The French Disconnection
Drug running is one of the world's biggest troubles today. It's bad enough that the heroin trade has had a huge boost by the US removal of the Taliban, who frowned mightily on any Afghan drug trade that they didn't control. Without that control, poppy growing and herion production have skyrocketed. But even this isn't the worst problem involving drugs. The worst problem is how the profits are used - and against whom.
As this article shows, there is yet another reason to know that the Saudis are not our friends - and that our elected officials are unable or unwilling, in the face of upsetting the population, to do anything about real threats to the well-being of the nation they are charged with defending.
A book to be released this week in Paris lifts the veil on a sordid tale about a Saudi prince-diplomat who smuggles two tons of cocaine into Europe on a jetliner owned by the Saudi royal family — and gets away with it.
Coming right when Bob Woodward's report of the Bush-Bandar deal to lower gas prices for electoral purposes has once again put the spotlight on the Saudis, this history of a different sort of carburant doesn't just reveal another seamy underside of the despotic kingdom — it raises embarrassing new post-9/11 questions for the Bush administration.
Prince Nayef bin Fawwaz al-Shaalan is a wealthy, U.S.-educated, high-ranking Saudi diplomat who speaks eight languages, has played a key role in OPEC negotiations, and owns significant oil interests in Colombia and Venezuela, countries he often visited on official diplomatic missions. Prince Nayef and his twin brother, Prince Saud, are both sons-in-law of the Saudi Vice Minister of Defense — who, as a brother of King Fahd, is in the direct line of royal succession. Prince Nayef's older brother, Prince Nawaf, is married to a daughter of Crown Prince Abdullah, who is the veritable head of the Saudi government.
On May 16, 1999, a Boeing 727 frequently used for official Saudi government missions (and belonging to Skyways International, a company owned by the Saudi royal family) landed at Le Bourget airport near Paris after a flight from Venezuela. Onboard were 14 passengers, a majority of them Saudi princes and princesses, including Prince Nayef and Prince Saud. In the baggage compartment: an impressive number of fiberglass suitcases containing a total of two tons of pure cocaine, which had been loaded on the plane without problem in Caracas under the cover of diplomatic immunity.
The plane was met by official Saudi vehicles and two rented vans, and a troop of Saudi Embassy employees. Under the personal supervision of Prince Nayef and his bodyguards, the coke-filled suitcases were loaded into the two rented vans. Diplomatic immunity once again ensured no customs inspection of the luggage. And the cortege of vehicles, led by Prince Nayef in a black Mercedes, left Le Bourget without problem.
En route to Paris, the two vans with the coke quietly peeled off from the convoy and headed for a rented house in the Paris suburb of Noissy-le-Sec, where the pricey cargo was to be stocked for a few days until it was redistributed for sale in France and other European countries.
The coke smuggling and the deliberately bungled investigation that let Prince Nayef escape prosecution are dissected in Le Coke Saudienne: au coeur d'une affaire d'Etat (Editions Flammarion), by Fabrice Monti, a former official of the French Ministry of the Interior who was attached to the national drug police, headquartered in the celebrated Quai des Orfevres in Paris. The book details a "police war" between the American DEA and the Quai des Orfevres.
The book recounts the four-year investigation that identified Prince Nayef as the organizer of the coke deal. The DEA nabbed, and turned into informers through plea bargains on other drug charges, many of the Medellín principals (their eventual prison terms were astonishingly light). The DEA fed its findings to the French, who were discretely building their case from the bottom up, hoping to lure the prince onto European soil where he could be arrested.
But after 9/11, the cooperation between the U.S. and French police soured — and the French drug police were appalled when the DEA and a Miami federal prosecutor publicly announced in 2002 an indictment of Prince Nayef, who was thus warned that he was under suspicion.
(The principal dossier against the prince later mysteriously vanished from the DEA's files.)
The stench of cynicism wreathes the actions of both conservative Western governments
The DEA's strangely precipitous move in indicting the prince before they had him in hand inflamed the Saudi government — which immediately put enormous pressure on the French to reveal to it the evidence against the prince and stifle his prosecution.
The Saudis had a powerful weapon. For Chirac's Elysee Palace, a huge contract (referred to by its acronym, SBGDP-MIKSA) with the Saudis was worth thousands of jobs to a France suffering severe rising unemployment (a major electoral issue). They threatened to pull the plug on the contract worth a colossal 7 billion euros that had been under negotiation between the Saudis and France for a decade, whereby the French multinational Thales (formerly Thomson) would construct an elaborate radar-based security system to protect the kingdom's frontiers. And the French attempt to collar Prince Nayef suddenly lost steam.
For the Bush administration, Saudi cooperation in the war on terrorism (a major electoral issue) was more important than bagging the smuggling prince — which could well have jeopardized U.S.–Saudi relations, given Nayef's high-level position in the royal family. Moreover, the book suggests that the real motivation of the already wealthy prince — a non-drinker and non-smoker who is said to be a strict observer of the Koran — in turning smuggler was to assure a secret source of funding for Wahabiite fundamentalism (just as the sanctimonious Taliban trafficked heroin to support their jihads). Any revelation of this new chapter in Saudi financing of Islamist radicalism would have further sundered the image of Bush's friends the Saudis with the American electorate.
Prince Nayef, says the book, actually was able to accompany King Fahd on a trip to Europe in July 2002 without being bothered by either the French or the Americans. And less than two weeks ago, the man who, as French Minister of the Interior, orchestrated the French stifling of the hunt for Prince Nayef — Nicolas Sarkozy, now Minister of Finance — was received practically as a head of government in Washington by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who both accorded him long private meetings. More proof that, among hypocrites, all may be forgiven. He is today safe from prosecution in Saudi Arabia, free to enjoy his wealth.
Just as this Web pundit believes Wahabiite fundamentalist Osama bin Laden is free to do while hiding from the US under Saudi Arabian protection where he can't be taken.
So what does this mean? That our government is willing to look the other way - again - when a well-connected criminal is involved in a crime against our country? Who is using us as a weapon against ourselves? Are we to get outraged by an impoverished thug lopping off the head of an American while an extremely wealthy thug smiles at our distress as we bow and scrape at his toes?
Why would we allow such a thing? My favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, just might have an idea or two as to why we are willing to do this.
Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.
But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America's becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. My government's got a war on drugs. But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.
One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41. When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose paint. Other drunks have seen pink elephants.
And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
We're spreading democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call "Native Americans." How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today. So let's give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That'll teach bin Laden a lesson he won't soon forget.
Hail to the Chief. That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven't noticed, they've already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you'll be asked to repay. Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.
About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I've been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn't seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No problem. I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.
But I'll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver's license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut. And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.
When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won't be any more of those. Cold turkey.
Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn't like TV news, is it? Here's what I think the truth is:
We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on.
This is why we are willing to look the other way when crimes are committed by the well-connected, especially when the connection is to a huge puddle of underground fermented dinosaur swamp. Crude makes us crude. Oil, that is. Black Gold. Texas Tea.
Rather than admit that we are powerless in the face of an SUV with an empty (gas) tank, we fill our (M1A1A) tanks with powerless faces - those who have been left behind by George Bush's Top 1% Economic Miracle. Who are not well connected enough to be able to easily avoid succumbing to the well-crafted psychological blandishments from Madison Avenue (M)Ad-men toiling for Donald Rumsfeld's PNAC Petroleum Pirate Posse (currently holed-up in the Pentagon) which are presented on television and at the movie theaters and which show just how much fun it is to play Army for real, with real guns and real bullets and cool stuff like real uniforms and radios and helicopters and everything! Who see these images and compare them to the stark reality that is Fort Ashby, West Virginia and decide that has to be better than working for a living at the gas station while dreaming of someday being a rich TV weather girl.
The truth hurts. Better to join the Navy and see the world. Or is it join the Army and seize the world?
Fill 'er up, Tex. Premium.
[Sings to self]
Get yer motor running, ...