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Monday, July 2, 2012

The Nexus Between Our Failed Drug Strategies and the Breach of Our Southwest Border


Why is it that every time this country faces a very real threat, our elected officials seem to consistently demonstrate that proverbial "deer in the headlight look?" Dates like May 7, 1915, December 7, 1941, February 26, 1993, April 19, 1995, and of course September 11, 2001, are all days that will live in this country's collective memory, yet these events, and many others less-publicized, appear to have caught our elected leaders, at least publicly, without a clue. Notwithstanding continuous warnings from various federal law enforcement agencies and, dare I be accused of employing an oxymoron, the U.S. intelligence community, our elected leadership has demonstrated an unwavering propensity of being reactive in lieu of proactive in their efforts to protect our citizenry. Indeed, with foreign drug traffickers currently threatening the sovereignty of our southern border, our leadership once again appears bewildered b y this most recent turn of events. However, in point-of-fact, this situation has been percolating for some time and is yet just another example of the very same government faux pas that was criticized repeatedly after the events of September 11, 2001 - just because our leaders failed to address an imminent threat doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't, in fact, an imminent threat.

Omitting the usual meaningless numerical statistics, and the perpetually self-serving political rhetoric, how did we get to where we are today along our southwest border? Arguably, it is more than coincidental that this country finds itself embroiled in a "border war" with drug traffickers who are posing a very real threat to the safety and well being of innocent citizens on both sides of the border in fact, it was inevitable. Much like the storied defenders of the revered Alamo, which was occupied by men and women who knowingly put themselves in harms way to defend a national principle, federal narcotics agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Border Patrol (USBP), and a host of other law enforcement agencies are no doubt experiencing some of that same apprehension while they too continue their on-going battle along the metaphorical parapets of our southwest border. Even traditional law enforcement critics will agree that federal and state la w enforcement personnel have always bravely defended our proverbial walls from southern invaders and have, in fact, consistently "filled the breach" when asked to do so all over the world. However, it begs to question why these few dedicated professionals are not now hunkered down waiting for reinforcements to come riding over the horizon. Simply, like those brave souls at the Alamo, it's not their style.

By way of background, and contrary to popular opinion, opium had been introduced to this country well before the influx of Chinese laborers arrived to help build the transcontinental railroad, but the use of the drug was somewhat limited in its use and availability. In the early 1970's injectable heroin, opium's "bastard child," began to proliferate the United States due in no small measure to our involvement in Vietnam and major European suppliers with catchy names like the French Connection. At the same time, New York based heroin entrepreneurs li ke Frank Lucas, Nicky Barnes, and others wrestled the heretofore "controlled" heroin market away from Italian traditional organized crime figures and began flooding the inner-city communities with high-grade/low cost heroin thus, precipitating the American public's introduction to the now very visible heroin problem as well as its myriad collateral issues, such as higher crime rates and the violence that accompanied it. Interestingly, Russia experienced a near identical social consequence as a result of their failed military involvement (1979-1989) in Afghanistan.

In July 1973, in an effort to combat our post-war "epidemic," then President Richard Nixon signed an Executive Order establishing the DEA to combat the flourishing drug trade. Although being greatly outnumbered (about 1200 agents worldwide) and grossly under funded (about $75 million), newly ordained DEA agents, like loyal soldiers, charged the aforementioned breach-in-the-wall and immediately gaine d some impressive victories while stemming the flow of heroin into this country. However, with all of their limited manpower and funding concentrated on Asian and European heroin, other savvy international entrepreneurs, such as Bolivia based Roberto Suarez and Bismark Barrientos, were preparing to breach our unattended southern borders with another illicit, albeit more socially acceptable, "party drug" called cocaine. As expected, DEA's extremely limited resources were then shifted to South America to combat this newest threat. DEA's mantra soon became and remains, "Do More with Less."

In 1988, an all-volunteer cadre of DEA agents was specially trained by the U.S. military and they began counter-drug operations (Operation Snowcap) in "source countries" such as Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. In 1991, DEA counter-drug operations opened in Central America (Operation Cadence) to stem the flow of drugs into Mexico by aircraft and tractor-trailers traveling the Pan-American Highway. By overall budgetary "bang-for-the-buck" comparison, these paramilitary operations required relatively few resources, yet had extremely impressive results. DEA agents operating in the jungles of South America seized and/or destroyed hundreds of clandestine cocaine labs and destroyed thousands of gallons of precursor chemicals. Indeed, from the period of 1988 to 1995, thousands of kilograms of cocaine were seized, as were numerous hard-to-replace multi-million dollar retrofitted smuggling aircraft like Beechcraft King/Queen Airs, DC-10, and the coveted long-range/heavy payload Aero-Commander. Impressive seizures to be sure and far surpassing all of the combined cocaine seizures being made by our domestic law enforcement agencies, yet these impressive results were being accomplished by a mere handful of dedicated Temporary Duty (TDY) DEA agents on an extremely limited budget. Notwithstanding the marked successes of these counter-drug operations, ther e was an eventual political "determination for termination" of these DEA operations causing the United States to lose one of their most effective counter-drug weapons in Central and South America. Unfortunately, with the ill-advised termination of the program, we also lost something much more precious - the unique cooperation and camaraderie that was built between our TDY agents and the various host country law enforcement personnel that worked side-by-side with them. That unique worldwide law enforcement bond, cops working with cops, which transcends politics and even nationality. Lastly, in losing this special relationship, we also lost a precious intelligence resource that several U.S. government entities benefited from and more importantly, something that six (6) dedicated DEA agents tragically gave their lives nurturing - a special relationship that unfortunately, may be too far-gone to be rekindled at this late date.

In any event, with the opening of ou r southern borders to NAFTA in January 1994, and the politically motivated shift of law enforcement resources away from Central and South America in the mid to late 1990s, we again experienced our government's inability (or refusal) to learn from their continuing and mostly ineffectual "finger-in-the-dyke" drug enforcement strategy missteps. With all of our political and military attention (and budget) mesmerized with the Middle East and Afghanistan for more than eight years, our national enforcement attention was (again) shifted away from Central and South America for so long that heroin began an inevitable reemergence, as did Methamphetamine, Ecstasy, Ice, and any number of other designer drugs. Furthermore, as if adding insult to injury, we now not only have to address the Mexican/Latin American drug cartels, that have flourished relatively unchecked over the last 8-years, but we now have to contend with multiple left-wing (anti-American) political "dictators" bl ackmailing us with oil exports, threatening our U.S. Embassy personnel with persona non grata deportation, and even watching some Latin American political "puppets" chewing coca leaves at International political gatherings. Today, frustrated career drug enforcement professionals, who have the most experience in these matters, have collectively come to terms with the fact that "It's dj vu all over again."

Even though the DEA is the only federal agency with a singular enforcement focus and international mission, Congress, in their infinite wisdom, seems intent on annually depleting DEA's budget while, at the same time, spreading extremely limited counter-drug resources throughout the various federal law enforcement communities. Absent the same political muscle and the always-effective public relations machine of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DEA leadership appears ineffective in preventing the routine "rape" of their budget and resources. Even stranger should one consider their traditionally limited resources, DEA's counter-drug and seizure successes are staggering and, more importantly, irrefutable. Nonetheless, our elected leaders have inexplicably insisted on spreading limited counter-drug funding and precious resources throughout all of the other federal agencies (no shortage of acronyms here) where they are relatively free to continue practicing their "Jack o f all trades, master of none" philosophy while spending time, manpower, and considerable financial resources on myriad investigative projects to include the occasional "drug case" when the mood strikes them. Truth be told, when drug investigations are simply a "collateral duty," one can easily suggest (and many do) that a majority of the recent non-DEA federal drug cases were simply selected for the ever-important arrest/seizure statistic and, more importantly, the Andy Warhol 15-minutes they usually generate.

Notwithstanding the fact that the last four (4) sitting presidents have consistently ordered inter-agency cooperation, the appointment of a "Drug Czar," as well as several other politically ineffectual attempts to get all U.S. law enforcement on the same sheet of music, we continue to have multiple U.S. agencies investigating "narcotics cases." Arguably, these uncoordinated efforts are, for the most part, netting nothing more than low-level violato rs and filling our already over-crowded/over-funded federal prison system (over $5-billion per year) with young people that are having no real effect on the drug problem in this country. More importantly, these continuing ineffective "drug war" strategies, or lack thereof, are providing daily media ammunition to the ever-growing number of "Legalize Drugs" supporters in this country. Indeed, how do we justify, or even explain, hundreds of millions of taxpayer's dollars being expended by multiple law enforcement agencies in an uncoordinated, ineffective, and unpopular "war" that will never be won in such a disjointed effort. I don't think even the most experienced Washington, D.C. "spin doctor" could conjure up a rational answer for this one. Imagine, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marines (and their various Reserve Units), the U.S. Air Force, the National Guard, and the Coast Guard all operating independently in Iraq with their own chain-of-command. Obviously, the result wou ld be ineffectual chaos. Maybe it's time to heed Albert Einstein who suggested that it was "insane" to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.

In World War II, strategists concurred that the United States could not effectively fight a war on two fronts. Consequently, the decision was made to put all our efforts and resources into defeating the Axis powers in Europe and then turning our attention to Japan. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed as a Supreme Commander of that successful effort. After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, President Bush and his closest advisors agreed that to effectively protect our borders, we needed to consolidate several federal agencies and put them under the Secretary of Homeland Security, consolidating funding, manpower, and more importantly, leadership under one unified command structure. In any armed conflict that this country has ever been involved in, we never developed a strategy that suggested w e line our borders with sandbags. We've have always taken the fight to our enemies. Applying this same logic, can our leaders develop a workable counter-drug strategy today? The Reader's Digest version Yes and fortuitously, there is no real need to re-invent the wheel in order to implement any number of workable scenarios.

One possible scenario, by Executive Order, we could take the manpower allocated to all the federal agencies for "narcotics enforcement" and place them under the singular and unified authority of the DEA - with them would come those agency's already earmarked "narcotics budget." With those additional resources, DEA senior management could be directed to increase their foreign operations by 50% over the next 3-years. DEA foreign operations consisting primarily of foreign liaison building,counter-drug operations/verification, intelligence gathering, and active border enforcement on both sides. At the same time, U.S. Customs/U.S. Bord er Patrol could be restricted to border cases, smuggling, and violations of our national borders - a no-brainer since there is obviously plenty there to keep them busy. Notwithstanding the ridiculous, albeit inevitable, objections of the rabid NRA supporters, the ATF could be directed to begin a concentrated enforcement effort on the specific weapons-of-choice preferred by drug traffickers, such as the AK-47, Mac 9/10, Ruger Mini-14, AR-15, TEC-9, and high capacity semi-automatic handguns. Lastly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation could be prohibited from working unilateral "drug cases" or expending their resources on any other "stat-generating" investigations best left to state and local authorities. In fact, we might even suggest that they concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing which should center on critical and ever-increasing Title 18 violations, real-time intelligence gathering, and protecting this country from foreign and/or religious fanatics obsessed w ith this country's destruction. Lastly, and more importantly, all heretofore "turf-protected" computer systems (NADDIS, TECS, OCIS, ISIS, Langley, etc.) should be combined and effectively analyzed (in a timely fashion) at a National Intelligence Resource Center staffed by independent, multi-lingual, highly trained, yet non-law enforcement affiliated intelligence analysts.

Although this is just one of several possible scenarios, most agree that a common thread exists in any successful scenario our elected leaders need to remove their blinders while, at the same time, ensuring that all of our federal agencies work together for the common good. Now wouldn't that be a novel idea?

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