After 9/11, the Drug Enforcement Administration reframed its mission, warning the country that terrorists had gotten into the illegal drug trade to finance their attacks. This claim gave rise to a little-known statute in the Patriot Act, which authorizes the DEA to pursue people accused of narco-terrorism anywhere in the world, even when none of the alleged activities took place on American soil.
A recent investigation by ProPublica senior reporter Ginger Thompson, in partnership with the New Yorker, closely examines some 37 narco-terrorism cases, raising questions about whether the DEA is actually stopping threats or staging them. One of these cases involves three men accused of trafficking drugs in Mali to support a North African branch of Al Qaeda and the Colombian guerilla army FARC. But the evidence entered in the case was dubious – all provided by the DEA, using informants who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lure the targets into staged narco-terrorism conspiracies.
On this week’s podcast, Thompson speaks with Julia Gatto, a federal public defender who represented one of the Malian men (who was convicted and imprisoned in New York for five years), about the sting operation that entrapped her client, the heightened political climate that led to the passage of narco-terrorism laws, and whether links between drugs and terrorism exist at all.