Corruption, addiction and murder on a large and small scale. This is the story that Douglas Valentine chronicles in his new book The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs (Verso, 2004). Valentine, who is also the author of the definitive story of the US counterintelligence program in Vietnam known as Operation Phoenix (The Phoenix Program), does a thorough job of detailing the crooked and sordid history of the original US agency created to fight the so-called war on drugs. That agency, for those who don’t know the history or have only known the Nixon-created Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). Created for fundamentally racist reasons, the FBN was the brainchild of Harry Anslinger — an ambitious law-and-order type guy who devoted his life to protecting America’s upper classes. Anslinger built the agency based on white Americans fears and, in doing so, changed the society’s perspective on drugs from one where virtually everything was legally available to one where the government tried to control every aspect of drug distribution. It is Anslinger and his agency that is responsible for America’s current conception that drug abuse is a police problem and not one better left to health professionals.
Valentine’s central thesis is explained in the book’s introduction. Briefly stated, it is this: “federal drug enforcement is essentially a function of national security, as that term is applied in its broadest sense: that is, not just in defending America from its foreign enemies, but preserving its traditional values of class, race and gender at home, while expanding its economic and military influence abroad.” As the book delves deeper into the story of how this thesis worked out in practice, it becomes clear that this did not always mean that the big-time drug dealers got arrested. Indeed, if they had the right connections and skills (such as those skills required for assassination and those connections that might serve the counterintelligence capabilities of the US), not only were these men not arrested; they were protected in all their enterprises, legal and otherwise.
It’s a tawdry to downright demonic story that comes out in these pages. From questions about the role of big time heroin manufacturers and traffickers in the subversion of governments and democratic movements to stories about MKULTRA (a secret program developed by the CIA to find drugs to use in brainwashing) to LSD experiments on unsuspecting citizens, this book makes it clear that nothing is as it seems in the “war on drugs.” For those who fight battles in this war on a daily basis, be they cops or users, this is not news. The depth of the deception and inhumanity may be, however. The more one reads of Valentine’s work, the more it becomes clear that honest agents and cops have little place in this business. More than once, the reader is provided with the story of an agent’s years of hard work setting up and tracking a big-time trafficker being blown or destroyed some other way because of that trafficker’s connections and use to the national security state.
What is remarkable about this story is that it holds surprises even for those who consider themselves hardened to the realities of government skullduggery. For example, the government’s complicity with various Mafia bosses and their Cuban cohorts make it all but inevitable for questions to be raised about the intelligence community’s involvement in the JFK assassination. In addition, there are several passages that raise the issue of Israel’s role in international drug smuggling since before its inception in 1948 — an involvement, which Valentine believes, continues under the aegis of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Of course, this makes perfect sense if one considers the history of US intelligence “encouraging” its surrogates involved in counterrevolutionary work to use drug trafficking profits to buy guns and other weaponry. After all, US intelligence and Israeli intelligence are more than brothers in arms — they are two arms of the same body.
The tone of The Strength of the Wolf is summed up best with a quote from a conversation Valentine held with FBN agent Jim Attie thirty-five years after he retired. “I’m not proud of what I did. It was a dirty job. It was a form of amorality, and to this day I feel tremendous guilt and have unending nightmares as a result of what I did as a narcotic agent.” Unfortunately, Valentine’s book makes it clear that many agents don’t have such qualms. This history makes it abundantly clear that those who directed them certainly didn’t. All of which leaves us common folk with the nightmare of their policies.
Encyclopedic in its scope, Valentine’s book is an important and necessary story that reads like a coherent speed freak’s monologue — detailed and relentless in its delivery. If nothing else, The Strength of the Wolf makes it abundantly clear that many members of the illegal drug business are on government payrolls and that the US “war on drugs” is really nothing more than one more front in the Empire’s war on those who disagree with its plans for the planet. Furthermore, the book leaves the reader with the feeling that this front has only expanded since the end of the FBN. This book and its story certainly makes one skeptical about anything the government might say or do at home and abroad. If the CIA and Mossad could help the ultra-right counterrevolutionary OAS in Algeria in an attempt to divide the anti-colonialist movement back in the 1950s, who’s to say that they aren’t doing something similar in Iraq?