Move to London, they said. Wonderful career opportunity. The gateway to Europe. Earning pounds instead of Australian pesos. Indiscriminate bombs on public transport. Beautiful countryside and ancient castles. A country steeped in fabulous history and culture. Stonehenge. Westminster. The Tower of London. A place to change direction and pursue what I’m really interested in, something fulfilling. Innocent people being shot eight times in plain view by police in a case of mistaken identity. Discounted air travel throughout the northern hemisphere …
Hang on a minute … let’s just go back to the “bombs on public transport” and the “getting shot by accident” thing for a second. That’s not in the brochure. I thought this was London, not the Middle East.
On Thursday (July 28, 2005) nothing else exploded, thankfully. I was riding the tube to work like the many others who live just outside what would be considered “the city”, reading the newspaper over someone’s shoulder. Like everyone else. I actually haven’t purchased the newspaper since I moved here, as London’s public transport makes a sardine tin look roomy, so one or two commuters distribute the news to the rest of the train carriage simply by holding their papers up to read.
Anyway, I spied a great headline - “Bin Laden plans to poison cocaine”. Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to read the copy before the page was turned to the football, but it got me thinking.
So Osama wants to poison cocaine? I wouldn’t be too surprised if he wanted to poison all recreational drugs. After all, such things fly in the face of Islam and every other religious teaching, with the notable exception of Rastafarianism, but I doubt he’d mind the Rasta. With a beard like that, he comes across as a reggae kind of guy.
And he’ll probably get away with it, given the astonishing inability of the entire Western world’s security and intelligence forces to catch him. He quite possibly feels he can do pretty much anything with impunity at the moment, and further poisoning the well could fit nicely with his plans for the West. My thinking though, is that this is the plan that could finally bring him undone.
Why? Well, let’s look at the recreational drug trade. It’s a big business, with a very long supply and distribution chain, populated at every point by unsavoury punters. For the purposes of this argument, I’ll stick with cocaine, but you can substitute just about any amphetamine or narcotic if you prefer.
So let’s start at the top - who makes the stuff? Organisations like the Medellin and Cali cartels in Central and South America, that’s who. Or in the case of opiates, crime families like the Triads in northern Thailand and China. Historically, these groups don’t take lightly to people playing with their profit margins. Sure, there are people like Howard Marks (“Mr Nice” … remember him?) but in an age of the free market the gentlemen’s rules he used to operate under are long dead.
All of these crews will hunt down competitors, threats and annoying obstacles to their lucrative operations, and remove them from the equation with maximum prejudice. Normally, they take out the families as well. They are not constrained by the rule of law; international treaties; or any nicety of the community of nations. Not only that they find people, no matter where they are hiding, and get the job done. This is something the Western intelligence machine struggles to achieve.
And Osama wants to poison the cartels’ product, hoping to scare people off, possibly reducing the overall size of the market and the profits it holds. Hmmm.
If bin Laden isn’t worried enough about these guys, or if he can elude their exceptionally far-reaching clutches, he will find the distribution chain poses its own challenges. Who distributes the drugs? The Mafia, Yakuza, Triads (again, they are fans of vertical integration) and hoards of motorcycle gangs. They may be second-tier players but again, they actively discourage people meddling with their business. They can find anyone, anywhere, and also have a habit of making entire families disappear.
If Osama is successful in reducing the size of the recreational drug market with his terror campaign, he will be taking money out of the drug producers’ pockets as well as those of their suppliers, something you and I would think twice about doing. Even if we were nuts.
So is this the way forward in the “fight against terror”? As we see everyday, the security and intelligence services aren’t having much luck. George W. has even said that he doesn’t think they will ever find him. Maybe it's time for the CIA and their international colleagues to start ringing a few old friends in the drug trade. We all know they have the phone numbers. Plant the seed that the product the cartels are selling is suspect, at the same time publicly spreading the word that consumers aren't getting what they pay for, and it could do them more mischief than they expect.
Two birds with one stone, so to speak. The West could win the “war on drugs” through the fear campaign about tainted goods, and they might even get lucky. A couple of Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts look-alikes could send Osama for a swim with the fishes in new footwear.
It’s called (black) market economics. And long live the free market.