Did The Drug War Claim
Another 3,056 Casualties On 9-11?
Subject: Arianna's Latest Column
Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2002 11:08:54 -0500
From: Arianna Huffington firstname.lastname@example.org
Did The Drug War Claim Another 3,056 Casualties On 9-11?
By Arianna Huffington
The Phoenix memo. The Rowley letter. The Oklahoma red flag. All elements
in this true and tragic story of fumbling feds that has more smoking guns
than a Quentin Tarantino movie.
So why did the FBI, whose job it is find smoking guns, fail to see the
smoking guns popping up all around it?
In announcing his big reorganization plans, Director Robert Mueller
seemed to consider the FBI's tragedy of errors a question of flawed management
flow charts, nothing that a rejiggered PowerPoint presentation couldn't fix.
But there was a much more fundamental problem plaguing the bureau before
Sept.11. And it wasn't one of office politics, but of office-wide priorities.
Namely, the agency's crippling addiction to America's war on drugs.
While Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida minions were diligently preparing
for their murderous mission, the FBI was looking the other way with equal
determination. More than twice as many FBI agents were assigned to
fighting drugs (2,500) than fighting terrorism (1,151). And a far
of the FBI's financial resources was dedicated to the war on drugs.
And this pathological prioritization of the drug war extended well
beyond the allocation of money and manpower. It was ingrained in the culture.
Counterterrorism units were treated like the bureau's ugly stepchildren,
looked down upon by FBI management because they weren't making the kind
of high-profile arrests that spruce up a supervisor's resume and make the
evening news. Let's face it, canvassing flight schools in search of
suspicious students is nowhere near as sexy as one of those big drug
busts with the bags of coke or bales of pot piled high for the cameras.
It's now painfully clear that there were terror warning signs aplenty
but that they were disregarded by distracted FBI officials who had
their eyes on a very different prize.
In Phoenix, where the now infamous Ken Williams memo originated,
counterterrorism agents complained bitterly about their efforts being
given "the lowest investigative priority" by a supervisor who
preferred glamorous drug-fighting investigations. Even though the
anti-terror squad was
understaffed, having been assigned only eight of the division's 200
agents,it had managed to infiltrate groups of suspected terrorists through the
use of paid informants, including a man who was being trained to be a
suicide bomber. They had also uncovered local men with ties to World Trade
Center bomber Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and to a virulently anti-American Muslim
organization linked to al-Qaida.
So what was their reward for all this? Regular head-butting sessions
with higher ups who balked at having to allocate resources for information
that didn't lead to immediate arrests. I'll bet doubloons to donuts that the
Phoenix agents doling out cash to drug case snitches very rarely ran up
against the same sort of resistance -- what one veteran terrorism squad
member described as "micromanaging, constant indecision, and
Meanwhile, across the country in Boston, Raed Hijazi, an admitted
al-Qaida member who had become an informant in exchange for avoiding
jail, tried to warn FBI agents about Arab terrorists and
Nabil al-Marabh, a member of an al-Qaida terrorist cell who was arrested in
the wake of 9-11. But the FBI wasn't interested in Hijazi's terror leads --
they only wanted to hear what he knew about heroin being smuggled into
America from Afghanistan.
And it wasn't just the FBI. This Drug War Uber-Alles mindset infected
the entire law enforcement community, starting at the top. "I want to
escalate the war on drugs," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in his first
interview after being nominated for the post. "I want to renew it. I
want to refresh it."
And he was true to his word. Witness the $43 million the
Bush administration gave to the Taliban just four months before Sept. 11. Sure
there was the small detail of harboring a guy named bin Laden, but the
Taliban had agreed to ban the production of opium poppies. And so the
drug war trumped the terror war once again.
So is this kind of thinking finally a thing of the past? I'm not so
sure. Even after last week's highly touted reorganization, which included the
reassignment of 400 narcotics agents to counterterrorism, there will
still be 2,100 agents spending their invaluable time and energy fighting a
fruitless drug war. This despite the fact that combating drugs didn't
even make Director Mueller's official Top Ten list of priorities.
Which raises the question: if the drug war is suddenly lower on the FBI
pecking order than combating white collar crime (#7), protecting civil
rights (#5), and taking on public corruption at all levels (#4 with a
bullet!), then how come 1 out of 6 agents will still be working that
beat? The numbers just don't add up.
According to high-ranking FBI officials, Mueller originally intended to
pull the plug on his agency's involvement in the drug war, shifting every one
of his counternarcotics agents to counterterrorism activities, but was
talked out of it by drug war generals who can't admit defeat.
Not only should the White House follow though on Mueller's instinct
and choose the war on terror over the war against drugs, they should
insist that the FBI hire new kindsof people to fight this new kind of
"Merely reassigning traditional FBI agents to fight terrorism isn't
enough," former senator Gary Hart, who co-chaired the U.S. Commission
on National Security, told me. "The new counterterror team should be
more like the
Delta Force. Not standard-issue agents in dark suits and ties, but young,
imaginative 21st century investigators recruited from outside the
At the same time, we should make sure that the administration doesn't
just transfer the drug war and its attendant lavish funding from the FBI to
the DEA, which will no doubt show up on the Hill any day now, looking for
more money to take up the drug fighting slack.
As the soaring budget deficit reminds us, federal coffers are not a
bottomless well. Everything comes with a price. Sadly, it's looking
more and more like the price of the drug war may have included the
3,056 lives lost on Sept.
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