The DEA's Global Holy War

Still one of my favorite music videos of all time. And as true today as it was in 1984.

You see it in the headlines, you hear it every day
They say they're gonna stop it, but it doesn't go away
They move it through Miami and sell it in LA
They hide it up in Telluride, I mean it's here to stay
It's propping up the governments in Columbia and Peru
You ask any D.A., man, they'll say there's nothing we can do
From the office of the president right down to me and you
...It's a losing proposition, but one you can't refuse
It's the politics of contraband, it's the smugglers' blues

Time for a new approach? Hardly, according to testimony this week at a Senate Caucus hearing by DEA Assistant Administrator and Chief of Operations Thomas M. Harrigan, on the DEA's five year plan for combating the cartels and drugs in Central America and Mexico. [More...]

More wiretaps and other forms of surveillance, more use of the military, and more intelligence sharing and "fusion" with foreign countries. What are we getting for our hundreds of millions of dollars besides a lot of new acronyms (see below)?

For one thing, "geriatric" old-timer locals in Aspen. The DEA claims those in the Aspen case have ties to violent Mexican cartels. The case has been prominent in the local news in Denver and Aspen this week, mostly because of the age of those busted (in their '60's)and the DEA's refusal to tell the Pitkin County Sheriff's office they were coming to town to make the arrests, claiming the current and past Sheriff knew the locals. (How would you live in a town of 6,000 for decades and not know everyone? The Sheriff responded here. ) The Mayor and Pitkin County Commissioners met in closed session and came out with a resolution backing the Sheriff's Office in the dispute with the DEA.

From Michael Cleverly at the Aspen Times:

In busting these aging bad boys, the Drug Enforcement Administration demonstrated more obvious pride in their accomplishment than Seal Team 6 has in its recent endeavors. The feds crowed that they had taken a group of extremely dangerous criminals off the streets, and that Pitkin County is now a safer place. Safer than what?

Despite the feds posturing as if they'd just re-taken down Pablo Escobar, the alleged perpetrators were brought into custody without incident, mostly at their homes. For some reason, after decades in what I'm told is a high cash-flow line of work, most of these guys were still renting, and what they were renting weren't exactly mansions. The homes owned by a couple of the guys are pretty far down on the Aspen real estate food chain. None of these people have a shot at getting into “The Drug Lord Hall of Fame.”

The DEA, for its part, insists these aging locals have ties to the cartels. (According to Hartman's testimony, 95% of all cocaine comes from South America, and is moved up through Central America and/or Mexico, so they can claim cartel ties about 95% of those caught with cocaine in the U.S.)

As for its claim that last week's bust "make[s] Aspen and its surrounding communities safer by taking significant amounts of drugs off the street and putting violent criminals behind bars", none of those busted is remotely violent. The U.S. Attorney's office even agreed to bond for all but one (who has some old drug convictions, one of which is from the early '80's.)

As Cleverly writes:

While the voters of Pitkin County have, for more than four decades now, consistently made it clear that they don't want undercover drug operations in their community, the feds have made it equally clear that they're going to cowboy up, ride in and protect us from ourselves whether we like it or not.

....The DEA types act like they're on a mission from God, exactly the same as that preacher who thought the world was going to end on May 21. The holy man is bilking the gullible out of millions of dollars, but the feds are stealing lives. Of course drugs kill. So does alcohol, so does texting while driving and so do guns.

Back to Hartigan's testimony at the Senate Caucus hearing: DEA has a greater international presence than any other U.S. agency: 83 offices in 63 countries. So we have more drug agents overseas than war on terror agents.

As for any lingering doubts that our military is involved in the war on drugs, Hartigan puts them to rest:

The United States Government’s present strategy in Central America is the Drug Flow Attack Strategy (DFAS). DFAS is an innovative strategy leveraging DEA, DoD, other U.S. law enforcement agencies, and host nation assets to combat illicit trafficking in the region. (my emphasis.)

On to the acronyms: The old "DTO" Drug Trafficking Organization is still around. Add to that:

Drug Flow Attack Strategy (DFAS) and Operation All Inclusive (OAI):

Operation All-inclusive (OAI) is the primary DFAS enforcement component in the source and transit zones. OAI is a combination of sequential and simultaneous land, air, maritime, and financial attacks targeted by DEA intelligence and involves synchronized interagency counterdrug operations designed to influence illicit trafficking patterns and increase disruptions of DTOs.

Then there's Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Teams (FAST), something we had in Afghanistan. And DEA-sponsored Sensitive Investigation Units (SIUs.)

Since the DEA can't wiretap in foreign countries, it has worked to ensure these countries pass wiretap laws so they do the tapping and pass the info on to them.

Another successful tool we have in targeting DTOs is our ability to intercept their communications. This is critical to their disruption and dismantlement by law enforcement. In accordance with their domestic law, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala currently utilize wire intercepts as an investigative tool. In FY 2010, El Salvador passed wire intercept legislation and is in the process of establishing the wire intercept program.

On the five year plan:

DEA has developed a comprehensive five-year regional strategy designed to target major DTOs in order to cripple their organizations and deny them the ability to operate freely within the region. This plan is crafted to support the five pillars of the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) as well as the President’s Central America Security Partnership—which will provide enhanced international cooperation with Colombia, Mexico and partners in Europe.

The plan involves a three tier approach, again involving the military, as well as DEA:

This will be accomplished by focusing on three key areas under which DEA, other U.S. law enforcement agencies, and DoD can assist in building capacity and improving the effectiveness of host nation law enforcement against DTOs. These key areas are 1) Intelligence Collection and Fusion; 2) Interdiction and Enforcement; 3) Investigations and Prosecutions.

Intelligence collection and Fusion --m ore on the wiretaps.

The establishment of judicial intercept platforms capable of legally monitoring and recording telephone and HF/VHF radio communications will dramatically enhance host nation intelligence collection efforts while providing evidence that is instrumental in prosecuting DTOs and their networks.

The DEA wants lots of money to put its new (really, tired old) plan into effect:

DEA recommends that the U.S. Government redouble efforts to coordinate across the Inter-agency in order to provide standardized equipment and training to its partner and other security organizations across the region. This includes, but is not limited to, establishing a regional secure radio communications network, airborne and sea-based operating platforms, deployment of a regional license plate reader system, purchase of non-intrusive inspection equipment and ion scanners for points of entry, and the necessary training to utilize this equipment with the highest degree of proficiency.

We knew DEA wanted to be the World Cop. Now they want to be the World Legislator:

Currently, many Central American nations lack the legal authorities necessary to conduct judicial wire-intercept and undercover operations, as well as the procedural mechanisms for utilizing informants or protecting government witnesses. DEA, working with the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and State (DOS), aims to assist host nations in developing national laws designed to enhance judicial capacity and the rule of law.

What about the fact that the increased enforcement will bring more violence, not less, to these countries? Hartman says we should manage our expectations. This is hardly reassuring:

We must manage expectations, and accept that as CN [counter-narcotics] efforts increased in Mexico, so too did violence. We will work with our foreign partners to explore means of lessening the degree of any similar outcome in Central America.

I wonder who wrote this over-dramatic line of his testimony?

We must recognize that, in such violence, we are witnessing acts of true desperation- the actions of wounded, vulnerable, and dangerous criminal organizations.

Wounded, desperate, vulnerable. As if the cartels are merely sick puppies waiting to be put out of their misery.

Here is the 467 page proposed 2012 Budget for Foreign Operations. Skip to page 137 (which is page 127 of the Budget.) More on the funding numbers for South America here and on the $4 billion for DEA and prosecutions in the 2011 Justice Department budget here.

For FY 2011, approximately $5 billion or 17 percent of the Department’s total budget is dedicated to target these growing problems, including $1 billion for federal law enforcement to help address violent crime and $4 billion for federal drug enforcement and prosecution efforts.

$1 billion to go after violent criminals and $4 billion for drug offenders. Is something not skewed here? As the Economist said:

As long as drugs that people want to consume are prohibited, and therefore provided by criminals, driving the trade out of one bloodstained area will only push it into some other godforsaken place. But unless and until drugs are legalised, that is the best Central America can hope to do.

As the DEA uses intrusive and expensive wiretaps and electronic surveillance to bust a handful of white-haired old-timers in a peaceful mountain town, and crows like it just captured Pablo Escobar, will any member of Congress even suggest that perhaps this tired old war-on drugs strategy hasn't worked before and won't work this time?

This operation dealt a significant blow to a major drug trafficking organization with potential ties to the violent cartels that have murdered thousands in Mexico,” said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Merrill. “These arrests make Aspen and its surrounding communities safer by taking significant amounts of drugs off the street and putting violent criminals behind bars. DEA and its partners will continue to attack those drug pushers who threaten our neighborhoods and streets.”

And one final question: How many federal drug prosecutions of Americans in the U.S. are based on information from foreign wiretaps conducted under laws that do not provide the same safeguards as our Title III? How often does the DEA use the information obtained from those foreign wiretaps as the basis for subsequent U.S. wiretap applications and orders?

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  • Display: Sort:
    How much are we spending (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Zorba on Mon May 30, 2011 at 04:16:19 PM EST
    on the DEA and all of its overseas and inter-agency operations (count the money spent by the DOJ and the DOS in co-operating with the DEA, as well)?  And let's add to that what we spend to incarcerate low-level drug users and sellers.  Wouldn't this money be better spent elsewhere?  Like offering rehabilitative help to those who want to get off of drugs?  And use the rest of the money elsewhere.  

    What would be the effect on the (none / 0) (#2)
    by observed on Tue May 31, 2011 at 01:07:03 PM EST
    war on drugs if other countries legalized marijuana and cocaine crops?