- The Washington Times - Friday, December 27, 2002

Occasionally, you bump into a truly compelling policy argument. Here is one that emerges out of facts that came to light this past month. On data that has recently surfaced, there can no longer be any doubt about a direct link between drug-trafficking money from the buyers of illicit drugs in the United States and leading terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, and Hezbollah.
This puzzle piece is added to another: Colombian FARC terrorists have long funded their operations with cocaine and heroin revenue. New this autumn is a riveting development: Clear and convincing evidence has emerged that California's methamphetamine "super labs" are, in fact, a significant source of revenue not only for Mexican drug traffickers, but also to Middle Eastern terrorist organizations based in Yemen and Jordan. That revelation is significant. It should have resounding policy implications for law makers in both parties and the administration.
In the words of Attorney General John Ashcroft last month, "The war on terrorism has been joined with the war on illegal drug use." More to the point, Congress must seriously grapple with properly funding and clearly articulating the reasons for funding a full bore effort to take down the infrastructure surrounding California's unique phenomenon of methamphetamine "super labs." This is not an excuse for massive new funding across 50 states; this is an immediate threat posed by one state. Nor is this a "get to it in Fiscal Year 2004" sort of affair; this is a "get to it now" challenge.
Evidence has long simmered, just short of a full boil, that major Middle Eastern terrorist organizations were drawing substantial revenues from the sale of high potency narcotics on U.S. streets and in U.S.schools. The link was always ironclad in the case of Colombian terrorists, not least because their links to cocaine and heroin traffickers were both transparent and repeatedly surfaced in public documents. Not so, however, with the California methamphetamine gusher.
In recent years, two mistaken presumptions have characterized federal efforts to end the methamphetamine production glut. First, California's meth problem has mistakenly been deemed no worse, proportionally, than any other state's. The implication is that meth produced in the source country we call California will stay there only it does not. We now know that more than 85 percent of California's meth ends up in other states, north to New Hampshire, East to Virginia, south to Florida, and through states like Texas and Illinois. The second mistake has been assuming that Mexican cocaine cartels had locked up California meth production. That also turns out to be only half the story.
In a first glimpse of the Middle Eastern connection to U.S. drug profits, indictments were handed up last month against two Pakistanis and an American once from India for "an alleged scheme to use profits from illicit drug sales to finance the purchase of Stinger [shoulder-fire] missiles for the al Qaida terror network." They had sought to buy four Stinger missiles on profits from illegal drugs in San Diego. But that is not the kicker. Nor is the fact that terrorists coincidentally tried to bring down an Israeli jet airliner with a shoulder-fire missile.
This autumn, the California Department of Justice internally documented an elaborate review of finance transactions in a report entitled "Narco-Terrorism in California: The Middle Eastern Connection." The California Anti-Terrorism Information Center specifically found, perhaps to its surprise, that evidence of the meth link to Middle Eastern terrorists abounds. The analysis found that "Yemeni, Jordanian and Palestinian psudoephedrine traffickers are the primary groups operating in California."
It also found that these same traffickers transport precursor chemicals from Canada to California via Illinois and Michigan, and that the pivotal California nexus with meth distribution nationwide is "transnational cell structures" located in California.
Perhaps most revealing, the report confirms that "funds derived from these organizations are funneled to the Middle East through a Middle Eastern inter-communal process that bypasses traditional government methods of recording and tracking the funds." And finally the report nails the issue with this assessment: "Points of destination for these funds include Yemen, Israel, Brazil and Jordan countries that have been infiltrated by terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas; Hezbollah; and al Qaeda."
What should this finding mean for the administration and new Congress, which will consider fresh the unfinished Fiscal Year 2003 appropriations bills, including those affecting anti-terrorist and anti-drug funds for states like California?
It should mean that, in addition to fully funding strong international anti-terror and anti-drug programs like Plan Colombia, which has begun to make progress against the towering terrorist threat to our immediate south, Congress should aggressively fund the California effort to turn off and take down terrorist-funding operations that pivot on the meth superlabs across that state.
In the larger context, if Congress now commits to take down these California superlabs, the entire nation gets a two-for-one benefit. By supporting a critical state program with a mere $18 million the amount necessary to sustain California's program against these superlabs it appears that Congress would both save more chlidren's lives and turn off a major source of terrorist revenue.
Congress could and the administration in its budget request should turn an important page in the fight against terrorism, acting aggressively to end what we now know is a significant source of funding for Jordanian, Palestinian and Yemeni terrorists.
Whether to beat drugs or beat terrorism, policy arguments seldom come more compelling than that.

Robert Charles is a former staff director and chief counsel to the U.S. House National Security subcommittee and chief staffer to the U.S. House Speaker's Task Force on Counter-Narcotics. He is currently president of the Charles Group, a Maryland consulting firm.

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