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A Mexican plane crash, the CIA, and 3.3 tons of cocaine

Last week, AAP carried a brief report on a story breaking in Mexico.

MEXICO CITY (AFP)  — A private jet that crash-landed almost one year ago in eastern Mexico carrying 3.3 tons of cocaine had previously been used for CIA “rendition” flights, a newspaper report said here Thursday, citing documents from the United States and the European Parliament.

The plane was carrying Colombian drugs for the fugitive leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, when it crash-landed in the Yucatan peninsula on September 24, El Universal reported.

The daily said it had obtained documents from the United States and the European Parliament which “show that that plane flew several times to Guantanamo, Cuba, presumably to transfer terrorism suspects.”

It said the European Parliament was investigating the private Grumman Gulfstream II, registered by the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, for suspected use in CIA “rendition” flights in which prisoners are covertly transferred to a third country or US-run detention centers.

It also said the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) logbook registered that the plane had travelled between US territory and the US military base in Guantanamo.

The CIA connected to drug runners? Grassy knoll conspiracy-mongering, surely!

Well, perhaps. But the agency does have some form on this.

It’s been, for instance, fairly well established that, in the 1960s, when the CIA backed Hmong tribes against communists in Laos, the generals there funded their operations with opium  — and they employed the CIA-run carrier, Air America, for transportation. At the very least, the CIA turned a blind eye to the trade, even when Lao’s military commander started processing heroin.

Something similar took place in the 1980s, when the Contras in Nicaragua needed resources for their brutal war against the left-wing Sandinista regime. In his famous “Dark Alliance” series for the San Jose Mercury, Gary Webb highlighted the nexus between crack-dealing LA gangs like the Crips and the Bloods, and a CIA-led fraction of the Contras, who were bankrolling themselves with cocaine.

The subsequent controversy on “Dark Alliance” centred on whether or not the CIA played an active role in the trade  — but even the CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz, in his report discounting Webbs’ allegations, acknowledged that the agency maintained ties with people known to be peddling drugs.

The former CIA agent David MacMichael explained the logic of that relationship:

Once you set up a covert operation to supply arms and money, it’s very difficult to separate it from the kind of people who are involved in other forms of trade, and especially drugs. There is a limited number of planes, pilots and landing strips.

The same argument might be made about “extraordinary rendition”. If you’re going to secretly transport hundreds of prisoners to so-called “ghost sites” all around the world, there’s obvious logistical problems, especially now that public pressure prevents friendly governments from assisting. No-one knows more about flying invisibly than the pilots working for drug cartels, and it’s not hard to see how their expertise might come in handy for moving human cargo between Guantanamo and, say, a mysterious prison located somewhere in Poland.

More importantly, rendition necessarily replicates the moral logic upon which the CIA’s past relationships with Nicaraguan drug dealers were founded. In “Dark Alliance”, Webb quoted a former Contra leader and cocaine kingpin explaining the connection like this:

There is a saying that the ends justify the means. And that’s what Mr. Bermudez [a CIA agent] told us in Honduras, OK? So we started raising money for the contra revolution.

Since 9/11, we’ve heard a lot more of that syllogism about ends and means. Consider Vice President Dick “Dark Side” Cheney:

A lot of what needs to be done here,” he told a journalist back in 2001, “will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. And so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

Rendition means sending people  — some of whom subsequently prove to be entirely innocent  — off for horrific torture. Amnesty International describes the case of Binyam Mohamed, who was arrested in Karachi and then rendered to Morocco, where, it is claimed, his interrogators cut at his p-nis with a razor blade.

If you think the ends of the War on Terror justify supplying victims to torturers, then, presumably, they justify working with drug dealers, too. Why, after Morocco’s razor-wielding p-nis-slashers, people who merely sell cocaine for a living would seem like splendid gentlemen.

The US President James Madison once warned that “of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

The argument’s even more applicable to rendition, which encourages a culture of criminality in everyone it touches.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland magazine.

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    James O'Neill
    Posted Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    It is refreshing to see at least some acknowledgment of the linkages between the CIA and international drug cartels but Mr Sparrow only skims the surface. Alfred McCoy has written extensively on the links between the CIA and drug manufacture and distribution in S.E.Asia. Daniel Hopsicker has done similarly excellent work demonstrating the linkages in Mena when Clinton was governor of Arkansas, and latterly on the connections between Mohammed Atta, the CIA and various drug linked figures in Florida and elsewhere before and subsequent to 9/11. No analysis of the close links between the drug lords and the CIA can be complete without reference to Peter Dale Scott’s brilliant analyses over the past 40 years, most recently in The Road to 9/11 which includes invaluable analysis of the current Afghanistan situation.
    The CIA have been using the proceeds of their drug trafficking to finance a multitude of off the books black operations for decades. Only the terminally naive fail to see the present day connections involving drugs, oil and strategic goals in Afghanistan. To no-one’s surprise the Australian government is playing its role in this global enterprise by keeping troops in Afghanistan. After all, those with an attention span longer than that of a gnat recall the days of the Nugan Hand Bank and its role in money laundering the proceeds of world wide drug trafficking. Being part of the great game in Afghanistan is just more of the same.

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