US State Dept: Drug trade enabling WMD acquisitions

"Some of these criminal syndicates have the organizational and financial wherewithal that could potentially allow them to acquire and sell radioactive material."

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN WA
January 20, 2010 10:14
2 minute read.
US State Dept: Drug trade enabling WMD acquisitions

ecstasy pills 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

The explosion in the narcotics trade has provided drug cartels with the capability of acquiring radioactive material, chemical weapons and other WMD technologies, a top US State Department official warned Tuesday.

"The sums of money involved are growing in extraordinary amounts, and that raises the possibility, because of the sums and the areas in which these groups have begun to operate, for that opportunity to be exploited," said David Johnson, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

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"Some of these criminal syndicates have the organizational and financial wherewithal that could potentially allow them to acquire and sell radioactive material, biological and chemical weapons, and technologies used for weapons of mass destruction."

Johnson, who was speaking at the Washington Institute of Near East Affairs, attributed the massive growth in drug profits to increasing demand and supply in the worldwide market.

"The supply particularly of heroin is growing in ways that are hard to fathom," he said.
When it comes to the Middle East, however, Johnson said that most of the major terror organizations get their funding from state sponsors rather than drugs and other criminal activities.

"If you're looking at the areas around Israel, you're talking about state sponsors driving the organizations and this being more opportunistic rather than a direct impact on what they're doing," Johnson assessed, calculating that even the drugs grown in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon are not a major source of income for Hezbollah.

"It's more the case of criminal groups producing products and providing services that are quite useful to these groups that are engaged in even more nefarious activities," he said, pointing specifically to smuggling and border crossing as a useful form of support criminal groups provide. He also spoke of the nexus of contraband and terror activity running through the tunnels Hamas has dug from Gaza into Egypt.

In the West Bank, Johnson noted that the US has been helping train security forces there to deal with narcotics and other types of law enforcement and praised the efforts to date.
"We're quite pleased with that program. The quality and capability of the individuals who came into it was significant," he said of the force assembled under American General Keith Dayton.

He pointed to the crowd control the Palestinian police exerted during Israel's strikes on Gaza last winter as "extremely effective."

He said that, "The Palestinians were able to exercise their constitutional right to protest, but they did so in a manner which you wouldn't have contemplated before."


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