U.S. Brushed Aside Mexican Role, Ex-Drug Chief Say

U.S. Brushed Aside Mexican Role, Ex-Drug Chief Say
Posted by FoM on November 26, 1999 at 22:11:47 PT
By Tim Golden
Source: New York Times
During the five years that Thomas Constantine spent as the United States' top drug-enforcement official, he never sat down with President Clinton to discuss drug policy. He was never called to brief the president on a major enforcement issue. The phone never rang for a chat. 
Constantine, who went to the job after more than three decades in the New York State Police, initially took some pride in being a Washington outsider. But by his retirement last summer, he acknowledges, he had become a different kind of outsider -- one circumvented by the White House, particularly in its annual evaluation of anti-drug efforts in Mexico. "The policy-makers from the National Security Council and the State Department started with the premise that they were going to certify Mexico," Constantine said recently of what he described as the administration's unspoken determination to put economic concerns ahead of drug issues. "Their question was 'How do we get around the facts presented by Tom Constantine?"' Depending on one's perspective, Constantine emerged at the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration as either a truth-teller among cynical bureaucrats or a resonance box for the sometimes conspiratorial views of his agents. Constantine uses the word "whistle-blower" with a beat cop's derision; when the subject of his bureaucratic battles arises, he says he has no interest in attacking the president or his policies, even those with which he disagreed. Still, it is hard to leave a few long conversations with Constantine, 61, without the impression of a man struggling to hold his tongue out of loyalty to a system he sees as flawed and a president he does not seem to respect. "I watched that situation for five and a half years, and every year it became worse," he finally said of the drug trade in Mexico. "We were not adequately protecting the citizens of the United States from these organized-crime figures." A White House spokesman, Mike Hammer, said the administration would have no comment on Constantine's remarks. At a time when the nation's drug policies are coming under their sharpest public attack in decades, Constantine came through his tenure as the drug-enforcement agency's administrator relatively unscathed. Challenges to the Clinton administration's limited efforts to reduce the demand for illegal drugs have been directed mainly at the White House and its drug-policy adviser, Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Criticism of its policies on drug laws and other enforcement issues has mostly fallen on McCaffrey and Attorney General Janet Reno. But while budgets rose steadily at the Drug Enforcement Administration under Constantine, allowing for the hiring of hundreds of new agents, there has been relatively little evidence that the agency is making any real headway against the world's most powerful traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration played a central role in the arrests of Colombian cocaine bosses in 1995 and 1996, only to see smaller, more elusive groups quickly take their place. After having some success in Bolivia and Peru, the agency has watched much of the drug business there shift to Colombia. And while the agency has struck at some important traffickers in Asia, it has been mostly helpless as drug production has reportedly risen sharply in Burma and Afghanistan. Nor is it clear that Constantine's efforts to strengthen the drug agency's ties to local and state police forces contributed significantly to the declines in drug violence. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in July that it was hard to assess the agency's work at all because of its failure to set measurable standards of performance. A notoriously demanding boss, Constantine was said by some of his critics within the agency to have driven away some of its most experienced officials, a charge he denies. Still, Constantine said his greatest frustration came from Mexico. Evidence of the growing power of Mexican drug mafias greeted him almost as soon as he took over the agency in March 1994. Mexican traffickers were by then taking as much as half of the Colombian cocaine they moved into the United States as payment for their services. Mexicans were also dominating the growing U.S. market for methamphetamine and expanding their distribution of heroin across the western United States. "In retrospect, we underestimated their importance," Constantine said of the Mexican traffickers. "The focus at the time was all on Colombia." Constantine said he quickly detected another pattern as well. "Every time we had a major case involving a criminal organization from Mexico operating in the United States, there was a significant allegation of corruption involving the Mexican attorney general's office, a Mexican state police force, the highway police," he said. But, Constantine said, other Clinton administration officials were resolute: U.S. concerns about Mexico's corruption and drug-trafficking problems were secondary to trade and other economic interests. "The idea was, if you said those things publicly, if you release documents, you will just aggravate the situation," he said. "My concern was that we had kids in this country dropping like flies. Maybe that was parochial, but I felt like I was the only person there who felt like that." Even after Constantine's counterpart in Mexico was found in 1997 to have been colluding with the country's biggest cocaine trafficker, serious discussion of the issue within the Clinton administration was minimal, even negligible, he said. The exception was the annual debate over whether to certify the anti-drug efforts of Mexico and other nations that produce or ship illegal drugs. "Everyone would say, 'Your facts are correct, but there are bigger policy issues involved,"' Constantine recalled. Constantine, who now teaches at the State University of New York at Albany and consults on law enforcement, said it had never occurred to him to resign in protest. "My sense was that you always ought to try to make it work," he said. Published: November 26, 1999Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company 
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Comment #3 posted by RAMON ARELLANO FELIX on May 18, 2000 at 14:17:26 PT:
wy dont u said real names 
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Comment #2 posted by RAMON ARELLANO on May 18, 2000 at 14:11:37 PT:
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on November 27, 1999 at 07:33:02 PT
A True Believer 
Mr. Constantine, like all his ilk, has a bad case of tunnel vision, and never outgrew it. If he were so diligent a law enforcement officer, he would have pursued with vim and vigor the allegations made by two of his own men, DEA agent Celerino Castillo and agent Michael Levine. But he didn't.In the 80's Agent Castillo had been involved in interdiction operations in Central America. One of his informants told him a plane stuffed with coke was sitting on the tarmac at Illopongo Airbase in Honduras. He went to investigate, and surprise! was informed it was a CIA black ops.Michael Levine had similar revelations. While in undercover investigations in Bolivia, he found the CIA was backing one of the coke cartel's leaders, and was told that for 'reasons of national security' he had to back off.But, does this great defender of America go to the mat in his attempts to get at the truth? Nope, this guy with the bulldog mouth and puppydog a-- rolls on his back. And now he has the temerity to make as if he is a neglected and abused patriot. No doubt he'll be showing up on talking head shows after publishing a self-exculpatory tome of his adventures amongst the craven liberals of the White House.Somebody once wrote that we get the government we deserve. Well, none of us deserve this farce - or the clowns running it.
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