Afghanistan, Colombia, Vietnam: The Deep Politics of Drugs and Oil

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by Peter Dale Scott: Continuity
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Since World
War Two, the United States has had in effect two conflicting styles
of conducting foreign policy, one for other developed states, and
a quite different style for regions of little economic interest
apart from their mineral resources – above all oil and natural
gas.

As a general
rule, the US has worked through the established governments of developed
states. But in Third World areas and regions with oil or other minerals,
the US has done whatever it thought necessary to secure access when
it wished to do so. As Michael Tanzer observed some years ago, a
number of CIA-engineered coups in the 1950s and 1960s, starting
with Iran in 1953, can be related to the intentions of those countries
to nationalize their oil companies.

The US has
also embarked on at least three major military campaigns –
in Vietnam, Colombia, and now Afghanistan, where oil has been one
of the factors in the US commitment, and oil lobbies among the groups
urging engagement. Other campaigns which seemed unrelated to this
concern – notably Kosovo – have also been interpreted
by strategic realists as important to America’s oil "needs."

Whether by
coincidence or not, these three major campaigns (as well as others)
have all aligned the US on the same side as powerful local drug
traffickers. Partly this has been from realpolitik – in recognition
of the local power realities represented by the drug traffic. Partly
it has been from the need to escape domestic political restraints:
the traffickers have supplied additional financial resources needed
because of US budgetary limitations, and they have also provided
assets not bound (as the US is) by the rules of war. And partly
(I believe) it has been from a concern to manage the drug traffic
itself, and ensure that it will never fall under the control of
another hostile power.

These facts,
however coincidental in origin, have led to enduring intelligence
networks involving both oil and drugs, or more specifically both
petrodollars and narcodollars. These networks, particularly in the
Middle East, have become so important that they affect, not just
the conduct of US foreign policy, but the health and behavior of
the US government, US banks and corporations, and indeed the whole
of US society.

It has become
customary for US intelligence agencies (or what I call cryptocracies)
to draw on the assets of the illicit drug economy (or what I call
the cryptonomy) in pursuit of various goals, from negotiation to
corruption. This has been a major factor in the failure of our government
to address the problem of drugs and the cryptonomy reasonably, and
the concomitant growth of the cryptonomy to a point where the US
economy has become dependent on it. (For another example of this,
click here.)

We see proof
of this in the appalling US government handling of BCCI, the Bank
of Credit and Commerce International, a bank controlled by the petrodollars
of Sheikh Zayed al-Nahayan the Enir of Abu Dhabi, and a bank which
became a major global channel for the laundering of narcodollars
and other illicit funds.

As reported
in The
Outlaw Bank
,

Customs chief
William von Raab…announced that BCCI was the most important
drug-money bank ever hit. But instead of being lauded by his superiors…he
was told to dampen his public enthusiasm. When he persisted, he
was cut out of the investigation. When he complained, he was asked
to resign. And then the Justice Department let BCCI off the hook,
collecting a limited guilty plea and a $14-million fine that scuttled
any further significant investigation. And then a senior Justice
Department official wrote letters to banking regulators…suggesting
they allow BCCI, which had just pleaded guilty to drug-money laundering,
to continue operating. (p. 350)

A Senate Subcommittee
chaired by Senator John Kerry investigated "The
BCCI Affair
." But while the resulting Hearings are an official
Subcommittee record, the final Report,
while a Committee Print, is listed only as a report by two members,
"Senator John Kerry and [ranking Republican] Senator Hank Brown."

A note by Senator
Brown in the Report throws light on this anomaly:

It is important
to note that no other committee in the United States Senate conducted
a thorough and in-depth investigation of BCCI….John Kerry was
willing to spearhead this difficult investigation. Because many
important members of his own party were involved in this scandal,
it was a distasteful subject for other committee and subcommittee
chairmen to investigate. They did not. John Kerry did. (pp. 20–21)

But there were
probably institutional as well as personal reasons for the evaporation
of the BCCI scandal.

No administration
with an eye to the United States balance-of-trade problems has
ever wanted to cut off the flow of capital flight into America,
and tough banking disclosure laws could dry up the multibillion-dollar
river overnight. That unspoken imperative is so strong that some
inside players, such as former National Security Council economist
Roger Robinson, dismiss the idea that there needed to be a conspiracy
to handicap an investigation or prosecution of BCCI. "[Treasury
Secretary James] Baker didn’t pursue BCCI because he thought a
prosecution of the bank would damage the United States’ reputation
as a safe haven for flight capital and overseas investments,"
Robinson said. (The Outlaw Bank, 357)

This digression
from petrodollars and narcodollars into global finance is of direct
relevance to the way in which the Bush administration will conduct,
or fail to conduct, its campaign against terrorism. Already the
ban on certain banks financing terrorism has drawn attention to
the fact that these banks (like BCCI) have availed themselves of
safe havens (like the Grand Cayman Islands) which international
conventions are seeking to curb or banish, and focused attention
on the failure of the US to ratify these conventions.

More specifically
the deep politics of the Al-Qaeda network, and of bin Laden’s personal
family, involves the same pattern of Afghan-Pakistan-United Arab
Emirates drug-trafficking, money-laundering, and intelligence activity,
as conferred on BCCI an importance in US covert politics so great
that it was never effectively prosecuted for its crimes.

It is certain
that the major US oil companies will oppose the exposure of this
corrupt intelligence milieu. It involves personnel who are veterans
not just of Pakistani intelligence, but more centrally of Saudi
intelligence. And the Saudi intelligence service is at the very
heart, not just of the CIA-mujaheddin-Afghanistan scandal, but of
the corrupt arrangements protecting the on-going presence of US
oil companies in the Arabian peninsula.

These remarks
are not offered out of defeatism. They are made to reinforce the
important and surely obvious truth that terrorism can never be defeated
by merely defending the status quo. What is needed is a major readjustment
of the relationship between the United States and its corporations
on the one hand, and the exploited peoples of the Third World.

January
1, 2011

Peter
Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at
the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Drugs
Oil and War
, The
Road to 9/11
, and The
War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War
.
His book, Fueling America’s War Machine: Deep Politics and the
CIA’s Global Drug Connection is in press, due Fall 2010
from Rowman & Littlefield.

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