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Jewish World Review July 12, 2002 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

Colombia's drug lords are all business | If you and Grandma are among the 12 Americans who still think America's War on (some) Drugs is going to be won any day now, don't read "The Technology Secrets of Cocaine Inc." in Business 2.0.

Your dream of victory against evil drug smugglers is sure to be busted by writer Paul Kaihla's eye-opening dispatch from the Colombian front.

It seems that while North America's New Economy was bubbling and breaking, the $80 billion cocaine industry in Colombia was appreciably boosting its productivity by learning modern business tricks and hiring gangs of computer geeks.

Don't worry. Colombia's nasty drug cartels haven't joined the Better Business Bureau.

They still assassinate drug cops and judges and do Wild West things such as stealing a government helicopter and trying to drop a 440-pound bomb of TNT on a rival trafficker (while he was in jail).

But Business 2.0 makes painfully clear that Colombia's drug exporters have not doubled their shipments of cocaine to the United States since 1998 (to 450 tons) by asking their human drug mules to swallow a few more condoms filled with drugs as they jet off to Miami.

The drug cartels have grown their business by employing such New Economy ideas as decentralization, outsourcing and pooling financial risks. And by building a sophisticated information technology infrastructure that Kaihla says would be the "envy of any Fortune 500 company - and of the law enforcement officials charged with going after the drug barons."

One of the sharpest Colombian drug barons is Archangel Henao of the North Valley Cartel. Thanks to his visionary leadership, authorities say, drug cartels now use multimillion-dollar IBM mainframes and data-mining communications software that can conduct perpetual searches for snitches within their organizations.

They also use password-protected Internet sites to allow black-market money brokers to buy and sell dirty drug dollars and use unbreakable encryption devices to send 1,000 messages a day to their far-flung work forces.

With bush pilots communicating via laptops and using Fuzz Busters and computer programs to find holes in the radar coverage of government planes, the drug lords are way ahead in this technological war within the drug war in Colombia.

But as Kaihla's piece shows, the weaponry being used is escalating to absurd levels. Cartels already have a little fleet of mini-subs to take drugs offshore to the toxic-waste freighters that are commonly used sneak them into America.

And using what Kaihla describes as "a narco research and development program," Henao's powerful cartel has tried to develop semi-submersible boats that can slip under Navy radar. Several probably have sunk at sea, which is why narcotics officials think the drug traffickers have upgraded to submarines.

Yet even subs are nothing new. It is thought that in the early 1990s, the Cali Cartel bought a used Soviet sub, which apparently sank because the crew didn't know how to operate it.

That was only a temporary glitch, however. As shown in a photo on Page 80, the evil drug CEOs of Colombia - who make the bosses at Enron and WorldCom look like scrupulous pickpockets - already have been caught building 80-foot drug subs that could carry tons of dope to Florida or Southern California.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald