Cops and Cocaine: Bent for the cause – Black Flag

In Black Flag issue 212, in the article "Scotland Yardies" we argued that "police strategy is in reality about the confinement of crime within working class areas" and that "whether for political purposes or private gain, some police are actively involved in the drug trade in inner cities." This article attempts to further substantiate that contention.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

At the 1998 Labour Party Conference Prime Minister Tony Blair announced he would extend his experiments with zero tolerance policing to 25 "crime hot spots" throughout the UK. The government intend to spend £250 million on "crime" over the next 3 years. For those of a liberal temperament, who flinch at the idea of mimicking the law and order policies of right wing US Republicans, Blair has coined the phrase "order maintainence"- which, conveniently for us - happens to sum up the real aim of the policy pretty nicely.

What "order maintainence" means, we are told, is saturation policing of high crime areas, Operation Welwyn - the police targetting operation in Kings Cross - is cited as an example. By the Home Office's admission, this isn't really a strategy to cut crime. The July report "Reducing Offending" confirms that:

"there are large question marks over the ability of the police to distinguish between firm and harsh policing styles, and over the long term effect of arresting many more people for relatively minor offences. Police tactics in some implementations of zero tolerance have been described as over zealous and this can lead to poor police community relations."

One example of such poor relations could be Cleveland - stomping ground of Blair's currently suspended "super cop" Ray Mallon. Members of the local police authority have described Mallon's policing as "close to the line", with aggressive use of CS sprays (Cleveland is the smallest force in the country. In 1997 it used CS 600 times - the highest in any constabulary area), high profile arrests with TV crews in attendance; allegations of prisoners being offered heroin in return for confessions, and local solicitors complaining of erosion of civil liberties.

Bizarrely, we are told that one result of the crackdown on crime will be that the police will no longer respond to every call from the public and "the day an officer visits the scene of every burglary may be long gone." (The Guardian 29/9/98). Or perhaps it's not so bizarre. What "order maintainence" really means is the use of aggressive policing and environmental aids like CCTV and police surveillance helicopters to keep the animals in their cages - to physically contain crime within working class areas (euphemistically referred to as high crime areas - even though "order maintainence" is likely to be a cause rather than cure) so that middle class voters can feel safe in their beds, Poverty causes crime, and as Labour have no intention of tackling poverty they've put their jackboots on to cordon off crime.

Within working class areas, it will be business as usual. And business is precisely what goes down.

The Sunday Times on 20/9/98 reported the allegations of Duncan Maclaughlin, a detective of 18 years standing, who spent 5 years in the drug squad and 5 years in the London based regional crime squad. MacLaughlin records his experiences in the regional crime squad as follows;

"You put all the clever ones, all the brains, in one office, and you got the cleverest scams. There were no better criminals in the country... I was a member of the most professional criminal cartel that Britain has ever produced. If we got anonymous information that there was going to be a coke deal involving, say, 25 kilos of coke, straightaway you would create an imaginary informant. Then a friend would come in and sign a bit of paper and maybe receive up to £40,000 reward money. Drugs were recycled all the time. If you found 15 kilos of coke, you produced 12 kilos and 3 would be sold. A kilo of coke you get £30,000 for, so you have made £90,000."

Scotland Yard have tried to smear MacLaughlin as an oddball, but the shit won't stick because MacLaughlin's story fits in too well with other reports of police involvement with drug distribution.

When Tommy Adams was jailed recently for cannabis importation some of the press intimated that earlier cases against the Adams firm had collapsed because officers in the pay of the Adamses had tipped them off in advance. In 1996 John Donald, a detective of 15 years standing, was jailed for his involvement with Kevin Cressey. In September 1992, Cressey and another man, the son of a well known south London villain, were arrested in Streatham on a drugs charge, Donald stitched up bail for Cressey for £18,000 and took £1,000 for giving him his "collator" file - details of police intelligence. Donald also agreed, for £40,000 to arrange a "burglary" to lose Cressey's files. Donald also offered to sell information to Kenneth Noye and sold information on Operation Circus, a targetting operation, to Noye's associate Michael Lawson.

Ronald Palumbo, a Met officer at Stoke Newington police station was jailed for 10 years in 1997 for his involvement in a conspiracy to import cannabis worth over £2 million. Palumbo acted as a courier during the importation of cannabis from Spain. Palumbo was also involved in the false conviction of a housing worker, Rennie Kingsley, and 13 other defendants who had their convictions quashed at the Court of Appeal following revelations of fabrication of evidence by Palumbo.

Over 30 Flying Squad officers are currently under investigation following statements made by two of their colleagues who were arrested and charged with conspiring to supply cannabis worth £50,000. In November 1996 the Observer revealed the existence of at least 6 other major enquiries into police corruption in the South East:

  • Operation Gallery - into alleged leaks from the Regional Crime Squad to major figures in organised crime.

  • Operation Gallery Part Two - into allegations of extortion by Crime Squad officers over reward money for informants
  • The Harrods inquiry - into allegations that Crime Squad officers deposited thousands of pounds in three of the store's safe deposit boxes
  • An inquiry into allegations of rape and theft of confiscated drugs
  • An inquiry into sensitive leaks from the Criminal Records Office
  • An inquiry into allegations made against a senior police officer.

None of this is new. In 1996 Frank Williamson, the police officer who led a major investigation into corruption in the Metropolitan police in the 1970s, revealed that he was obstructed by the force's then commissioner, who had knowingly assigned him a corrupt officer Ron Moody as his assistant, and was ostracised by senior officers. At the end of his investigation three officers were charged. Williamson told Duncan Campbell of the Guardian there could have been charges laid against 10 times as many (Guardian 22/11/96). He stated that the CID at the Met contained "not a rotten apple but a barrel of rotten apples." He believes that endemic corruption was a main reason why organised crime flourished in the 1960s. "Without it, the Krays would never have got off the side of the pavement in Bethnal Green."

In 1977, the No.5 Regional Crime Squad made an arrest in Romford, and found drugs which came from a 1,2001b haul seized the previous year, which had been recorded as having been destroyed. The arrested market trader, John Goss reported that he had been pressured into selling the gear by serving police officers. Investigations showed that drugs sent for burning had been removed from their bags before destruction and another substance substituted. The list goes on… (The list would be even longer were it not for the sharp practices of the Police Federation, who threaten libel actions against any journalist who starts to sniff around rumours of police corruption.)

In coining his theory of "due process", the American sociologist Herbert Packer more or less gave the game away. Society (i.e. the New Labour voting middle classes) doesn't mind too much who gets punished as long as someone does. If too many wrong people are processed and enough fuss is made about it, then the state becomes undermined. "Law and order" means making the middle classes feel safe because the undeserving and ungrateful poor are locked down. Within working class areas, the police and their criminal co-conspirators just line up to screw us like all the rest. As the US anti drugs activist Clarence Lusane puts it:

"The proliferation .of hard drug use in these communities plays the dual role of social control and economic delusion. A drugged-out community, pacified, subdued, and bent on self-destruction, is not going to rise up against the white corporate power structure. The youth of these communities, who are most likely to rebel, are at the centre of the drug epidemic, and the government sponsored drug war".

Law and order is a game, and, more importantly, it is a game played at our expense. The extent to which this is the case is made clear in a new book White Out by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St.Clair (Verso). The book is concerned with in-stances of CIA complicity in international narcotics, but the issues it raises parallel those raised here.

In August 1996 the San Jose Mercury News ran a series of articles by Gary Webb, entitled "Dark Alliance - The Story Behind the Crack Explosion". Webb's story was simple. A group of Nicaraguan exiles set up a cocaine ring in California, establishing ties with the black street gangs of South Central Los Angeles who manufactured crack out of shipments of powder cocaine, Webb charts how profits made by the Nicaraguan exiles were funnelled back to the Nicaraguan Contras. The drug ring was headed by a Nicaraguan exile named Norwin Meneses Cantarero, who served as head of security and intelligence for the leading organisation in the Contra coalition, the Fuerza Democratico Nicaraguense. The US Drug Enforcement Agency had files going back to 1974 on Meneses, yet he was granted political refugee status in July 1979, when he and other members of the Nicaraguan elite fled to the US. Evidence exists that the Meneses ring moved 900 kilos of cocaine in 1981 alone. During the period of Meneses operation, he and his accomplices were protected by the CIA from prosecution.

As Cockburn and St Clair argue, the existence of the drug ring is not the only issue here.

"Was it true that cocaine prices set by the Nicaraguans rendered the drug affordable to poor people for the first time? Arguably, this was the case... As Ricky Ross (the ring's main street dealer) told Webb, the prices offered... gave him command of the Los Angeles market. It was unreal" Ross remembered, "We were just wiping everyone out." His connections to the ... street gangs solved the distribution problems... By 1983, Ross-now known as "Freeway Ricky"- was buying over 100 kilos of cocaine a week and selling as much as $3 million ..of crack a day."

Webb's story is substantiated by witness statements, FBI documents, DEA reports and federal grand jury transcripts. Nevertheless, Webb was targetted by a smear campaign designed to deflect attention from the issues thrown up by his story.

Maxine Waters, the Congress Representative for South Central Los Angeles, seized on Webb's story. She was also attacked by the mainstream press. Waters felt she had no option but to fight on the issues raised by Webb's reports.

'In South Central we wondered where the guns were coming from. They were not simply handguns, they were Uzis and AK-47s, sophisticated weapons brought in by the same CIA operatives who were selling the cocaine because they had to enforce bringing the profits back in. It was at about this time that you saw all these guns coming into the community, that you saw more and more killing, more and more violence. Now we know what was going on. The drugs were put in our communities on con-signment, out to the gangs and others. The killings just mounted and people said "what are they fighting about? What are these drive by shootings about? What is this gang warfare?” And the press said "oh, it's the colors. Some like red, some like blue. Well,you know, it was about the drugs, it was about crack cocaine, introduced into our communities by people who brought it in with a purpose."

Cockburn and St Clair set out further indictments against the CIA in their excellent book, detailing CIA involvement in narcotic trafficking in Bolivia, Columbia, Afghanistan. In every case, the US's "anti communist" friends made billions.

"The Medellin cartel alone racked up $10 billion a year in sales, prompting Forbes magazine to put two of its leaders - Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa - on its list of the world's richest men in 1988. At the other end of the line from this affluence were the crackheads of South Central and other inner cities."

The scale of activities revealed by Cockburn and St Clair has no comparison in the UK, to our knowledge. It is nevertheless the case that cartels subject to CIA protection and trafficking with CIA complicity (particularly with regard to Afghan heroin and Medellin cocaine) also exported to the UK. It is further the case that heroin hit Liverpool at rock bottom prices immediately after the 1981 riots there. Scotland Yard's involvement with Yardie informers (Black Flag 212) suggests police involvement with crack cocaine, In a sense, there is no need to graft a conspiracy theory onto all the documented evidence of police involvement with drug distribution. If the purpose of law and order is really order maintainence - the containment and pacification of working class communities - then re-dealing crack and over use of CS gas are all part of the same process. They're not bent, guy they're just doing their job. As Cockburn and St Clair put it, "Drug war is a code phrase for social control and repression."