Banner Year for Afghan Opium Crop

Earlier predictions have come true and it's a banner year for opium production in Afghanistan. Officials are now worried it will spread to Iraq. What is responsible for the surge?

Instability in the wake of the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has resulted in one booming market for the production of drugs, and a second potential market for narcotics sale and transit, officials said....The country's exploding drug production has already become an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. In Thursday's debate in Florida, Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry cited the burgeoning opium poppy crop as evidence of President Bush's "colossal misjudgment" in turning his attention from Afghanistan to wage war in Iraq.

Administration officials are pushing this meme hard:

Indeed, U.S., U.N. and Afghan officials believe that opium smuggling is a source of funding for Taliban insurgents, Al Qaeda terrorists and criminal gangs operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Much of the opium is exported through the lawless border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding, officials said. Insurgents encourage small farmers in areas they control to grow the drug, and charge a tax on it for transportation.

During a surprise visit to Afghanistan in August, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld described the drug boom as one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan's democracy, which is preparing for presidential elections Saturday.

Interesting factoid: Iraq was relatively drug-free under Saddam's rule. Not any more.

State Department counter-narcotics experts believe Syrian traffickers are making use of Iraq's poorly guarded borders to transport fenethylline, a synthetic drug more commonly known as Captagon that is similar to amphetamine. The drug is a favorite among the wealthy party crowd in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

This same story was spun by the Administration a year ago, see here. We need to tread with caution here. Why? Because the Administration's dreaded plans for the Victory act may be waiting in the wings.

The Victory Act links drug crimes to terrorism, redesignating them as crimes of "narco-terrorism" and upping the already draconian penalties.

We don't doubt that some of the money earned from Afghan poppy farming finds its way into the hands of terrorists. But let's not paint with too broad a brush without something more. And let's be vigilant about keeping terror laws and drug laws separate, except in such instances where the two clearly are linked. We already have laws that penalize terrorism and laws that penalize illicit drug activity. We see no need to combine them.

From our earlier post:

The full name of the bill is the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003. In a nutshell, the bill reinvents drug offenses as terrorism crimes. The ho-hum label of "controlled substance offense" will get a glossy makeover as many routine drug crimes become elevated into crimes of "Narcoterrorism." The bill was drafted by worker bees in the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-UT.)

ABC News obtained a draft copy of the 89 page bill and wrote an analysis. Here are some key provisions:

  • Raise the threshold for rejecting illegal wiretaps. The draft reads: "A court may not grant a motion to suppress the contents of a wire or oral communication, or evidence derived therefrom, unless the court finds that the violation of this chapter involved bad faith by law enforcement."
  • Extend subpoena powers by giving giving law enforcement the authority to issue non-judicial subpoenas which require a person suspected of involvement in money laundering to turn over financial records and appear in a prosecutor's office to answer questions.
  • Extend the power of the attorney general to issue so-called administrative "sneak-and-peek" subpoenas to drug cases. These subpoenas allow law enforcement to gather evidence from wire communication, financial records or other sources before the subject of the search is notified.
  • Allow law enforcement to seek a court order to require the "provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service" or a financial institution to delay notifying a customer that their records had been subpoenaed.
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