WikiLeaks cables: Ghanaian police 'helped drug smugglers evade security' (December 16, 2010) makes for explosive reading (I guess I shouldn't write that; anyone who is following the real news, sprinting past our own mainstream media, probably wouldn't find this news terribly explosive). Key excerpts:
A £1m taxpayer-funded anti-trafficking campaign to stem the flow of cocaine into the UK through Ghana's busiest airport is beset by corruption, with drugs police sabotaging expensive British-bought scanning equipment and tipping off smugglers, leaked US embassy cables reveal.
Ghana president John Atta Mills even worried that his own entourage could be smuggling drugs through his presidential lounge at Accra's Kotoka airport and asked a senior UK customs official last November for help to screen them "in the privacy of his suite to avoid any surprises if they are caught carrying drugs", according to the US embassy in Accra (cable 234015).
Drugs worth £100m have been seized so far, amid growing international concern expressed in the cables that drug trafficking is becoming "institutionalised" in west Africa.
The UN has estimated that up to 60 tonnes of cocaine, worth £1.3bn, is smuggled through the region each year.
According to the cables, Ghanaian narcotics control board (Nacob) officers working in collaboration with British officials:
• actively helped traffickers, even telling them the best time to travel to avoid detection (164939)
• sabotaged sensitive drug scanners paid for by British taxpayers
• channelled passengers, including pastors and bank managers and their wives, into the security-exempt VVIP lounge despite suspicions they were trafficking drugs.
Smuggling has become so blatant that on one flight last year, two traffickers vomited up drugs they had swallowed and subsequently died (234015), while parcels of cocaine were found taped under the seats of another KLM plane even before boarding (125133).
Mills had publicly pledged to crack down on trafficking into the UK via the airport and won the presidency with an anti-drugs platform.
But in June 2009 he told the US ambassador to Ghana, Donald Teitelbaum, "he knows elements of his government are already compromised and that officials at the airport tipped off drug traffickers about operations there (214460)."
Embassy contacts in both the police service and the president's office "have said they know the identities of the major barons," but "the government of Ghana does not have the political will to go after [them]", a December 2007 cable said (135389).
A UK official overseeing Westbridge had observed Nacob agents at the airport directing passengers away from flights receiving extra scrutiny, a confidential US embassy cable revealed in August 2008 (164939).
One Wikileaked Cable had this to say about counternarcotics enforcement in Ghana (I fixed a couple of typos):
Law Enforcement Operations
5. (C) The Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) is the lead agency on counternarcotics efforts. However, it has been listless over the past year as it has struggled to regain its footing after a series of scandals. NACOB's current director has no law enforcement experience but has a background in pharmaceutical regulation. He has confided that he is ready to move on after only six months on the job and seems to focus more on prevention than investigations. The Ghana Police has an organized crime unit, which among other things, addresses narcotics trafficking. Ghanaian law enforcement organizations have demonstrated their efficacy on a few occasions. If given the blessing of the GOG, they typically perform well in arresting and apprehending traffickers.
6. (C) The GOG seems to focus more on small time dealers and couriers and it does not typically carry out long term investigations that result in the arrest of major drug traffickers. For example, GOG contacts in both the police Service and the President's office have said they know the identities of the major barons, but they have not said why they have not chosen to arrest them. A Police Service contact told us the GOG does not have the political will to go after the barons. This official and others close to the President have also told us that they cannot trust anyone when it comes to narcotics. Corruption is endemic in Ghana and pervades all aspects of society. Although difficult to measure, corruption almost certainly impacts the law enforcement organizations charged with counternarcotics efforts. Post knows of no high level GOG officials actively involved in the narcotics trade.
Corruption comes in all forms.
One easy way to get your drugs through is to bribe the officials at a certain checkpoint, and then make sure you traffic through that checkpoint when your people are on duty. Every once in a while, you pass your people information about your rivals and their operations, so they can get a bust and look like they're doing their job. If you're really astute, you sacrifice one of your own shipments every now and then.
Another way, though, is to bribe higher-level officials, be they elected or appointed. This way, the political will to interdict drug trafficking does not exist. Now, when your drugs routinely get through a certain checkpoint, you know that there will be few questions asked about the matter, and no long-term follow-up investigation - just business-as-usual.
It sounds like this is what is going on in Ghana.
And, this is how no one seemed able to piece together what was going to happen on 9/11: the pieces of information came in through counternarcotics channels, not through counterterrorism channels; and, as such, piecing the attack plan together would have implicated high-level US officials in narcotics smuggling.
From farther up in the Wikileaked Cable:
2. (C) Ghana is increasingly becoming a significant transshipment point for cocaine from South America and heroin from Southwest Asia. The majority of the narcotics flow is to Europe, although seizures have occurred on flights to the U.S.
It is not just cocaine from Latin America to Europe; Africa is now becoming a hub for heroin from Afghanistan to the US.
Funny - heroin was the substance in question when the 9/11 attacks weren't prevented.