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Drug War: Covert Money, Power & Policy
by Dan Russell
Reviewed by James Kent, 7/25/2005

The subtitle of Dan Russell’s epic dissertation, Drug War: Covert Money, Power & Policy, says it all. Make no mistake, this is not a book about the so-called “war on drugs” we hear about in the newspapers, the one being fought on our streets between cops and druggies or border guards and drug smugglers. Nor is this the tale of earnest DEA agents matching wits and military hardware in a valiant attempt to bring down international drug lords and dope smugglers in the name of the good old American social values. No, this book is something else entirely, nothing less than a scathing expose of the corrupt power structures which have emerged under the policy of US global drug prohibition, and a detailed look at all the brutalities, genocidal wars, and seedy covert operations that have been financed by the inflated value of prohibited drugs since day one.

Within the 675 pages of this massive and impeccably referenced book, Dan Russell digs deep into the historical wells of covert money and power and pulls no punches when it comes to exposing atrocities and naming names. By following dozens of covert US operations and their illicit money trails from start to finish, Russell manages to link beloved US politicians and security agencies to notorious crime syndicate leaders and butchering third-world dictators in the same paragraph without batting an eye. Yes, it seems people are actually getting rich and powerful off this covert little war, and as it turns out everyone’s hands are dirtied by the endless piles of blood money being generated from the policy of global narcotics prohibition.

The covert operations Russell exposes in Drug War range from piddling little things like genocide and military coups to more grandiose US events like the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam war. Maybe you’ve heard tell of things like Air America and Iran/Contra, or perhaps you’ve picked up a rumor or two about the CIA’s involvement in the trade and importation of weapons for drugs in order to arm and finance Nazi-led death squads in South America? Well, I’m sorry to say that all of those nasty rumors are unfortunately true, and Dan Russell has dug up all the dirt you’ll ever need to convince even the most skeptical minds that illicit funds generated from the inflated prices of prohibited drugs were at the center of all of it. More than that, it appears that agents of our government were not only complicit in these deeds, but more often than not they were the worst perpetrators in the bunch.

Within the pages of Drug War Russell doesn’t just speculate or draw weak conclusions from circumstantial evidence, he actually names all of the players and details their official and unofficial affiliations with any overt and/or covert US military and intelligence agencies they have ever been involved with. Beyond that he lists every slime ball drug lord, third-world dictator, guerilla group, hit team, arms trader, smuggler, and corrupt politician they ever did business with, and manages to trace the money trail of these covert operations to all the dirty banks and front corporations set up specifically to launder all the illicit cash they made as they went. He even goes to the level of naming all the major shareholders and board members of these dubious entities, linking the most unlikely of bedfellows from all corridors of politics, business, and organized crime to this never-ending pile of dirty cash. If all of this sounds a bit too much like a giant conspiracy, that’s because it is. Russell details every Congressional inquiry or official attempt to publicly uncover these dastardly deeds, and can actually tell you the names of everyone who’s conveniently gotten whacked the night before they were supposed to testify, who hit them, who was the patsy, and how it got covered up. Despite the fact that none of this is really secret anymore, the worst of the perpetrators still hold power and continue to get away with it, and that is perhaps the most frightening thing about this book.

While Drug War is without a doubt one of the most illuminating books I’ve ever read, I must warn you that it is by no means an easy book to read. Each paragraph is dense with information that just keeps coming and coming, and just about every other sentence is cross referenced to another major source. A single chapter can contain more acronyms than a bowl of alphabet soup, and new players are introduced on every page. There are CIA agents, DEA agents, politicians, informants, traffickers, kingpins, lieutenants, syndicate goons, narco-guerillas, rebel groups, money launderers, terrorists, indigenous tribal groups, media moguls, journalists, hit teams, wise guys, Cosa Nostra, labor organizers, and on and on. Many of the names you’ll probably recognize, others you surely won’t. Russell’s onslaught of historical documentation comes at the reader almost completely devoid of fanciful storytelling, colorful recreations, or clever context with which to hook the reader’s imagination. More often than not Russell prefers to lay out facts with the detached accuracy of an intelligence file brief (just the facts, ma’am), pulling back only occasionally to crack wise at the most outlandish cover-ups, point-out the most blatant corruptions and hypocrisies being perpetrated at the highest levels of power, or express his personal outrage at the most egregious of human rights violations imaginable. The whole thing is a like a never-ending blur of bad news and human misery, page after page of underhanded Machiavellian deeds being perpetrated by people on the US payroll, paid a salary by you and me. What a nightmare.

Russell takes his sweet time detailing all the atrocities committed by the neocolonial pharmocratic inquisition on Old World shamanism before ever getting to the point of his book, but by the time he hits the prohibition and temperance movements of the early 20th century, Russell’s message comes through loud and clear. It appears that the “drug war” we have come to know and love is not just a war on plants and substances, nor is it a war against the “health risks” or “immoral decadence” of using natural inebriants. No, according to Russell the “drug war” is actually a cultural war and always has been, and the policies of prohibition are rooted just as firmly in intolerance and cultural prejudice as the Nazi Holocaust was, and is equally as murderous if not more so. More than that, the fallout of these policies has led to the creation of an underground global militant narco-syndicate which is for all purposes above the law and responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in all of recorded history. In short, Russell’s claim is that the “drug war” is nothing more than a tool of human oppression used by our government and other corrupt politicians and dictators around the globe to enslave peasant labor, drive up the black market cost of a simple agricultural staple, and generate illicit and untraceable capital to finance covert military campaigns to overthrow hostile governments, put down peasant revolts, and keep themselves in power. Sounds like a nice moral crusade, doesn’t it?

By the end of each chapter of Drug War my head was reeling. In many cases I had to instantly forget most of what I had just read because the horror of the reality was too much for me to grasp. US covert foreign policy generally includes the training and arming of narco-funded guerillas so they can go out and murder a bunch of innocent people and terrorize them into poverty and submission. Hearing about these events in the abstract is horrific enough, but reading the names of the people who planned, approved, and carried out these illicit drug-funded operations of death made me sick to my stomach. Russell spends dozens of pages on each dirty little war the US has ever been involved in, from Guatemala to Castro’s Cuba and the Bay of Pigs; the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam; not to mention Laos, Burma, Bolivia, El Salvador, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Iraq, Iran, and yes, even Pakistan and Afghanistan. The names of the players change from decade to decade, administration to administration, and region to region, but not surprisingly many of them pop up over and over again (you may know them more recently as Bush, North, McCaffrey, Secord, etc.). But with each chapter the M.O. is always the same: covert military operations, illegal drug trafficking, military hardware, hit squads, corrupt officials, money laundering, coups, genocide, cover-ups, etc. To see the brutal methods of this war spelled out over and over in such excruciating detail is almost too much for the mind to take.

Russell does spend some time at the end of the book discussing the bleak situation back home, going into the dim prison situation and human rights violations created by such asinine policies as Zero Tolerance and Mandatory Minimums. His chapter on forfeitures and seizures and accidental police murders of innocent civilians in the name of the “war on drugs” is as grim as everything else I’ve read on the subject. His research into the covert ops working behind the scenes of the Kennedy assassination goes on for over 100 pages and, in the end, was completely mind blowing. He also spends some time debunking drug propaganda and attempting to set the scientific record on the physical effects of drug use straight, but by that time the information reads more like a footnote lurking under the larger looming picture of the covert global power structures Russell has exposed.

Rarely do I read a book and have the urge to tell everyone I know that they must stop what they are doing read it immediately, but with Drug War that urge came over me again and again. It is truly a very shocking and astounding book, the reading of which marked a big turning point in my own understanding of prohibition and 20th century covert geopolitics. I thought I knew a few things about the war on drugs, but I didn’t know the half of it before Dan Russell pulled all the pieces together for me. He had the guts to tell the whole story like it really is, and engrave the grim history of our country’s dirtiest secret on the record forever. I highly recommend you check it out today should you dare know the truth.

Originally Published In : Trip

1 Comment »

  1. What a heart stopping review of a book I must read. I would like to xerox the review and hand it out on the streets byt unfortunately most people are too cowed to care.

    Comment by Richard Zake — 8/11/2005 @ 1:35 pm

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