Amid Spike in K2 Overdose, Retired DEA Agent Says Synthetic Drugs Fund Terrorism

A senior retired Drug Enforcement Agency officer claims that synthetic marijuana products – often known as K2 or Spice – are being used to finance terrorism.

WASHINGTON — The risks of synthetic marijuana aren’t limited to the user collapsing, falling unconscious or vomiting after ingesting the poisonous leaves — it can also fund terrorism.

Derek Maltz was the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Special Operations Division from 2005 to 2014.

Maltz said the money from the sale of K2 or Spice has been tracked to the Middle East, where it is being used to help fund terrorist groups. K2 contains herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Maltz participated in Project Synergy, which tracked the synthetic drug distribution network, led to stings in Alabama, Florida and New Mexico, and resulted in more than 227 arrests as of December 2012.

“We’ve seen massive amounts, in the millions of dollars, going through US banks, coming back to Yemen,” Maltz said, in an interview with OMCP.

“We started identifying very, very suspicious people in Yemen who were receiving the money and were involved in ATM withdrawals in Yemen.”

The money suggested illegal activity, Maltz said.

“You don’t see a million dollars a week, or $30 million a month leaving the United States to go to Yemen,” Maltz said. “It’s just very abnormal behavior – Yemen is a very poor country.”

One of Al-Qaeda’s main cells, AQAP, operates in Yemen.

“There’s a lot of jihadist recruitment going on in this country, and we’ve also seized videos — martyrdom-type, radical terrorist-type videos that are circulating on the internet,” Maltz said.

A major challenge in proving the link between synthetic drugs and terrorism is that the suspects live in Yemen, Maltz said.

“You have incredible corruption and an inability to actually conduct law enforcement operations in this space.”

Maltz said a public awareness campaign is needed to alert people to the likelihood that money from cheap, illegal synthetic drugs is supporting activities that threaten the United States.

“This needs to be attacked very, very seriously, because it is, in my view, a serious national security issue that we need to address.”

More than 100 overdose patients have been transported to the district emergency room in the past five days.

Alvin J. Chase