A New Agenda for Narco-terrorism Propaganda

 The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 initiated a new direction in the war on drugs when the Bush Administration began to publicly link the illegal narcotics trade to international terrorism.

 The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 initiated a new direction in the war on drugs when the Bush Administration began to publicly link the illegal narcotics trade to international terrorism.  While narco-terrorism is by no means a new phenomenon, the White House now had the green light to further encourage interagency and international cooperative efforts to fight the two wars - drugs and terror - on the same front.  Selling narco-terrorism to the public, however, was more problematic than many anticipated. 

During the broadcast of the Super Bowl on February 3, 2002, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) launched a major media campaign introducing viewers around the world to this dimension of drug abuse and, for the first time, graphically illustrated a direct connection between terrorists and drug money.  One advertisement portrayed a terrorist buying explosives and weapons.  "Where do terrorists get their money?" the ad asked.  "If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you."  The Drugs and Terror campaign continued to run advertisements in the following months, taking up 20% of the purchased advertisement time by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign in the first half of 2002.  While many observers initially hailed this effort as an unprecedented opportunity to breathe new life into the Drug War, this enthusiasm was short-lived.  The Drugs and Terror campaign came to an abrupt halt within six months, in light of an unfavorable response from both parents and youth.

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration continues to formulate domestic and international drug reduction strategies with an eye on asset seizure and control of funding used by terrorist organizations.  But to be more politically viable, a new, more effective propaganda campaign is required, one that not only fosters public awareness, but also creates an atmosphere of public acceptance by addressing the weaknesses of the first campaign.

Heading this list of weaknesses is its "reactionary appearance," primarily due to the short time span in which the Drugs and Terror media campaign was introduced and subsequently terminated.  While we can assume all war propaganda to be reactionary in its genesis, the extent to which a propaganda campaign is "reactive" can be more destructive than constructive, which is one major concern of narco-terrorism.  Is narco-terrorism simply a reaction to 9/11?  Is it a new phenomenon?  Why are we just now hearing about the drugs-terror connection?  Is the government simply using terrorism to reinvigorate its support for the controversial Drug War?  These are important questions that weigh heavily on the legitimacy of the Administration's efforts. 

Indeed, narco-terrorism as a national security threat is not new.  The 9/11 attacks simply pushed narco-terrorism higher on the President's national security agenda, particularly in light of the connection between the Afghan drug trade and the Al-Qaeda network.  But the propaganda machine vanished from the airwaves, in essence making the Drugs and Terror campaign seem like reactive propaganda, and in the process leaving behind a skeptical public. 

This leads to the second major problem of the propaganda campaign - its inability to address its major critics.  As soon as President Bush began to publicly link drugs and terrorist financing, a number of concerns, and in some cases myths, about narco-terrorism rapidly flooded the internet and other media outlets, thus eroding public support.  While not an exhaustive list, the following does highlight some of the major concerns that were not adequately addressed in the first campaign:

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