#81
Frats are also males doing drugs and living communally, and they're basically institutionally sanctioned rape gangs.
#82

AZ_IZ_OT posted:

I know that was true for Jobs and Apple culture in general. idk about the rest. what I find confusing is the implicit destruction of nature involved in the production of technofascist utopia, when juxtaposed with that new age stuff


the ideology behind this stuff is based on seeing the processes of technology as extensions of the genetic processes of naturalist cybernetic vitalism, not something opposed to it

#83

AZ_IZ_OT posted:

I know that was true for Jobs and Apple culture in general. idk about the rest.



they all want to be seen as steve jobs

#84

Populares posted:

Frats are also males doing drugs and living communally, and they're basically institutionally sanctioned rape gangs.



as were hippie communes in the 60s

#85

blinkandwheeze posted:

AZ_IZ_OT posted:

there are tons of libertarian technofascists who love acid and idgi.

it's because the drop out pastoral romanticist new age ethos are foundational principles of libertarian technofascism, not somehow opposed to them



no one believes me when i tell them how reactionary final fantasy vii actually is

#86
[account deactivated]
#87

AZ_IZ_OT posted:

imo widespread use of hallucinogens would maybe make more people willing to start organizing and living in actual communal situations instead of just being salarymen with divergent political views.


lo posted:

the last time a bunch of guys lived communally and did drugs it lead to like the manson family



this is all so wrong, have i not taught you anything *big sigh*

#88
Ya, y'all LEARY WAS CIA, MANSON WAS A PATSY. need to read tears post and listen to Mae Brussell's tapes. counter culture was started by intelligence to dilute the left and bring pacification (a la beer and football) to young would be radicals. then control the terms to turn the non-hippie masses against their reckless individualism, thereby cementing an eternal loop of cool/bad in the minds of teens for ever...

Also:
http://theconversation.com/lsd-microdosing-is-trending-in-silicon-valley-but-can-it-actually-make-you-more-creative-72747

Acid is back, but, I'm curious if any of this is some other synthetic. Burners we're the testing grounds of a whole slew of new synthetic hallucinogens. How do they all know they're taking acid? Just because it's on a tab or a vile?


#89

Populares posted:

Frats are also males doing drugs and living communally, and they're basically institutionally sanctioned rape gangs.


who the fuck has sex on lsd its impossible

levoydpage posted:

Acid is back, but, I'm curious if any of this is some other synthetic. Burners we're the testing grounds of a whole slew of new synthetic hallucinogens. How do they all know they're taking acid? Just because it's on a tab or a vile?


also I have definitely done "acid" that was def 2ci or 2cb on a tab cause i was able to fall asleep during it then i got the real jazz and now im like hmmmm

#90
you think that was the real jazz? try this...

Oh wait... shit, that was mad cow
#91
all my working class friends mostly either stopped doing psychedelics entirely or totally compartmentalized them because of how incompatible they was with the normal life shit they were doing, while a friend who is still real into them has spent the last 13 years either being a full-time libertarian drug dealer or, during the lean times, working (probably poorly) for his dad's business. i think there are positive aspects to both the scene and the psychological effects of the drugs themselves but there's probably always going to be a hard limit just based on who has the most freedom to participate
#92
acid is a cool aesthetic experience in a similar way to taking a mountain walk. like any other cool aesthetic experience, raising it to the level of some kind of ultimate human purpose will lead to terrible politics. in the case of acid, this is the california ideology. in the case of mountain walking, it's german romantic nationalism.

this also actually touches on my scepticism about the cia-did-hippies thing: it doesn't really surprise me that an incredibly militaristic culture, experience as such especially by the children of senior military officers, produced this kind of romanticism and/or back to nature stuff, because exactly the same thing happened in germany at the end of the 19th century or so (and some of the same people even moved to california)

plus i don't think it worked, there were way more radicals than hippies in the 60s-70s afaict
#93

jools posted:

plus i don't think it worked, there were way more radicals than hippies in the 60s-70s afaict



Yeah if anything the narrative of all 60s-70s counterculture being just a bunch of drugged out hippies as opposed to radical student movements or black liberation groups seems more harmful than the actual drug use that was occurring. Like the anti-Vietnam movement is deeply whitewashed; it's easy for the MSM today to write off what's left of anti-imperialist movements today as just rich white potheads who with white guilt because of these entrenched narratives.

#94
i think that was the point, think of the post-manson backlash
#95
Everyone should tri[p on cough syrup then we'd all want to live in filthy dark underground tubes hermit utopia
#96
[account deactivated]
#97
drugs good spooks bad
#98
psychedelics are spooky. I had a mushroom trip that made me yearn for sobriety so much that I quit psychedelics forever. They changed the way weed feels too which sucks.
#99

jools posted:

in the case of mountain walking, it's german romantic nationalism.



lol

#100
It's just walking, joools
#101

parabolart posted:

It's just walking, joools


the parallelism was irresistible really

#102

tears posted:

essential reading, even though catherine austin fitts is way down some small gubbermint alex jones make america great again rabbit hole, be warned :shrug:,

key points discussed which i feel are essential for understanding how the drug economy is the economy:
1. US economy is entirely dependant on drug money, this has become more and more entrenched since the end of WW2, the stock market is kept afloat and rising by narcomoney
2. Withdrawal of drug money would collapse the US economy and potentially the global economy
3. (beyond its usefullness for suppressing people of colour &c,) the only reason drugs are illegal is to maintain a monopoly on distribution, legalisation of drugs would ccause the collapse of the US economy

http://www.businessinsider.com/mattress-firm-conspiracy-grows-after-accounting-problems-2018-1

#103

swampman posted:

http://www.businessinsider.com/mattress-firm-conspiracy-grows-after-accounting-problems-2018-1


thats a cool conspiracy

#104

swampman posted:

tears posted:

essential reading, even though catherine austin fitts is way down some small gubbermint alex jones make america great again rabbit hole, be warned :shrug:,

key points discussed which i feel are essential for understanding how the drug economy is the economy:
1. US economy is entirely dependant on drug money, this has become more and more entrenched since the end of WW2, the stock market is kept afloat and rising by narcomoney
2. Withdrawal of drug money would collapse the US economy and potentially the global economy
3. (beyond its usefullness for suppressing people of colour &c,) the only reason drugs are illegal is to maintain a monopoly on distribution, legalisation of drugs would ccause the collapse of the US economy

http://www.businessinsider.com/mattress-firm-conspiracy-grows-after-accounting-problems-2018-1


yes

#105

jools posted:

in the case of acid, this is the california ideology. in the case of mountain walking, it's german romantic nationalism.



combining the two is dangerous, but instead of something cool like cyber fascism or techno hippies, you just get pancreatic cancer.

#106
i hope that sometime soon i become able to synthesise a better version of viagra and then due to my creation i become head of an all-female drug cartel and we take over cause i also somehow synthesise mainstream regularly produced viagra into being a boner killer for life and i cause mass chaos for a while then Vice/Bussfeed/some other CIA hipster news outlet interview me but the jokes on them cause i snort 5 Ambien before they arrive and will only speak Latin to them and then proceed to change the bras im wearing 6 times in front of them
i then have a nose bleed and cry about saint gorettis life and because of that i proceed to ring up all my male exes and "bootycall" them but only so i can bring them over so they can beg for mercy while i consider castrating them with the fucked up mainstream viagra.
(vice at this stage i have locked into my room devoted to figurines of cats and frogs while those god-awful tAtU remixes are blaring on repeat to make them have aneurysms)

then i call up the pope and call him a prick and mail him a used tampon
#107
3 pages and this thread is already just DYTD for acid
#108

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/baltimore-police-detective-fatally-shot-in-head-with-own-gun-died-clutching-radio/2017/11/22/d4180b20-cfd4-11e7-9d3a-bcbe2af58c3a_story.html?utm_term=.b4c2c7da0f52 posted:

Baltimore police detective fatally shot in head with own gun, died clutching radio
By Peter Hermann November 22, 2017

A Baltimore police detective was shot in the head with his own gun at close range while struggling with a man and died with his radio still clutched in his left hand, the city’s top law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Detective Sean Suiter’s death came a day before he was set to testify before a grand jury in an ongoing federal investigation of police corruption and drug shakedowns by an elite gun recovery unit.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he was assured by prosecutors and the FBI that Suiter, an 18-year veteran of the force, was not a target of the investigation that has led to the indictments of eight current officers. Four have pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

Davis said Suiter’s testimony was to have been about an incident several years ago involving some of the indicted officers. The commissioner sought to dispel notions Suiter was targeted the afternoon of Nov. 15 and said evidence gathered so far refutes the notion of a conspiracy.

“The encounter with a man was a spontaneous observation of a man behaving suspiciously and a spontaneous decision to investigate his conduct,” Davis said. But, he said, “I understand the speculation that exists.”

Suiter and his partner were in the Harlem Park neighborhood canvassing about a December 2016 triple killing when they happened to twice notice a man acting suspiciously within a span of about 20 minutes, Davis said.

The department’s chief spokesman said Suiter, 43 and a married father of five, was not lured to Bennett Place, where he was shot, and that he had no appointment set there. Davis said Suiter confronted the man in an empty lot between two rowhouses but did not say what made him stand out.



The mystery surrounding Suiter’s death continues after a week with no arrests, no detailed description of the shooter and the fact that it appears only one gun was involved. A funeral for Suiter, who is originally from the District, is scheduled for Wednesday.

Davis said there was evidence found on Suiter’s shirt that indicated a struggle he called “brief and violent” and lasted mere seconds. Suiter made a radio transmission before he was killed that included what Davis said he believes are gunshots in the background. The commissioner said the words in that call have not been deciphered but that the recording is being analyzed with help from the FBI.

“He was clearly in distress,” Davis said of the sounds on Suiter’s radio call.

Authorities have previously stated that investigators found three shell casings that matched Suiter’s weapon, which was recovered at the scene. An autopsy Sunday ruled the death a homicide, Davis said, and also provided information about the trajectory of the bullet that caused police to return to the crime scene for another search. That repeat search recovered the bullet that killed Suiter, Davis said Wednesday.

Suiter’s partner, who has not been named publicly by the department and is considered a police witness in the shooting, Davis has said, took cover at the sound of gunfire and called in the shooting on his cellphone.

The partner has been continually talking with detectives, Davis said, and provided the spare description police said they have of the suspect as a black male wearing a black coat with a white stripe.

A reward for information leading to Suiter’s killer has reached $215,000, and Davis urged people to come forward.

In the days since the shooting, police have focused on Harlem Park, a small and violent patch of depressed real estate west of downtown in a city that ranks near the nation’s top in homicides per capita. Police kept the crime scene active for five days, restricting residents’ movements as they searched for the killer. The neighborhood is marked by more vacant houses than occupied homes.

“There is nothing we won’t consider,” Davis said. “Right now, the evidence that’s available to us is indicative of a homicide.” He said it would be entirely plausible for it to be coincidental that Suiter was killed in a random encounter unrelated to his pending grand jury appearance.

“It’s a very dangerous area,” Davis said. “He was following up on a brutal murder in 2016. Detective Suiter was not interviewing schoolteachers and mailmen.”

The commissioner said conspiracy theories swirling around the investigation are “certainly a distraction for leadership” and are “very hurtful for the Suiter family and friends.”

Suiter was a U.S. Navy veteran who had grown up in Washington and lived with his wife and family in Pennsylvania.

The commissioner said he met with homicide detectives Monday night on the investigation and that “they are determined to get it right.”

#109

https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/03/11/clintons-contras-and-cocaine/ posted:

March 11, 2016
Clintons, Contras and Cocaine

by Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn

The political rise of the Clintons has been monetarily fueled by a man linked to one of the biggest banking scandals in the nation’s history. Arkansas financier and political king-maker Jackson Stephens, with his son Warren, helped raise more than $100,000 for Clinton. More important, Stephens’ Worthen National Bank extended Bill Clinton a $2 million line of credit in January 1992, when the campaign was reeling under multiple allegations of adultery.

It was Jackson Stephens who brokered the arrival of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI)–the bank later identified as an institution of preference for global criminals and drug peddlers–into this country in 1977. He steered the bank’s founder, Hassan Abedi, toward Jimmy Carter’s budget director, Bert Lance, whose bank an Abedi front man took over. Stephens then helped clear the ground, according to SEC documents, for Abedi’s secret takeover of First American Bankshares. In the wake of BCCI’s downfall, these institutions are gravely weakened; other U.S. banks secretly taken over by BCCI–including CenTrust, the biggest S&L in Florida, and Independence Bank of Encino–collapsed, leaving taxpayers holding the multi-billion dollar bag.

Just as the BCCI trail heads back toward Arkansas and a prime cash register for the Clintons, so too does another long-running and explosive scandal within the state, involving money-laundering, drug-running and support for right-wing insurgents backed by the CIA.

By the mid-1980s, Arkansas was a crucial link in the contra war against Nicaragua being masterminded from Washington. One scheme for maintaining a cover-up for Oliver North’s network was, it appears, played out in the Governor’s mansion occupied by Bill Clinton.

Among the occupants of that same mansion was Buddy Young, a man then, in charge of Clinton’s security, who later became a regional director for FEMA. According to court documents filed by Terry Reed, a former C.l.A. asset involved in North’s contra supply effort, Young was a pivotal figure in a case designed to land Reed in prison not long after Reed had walked out of an arms-for-drugs operation in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he had been working with C.I.A. man Felix Rodriguez.

Arkansas’s role in the contra war and in an arms-for-drugs supply network goes back to the early 1980s and the airport at Mena, Arkansas. A federal investigation aided by the Arkansas State Police established that Barry Seal, a drug dealer working for the Medellin cartel as well as with the C.I.A. and the D.E.A., had his planes retrofitted at Mena for drug drops, trained pilots there and laundered his profits partly through financial institutions in Arkansas. Seal, at this time was in close contact with North, who acknowledged the relationship in his memoir. These were the years in which North was constructing his covert supply lines for the contras.

Among those recruited by North was — so the man has subsequently asserted in court papers — Terry Reed, formerly with Air America in Thailand. Reed says he was working for North by 1983. North put Reed in touch with Seal and by 1984, Reed had established a base at Nella, ten miles north of Mena in the Ouachita National Forest. There Nicaraguan contras and other recruits from Latin America were trained in resupply missions, night landings, precision paradrops and similar maneuvers. Reed, familiar with the commercial affairs of Mena, asserts that large sums of drug money were being laundered through leading Arkansas bond brokers, a pattern of investment also being considered by a federal investigator just as his researches were abruptly terminated.

One of Reed’s contacts in North’s network was William Cooper, another Air America veteran then working for Southern Air Transport. Cooper was at the controls of the C-123, once owned by Seal, that was shot down by a Sandinista soldier on October 5,1986, thus — since it was loaded with arms and documentation linking the crew to a chain stretching back to the office of Vice President George Bush — helping to fuel the Iran/contra scandal then bursting upon the world. That plane had been serviced at Mena. Cooper died in the crash.

His crewman, Eugene Hasenfus, survived.

Back in 1985, Cooper had suggested to Reed that he go to Mexico and set up an operation expanding the supply network. Reed agreed, traveled to Veracruz for discussions with Felix Rodriguez and, in July of 1986, set up a front company, Machinery International, in Guadalajara.

Three months later Cooper was dead and Hasenfus was being paraded by the Sandinistas before the Managua press corps. Reed says that Machinery International’s business, “trans-shipping items” in “support of our foreign policies,” was put on hold until January 1987, this at a time when the cover-up was pressing forward in Washington. Seven months later, Reed says, he became aware that drugs were part of the shuttle passing through Machinery International’s premises in Guadalajara and that he himself presented a likely candidate as fall guy if things came unglued.

Reed says he confronted Rodriguez and told him he was quitting. By early September 1987 he had returned to the United States. A month later Buddy Young was activating — from Bill Clinton’s mansion — a sequence of events designed to land the potentially troublesome Reed in prison.

The instrument at hand was a plane owned by Reed.

On March 24, 1983, Reed’s plane had been stolen from a repair shop in Joplin, Missouri (Reed’s home state). Prior to this, Reed says, Oliver North had asked him to contribute this same plane to Project Donation, a scheme by which individuals would allow their fully insured planes and boats to “disappear” for the sake of counterrevolution in Nicaragua. Reed claims he had refused. At all events, the plane was removed while Reed was out of town. Reed duly reported the theft to his insurance company and received compensation. He says that in 1985 North’s people contacted him in Mena, told him that his plane was being returned after having been in Central America for two years and asked that he not report its return because they might need to “borrow” it again. Reed consented. He left the plane at his hangar in the North Little Rock Airport and left for Guadalajara soon thereafter.

On October 8, 1987, Tommy Baker, a former Arkansas State Police officer and longtime friend of Buddy Young, says he happened to be passing Reed’s hangar when a powerful gust of wind blew the door open, revealing a plane. Baker says he thought the plane looked “suspicious” and so called his pal Young at the Governor’s mansion. Young later claimed in testimony that he called the registration number on the plane into the National Crime Information Center to see if a plane with that number had been stolen, found no record of this and so instructed Baker to check if the plane’s markings had been changed, a common practice of plane thieves (also a routine practice at Mena and in North’s Project Donation). Baker established that they had been, and by October 21 the two had turned the case over to the F.B.I.

Under scrutiny, that sequence, as set out by Baker and Young, did not stand up. On October 5, three days before that fortuitous gust blew open the hangar door, Young was phoning Reed’s parents masquerading as an old friend of their son, according to legal papers filed by Reed. Young had called in the plane’s correct registration number to the N.C.I.C. — so the center’s records show — on October 7, before Baker had, by his account, even set eyes on the plane (and before Young had called in with the doctored number). That same evening Young had called Joplin to inquire about the plane’s original disappearance. In June of 1988, Reed was indicted on mail fraud charges in connection with his 1983 insurance claim on the plane.

This article is excerpted from Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.

#110

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article194187699.html posted:

How drug lords make billions smuggling gold to Miami for your jewelry and phones

By Jay Weaver, Nicholas Nehamas And Kyra Gurney

January 16, 2018 08:00 AM
Updated January 24, 2018 03:09 PM

When Juan Granda ventured into Peru’s Amazon rainforest to score another illicit load of gold, he boasted that he felt like legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

“I’m like Pablo coming ... to get the coke,” he told two co-workers in a text message in 2014.

A 36-year-old Florida State University graduate who once sold subprime loans, Granda was no cartel kingpin. But his offhand comparison was apt: Gold has become the secret ingredient in the criminal alchemy of Latin American narco-traffickers who make billions turning cocaine into clean cash by exporting the metal to Miami.

The previous year, Granda’s employer, NTR Metals, a South Florida precious-metals trading company, had bought nearly $1 billion worth of Peruvian gold supplied by narcos — and Granda and NTR needed more.

The United States depends on Latin American gold to feed ravenous demand from its jewelry, bullion and electronics industries. The amount of gold going through Miami every year is equal to roughly 2 percent of the market value of the vast U.S. stockpile in Fort Knox.

But much of that gold comes from outlaw mines deep in the jungle where dangerous chemicals are poisoning rainforests and laborers who toil for scraps of metal, according to human rights watchdogs and industry executives. The environmental damage and human misery mirror the scale of Africa’s “blood diamonds,” experts say.

“A large part of the gold that’s commercialized in the world comes stained by blood and human rights abuses,” said Julián Bernardo González, vice president of sustainability for Continental Gold, a Canadian mining company with operations in Colombia that holds legal titles and pays taxes, unlike many smaller mining operations.

Pope Francis condemned the horrors of illegal mining during a visit to the Peruvian Amazon on Friday. The region’s gold boom, the pope said, has become a “false god that demands human sacrifice.”

In Latin America, criminals see mining and trading precious metals as a lucrative growth business, carefully hidden from U.S. consumers who flaunt gold around their necks and fingers but have no idea where it comes from — or who gets hurt. The narcos know their market is strong: America’s addiction to the metal burns as insatiably as its craving for cocaine. NTR, for instance, was the subsidiary of a major U.S. gold refinery that supplied Apple and 67 other Fortune 500 companies, as well as Tiffany & Co., according to a Miami Herald analysis of corporate disclosures.

Last March, federal prosecutors in Miami charged Granda, his boss, Samer Barrage, and another NTR trader, Renato Rodriguez, with money laundering, saying the three men bought $3.6 billion of illegal gold from criminal groups in Latin America. They claimed the gold traders, who eventually pleaded guilty, fueled “illegal gold mining, foreign bribery narcotics trafficking.”

Now, those prosecutors are investigating other U.S. precious-metals dealers suspected of buying tainted gold from drug traffickers, law enforcement sources say. Their goal is not just to take out crooked gold firms like NTR — they also want to kneecap the drug cartels.

Here’s why: Over the past two decades, as the U.S. war on drugs undercut the cash flow of narco-traffickers, kingpins diversified into Latin America’s gold industry. By using drug profits to mine and sell gold to American and multinational companies, criminal organizations can launder “staggering amounts of money,” said John Cassara, a retired U.S. Treasury special agent. The end result: The gold in American jewelry, coins and smartphones is helping finance shipments of narcotics to the United States, as well as illegal mining in Latin America, current and former law enforcement officials say.

Mining regions in the rainforest have become epicenters of human trafficking, disease and environmental destruction, according to government officials and human rights investigators. Miners are forced into slavery. Prostitutes set up camps near the miners, fueling the spread of sexually transmitted infections. One human rights group found that 2,000 sex workers, 60 percent of them children, were employed in a single mining area in Peru.

Meanwhile, strip mining and the indiscriminate use of mercury to ferret out gold are turning swaths of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems into a nightmarish moonscape. In 2016, Peru declared a temporary state of emergency over widespread mercury poisoning in Madre de Dios, a jungle province rife with illegal mining. Nearly four in five adults in the area’s capital city tested positive for dangerous levels of mercury, according to the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.

Even criminal outfits from Russia and China are investing in gold mining, observers say, abandoning heavy machinery in the jungle once they’ve extracted the metal. Soaring prices over the last two decades have driven the modern-day gold rush. In January, gold traded at roughly $1,300 per ounce on the open market, compared to less than $300 in 2001.

The human rights abuses and deforestation are a “bleeding sore that affects millions of people and their future livelihoods,” said Douglas Farah, a national security consultant and visiting fellow at the Pentagon-funded National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

“It’s become an enormously damaging industry that very few people are looking at seriously,” Farah said. “Just as with ‘blood diamonds,’ the gold issue ... brings together money laundering, forced prostitution, drug traffickers, human trafficking and child slavery.”

Until now, the international gold market’s dark side has drawn little public attention in the United States.

That lack of scrutiny has allowed the trade in dirty gold to grow more profitable than cocaine, according to government estimates in Latin America.

“Criminal groups make so much more money from gold than from coca, and it’s so much easier,” said Ivan Díaz Corzo, a former member of Colombia’s anti-criminal-mining task force.

And just like cocaine, a market for illicit metal has blossomed in South Florida, where nearly a third of the nation’s imported gold enters.

Over the past decade, Miami, a longtime point of entry into the United States for contraband, imported $35 billion worth of gold via air, according to U.S. Customs records analyzed by WorldCity, a Coral Gables-based economic data firm. That was more than any other U.S. city.

Some of the metal shipped to Miami is refined locally. Other batches are sent across the country to be melted down and manufactured into jewelry and bullion. Central banks around the world are major buyers of gold. So is the U.S. Mint. And electronics companies use small amounts of gold in consumer products because it is an effective conductor and doesn’t corrode.

One way or another, almost everyone has Miami gold in their pockets, portfolios or jewelry boxes.

Simple math shows it can’t all be clean.

Take Colombia, a country with a substantial mining industry that exported 64 tons of gold in 2016, much of it to the United States, according to government statistics. That same year, Colombia’s large-scale, legal mining operations produced only eight tons, according to the Colombian Mining Association. A significant part of the gap between what Colombia’s big mines produce and what the country exports is unlicensed gold — sometimes unearthed by operations controlled by narco-traffickers and other criminals.

The big Colombian mines that “ produce gold can be counted on one hand,” said Jaime Pinilla, an engineer and legal gold mine owner in Colombia. “There’s a huge difference in the amount that is produced and the amount that is exported.”

And the discrepancy is not just happening in Colombia: Statistics from other Latin American gold-producing nations show similar ratios between legal and illegal gold mining.

It’s impossible to know where all the illegal gold is coming from — but it’s clear where most of it ends up. Latin America accounts for nearly three-quarters of the gold imported into the United States, roughly 200 tons in 2015, according to Miami-based trade analytics firm Datamyne and the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s not far off from the total amount of gold mined in the United States annually.

A currency of pain

The parallels between gold and cocaine are striking.

Both the white powder and yellow metal are sold by Latin American cartels at huge costs to workers and the environment. Terrorists, including al-Qaida, use gold and cocaine to finance their plots. Officials say they are major threats to law and order.

“Criminal mining has become the fuel for a large part of the violence in this country,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said.

In Colombia, criminal gangs threaten small gold miners

One big difference between cocaine and gold? Cocaine is obviously illegal. With gold, it’s hard to tell. Papers can be forged. The metal can be melted and remelted until its origin is impossible to pinpoint.

Another distinction? Profit.

In 2014, a kilo of gold was worth between $30,000 and $40,000 in Colombia, according to Colombian intelligence figures obtained by the Miami Herald. By comparison, a kilo of cocaine sold for roughly $2,500. While drug trafficking in Colombia generated less than a billion dollars in total revenue in 2014, according to those same estimates, illegal mining produced roughly $2.4 billion.

Gold’s luster has exerted a powerful hold on humanity since ancient times.

Today, the metal appeals to the darkest corners of the financial system. It is a safe investment. It is rare and hard to trace. Best of all: Human beings covet it.

Those factors, coupled with industrial mining and heightened demand from investors and tech companies, have turned the precious-metals business into “the Rolls-Royce of money laundering,” said Robert Mazur, a former federal agent who infiltrated drug cartels in the 1980s.

Those cartels are always looking for ways to hide how they make their money.

But banks can’t accept big deposits of cash, let alone duffel bags of coke-dusted bills, without checking how the funds were made. One solution for criminals: investing in supposedly legitimate businesses.

Here’s how gold fits in: Drug-cartel associates posing as precious-metals traders buy and mine gold in Latin America. Cocaine profits are their seed money. They sell the metal through front companies — hiding its criminal taint — to refineries in the United States and other major gold-buying nations like Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

Once the deal is made, the cocaine kingpins have successfully turned their dirty gold into clean cash. To the outside world, they’re not drug dealers anymore; they’re gold traders. That’s money laundering.

The U.S. government — laser-focused on traditional money laundering and terror financing through banks — has shied away from untangling the twisted tentacles of gold smuggling, which can be hard to follow across borders.

But that’s starting to change — and it’s happening in America’s gold-import capital, Miami.

The criminal case against Granda — the self-styled Escobar — and his colleagues at NTR Metals is the largest money-laundering prosecution involving precious metals in U.S. history, authorities say.

“The scope of the conspiracy is enormous,” federal prosecutor Francisco Maderal told a judge during a hearing in Miami last year.

So far, the scandal has not only shut down NTR and cost its Dallas-based parent company, Elemetal, the ability to trade gold on bullion and commodity exchanges. It’s also put hundreds of employees at Elemetal’s refinery in rural Ohio out of work. Elemetal and its executives have not been charged but remain under federal investigation, according to sources with knowledge of the probe. The company and its attorney, Trey Gum, did not respond to repeated requests for comment, although Elemetal has previously said it is cooperating with authorities.

The downfall of one of North America’s biggest gold companies is shaking the entire industry, all the way up to the bankers whose lines of credit sustain dealers and refineries doing multimillion-dollar deals.

“The case against is a big deal,” said Jason Rubin, CEO of Republic Metals, based in Opa-locka, just north of Miami, and a major rival of Elemetal. “Financial institutions ... have rightfully and correctly increased their scrutiny of companies in the wake of the allegations.”

Alejandro Esponda, a South Florida gold trader, said he fears NTR’s misdeeds will unjustly tarnish the entire industry.

“Everybody is guilty by association,” said Esponda, vice president of Universal Precious Metals, based in the Miami suburb Doral.

Although Latin America’s gold market is known for corruption and danger, precious metal there is plentiful and labor cheap.

In comparison, the U.S. gold supply, mostly mined in Nevada and Alaska, offers stiff competition and regulations. Big companies control the big mines. Smaller companies looking to deal in U.S. gold are restricted to buying recycled “scrap” gold from pawnshops and jewelry stores. To gain a competitive edge, many U.S. gold traders look south.

But because Latin America’s gold market is so fragmented — with the metal sometimes changing hands among many small companies before it’s exported — it’s hard to guarantee that individual shipments imported to the United States are lawful, experts say.

And since gold’s price is set on a worldwide basis and the vast majority of trades are financed on credit, the metal must move quickly between Latin America and the United States. If one importer can pay a supplier faster than a rival can, it wins the deal. Profit margins are surprisingly small, making gold a volume business. The need for speed and quantity means obeying anti-money-laundering laws is a costly requirement for the industry.

The top three traders at NTR seemed to spend their days dreaming up ways to avoid those restrictions.
Heart of darkness

Juan Granda met Samer Barrage, 40, and Renato Rodriguez, 43, when they were hawking subprime loans at HSBC, according to federal court documents. Barrage and Granda later moved to work at Kaplan University, a for-profit school.

Barrage, a London-born U.S. citizen who traveled back and forth between an NTR office in Colombia and his wife and children in Miami, eventually recruited Granda and Rodriguez to work with him buying gold.

In 2012, the company did relatively little business in Latin America.

But the next year, NTR struck a rich vein, becoming the largest U.S. importer of Peruvian gold with $980 million worth of deals, according to federal prosecutors.

How did they do it?

With help from Peruvian businessman Pedro Pérez Miranda, who is suspected by authorities in Peru and the United States of laundering drug money through the gold trade.

Shell companies tied to Pérez, whose alias is Peter Ferrari, quickly became some of NTR’s biggest suppliers. None of his firms had any track record selling gold. That raised suspicions back at the headquarters of NTR’s parent company, Elemetal.

The firm’s compliance officer repeatedly warned Barrage and at least four Elemetal executives that criminal gold mining and smuggling were serious problems in Peru — and that Ferrari seemed to be involved.

“We need to be extremely careful going forward,” the compliance office, led by retired U.S. Customs Service agent Steve Crogan, told Barrage and his Elemetal bosses in an August 2012 email cited by federal prosecutors.

Ferrari even came to visit Elemetal’s giant refinery in rural Jackson, Ohio, according to one employee who saw him at the plant.

“He was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt,” said the worker, who asked not to be named. “It didn’t feel right. He wasn’t dressed like a businessman. His appearance didn’t match the amount of money he was supposed to represent.”

The warnings were ignored.

For the three NTR traders — who declined to comment for this story through their lawyers — breaking the law meant big money: Elemetal “incentivized Barrage, Rodriguez and Granda to purchase as much gold as possible with volume-based commissions,” court documents show.

In 2013, NTR went on to buy $400 million in gold from Ferrari — whose birthday party in Lima early that year was attended by Granda, an avid watcher of the Netflix show “Narcos,” and his two fellow traders. The trio flew in from Miami for the celebration.

The NTR traders hid the purchases from Elemetal’s compliance office through front companies and false U.S. Customs declarations, and by arranging to bribe Peruvian customs officials, according to court documents.

The scheme didn’t last long: NTR’s Peruvian operations collapsed at the end of 2013 when local authorities raided a storage facility outside Lima holding gold that belonged to Ferrari and other traders. Agents seized $18.8 million worth of gold bound not only for NTR Metals but three other Miami-based gold importers, as well as refineries in Switzerland and Italy, according to local media reports.

The year after the gold raid outside Lima, NTR’s exports from Peru dropped 92 percent.

But the party wasn’t over — it simply moved to neighboring countries.

In 2014, Granda and his colleagues began smuggling gold across the border to Ecuador and Bolivia to hide its origins, according to text messages and confidential informants interviewed by U.S. prosecutors. Soon, NTR’s purchases in Ecuador and Bolivia soared by $485 million. Some deals were disguised through the use of companies like one headquartered at a high-end furniture store in Coral Gables, prosecutors alleged.

In February 2015, Barrage laid out the plot in a text message obtained by the government: “We need more Peruvian gold from Bolivia and Ecuador,” he told Granda. “Can u make it happen?”

Granda couldn’t. Local governments in those countries had also begun cracking down.

The party moved again, this time to Colombia. In 2015, NTR’s imports from Colombia soared to $722 million, more than double the previous year’s haul. That accounted for more than half of the country’s gold exports to the United States. Barrage, who owns houses in Nicaragua and Spain, ran the show in Colombia, where he made $2 million overseeing NTR’s operations, prosecutors said.

The company often hid its dirty dealing by exporting gold from Colombia’s free-trade zones, which are tax- and duty-free economic development areas where customs regulations are weaker.

But the smuggling ring finally came crashing down in 2016 after two gold brokers who collaborated with NTR became confidential informants for the U.S. government. One worked as a private customs broker in Peru and dealt directly with Granda, helping him smuggle gold out of the country. The other was a courier based in Chile who carried shipments of illicit gold on flights from South America to Miami. As NTR grew more and more desperate for gold, the courier told investigators that he was sent to Africa, a no-go zone for U.S. gold companies, to secure more metal.

Subpoenas flew, parent company Elemetal began an internal investigation, and Granda, Barrage and Rodriguez were arrested last spring.

Then, last week, federal prosecutors investigating NTR indicted Ferrari, his twin sons and another Peruvian man on a money-laundering charge filed in Miami.

Ferrari’s lawyer in Peru, Benji Espinoza Ramos, said his client, who is in custody in his home country on domestic money-laundering charges, did not break the law. Espinoza said the gold operations were legitimate.

“We believe there is no proof of the existence of illegal gold,” he said.

Granda, Barrage and Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy that carried a maximum of 10 years in prison. They are cooperating with federal prosecutors and providing information about foreign suppliers with narco ties, and about Elemetal. On Friday, Granda and Barrage were sentenced to six and nearly seven years in prison, respectively. Rodriguez will be sentenced later this month.

Will their case scare off other unscrupulous operators in the gold industry?

That’s unlikely, experts say, as long as overwhelming demand from U.S. consumers and corporations fuels the market for narco gold.

“The cartels are so powerful,” said Mazur, the former federal agent. “They buy banks. They buy refineries. The amount of money they have is ridiculous.”

And the lure of gold’s profit is too strong.

#111

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article194188089.html posted:

He sold antiques in Florida. Then he helped ‘El Chapo’ launder $100M of dirty gold

By Jay Weaver And Nicholas Nehamas
January 16, 2018 08:00 AM
Updated January 22, 2018 05:38 PM

The Chicago drug dealers working for notorious Mexican gangster El Chapo had a big problem on their hands: What should they do with the millions of dollars in cash they earned from selling cocaine?

They bought gold. Tens of millions of dollars worth from pawnshops — rings, necklaces and watches.

Then they had to find a place to fence it all.

More than a thousand miles away, in an industrial warehouse in South Florida, they found the perfect partner: an obscure gold-trading company called Golden Opportunities. El Chapo’s crew shipped the metal in dozens of FedEx deliveries to the Hallandale Beach company, according to federal court records.

The owners of Golden Opportunities, Jed and Natalie Ladin, may not have known they were working with Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo — but between 2011 and 2014 his brutal Sinaloa cartel laundered nearly $100 million of cocaine cash through Golden Opportunities, court records show.

The Ladins did more than look the other way: After selling the gold to big refineries that would melt it down for manufacture into coins, bars and high-tech consumer products, Golden Opportunities wired the proceeds to Sinaloa shell companies in Mexico. That made Jed, 69, a former antiques dealer, and his wife, Natalie, 65, part of an international money-laundering operation transforming El Chapo’s cocaine profits into clean cash.

The money-laundering pipeline was revealed in 2014 in the ongoing federal prosecution of 30 members and associates of the Sinaloa cartel in Chicago. Already, more than half of the defendants have pleaded guilty, including the group’s two leaders. A dozen other alleged participants are fugitives. (El Chapo is in a U.S. prison awaiting trial for a different series of crimes.)

The Ladins’ case shows how international organized-crime groups manipulate America’s hush-hush gold industry to launder money and keep their businesses running. Even minor industry players like the Ladins can wind up playing supporting roles in vast criminal operations. While the couple was never charged in the Chicago case, Golden Opportunities shut down after the Ladins pleaded guilty in 2014 in a separate money-laundering prosecution involving gold.

The gold industry — where deals are made quickly and informally — is a “loosey-goosey” market easy for dirty cash to infiltrate because of “good old-fashioned greed,” said John Tobon, deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in South Florida.

“A handshake goes a long way and that’s the way gold works around the world,” Tobon said.

The Chicago coke-to-gold scheme was based on a tried-and-true criminal playbook: During the late 1980s, in a case dubbed “Operation Polar Cap,” federal investigators discovered Colombia’s Medellín cartel had funneled $1 billion in dirty money through jewelry stores in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami.

Now, the entire gold industry is under a cloud: After winning a $3.6 billion money-laundering case against three South Florida gold traders, federal prosecutors in Miami are targeting Latin American drug traffickers who’ve infiltrated the U.S. gold market. Their efforts — which are separate from the Chicago prosecution of the Sinaloa cartel — could scoop up more small-time gold-industry players like the Ladins who moonlight as money launderers for kingpins.

Off the farm

Jed Ladin’s path is an unlikely one that took him from North Dakota farm boy to Florida antiques dealer caught in a gold smuggling web. In his youth, he did a stint in the family business as a cattle buyer in Manitoba, then moved into real estate, developing more than 1,000 apartment units in Canada.

“He put in 80-hour weeks without complaining,” business partner and family friend Abe Anhang recalled in court papers.

But he always yearned for a warmer climate.

And so in the late 1970s he moved to the Fort Lauderdale area to start an antiques company.

Carl Stoffers ran an antiques business in Fort Lauderdale and knew Ladin for 30 years as the two competitors crisscrossed Florida for auctions and estate sales. Ladin’s company, Jed David Collection, became one of the biggest players in South Florida, Stoffers said. But Ladin wasn’t flashy.

“Jed was not a multimillionaire,” Stoffers told the Miami Herald. “He didn’t have any lavish homes or ride around in a Rolls-Royce. The guy got up at 5 o’clock in the morning. He ate in his car. He had 50 types of vitamins in his trunk he would take every day. He could outwork any of the other dealers.”

He also developed an eye for the next big thing.

When the internet ate away at brick-and-mortar antique stores in the early 2000s, Ladin turned to eBay long before his competitors caught on.

And then a few years later, as the price of gold began to skyrocket, Ladin had a stroke of genius: Antiques dealers, he realized, no longer needed to sell their gold rings and bracelets as jewelry. The value was in the metal — and he could be the one to cash in.

He bought a modest precious-metals business with Natalie in 2007, a year after they were married. The union was a second marriage for both.

The company was incorporated as Natalie Jewelry but did business as Golden Opportunities in a Hallandale Beach industrial warehouse off Interstate 95 in South Florida.

Within a few years, the price of an ounce of gold had nearly doubled — and the Ladins made a killing, at one point employing 50 people and opening branch offices as far away as Mexico.

“He landed on a golden egg,” Stoffers said.

But it wasn’t enough. Starting in 2011, according to federal court records, the Ladins turned to money laundering as a way to generate even more cash.

Golden Opportunities proved a prime ally for international drug smugglers because it had offices in both South Florida and Mexico City.

Between June 2013 and January 2014, a Chicago-based money broker secretly working as a Homeland Security informant arranged for the Sinaloa cartel to make nearly 20 transactions with Golden Opportunities, according to an indictment.

The indictment refers to “Refinery A” in Florida as the gold buyer, which several sources familiar with the case said is a reference to Golden Opportunities.

Cartel members based in Chicago collected shopping bags and suitcases of drug cash from associates in the Midwest and South. They used the money to sweep up gold from pawnshops and jewelers. Then, they shipped the goods to Golden Opportunities, which in turn sold the gold to big refineries.

To cover up the dirty deals, Jed Ladin created fake invoices to make it appear that the company was buying gold from a Mexican jewelry store, De Mexico British Metal. Federal agents said the store was owned by a Sinaloa cartel member, Carlos Parra-Pedroza, who inexplicably went by the nickname “Walt Disney.” He was described as a ringleader in the Chicago money-laundering case.

At Parra-Pedroza’s direction, Golden Opportunities wired millions of dollars to the store and to other members of the cartel in Mexico, court records show. In return, Ladin received packages from Parra-Pedroza’s store in Mexico — but they weren’t filled with gold.

In an attempt to throw off U.S. Customs agents, Parra-Pedroza exported “brass from Mexico to Golden Opportunities, but in the paperwork he claimed the brass was gold,” according to a Homeland Security Investigations affidavit.

In April, Parra-Pedroza pleaded guilty in federal court to a money- laundering conspiracy. So did senior Sinaloa cartel member Diego Pineda Sánchez, who was based in Mexico.

El Chapo himself, who famously escaped twice from Mexican prisons, is awaiting trial in the United States on charges of drug smuggling and money laundering unrelated to the gold scheme. Federal prosecutors called him the biggest cocaine dealer in the world.

Bad company

Jed and Natalie Ladins’ luck ran out in January 2014 when federal agents swarmed Golden Opportunities’ Hallandale Beach warehouse and arrested the couple. They weren’t charged in connection with the Chicago case, though. Agents were looking for evidence of a different scheme. And they found it.

The Ladins’ other racket started with a gold transaction with a broker in Mexico. The broker suggested that the Ladins could make some extra cash by wiring money to Mexico, although the couple didn’t have a license to transmit currency, according to court papers. The couple was desperate for cash because gold prices were plummeting.

The Ladins admitted picking up shopping bags of cash in restaurant parking lots delivered by the Mexican broker and his brother. In total, the Ladins wired $2 million to 21 people in Mexico between October 2013 and January 2014 — again by creating fake invoices that their jewelry business was buying gold. Jed Ladin admitted that he suspected the cash “was derived from criminal activity.” But he said the brothers wouldn’t let him stop.

Eventually, the Ladins pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy. (The Mexican broker and Golden Opportunities’ former chief financial officer were later acquitted at trial in Miami; the broker’s brother, also charged in the case, is a fugitive.)

The raid didn’t just end the Ladins’ money-laundering scheme — it also stopped the Sinaloa cartel associates in Chicago from using Golden Opportunities as a fence to sell dirty gold, according to court documents.

In a recorded phone conversation, the Sinaloa ringleader, Parra-Pedroza, warned a federal informant not to ship gold to the Ladins.

“Don’t call the number I gave you,” said the man known as Walt Disney. “They caught the refinery the beach.”

“Get out of here,” the informant replied. “Now what?”

“Who knows?” Parra-Pedroza said.

With Golden Opportunities out of the picture, the Sinaloa network found another dealer in Los Angeles to buy their tainted gold. Court papers do not identify that second business.

Investigators in Chicago and Miami did not share information or collaborate. The raid on Golden Opportunities came as a surprise to federal authorities in Chicago, court papers show.

Jed Ladin, who has three grown children from a previous marriage, ended up being sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Miami case. His wife, Natalie, who was born in Mexico and has three adult children of her own, was given probation.

The Ladins and their lawyers, Catherine Christie and Robert Josefsberg, declined to comment for this story.

The couple’s criminal activity took a devastating toll on their lives, according to court documents. In order to pay back the U.S. government for their crimes, they sold their jewelry, a beachfront Lauderdale-by-the-Sea condo and other assets totaling about $1.1 million.

Jed Ladin was released from prison this past fall into the custody of a halfway house in South Florida. His confinement will end this summer. Natalie, who cares for a daughter with severe disabilities, is living in a modest one-bedroom Fort Lauderdale condo.

Despite Jed Ladin’s criminal activity, those who knew him told a judge that Ladin was a man of the highest character.

In a letter before Ladin’s sentencing, one Golden Opportunities employee described his former boss as “a father to me.” The employee, Garry Scott, said Ladin put him in a management job, gave him $1,000 for a car repair, convinced him to go back to school and helped him recover from a traumatic romantic breakup.

“Jed is one of the few people in the world,” Scott wrote, “you can actually call a good person.”

#112

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176383/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_the_u.s._military%27s_drug_of_choice posted:

Drug Wars, Missing Money, and a Phantom $500 Million
Pentagon Watchdog Calls Out Two Commands for Financial Malfeasance
By Nick Turse
February 8, 2018

2017 was a year of investigations for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). There was the investigation of the two-star commander of U.S. Army Africa who allegedly sent racy texts to an enlisted man’s wife. There was the investigation into the alleged killing of a Special Forces soldier by Navy SEALs in Mali. There was the inquiry into reports of torture and killings on a remote base in Cameroon that was also used by American forces. There was the investigation of an alleged massacre of civilians by American special operators in Somalia. And don’t forget the inquiry into the killing of four Special Forces soldiers by Islamic State militants in Niger.

And then there was the investigation that hardly anyone heard about, that didn’t spark a single headline. And still, the question remains: Whatever became of that $500 million?

To be fair, this particular scandal isn’t AFRICOM’s alone, nor did that sizeable sum belong only to that one command. And unlike the possibly tens of thousands of dollars in cash that reportedly went missing in connection with the strangulation of the Green Beret in Mali, that $500 million didn’t simply vanish. Still, a report by the Defense Department’s Inspector General (IG), released into the news wasteland of the day after Christmas 2017, does raise questions about a combatant command with a history of scandals, including significant failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting projects across the African continent, as well as the effectiveness of U.S. assistance efforts there.

From fiscal years 2014 through 2016, AFRICOM and Central Command (CENTCOM), the umbrella organization for U.S. military activities in the Greater Middle East, received a combined $496 million to conduct counternarcotics (CN) activities. That substantial sum was used by the respective commands to fund myriad projects from the construction of border outposts in allied nations to training personnel in policing skills like evidence collection. Or at least, that’s how it was supposed to be used. According to the IG, neither AFRICOM nor CENTCOM “maintained reliable data for the completion status and funding of training, equipping, and construction activities.” That means no one -- not the IG investigators, not AFRICOM, not CENTCOM personnel -- seems to have any idea how much of that money was spent, what it was spent on, whether the funded projects were ever completed, or whether any of it made a difference in the fight against illegal drugs in Africa and the Middle East.

“U.S. Central and U.S. Africa Commands did not provide effective oversight of 2014 through 2016 counternarcotics activities,” wrote Michael Roark, an assistant inspector general, in a memorandum sent to the chiefs of both commands as well as to Pentagon officials in December 2017. “Specifically, neither U.S. Central nor U.S. Africa Command maintained reliable data for the completion status and funding of counternarcotics training, equipping, and construction activities.” What is clear is that large sums of taxpayer dollars allotted to such training activities were inconsistently tracked or accounted for, including -- according to Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the Office of Inspector General -- $73 million in AFRICOM counternarcotics funding.

TomDispatch repeatedly contacted Africa Command for comment about the IG’s report. According to digital receipts, AFRICOM read the emailed questions but failed to respond prior to the publication of this piece.

The War on Drugs

Since 9/11, U.S. military activity on the African continent has grown at an exponential rate. U.S. troops are now conducting about 3,500 exercises, programs, and activities per year, an average of nearly 10 missions a day. Meanwhile, America’s most elite troops -- including Navy SEALs and Green Berets -- deployed to no fewer than 33 of the 54 African countries last year.

Many of the command’s missions focus on training local allies and proxies. “AFRICOM’s Theater Security Cooperation programs remain the cornerstone of our sustained security engagement with African partners,” reads its “What We Do” credo. “Conditions for success of our security cooperation programs and activities on the continent are established through hundreds of engagements supporting a wide range of activities.” These include not only foreign military aid and training, but also counternarcotics assistance.

By 2012, U.S. Africa Command's Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance branch was already providing about $20 million in aid per year to various partner nations. In doing so, it relied on special legislation that allows the military to work not only with other armed forces but with interagency partners like the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, as well as local law enforcement agencies and the justice, customs, and interior ministries of various African countries.

The command’s African partners often suffer, however, from their own drug problems. “On the governance front, the proceeds of drug trafficking and other forms of illicit trafficking are fueling a dramatic increase in corruption among the very institutions responsible for fighting crime,” observed David Luna of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs last year in a speech on combating organized crime in Africa. “The collusion and complicity of some government officials with criminal networks have helped carve out an illicit trafficking corridor that stretches from the West African coast to the Horn of Africa, from North Africa south to the Gulf of Guinea.”

But corrupt allies, as the Pentagon’s Inspector General points out, are only one of the problems facing U.S. counternarcotics efforts there. AFRICOM itself is another.

The Wisdom of the Crowd vs. a Simple Spreadsheet

In 2014, Coast Guard captain Ted St. Pierre, the division chief of AFRICOM’s Counter Narcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance branch, turned to the consulting firm Wikistrat to design and conduct a “scenario-driven simulation” to aid the command in developing strategies to combat drug trafficking in northwest Africa. That simulation was sold as a crowd-sourced, futuristic approach to a twenty-first-century problem. “The idea is that this technology leverages the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ just as averaging the guesses of the crowd at the county fair will come very close to the amount of jelly beans in a jar,” said Tim Haffner, a program analyst for AFRICOM’s Counter Narcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance branch and its point man for the simulation project. As it turned out, AFRICOM’s counternarcotics officials could have benefited from far lower-tech assistance -- like help in maintaining accurate spreadsheets.

Take the radio equipment that the command procured to help Senegal battle narcotics trafficking. According to a spreadsheet provided to the Inspector General by AFRICOM, $1.1 million was budgeted for that in 2014. Leaving aside whether such equipment is helpful in curtailing drug trafficking, it was at least clear how much money was spent on those radios. Until, that is, IG investigators consulted another spreadsheet also provided by AFRICOM. Its data indicated that nearly triple that sum -- $3.1 million -- had been budgeted for and spent on those radios. The question was: Did Senegalese forces receive $1 million worth of radios or three times that figure? No one at AFRICOM knew.

In fact, those two spreadsheets told radically different stories about the larger U.S. counternarcotics campaign on the continent in 2014. One indicated that taxpayers had funded 55 different projects budgeted at $15 million; the other, 134 activities to the tune of $24 million. Investigators were especially troubled by the second spreadsheet in which the “budgeted, obligated, and expended amounts… were identical for each activity causing the team to question the reliability of the data.” So which spreadsheet was right? How many projects were really carried out? How many millions of dollars were actually spent? The IG’s office concluded that AFRICOM counternarcotics officials didn’t know and so “could not verify which set of data was complete and accurate.”

Or take Cameroon in 2016. That year, according to AFRICOM officials, the United States budgeted $143,493 for training that country’s forces in “evidence collection.” (This was at a moment when AFRICOM officials seemed oblivious to copious evidence that civilian detainees were being tortured, sometimes even killed, on a Cameroonian base used by American forces.) Yet a 2016 spreadsheet examined by the Inspector General’s investigators indicated that only $94,620 had actually been budgeted for such training, while $165,078 had been “obligated” -- that is, an agreement was made to pay that sum for services rendered -- for the same activities. In the end, according to the IG’s December 2017 report, AFRICOM counternarcotics personnel couldn’t say how much money had actually been spent on training Cameroonians in evidence collection because of “a law enforcement agency error in tracking funding.”

Records of construction activities were in a similar state of disarray. While counternarcotics officials provided IG personnel with a spreadsheet specifically devoted to such projects, its information proved inconsistent with other AFRICOM documents. In reading the IG’s account of this, I was reminded of an interview I conducted several years ago with Chris Gatz of the Army Corps of Engineers Africa about construction projects for Special Operations Command Africa. “I’ll be totally frank with you,” he told me, “as far as the scopes of these projects go, I don’t have good insights.” I then asked if some projects had been funded with counter-narco-terrorism funds. “No, actually there was not,” he assured me, which led me to ask him about Niger. I knew that the U.S. was devoting significant resources to such projects there, specifically in the towns of Arlit and Tahoua. When I explained that I had already uncovered that information, he promptly located the right paperwork, adding, “Oh, okay, I’m sorry. You’re right, we have two of them... Both were actually awarded to construction.”

That construction began -- at least on paper -- in 2013. It seems that, in the time since, little has changed when it comes to record-keeping. When IG investigators looked into more recent construction efforts in Niger for their report, they found, for example, a phantom counternarcotics project -- a classroom somehow integral to the fight against drugs in that West African country. When they requested documentation for the 2015 construction of this classroom, the investigators were told by AFRICOM officials that the project had been terminated. The classroom was actually never built. Yet none of the data in any of the spreadsheets previously provided by the command indicated that the construction had been canceled.

Both AFRICOM and CENTCOM also left substantial funds on the table, monies that were apparently never spent and might have been used for other counternarcotics activities, had they not been lost, according to the IG report. For example, a “law enforcement agency” conducted 20 counternarcotics training classes over two years in an unspecified African nation (or nations), leaving an estimated excess of $805,000 in funding untouched, at least based on the officially budgeted costs for such instruction. As it turned out, however, AFRICOM officials had no idea that all of the funds hadn’t been spent. The report, in its typical bureaucratic prose, summed up the situation this way: “he amount unused could be higher or lower because USAFRICOM does not know how much was actually expended for the trainings executed.”

In all, faulty accounting seems to have resulted in at least $128 million worth of CENTCOM and AFRICOM counternarcotics funding for 2014-2016 going unspent.

Prior Bad Acts

This is hardly the first time that Africa Command has run into trouble accounting for work performed and dollars spent. In 2014, TomDispatch revealed the results of an Inspector General’s report (“Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Needed Better Guidance and Systems to Adequately Manage Civil-Military Operations”) that was never publicly released. It uncovered failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting humanitarian projects by AFRICOM’s subordinate Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

At the time, the IG found record-keeping so faulty that CJTF-HOA officials “did not have an effective system to manage or report community relations and low-cost activities.” A spreadsheet tracking such projects was so incomplete that 43% of those efforts went unmentioned. Nonetheless, the IG did manage to review 49 of CJTF-HOA’s 137 identified humanitarian assistance and civic assistance projects, which cost U.S. taxpayers about $9 million, and found that the military officials overseeing the projects “did not adequately plan or execute” them in accordance with AFRICOM’s objectives. Examining 66 community relations and low-cost activities (like the distribution of sports equipment and seminars on solar panel maintenance), investigators discovered that its officials had failed to accurately identify their strategic objectives for, or maintained limited documentation on, 62% of them.

In some cases, they failed to explain how their efforts supported AFRICOM’s objectives on the continent; in others, financial documentation was missing; in yet more, personnel failed to ensure that local populations were equipped to keep the projects running once U.S. forces moved on. The risk, the report suggested, was that projects like American-built wells, water fountains, and cisterns would quickly fall into disrepair and become what one official called “monuments to U.S. failure.”

Drug Problems

After years of failing to maintain reliable data about and effective oversight of its counternarcotics activities, Africa Command has, according to the Pentagon’s Inspector General, finally taken corrective measures. “USAFRICOM officials developed standard operating procedures that fully addressed the recommendation” of the December 2017 IG report, Bruce Anderson of the Office of the Inspector General told TomDispatch. “They also provided their 2018 Spend Plan as evidence of some of the processes being implemented.” Whether these new measures will be effective and other types of assistance will also be comprehensively tracked remains to be seen.

While AFRICOM may be cleaning up its act, the same cannot be said of CENTCOM, which, according to Anderson, apparently wasted or didn’t adequately track almost $423 million in counternarcotics funds between 2014 and 2016. Like AFRICOM, Central Command failed to provide answers to TomDispatch’s questions prior to publication, although the command did respond to email messages. More than a month after the December 2017 report was issued, CENTCOM would not say if it had implemented the IG’s recommendations. “As you know, this is a complex issue, and it needs to be coordinated within the chain of command,” spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown wrote in an email. Bruce Anderson of the IG’s office was, however, able to shed further light on the matter. “The two recommendations to USCENTCOM remain unresolved,” he told TomDispatch. “USCENTCOM implemented some corrective actions, but the actions only partially addressed the recommendations.”

More troubling than the findings in the IG’s report or CENTCOM’s apparent refusal to heed its recommendations may be the actual trajectory of the drug trade in the two commands’ areas of responsibility: Africa and the Greater Middle East. Last year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime noted that while West Africa “has long been a transit zone for cocaine and heroin trafficking, it has now turned into a production zone for illicit substances such as amphetamines and precursors” and that drug use “is also a growing issue at the local level.” Meanwhile, heroin trafficking has been on the rise in East Africa, along with personal use of the drug.

Even the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies is sounding an alarm. “Drug trafficking is a major transnational threat in Africa that converges with other illicit activities ranging from money laundering to human trafficking and terrorism,” it warned last November. “According to the 2017 U.N. World Drug Report, two-thirds of the cocaine smuggled between South America and Europe passes through West Africa, specifically Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, and Togo. Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania are among the countries that have seen the highest traffic in opiates passing from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Western destinations.” As badly as this may reflect on AFRICOM’s efforts to bolster the counter-drug-trafficking prowess of key allies like Kenya, Mali, and Nigeria, it reflects even more dismally on CENTCOM, which oversees Washington’s long-running war in Afghanistan and its seemingly ceaseless counternarcotics mission there.

In the spring of 2001, American experts concluded that a ban on opium-poppy cultivation by Afghanistan’s Taliban government had wiped out the world’s largest heroin-producing crop. Later that year, the U.S. military invaded and, since 2002, America has pumped $8.7 billion in counternarcotics funding into that country. A report issued late last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction detailed the results of anti-drug efforts during CENTCOM’s 16-year-old war: “Afghanistan’s total area under opium cultivation and opium production reached an all-time high in 2017,” it reads in part. “Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter, producing an estimated 80% of the world’s opium.”

In many ways, these outcomes mirror those of the larger counterterror efforts of which these anti-drug campaigns are just a part. In 2001, for example, U.S. forces were fighting just two enemy forces in Afghanistan: al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Now, according to a recent Pentagon report, they’re battling more than 10 times that number. In Africa, an official count of five prime terror groups in 2012 has expanded, depending on the Pentagon source, to more than 20 or even closer to 50.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but given the outcomes of significant counternarcotics assistance from Africa Command and Central Command -- including some $500 million over just three recent years -- there’s little evidence to suggest that better record-keeping can solve the problems plaguing the military’s anti-drug efforts in the greater Middle East or Africa. While AFRICOM and, to a lesser extent, CENTCOM have made changes in how they track counternarcotics aid, both seemingly remain hooked on pouring money into efforts that have produced few successes. More effective use of spreadsheets won’t solve the underlying problems of America’s wars or cure an addiction to policies that continue to fail.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His 2017 Harper’s magazine article, “Ghost Nation,” is a finalist for an American Society of Magazine Editors award. His website is NickTurse.com.

#113
That Jed Ladin story has that juice I need, where they explain no one knew the bourgeois criminal had it in him to feel like he could get away with anything, since he started in the humble family business of “cattle buyer in Manitoba”, then slaved away in the mines “developing” “more than 1,000 apartment units”, a job that required him to eat over 9,000 “vitamins” daily from the trunk of his car
#114

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/14/us-anti-narcotic-afghanistan-opium-costly-failure-official-report posted:

US anti-narcotic effort in Afghanistan is a costly failure, official report finds

Opium production hits record high in 2017
US has spent $8.6bn to curb production since 2001

AFP in Washington

Thu 14 Jun 2018 16.18 BST
Last modified on Thu 14 Jun 2018 16.54 BST

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit a record high last year, a US government watchdog has said, describing American-funded counternarcotics efforts in the war-torn country as a failure.

Since the American-led invasion in late 2001, the US has spent about $8.6bn on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, yet the country remains the world’s largest producer of opium.

According to a new study by the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (Sigar), opium cultivation reached about 328,000 hectares (1,265 square miles) in 2017 – a 63% jump from the year before and the greatest amount tallied since 2002.

“To put it bluntly, these numbers spell failure, and the outlook is not encouraging,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, said in prepared remarks at the launch of his office’s new report.

The amount grown last year is enough to produce 900 tons of export-quality heroin, Sigar said, and the money from sales is helping fuel insurgent violence across Afghanistan.

In an effort to cut back on the cash flow, US and Afghan planes last year conducted a series of air strikes on drug labs that were being used to process opium, including in the poppy-rich southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.

But Sigar said it was hard to measure the effectiveness of the expensive air campaign, as new labs can be set up in three or four days.

“There is also the risk that expanded airstrikes by Afghan and international forces could result in civilian deaths, alienate rural populations and strengthen the insurgency,” the report states.

The report found that no program by the US, the Afghans or by coalition partners had succeeded in causing lasting reductions in poppy or opium production.

“Their overall impact has been negligible,” Sopko said.


give me the 8.6 billion

#115
this ones a classic and i dont know how i missed it

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/world/europe/italy-morocco-isis-drug-trade.html?_r=0 posted:

Scaling Up a Drug Trade, Straight Through ISIS Turf

By Rukmini Callimachi and Lorenzo Tondo
Sept. 13, 2016

PALERMO, Italy — The investigators for Italy’s antidrug unit were used to measuring the flow of hashish from Moroccan fields to European shores one speedboat or Jet Ski at a time.

So when the phone rang with a tip that an enormous freighter loaded with hashish was plying international waters south of Sicily — bound for Libya, hundreds of miles to the east of the usual quick drug route to Spain — Francesco Amico, a senior investigator, immediately knew something odd was going on.

Not just odd, but huge: When two Italian Navy warships eventually stopped the freighter, the Adam, off the Libyan coast on April 12, 2013, agents found a terrified Syrian crew and 15 metric tons of hashish — a stash many multiples larger than Italian officials had ever seen.

“There was so much of the drug that we didn’t know where to put it,” said Mr. Amico, who waited in the Sicilian port of Trapani for the escorted ship to arrive. “We had to go out and rent a warehouse.”

The Italian officials had stumbled on a lucrative new trafficking route that stretched far to the east along the coast of Northern Africa — and always led to Libya, in an area fought over by competing armed groups that included the Islamic State.

The Adam was the first of 20 ships that would be intercepted over the route over the following 32 months, officials say. Their collective cargo amounted to more than 280 tons of hashish valued at 2.8 billion euros, or about $3.2 billion — roughly half of what was seized in all of continental Europe last year, according to the European Union’s Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Then the tips dried up, and the busts stopped. The Italian investigation, which had expanded to include other European countries and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, has not seized any ships on the route in 2016, though officials say they believe the traffic continues.

Instead, as they have sought to understand what happens to the enormous shipments, they are struggling with a mystery that has prompted intriguing questions but offered few answers.

One thing they know is that the drugs were not ending up in Libya. The Moroccan drug producers consistently use individualized branding logos, like a scorpion or a dollar sign. That helped investigators pick up the drug shipments’ trail again after they left Libya, traveling along an overland route through Egypt and then on to Europe through the Balkans.

But the investigators are still not sure what happened as the drugs passed through. From interrogations and surveillance, they know the route crossed territory that until a few weeks ago was claimed by the Islamic State — which has taxed shipments of drugs and other goods in Syria and Iraq.

That, in particular, led the Italian drug investigators to start asking questions they never expected to confront: Could the Islamic State or some other group be profiting from the drug route by taxing it? Was the militant-driven chaos in Libya providing an opportunity by drug traffickers to pick a route the authorities wouldn’t suspect, or were the Libyan-based groups more directly involved? The investigation continues.

“Once it reaches Libya, we lose track of it,” said Lt. Col. Giuseppe Campobasso, who heads the antidrug unit in Sicily of the Guardia di Finanza, the Italian financial police force that led the search for the ships.

For years, the Italian investigators had tracked small shipments of Moroccan hashish, around 100 kilograms at a time, coming to Spain in boats that crossed the Strait of Gibraltar — a narrow passage that ferries cross in under 35 minutes. In 2007, Spain began installing cameras up and down its southern coastline, but at least at first, the hashish traffic continued in the usual way.

With Europe’s eyes trained on small-boat traffic coming from the south, at first no one noticed the cargo ships that were taking a big dogleg to the east.

Giacomo Catania, an inspector with the Guardia di Finanza who was in charge of storing the incoming drugs, explained another oddity: The enormous cargo ships they seized — some as long as a soccer field and designed to carry fleets of automobiles or cargo containers — were empty except for the drugs.

“These are ships that have a capacity to carry thousands of tons, and the cargo in most cases was around 20 tons. Only a minuscule portion of it was used,” Mr. Catania said.

That the smugglers were willing to operate so inefficiently — Mr. Catania compared it to using an 18-wheeler to transport a single pack of cigarettes — is testament to the value of the cargo.

Considering that hashish sells for €10,000, about $11,200, per kilogram once it reaches Europe’s streets, the Adam’s cargo alone was worth at least €150 million. And shipments seized later were even bigger — including a load of hashish aboard the freighter Aberdeen, boarded in the summer of 2014, that was estimated to be worth €420 million — or about $472 million.

After seizing the Adam, investigators in Italy interrogated its crew members, who insisted that they did not know that hashish was in the 591 plastic bags investigators had found on the ship’s deck.

The ship’s captain testified that he believed he was transporting humanitarian aid, brought to the ship by the crew of a speedboat that approached them off the coast of Morocco and insisted that they take the bags, according to a transcript of his statement to investigators.

To learn more, the investigators — who have decades of experience dealing with the Sicilian Mafia — decided to bug the cells where the six crew members were imprisoned. Over months of surveillance, Mr. Amico began to discern the outlines of the trafficking route, and the mystery of the militant stronghold in coastal Libya it passed through.

Since the ouster of the Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, stretches of Libya along the coastline in the eastern region of Cyrenaica had become a battleground for competing militant groups. By 2014, that included the Islamic State’s branch in Libya, which at various times had footholds in the cities of Benghazi, Derna and especially Surt, which has partly fallen to pro-government forces.

Italian officials believe that those cities were all destinations for some of the drug ships, although the navigation units of other seized vessels indicate that they were headed to the Libyan port of Tobruk, which is controlled by a rebel group fighting the Islamic State.

Investigators say they believe that at least in some cases, the terrorist group would have been able to exact a tax in return for the drugs’ passage. That matches the Islamic State’s business practice in its stronghold in Syria and Iraq, where according to one study by IHS Country Risk, 7 percent of the group’s revenue last year was from the production, taxation and trafficking of drugs.

But officials concede that they cannot be certain what role, if any, the Islamic State might play in the hashish shipments.

“No one has eyes on the ground to say that they know for a fact,” said Masood Karimipour, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s regional representative for the Middle East and North Africa. “What we can offer, or make a reasonable inferences from, is that where the terrorists are holding terrain they are controlling everything that goes through it, including the trafficking of whatever — whether it’s weapons or drugs.”

Poring over the surveillance tapes of the jailed crew of the freighter Adam, Mr. Amico and the rest of his investigative team started to wonder whether the drugs were part of a bigger scheme, perhaps involving weapons.

They learned that the Adam had begun its Mediterranean voyage in Cyprus, where it picked up four containers of “furniture,” destined for Benghazi. After dropping off the cargo, the vessel continued to Morocco, picking up 15 tons of hashish and returning to Libya.

From other comments by the crew, Mr. Amico and his team came to believe that the “furniture” was a shipment of weapons, he said, an idea supported by two of the prosecutors involved in the case.

“Libya is not a land where people consume hashish,” said Deputy Prosecutor Maurizio Agnello. “So that cargo of drugs is definitely a method of payment, a kind of coin.”

In recent months, however, the Italian investigation has stalled. Most of the tips were coming from French officials, who in recent months were scrambling to deal with a wave of terrorist attacks at home, and when the tips ended, so did the busts. No ships have been intercepted along the route in 2016, though investigators say they believe the path is still being used.

They expressed unease about the lack of certainty regarding the players controlling the new route.

“If this was controlled by the Mafia, we would know how to deal with it, because we know the Mafia well,” said Mr. Agnello, whose office is in a stately building in Palermo, a stronghold of the Sicilian Mafia, which for years controlled the hashish arriving from Morocco via Spain.

When it comes to the possible involvement of terrorist groups, he said, “It frightens us because they don’t have limits. They do stuff that would be unthinkable for a Mafioso.”

#116

In an effort to cut back on the cash flow, US and Afghan planes last year conducted a series of air strikes on drug labs that were being used to process opium, including in the poppy-rich southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.



bombing all competition to core refining of poppy raw material, cuz once it's heroin it can't be processed into oxy or fent. how do these reporters write this stuff straight faced?

#117
Journalists need to give everyone the stalin treatment

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/14/us-anti-narcotic-afghanistan-opium-costly-failure-official-report posted:

But, Sigar smirked, it was hard to measure the effectiveness of the expensive air campaign, as new labs can be set up in three or four days.

“There is also the risk that expanded airstrikes by Afghan and international forces could result in civilian deaths, alienate rural populations and strengthen the insurgency,” the report shrugs.

The report found that no program by the US, the Afghans or by coalition partners had succeeded in causing lasting reductions in poppy or opium production.

“Their overall impact has been negligible,” Sopko crowed.


#118

BBC investigation into the illegal sale of an addictive opioid has triggered sweeping reform across Nigeria and beyond.

...

This is a major victory for anti-drugs campaigners and a major financial loss for pharmaceutical companies, who previously sold the product for as much as 3,000 naira ($8; £6) a bottle.

The government had previously estimated more than three million bottles of codeine syrup ... were being consumed every day in just two states.

Once the recall is complete, the Nigerian government will accumulate a stockpile of addictive drugs worth millions of pounds.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-45032842



same in ghana. also their tramadol imports account for 20% of global production. will be interesting to keep an eye on what players enter the disrupted opiod market.

#119
im bumping this thread because someone thought that afganistan was the only ever "narco-state" or something
#120
we used to have the honor of being the top opium country, damn the afghanis for stealing that from us