The New York Times has a disturbing story on mission creep by the DEA in the disastrous war on drugs. From the Times:
The Drug Enforcement Administration has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables.
The dramatic growth in the size and scope of the American drug war bureaucracy is actually a solid example of how big, intrusive government is both perpetuated and expanded.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act, which consolidated and updated all previous federal drug laws. Part of this legislation was the Controlled Substances Act, which remains the legal framework for the contemporary war on drugs.
In 1973, Congress created the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, consolidating the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; the new agency also included agents from the U.S. Customs Service and the Central Intelligence Agency. The 1973 DEA had fewer than 1,500 special agents and a budget of around $75 million.
In 2009, the DEA had over 5,200 special agents and its budget was over $2.6 billion. Moreover, as the Times article continues, “The D.E.A. now has 87 offices in 63 countries and close partnerships with governments that keep the Central Intelligence Agency at arm’s length.”
In other words, American taxpayers are now the proud owners of the world’s drug police force, and then some.
But the DEA is just one part of a vast, and ever-expanding American drug war bureaucracy. As Independence Institute research director Dave Kopel and I describe in a 2005 monograph for the Liberal Institute of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (Potsdam, Germany):
In 1989, President George W. Bush created the cabinet level Office of National
Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to oversee and coordinate U.S. drug policy. In charge
of the new agency is a „Drug Czar.“ In the United States – a constitutional republic
– a high level government official in charge of a powerful internal law enforcement
agency is referred to by the same term as an absolute Russian tyrant…The U.S. Justice Department operates its own drug intelligence agency.
The new Department of Homeland security, created in response to the Sept.
11th terrorist attacks, devotes considerable resources to fighting drugs rather than
fighting terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security is in charge of Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Border Patrol,
all of which are heavily involved in narcotics interdiction and enforcement.
The U.S. Department of State has a Bureau of International Law Enforcement
and Narcotics Affairs.
For fiscal year 2005, the ONDCP is scheduled to distribute over $12,000,000,000
to a variety of federal agencies-above and beyond the agencies’ own budgets-for
the drug war, including the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, both the
Justice and State Departments.
In addition, the ONDCP conducts a public relations advertising campaigns
against drug users, and against citizen efforts to change American drug policies.
One television commercial claims that Americans who smoke marijuana are helping
The federal government organizes and leads multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency
narcotics task forces combining local and state police agencies throughout the
United States. Just in Colorado (a state with less than 2% of the U.S. population),
there are at least 20 such task forces operating. Thus, the federal government
takes a lead role in directing state and local law enforcement of state and local
drug laws. Such federal control is contrary to the American Constitution, which,
as James Madison explained, includes the principle that state and local law enforcement
would be independent of the federal government.
The domestic federal drug war budget is over $20,000,000,000 dollars today;
add in state and local spending and the total exceeds $40,000,000,000.
To put this in perspective, the average monthly Social Security retirement
check in the U.S. in 1972 was $177. Presently, the payment averages slightly more
than $900 a month. If, however, Social Security benefits had increased at the
same rate as drug war spending, today’s check would be around $30,000 a month.
For an in-depth look at the consequences (both to American taxpayers and citizens of other countries) of being the world drug police, check out the chapter “A Foreign Policy Disaster” in the book, “The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War” (Accurate Press, 2004). Also co-authored by myself and Dave Kopel.