Sunday, May 11, 2008


Misha Glenny exposes global network of organized crime

By Brian Lynch
The Straight -

Profile: Misha Glenny

The latest book by British author Misha Glenny is crowded with the world’s most ruthless and forward-thinking outlaws. McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld (Anansi, $29.95) sets out to show how the process of globalization has given birth to a planet-spanning network of organized crime that mimics the growth, complexity, and entrepreneurial know-how of the legitimate economy. To make his case, Glenny, who cut his teeth as a BBC correspondent during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the late ’80s and early ’90s, moves swiftly across the map, investigating superrich human traffickers in Bulgaria, tech-savvy mega-fraudsters in Nigeria, international money-launderers in Dubai—and marijuana growers in B.C., a place which, the book claims, is “home to the largest per capita concentration of organized criminal syndicates in the world”.

As the Straight mentions to the author after reaching him by phone at his London home, British Columbians might be disturbed to see their outwardly tranquil province described in this way.

“It’s not a sort of moral equivalence that I wish to draw here,” Glenny responds. “There’s always a problem with defining what organized crime is. But going by the Palermo Convention definition [in the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime], and given the nature of the marijuana trade, which is often very, very decentralized and split up into lots of tiny little groups, then it’s a legitimate observation. What I was trying to do is explain that organized crime as defined by the law is not necessarily the kind of Cali cartel or Medellín cartel scenario, or the big Turkish drug barons or things like that, but is frequently much closer to us than people like to think.”

The vast scope of McMafia occasionally comes at the expense of accurate detail. Local readers may be surprised to see Calgary named as the capital of Alberta, or to learn that former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell’s government was a “woolly sweater invasion” of city hall, made up of “environmentalists, leftists, vegetarians, and dope smokers”. But Glenny is after the big picture, of course. And by standing back far enough, he argues, you can see the local pot-growing industry in its full context, as a portent of structural changes to the drug trade around the world.

“By far the biggest part of organized crime now is about exchange across borders,” he tells the Straight. “But Canada is both a consumer and a producer nation [of marijuana]. Most places in the western world, and certainly in the European Union, tend to be just consumer nations.…What is happening in the narcotics trade, which in my opinion is going to have a massive impact on narcotics policy…is that slowly but surely the traditional producer zones of organic narcotics, such as South America and Central and East Asia, will be replaced by the production of narcotics inside the consumer countries. So we’ve seen this with marijuana, but the real takeover is through the production of synthetic drugs.”

This shift, he says, will slash the huge transportation costs involved in running an illegal drug ring, so that the difficulties associated with traditional smuggling “will largely be out of the window”. How then to contain this “boom” he describes as imminent? The answer, Glenny says, is in calling an end to the so-called war on drugs.

“We need to have a very serious debate about this issue in which people can raise the idea of liberalization without being accused of wanting to destroy civilization as we know it,” he says. “The aim of the war on drugs is to reduce consumption in the West and production in the South, in order to minimize harm and damage. It’s meant to do that by making things so difficult for the people involved in the trade that it becomes unsustainable.…That’s what the strategy is. Over a 45-year period since it was reinvigorated by Nixon in the early ’70s, it has achieved the exact opposite of that.

“This is a policy,” he continues, “whose greatest supporters—and I discovered this in Canada and in Colombia—are the people it’s designed to bring down: the big drug dealers who…support the war on drugs because it’s the nature of prohibition that makes their vast profits and ensures that they’re able to go on holiday to the Caribbean every year.”

For this reason, Glenny sees Canada’s ongoing internal debate over whether to relax its drug laws as a chance to undercut the criminal networks that have grown quickly in wealth and influence over the last two decades.

“Narcotics is the single most important revenue stream for organized crime around the world,” he says. “The way that you inflict huge damage on organized crime around the world overnight is by moving towards decriminalization. In Canada, because of the marijuana situation, you could take a lot of money out of the shadow economy by kick-starting the issue of decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.”

Glenny pauses for a moment before adding his proviso. “Of course, were it to happen—and obviously it’s not going to happen under the present government—you would have serious difficulties engaging with the United States,” he says. “So think hard on that one.”


The dope rush

Think of drugs, and you think of Colombia, Thailand, Afghanistan. But Canada? Nice, peaceful, dull Canada? Believe it or not, there are parts of the country where cannabis provides more jobs than logging, mining, oil and gas combined. Misha Glenny investigates, in his new book on organised crime,
McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

Monday March 17, 2008
The Guardian


There's a comment from Misha Glenny at the end of an interview he did with Evan Solomon for the CBC Sunday News: Sunday Night - airs on CBC-TV at 10:00pm, and on CBC Newsworld on 9:00pm and 12:00am (ET)

It's an interesting interview - but I especially liked the comment at the end, from Glenny, about how 'corruption' in high places connects - along with globalization and the untrammeled freedom of financial markets – and contributes to the situation even in places like Canada....

Of course he didn't make the obvious connections to certain events right here in BC....

Have a look.
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