Not a book that you'd curl up with at night

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed the way we thought about airport security, led to the passage of the Patriot Act and resulted in the creation of a new Cabinet-level department. Will terrorism also force America to kick its drug habit?
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Charles calls for a drastic bolstering of the war on drugs, in his terse but informative Narcotics and Terrorism. Charles, who wrote the book before his State Department nomination last year, makes the case that illegal drugs and terrorism are tightly linked. The book features forewords by former first lady Nancy Reagan, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and former Attorney General Edwin Meese.The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed the way we thought about airport security, led to the passage of the Patriot Act and resulted in the creation of a new Cabinet-level department. Will terrorism also force America to kick its drug habit?
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Charles calls for a drastic bolstering of the war on drugs, in his terse but informative Narcotics and Terrorism. Charles, who wrote the book before his State Department nomination last year, makes the case that illegal drugs and terrorism are tightly linked. The book features forewords by former first lady Nancy Reagan, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and former Attorney General Edwin Meese.

Charles knows his subject. Before heading the State Department’s Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, he was staff director at the House National Security Subcommittee and chief counsel to the House Speaker’s Task Force on Counter-Narcotics.

Charles discusses how eight “incontrovertible, recently active, and deadly” terrorist organizations are linked to the drug trade, including al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. In some instances, such as al Qaeda’s Afghanistan operation and FARC’s in Colombia, Charles’s narcotics evidence is comprehensive. In others, such as his portrait of Turkey’s terrorist Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, Charles relies on foreign press reports and what State Department reports say “may be” true. He also lists terrorist groups that are only “suspected of links to the narcotics trade” — some with adequate evidence and notation, others without.

Of course, both terrorists and narcotics traders are shady operators, deliberately trying to hide their actions and links. If only half of the terrorist groups Charles discusses have ties to narcotics, then his point is valid and the situation troubling.

Particularly worrisome is Charles’s description of drug and terror connections in North America. He points to Mexico as a “major source of methamphetamine, black tar heroin and marijuana consumed in the United States” and linked to a California-based terror-financing operation that was busted in 2002. Two Pakistanis and one American were arrested in California for trying to provide al Qaeda with Stinger missiles in a “missiles-for-drugs exchange.”

Charles quotes a California Department of Justice report as finding that the money from the California drug cells was sent to “Yemen, Israel, Brazil, and Jordan — countries that have been infiltrated by terrorist organizations such as … Hamas; Hezbollah; and al Qaeda.”

Charles also writes of “the American addiction” to narcotics. He fingers American and European buyers for providing the money that flows to terrorists. Responsibly, Charles also points out the “medical, economic, political, and cultural effects” of drug-use problems in addition to its funding terrorism. Charles also gives good news about American narcotics use — he credits drug education and confiscation programs as leading to a decrease in narcotics use at home. “Narcotics dependency — for an individual or a society — can be reduced,” he writes.

Charles’s writing is clear and fact-filled. His arguments are understandable even to those without a deep knowledge of terrorism or narcotics. Still, this is not a book to curl up with at night — it is heavy on information and targeted to the professionally interested.

Refreshingly, Charles not only points out a problem in his illustration of terrorists’ ties to narcotics, but he also proposes solutions. He writes that legalizing drugs is one fix to be ruled out — drugs are addictive, so making them legal would not necessarily drive down the price that consumers are willing to pay. Worse, Charles writes, legalization may widen the demand, helping terrorists grow profits.

Instead, Charles proposes increased, nationwide drug education that would explain not only the dangers of narcotics themselves but also their link to terrorism.

He suggests more resources for narcotics police officers, giving them the same support other terrorism-fighters have received in the post-Sept. 11 environment.

After an unfortunately overextended analogy comparing fighting the war on drugs and fighting in Iraq, Charles makes a good point: “Securing a nation against attacks from abroad and from within requires a similar commitment, sacrifice, and level of knowledge — and should engender similar public appreciation.”

In fewer than 100 pages of text, Charles presents a troubling problem and helpful solutions in Narcotics and Terrorism. It is to be recommended to any reader with an interest in national security, narcotics and the ties that bind them.