The DEA’s Purposely Unclassified World – The Cold and Hot War Gravy Train – Nixon Created the DEA Out of Thin Air via Executive Order – Black Ops in the Foreign and Domestic Arenas – Covert and Overt Actors – Shouldn’t All Data Be Centralized and Available to All of Leviathan, Just in Case? – Hurray for the New Era of Interagency Group Hugs! – The Nebulous “War on Drugs” – Waging the Worldwide War on Freedom
The Real Reason Nixon Created the DEA
By David Hathaway
May 30, 2015
When the DEA is seen in a negative light by Americans, it is due almost entirely to the agency’s relatively small relationship to the domestic war on drugs.
But the reason for this agency coming into being was much broader than to knight a batch of domestic “narcs.” The domestic aspect represented only one tentacle – the one that Americans see. Actually, the lion’s share of investigative and “enforcement” work done in the domestic war on drugs is conducted by state and local officers. They often act with federal funding and equipment, and occasionally access federal prosecution with accompanying federal minimum mandatory sentencing rules. These state and local officers also often make use of less restrictive federal asset forfeiture mechanisms, via federal “adoptions” of their seizures. But they are not DEA agents.
What then, other than the domestic war on drugs, is the DEA’s purpose? The DEA, while a relatively small federal law enforcement agency, has many more foreign offices than any other. The FBI dwarfs the DEA in overall number of agents, but has few foreign offices. The DEA can get into places, obtain diplomatic cover, and run networks of confidential spies that the CIA, the military, and the FBI cannot, because the DEA has no stated political mission, regime toppling imperative, or anti-corruption mandate, as do its sister agencies. The FBI has relatively few foreign posts, and even fewer that are staffed with active investigative personnel; the main exceptions being occasional showy importations to “hotspots” that have the potential for media headlines. FBI foreign assignments consist mostly of single-man, suit-adorned, supervisory “legal attaché” assignments, in a relatively small number of U.S. embassies. These negligible foreign FBI posts don’t have teams of investigative agents assigned with the paramilitary infrastructure (aircraft, weapons, and dedicated teams of foreign officials) and imbedded sources needed to carry out covert or overt missions in those places.
Foreign governments don’t want to work with the FBI or even allow its operational agents in, since it has a known political, espionage, and public corruption function, and is potentially working in that role to undermine the sovereignty of the regime while on the soil of the host nation. The same goes for the CIA. Foreign governments don’t want to work with an agency that is known to have a state surveillance, regime-toppling, political, and propaganda mission.
The U.S. military has the same limitations and political baggage attached to its mission. Long-term U.S. military insertions, beyond the token officer-grade embassy advisory staff to man the cocktail circuit, are hard to pull off while keeping the foreigners happy. There is little ability to quietly establish, maintain, and utilize operational military intelligence, action, and infrastructure networks in the foreign environment without attracting foreign government scrutiny and negative media publicity. The operational presence, once known, would risk a backlash from the foreign society that may believe it is the focus of a foreign military plot or invasion, deserving of a response. Worry about the perception of U.S. military belligerence caused by insertions of troops into foreign countries hasn’t always stopped American policy makers, but it does present a public relations problem.
DEA can deal with all of these problems. It is not seen as a threat by foreign regimes. The other brandishers of force in the executive branch are aware of this. The military, FBI, and CIA know this, so they occasionally go to DEA to obtain interrogation, targeting, and overt/covert action services. DEA agents can walk through the country and into high-level foreign government offices, and meet directly with cabinet members, supreme court justices, attorneys general, military generals, and foreign legislators, as themselves, while at the same time meeting and negotiating with the seediest operatives and provocateurs in that same foreign environment, posing as whoever they want. The CIA has good reason to be jealous. If DEA wants to do an otherwise illegal undercover operation in a foreign country, it has the option of either walking into the offices of the highest levels of a foreign government and greasing the skids to get it approved in a closed-door session, or merely ignoring the foreign laws and obtaining an exemption from Washington to go ahead with unilateral U.S. activity in that country, without informing any foreign officials. DEA also works with dedicated foreign police and military units, whose pay is supplemented and expenses paid for the purpose of requiting with action when called upon by their paymasters. Paid networks of non-government provocateurs complete the picture.
U.S. provisions to “certify” or “decertify” cooperation in the war on drugs also encourage foreign governments to keep DEA on their soil. The economic incentives to foreign officials for allowing the “apolitical” U.S. agents in their countries are also large.
DEA, by intent and design, exists almost entirely outside the world of classified information in its day-to-day operations, which is another reason for jealousy on behalf of the CIA and military. Practically everything the CIA does is constrained by classified rules concerning talking and writing protocols, creating an almost nonfunctional work environment. In the electronic age, practically no normal means of communication, writing, or information transfer is allowed to the CIA, because its whole world is classified by its own rules. DEA agents live on their cell phones, both inside and outside their office spaces. CIA agents turn in their cell phones at the door to their offices, and can’t use them for work anyway when out in the world, because they aren’t approved for classified use; and once again, practically everything for them is classified.
A DEA agent in Istanbul can go to the business center in his hotel lobby and send a fax to his boss, since his work is not classified; not so a CIA agent. While CIA agents carry around highly controlled classified-approved electronic devices, trying to get everyone to sync up or “turn the key” at the same time so they can talk, email, or fax, DEA agents are chatting, faxing, and emailing away on normal devices with a wider variety of persons about the same topics discussed by the CIA, but in a purposely unclassified world. DEA can talk to a lot more people because of this. Foreign government officials and other underworld figures who are not cleared for U.S. classified material (but are the source of it) are not allowed to communicate their tips to U.S. agents utilizing U.S. classified systems anyway. DEA will talk to them on a normal cell phone about those very topics which are classified by other agencies. The CIA won’t. The classification often happens in other agencies after DEA gets the information through open communications networks and shares it with its security-constrained brethren.
DEA agents laugh about the restrictions the CIA lives under, and smile when they see their own DEA reports now marked as classified when in the hands of the CIA, severely restricting their dissemination and use by that agency. If CIA and DEA co-case agents are working together on an investigation, the DEA guy makes all the work-related phone calls, makes all the in-person contacts, and puts together and implements the action response, because the CIA guy can do very little directly in the post-Watergate era. The DEA agent has the best of both worlds. He has the security clearance allowing him to read other agencies’ classified material and use classified systems, but he is not obliged to mark his own work product as classified or send it through classified conduits.
The DEA has not been spotlighted and constrained by mechanisms like the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s, that resulted in limitations on what the CIA could do in both the foreign and domestic environments. The DEA also has the advantage of not being precluded by law, as an agency, from conducting operations in the domestic arena. The CIA and the military do not enjoy this advantage. DEA can fly a cargo plane in from a foreign country, cross the U.S. border, land in the U.S., offload, and continue its mission on land without violating some rule about operating in the U.S. or spying on Americans. The FAA air traffic controllers know the call signs of DEA pilots and wave them in, asking no questions. “Those guys are coming in. Let them through.” So DEA can conduct seamless activity in the foreign environment and in the United States, without suddenly stepping into a legally precluded Posse Comitatus domestic warfare and spying quagmire.
Wow, if the CIA could only do that without worrying about who notices their international flights taking off and landing in the middle of the night, with persons and cargo being hurriedly ushered on and off headed to their final destinations. Yes, they are jealous. It’s no fun to just drool while you intercept DEA reports, harkening back to the good ol’ days while you reminisce and think, “If only we could have our people and planes working on both ends, in the U.S. and overseas, delivering people and stuff back and forth across the U.S. borders; and do it all right out in the open like they do.”
Nixon Needed a Replacement for the Cold War
In the relatively prosperous times after World War II, the sinister underworld activities of the Cold War were of little concern to Americans; that is, until war fatigue had seriously set in during the latter years of the Vietnam War. The hidden, and sometimes not so hidden, activities of the CIA in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere were largely ignored by the Baby Boomer generation, and garnered little press coverage. An occasional scary tale about the evil Russkies was enough to keep the spy agencies and accompanying “defensive” war machine bloated, with little fanfare. The CIA and their paid proxies had a fairly free hand when trying to bring about regime change and destabilize foreign entities by instigating and funding coups, conducting torture, assassinating prominent individuals, and wreaking general havoc against those it wished to take advantage of.
Little of this was known to the public until various revelations began to come out in the early 1970s.
Things then began to change in a big way. By this time, war (cold and hot) fatigue was more than a nagging sensation. It got teeth. Members of Congress were enlightened and plagued by a still somewhat functioning media. Brave journalists and editors forced them to deal with revelations of nefarious activities and the public’s reaction to those revelations. Public and media pressure eventually caused Congress to respond in a big way. The Church Committee hearings were only one of the responses.
There were also anxious planning sessions within the affected (Nixon) Administration to develop responses to counter the anger-fueled barriers being erected in front of the cold and hot war gravy train. What could be done to keep the black ops status quo alive, but in a newly obscured direction?
It was an anxious time for the military, spy, and police industries, that could see the public tiring of being the geese that laid the golden eggs for the world’s oppressors. A mechanism to keep the receding secret and open war networks going was desperately desired. The previous anti-commie approach was in the spotlight and was becoming no longer viable. The public response to the revelations was foretelling the collapse of the megadollar-stoked military and civilian paramilitary machine. Lots of people had been making money, and there was a financial disaster looming on the horizon for the spies, warmonger politicians, contractors, and the entire previously hidden or ignored havoc-wreaking machine in general.
A new, believable, or at least tolerable, tax-consuming concept was needed to allow the chasing of phantom enemies proffered by the oligarchy to scare the public. Would a new system of state force work to garner tax dollars? Or maybe a new dragon to replace the commies? Or maybe both – a new template with renamed “warriors” going against a new enemy?
A very telling timeline follows, that portrays some of the events related to the escalating public and congressional opposition to the cold and hot war activities of the executive branch. It also shows the Administration’s frantic fervor for – and eventual arrival at – a solution in a new direction that would not immediately draw the public’s ire to the extent the war against communism was now doing. Nixon pulled it off just in the nick of time.
January, 1970 – Christopher Pyle revealed to Congress that the U.S. Army was spying on civilians in the U.S. who participated in anti-war protests.
June, 1971 – Time magazine began publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, leaked to it by Daniel Ellsberg, revealing to the public the illegal CIA and military operations in Southeast Asia, including those in Laos and Cambodia; Time‘s cover proclaimed, “Pentagon Papers: The Secret War.” Nixon and his Attorney General John Mitchell obtained an injunction against Time magazine to halt further publication of the series after three installments. However, Ellsberg also distributed the Pentagon Papers to others, and it was soon popping up in 15 different publications, causing a widespread public reaction against the previously secret anti-communist foreign operations being conducted by the U.S. government.
September, 1971 – The CIA-affiliated “White House Plumbers” broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to look for information to be used to publicly discredit this leaker of the Pentagon Papers.
June 17, 1972 – Personnel affiliated with the White House Plumbers were arrested breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Office Building.
June 20, 1972 – The Washington Post, informed by government source “Deep Throat,” revealed the connection of the Watergate burglars to former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and Nixon’s Special Counsel, Charles Colson.
September, 1972 – White House undercover operatives – former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt, former FBI Agent G. Gordon Liddy, and the Watergate burglars (four of which had CIA affiliations, with one also being a former FBI agent) – were charged in the first wave of indictments related to Nixon’s domestic black bag operations. The final number of indictees eventually reached 69.
January, 1973 – The Paris Peace Accords were signed. However, Nixon informed South Vietnam that he would continue U.S. bombing against North Vietnam if needed. U.S. troops were reduced in Vietnam, but U.S. war involvement in Laos and Cambodia was increased after the Accords were signed. The Nixon Administration viewed the U.S. war action in Laos and Cambodia as not being restricted by the Vietnam-centric Paris peace agreement.
February, 1973 – Amidst the increasingly uncomfortable new focus on CIA activities and covert activities in general, CIA director Richard Helms shut down illegal operations MH-CHAOS and MH-MERRIMAC, which were CIA domestic spying operations investigating “counter-cultural” groups operating in the U.S., including black rights proponents, women’s lib activists, and Vietnam War protestors. These operations used teams of CIA agents, including CIA provocateurs imbedded in the mentioned groups. The existence of these operations, which violated the CIA’s charter precluding such activity in the U.S., was not known publicly until 1974.
March – May, 1973 – Nixon continued making veiled and not-so-veiled threats to resume hostilities against North Vietnam if, in his determination, they were violating the Paris Peace Accords. Meanwhile, during this time of supposed “peace” and “cease-fire” in Vietnam, heavy B-52 raids continued to rain death upon Cambodia.
May 17, 1973 – The Senate Watergate Committee commenced hearings and discussed, amongst other things, the black ops activities and hidden agenda of Nixon and his executive branch.
June, 1973 – In congressional confirmation hearings, Nixon’s new Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, said that he would call for a renewed bombing campaign against North Vietnam (in violation of the Paris Peace Accords) if, in his determination, the North was aggressing against the South.
July 1, 1973 – Public and congressional fervor over the continuation of the U.S. war against communism in Southeast Asia, despite the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, coupled with anger over the covert actions of the executive branch, resulted in the passage of veto-proof legislation (the Case–Church Amendment) defunding the war by specifically prohibiting further military activity in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The legislation passed with a greater-than-two-thirds supermajority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, despite Nixon’s and Secretary of State Kissinger’s repeated protests demanding more time and freedom to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia. Nixon had no choice and was forced to sign the war-ending legislation into law on July 1, 1973.
July 1, 1973 – On the exact same day that a rebuffed and angry Nixon was forced by Congress to sign the veto-proof legislation ending the war and its illegal CIA and military activities in Laos and Cambodia, Nixon created the DEA out of thin air via executive order without congressional authorization.
This bears repeating. Embattled Nixon, searching for a way to replace the now disgraced, emasculated, and defunded foreign and domestic anti-communist black ops and military agenda, created the DEA with the stroke of a pen, on the exact same day that he was forced by a two-thirds majority of Congress to use his pen to end the massive overt and covert war activity in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
CIA Director Richard Helms had – to his credit – previously transferred the portion of congressional funding, formerly included in the CIA’s secret budget to be expended on the CIA’s massive illegal war in Laos and Cambodia, to the Defense Department budget, properly determining that it was war funding that should not stay in the normal CIA budget. The CIA had continued the activity, but using money now being funneled through the Department of Defense earmarked for that war purpose. So when Congress cut the purse strings on military funding for the war in Southeast Asia, the CIA’s large-scale war activities in Laos and Cambodia were shut down too, leaving the previously built-up crop of foreign CIA agents without foreign jobs, and with no illegal domestic roles to fill either, due to the silent shutdown of the criminally-conceived MH-CHAOS and MH-MERRIMAC.
CIA cold war and hot war activity was coming to light for the first time, and was falling into the crosshairs of Congress and the media. Anti-communist arguments had been a sufficient rationale, up to this point, to conduct black ops in the foreign and domestic arenas. Not anymore. This gold mine was being shut down. The war against commies was no longer palatable to Congress or to the public.
DEA Saves the Day for Disgraced Cold Warriors
But the new three-letter agency, which was created by executive fiat on the exact same day that the long-successful anti-red rationale for war was shut down by Congress, saved the day for previously covert and sometimes overt warriors who were facing unemployment. The array of soon-to-be homeless CIA agents now had a home in a brand new start-up agency – with an elusive, unrestrained, seamless foreign and domestic mission – that needed immediate staffing. What a concept. A war on a substance. Go anywhere – foreign, domestic – and do anything – covert and overt – against anyone! No more need for a big propaganda campaign to build up public contempt for foreign foe after foreign foe or domestic foe after domestic foe, with a lot of expensive hype. Many CIA agents were given positions in the new organization, which possessed few restrictions in the foreign arena.
As the grand adventure in Vietnam, and accompanying Cold War interventions around the globe, largely came to a screeching halt with Nixon’s disgrace, the activities were now rebranded and relegitimized. Just in time! Whew, that was close! Quick thinking by Tricky Dick kept the covert arena alive and immune from scrutiny for at least another 25-30 years, until a new kind of taxpayer war fatigue would set in. [Nixon as the prime originator of this scheme – really?! Doubtful. –AD]
The displaced spooks were glad to know that their foreign resumes and skills could have them back on the road to their previous overseas posts – and many new ones – without the bothersome ever-increasing restrictions on direct CIA activity that continued to be forthcoming throughout the 1970s. The outcome of the Watergate Committee investigation, coupled with The New York Times‘ publication of the “Family Jewels” revelations about CIA assassination attempts, attempts to subvert foreign governments, and efforts to spy on U.S. citizens, resulted in the creation of the U.S. Senate “Church Committee” (officially called the “United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities”), chaired by Senator Frank Church. The Committee investigated the activities of the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI. The hearings resulted in additional restrictions on CIA activities, including the issuance of President Ford’s Executive Order 11905 prohibiting assassination of foreign heads of state. But the renamed CIA agents quickly got to work in their new agency, crafting permissive procedures for foreign operations, keeping them as informal as possible, so as to not be too restrictive and too well-known and “reviewable.”
The now aimless U.S. military was given a massive foreign support role in the “war on drugs.” So the covert and overt actors could now return hand-in-hand to the jungles of Southeast Asia, with the same equipment and tactics, and branch out into new places as well. The visual parallels to the Vietnam War were amazing. American and foreign pilots were once again flying in the exact same American-provided green Hueys sporting M-60 door gunners. Foreign guys with interspersed American agent “advisors” and troops, all wearing Vietnam-style green floppy boonie hats and clad in U.S.-purchased green camo uniforms, were patrolling the jungles again, carrying M-16s and M-79 grenade launchers.
There was the same appearance of winding muddy rivers lined with banana and palm trees receding under the whop-whop of the Hueys, as colored smoke grenades were thrown to mark LZs (landing zones) for troops, who inserted by scampering off of helicopters, followed by a quick dust-off of the choppers. C-130s and pursuit aircraft criss-crossed the skies over the Hueys. Armed patrol boats and armed motorized rubber Zodiac rafts once again snuck along the tropical rivers à la Apocalypse Now. Thuds of high explosives reverberated through the jungles as TNT, C4, and grenades were tossed around to destroy infrastructure. Large cratering charges created shock waves in the humid mist of the surrounding jungles as airstrips were destroyed. Flames rose up into the sky as structures and vehicles were burned to the ground with thermite grenades. Automatic weapons fire rang out occasionally as the aerial and ground personnel fired at profiled “enemies.” Many (including me) were amazed that all of this was occurring continually around us while U.S. news sources showed practically nothing and said that the U.S. had no foreign wars and was at peace.
For all intents and purposes, this was a continuation of the Southeast Asian overt and covert anti-communist money-burning activity, but now targeting a different “enemy” and expanded into additional geographic areas. Put a Doors soundtrack of “The End” behind video footage of the Southeast Asian and Latin American drug wars and you would have a hard time telling the difference between the sounds and images of the foreign drug war and the Vietnam War. Yet, these more visible operations carried out by DEA are not its main foreign activity. Most of it is invisible, plainclothes activity – garnering even less public scrutiny – as has been the case with most of the CIA’s foreign activity.
DEA, the New Unfettered CIA
The significant foreign role of DEA had been relatively unknown to those outside the intelligence community until the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, when the public became somewhat aware of the DEA’s widespread and diverse role overseas. The media reported that troops in the Afghanistan War would deliver prisoners to DEA and its foreign teams for interrogation. Before this, no one in the media really cared, or bothered to report on the fact, that DEA had established low-key foreign networks for interrogation, response, and military targeting.
DEA has been the U.S. government’s main effective foreign-imbedded entity with the ability to handle multifaceted intelligence and paramilitary activity since the mid-1970s. This agency has served to drag people into U.S. or foreign civilian courts and prisons, and for that matter, U.S. or foreign military courts and prisons. You would strain to find an agency whose range of action rivals the ultimate range of options – including taking and destroying things – available to this do-all, low-profile agency, which is relatively unmatched in the black ops world in its unconstrained ability to “get things done.”
A CIA without admitting that role. An FBI without admitting that role. An ATF without admitting that role. A DHS without admitting that role. A Border Patrol without admitting that role. A Secret Service without admitting that role. A military and a military targeting agency without admitting that role. A county sheriff’s office or city police department without admitting those roles. The agency’s investigative activities in non-drug areas, particularly in the foreign realm where other U.S. agencies are few, can branch out into and involve a spectrum of activity, including such things as arms trafficking, counterterrorism, WMDs, human trafficking, murder for hire, and counterfeit currency. On any day of the week, the DEA may be cooperating and working directly with Israeli, Russian, Chinese, or fellow U.S. intelligence, military, and police agencies, or members of private organized crime; and making deals with all of them.
DEA has been one of the primary innovators and utilizers of regulations on banking/financial institutions in both the foreign and domestic environments, utilizing OFAC, Patriot Act, and FinCEN devices, along with money laundering laws, and civil, criminal, and administrative asset forfeiture mechanisms to either outright take things or to implement restrictions and to decertify or penalize foreign and domestic persons, companies, and banks (or, if needed, entire governments) from doing business if they don’t play ball with U.S.-imposed rules.
And of course, as had been reported repeatedly in the media, the DEA has been a leader in data collection and communications intercepts – another preferred technique of its discredited Cold War predecessors.
The other older, more bureaucratic, and more hamstrung federal agencies desire that DEA come to their meetings. They want access to DEA reporting, assets, and streamlined procedures. They like DEA to use its expertise with, and access to, foreign investigative units to implement interrogation sessions and to expand on interrogation results. Get the guys involved in the show who have been doing this ever since the CIA went (temporarily) belly up. If the “investigative” tactics or small group assaults don’t work, DEA can always just call in the foreign (or domestic) police or the foreign (or U.S.) military to assault the targeted individuals.
The Age of Cooperation
What has made it all the more wonderful is that we have entered the area of official interagency “cooperation.” Fusion centers. Deniability. No snooping is illegal, because the other guy from the other agency has a need and he asked you to access that data stream that you couldn’t otherwise access legally. Legitimate request. Approved. Reason for using invasive, illegal system? Let’s see… the binder says “Official request from other agency,” so we are all good here.
Share everything. Pursue everything. Use every tool. If one agency has the power or means, then we all benefit from that not yet defamed technique or “asset.” Drug dealing and “turism” are rampant, you know. Wasn’t this the enlightened conclusion that came from the 9/11 reviews of government’s failings? Isn’t this what we all wanted? Wasn’t the clear message that agencies had all of these wonderful spying systems and wonderful information that could have saved the world, but just weren’t talking to each other?
Shouldn’t we be happy with a more complete merger of covert and overt activities and sharing of intercepted intelligence across the board? If one heroic guy tightens the screws on a bad guy, shouldn’t the whole “intelligence community” benefit? When another heroic guy illegally hooks some wires together so he can grab some data “if needed,” shouldn’t that data all be centralized and available to all of Leviathan – just in case? Those crazy jealous disconnected power centers have done great harm by not centralizing their functions and cooperating. Hurray for the new era of centralized group hugs, sharing, and high fives! If one guy blows up a turist, we all blew up a turist. If one guy shouldn’t have blown up a turist, then nobody really blew him up, because some “bad intelligence” originated from an unidentifiable, unblameable source.
Nixon’s Genius Revealed
DEA’s obscure role as the foreign eyes, ears, hands, and guns of the U.S. government is becoming more visible as the years go by. The advantage of a war on a substance is that the “war” can reach into foreign territory without the need to continually demonize a series of “bad” foreign individuals or groups in order to justify a continued presence. The presence has been justified under the nebulous “war on drugs.” The agents aren’t seen as a political threat to the hosting country. The military support and involvement in the war led by the state’s “agents” is a natural blend, with the hidden imbedded agents making the judgement calls and serving as invisible, unnamed, protected sources who will not be held accountable for “bad intelligence” when things go wrong. As long as an agent comes out of a closed-door interrogation session and gives the thumbs up, the turbines can spool up, the ordnance can be dispensed, and any kind of scorched earth that results after that is A-OK for the military. No demerits will be forthcoming. It’s nobody’s fault.
So it has turned out to be a very workable arrangement, in recent decades, for the total State, which no longer needs a Congress to specifically authorize a war or black ops against a certain “bad guy” or his people. It can be done with the ubiquitous connection to the war on drugs. Don’t you know that all the bad foreign people that the U.S. wants to attack, discredit, or wreak havoc on obtain their funding for terrorism from drug trafficking?
Now, finally, to answer the question alluded to previously.
Question: Why did Nixon create the DEA?
Answer: In the early 1970s, the black ops functionaries of the executive branch, both domestic and foreign, were in the spotlight, had been disgraced, and were being shut down. Nixon needed a new mechanism to do both covert and overt ops in a seamless manner between the foreign and domestic environments, and along a new line with a new rationale that was not related to the Cold War, which the public was weary of. Something new. Something that the public and Congress did not yet detest, because they did not know the ultimate reach of the new monster being created to replace the old one.
This process – Cold War to drug war – was, of course, not instantaneous, all occurring on that fateful date of July 1, 1973. Nixon had made preludes for a desired drug war before that date, and the cash-strapped Cold War limped along for a while after that date, with some confused glory seekers – who apparently didn’t get the memo – trying to mix commies and drugs in places like Nicaragua.
But it is interesting to see that on the same day that Congress was officially nailing the coffin shut on the Cold War, Nixon opened a window to let the demons – that had possessed the soul of the previous war – out of the grave. Those demons then flew into a convenient herd of swine that Nixon summoned in the nick of time.
Completing the Circle
Fast-forward. Nowadays, with fatigue for the drug war setting in, a new rationale and a new direction have been devised to wage the worldwide war on freedom. A condensation of concerns from within W’s Beltway in 2001 might have been summed up and expressed in the following query, which would make a person reminiscent of the dilemma in which Nixon found himself in 1973:
“We’ve had a good run – more than a quarter of a century – but now that the drug war is falling into disrepute, what will be the next nebulous war against an undefinable enemy that will justify the continuation of covert and overt operations around the world for another 25 years?”
But that question is no longer timely, since it has already answered itself. And with that new direction came the resurgence of the old agency that fell into disrepute in the 1970s. All evil and embarrassing things are apparently forgotten and forgiven by the state; and sadly by an apathetic public. The previous restrictions on the CIA are now seen to have been short-sighted. Non-reading Americans don’t know we have gone through this before.
Who knows, with a multi-decade hiatus and retreat out of the limelight into the sewer, the substance war may even rear its head and become popular again, sporting a new round of door-smashing and asset-stealing. But next time, the seizures should probably be creatively rebranded as something new, and therefore not yet recognizable and detestable. How about “carbon forfeitures” imposed against “carbon cartels” headed by evil “carbon kingpins.”
“Hey Bob, what happened to your car?”
“The CEA took it. They said it was a ‘Schedule One’ car on the carbon list and had no legitimate purpose.”
(This is from a book project, Cold War to Drug War, being undertaken by David Hathaway.)
David Hathaway [send him mail] is a former supervisory DEA agent. He is a cowboy and aficionado of Latin America, where he has lived and traveled extensively. He is a homeschooling father of nine children and maintains the website charityendureth.com.
Fletcher Prouty: One thing that’s very important these days is, take the drug problem. Now, drugs come in in aircraft or, some of ’em in ships, but I’d say 90% of the drugs come into this country by aircraft. Now, we spend billions of dollars to have an impregnable air defense system. I was one of the founders; five officers were sent to Colorado Springs in 1950 to organize the Air Defense Command. So I know exactly what its business is and how it works. And in those days – what you’d call our early days – we were intercepting, by radar, an average of 47,000 flights a day, for over the United States; no matter which way they were coming, we’d intercept ’em, and we had special radars for special conditions. Then, out here in Norfolk, we had the Atlantic Sea Frontier, and the Navy knew all the ships at sea; in fact, they knew all the ships at sea all over the world, now that they had the satellites up there.
So, we know every time you fill a rowboat with heroin, or when you fill an airplane with coke or whatever’s comin’ in; we know it’s in the air. When I was running clandestine operations, like a flight from the coast of Florida into Cuba, bringing some people in to do one thing or another against Castro, I would have to call, first, Air Defense Command, and I’d say, “This little plane – six-passenger small plane – is coming in tonight at about 9:30, and you will see it on your radar: leave it alone. And it’ll be there about two hours, it’ll be comin’ out around 11:30; you’ll see that: leave it alone.” All I had was some cleared officers in the Air Defense Command; they put that on the records, and they wouldn’t touch the airplane.
Well, suppose they were deliverin’ drugs, instead of doin’ something the government had set up for them to do, you see? The drug guy could call ’em and say, “Look, I’ve got a plane comin’ in tonight with 10 tons of drugs: don’t touch that airplane.” Well, that’s collusion, see? He’s in on it to use ’em.
But, why is it that this great defense system that we have – that can see every single airplane in the air; in fact, we can see flocks of crows in the air with the thing: it’s perfect! – can’t see planes goin’ to Mena, Arkansas, loaded with drugs? Now, that’s utterly ridiculous; and that means that somewhere, there’s collusion, through the government, to the powers that be that run the drug program – which may be the same people, when you think about it, you see?
And I know that from flyin’ planes myself in the transport business, from bein’ with the Air Defense Command when it was started, and from running clandestine operations later in my career, from the Pentagon. And the sky is absolutely covered with this stuff, and you cannot get through, night or day, rain or snow, and yet, it’s comin’ through every single day. That just proves collusion in the drug business. Why don’t we stop the drug business? You see, those are the elemental facts of life.
How many people know that we could stop every plane going to Mena, Arkansas, no matter whether it’s goin’ treetop height, or whether it’s a satellite goin’ by and droppin’ it down? And, you know, we used to drop items from satellites by lettin’ ’em go up there at 15 miles up, and just let the thing drop. When it hit the ground, we’d pick it up; we were able to track it. Things like that.
Interviewer: From a satellite, it would drop the gear?
Prouty: From a satellite, sure. We’d pick it up; we’d pick it up in the ocean. A fellow that used to be one of my operations officers, in my Tokyo squadron, had that job out there. He’d be out flyin’ around the ocean because, he couldn’t tell which wave it was gonna be in but, they’d say the satellite will release this thing, and it’ll come down within such and such an area, and of course it would have a parachute on it, and they’d see it comin’ down, go and pick it up.
Interviewer: Oh I see, so that’d be like a roll of film or somethin’.
Prouty: Yeah, yeah. But if they can do that, my God, they can find a little boat with drugs on it, see? It’s just that they’re turnin’ it around the other way; they’re letting the government assist them and bring it in, instead of the other way around. They used to use my planes in Southeast Asia, bringin’ drugs directly in from China; they’d go up into South China. And, but if they ever got caught, there’d be a box like a coffin – I mean, not that it was coffin-shaped, but it was a real coffin. They said, “Oh, we’re bringin’ in, a friend of ours over here’s grandmother died, and we’re just bringin’ her down to bury her, and her son lives down in Laos and we’re takin’….” Open up the box, it’s full of drugs.
We used to see, when we had the army in Burma, we used to pay the army – we’d pay the British army with British money, we’d pay the American army with American money, we’d pay the Chinese army with packages of heroin – that’s the traditional pay for the Chinese army; so our army, to pay them, had heroin.
The Politics of Heroin (Alfred W. McCoy)
Dope, Inc. (Executive Intelligence Review)