A year ago, Tom Lohman was part of a two-man team in Stuttgart tasked with fighting drug-related terrorism throughout Europe.
Now, he is one of a dozen members of U.S. European Command’s counternarco-terrorism office that has found itself much busier this year.
As the Department of Defense takes a larger interest in drug trafficking around the world because of links between the illegal drug market and terrorism, people such as Lohman are finding more work, funding and areas of control at their fingertips.
Lohman, manager of EUCOM’s counternarco-terrorism program since 1997, said he recently has been freed to help investigate drug activity in areas around Europe.
A change in policy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks freed Department of Defense money for operations to crack down on drug networks around the world, even if the drugs were not coming into the United States, Lohman said. The reasoning was simple: terrorists were using money from drug trafficking to fund operations, and they were using traditional drug smuggling routes to transport weapons.
Lohman’s office is paying to send EUCOM Special Forces and contract workers to Azerbaijan to train the Azeri Navy in maritime security for the Caspian Guard Initiative, a new program aimed to increasing security in the Caspian Sea and countries that border it, he said.
In the process, Lohman said, U.S. officials are gaining a foothold into a drug route that has been the target of much speculation by U.S. officials but not much investigation.
“There is very little actual intelligence information that can be sighted as far as drugs transiting either in the sea or in the area near the sea,” Lohman said. “The more we look, the more we think we’ll find.”
Money devoted to countering narco-terrorism could eventually pay for new boats and surveillance gear the Azeri government would use to stop drug smugglers, Lohman said.
Lohman said his office will participate in a similar way with the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative, which aims to train soldiers in northern Africa.
He said he was also working with countries along the Adriatic Sea and Balkan states, although he declined to give specifics.
“We’re really trying to link terrorism with the drug threat,” Lohman said “Sometimes it’s very obvious, sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s not there.”