Drug Warrior

When retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, chose Miami as the place to unveil his new anti-drug strategy last April, it was because of people like David McKinney.

In a warehouse at the Miami Seaport dubbed the "House of Pain" because of the sweltering and excruciatingly tedious searches conducted there, McKinney and his team of Customs agents and National Guardsmen feel the ebb and flow of the drug trade as surely as the tide washing up on the shores of nearby South Beach. At one time those waves literally carried so many bales of marijuana from errant airdrops that locals took to calling them "square grouper." That was before an intense air and sea interdiction campaign largely plugged the eastern Caribbean drug-smuggling routes.

Once those pipelines became prohibitively risky for smugglers, McKinney and his team began to find more major drug stashes in commercial cargo passing through the Miami Seaport. Multiple kilos of cocaine were found hidden in the oil of transmission crankcases and stuffed inside loads of fresh fish.

Then, after the Colombian police and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took down the leadership of the Cali cartel in Colombia, the drug tide ebbed again. But it quickly surged once more at the Mexican border and in the port of Miami in the form of smaller, more frequent stashes of cocaine and marijuana in maritime cargo.

Miami has long been on the front lines in the war on drugs, and has been designated by the federal government as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). By coordinating federal, state and local resources and agencies in an effort to combat both the illicit drug trade and the destruction it causes, however, Miami has successfully reclaimed much of the turf lost in the initial flood of the 1970s and 1980s.

Under a single roof at the HIDTA Task Force's South Florida Investigative Support Center, for instance, local police work alongside federal agents from Customs, DEA, FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other law-enforcement agencies. Military linguists and intelligence analysts fluent in Spanish sit nearby, listening to wiretaps targeted at drug gangs. At night, National Guardsmen on loan to HIDTA fly military helicopters searching with infrared radar for amphetamine labs, and Green Berets in the National Guard stake out isolated airstrips in the nearby Everglades.

"Not so many years ago, if you wanted to get the DEA, FBI and Customs guys to all sit at the same table, you practically had to force them to check their guns at the door," says Gary Moore, a deputy in the Broward County sheriff's department and board chairman of the HIDTA Task Force's South Florida Investigative Support Center. "Now we're working better collectively and pooling our resources. But we still have thousands of groups out there running drugs. The drug culture is not going away."

A Social Cancer

"Miami may have been the first community in the nation that got real scared about the drug menace, and then got itself organized and did something about it," says McCaffrey in an interview in his office at the Old Executive Office Building. "In the past seven years they've probably reduced drug use by 50 percent, and there's no magic in the way they went about it. The community got together, formed coalitions, and started programs such as drug courts, programs for at-risk youth, and the HIDTA task force to coordinate federal, state and local officials."

By choosing to announce his new drug strategy at Miami's George Washington Carver Middle School, McCaffrey also gave an insight into his priorities. Consolidating the 14 goals of previous Clinton Administration drug czar Lee Brown into five objectives, McCaffrey pointed first to the need to motivate American youth to reject drugs. The remaining items on his list are reducing drug-related crime and violence; cushioning the impact of drugs on the social fabric; interdicting drugs entering the United States; and eradicating drugs and drug cartels in their source countries.

While those goals may have the ring of motherhood and apple pie, the new drug czar knows that each raises contentious and often controversial issues. The continuing challenge, McCaffrey says, will be to strike the correct balance between prevention and treatment, domestic law enforcement, interdiction and source country efforts.

"One of the mistakes we made in the past was to argue this question as an either/or proposition," said McCaffrey. "Should we have Coast Guard cutters in the Caribbean or should we fund drug treatment for convicts prior to their release? Should we develop crop alternatives for Bolivian peasants, or programs to educate grade-school kids about the dangers of drugs? And in that sense the analogy of a war, in which you concentrate forces to achieve total victory, has been tremendously unhelpful."

A better analogy, he believes, would be an insidious cancer. "Treating cancer requires a more holistic approach, where you organize a family support structure, address the root causes, treat the symptoms and try to alleviate pain," he says. "And you don't demand a knockout cure, because I don't think we'll ever achieve total victory in this fight against drugs. Instead, over the next 10 years I expect to see us bring this seemingly unmanageable problem under better control and reduce its dreadful cost to our society."

Just Say No, Again

Experts say the most urgent priority is reversing a marked increase in drug use among the nation's youth. According to a 1995 study by the Department of Health and Human Services, marijuana use among young people-a key precursor of future drug problems-leaped 50 percent between 1992 and 1994, and the rate of previous LSD use among high school seniors is at its highest level since record-keeping began in 1975. Given the demographic bulge of the "baby echo" to come (more than 39 million American youth are now under the age of 10), the upsurge in drug use among teen-agers becomes particularly worrisome.

Republicans have been quick to point the finger of blame at the Clinton Administration, reserving their strongest criticism for the President's perceived failure to use the bully pulpit to denigrate drug use. According to an analysis by the House Government Reform and Oversight's Subcommittee on National Security, in 758 presidential interviews, statements, addresses, proclamations, and meetings with foreign leaders during the first nine months of 1995, Clinton mentioned drugs only 18 times. In 1993, Clinton cut the size of the drug czar's staff from 146 to 25.

"Personally, I believe that because many of the White House staff used drugs when they were young-and I know, because I've seen the FBI background reports-they feel hypocritical speaking out against drugs. That's not right," says Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "These people deserve credit for what they've accomplished with their lives, but if they now believe drug use is wrong and harmful to our youth, they have a responsibility to speak out. It's hypocritical to stay silent."

In nominating the outspoken McCaffrey, a four-star general and war hero, however, President Clinton seems intent on recapturing the high ground in the war on drugs. Almost immediately after the nomination, McCaffrey announced plans to increase his staff to 150, including roughly 30 military planners and other specialists on loan from the Pentagon. The proposed fiscal 1997 anti-drug budget of $15.1 billion also represents a 9.3 percent increase over the previous year, and McCaffrey asked for and received a seat on the National Security Council to go along with his cabinet-level status. In late May, Clinton became the first President in history to convene a full Cabinet meeting devoted entirely to the subject of national drug control policy.

McCaffrey recalls a period in the 1970s and early 1980s when the Army successfully confronted a drug crisis among young soldiers with a combination of zero tolerance, drug testing and tough love treatment. While conceding that U.S. society as a whole remains a far cry from the regimented culture of the Army, McCaffrey sees parallels. "I'm incredibly proud that the Army went from being riddled with drugs to essentially a drug-free institution," he says. "And it may just take America exactly what it took the Army to turn around its drug problem, which was for people like myself and my sergeant major to look around and say, 'Enough is enough.'"

Indeed, a number of experts believe that tougher attitude and message were essential to the success of the effort to discourage drug use in the 1980s. From 1979 to 1992, for instance, the number of Americans estimated to be using illicit drugs declined by more than half, from 24.7 million to 11.4 million, and drug use among those 17 to 25 years old plummeted by 65 percent from a 1980 baseline.

Experts point to the death of basketball star Len Bias and a steady drumbeat of negative messages in the 1980s-from advertisements equating a fried egg with "your brain on drugs," sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, to former first lady Nancy Reagan's much-maligned "Just Say No to Drugs" campaign-for dramatically altering American attitudes about drug use. "'Just Say No' was an important message, because it empowered kids not to use at a time when there was a lot of peer pressure to do so," says Dr. Herbert H. Kleber, medical director of the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. According to Kleber, data on drug use strongly suggests that any youth who reaches his or her 21st birthday without having tried drugs has little chance of ever becoming an abuser.

The Treatment Controversy

The Clinton Administration's initial 1993 Drug Control Strategy emphasized treatment of hard-core addicts, but officials discovered that because the war on drugs has so demonized drug abusers, any emphasis on drug treatment at the possible expense of law enforcement was controversial. Even with Democrats in the majority, Congress rejected President Clinton's request for a 40 percent increase in funding for treatment programs in 1993.

Yet studies on addiction, crime and incarceration continue to indicate that $1 spent on treatment saves about $5 elsewhere in the health and judicial systems. "If you ask judges, police and prison wardens, they will all tell you that you can't win this war by focusing on supply only," says Kleber, noting that the United States contains only 5 percent of the world's population but consumes more than 50 percent of the total supply of illegal drugs in the world. "The problem is, no one ever lost an election by being hard on drug users."

Because of McCaffrey's reputation as a no-nonsense commander who helped direct an aggressive drug interdiction effort in his former job as commander-in-chief of Southern Command (SouthCom) in Panama, many observers expected his nomination to signal a shift in emphasis away from treatment and toward more robust law enforcement and drug interdiction. The new drug czar, however, has never forgotten his education on the ravages of drug addiction during a ride in a police cruiser along the mean streets of New York in 1993.

"This police lieutenant showed me a crack house where he had arrested Catholic priests, orthopedic surgeons, a high-priced New York city lawyer and even a cheerleader," says McCaffrey. "I mean, here's a cheerleader in from the suburbs wearing her uniform, and she's walking into this horrendously dangerous and depraved place to smoke crack. So it occurred to me that if we as a society think our children are the future of America, we may want to stand behind useful drug prevention and treatment programs."

In the first anti-drug budget bearing his stamp, McCaffrey proposes to increase spending on drug treatment in fiscal 1997 by $229 million, for a total of $2.9 billion. More than $60 million of that would go to substance abuse treatment in federal and state prisons, as well as $42 million to test federal inmates for drugs before they're released.

Given the success of tough, mandatory sentences for drug crimes, and estimates by the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse that as many as 60 percent of federal prisoners and 80 percent of state prisoners are incarcerated for drug- or alcohol-related crimes, many experts on addiction praise the emphasis on prison populations.

"Our prisons today are wall-to-wall with drug addicts, alcoholics and the mentally ill," says Joseph Califano, director of the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. "You can continue this insane misallocation of resources by building ever bigger prisons, or you can focus more resources on treatment to turn them into taxpayers rather than tax eaters."

Task Force Approach

The focus on treatment doesn't mean McCaffrey can ignore the mammoth task of trying to coordinate the work of the dozens of different U.S. and international law enforcement agencies involved in the fight to keep drugs from entering the United States.

In a war without boundaries against the most sophisticated crime organizations of the 20th century, U.S. efforts have always been hamstrung by squabbling between U.S. agencies and by disputes with their counterparts overseas. According to a number of insiders, the drug cartels became adroit at exploiting the situation.

"Case stealing and back-stabbing between agencies, especially the FBI and DEA, was so common a few years ago that the drug dealers found it humorous," says a DEA agent who asked not to be identified. "I arrested one guy who told me that if we spent as much time fighting the drug dealers as each other, he'd have been in jail five years earlier."

McCaffrey, the former commander of Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force South, a standing counternarcotics task force located in Panama, has direct experience in developing a very different operational model for fighting drug cartels and smugglers. After SouthCom was given primary responsibility for monitoring drug traffic in Latin America, the region responsible for all of the world's cocaine production, the military under the leadership of McCaffrey and his predecessor began to take an active role in multi-agency coordination of the interdiction effort.

Armed with the most sophisticated intelligence gathering and analytical systems in the Pentagon's arsenal, SouthCom began devising a regional air-interdiction campaign in the early 1990s. "Most people generally recognize that one thing the military does well is strategic planning, and we're also pretty good at coordinating different approaches and acting as a good-faith mediator to balance everyone's good ideas," says Maj. Gen. George Close, director of operations for the Joint Interagency Task Force South.

"As recently as 1990, there was hardly any such thing as regional operations. Everyone was working their own stovepipe operations with very little synergy and absolutely no synchronization," says Oscar Vera, the Custom Service's adviser to SouthCom's task force. But after the air interdiction campaign orchestrated from SouthCom proved so successful that it temporarily took the bottom out of the market for coca leaf, the multinational, multi-agency operation "became the model for the counterdrug strategy in the region."

It was that model-strategic planning and intelligence gathering on a scale normally unique to the military, centralized command-and-control and decentralized execution, and an emphasis on joint interagency and international task forces or coalitions-that McCaffrey brought with him when he came to Washington.

"I don't think it's a criticism to say that there are more than 50 federal agencies involved in this effort, because my experience working the interagency process suggests that the people who win are the ones who have smart ideas to offer the government, and can make a good case," says McCaffrey. "Just like in the armed forces, the way you get things done in government is by being well-organized at the top, decentralized in your operations, and by rewarding excellence. And that will be my leadership model."

Federal law enforcement officials are already taking that approach. "Before I came to work to for the federal government, I thought it was disappointing that people in Washington seemed to constantly be fighting turf wars," says DEA Director Thomas Constantine, a career law enforcement officer. "If I was a taxpayer in a drug-riddled neighborhood, I'd want to send everyone involved in bureaucratic infighting home for good. Both [FBI Director] Louis Freeh and I have told our people, 'If you have a problem, don't come running to us. Solve it.' In my two years, not one issue has been elevated to our level."

Constantine says that only a task force approach combining federal resources and local law enforcement will work against multinational crime organizations with staggering resources at their command. "These are crime syndicates more powerful than anything we've ever seen in this country, and if they were headquartered in Chicago or New York instead of Medellin and Cali, they'd be on the cover of the news magazines every week," he says. "We're going to have to put continual pressure on every level of their operations."

The emphasis on multi-agency task forces to take the fight to cartels is reflected in the fiscal 1997 drug control policy office budget, which includes $535 million for a state and local law enforcement assistant program that promotes multi-jurisdictional task forces; $103 million to support HIDTA task forces at the Southwest border and in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Puerto Rico; and $20 million for DEA mobile teams that offer direct assistance to state and local police. By far the biggest portion of the drug control policy office law enforcement budget is the almost $2 billion which supports community policing grants, $644 million of which is considered directly drug-related.

U.S. officials say the task force strategy is already bringing results. "If you had said five years ago that we would be able to bring down the Cali Cartel, have major drug kingpins such as Mexico's [Juan Garcia] Abrego extradited to this country, and reduce the violent crime in virtually every major city in the country, much of it associated with narcotics, I doubt anyone would have believed you," says deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick. "And while I wouldn't tell you that we've made interagency competition magically disappear overnight, we do have task forces of federal, state and local law enforcement officials working effectively together all around the country."

Despite those gains, no official interviewed for this article suggested that anything like victory is in sight in the war on drugs. In some ways, the drug fighters may be victims of their own success. With the Cali Cartel in disarray and with air routes in the Caribbean increasingly dangerous, narcotics traffickers began rerouting their operations through Mexico. According to U.S. officials, 70 percent of illegal drugs now come across the Mexican border, and Mexican drug organizations are on a path to rival their Colombian counterparts in terms of sophistication and scope.

"This business is a lot like squeezing a balloon, and after we virtually shutdown the Caribbean and Florida for awhile, we saw the Colombians make alliances with crime syndicates in Mexico, and the drugs started coming across the border in cars," says Constantine. Besides increased manpower at the border, U.S. officials are testing at border crossings special X-ray machines originally designed for nuclear arms inspection. "While interdiction is important, however, you're never going to stop this problem by trying to build a wall around North America," says Constantine.

Source Country Strategy

In keeping with that philosophy, the President's 1995 drug-control strategy called for a shift in emphasis from interdiction at the border or in transit to the source countries that serve as the wellspring of drugs. The end of the Cold War, improved cooperation in Latin America and the personal relationships McCaffrey had developed with many political leaders while heading SouthCom all were thought to work in favor of a more aggressive source country approach.

In the last year, U.S. forces in Southern Command, working hand-in-hand with authorities in Peru and Colombia, have shot down 18 drug smuggling aircraft. Officials with the drug control policy office estimate that the affected governments in the region, along with the United States, interdicted about a third of the roughly 840 metric tons of cocaine produced last year.

"I'm astounded when people say that interdiction has no impact, because anyone who's had Economics 101 knows that the more drugs we take out of the pipeline, the less that ends up on American streets," says McCaffrey. "That's helped limit the spread of cocaine addiction to casual users."

Perhaps not surprisingly, international programs saw the largest increase in McCaffrey's first budget, which requests a 25.4 percent increase in source country spending-from $320 million in fiscal 1996 to $401 million in fiscal 1997. Most of that spending is overseen by the DEA and the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The bureau will direct $116.2 million towards Bolivia, Colombia and Peru to help agencies in these countries dismantle drug cartels, seize drug shipments and eradicate coca leaf and poppy fields.

The United States is also applying the stick to Latin American countries. In order to win U.S. certification for counterdrug efforts-and thus remain eligible for U.S. foreign aid and loans by multinational institutions such as the International Monetary Fund-countries in the region must meet eradication goals established by a 1988 United Nations conference. In March, the Clinton Administration denied certification to the Colombian government for not fully cooperating in anti-drug efforts.

The move highlighted long-running tensions between the White House and Colombian President Ernesto Samper, who has been accused by his own defense minister of accepting $6 million in campaign contributions from the drug cartels. When Colombia's lower house of Congress absolved Samper of those charges in June, McCaffrey announced that he was considering recommending that President Clinton impose further sanctions.

"That has put me in an awkward position, because we continue to have very close relations with the Colombian police, armed forces and prosecutors," says McCaffrey. "My job, however, is to protect the interest of the American people, 20,000 of whom are killed each year by drugs. So we can't tolerate indications of corruption in our allies, and we're not going to give up this fight against the drug menace. Our children are at stake."

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