DEA's Latest Most Excellent African Adventure

While the rest of the nation is in financial straits due to the sequester cuts, the DEA soldiers on. It just finished spending months on yet another Most Excellent African Adventure, which ended with traipsing 5 Africans, who had never set foot on U.S. soil or planned to commit any crime here before the DEA suggested one to them, to New York where they face potential life sentences.

Once again, the case involves FBI informants pretending to be Colombian providers of cocaine offering to fly drugs from South America to West Africa. Had the drugs been real, they would been shuttled from Africa to Europe. For jurisdictional purposes, the informants made sure to tell the Africans that a minor portion of the drugs would go to the U.S. and Canada.

To make the case fit the DEA’s “narco-terrorism” meme, the informants also asked the Africans to supply missiles and weapons, telling them they wanted to use them in Colombia to shoot down U.S. aircraft destroying their cocaine fields.

There never were any drugs or weapons of course. It was just another sting. [More...]

The “big fish” they caught was Na Tchuto, a colorful former navy officer in Guinea-Bisseau with a history of being involved in coups against his government and long suspected of facilitating drug trafficking. The Indictment is here. In 2010, the U.S. put him on OFAC’s list of designated drug traffickers (which prohibits anyone in the U.S. from doing business with him and allows the U.S. to seize any and all of his assets it can get its hands on.) Tchuto, the U.S. believes, acts as a middle man between the South American suppliers and the crooked members of Guinea-Bissau’s military. (See Wikleaks released cable here.

Even if that’s true, why bring them here?

In this latest episode of the DEA’s Most Excellent African Adventures, the DEA and its informants spent a few weeks in Bogota, before heading to Africa and capturing Tchuto and three associates on a yacht near Cape Verde. Separately, they nabbed the guys willing to sell the missiles and weapons to the informants. They have also been flown to New York, where they are now charged with narco-terrorism. Nabbed in Colombia were the two suppliers, who eventually will be extradited here.

Assuming they don’t cooperate and get convicted, judging from past Adventures, they are likely to get 20 - 30 year sentences.

The cost of housing a federal inmate according to the latest stats in a presentence report I received last week is $2,407. per month. That’s $28,884. per year. For 20 years, that’s $557,860 per defendant. For the most recent 6 defendants, that’s $3.3 million just to warehouse them.This doesn’t include the cost of the sting and investigation, the amounts paid to informants, cost of electronic surveillance, cost of transporting them and witnesses to the U.S.,, the cost of prosecuting them, the cost of providing lawyers to defend them, or the judicial resources expended in trying them.

This has become a pattern for the DEA, which should change its name to Global Holy Warriors.

In addition to the unnecessary millions we will spend on these cases, there are the millions spent on the preceding Adventure cases.

Russian pilot Konstantin “Yuri” Yaroshenko is serving 20 years, and his co-defendant Chigbo Umeh is serving 30 years. Background here

Last month, a co-defendant extradited from Colombia pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years. (As to why the supplier of the drugs who had admitted selling drugs for 20 years and to having previous shipments to Africa intercepted got so much less that Yaroshenko and Umeh, the likely answer is he cooperated. His lawyers never filed a substantive motion challenging the case and the Government agreed to give him credit for the time he served in Colombia awaiting extradition.)

There’s the case of Ali Sesay, Gibrilla Kamara and Gennor Jalloh. Background here

After 16 months in pre-trial confinement, on the eve of trial, the Government moved to dismiss Jalloh, deciding he was probably innocent. The Court, at a hearing, said:

THE COURT: It's really a sad commentary on litigation in the Southern District these days. I remember well the press releases that were released by the United States Attorney and the Department of Justice concerning this case. Perhaps the office should spend a little more time preparing a case than announcing an indictment. It's profoundly disappointing, ...It really is pathetic.

Sesay agreed to cooperate and got time served and was sent back to Africa. Kamara pleaded guilty right before trial without a plea agreement and got 20 years. He is now appealing.

There’s the case of Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abdelramen, in which the DEA’s informants pretended to be associated with FARC. (Background here.)

The Issa case, since it involved accusations of narco-terrorism and allegiances between FARC and AQIM is a good example of why we should take the Government’s latest press releases and Indictments with more than a grain of salt.

The three defendants were arrested in Africa and brought to the U.S. for trial on charges of Narco-Terrorism Conspiracy (Title 21 USC 960a) and Conspiracy to Provide Material Support and Resources to a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (Title 18 USC 2339B).

When it was all said in done, the al-Qaida part turned out to be wrong, and the FARC part a misunderstanding (at best) in translation. (Transcript here.) The drugs were to go from Colombia to Ghana, and on to Mali, Morocco and then Spain, their final destination. The DEA informant, pretending to be be negotiating on behalf of FARC, claimed Toure told him al Qaida would be assisting by providing Land rovers for the Mali to Morocco part of the journey, and that Toure empathized with FARC’s hatred of America.

Professor Jeremy Keenan, a defense expert retained for sentencing, with 48 years of experience of studying the Sahara and its peoples, who is often called upon for advice by the U.S. State Department and European Union, wrote in an 9 page report (available here, takes a while to open) for Idriss Abdelraman at sentencing:

It is wholly evident from the detailed conversations between the defendants and the 2 DEA undercover sources that the former not only had no personal experience of actually having trafficked cocaine, but they also had little knowledge of either the trafficking business or, indeed, the Sahara itself, except, no doubt, through local hearsay.

....The transcripts read like a comedy. The defendants' various remarks are riddled with absurd statements that demonstrate that they know very little about either the cocaine trade, or, for that matter, the geography of the Sahara. Indeed, it is absolutely impossible from the transcripts to work out which route they think, let alone say, they will take. The defendants demonstrate on the transcripts that they do not know which routes the cocaine travels (i.e. from Mali to Europe). Indeed, their unfamiliarity with the terrain is such that at one point they indicate a geographical error of about 2,000 miles.

...Moreover, AQIM did not control any land or territory on the cocaine trafficking route (or anywhere else in the Sahara-Sahel outside of Algeria), as is implied by the DEA agents especially in several of the transcripts. Although the defendants imply that payments have to be made to those who control the regions of the desert, those people are not related in any way to AQJM, who had no land rights, and little or no physical control of any region in 2009. Rather, payments would be made to the Arab and Tuareg tribes that held tribal territorial rights and had protection arrangements with the local drug operators who, in tum, worked under the protection of Mali's State Security service.

...If the defendants had attempted to make this trans-Sahara crossing, as is being implied by the prosecution, it is presumed from their own statements (on the transcripts) that they would have had to pay for this protection. This, to me, is proof that the defendants had no experience of cocaine trafficking. The reason why I say that so emphatically is that the cocaine trafficking business through Mali, as I have already explained, is protected and controlled by senior members of the political-military-security elites.

.....In 2009, cocaine trafficking was a ' closed shop', tightly controlled by these 'drug barons' and the protective ann of a corrupt political-military elite. If anyone, such as the defendants, had tried to break into it by paying whatever protection money is required - they would have immediately have been suspected of being agents [possibly from the DEA or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ('UNODC'] and would almost certainly have been killed or captured. The UNO DC currently estimates that $8-10 billion worth of cocaine crosses through Mali per year. That is very big business and tightly controlled by the political-military elites (in Mali and Algeria). If three locals from Gao had tried to muscle in on this market, I would have put their survival chances at zero.

As to the DEA informants, Keenan wrote:

While the responses of the defendants to the attempts by the DEA agents to entrap them indicates that the defendants really had little or no knowledge and experience of the cocaine business in the Sahara-Sahel, the same can also be said of the two DEA sources.

....The transcripts read like a theatre of comedy, which might be funny if it was not for the tragic consequences of the sting operation on the defendants. One of my main questions about the entire operation is why the two DEA sources also seem to be so badly informed about the Saharan drugs traffic, as evidenced in both the DEA's official documentation and the lack of understanding of the situation demonstrated in the transcripts. This raises questions about the working relationship between the DEA and US AFRICOM which had its own detachment of Special Forces stationed in Gao with listening posts at both Aguelhok and Tessalit- two points on the road north from Gao. Indeed, as Wikileaks documents have revealed, communiques from the US Embassy in Bamako to the State Department in Washington appear to have been more informed than the DEA's own reports on the region.

...Further evidence of this seemingly complete lack of understanding of the drugs-cum-terrorist situation in this part of the Sahara-Sahel by both the defendants and the DEA agents is the fact that the region, at the time of this proposed sting operation, was in a state of almost complete lockdown. At no other time in the region's history (except during the rebellion of the last five months) was it more difficult to enter, let alone cross, the desert areas north of Gao than at the time of the sting operation in 2009.

This was for two reasons, both of which appear to have been virtually unknown to both the defendants and the DEA agents. The first is that a Boeing 727, carrying 10 tonnes of cocaine from South America, had been found incinerated just north of Gao on November 2, 2009. To protect the traffickers, the head of Mali State Security (later dismissed), not only prohibited the DEA, UNODC and other international organisations from visiting the site, but had ring-fenced the entire region, making it impossible for anyone to enter. If the defendants were to have transported drugs across the Sahara in this period, they would have encountered this heavy security barrier.

The second reason for the 'lockdown' was that a very high-profile French hostage and three Spanish hostages, later to be joined by two Italian hostages, were being held captive by AQIM in the region at this time. Thus, in addition to the security relating to the incinerated Boeing, and the fact that I 0 tonnes of cocaine were known to be still in the region, the Malian army had stationed at least 200 troops along the key route that the defendants would have had to take if they were going to transport the drugs north across the desert.

....The fact that the DEA agents (as evidenced by the transcripts) did not know the nationalities of the hostages, suggest that they were either dissembling or totally uninformed on what was happening in the region. Similarly, if the defendants thought they could cross this region at that time, as the prosecution appears to have been claiming, then it is further evidence of how little knowledge they had of the desert hinterland, drugs trafficking and the activities of AQIM at that time.

....The above evidence, which would have been presented in court, indicates that the entire sting operation was, in my opinion, a matter of 'the blind leading the blind'. In reading through the transcripts, one is faced with one absurdity or impossibility after another. Neither party really seemed to have much idea of how cocaine is actually transported from West Africa/Mali to Europe. Nor did either party have much, if any, idea of what was going on in the region at that specific time in regard to the 'lockdown' situation described above, which would have made any attempt at this bizarre operation almost certainly impossible.

As to why the defendants would go along with the DEA scheme:

Since the collapse of the tourism industry, following the onset of the War on Terror in this part of the Sahara-Sahel in 2003, and the subsequent Tuareg rebellions of 2006, 2007-2009 (and now), many peoples' livelihoods have been destroyed. The result is that almost every adult person, especially men and family heads, will do almost anything to help keep their families alive in what is one of the most poverty-ridden countries in the world. Such activities are not considered 'crimes', but merely necessary means to survival. The evidence that I would have presented in court, and which I have summarised in this letter, convinces me that ldriss is not a cocaine trafficker and knows virtually nothing about either cocaine trafficking or AQIM. I believe that he is a person who would say 'yes' to almost any proposition that was put to him, irrespective of whether he understood what the proposition was about or whether he was able to fulfill it, simply to make a little, or perhaps in this case a lot, of money. That is probably true for 90 percent of the people who live in Gao, and throughout this impoverished part of the world. It is also clear to me, from studying the tapes and transcripts, that ldriss gives an air of subservience and is a person who will say almost anything in his willingness to please and to be accepted.

The Caste System still exists in Africa and Abelrahmen was at the lowest rung:

I am fairly certain that this social background explains ldriss's apparent subservience and willingness to please. It is quite clear from the transcripts that he tends to give positive responses to almost anything put to him, even when it is apparent that he does not understand it. I strongly suspect that ldriss's answer to almost every question or proposition put to him is 'Yes'. ....One is listening to and reading what is nothing more than attempts by the DEA agents to manipulate, trick and wheedle statements from people who appear to have little understanding of the context of the set-up and, by inclination and financial need, want to answer positively and please their manipulators. As a result, most of what has been transcribed is either wholly out of context or subject to a varied range of contextual interpretations which, I suspect, were lost on the prosecution.

His mother wrote the court:

With the insecurity problem in northern Mali, which no one ignores, his 4 minor children, none being 10 yet, are all suffering from malnutrition. Everyday I go begging from door to door just to have our daily food.

As to how the world views these sting operations, Professor Keenan wrote:

For me to quote Lord Hewart, (Britain's Lord Chief Justice from 1922 until 1940) to a respected US Judge may sound trite. But I say with great respect that " ... justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done." In the eyes of most of the world, this case is a sting operation that has led to the arrest of 3 Black Africans who many people around the world, especially in their own country, believe to be innocent of any crime, other than that of being stupid enough to be taken in by two highly dubious and questionable characters - con men - in the hope of making some desperately needed money.

...This case has brought no credit to the United States. On the contrary, such 'entrapment' and 'sting' operations are regarded with unease outside the US. Indeed, few countries in the West have laws allowing this sort of operation to be undertaken.

If ldriss receives a sentence that is greater than the time he has already served, I am in no doubt that it will be met with worldwide condemnation, and no little anger at the US. A further wave of anti-Americanism, especially in such a politically sensitive part of the world as the Sahara-Sahel, and where US AFRICOM is desperately trying to acquire some credibility, will do the United States hann. According to many political analysts and security experts, both in and outside the US, the Sahara-Sahel region (where the defendants live) is on the brink of becoming the 'next Afghanistan'. A wave of anti-Americanism, which the decision of this court may will evoke, could be the catalyst that tips the region over the brink.

The Government eventually wrote this letter to the defense describing how misinformation from an unreliable informant led to the investigation:

This letter is to inform you that the Government anticipates that Special Agent Stouch will testify to, among other things, the following facts in describing the background to the investigation in this case: (i) the investigation began as an investigation of a potentially imminent plot to kidnap Americans, which was brought to the DEA’s attention by the confidential source known as Mohamed (“Mohamed”);
(ii) DEA agents eventually came to believe that an individual known as Hamada (who provided information to Mohamed) had played a significant role in the kidnapping plot;
(iii) Mohamed initially did not fully disclose his knowledge of Hamada’s role in the plot (of which Mohamed was aware) to the agents;
(iv) the agents subsequently concluded that the kidnapping plot was not in fact as imminent as they had initially believed; and (v) agents subsequently initiated an investigation into Oumar Issa, who they believed was involved in the kidnapping plot.

After one hearing, the Judge in the case said:

Based on these transcripts which is what I have for this sentencing hearing, I am not persuaded that the·entire, or anything about Al-Qaeda should be in Mr. Issa's presentence report.

The judge rejected the Government’s request for 15 year sentences.

The three ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group. As part of the deal, the government dropped a narco-terrorism conspiracy charge that carried a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence

Toure got 63 months. Issa got 57 months. Idriss Abdelramen got 46 months.

Does the DEA acknowlege its mistakes? Of course not. When DEA’s Thomas Harrigan testified at a Senate hearing of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control in May, 2012, he still insisted the three were AQIM members (not even alleged associates.)

“Again, it was the first time that members of Al Qaida, again, admitted members -- we had them on video and audio recording acknowledging the fact that they were members of AQIM, again, providing services for what they presumed were members of the FARC to transport cocaine.”

According to Sen. Feinstein’s questions at that hearing, in 2012, Congress authorized $60 million a year for the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative (WACSI)

More on Far-Qaeda here.

And now we have the latest arrests of Gen. Na Tuocho and five others. We know what the Government’s story is now. It’s told in the Indictments which are here. Will the outcomes even come close to their story? Even if they do, is it worth the cost when the drugs and weapons didn’t exist except in the mind of the DEA, when it was the DEA, not the defendants, who created the scheme and when the African governments who are pretending to be working with the U.S. and accepting our funding, are allegedly complicit in the illegal activity? (Read this Indictment)

The DEA thinks it needs more money, not less for these adventures. Obama is suggesting cuts to social security and Medicare. Every federal agency is hurting from budget cuts. But Congress keeps funding these DEA stings across the world. The DEA continues to pay out millions to its informants, the U.S. spend millions training police in countries where corruption runs rampant and seized drugs disappear, and we, the taxpayers, get stuck with the bill to incarcerate the DEA’s prey for decades. All because drug traffickers in South America are willing to ship drugs to Africa, which Africans intend to ship to Europe, and along the way there is talk of sending weapons from Africa to South America. Why have we become the world's global police force? How does this make any sense?

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  • Display: Sort:
    The DEA cooks up these horrible (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by fishcamp on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 04:22:06 PM EST
    ideas about drugs that don't even exist and punish people for what reason?  They do it to get more funding from Washington who thinks they are doing a wonderful job.  It's simply appalling that they have so many offices and personal in over fifty countries in the world.  They get huge funding because some snitch they don't even know the name of says what they want to hear.  They are the worst of all the law enforcement agencies in my opinion.  Homeland security is bad enough with all their go fast boats down here to protect us from Communist Cuba.  What a sad joke.

    Exactly so, fishcamp (none / 0) (#2)
    by Zorba on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 04:25:43 PM EST
    Exactly so.  This is beyond appalling.

    Would it make any difference, ... (none / 0) (#3)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 05:32:36 PM EST
    ... were you to know that the Justice Dept. is engaged in all this furious activity to honor the oh-so-macho memory of the late but still manlier-than-manly Ernest Hemingway, part-time resident of Havana and its resident expert on the art of getting stoned?

    I just made that up, of course -- but it sure offers a far better premise for the DEA's ultimately ineffectual overseas activities than what they're giving us right now. Drug use should be decriminalized, and attendant problems associated with illicit drugs should be addressed as a public health issue, rather than approached a law enforcement concern.  


    Yes (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Zorba on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 06:11:05 PM EST
    Exactly, Donald.  Decriminalize, and offer help to those who have drug problems.
    The DEA has become a rogue agency, as far as I am concerned.
    Get rid of it, decriminalize drug use, and empty the prisons of those who were imprisoned because of drugs (as long as they did not kill anyone, or assault them, etc-  stuff that would have been illegal even if drugs were not involved).
    I wonder how much money the government would save if drugs were decriminalized?  Legalize, regulate, and, in fact, tax, just as alcohol is.

    Quite frankly Donald (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by fishcamp on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 12:11:59 AM EST
    that was a very unkind statement regarding Ernest Hemingway.  He was a much better man than your failed humor suggests.  I had the opportunity to meet and speak to him at the finish gate of the Harriman Cup downhill ski race in Sun Valley, Idaho the year he took his life and none of your information reigns true.