Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 01:30:07 -0500

Battle Lines in the Drug War

by William Norman Grigg

Near the climax of Triangle of Death, a novel written by former federal undercover agent Michael Levine, a confrontation takes place in Argentina between a "deep cover" agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and an officer of the CIA. The DEA agent had penetrated the heart of a globe-spanning narcotics network which was producing an enhanced variety of cocaine known as La Reina Blanca - only to learn that key elements of the drug network were actively cooperating with the CIA.

"Make La Reina Blanca available in a country and within weeks a significant and predictable portion of the population is turned into murderous, uncontrollable zombies doomed to a slow, expensive death," the CIA official muses. "You destroy that nation's economy, its faith in its government. The nation implodes on itself. You win a war and you never fire a shot. Look what heroin and cocaine have already done - La Reina makes those drugs look like powdered sugar."

"You're not telling me anything I don't know," the DEA undercover agent angrily responds. "What I don't understand is how a you, a so-called American, can put that [drug] on our streets."

"How can you be so good at what you do and have so little understanding of what really pulls your strings?" the CIA officer wearily responds. "Don't you realize that there are factions in your government that want this to happen - an emergency situation too hot for a constitutional government to handle."

"To what end?" asks the shocked drug agent.

"A suspension of the Constitution, of course. The legislation is already in place. All perfectly legal. Check it out yourself. It's called FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency. Turn in your guns a from here on out, we're watching you, you antigovernment rabble rousers.'"

From Fear to Control

According to Levine, this shocking exchange is not the product of an imagination fed by alarmist myths. "That scenario - an epidemic' of drug abuse leading to a war on drugs, and eventually to a police state - came from a specific conversation I had with a CIA officer in Argentina in 1979," Levine informed The New American. "There was a small group of us gathered for a drinking party at the CIA guy's apartment. There were several Argentine police officers there as well; at the time, Argentina was a police state in which people could be taken into custody without warning, tortured, and then disappeared.'"

"At one point my associate in the CIA said that he preferred Argentina's approach to social order, and that America should be more like that country," Levine continues. "Somebody asked, Well, how does a change of that sort happen?' The spook replied that it was necessary to create a situation of public fear - a sense of impending anarchy and social upheaval in which people will literally plead with Congress, Take whatever rights you need, but save us from drugs.' And, of course, the powers behind the scenes would be only too willing to oblige."

"Even now, the American public doesn't understand the extent to which this has happened," Levine observes. "In the name of fighting drugs, we've allowed our federal government to become essentially a criminal enterprise in a lot of ways." In the federal war on drugs, property can be summarily seized from law-abiding citizens, and lives can be taken with impunity. "We've come to accept criminal behavior from government to a shocking extent," Levine declares, "and I watched it happen from the inside."

Firsthand Passion

For 25 years, Levine served as a "deep cover" specialist for four federal agencies, eventually becoming the most highly decorated undercover agent in DEA history. His inspiration in fighting the "War on Drugs" was his younger brother David, who killed himself in 1977 after 19 years of heroin addiction. In his suicide note, David cried out, "I can't stand the drugs anymore." A few years later, while Levine was working undercover for the DEA, he discovered to his horror that his teenage daughter had also succumbed to a drug habit - which she eventually overcame with his help. There are few people more passionately opposed to the drug culture than Levine - and just as few who are more critical of the federal government's war on drugs.

"The war on drugs was only an illusion that I had been fool enough to believe in - a belief I might easily have died for, were it not for plain, dumb luck," Levine wrote in his 1993 best-seller The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic. "I had been one of those for whom being a DEA agent had become my reason for living. There were agents like me all over the world, having their illusions shattered, stepping on toes, trying to lock up drug dealers who had bigger and better connections in the American government than they did. Their cases were getting destroyed, just as [my] cases were; they were getting in trouble, just as I was; yet they kept on pushing, kept on butting their heads against the brick walls of clandestine agendas."

When Levine was sent to Argentina as a DEA undercover agent in 1979, he was "full of hatred for those druglords my leaders called our nation's biggest enemies.'" Three years later, Levine returned to the states with the chastened realization that "I had found as much to hate about many of my own leaders - those so-called good and loyal Americans' who hid behind official titles and secrecy laws - as I did about the criminals they protected."

"Regrettable Incident"

Levine states without hesitation that "the CIA has long been a major supporter of the people and organizations responsible for supplying drugs to this country. Time and time again, I discovered that various people against whom we were trying to build a case were regarded as assets by the CIA. Of course, at that time those assets' were described as allies in the Cold War, but my DEA sources tell me that this remains the case even now that the Cold War is over."

Significantly, the CIA itself has confirmed at least one instance in which their "assets" have been implicated in large-scale drug smuggling. In November 1996, a federal grand jury in Miami handed down a sealed indictment against General Ramon Guillen Davila, a Venezuelan officer who headed a CIA-created anti-drug program within that nation's National Guard in the late 1980s. From 1987 to 1991, a spy from Guillen's CIA-supervised unit who had insinuated himself into the Colombian drug network actively collaborated in the shipment of at least 22 tons of cocaine through Venezuela. This was done, according to the CIA, to win the confidence of the drug lords.

In December 1989, as part of this collaborative effort, CIA officer Mark McFarlin and Jim Campbell, the CIA's station chief in Venezuela, met with DEA attacho Anabelle Grimm to discuss the delivery of an "uncontrolled shipment" of cocaine into the United States. Despite the fact that Grimm and her associates at the DEA refused to sign off on this supposed "sting operation," the CIA went ahead with it anyway - and at least a ton of nearly pure cocaine was delivered to Miami International Airport for distribution on American streets.

The CIA's narco-snafu wasn't exposed until November 1993, at which time Agency spokesman Kent Harrington described it as "a most regrettable incident." McFarlin resigned and Campbell was recalled to Washington. General Guillen, whose role in the affair has never been fully disclosed, was the only individual to face criminal charges. Anabelle Grimm, who was unwilling to support the CIA's drug-running scheme, was essentially hounded out of the DEA.

"The case of the Venezuelan cocaine is the only known instance in which the agency has acknowledged that its actions led to drugs being imported into the United States," reported the November 23, 1996 New York Times. "No CIA official has been charged in the case, and there is no evidence that anyone at the agency profited from sales of the drugs."

However, in a sense the CIA collectively profited from this scandal, which occurred as the Bush Administration (which was led by a former CIA director, lest we forget) was escalating its "War on Drugs": The "accidental" delivery of cocaine to America's streets could be looked upon as a case of the CIA drumming up business for itself.

Incentive for Defeat

Like many of the "wars" waged by America's political establishment, the war on drugs is being prosecuted by a bureaucratic coalition that has no incentive for victory and every incentive to perpetuate the status quo. "The drug war under President Clinton is bigger and healthier than ever," writes Levine in The Big White Lie. "It seems like every department in the federal government has a part in it - DEA, FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, DIA, ATF, State Department, Pentagon, Customs, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines - and each one is fighting for more turf and a bigger chunk of the drug war budget. When I started out as an agent in 1965, there were two federal agencies enforcing the drug laws, and the budget was less than $10 million." By contrast, in 1993 there were 54 agencies involved and a budget of $13 billion. Notes Levine, "Orchestrating the whole mess is a Drug Czar who is generally a political appointment with no specific qualifications for the job."

But it is the CIA's role in "supporting and protecting the world's biggest drug dealers" that most clearly illustrates the fraudulent nature of the war on drugs, maintains Levine. In the 1980s, the roll call of CIA-supported narcotics traffickers included anti-American elements of the Afghan Mujahedin, certain factions of Nicaragua's anti-Sandinista resistance, the Shan United Army in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, and "any of a score of other groups and/or individuals like Manuel Noriega. Support of these people has been secretly deemed more important than getting drugs off our streets." Indeed, the Venezuelan cocaine scandal seems to suggest that the CIA has on occasion deemed it a priority to put drugs on our streets.

Cocaine Coup

The Big White Lie and Levine's previous best-seller Deep Cover provide a chronicle of the frustrations he experienced as he tried to penetrate the Bolivian-based drug network that supplied the Colombian cartels. "By late 1979, after a series of undercover adventures in Argentina, Uruguay, and Bolivia, I managed to penetrate the Roberto Suarez organization - the biggest cocaine-producing cartel in history," writes Levine in Deep Cover. "From the beginning I found myself battling forces within my own agency who, for reasons I could not understand at the time, were opposed to the investigation."

In spite of this, Levine succeeded in building a case against key members of the Suarez organization and developing crucial intelligence regarding the extent to which drug traffickers "had already infiltrated the highest levels of other South American governments." At this point, recalls Levine, "strange things began to happen. All charges were dropped against one of the two defendants and the bail of the other was mysteriously lowered, after which he was allowed to leave the United States without the slightest hindrance by our government."

This apparently inexplicable turn of events left Levine's faith in the drug war "shaken to its foundations." However, "what happened next blasted it to kingdom come. The Roberto Suarez organization began a revolution in Bolivia to oust the element in that government that had dared to cooperate with DEA in allowing my sting operation to happen - a revolution supported by our CIA."

The July 1980 upheaval was conducted by a paramilitary force calling itself Los Novios de la Muerte ("The Fiances of Death") who were recruited by ex-Nazi fugitive - and CIA asset - Klaus Barbie. The Novios liberated all of the drug traffickers who had been incarcerated by the Bolivian government and destroyed their police records. "When the smoke cleared," Levine recalls, "thousands had been tortured and killed and the cocaine traffickers were in control of Bolivia" - which at the time produced more than 80 percent of the world's cocaine. Roberto Suarez's cousin, Colonel Luis Arce-Gomez, was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, and eventually became known as "Minister of Cocaine" for his role in streamlining and expanding Bolivia's cocaine industry.

Following the "Cocaine Coup" of 1980, Levine found himself caught in an unusual cross fire. His complaints about the mismanagement of his operation were rewarded with "a long and intensive internal-affairs investigation that touched every corner of my professional and personal life." At the same time, "Roberto Suarez issued contracts for my murder throughout the Americas."

Reagan Reaction

The "Cocaine Coup" came near the end of the Carter Administration, which as Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld observes in her study Narco-Terrorism, "was rife with apologists for and consumers of all kinds of drugs." Peter Bourne, the psychiatrist who served as Carter's chief adviser on drugs, was appointed to his Administration post after writing in favor of legalizing both marijuana and cocaine. But the Carter Administration's perspective on drug use was entirely in harmony with the official findings of its Republican predecessor. Notes Ehrenfeld, "In September 1975, a typical establishment entity called the Domestic Council Drug Abuse Task Force, led by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, wrote a white paper that essentially condoned the use of both marijuana and cocaine."

The late 1970s and early 1980s, notes Ehrenfeld, "were America's maximum tolerance for drugs." Cocaine became the recreational drug of choice for a growing portion of the upper middle class, and the Latin American drug network - supplied by the CIA-backed narco-regime in Bolivia - was more than willing to service the rapidly expanding U.S. market. But with metronomic predictability, the permissiveness of the Carter era yielded to a Reagan-era crackdown.

After the CIA-backed coup, Bolivia became the drug war equivalent of a public works project. Dr. Ehrenfeld writes that Bolivia was targeted for "a special project for coca-leaf eradication and drug control before such programs were even attempted, much less allowed, in Colombia and Peru." Agents from the Customs Service, the DEA, the Border Patrol, and other federal agencies were dispatched to participate in drug suppression initiatives in what was then an unprecedented display of "interagency cooperation" in the drug war. Even more significantly, 170 U.S. Army troops were deployed to Bolivia in 1986 to conduct "quick strike missions against narcotics traffickers and their jungle processing labs" - the first such use of the military in a foreign anti-drug campaign.

The domestic front of the Reagan Administration's drug war made plentiful use of a measure passed by Congress in 1978 that expanded the use of "criminal forfeiture" in drug investigations. That law, writes Dan Baum in his book Smoke and Mirrors, "let the DEA seize money and derivative proceeds' without even charging - let alone convicting - the owner; the low burden of proof required under civil forfeiture now was combined with the extended reach of criminal forfeiture. Now drug agents could, on suspicion alone, confiscate not only cars and boats but also bank accounts, stock portfolios, anything they suspected of being bought with drug money."

Federally directed forfeiture efforts received an additional boost from the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act of 1984. Baum documents that by 1989, "the practice of confiscating citizens' property was openly defended as a law-enforcement cash cow.... The Justice Department, which had just been given 175 additional prosecutors to work on nothing but forfeiture cases, crowed in a public handout that a natural byproduct is revenue which is pumped back into law enforcement so that forfeitures beget more forfeitures like a snowball rolling downhill.' Assets seized annually in concert with federal agents had increased twentyfold in just four years, to more than $600 million. Ninety-five percent of that was plowed back into law enforcement...."

Furthermore, the preponderance of forfeited wealth was seized from law-abiding citizens. As the February 27, 1991 Pittsburgh Press reported, 80 percent of the people whose property was seized in federally mandated forfeiture actions "were never charged. And most of the seized items weren't the luxurious playthings of drug barons, but modest homes and simple cars and hard-earned savings of ordinary people." Needless to say, the practice of forfeiture - which is little more than plunder conducted under the color of state authority - created perverse incentives for other varieties of official corruption. In 1990, the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund kicked back $24 million to informants.

Even more astonishing is the fact that asset forfeiture, a supposed weapon to combat drugs, created an incentive for at least one state government to distribute drugs. In 1989, the Arizona state police imported nine tons of marijuana to sell as part of a federally encouraged sting operation, seven tons of which disappeared into the street - essentially a state-level version of the CIA's Venezuela drug debacle. Yet, as Baum reports, the official in charge of the sting "told reporters it was worth letting seven tons of pot hit the streets to net $3 million in seized assets. The operation was, in his words, a success from a cost-benefit standpoint.'"

Profiles in Ambiguity

Asset forfeiture is not the only imposition on individual rights begotten by the drug war. By the mid-1980s, the DEA had adopted the practice of detaining and frisking travelers at airports on the basis of "drug courier profiles." In 1987, the North Carolina Law Review published a list of 155 "suspicious" characteristics culled from various profiles used by the DEA. Some passengers had provoked the agency's suspicion by purchasing round-trip tickets; others had tagged themselves as potential couriers by obtaining one-way tickets. Some had called attention to themselves by taking non-stop flights "to and from [a] source city (such as Los Angeles or Miami)"; others had taken connecting flights to or from a "source city."

Passengers had been detained for "walking slowly, walking quickly, being very tense, [having a] calm demeanor a carrying no luggage, carrying [a] medium-sized bag a [being] sloppily dressed, casually dressed, [or] smartly dressed a first to deplane, last to deplane, deplaning from the middle" - in short, for any and every conceivable reason.

Even more ominous, as recently documented in The New American by an active-duty Army Special Forces Soldier (see "Quartered Among Us" in our September 1st issue), the war on drugs has undermined the Third Amendment's prohibitions against the creation of a standing occupation army, and the Posse Comitatus Act, which was intended to segregate the military and law enforcement functions of the federal government. This illicit blending of military and law enforcement functions is accomplished through Joint Task Force (JTF)-6, headquartered in Fort Bliss, Texas. JTF-6 provides training and support to law enforcement agencies involved in counter-drug operations - which, as the Waco tragedy illustrated, can be defined to include an assault on an eccentric religious sect.

During planning for the Waco raid, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) contacted "JTF-6 and asked for training, medical, communications, and other support," note scholars David B. Kopel and Paul H. Blackman in their book No More Wacos. "The JTF staff explained that JTF could only be involved if the case were a drug case." Accordingly, ATF redefined its case as a drug investigation on the pretext that the Branch Davidians were running a methamphetamine lab. The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOC) authorized JTF-6 to assist in serving a warrant on the sect, which was described by USSOC as "a dangerous extremist organization believed to be producing methamphetamine," supposedly in "direct support of interdiction activities along the southwest border." Of course, the warrant itself did not mention illicit drugs, and no federal official bothered to explain how the full-force raid on the Branch Davidian community, located 300 miles from the border, could have assisted "interdiction" efforts.

Futile Federal Efforts

Michael Levine left the DEA after growing increasingly disillusioned with the fraudulent effort known as the war on drugs. "The war on drugs is a fraud for many reasons, but most of all because its basic approach - interdiction to control supply - just cannot work, and the suits' in charge of the effort know this," Levine explained to The New American. "All that is accomplished by efforts to reduce the supply of narcotics is that the kingpins are made wealthier, and the occasional high-profile bust enriches the careers of a few politicians and bureaucrats. In the meantime, drug consumers still manage to find their sources and lives are still destroyed. The fundamental problem with the so-called war on drugs is that both sides are winning - the drug lords and the suits' - because they both are making a killing."

Since leaving federal service, however, Levine has focused on what he refers to as the "rampant criminality of our own government." He observes that "we've seen our society accept the idea that rights can be traded in exchange for protection from drugs, just as that CIA officer [in Argentina] said we would. People have been panicked into letting our government engage in wide-scale abuses and criminal behavior, and as the Waco episode illustrates, the feds can write their own rules when they find a drug angle to a case."

However, Levine remains committed to the struggle against narcotics - pursued at a local level with community leaders and locally accountable law enforcement agencies. "I was made the Drug Czar,' if you will, of Cape Cod for two years, from 1992 to 1993," he recalls. "We essentially followed a strategy of attacking demand by enforcing laws against drug consumers. We let it be known that drug users would be arrested and punished. Demand was reduced dramatically - until the feds came in and told us that we were screwing up their operations against the dealers.' Pretty soon all of the taxpayer and foundation-subsidized non-profits said the same thing - that we were taking the wind out of the sails' of their campaigns. Of course we were - we were actually winning, which is a no-no in the drug war."

Levine experienced nearly identical results when his methods were given a trial run in Greenville, Mississippi. "We went into inner-city schools and told the students that there was going to be a new war on drugs - that we were going to enforce laws against users, and that users would be expected to help us identify dealers," Levine recalls. "Within a short period of time, arrests were made and drug use declined. Sure enough, the feds showed up and complained that our efforts were undercutting their operations against dealers. Enough political pressure was created to close down the Mississippi program, and I finally got tired of butting my head against the wall and resigned from the Cape Cod program as well."

War on Rights

The decades-long "war on drugs" has been, in practice, a war on individual rights - and Levine is convinced that such has been the purpose of the enterprise from the beginning. "We haven't had the type of upheaval my CIA friend predicted, but there has been a long process of undermining our freedom and institutionalizing criminal behavior by our government," Levine observes.

"If we're going to fight a war on drugs, it's going to have to be carried out at the local level, by locally accountable people working with the cooperation of the community," Levine concludes. "The feds - and, remember, I was one for 25 years - are following a different agenda. There are some very good, courageous federal agents whose efforts are being wasted, just as mine were, by a political elite that has no interest in winning this war."

THE NEW AMERICAN - Copyright 1997,
American Opinion Publishing, Incorporated

Back to ZPRC Home