Thursday, January 1, 2009

DEA Celebrates failure

In July, The Drug Enforcement Administration celebrated its 35th anniversary. This quote from Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart is telling.

"DEA has proven for the past 35 years that we can-and are-destroying powerful drug organizations. DEA's ability to hunt down major drug traffickers, wherever the case may lead, has been our signature. Time and again, we've taken down kingpins and collapsed powerful, violent drug trafficking operations that were considered untouchable. At the heart of this agency are its employees who today continue this proud tradition of excellence and the noble fight to free this nation of illegal drugs."

While DEA efforts will lead to the apprehension or death of key figures from time to time, the claim of destroying organizations is grandiose at best. Even in the rare situations when DEA is able to cripple an organization, it is just temporary. These organizations will return with new leadership or another organization will rise up. The current situation in Colombia characterizes this problem perfectly. After DEA brought down the Medellín Cartel in the early 1990s, competition was decreased for the Cali Cartel. There is strong evidence that the Cali Cartel helped law enforcement take down the Medellín Cartel. DEA does not want to think about inadvertently aiding one cartel by breaking up another. When DEA broke up the Cali Cartel, the Norte Del Valle Cartel took its place. In August, Juan Carlos Ramirez-Abadia one of its leaders was extradited to the United States to face numerous charges.

There are many lessons to be learned from the events in Colombia over the last two decades. The most valuable may be that as long as there is money to be made by exporting cocaine individuals will form organizations for the sole purpose of doing so.

Over the thirty-eight years that have passed since Nixon declared the "war on drugs", law enforcement has marked many milestones. Not surprisingly, these milestones indicate how horribly its efforts have failed. Our leaders choose to view larger and larger seizures as a sign of progress. If this view was in good faith, it might be forgivable. The fact is illicit drug proceeds fund many things from the stock market to political campaigns. We can't really expect our leaders to kill the golden goose.