Arlington, Va. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani helped open a museum exhibit Tuesday intended to show Americans that buying illegal drugs can support terrorist attacks.
The exhibit, titled "Target America," includes Sept. 11 rubble from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It is housed at a museum in the Drug Enforcement Administration's headquarters.
DEA Ad-ministrator Asa Hutchinson said the exhibit aims to educate Americans about the role drug money has in terrorism.
"Before terrorism hit home on Sept. 11, few Americans realized the connection, and fewer still understood that drug money has been used to fund terrorism," Hutchinson said.
Ashcroft said, "Terrorism and drugs go together like rats and the plague. ... They thrive in the same conditions, and they feed off of each other."
The exhibit, supported by $650,000 from the DEA budget plus private financing from donors, will go on nationwide tour next year.
It includes photographs from Afghanistan that outline connections the al-Qaida terror network and the Taliban militia, Afghanistan's former rulers, have had to drug trafficking. An interactive map illustrates that some reputed opium sellers and distributors support the Taliban.
The rubble from the World Trade Center sits as part of a replica of the ruins left after the towers fell. Another section of the exhibit is devoted to exploring the history of the "narcoterrorist," the Bush administration's label for drug runners who support groups like al-Qaida.
Since Sept. 11, the war on drugs has taken a lower emphasis to the war on terror. In June, FBI Director Robert Mueller told DEA agents that they could expect less field support from FBI agents, who have been redeployed to domestic security.
The museum exhibit brought criticism from some groups pressing for legalization of drugs.
"This is a sad exploitation of the memories of the 3,000 people killed Sept. 11," said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman at the Marijuana Policy Project. "We felt it was important to tell the true story: It is the war on drugs that funds terrorism by driving up drug profits and forcing the drug trade underground."
Federal authorities have recently amassed what they say is hard evidence of connections between drugs and terrorism, uncovering an illegal drug operation in the United States that was funneling proceeds to Middle East terror groups such as the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
A series of DEA raids in January indicated a methamphetamine drug operation in the Midwest involving men of Middle Eastern descent has been shipping money back to terror groups, officials said.
DEA officials said the men, most of whom were indicted on drug charges after their January arrests, were smuggling large quantities of the chemical pseudoephedrine from Canada into the Midwest.
Giuliani said the links between drugs and terrorism are substantial.
"The link has been known to law enforcement for a long time, but we didn't see it as Americans because we thought we were immune to terrorism," Giuliani said.