Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Asa Hutchinson, told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday that reducing the demand for illicit drugs in the United States will weaken the financial structure that supports terrorist groups.
"There is a great concern about the connection, and overwhelming evidence of the connection between the terrorists' activities and drug trafficking activities," he said.
Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. Representative from Arkansas, detailed an elaborate network of terrorist organizations providing protection and transportation for narcotics traffickers, and even direct involvement in drug distribution.
"There is multi-source information that Osama bin Laden, himself, has been involved in the financing and facilitation of heroin trafficking activities," he told the Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information
According to the State Department's "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report," Afghanistan is the source of 70 percent of the world's heroin. The report also found that in 2001, the Taliban regime controlled 96 percent of the territory where poppy was grown and even "taxed" the sale of poppy "to finance weapons purchases as well as military operations."
"There is little doubt," said subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), "that these operations, at least in part, supported and protected al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden."
Current policies don't work, critics say
But at least one U.S. law enforcement officer says the "war on drugs" has failed to stop either terrorists or drugs.
"Obviously our policies are not working," said Sheriff Bill Masters, who has served as the chief law enforcement officer in San Miguel County, Colo., for 22 years.
"We have played into the very hands of these, what I call, 'narco-businessmen' who are out there to make a profit off of the drug trade," he continued. "We have to have the courage to admit that we are going to continue to fail in the future if we don't address the demand issues."
Masters, who previously campaigned as a "get-tough-on-drugs lawman," won an award from the DEA for excellence in drug law enforcement. But he says he realized four years ago that the pseudo-military strategy of attacking the drug supply was failing to stop the problem.
"Our existing policies ... are making it lucrative for those people to go and deal drugs. We have to take that profit away from them," he argued. "And you don't do that by arresting more people and imprisoning more people because, in fact, that just drives the price up."
Masters supports the legalization of marijuana for use by adults.
"We arrested 750,000 people the year before September 11 , three-quarters of a million people in one year for possession of marijuana, and two foreign terrorists," he observed. "I don't like those statistics."
Addiction to harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, Masters believes, should be addressed as a public health, rather than law enforcement problem.
"We need to develop a system of control over those drugs that allows the medical profession to treat addicts as patients rather than criminals," he urged. "That will immediately take the profit away from these punks, the criminals and the terrorists, almost overnight."
But DEA says those who support legalization of drugs must consider the social impact of such a move.
"The drug epidemic is also taking a toll on the very core of American society, the family," states the DEA's website.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's '1998 National Drug Control Strategy,' drug use causes violence and abuse within families:
\fi-360\li360\tx360 -- One-quarter to one-half of all incidents of domestic violence are drug-related.
\fi-360\li360 -- A survey of state child welfare agencies found substance abuse to be one of the key problems exhibited by 81 percent of the families reported for child maltreatment.
-- 3.2 percent of pregnant women (nearly 80,000 mothers) used drugs regularly.
"These statistics, while alarming, reflect only the physical effects of drug abuse, and therefore, show only a small portion of the suffering endured by American families as a result of drugs," the DEA website continues. "Emotional abuse, as well as financial strain on families, are [sic] other unfortunate symptoms of drug abuse."
But Masters says those problems can't be addressed as long as there is such a huge profit motive to sell drugs. He points to a Hoover Institution study entitled "The War America Lost."
"The vast profits resulting from prohibition -- a markup as great as 17,000 percent -- have led to worldwide corruption of public officials and widespread violence among drug traffickers and dealers that endangers whole communities, cities, and nations," the report found.
Masters says law enforcement efforts will never stop drug traffickers with such an outrageous potential for financial gain.
"I don't care what they say about the foreign terrorists," he argued. "I don't care what they say about how much more funding, and jail cells, and drug dogs, and Customs Agents, and all those people we put in place, they're not going to stop the illegal drug dealing."
He says any successes law enforcement may have in stopping overseas production of hard drugs will only be temporary, unless the demand in the U.S. is reduced.
"Like a balloon in your hand that you're trying to squeeze, it's just going to pop out someplace else," he said.
Masters realizes that his message is not popular with law enforcement administrators nationwide, who rely on the drug war to provide millions of dollars toward their departments' budgets.
"I'll probably not go back to my county and lay off a bunch of deputies, but I will redirect them into enforcing the 'real' laws," he said, explaining that there is an urgent need for more officers to work on solving violent crimes.
"I think that's where the American people really want to see their law enforcement resources applied," he added.
Apparently, the people of San Miguel County, Colo., agree.
"I'd always won before but it was always kind of close," Masters explained of his previous bids for the sheriff's office. "This time I won by 80 percent of the vote."
"I think people just appreciated - even though not everyone agreed with me - they appreciated some honest talk, somebody saying it's not working and we need to develop something new," he concluded.
Masters has authored a book, Drug War Addiction: Notes From the Front Lines of America's #1 Policy Disaster , detailing his career in law enforcement and the reasons for his change of heart.
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