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Reexamining the DEA's stance on narco-terrorism




Glass capsules containing ketamine are seen in Bang Pa In on June 26, 2008. Thai authorities will burn more than 310 million dollars worth of drugs in an annual narcotics bonfire to mark anti-drugs day. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Glass capsules containing ketamine are seen in Bang Pa In on June 26, 2008. Thai authorities will burn more than 310 million dollars worth of drugs in an annual narcotics bonfire to mark anti-drugs day. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

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The term "narco-terrorism" became part of the counterterrorism lexicon shortly after the September 11th attacks. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) quickly drew a link between terrorist networks like al-Qaeda and drug producers in South America. The DEA contended that terrorists were selling illicit substances to fund their operations.

This fear spawned large undercover investigations, culminating in a court ruling that expanded the powers of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Suddenly, any drug dealer suspected of working with terrorist organizations anywhere in the world could be spied on, arrested, and extradited to the US to stand trial. 

The effectiveness of the program is hard to gauge, however. It's a policy that reporter Ginger Thompson explores in a recent article for The New Yorker. She followed three foreigners, who were at the center of one investigation, in a case that provides a revealing look at the controversial expansion. 

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