggling, trafficking producing gangs. Their need to recruit workers from small tribes, hill tribes in the Burmese Triangle, those identity of interest which led to direct connivance and assistance and oversight by the Central Intelligence Agency into bringing drugs into this country.

You can take that history forward through Afghanistan. You can take it to Burma. You can take it with Kosovo. Right now the U.S. Senate is debating an aid bill. They’re looking at about a billion, the House, I think, passed 1.8 billion dollars, to send military supplies, which they’re obviously already sending illegally as it is. This is, so to speak, only a formal imprimatur on to what is undoubtedly happening already. You’ll recall that for many years they said there were only 56 U.S. advisors in El Salvador and about a few years ago they said well, actually it was several thousand. [laughter] Not one word did they ever say about personnel abroad in this passage around the world can ever be believed for one second. Ever. Under no circumstances should you ever believe anything of that nature when articulated by the U.S. Government. It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

What are the structural objectives of this? Well, obviously, the drug war abroad is a counter-insurgency war. It’s another method of repressing threats to empire, threats to the American interests. It’s a way of fortifying the allies of the U.S. abroad. The rationale, for example, in Colombia: they think there might be some resistance if they say this is a straight counter-insurgency; people might say well, you know, another Vietnam for God’s sake, you really going to get into that? So they’ve done it more and more under the rationale of the knockout terrorist gangs, combining all the bugaboos. You have the bugaboo of drugs. You have the bugaboo of terrorists. And you roll them all into one. And that’s what we’re waging war on.

General McCaffrey who, as David pointed out, is pretty much a certified war criminal. I mean not a big one, a middle-sized war criminal. [laughter] I mean we’ve got several bigger ones around, let’s face it. But I’d be astounded actually, even by our degenerate standards, the lack of commotion, and was extremely well argued, well researched, I thought, irrefutable piece by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine. It has raised a remarkably little stir. He then said General McCaffrey, war criminal. General McCaffrey, drug czar and war criminal, maybe part of the working title for the job in future. [laughter]

So—and we can see what will clearly happen, now. The stage is being set up for our drug war in Colombia. The latest issue of CounterPunch, not quite out, actually has a very good story now. They’re now already unleashing bio-war on the Colombian cocoa growers. A bio-war that may easily affect yams which spill over from the cocoa. It would be an absolute ecological catastrophe. For those of us who like to feel that we’re in the post-cold war phase, and that’s an encouraging sign, they’re actually using former Soviet biotechnicians to make their various biotoxins in the form of Soviet Union. It’s an encouraging sign of how we’ve moved on to a more global approach to the world’s problems. That’s Colombia.

Domestically, and that’s, I think, an area where Mr. Marshall will review the domestic costs, what has the function of a drug war been? It’s clearly been to repress and control. Social repression, social control of what a French historian once described as the dangerous classes or the potentially dangerous classes.

I don’t know how many people here have had an opportunity to read the findings of the so-called Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. An amazing and horrifying saga of what the Apartheid Government was doing, very often with CIA connivance, by the way, and active support, in its war against South African black people. A large part of it—they had a very extensive program of trying to make sure that the townships had a constant supply of drugs of one sort or another. They saw the socially pacifying function of drugs. They also explored greatly the mind altering function of drugs, which is an area, of course, that the CIA was deeply involved within from the late ‘40s on.

Government agencies have always been completely obsessed with the utility of drugs as a method of social control. Social persuasion. Social control. Rationale for increased policing. And the costs, and Jonathan will enumerate them, he told me before that he was going to, his specific area, have been gigantic as we all know. We have a vast prison population. A huge number of people in there for non-violent drug crimes. We have the attrition of civil liberties. We have all the rationales which David briefly mentioned. From spying, encryption, you name it. Governments love rationales like that. There are other ones they use. Terrorism by the way is one that’s shackled at the ankle with the drug wars, another way of destroying civil liberties and constitutional protections.

So the State has been waging these drug wars since, I guess, the first war in the Bay area against the Chinese in the 1870s when they passed a law against opium smoking, which allowed them to expel, summarily, the Chinese they brought over to build the railroads, dig the mines, and the rest of it. And they wanted to get rid of them because there was an economic depression, and so what did they do? They had a drug law aimed specifically at the Chinese. For the middle class people, all our great grandparents who were sipping their little tonics, at least my great grandmother did, all the various little opiates that people had, they were not brought in. There was a disproportion there. And that was the first, one of the first drug wars we had.

So where are we in this drug war? There’s obviously widespread public disillusion and dismay about it. I think most people, at some level—first of all there’s the sheer number of casualties in the drug war, which probably means that most people know someone, have heard of someone, a relative of someone, who’s doing time in a penitentiary somewhere. Maybe not so much in the upper rungs of society, but certainly in the lower rungs of society.

And I think, on the one hand, we have an increasingly berserk administration of the war by McCaffrey and forces. There’s hardly a day goes out—we’ve just discovered that the drug czar’s office says when people visit the drug site, and their computers are promptly sort of invaded by some little bug type thing designed and put in by the public relations firm that handles the White House drug czar’s business. You read this on almost a daily basis.

On the other hand, when resolutions or the action of the Hawaiian Legislature come up, there’s clearer support for a different way. People aren’t dumb. They know perfectly well that all of this enforcement has not reduced by a kilogram, by an ounce, the amount of cocaine arriving in this country.

I was living in Key West when the first Bush drug laws came in. Key West, in those days, was a marijuana town with all the relaxed attitude that marijuana implies. And then, of course, the laws meant that the smugglers had to produce smaller packets to make it easier for themselves, so they went to cocaine. And Key West went to hell as a result, I have to say.

But people know when they read that the Feds have seized, or the LAPD, or someone has seized 18 tons of cocaine in a warehouse, they think if they seized that how much is getting into this country? Brilliant speech, please keep going. [laughter] [applause] You almost never get that from a guy. [laughter]

So I think people are ready for anything. They’re ready to say give it a different way. Anyone coming forward with proposals will get a ready reception, I think. This is the wrap-up, don’t worry, David. We have on the ballot now in California an initiative which purports to emphasize the treatment side as opposed to the incarceration side for drug offenders. Actually I wrote myself a critique of it, because I think it’s not particularly well thought out. Because I think there is something that may be, and I’ll leave this as a thought for you, drugs are, I believe and I may differ from people here, a social—there can be a major social problem. Booze can be a social problem. Families that are screwed up by alcohol aren’t pretty sights. It’s a public health issue.

As we hopefully move towards recognition of the drug problem, of people afflicted by drug addiction, by families cursed by problems arising from drug addiction, as we face what are the correct and sensible ways of dealing with this, I think we’re in a very important stage of policy formation, to use a rather pompous phrase. And I think, sometimes, I fear what will happen, of course, is that people will be so maddened by the drug war, they’ll say to hell with the whole goddamn thing. Tear all the laws down, but you will be left with a problem. How do you deal with that problem?

I think personally the drug courts, such that I know of them, are pretty good. People may have different ideas, but I think as we look at these various aspects of drug wars we shouldn’t forget that one. It is our bounded duty first of all to attack the rationalization and use of drug laws by the state, and, secondly, to think what is the socially responsible way of dealing with the drug problem as a social issue and a health issue. Thank you. [applause]

David Theroux

Thank you, Alex. I don’t want to cut you back, but to get everybody in and then get to the Q&A, I’m afraid I have to.

Our next speaker is Peter Dale Scott. Peter’s a former Canadian diplomat. As I mentioned earlier, he’s Professor of English Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. Peter’s been an anti-war speaker since during the Vietnam war period and during the US/Iraqi war. He was a co-founder of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley and the Coalition on Political Assassinations.

In addition to his book with Jonathan Marshall, which I’ve mentioned, Cocaine Politics, his other prose books include: The War Conspiracy, The Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond, Crime and Cover-up: The CIA, The Mafia and The Dallas Watergate Connection, The Iran-Contra Connection which was also co-authored with Jonathan, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK and Deep Politics 2. Peter is also renowned in his work in poetry. He’s the author of a trilogy, “Seculum,” Coming to Jakarta, Listening to the Candle, and Minding the Darkness; and also, Crossing Borders.

I also want to point out that he’s brought with him copies of a new study that he’s completed, which brings the Cocaine Politics book analysis up to date, and there are copies upstairs, for those of you who would like to purchase a copy, and I recommend it. So I’m very please to introduce Peter Dale Scott. [applause]

Peter Dale Scott

Thank you very much, David. Thank you for mentioning that I’m a poet. I’d like to begin by saying that sometimes it’s helpful to be a poet and look at what’s going on in society, because as a poet I believe metaphors are important, very important. In fact, most of you wouldn’t believe how important I think they are.

And we have a metaphor here, “the war on drugs,” which is perhaps the most dangerous and pernicious metaphor that we have afoot in our society today. Imagine if we had a different metaphor. Say, if we’re talking about a society that is addicted or a society that is sick or something, it would point us in a completely different direction.

If we talk about a war on drugs we have to figure out who are going to be our warriors, people like General McCaffrey, and who are we going to fight. And essentially, the primary targets of this war on drugs have been teenagers in this country and peasants abroad. We’ve talked about a national security threat here as if we’re threatened by peasants in Bolivia, and we have turned life upside down in Third World countries, and it has been accompanied by increasing violence.

We know about the violence at home, the SWAT teams, the search and seizure. It’s unsafe to go out in certain neighborhoods at night, not because there are criminals, but because there are these DEA/SWAT teams that may come, force you down on the ground, totally ignore your human rights, and so on. It’s even worse in the Third World.

So I think if we could end this terrible metaphor—war on drugs—it would set us on a better course. But of course that’s really asking for a structural change in this society, because that metaphor is rooted in a society that reaches to violence to solve problems.

I’m going to talk quite a lot about the CIA today but I want to agree not exactly but roughly with what Alex said. This is not just the story of the CIA. I’m going to be talking a lot about recent revelations, starting with Gary Webb in 1996 about—Let me just ask now, how many people know something about what Gary Webb said in 1996? Well that’s very helpful, because then I won’t tell you something that you already know.

Audience Member

Who’s Gary Webb? [laughter]

Peter Dale Scott

We’ll get to this in a moment. What Gary Webb was talking about, the CIA’s army, the Contras, and how Contras were continuously aligning themselves in one way or another with drug traffickers, and how this radically increased the flow of drugs, primarily cocaine, into this country.

But I want to say that the problem is not just the CIA here. It is a U.S. Government policy and it wasn’t—other agencies also involved, the military, the DEA and then certain private elements, which were relatively low scale in the Contra era, but which we should really focus on because they’re becoming extremely important in our new millenium as we go off to fight wars in Kosovo and Colombia.

Anyway, the primary decision which led, I think, to this unholy alliance between the Contras and drug traffic, was made in the White House. In fact, it was probably made by some of Reagan’s electoral backers. We had an extraordinary number of war criminals from Central America who turned up at Reagan’s Inaugural in 1981, because a lot of money from Latin America flowed into his electoral coffers, and he had promised and he delivered a war against the left, particularly in Nicaragua. And the first alliance was made with Argentina.

Well, it was no secret that the way Argentina ran these things, it was their modus operandi, was to fund their foreign covert operations from the drug traffic. So we made a decision to ally ourselves, initially it was not going to be primarily Americans on the ground, it was going to be the Argentines who would have run it, but Americans came down to be liaison, and the first people that they made contact were various military figures in Central America, all of whom had connections to drugs. This was before the CIA took over from the Argentines after the Falkland Wars. The Falkland Islands War in which, eventually, America decided it had to side with Britain rather than Argentina, and that led essentially to the withdrawal of the Argentines from the Contra scene.

But it was just one phase, as Alex had said, in a continuous practice of when you want to go and stir up trouble, mischief, violence abroad, you ally yourself with people who are powerful in those regions of the Third World. And time after time after time these powerful people, the people who have the funds, the people who have the troops on the ground have been local drug traffickers. This was the case in Central America.

Now a lot of this has been admitted but the usual defense in the national press was, well, yes, we did have these unfortunate alliances, but it didn’t make much of a difference to what’s happening in the United States. This is absolutely false, and I would like to start with the example of Afghanistan.

In 1979, which is the year that I’m afraid to say [President] Carter and his national security advisor, Brezhinsky, whom I went to college with, decided to back guerillas in Afghanistan who already had heroin labs. It was not secret about how they were supporting themselves. We made that decision in 1979. How much of their heroin was coming to this country? None.

By 1984, and this is according to Reagan’s State Department, 54 percent of the heroin coming into this country was coming from the Pakistani/Afghan border. It was coming from those same heroin labs that I’ve just been talking about. And actually the trucks that took CIA materiel and assistants and advisors up into the region, were the same trucks that brought the heroin back out. So it went to 54 percent. So you can’t say that it’s not a problem.

I’m going to talk in a minute or two about a single CIA asset in Central America, one Ramon Matta-Ballasteros, who was a trafficker in Honduras, which was, by coincidence, where the heart of the CIA-backed Contra effort was. And the CIA used his airline, SETCO, to supply the FDN camps. That was the main Contra faction in Honduras. So that the CIA was protecting Matta-Ballasteros.

Was this a big problem? You bet it was, because the DEA at this time had already pinpointed a single cartel which they said was responsible for maybe a third to a half of the cocaine coming into this country. When they first made the estimate, they saw four big people in the cartel, three of whom were Colombian and one was Matta-Ballasteros—a Honduran who spent a good deal of his time in Colombia. But by 1985, they had decided that Matta-Ballasteros was the most important of the four.

And by 1985, the DEA had another reason to hate Matta-Ballasteros and to want to get him, which was the murder of one of their agents in Mexico, Enrique Camarena. And in the end Matta-Ballasteros was brought to this country and convicted, not of the murder but of the kidnapping. Because they had tapes of the meeting in which they heard Matta-Ballasteros meeting in Mexico, and this gives you a clue to what Mexico is like, with not only a bunch of the top drug traffickers, others also of whom these drug traffickers supported the Contras in various ways, but also top police officials from Mexico City, including one who was named the Chief of Mexico City Police years after this happened and years after he had been identified by the DEA as one of the people who were there, and this was under the supposed Reform Administration of President Salinas de Gortari.

So when I’d say that the people on the scene are part of the problem, the right-wing elements, and the way those societies have become organized is a way which incorporates drug traffickers into the ruling structure of those countries.

The Sandinistas in Nicaragua tried to put an end to that largely because the Guardia Nacionale under Samosa was so deeply implicated with the drug traffic, with prostitution, with all of the leading criminal operations in Nicaragua, that even the Bishops had united to say “please do something to end this kind of regime.” So, ironically, you had a lot of church people backing the Sandinistas, and the drug people, of course, trying to restore the status quo ante as soon as possible, and the consistent policy of the U.S. Government. But, here I do have to say, the CIA, in particular, was to back the elements of the old national guard who had been involved in these traffics for a long time. To make them predominate over other reformists who, like Edin Pastora, who became alienated from the Sandinistas, wanted to join an anti-Sandinista effort but wanted nothing to do with the criminals in the FDN which was the CIA’s faction, which was the Guardia Nacionale faction. And a good deal of the very complicated Contra politics of the 1980s, is the CIA trying to force the old Guardia Nacionale and Enrique Bermudez, in particular, down the throats of a much more complicated scene on the anti-Sandinista side, many of whom wanted nothing to do with that.

Well now we come to the Gary Webb allegations. Who was Gary Webb? If you want to know, if you really don’t know who Gary Webb is, you should buy this book upstairs. [laughter]

Audience Member

He was a reporter for the San Jose . . . if you had identified him by his, what he did, I’d know.

Peter Dale Scott

Yes, he was. He had stories in the San Jose Mercury in August, 1986, which alleged, in sum, that there had been two drug traffickers, Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandon, both Nicaraguans, who had met Enrique Bermudez, the head of the FDN, way back in 1981 just as all of this was getting started. And Enrique Bermudez had said—and this is conceded by Blandon—“the end justifies the means. You will find a way to support us.” And even Meneses who says—Blandon says, yes he did say that. Meneses said, “no, I never heard anything like that.” But even Manassas said, “yes, we worked out an arrangement whereby we would support the Contras.” Well, who was Meneses at the time? [He was] the number one drug trafficker from Nicaragua, and everybody knew it, and certainly Bermudez knew it.

So that was how all of this got started. And Meneses sold the cocaine wholesale, very wholesale to Blandon; Blandon sold it to a black [man] called Ricky Ross, who was responsible for turning it into crack and selling it in South Central L.A. And Gary Webb relied very heavily on a story in the Los Angeles Times from two years earlier that had called Ricky Ross the “king of crack.” It was a story by a man called Jesse Katz. And he said if there was ever anyone who was responsible for the crack epidemic in this country it was Ricky Ross. Well, Ricky Ross, at that time, was getting most of his cocaine from Blandon, who was getting his cocaine from Meneses.

And then the next thing that Webb said, and it turned out to be true, was that as long as there were Contras, the law enforcement people, although they knew everything about what Blandon and Meneses were doing, they couldn’t touch them. They were untouchable. And it was only after the Contra support effort ended with a Congressional vote in 1988 that finally the U.S. authorities moved against Blandon. They got Blandon to become an informant and they set up, and that’s the word, Ricky Ross. So the black dealer at the bottom of the totem pole, Ricky Ross, ended up with a life sentence, which he’s serving now. Blandon was let off for this heroic act of turning in one of the people he sold to. And Meneses was never touched by the Americans at all, but he went back to Nicaragua and was caught flagrante delicto with a load of heroin by the Nicaraguans and was arrested there. And in Nicaragua, the press called him “El Rey De La Cocaina”—the king of cocaine. Nice people. Whoops, I have two minutes. Whoa.

Well. Now I’m going to have to change what I was going to say. How many people, those of you who do know about Gary Webb, know that the House Committee on Intelligence recently produced a report which says there’s nothing to his stories? How many people knew that? How many people saw my op-ed in the Chronicle on Monday? It’s the same people largely.

Well, I’m very concerned about this because the only time that the American people really became aware that something terrible is being done to them, and CIA policies and government policies are a factor in this terrible thing, was over these Gary Webb stories. They were not perfect. I could have criticized; I did criticize one or two things in them myself. But in its broad outline, everything that I’ve reported to you today from what he said has been admitted not only by the Department of Justice in their “Inspector General’s Report” but even by the CIA. The CIA Inspector General, Fred Hitz, did two reports totaling about 700 pages or so.

I mean it’s heavy slogging through, it but I have slogged through it and I have summarized them in here [laughter] and the summaries of those reports are pretty mealy-mouthed. But the contents of the reports reveal things like, well, we come back to Matta-Ballasteros for example. The Justice Department came over and said to the CIA, “what do you have on this airline SETCO?” And they sent back a flat out lie. They said, “there are no records of a SETCO Air.” And not only did they lie way back then, but when Fred Hitz was trying to find out who wrote this, everyone said “it wasn’t me, it was that guy” and this guy said, “well, yes, I wrote it but I never heard of SETCO.” And then the third guy said, “well the second guy actually used to go to the SETCO Headquarters quite often.”

So there was lying not only then, there was lying in the last couple of years and those of you who remember John Deutsch in South Central L.A., he said “if we find any wrongdoing those people will be punished, I promise you.”

Audience Member

They were liars.

Peter Dale Scott

So the promise is still there. And it’s up to people, like the people in this room, whether a House report that comes in, it’s full of lies, I list the lies in my book. They say that no one in the FDN would never have taken any drug monies. The Hitz Report is full. It names the names of FDN leaders who were suspected of drug trafficking. There was a statutory requirement to suspend aid to any group whose members had been found to be guilty of drug trafficking. And the FDN was certainly true of this in that statutory period, but the CIA went blindly ahead.

So the question is, whether people, like the people in this room, will insist on the truth coming out, on their being a factual accounting. We don’t have the whole of the Hitz Reports yet. The second report looks into Southern Air Transport, which may have been the biggest drug trafficker of all, a former CIA proprietary. And there’s only one page in the Hitz Report, because I think they’ve censored the rest. So we need to get those reports and, believe me, we need to get Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who’s name is on this report, to repudiate this report. The Chair of her Committee was a former CIA officer. The Chief of Staff. How did she ever accept a Chief of Staff, a former CIA officer who spent 13 years working with those heroin—trafficking Afghan guerillas I was just talking about? How does somebody like that end up being in charge of a report that whitewashes the CIA?

And let me just say, echoing something Alex said, this is my last sentence, may be a long one, but it’s my last sentence [laughter]. If we don’t stop this thing here at home, we are going to see a war on drugs destabilize the whole of Central America, which achieved peace in the 1980s by keeping U.S. troops out; and now we’re sending them back in under the guise of the war on drugs and Colombia is going to be another Vietnam if we don’t stop it by stopping the lie on which it is based. And I could say so much more about that, but maybe we’ll come back to that in the questions. Thank you. [applause]

David Theroux

Thank you. Thank you, Peter. I should mention that in the packets that, if you’ve got a packet, there is a copy of Peter’s, the Op-Ed we placed in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday that Peter wrote. And if you don’t have it, we can get a copy for you. Our third speaker—pardon me?

Peter Dale Scott

Did you get a copy for me?

David Theroux


Our third speaker as I mentioned earlier is Jonathan Marshall, former Economics Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He also authored the weekly column on Economics at the Chronicle. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in History with distinction. Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University. And Masters Degree in American History with honors from Cornell University.

Jonathan has been studying the drug traffic and drug policy issue for many years. As a college student he published a pioneering [paper], it’s called “The Study of the Development of the Opiate Traffic in Nationalist China,” which shed new light on the origins of the U.S. intelligence complicity in the world narcotics business as far back as World War II. When he was at Stanford, he worked with the historian Bart Bernstein, who’s also one of the advisors to our journal, The Independent Review.

As editorial page editor of the Oakland Tribune, he wrote a noted series of editorials, which won a very distinguished award I should mention, calling for serious consideration of drug legalization, a position that was widely condemned by then U.S. Attorney Joseph Riccionelli. Mr. Riccionelli was later exposed as the U.S. Attorney who, at the CIA’s request, returned $36,000 that had been seized from a supporter of the Nicaraguan Contras who was a major defendant in one of the West Coast’s biggest cocaine cases.

As a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Jonathan wrote investigative stories that uncovered drug trafficking crimes by a leading Israeli Cabinet Member and by Nicaraguan [drug] trafficker and Contra supporter who already been mentioned—Norwin Meneses, who was later the subject of, as Peter said, Gary Webb’s exposé in the San Jose Mercury News.

Among other books, including Cocaine Politics, Jonathan is co-author of The Iran-Contra Connection, and author of the book on drug policy Drug Wars: Corruption Counter-insurgency and Covert Operations in the Third World, a book which is more relevant, we believe, today than ever, in light of the Clinton Administration’s apparent determination to, indeed, turn Colombia into what could become another Vietnam.

I’m also pleased that Jonathan was involved in a book project that I organized back in the early ‘80s that was published called Dealing With Drugs, and for which we won our International Book Award. I’m glad to present Jonathan Marshall. [applause]

Jonathan Marshall

Thank you, David. There are really, I think, broadly defined, two drug problems in the United States. One is the problem of drug misuse, frequently termed “drug abuse,” which was a strange term. The thought of us abusing these drugs, but as Alex said there is a real problem there. It’s a medical and social problem. Very real. There are people who die from drugs. There are people who are born with drug problems, so called “crack babies” and so on.

But the other problem, which I think is every bit as large and much more easily controllable, is the enormous social problem from what we call drug enforcement, and it’s really better, I think, thought of as drug prohibition. No one is really making war on drugs. They’re making war on people. People who take drugs. People who engage in the commerce around drugs and so on.

And the nature of this so-called drug war is to abet violence in our society, corruption, the promotion of organized crime and vast underground markets, the diversion of ever increasing resources in the criminal justice system and military agencies to this fight, the enormous environmental harm that was alluded to in the Third World, where drug crops are grown and where U.S. programs are involved in wholesale spraying and use of toxins and viral agents and other things to destroy crops.

On to the enormous medical harm caused by the diversion of these markets into underground channels, where unscrupulous dealers cut drugs with unknown agents and so forth. And addicts use dirty needles promoting the AIDS epidemic, and a number of other enormous health problems.

Another enormous casualty of this so called drug war is one, that’s, I think, common to all wars, and that is truth. The kind of lying and hypocrisy that has been talked about by my predecessors on this panel are really endemic to this whole war on drugs, and have been, just pervaded the entire government approach.

I want to talk today a little bit about some of the domestic consequences of the war on drugs that I think are forcing a lot of people to rethink the social costs and the kind of wisdom of continuing crime policies.

The first point – I remember first learning in school about the scientific method, and how you test hypotheses. And when they are clearly disproven you move on and try another hypothesis. For decades we’ve been experimenting—we’ve been testing the hypothesis that law enforcement would somehow diminish the availability of drugs and, thus, the social acceptance of drugs. It seems to me that’s a hypothesis that’s been clearly disproven.

Just to take an example, from 1985 to 1995 the Federal Drug Control budget increased from about $2.5 billion to more than $13 billion—a pretty healthy rise. Over the same period, the percentage of high school seniors who said that marijuana was easily available rose from 85 percent to 90 percent, and it’s continued to rise. Similarly, the fraction of seniors who said heroin was easily available, rose to about a third in 1988 from about 19 percent in 1979.

Looking abroad, the expenditure of over $600 million in counter-narcotics programs in Colombia, which is soon to be dwarfed by the Clinton Administration’s proposed massive interventions, from 1990 to 1998, led to Colombia replacing Peru and Bolivia as the major source of cocaine in Latin America. Now there was a great victory for law enforcement.

The biggest test of drug availability is a simple economic one. What’s the price? And there, the evidence is pretty compelling that the price of drugs has fallen dramatically. A gram of cocaine cost only $44 in 1998 on the street, down from $191 in 1981. Heroin prices had been $1,200 per gram in 1981. They fell to only $318 per gram. In fact, heroin became so cheap that people started smoking it. So, in effect, traffickers are saying when supply goes up, price goes down; and supply has gone up plentifully.

Anyone who thinks for even a couple of minutes about the issue of drug interdiction to which we spend countless billions of dollars will quickly realize what a hopeless task it is and what a fundamentally dishonest task it is. The United States has 20,000 kilometers of coast line, more than 7,500 miles of border with Mexico and Canada. No army in the world could keep drugs out.

(inaudible)—border people can produce methamphetamines in their bathtubs. Indeed a single suitcase of phentanol, which is a synthetic opiate, would be enough—it’s so powerful, a suitcase full could basically supply the entire U.S. addict population for a year. So drug interdiction is at it’s heart. The only reason we buy drugs from abroad is because of cheap labor. It’s cheaper to produce it abroad. But if the price went up a little bit we’d produce it at home. It’s called “import substitution.”

So what are some of these social costs? Some of these have been alluded to, for example, the enormous erosion of civil liberties. When you look at almost every Supreme Court case that has eroded Fourth Amendment protections against searches and seizures, almost invariably, they involve drug searches. And the reason is simple. There’s no victim around to tell the police a crime occurred. The only way the police can find out that a crime occurred is by seizing property, invading people’s cars, their homes, and so forth, on minimal cause to find evidence of a crime.

I think it’s an interesting statistic that in 1996, 71 percent of all wire taps were authorized for state and federal narcotics enforcement. In contrast only 2.8 percent of wire taps were for kidnapping, extortion, larceny, theft, loan sharking, usury and bribery combined.

And lastly, just one little point, those of you who remember Watergate, the infamous “plumber’s squad,” which was at the heart of the Nixon operations, actually had it’s origins as an extra-constitutional White House-led anti-narcotics squad which became adept at breaking and entering, and then was put to other uses.

We’re all aware of Third World corruption. Corruption has been quite pervasive in the United States as well, due to the millions and billions of dollars available by traffickers to corrupt law enforcement. Half of all police officers convicted as a result of FBI-led corruption cases between 1993 and 1997, were for drug related offenses.

One of the most obvious social costs of the war on drugs are clogged jails and prisons. In 1973, there were 300,000 arrests for drug law violations. By 1996, that number had risen to 1.5 million—a five fold increase thanks to the war on drugs over that period. Three quarters of those arrests were for simple possession of a controlled substance, not even for sale or manufacturing of the drugs.

By 1995, a quarter of all adults serving time in jails and prisons were there for drug law violations. The growth in the prison population from 1985 to 1995, over 80 percent of that increase, was due to drug convictions. And so on it goes. By the late ‘90s, the cost of incarcerating all the people who are there simply for drug crimes had risen to about $9 billion a year. But if all this were really doing a lot to decrease real crime and make people feel safer, there might be a point in spending all that money. But many authorities have found quite the contrary, and two economists who David mentioned earlier, Bruce Benson and David Rasmussen, have actually studied the data, and they show that the diversion of law enforcement to fighting drug crimes away from other more significant violent crimes, has actually led to a reduction in law enforcement of things like murders, assaults, etc. The kinds of crimes most people feel threatened by.

And numerous other authorities remind anyone who cares to listen, that crimes that are induced by drug-altered states are far more common with alcohol than they are with illicit drugs, that people get thrown behind bars for life.

But the ideology of the war on drugs has been so penetrating and so pervasive and so rigidly enforced by the government, that even credible experts have been silenced. And the most notable case I think are medical experts who, to take an example that David mentioned earlier, overwhelmingly medical experts agree that there are important medical uses for cannabis—reducing nausea from chemotherapy or AIDS drugs is a classic example—and there are many others. And yet the Federal Government has systematically, and this includes the Clinton Administration, suppressed even government reports from medical authorities. The Institute of Medicine, and many others, have had reports suppressed, because drug czars believe that this role, somehow, will weaken our resolve to fight the war on drugs.

Similarly, the Federal Government bitterly resists needle swapping programs. Roughly half of all AIDS cases in the United States result from intravenous drug use and the passing of contaminated needles. Every study on the book shows that clean needle programs would reduce the incidence of this horrible epidemic, but the White House refuses to budge on the issue.

Similarly countries in Europe, Australia, and so on are much freer in their use of methadone programs to help opiate addicts, and these programs are usually suppressed in the U.S. Government.

Treatment programs receive very little support in total fraction of government resources in the so-called war on drugs. And one report by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration showed that about half of the need for treatment goes unmet in the United States. And this comes despite overwhelming evidence the treatment is effective, not only in reducing drug use and in reducing crimes committed by addicts, but also even in such things as treatment that tends to reduce welfare use by 10 percent, increase employment 20 percent a year after treatment. So there’s a whole range of areas that are improved by treatment programs.

Treatment, of course, costs far less than imprisonment. To imprison a drug criminal costs on the order of close to $25,000 a year, compared to treatment costs of about $2,000 to $6,000 a year.

The Rand Corporation, which no one can view as a group of softies, estimated in the mid-‘90s that a dollar invested in drug treatment produced social returns on that investment of about $7.50, because of the reduction in crime and other sorts of problems. By contrast, they found that a dollar invested in controlling drugs in Third World source countries result in a social loss of 85 cents. A dollar invested in interdiction resulted in a social loss of 68 cents. A dollar invested in domestic law enforcement led to a loss of 48 cents. These are pretty compelling numbers. Normally, one would expect fiscal conservatives to care about such numbers, but we don’t see much of that from our current leadership.

Well, what are the alternatives? The most radical one, which is almost never discussed is, because people are afraid of the “L” word, is legalization. And this is, indeed, a fairly radical proposal. It would, based philosophically on the notion that people have the right to make choices about their own lives as long as they aren’t fouling up other people’s lives.

And I don’t want to push the legalization argument here too strongly, but I think there are a couple of facts worth remembering. One is that before 1914, drugs were largely legal, and there was not a gigantic addict population. There were people taking these little elixirs that Alex was referring to. Mostly, they were functioning members of society. No one really knows for sure how many addicts there were, but some estimates put it as low as about quarter of a million. Certainly the United States had a sustained period of economic growth throughout this whole period of drug legalization.

Some recent work by economists who’ve studied the effect of changing prices on drug demand estimated the decriminalization of cocaine might lead to about 260,000 new users, and decriminalization of heroin might lead to about 47,000 new heroin users. These would certainly create social or medical problems. I’d hardly consider those numbers to be radically undermining of our society.

Probably, a more politically palatable alternative is often named “harm reduction.” The notion here is to reduce the kind of wholesale incarceration of small-time drug users to promote treatment as an alternative. It seems kind of criminal when there are people begging for treatment that society doesn’t provide slots for them. That would condone the medical uses of drugs where prescribed by doctors, that would permit kind of hard-core drug users to receive heroin or methadone without resorting to black markets and the dangers of contaminated drugs, and so on.

Programs like this are not just theoretical. They’ve been tried in Europe and Switzerland, in Holland, and so forth. And careful scientific studies of the results have shown remarkably good effects. They don’t show that drug use stops in these countries. They show that the kind of ancillary social harm that comes from enforcement is enormously reduced. That crime is reduced. That the health effects of drug use are enormously reduced. And that the problem becomes manageable rather than a severe social problem.

I think there is hope in that a growing number of Americans are beginning to look to examples abroad of programs like this. There’s hope in the fact that even stalwarts of the drug war from the Reagan era, like George Schultz, have started talking about drug legalization. A growing number of people are giving—are lending a certain intellectual respectability to this. You see them at the Hoover Institution, National Review magazine, some people on the left, and that gives me hope that ultimately the American people will be able to change policy, but it is an extraordinarily hard fight against, as Alex said, very entrenched state interests in maintaining the drug war as it is for some very pernicious reasons. Thank you. [applause]

David Theroux

Thank you, Jonathan. We’d like to open it up to your questions. If you just wait for Carl, who has the microphone and – OK.

Audience Member #1

I’d like to ask this question of Jonathan: Is he encouraged with a proposed policy that candidates for the Police Department, no longer have their prior drug arrests as a relevant factor in becoming police officers? In other words, police officers who’ve served time for drug offenses will now be enforcing the drug law. Wouldn’t that make them more compassionate in their application? [laughter]

Jonathan Marshall

I’m not terribly hopeful, though. There seem to be two schools of thought as the baby boom generation which, many of whom took drugs in their youth or early adulthood, move into positions of power. Some of them are perhaps more compassionate and see the hypocrisy of brutal crackdowns on others who have engaged in activities really no more severe than they did in their youth.

The other reaction is to try to forget about their own past, as Al Gore seems to have managed and others. And become “holier than thou” in this drug war, if you’ll pardon my mixed metaphor. One of the problems with the police is that the incentive structure the police face [relies] heavily [towards] supports [of] the war on drugs, and that goes to things like asset forfeiture laws which directly support the growth of police departments.

And indeed some of the economists I mentioned have shown that what the rise in the drug war in the mid-‘80s was directly related to Federal law, which shared proceeds from asset forfeitures with local police departments. Lo and behold, it’s not very surprising that they followed their incentives. And so unless those incentives are changed, I’m not too hopeful that the change in the mix of police officers will help.

Audience Member #2

Well, we just started to talk about incentives, and I don’t think there’s been a real discussion about money. If you could apply the term “follow the money” to any of your points of views would you have something to say about that phrase “follow the money” as it relates to the global drug threat?

Peter Dale Scott

If I’d had time, I would have talked about the international flows of money. Twice, once in the early ‘80s and, again, in the mid-‘90s, Mexico was on the point of defaulting on all its loans, and in fact, announced that it would. And, twice, the American Government came through with emergency loans. I think in the Clinton case, it was done overnight; really, $40 billion. That money was lent on the assumption that it would be repaid.

In the first case, in the early ‘80s, the CIA actually did a study on how much of Mexico’s foreign exchange earnings come from drugs. And the answer is actually reproduced photographically, their report in James Mills’ book, The Underground Empire. They ran two countries together which sort of fudges it a bit. They said these foreign exchange earnings of just two countries, Colombia and Mexico, probably 75 percent come from drugs.

Well, if, supposing Mexico had defaulted. Supposing they hadn’t had that 75 percent coming from drugs. Three or four of your top banks in this country would have been technically bankrupt. So you have to ask, what does a bank president think about drugs coming through Mexico?

The second example is in 1994; the figures this time come from the Mexican side. The Mexican Attorney General reported $28 billion of foreign exchange earnings—we’re not just talking the money here—but the important thing: money that you can pay back to the United States; $28 billion from drugs, probably more than the sale of all other commodities, such as oil for example, combined.

Now I tested this on a vice president of a very well known bank—I don’t want to put her on the spot—but a bank that was definitely exposed in this debt situation. She didn’t know about the 1980s, but when I began to talk about the 1990s, she cut me off and she said, “oh, that was drug money.” So the banks know that’s how they’re getting their banks. The one country that never had to reschedule its debts in the 1980s in Latin America was Colombia. [laughter]

David Theroux

Alex, did you want to say something?

Alexander Cockburn

Oh, no, I was going to say it’s been absolutely marvelous to follow down the years the U.S. press which reports these sting operations of Mexican banks, and the incredible silence they’ve kept on the fact that U.S. banks have been deeply involved in money washing, as indeed [Ramon} Milan-Rodriguez, who’s now serving in a Federal penitentiary who was a money washer accountant for the Medellin Cartel. He was arrested in the U.S., I think carrying at the time $10 million. And he had spreadsheets showing how much money he was bringing in. Contributions made to various political campaigns. My brother made a film for WGBH on it. Milan-Rodriguez—very articulate, well-educated bloke, talked about it, but, again, it’s one of those subjects that you run across quite frequently where no matter how often it’s pointed out or said in slightly non-official publications—it will always stay off the official agenda.

David Theroux

Other questions? Gentleman over here?

Audience Member #3

Yeah. Speaking of Mexico, for the first time it looks like they have a horse race for the presidential election. Is there anything out there that suggests that the Vicente Fox and PAN will be any less corrupt than de Prede?

Peter Dale Scott

I’m not really an expert on Mexico, but I gather that PAN some time ago sort of, just like PRI, dissolved into two factions. One with the so-called bureaucrats who run the so-called dinosaurs, who were—the bigger drug traffickers were the dinosaurs side. Although I must say the Salinas de Gortari family seems to have done pretty well, as bureaucrats, out of this. And the PAN also is split into the people who genuinely oppose this whole system in PAN, who I gather are not major players. And then people like Fox, who have learned how to play the game. And the people I talked to are not sure that it’s really going to be terribly different if Fox is elected, and it seems quite likely that he will be.

Jonathan Marshall

Actually, can I just add?

There’s sometimes a rather arrogant supposition on the part of U.S. authorities and U.S. press that all it takes is some order from a head of state who’s really not corrupt to stop the drug traffic. If you read occasional accounts in the New York Times or elsewhere about what happens to those brave but rather foolhardy Mexican drug agents who aren’t corrupt and you end up beheaded. And I won’t go through all the grizzly details, but a Mexican president can’t just order an end to the drug traffic. With the billions of dollars at stake, it’s so central to their economy, as Peter said. These are structural problems. They will never be solved by simply a change of government or a wish to end corruption.

Audience Member #4

What I don’t understand is how with a General as the head of the war on drugs, we constantly violate one of the principles of war that the military men are taught, which is to reinforce success and abandon failure. [laughter]

____: Vietnam (inaudible).

David Theroux

Anyone want to comment on that?

____: That’s a good question. That’s a good question.

____: We don’t understand the (inaudible).

Alexander Cockburn

Well, it comes down to what you define as success. If success is counter-insurgency abroad and social control at home, then you could argue the drug war is a success on those terms. [applause]

Peter Dale Scott

Can I add to that? And this is from our book Cocaine Politics, that the military realized after Vietnam, that foreign engagements were going to be very unpopular. And they actually scratched their heads. “How can we sell foreign engagements to the American people?” And a man called Gragglestein, a Colonel, Marine, Special Forces Commander, Colonel, said that the way to sell it to the American people is to declare that the enemy are narco-terrorists. And we quote about a paragraph on page one—if those of you who bought the book Cocaine Politics, page 198, you can see how this—he said, “This will give us the moral high ground and we’ll silence our opponents.”

This actually goes back to 1974 when, up until then, the United States had been voting every year [to give] aid to police forces in Latin America. When the facts came out about the amount of torture that the people we had trained were inflicting on their people, Congress terminated that kind of police assistance. But the same year they, other people said, “well, we can start giving drug assistance to the same countries,” and the amount of drug assistance that was voted was roughly equal to the amount of police assistance which had just been cancelled. So it’s been hypocrisy from the very beginning. But I think Alex’s point is a good one. The main objective is to keep the military in this, and also, police, by the way and for that matter, in this kind of business (inaudible).

Audience Member #5

As much as I appreciate this analysis of the symptoms of the drug war, I must observe and ask your comment on this. I feel that the Prohibition or whatever, or a crusade against whomever, has been the great political success of the last thousand years, whether we look at the Crusades, whether we look at the Spanish Inquisition, or whether we look at the Prohibition of alcohol, Prohibition itself is a runaway political success. It is the means, the operative means, by which we give the lie to Abraham Lincoln—

David Theroux

Do you have a question?

Audience Member #5

This is a question. I ask for your comments on this. I’m being a little provocative. Abraham Lincoln said you couldn’t fool all the people all the time, but now we can fool enough of the people enough of the time. May I ask for comments on that please?

Peter Dale Scott

Well I don’t want to do all the talking, but the Crusades were a way of keeping a totally dysfunctional class of warrior-knights going for a little bit longer than they should have. [laughter] I think the kings liked the Crusades because it got the warrior-knights off your own land and onto somebody else’s land. But I hardly see it as a very progressive element.

Spain really suffered for the Inquisition, which drove the creative middle class elements out of Spain and turned what, at the time, was probably the most progressive country in Europe into the most backward in a matter of 300 years.

So these are analogies we should think about very seriously but they’re not—you can’t put them under the rubric of success stories.

Jonathan Marshall

Politically they were.

Audience Member #5

Yeah, he will.

David Theroux

It’s true. They have, obviously prohibition has existed and the question is why and how do we deal with it?

Audience Member #6

My question is –

David Theroux

Well, this, I’m sorry, this gentleman here.

Audience Member #7

Thank you. My question is to all three speakers. I’d like a definition of state, that is, how did this great American country get so corrupt? And the second part of that question is: what is your opinion on sort of the unifying hypothesis put forward by L. Fletcher Prouty to account for the post, at least part of what’s happening in the post-war period?

David Theroux

Anyone take that first?

Audience Member #8

Could you give the speakers a mic?

David Theroux

Yeah, they have them.

Alexander Cockburn

Well, I was using the state in the sense of the combination of interests, who hold the power, exercise the power of coercion and governorship in the sense of the dominant class as represented by government, which is it’s executive committee, which all Marxists will recognize as the tag from the radical past. I can’t remember what L. Fletcher Prouty said. I don’t believe most of what L. Fletcher Prouty says, so I mean I think I’d probably disagree with whatever he did say [laughter] although I don’t want to; I mean he’s the secret team guy in a way, yeah.

I always think the team is open. It’s not secret. I think I might differ with my trusted colleagues here. But people talk about secret government. I think it’s fairly obvious who the villains are; their faces appear in the newspaper every day. Where is secrecy needed? They’re there. We can look at them all the time.

Audience Member #9

Whom are you labeling?

Alexander Cockburn

Well, I think Fletcher Prouty—the thesis, by and large, is that there is a covert team running the show. It’s a slight—I think a cousin of the idea that the CIA is a rogue agency—that there are forces at work. I mean, it’s a long strain in analysis, whether it’s the Freemasons or this or the Jews or [laughter] somebody is doing it and we don’t know who they are.

I tend to generally disagree with that and say that the people who you think are running the show, by and large, you can identify them. You can identify the class interests. You can identify the economic interests and there they are. And you don’t need to scuffle under the bed and find a Freemason or a secret Teamster or whoever it is. [laughter] Because we know they’re there.

Peter Dale Scott

I actually wrote a book on this subject called Deep Politics, and I must be a fairly bristly character because I managed to disagree with people like Alex Cockburn on the one hand who said, it’s all perfectly obvious, there’s a structure there. And I also managed to disagree explicitly with Fletcher Prouty who says there is a secret team who is, or a secret government, managing everything behind the scenes.

I do believe that there are, what I call deep political considerations here. But part of the problem is that there are certain things that go on in our society that we don’t want to talk about. And one of them, which Alex did talk about, but most people don’t, is that the CIA has been in bed with criminals from the time it got started. Local police forces, it’s often the same thing, that a very convenient way to run parts of the city that you have trouble getting into is to tolerate the existence of organized gangs who do it for you, and if they’re selling cocaine, heroin, they’d rather have—let me tell you, this is a fact, they’d rather have heroin dealers in South—cocaine dealers in South Central LA than have Black Panthers, that’s for sure. [laughter] And this is not a joke.

So what ends up is that things are going on that we do not acknowledge and we do not talk about, and believe me our present drug crisis in this country is something which we never talk about honestly. If you see a politician get on a TV camera talking about drugs, you can expect it’s going to be empty rhetoric, because very often that politician may have a partner in a law firm who helped get him elected because of the amount of business he was bringing the people who are part of the drug trade.

So I just can sum it up. It’s not a secret team that’s somehow outside of the system. It definitely is the system, but not all of the system is up there on the TV camera for you to look at. And if you look into the financing of parties and things like that, that drives that home.

Jonathan Marshall

If I could just actually just emphasize that. I think there’s a kind of happy middle ground there. Much as Peter said, and I think a great example is when the Justice Department in the early 1990s made a deal with the CIA, literally saying that the CIA did not have to inform the Justice Department about crimes being committed by its agents, or people the CIA was working with. This is about as blatant, hypocritical act, at the very time that the Reagan Administration was proclaiming the war on drugs, the Justice Department was explicitly letting off the hook, all the people working with the CIA.

So we had not a cabal in the CIA doing this but the Justice Department doing it. The CIA was acting in accordance with Reagan Administration policy. It was all being done in secret, lest this offend the American people. But the even bigger irony is now that it’s public, how many newspapers have reported this. I think Alex may have written a column on this taking the L.A. Times to task and—

Audience Member

It was published in the L.A. Times.

Jonathan Marshall

But it wasn’t the news pages of the L.A. Times or other papers telling us this. So that’s the kind of mind-boggling scandal of my former profession that’s rather heartbreaking.

Audience Member #11

My question is or please remind me what the participation at the end of Prohibition because I’m curious how much corruption as drawn back in the ‘30s as we have now, and somehow it’s (inaudible) and public opinion was changed.

Alexander Cockburn

People have mentioned Prohib—I think it was, sorry—the changed atmosphere just before the second World War, right, and the fact that, I mean I’d like to put a defense of Prohibition, let’s face it. [laughter] Jonathan said that when drugs were legal was a period of growth. But what about the ‘20s, period of unparalleled growth and ebullience in American society accompanied by Prohibition.

Health. In terms of health, Prohibition was rather a success actually. I’ll give you some examples. Cirrhosis of the liver was running at 16 per hundred thousand in 1900, By 1930, after a period of Prohibition, it was down to 8.2 and then since Prohibition was re-appealed, by 1968 it was up to 19. TB in 1870, per hundred thousand, there were 460 people with TB. In 1900, it was 264 and Prohibition was a tremendous success because people—a lot of people obeyed the law and didn’t drink which meant that their nutrition was better, their vulnerability to disease sank, and by 1930, TB was down to 68 per hundred thousand.

Now I don’t want to issue a defense of Prohibition because it gave rise to the Kennedy family and that’s—[laughter]—a rising argument just by itself against Prohibition. But it does go back, it does go back to the point I tried to make before, that booze was a huge problem. Prohibition was a coercive instrument and it was obviously flouted. It led to widespread contempt for the law. It led to the corruption of police departments. It led to Universal Pictures. It led to all sorts of things. And Camelot. Well, it did. Jules Stein founded Universal and Jules Stein was a bandleader with Capone, who you know, flourished during the band-era Prohibition rackets. Hollywood did well out of this.

But the point is twofold. And, again, I think it has to be thought of. What is an element of coercion that’s necessary in drug treatment? This goes back to the issue of drug courts, drug therapy, and too, how much coercion is necessary? And, two, if you regard Prohibition as on the one hand, you can, it’s been—you think I’m being provocative, but epidemiologists have made, like Ayre, have made very sound defenses of Prohibition, saying it was a great social health experiment. I kid you not. Because on the stats, I gave you a few, you can go on with that. You have to, therefore, see these problems of addiction as public health problems, and I suggested that we’re coming into an era where we need to be very sophisticated and clearheaded about what we’re really talking about here.

Peter Dale Scott

I think it would be very good for us to study what happened at the end of Prohibition. I don’t totally disagree with what Alex just said, but I think two factors that [come into] play. One was that the amount of, the emergence of organized crime as a phenomenon with some rather spectacular shootouts towards the end of Prohibition. But perhaps even more important was the sudden deflation with the collapse of the stock market. And the stock market was really revived by the laundering of Prohibition money into the stock market, which now meant that the Prohibition players were players in, not on the dark side of the economy but at the center of the economy. And of course, when the decision was made to legalize alcohol, people like the Kennedy’s became major distributors in the new thing. So it was a way of saying, okay, well, we’ve tried fighting it, now let’s all work together to get the American economy going again.

Audience Member #12

But we could just say what this very day, the Seagram—another fortune made by Prohibition, the Seagram fortune, has just been bought by a Belgium working utility.

David Theroux

This gentleman, the next one?

Audience Member #13

I’d like to ask a question about all of the money you talked about. How much of this money’s got into our political parties, our court systems and also our international corporations? Have they benefited from this big drug war?

Peter Dale Scott

Well, we certainly know of individual drug traffickers who, people who convict—I want to be clear here, people convicted of cocaine trafficking, like Lionel Martinez, a very big contributor to Bush, Sr. and Jeb Bush in Florida. And I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg, frankly. Usually, it’s done through secondary and third parties, but not in the case of Lionel Martinez.

And then, I like the example of Fahad Azima, who’s airline, Global International, was involved in Iran/Contra, who was also involved with these heroin-trafficking Afghan guerillas. He not only gave to Clinton and to Gore, but just to be safe, he also gave to Fred Thompson, who was supposed to be investigating this whole thing from the Republican side. [laughter]

Jonathan Marshall

Well, but I would just add that one can always find individual cases of these contributions, and some may have led to political influence to protect an individual from time to time. I’m not sure these contributions have a systemic or structural effect. And the second point I would like to make is, the drug money flows are indeed probably huge, if you add it up around the world. But I think it’s a little misleading to conclude from that, that somehow the world economy is propped up, or the U.S. economy in particular, is propped up by the drug traffic. If demand for drugs ended, people would be demanding other products, other services, other forms of entertainment. The money would flow someplace else. So there are a lot of distorting effects of the drug traffic and particularly, drug prohibition but I don’t think it’s quite as systemic as some people say.

David Theroux

This gentleman right here. And then we’ll get back here.

Audience Member #14

Along this line of following the money, the effects of the drug trafficking on the political process. Do you feel that drug traffickers, the big cartels, actually, are opposed or in favor of the war on drugs?

Alexander Cochburn

Oh, I’m sure they’re in favor of it. Every time I read a very depressing testimony to Congress by a man called Andy Messing, who’s somebody you should watch the National Security Defense Foundation. He said it’s wrong to call this a war because we’re never going to win. Let’s call it a conflict, and let’s accept that all we’re going to do is reduce supply by 10 or 15 or 20 percent. That’s a good thing, he said.

Well, another way of putting it is that we’re going to stay in this conflict to keep the price up. So—and if there wasn’t a war and the price went down, then it wouldn’t be the profitable enterprise that it is now.

Jonathan Marshall

I thought many of the Colombian cartel leaders though actually were seeking a sort of non-violent end to the war. I think they thought they were in a good position probably to dominate illegal drug traffic.

Peter Dale Scott

Yeah, but I think they were also prepared to get out of the drug traffic. They have made their billions.

Jonathan Marshall

I don’t know. Making your billions rarely stops people from wanting to make more billions. I think—

Peter Dale Scott

Like the Bromfmans who go into entertainment.

Alexander Cockburn


David Theroux

We have time for one more question.

Audience Member #15

This, I’ll get a little heavy, but basically it looks—can I ask you if there’s any way we can deal with the drug traffic and the systemic money that flows through it, as well as the arms traffic and the mendacity and everything else? I think we’re totally addicted to it, not just the system and not just the guys at the top, or the secret government, but you and I and everybody else. I don’t see any way to turn this thing around without a huge amount of societal dislocation and I think you should look at that?

Peter Dale Scott

Well, I think we live in a society in which the whole drug trade has become part of the support of that society, but I think it’s a very sick one, and I think it’s vulnerable at the point that they have to rise to it. That’s why I, maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on this, but the lies in this House Committee Report are so crass and so frightened. I might say that I feel that they feel they’re on the point of being exposed.

I can tell you this. That if one American in a hundred would read the Hitz Reports and read the Frommige Department of Justice Report, there would be a political movement to demand a restructuring of the relationship between our intelligence agencies and criminal forces in the Third World. And I think we need that. I think we can only have democracy when people know how things are being done. We cannot have a democracy when everything is covert and we are fighting a war in Colombia with MPRI and Dine Corp., which are private corporations people have never heard of. But if we get all this out and expose it, that is the only way I see how we can turn it around and we have to.

Alexander Cockburn

You say addiction, I mean, as a couple of examples of the way a drug problem flows into another problem. I’ve lived a lot of the time in Humboldt County. [laughter] Now, where hippies grow dope, ranchers grow dope. Why do ranchers grow dope? There’s long-term agricultural economic depression. Ranchers don’t get too much money for their calves. Why don’t they get money for the calves? Because the bulk of the money in the beef trade is made by the processors. The [profits] lie with beef processors. The price for a rancher of a calf has barely gone up in 20 years. All the price of beef in the supermarket has barely gone down. Where’s the money going? It’s going to the middle guy. What is one of the consequences? Most ranchers in Humboldt or Mendicino [Counties] or around there will grow some dope to supplement their income.

It’s an economic necessity in the same way that if you denude South Central L.A. of any manufacturing facility and the only employment of opportunity there, or in North Richmond here in the Bay Area, is dealing in drugs. If there’s no other job, then you’ve got a drug problem. So these problems then flow into larger social problems. And one of the baneful effects of the drug war is it’s cast in this rigid perspective without seeing all the endless ramifications of larger social dislocation, which is very often as simple as how can you get by in the small rural community.

Cocaine; you can go to any small town in America and see in an economic depression which restaurants are surviving because they’re washing through drug money. That’s how it works. You have to look at these larger pictures all the time, and then a drug problem becomes an economic justice problem.

Jonathan Marshall

I would also, oh, at least, I would disagree with the assumption of the question that the drug trade or our addiction to drugs is so deeply rooted that it would be wrenching to—


The money—drugs and guns and things of this sort (inaudible)

Jonathan Marshall

Yeah. Well, I don’t think that the money from the illicit gun trade is all that enormous. I think that, the reality is, I think Milton Friedman made this observation, no doubt others have too, but the power of special interest groups is often inversely proportional to their size. The reason is that small ones have very concentrated interests and focus their lobbying power, their political power or even covert power very effectively. Large groups tend to be more diffused and it’s harder really to satisfy their needs.

I think the interest groups who benefit most from the war on drugs are fairly small. I think if we ended, say, our program of trying to control the destiny of Third World countries and intervening through their military and police forces in guerilla wars, we would be better off, not worse. There would be less wrenching dislocation if we stayed out of Colombia than if we go in and create another Vietnam. There would be less wrenching dislocation if we moved towards treating drug problems as medical and social problems rather than law enforcement and military problems. So I think we have everything to gain and very little to lose.

David Theroux

One thing I might just add to what Jonathan just said was that many of the economists that we work with are from the so-called public choice school of economics, who point out that politics is a contest. It’s a competition among interest groups to gain control of the police power to be used in coercive measure to benefit themselves. Essentially to enrich themselves, as opposed to obtaining wealth through voluntary means. And the nature of politics is that those that benefit directly are going to be a small number who can benefit from very modest changes, and they can diffuse the cost to the public through taxes and liability and any other cost, or ways of essentially distributing these costs that result. But I do think, on the positive side, it’s important to recognize that it’s only been a very relatively small number of years when this movement, for example, medical marijuana has come into being and now has 70+ percent popular support.

To me, the problem as far as how we get between the situation now and [where] we’d like to be, is largely one of information. Not only of information, but the public still by and large believes the official pronouncements of the DEA and other entities are indeed serving the public. My view is that even if the DEA is run by angels, it would be anti-social because of the nature of the way government institutions operate, partly as the public choice economists point out.

In any event, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our panelists [loud applause] and those of you who have not gotten their books, Cocaine Politics and Whiteout, there are copies upstairs. They’d be delighted to autograph them for you. If you’re not our mailing list, please give us your address and so forth. If you have further questions, I’m sure the authors would be happy to address those as well. And thank you. We hope to see you again next time. Good night.


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