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. The Man Who Killed Ken... Best Price: $4.24 Buy New $5.41 (as of 07:15 EST - Details)
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 Nixonu2019s Secrets: T... Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $6.55 (as of 07:15 EST - Details) 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, attorney generals, 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 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 “de-certify” 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 Against the State: An ... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details) communication, writing, or information transfer is allowed to the CIA because its whole world is classified by their 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 the 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 agency 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 to what the CIA could do in both the foreign and domestic environment. 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 F.A.A. 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 Ruskies 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 White House Call Girl:... Best Price: $6.99 Buy New $11.74 (as of 08:15 EST - Details) 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 Check Amazon for Pricing. 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 will also show 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 publically 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 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 publically 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 super majority 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, previously 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 shut 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.
(Read the final part of this excerpt on tomorrow’s edition of LRC. This is from a book project, “Cold War to Drug War,” being undertaken by David Hathaway.)