Monday, 9 February 2015

The Dark Art

This is a very good book, though far too short. Inexplicably short.

Edward Follis was a DEA agent, fighting the war on drugs around the world. And I mean literally around the world. You name it and he’s been there: Thailand, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Mexico. Anywhere drugs originate from, or are smuggled in from, the chances are that the intrepid Edward Follis has been there.

And this guy is no desk jockey. He really was out there undercover. The pages are packed with tales and anecdotes of his life running undercover operations against the Burmese Shan United Army, the Juarez Mexican drugs cartel, various Israeli gangsters and Nigerian crime lords, and that’s before we even touch upon al Qaeda and the Afghan heroin trade.

Which brings me to my disappointment. I loved this book, read it in two days, but was left wanting more. The book details organisations that have rarely been touched upon – how many book have discussed the war against the Shan United Army? And yet here the whole story is dealt with in just 27 pages. That’s despite the fact that the author claims the operations that he was a part of finished off the group. I was left wanting more which left me a little disappointed. Perhaps the author is saving stuff for a sequel?

Apart from the brevity, I only have one criticism of the content itself and that is how unaware the author appears to be of the pointlessness of the war on drugs, despite the fact that his narrative makes that abundantly clear.

For example, despite bringing down three of the biggest Afghan heroin barons, he writes in the epilogue that in recent years there has been a 67% increase in heroin seizures and a 59% increase in heroin charges in New York alone. So what was the point? Surely we should rethink the war on drugs? Surely, what his story is testament to, is the effectiveness of policing against individual drug lords but it’s ineffectiveness against the trade as a whole.

Similarly, in the chapter on the Israeli Abergil crime family, he writes: ‘Don’t be fooled by the reputation of MDMA as a harmless “party” drug: the global Ecstasy market is monstrous’. He then details various murders that have come about through organised crime groups fighting over the trade. But the same could be said about alcohol under prohibition. People like Capone fought over the booze trade until it was legalised. The fact that people like the Abergils fight over the ecstasy trade says nothing about the drug itself, it just speaks to the pointlessness of prohibition.

The nearest the author gets to such insights is when discussing the Juarez cartel and the downfall of it’s then leader, Amado Carillo Fuentes, who died undergoing plastic surgery. The author discusses how after his passing the cartel was very quickly taken over by others, in effect admitting that business carried on as usual. But rather than leading to wider questioning of the drug war, the author stubbornly sticks to his view that success can come from targeting those at the top, even repeating it in the epilogue.

I understand that having spent a lifetime in the war on drugs it must be hard to admit that it has all been a waste of time; that your life’s work has been pointless. In effect he spells this out in the epilogue, when he details how drugs are still sweeping the nation. This is a very good book but it would have been a brilliant one if he had had the guts to do so.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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