DEA Figures for Drug Operation Exaggerated 

DEA Figures for Drug Operation Exaggerated 
Posted by FoM on February 01, 2001 at 08:27:20 PT
By Lenny Savino, Knight-Ridder News Service 
Source: Star-Telegram 
The Drug Enforcement Administration used inflated figures to tout the success of a 36-nation "major takedown" of drug traffickers in the Caribbean and Latin America last fall, a Knight Ridder investigation shows. The DEA's score card on Operation Libertador reported 2,876 arrests, but the investigation found that agency officials have no evidence to support hundreds of them. Hundreds more were routine busts for marijuana possession, and some drug eradication figures are double counts of a State Department program to burn marijuana plants. 
And while the DEA said $30.2 million in criminal assets was seized during Libertador, $30 million of that was confiscated four weeks before the operation began.The DEA official who directed the exercise -- since promoted to head the DEA's international operations -- acknowledges some discrepancies but says the international cooperation that Libertador promoted is what counts.It's difficult to assess exactly what happened during Libertador, described as a "tremendous success" by its leader, Michael S. Vigil, then head of the DEA's regional office in San Juan.Libertador, the fourth U.S.- led regional drug crackdown since 1998, was intended to engage American, Caribbean and Latin drug authorities simultaneously in what the DEA called "an attempt to dismantle top-echelon traffickers in the region."However, internal DEA documents and interviews with drug agents and officials from Libertador's participating countries show that:* The DEA could not account for 375 of the 2,876 arrests attributed to Libertador. For most of the rest, it simply accepted whatever numbers participating countries reported.* The largest number of arrests, 996, was in Jamaica, where authorities said most of them were for misdemeanor marijuana possession.* Much of the marijuana interdiction credited to Libertador consisted of plants that had been burned in Jamaica and already counted as part of the State Department's "Operation Buccaneer," which has been under way since 1982.* The DEA did not, as a rule, ask for the names of those arrested, the outcome of their cases or what happened to their drugs and cash.DEA spokesman Michael Chapman said his agency sees no problems with Libertador or its accounting system."Everything was done properly and aboveboard," he said after discussing Knight Ridder's findings with DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall. Marshall declined to be interviewed about Libertador, Chapman said.Although he couldn't confirm the arrest figures he offered initially, Chapman said his agency will "stick by the reported arrests, because those were the numbers that were called in" by foreign law- enforcement officials.Vigil, the overseer of Libertador and three previous regional anti-drug initiatives in the Caribbean, said in an interview that the names and numbers are not very important."The key here is that we have 36 countries that put aside cultural, political and economic differences to come together," he said. "You can't argue with the success of these operations, and the fact that we're developing international coalitions, I think, speaks for itself."Obtaining accurate arrest and seizure records is difficult, said Rafael Perl, a drug policy analyst for the Congressional Research Service."It's hard enough to get U.S. anti-drug agencies to share information," said Perl. "When dealing with foreign countries the problem is magnified tenfold."A former DEA senior official who ran similar operations in Central and South America said Libertador's tactics were seriously flawed."It's ridiculous if the names aren't included," he said, on condition that he not be identified.Inflated figures are to be expected, said Eric E. Sterling, a former counsel on drug policy to the House Judiciary Committee."I'm not surprised at all that the statistics reported are unverifiable," said Sterling, now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, which advocates prevention and treatment measures to combat the drug problem. "Distortions in the government's reporting of drug operations are commonplace." One reason, he said, is that "Congress and agency managers hunger for success stories to brag about."Vigil has twice testified before Congress about the accomplishments of previous multinational drug operations he led, including figures on arrests and seizures. He was recently promoted to head the DEA's international enforcement division, which is active in 56 countries worldwide.Last year, after directing "Operation Columbus," a 15- nation predecessor of Libertador that reported nearly 1,300 arrests in 12 days, Vigil was named Puerto Rico's "Top Cop" by the National Association of Police Organizations.Libertador ran from Oct. 27 to Nov. 19. Nearly every nation in the Caribbean participated, along with major Latin American cocaine-trafficking countries such as Colombia, Bolivia and Mexico.The biggest arrest credited by Vigil and DEA documents to Libertador was that of Martires Paulino Castro on allegations of being a trafficker. Paulino was arrested by Dominican police along with 23 associates. Seized in the process were $30 million in Paulino's assets and 360 kilograms of cocaine.But Vigil's DEA office in San Juan first reported Paulino's arrest Sept. 29, nearly a month before Libertador began. Vigil said Paulino's inclusion was justified because he had been identified in a "targeting package" -- a list of suspected drug traffickers -- that was provided to Dominican officials in the planning stages of Libertador.The DEA's Libertador reports also take credit for cutting down and burning 900,183 marijuana plants, many in Jamaica.But Carl Williams, head of Jamaica's narcotics squad, said in a Knight Ridder interview that the eradication campaign, which has been under way in rural agricultural areas of the island since 1982, is mainly sponsored by the U.S. State Department, which calls it Operation Buccaneer. The DEA bought into the effort, he said, by contributing $5,000 to Jamaica's anti-drug efforts. San Juan, Puerto Rico Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)Author: Lenny Savino, Knight-Ridder News ServicePublished: February 1, 2001Copyright: 2001 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, TexasWebsite: letters star-telegram.comForum: Articles:In the Caribbean, a 30-Year War on Drugs Slogs On Drug Fight Finds Mixed Success DEA Archives 
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Comment #2 posted by zenarch on February 01, 2001 at 09:06:47 PT
sliced & diced before they're cooked . . .
from the story linked above: "Made-for-TV Drug Fight Finds Mixed Success" - the pot smoker that the DEA paid to lead the crusade for the Holy Grail makes a startling observation! let's listen in:``This ganja already been harvested,'' says Lawnmower slyly, displaying the remains of a five-foot plant whose destruction may have come a little too late. ``See -- no buds.'' The 21-year-old Lawnmower knows marijuana. He's smoked it since childhood and has been cutting it down for the anti-drug forces the last four years, ``to support my little girl and her mother.'' His monthly salary of $200 is about average in this Caribbean country of 2.6 million people. The local cops and DEA agents disagree with Lawnmower, insisting the field was just about to produce a crop worth at least $300,000. They show off bags of ready-to-smoke marijuana that they claim to have found near the field. The agents torch the bags. It smells like burning garden mulch. 
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on February 01, 2001 at 08:54:54 PT:
Losing Faith
First we hear that the Osprey aircraft are not safe or combat ready, and the military lied about it (CBS News). Now we hear that DEA is cooking the books. It would seem to indicate that war does not pay. Is it time to play nice instead?
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