NEW YORK – Smoking a joint, sporting a leather jacket and donning dazzling jewelry may be more than acts of mere overindulgence — they may actually be funding terrorism.
That's the accusation made by some, though the legitimacy of those charges has become somewhat controversial.
The issue first surfaced soon after Sept. 11, with reports that Usama bin Laden had invested in a number of legitimate businesses, which in turn were helping fund the operation of his Al Qaeda organization. The question simmered until Super Bowl Sunday, when a government-funded anti-drug campaign aired a controversial ad directly linking casual drug use to the funding of terror groups.
The ad, presented by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, was part of a larger promotional campaign to push the connection between drug use and terrorism. In one print ad, a wayward girl gazes out from the page, her thoughts printed across her face: "Last weekend I washed my car, hung out with a few friends and helped murder a family in Colombia. C'mon, it was a party."
Critics of the Bush administration's drug policy immediately slammed the ads. Linking casual drug use to terrorism was a "ludicrous stretch," said Ethan Nadleman, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Roughly 50 percent of 18-year-olds have tried an illegal drug at least once," he said. "Is Bush accusing 50 percent of American teens of being accomplices to terrorists?"
Jennifer DeVallance, press secretary for the Office of National Drug Control, defended the campaign, touting test results that found it "really resonated, and reduced teen intention to use drugs."
The controversy nonetheless leaves the Bush administration hoping the campaign, part of the government's $19.2 billion anti-drug strategy, doesn't go the way of other consumer-terrorist connection stories that turned out to be false.
After Sept. 11, several stories reported bin Laden associates in Tanzania were buying up supplies of the gemstone tanzanite, and smuggling them to Dubai and Hong Kong in an effort to fund Al Qaeda. The stories prompted jewelry giants Tiffany, Zale Corp. and QVC Inc., which together constitute the largest market for tanzanite in the world, to suspend sales of the popular gem.
Sales subsequently plummeted, costing gem dealers and others millions in profits.
The only problem was, the bin Laden-tanzanite connection wasn't true. U.S. officials could find no link between the tanzanite sales and Al Qaeda, according to the State Department.
In another case, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed it had uncovered documents "showing that bin Laden owns a tannery in Sudan that exports leather," according to a press release.
The suspected tannery operated "to provide income to and support Al Qaeda and to provide cover for the procurement of explosives, weapons, chemicals and for the travel of Al Qaeda operatives," the release claimed.
But the controversial group's campaign against the evildoer's supposed fashion empire was called off because it was later confirmed that bin Laden "has sold all of his interests in Middle East tanneries, and we don't know of any further global investments in the leather industry," according to a PETA spokesperson.
These cases have left some charging the Bush administration and special interest groups of simply looking to cash in on the strong public support for the government's anti-terror campaign in an effort to advance their own political agendas.
"This administration is trying to take advantage of the popularity that the president has from the war on terrorism and stretch it to limits that are unreasonable," Nadleman said, "and will ultimately do more harm than good."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.