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“There is no match for a united America, a determined America, an angry America … . If we fight this war as a divided nation, then the war is lost.” The words are familiar: a call for unity, for strength, against a powerful and largely unseen enemy. A long struggle was foreseen and patience and fortitude were demanded. It was Sept. 5, 1989. And the speaker was the first President Bush, declaring “war” in much the same manner that his son did last month. Instead of terrorists, the enemy was drug traffickers. That day, the president outlined a comprehensive, long-term strategy for combating the threat. “This is the toughest challenge we have faced in decades,” Bush said. “Victory, victory over drugs is our cause, a just cause.” Then, drug kingpins ran organized criminal empires deep within countries that did nothing to stop them. Today, terrorist cells are sheltered within similar remote outposts, with the United States mounting an extensive and costly effort to reach them. And though the horrific terrorist attacks on America killed thousands of people, illegal drugs claim many more lives than that each year. A new war, but the same kind of adversary. “Drug traffickers as well as terrorists are well-financed, sophisticated, very mobile, and very global,” says the former chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Donnie Marshall. “Both prey on weak and vulnerable people, prey on unsuspecting, innocent civilians.” Whether the United States is winning the war on drugs is a subjective matter. Those who say the country is doing so point to the decline in hard drug use by Americans over the past 20 years, the drop in drug-related street crime, and the capture or elimination of several notorious drug lords such as Colombia’s Pablo Escobar. Critics say that the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States remains as constant as ever and that the social ills that lie at the root of addiction have yet to be addressed. But regardless of anyone’s definition of victory, there is no denying that the decades-long war declared against drug traffickers hasn’t wiped drug violence off the map, as President George W. Bush has vowed to do with global terrorism. The question is: Can he? Or is America sinking into another 20-year quagmire of debate over marginal and relative successes? Marshall, who headed the DEA during the last years of the Clinton administration, is optimistic. “In many ways, winning the war on terrorism will be easier than the war on drugs,” Marshall says. “We can never totally win it, but we can keep it down to much more minimal levels.” The similarities between the two campaigns are more than superficial. Both involve shadowy networks with tentacles that reach into multiple countries. But there are also some key differences. One concerns the level of American commitment, both by its government and the people. “I don’t think the war on drugs ever rose to the level of American importance as the war on terrorism,” says Tom Malinowski, the Washington, D.C., advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “It is much more comparable to the Cold War. Today, American foreign policy has one overriding priority.” Indeed, the federal government spends about $17 billion a year in the fight against drugs. According to the White House, the government already has earmarked more than $40 billion to deal with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and for shoring up national security. That doesn’t include the 7,000 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and personnel who have been assigned to work on the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and root out possible future threats, or the 29,000 military personnel who have been dispatched to the area surrounding Afghanistan. There’s more. Last month, Bush announced his intention to create a new Cabinet-level office to deal with countering domestic terrorism threats. Similarly, the first President Bush installed a “drug czar” in the White House. But that position lost much of its clout when it was given no authority to redirect anti-drug resources in other federal agencies. Already, many in Congress have supported giving the new anti-terrorism chief, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, that kind of budget authority and other powers he needs to improve multiagency coordination. Charles Saphos, an Atlanta lawyer who served both as a senior Justice Department official in the Criminal Division and as general counsel to Interpol, says the difference in leadership is dramatic. “There was not the necessary unity,” Saphos says. “One of the good things is that we have a leader now. We didn’t have a central leader [then]. Who was the leader? Nancy Reagan? We diversified the responsibility and authority over so many people that no one ever had the mandate to get it done.” HITTING HOME Americans may also view the threat of terrorism in a different light than the drug problem, which, for many, never touched their lives. “We’ve seen the dramatic effect of terrorism. This very repugnant image of planes hitting the World Trade Center,” Marshall says. “You don’t see that many people dying in a drug-related incident.” Adding to that, he says, is a belief held by many that “people who are victimized by drugs contribute to their own victimization. The public can more easily distinguish the evil of the terrorist organizations than the drug traffickers.” To Peter Andreas, a professor of international relations at Brown University in Rhode Island, there is “collateral damage in both cases” — a greater invasion of privacy and an increase in race-based law enforcement methods. But, he says, while criticism mounted over targeting African-Americans and Hispanics in drug investigations, the public may have a “higher level of tolerance” for making Arabs in the United States a law enforcement target. Last week, the Justice Department announced that the number of people held on illegal immigration grounds had risen to more than 500. There was little outcry. TOOLS OF THE TRADE America can also use its experience in the drug war in the effort against terrorism. “Some tools that we attempted to use against drug enterprises will prove valuable,” says Saphos, who headed up the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section of the Justice Department in the 1980s. Among other things, those weapons include the seizure of assets controlled by suspected terrorist groups, the use of so-called roving wiretaps and other eavesdropping methods, and the recruitment of operatives to penetrate terrorist networks. To date, President Bush has announced the seizure of $6 million linked to terrorists in 50 bank accounts worldwide — a direct lesson learned from the drug war, says Robert White, a former ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay. “The first thing the U.S. did — and it was very intelligent — was go after the money,” White says. But, White says, more is required. The government needs to use the power of its banking system to intimidate foreign banks that won’t reveal information about terrorism links, he says. Saphos believes the United States should bar uncooperative foreign banks from transacting in dollars. And Robert Weiner, who served as public affairs director for the White House’s drug control office under then-drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, says the Bush administration needs to expand the investigation to include drug trafficking connections to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. “Afghanistan still supplies 5 percent of U.S. heroin,” Weiner says. “Bin Laden’s people are in dozens of countries, and dirty money is dirty money. If you look where terrorism is, that’s where the drugs are. It is no coincidence.” The Justice Department honed the use of roving wiretaps — taps on phones tied to people instead of phone numbers — to an art form during its prosecution of complex drug indictments in the 1990s. Thomas Constantine, who ran the DEA for much of that time, says that intercepting communications would also be a vital weapon against terrorists. “They all have to communicate with each other eventually,” he says. Pablo Escobar, in fact, was killed by Colombian police in 1993 after they used U.S. technology to track his cell phone calls. But Constantine cautions that terrorist groups such as al Qaeda leave themselves less exposed than drug trafficking organizations. Their operations, he says, are smaller and are active far less frequently. “People will do drug trafficking 365 days a year. They can’t take six months off. That makes them very vulnerable,” he says. “And they have to involve thousands of people in a criminal enterprise. Terrorism doesn’t need a large number for them to achieve what they want to achieve.” That vulnerability allowed the DEA to plant agents (called “assets” in the intelligence community) inside drug cartels. As America seeks to place operatives within terrorist cells, Craig Chretien, a former DEA director of intelligence, says that U.S. law enforcement will be entering a more ethically uncertain place abroad. “You can’t really expect to direct assets toward an organization and get someone who is an outstanding citizen,” he says. A SENSE OF COMMUNITY The level of assistance the international community seems poised to provide in combating terrorism makes for another sharp contrast with the drug effort. “We haven’t used multinational cooperation in the drug war,” former Ambassador White says. Instead, the United States spent much of the 1980s and 1990s propping up creaky governments in the cocaine-producing countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, using federal aid as an incentive for those countries’ recalcitrant governments to go after the drug cartels. At the same time, most foreign banks refused to cooperate with U.S. requests for information about drug links. Unilateral action — such as the 1989 American invasion of Panama to seize Manuel Noriega or the kidnapping of high-level drug lords for trial in the United States — became the norm. Now, as its recent pledges of millions of dollars in federal aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan have shown, the United States seems ready, at least, to adopt a similar approach to nations harboring terrorists. The difference is that it won’t be acting alone. The major world powers such as Russia, China, and India have all agreed to share intelligence on terrorist activities. “In the war against terrorism, we are going to be pressuring a lot of governments to take action. It’s not going to be just a U.S. military operation,” says Ted Carpenter, an analyst for the Cato Institute in D.C. “There will be some that merely pay lip service, and others that will honestly engage.” And, just as the United States was willing to overlook repressive regimes in Peru and Bolivia in order to gain a foothold against the drug cartels, it seems ready to do the same in Central Asia. “Pakistan has heard its last lecture on a return to democracy for a while,” Carpenter says.

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