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Drug Abuse, Drug Trafficking, & Organized Crime

President's Commission on Organized Crime, 1986

Chapter VI Part 1: Current Supply Strategies: Analysis and Recommendations


Currently, the great bulk of our Federal drug abuse budget is devoted to strategies aimed at cutting off the supply of drugs available to users and prospective users. These strategies, such as source country eradication, interdiction, and domestic enforcement, are frequently attacked as expensive, too slow in producing perceptible results, and frequently dangerous for the public officials charged with carrying them out. Far too often such criticism seems to be the result of isolated examination without regard to the programs' proper long-term goal or relationship to strategic approaches to reduce demand.

This report attempts to avoid such pitfalls, and in this chapter, examines and analyzes in its proper context, each of our Federal efforts to reduce supply. It makes recommendations to encourage a coordinated, comprehensive effort at restricting the flow of drugs to the maximum extent possible, while complementary demand reduction programs take hold.

Legalization of Illicit Drugs

The debate over strategies to reduce supply has produced a wide range of proposals, including at one extreme the suggestion that currently illicit drugs be legalized. Profits in the drug trade are enormous, primarily because drugs are in high demand and because traffickers charge prices high enough to justify the risks involved. Proponents of legalization argue that because of the clear connection between illegal drug trafficking and organized crime, making drugs legal would remove the enormous profits in the illicit drug industry a priority.

On the surface, this argument appears to have some merit. However, it omits any consideration of the health costs of drug abuse to the individual and to society, a dimension this Commission views as fundamental. The drugs discussed in this report are inherently destructive to mind and body. "Legalized" drugs would still alter behavior, impair productivity and educational potential, damage vital organs, and kill. Moreover, legalization would almost certainly increase demand, and therefore spread this destruction. Finally, this Commission is not persuaded that legalization would result in organized crime's abandonment of the drug business. While demand for drugs in the United States represents a significant share of global drug consumption, many other countries have a considerable demand for drugs that would continue to be met by some or the same organized crime groups now confronting this country.

It is the position of this Commission that legalizing substances, which by their very nature destroy rather than benefit the individual and society, will not solve the problem of drug trafficking and is therefore not a viable option. This Commission is emphatic in its position that legalization of drug use is not a viable option.

National Drug Enforcement Policy Board

The National Drug Enforcement Policy Board ("the Board"), presents a rare, possibly even unique, opportunity to bring focus and singularity of purpose to the Federal anti-drug effort. That fact is explicitly recognized in the legislation creating the Board, wherein Congress acknowledges that for the first time, a single, competent, and responsible high-level Board of the United States Government, chaired by the Attorney General, will be charged with this responsibility of coordinating United States policy with respect to national and international drug law enforcement.

The sentiment is echoed by the Justice Department's own handbook discussing the National Narcotics Act of 1984, which identifies the Act as "a substantially revised version of earlier 'Drug Czar' proposals."

This Commission recognizes and has pointed out repeatedly in this report that drug abuse, a term including all of the medical, social, and legal costs imposed on the American people by illegal drugs, is a problem of proportions unmatched in any other area of law enforcement. A problem of such dimensions demands a coordinated response by the Federal government. The creation of the Board is a major step toward a truly unified, coordinated enforcement effort.

The performance of the Board to date has been somewhat ambiguous. On the positive side, the Board has begun to meet, has adopted an effective and comprehensive membership list for its Coordinating Group, and has assembled a professional staff, composed of experienced and able agency representatives.

It is troubling to note, however, that in light of the acknowledged urgency of the drug abuse situation, characterized by Congress as an "epidemic," marked by "soaring" death rates and a "key to reducing the crime epidemic confronting every region of the country," the Board has yet to assert a clear leadership role. Instead, it has adopted a more relaxed and collegial approach, waiting three months after the effective date of the Act to hold its first meeting. The Board began its work with a suggestion from the Justice Department that the Board's mandate is ". . . quite broad and allows a range of possible roles - from an essentially passive research and analysis to active implementation of drug policies." This Commission notes with alarm that this contemplative expression does not even extend to policy formulation, which is the core of the Act's mandate. This concern is heightened by the Board's initial choice of agenda items: "designer drugs," drug seizure statistics, and drug management. These topics are certainly important, but only one, seizure statistics, would have an impact on the formulation of a coordinated drug enforcement policy. Even that connection is remote. Uniform statistics are an important step toward compilation of the reliable data base necessary to formulate policy and measure its effectiveness, but that is all they are. It is also troubling that the Board's first Interim Report to Congress consists almost entirely of a verbatim recitation of portions of the 1984 National Strategy.

An urgent but rational approach to the problem of drug abuse is needed. This must begin with the statement of a goal. What is the ultimate objective of the policy Board and of our drug enforcement effort generally? This Commission is of the opinion that the success of a national drug enforcement effort should ultimately be measured in terms of reduced usage. The poisoning of minds and bodies is the evil we are combatting. All other targets - manufacture or cultivation, processing, smuggling, distribution, and so on - would be of no consequence were it not for the terrible destructive force of the use of illegal drugs. Eliminating drug use, then, must be the cornerstone of a national policy, and our national operational design - our strategy - should flow from it. It is at this fundamental level that the Board's deliberations should begin, difficult as the dialogue may be.

A key to achieving the Board's essential singularity of purpose is the commitment of each Board member, on behalf of his entire Department, to the goal of reducing drug consumption, accompanied by a resolve that no opportunity for action, particularly coordinated, multi-agency approaches, will be ignored on the basis of parochial concerns. However, the use of a committee in place of a single figure of authority runs the inherent risk of preserving interagency competition. It is encouraging to note that the Board has included as "potential items" for review total budgetary planning and administrative operations. This Commission submits that vigorous review of the latter is urgently needed, with special attention to what is not included in such memoranda and the reasons for such omissions.

A combined and coordinated effort among the dozens of Federal agencies and offices, measured by a single standard of success, is certain to require program dislocations, reordering of Departmental priorities, and subordination of Departmental plans to Board direction. It will mean abandoning the "Not Invented Here" veto, which has far too often blocked inter-Departmental efforts. Cooperation is the heart of a truly coordinated national attack on drug abuse. It will require not just review, analysis and coordination, but initiative by the Board to overcome unnecessary obstacles, outmoded concepts, and self-protective agency narrowness. Success will also depend upon careful attention to long-term coordination between Federal agency operations and with State and local components, for if experience has shown anything in the effort against drug trafficking, it is the resourcefulness and adaptability of the traffickers. Successful interdiction or enforcement in one area is virtually certain to result in a relocation to a new area of operations. Long range planning is critical if our resources are to be used in a fashion which anticipates such movement, rather than reacts to it.

It is neither possible nor desirable under our system of law to invest a Board Chairman or any other "Czar" with dictatorial power to command other Cabinet members to conduct the affairs of their respective Departments in a particular fashion. This fact is reflected in the tone of the Act, which empowers the Chairman only to "advise, recommend, correlate and evaluate" and to direct action only with "the concurrence of the head of the agency" involved. Such terms, intended to recognize the independence of the various Cabinet-level agencies, also spread among them a common responsibility for the success or failure of this vital task.


Accurate, timely, and complete intelligence is vital to the efficiency of United States anti-drug efforts. Strategies to reduce the supply of drugs, such as eradication, interdiction, investigations, and prosecutions are dependent on effective intelligence gathering. Less commonly acknowledged is that strategies to reduce demand are similarly dependent on such intelligence. Adequate data is the foundation upon which focused, purposeful programs to reduce demand must be built. There is substantial evidence to suggest that such a foundation is often lacking in our current approaches.

Intelligence concerning both drug abuse and drug trafficking must be shared between strategists who are working to reduce supply and demand. Evidence indicates that thorough strategic planning, whether concerned with the reduction of demand or with attacks on supply, must carefully consider the available data on the other side of the equation. For example, to achieve the most carefully reasoned deployment of resources, decisions concerning priorities for disrupting the supply of a particular drug should consider not only the geographical and political conditions in source and transit locations, but also carefully evaluate the geographic and demographic data concerning drug consumption. Such coordination of data from both sides of the supply-demand dynamic is crucial to long-range planning. An awareness of traffickers' ultimate markets will facilitate anticipatory deployment of resources. This unified theory of planning is the basis for the "all source" intelligence center discussed below.

Domestic Data Collection

One principal category of drug-related intelligence is consumption and law enforcement data formally collected within the United States. Such data are essential to describe and measure the problems of drug abuse and trafficking. They are also vital to our efforts to evaluate the effects of various efforts to reduce the supply of and demand for drugs. The reliability of these estimates is critical for both policy makers and drug law enforcement officials. However, because drug trafficking and use are illicit activities, data concerning them are necessarily estimates. Compounding this problem is the fragmentation of the current system of drug data gathering. Much greater coordination is imperative.

Two primary ongoing studies are used to measure the number of drug users and frequency of drug abuse in the United States: the bi-annual Household Survey of Drug Abuse and the annual High School Senior Survey, both sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The Household survey sample includes 5,000 people 12 years of age or older, living in households across the country. The High School Senior survey questions approximately 17,000 high school seniors. These surveys have been criticized because they do not include information from those populations that are frequently involved with drugs, high school dropouts and people without residences. To compensate for this deficiency, it has been proposed that these surveys oversample groups thought to be heavy users of drugs.

While these surveys provide estimates of the extent of drug abuse, they do not gather important data, such as the price and quantity of drugs purchased. Such information is crucial for effective organized crime and drug enforcement policy planning, because it would provide information concerning the effects of certain enforcement actions on drug purchasing/using behavior. NIDA should amend these surveys to include questions about drug purchases. To the extent possible, they should also be designed to determine the sources of the funds used to finance drug purchases. Such data may be crucial to effective prevention education planning.

NIDA provides two additional data bases of drug use in this area. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) collects data concerning drug-related emergency room visits and deaths. These statistics are based on reports gathered by NIDA from one-sixth of the country's emergency rooms and two-thirds of the medical examiners' offices. NIDA collects information about drug users in treatment through the Client Oriented Data Acquisition Process (CODAP). Formerly, all States were required to provide such data as a condition of Federal assistance. However, since the institution of block grants to partially fund State drug programs in 1982, the Federal government has not been able to compel participation in CODAP, and the number of participating States has shrunk to approximately 15. Because of the importance of this treatment data, the Federal government should again require participation in CODAP.

Much data concerning drug trafficking is gathered by the 11-member National Narcotics Intelligence Consumer Committee (NNICC) and reported annually in the Narcotics Intelligence Estimates (NIE). This data includes estimates of the amount of drugs produced and entering the United States, trafficking patterns, and prices and purity of drugs. Although the NIE claims to be "the most comprehensive assessment prepared for the Federal Government on the worldwide illicit drug situation in 1984," the report also states that, "[b]ecause of gaps in some of the data used to derive the estimates, there is a high degree of uncertainty to the resulting estimates."

In 1983 NNICC prepared a report analyzing the methodologies used in preparing drug estimates. The report concluded that NNICC estimates are not timely, with estimates generally 18-30 months out of date; there is insufficient data concerning the price and potency of drugs, in part because of inadequate input from State and local sources; and estimates of the total retail value of drugs is an imprecise measure, which should be replaced by a better measurement of final drug sales. In addition, NNICC's methodology has been criticized as "analysis by negotiation," with final estimates resulting from a bargaining process among the member agencies. Complaints about the reliability of NIE data also result from the fact that NNICC does not publish the background data used to develop the estimates.

Another important set of data in the drug field is the estimate of the results of drug law enforcement, including the amount of drugs and property seized, and the numbers of arrests and convictions and sentences imposed on drug violators. A significant problem in generating reliable statistics in this area is the lack of a centralized system for collection. Because many agencies often are involved in the same case, the amount of drugs seized and other information may be reported by each agency. According to the National Drug enforcement Policy Board,

One of the principal problems encountered by the Federal Government in its efforts to gauge the effectiveness of its overall drug law enforcement program has been the lack of centralized statistical information on Federal drug seizures . . . Because of an undetermined amount of double and triple counting, reliable statistics on total Federal drug seizures are not available.

In apparent response to this problem the 1984 National Strategy called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to develop and maintain a centralized system for statistics concerning Federal drug seizures.

As discussed throughout this report, asset forfeiture programs are an extremely promising source of funding for anti-drug efforts. Unfortunately, the availability and reliability of information about non-drug assets seized by all levels of government is hampered by the same double counting, decentralization, and inconsistent data gathering methodologies described above. Although the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Office was created to maintain centralized information on forfeited assets, the office is still in the process of developing statistics for total Federal assets forfeited. A study of State and local officials found that more than one-half of those surveyed could not estimate the value of property and cash obtained through forfeiture. State and local governments which have not already done so should establish asset management systems for the disposition of forfeited assets to provide accurate estimates of their value.

Drug Supply Intelligence

With regard to intelligence concerning drug supplies, this Commission is encouraged by what appears to be a growing commitment to effective information-gathering. A number of agencies have reported confidentially to this Commission that both their funding and priority determinations are giving greater weight to effective intelligence programs.

Intelligence efforts in this area take different forms, depending on the topic to which they are directed. All are subject to the two classic categories of information gathering: human intelligence, referring to data gathered from human informants, and technical collection, gathered by such means as surveillance flights and satellites. In the area of crop eradication, the lead agency is the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters, supported by other members of our country teams. Issues here include crop conditions, host country political and military capabilities, and the role, if any, of groups, including insurgents, opposing eradication efforts.

Interdiction efforts require tactical intelligence concerning specific drug movements, such as the identities of those involved, shipment techniques, vessel and aircraft identification, routes, and schedules. Also required is "strategic" information, such as shifts in processing and staging locations or in transshipment techniques. The current exclusion of the Customs Service from foreign intelligence gathering, mandated by the 1973 reorganization plan, particularly needs to be re-examined. Strategic and tactical intelligence are critical for border interdiction. Therefore the Commission proposes that the Customs Service be integrated into the foreign intelligence process of the Drug Enforcement Administration, to the maximum extent permitted by the Reorganization Plan currently in effect.

Because international drug trafficking organizations frequently locate components of their operations within U.S. borders, domestic investigations and prosecutions are often dependent upon effective international intelligence gathering to supplement such domestic techniques as legal electronic surveillance and development of informants.

Effective international intelligence collection and dissemination is not necessarily a highly sophisticated process. On the contrary, it can consist of information as simple as providing the names of suspected traffickers known to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the State Department to ensure that consular officers do not issue U.S. visas to such persons, or that issuance be on a controlled basis to assist the investigative work of DEA. It is encouraging that the National Drug Enforcement Policy Board, pursuant to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for 1986 and 1987, has been directed to compile a list of such traffickers and prepare guidelines for inter-agency sharing of that information.

In the area of more sophisticated drug-related intelligence work DEA and the intelligence community are currently playing leading roles. The former has recently expanded its foreign detail by ten percent, and additional expansion is prevented by lack of funding. This matter deserves careful consideration by both Congress and the Executive Branch. In addition, the capabilities of DEA agents presently stationed in foreign locations are unduly and unnecessarily hampered by the "Mansfield Amendment" to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which restricts their activities to a secondary role. As part of a new expression of determination to combat international drug trafficking, the amendment should be repealed.

The intelligence community is not burdened by any such ill-conceived restriction. On the contrary, with regard to international narcotics trafficking, its mandate, found in Executive Order 12333, is clear, direct, and sweeping:

1.4 The Intelligence Community. The agencies within the Intelligence Community shall, in accordance with applicable United States law and with the other provisions of this Order, conduct intelligence activities necessary for the conduct of foreign relations and the protection of the national security of the United States, including:

(c) Collection of information concerning, and the conduct of activities to protect against, intelligence activities directed against the United States, international terrorist and international narcotics activities, and other hostile activities directed against the United States by foreign powers, organizations, persons, and their agents.

Although the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has in the past been criticized for failing to give sufficient priority to drug trafficking, the Commission is satisfied that the agency is currently placing suitable emphasis on the issue. This is due, in part, to the necessary Executive direction now being given to the intelligence community, and in part to the growing recognition throughout the government that drug trafficking in many forms and in many locations has grown to become a national security concern, transcending the traditional drug-related health and law enforcement concerns, as discussed in this report. To complement this effort, additional options are available and should be pursued.

First, consistent with the direction now being provided to the intelligence community, the Department of State should vigorously pursue a program of educating its own foreign-based personnel to the importance being given to drug-related intelligence and to the critical need for State Department support for such efforts. This appears to have been less than entirely adequate in all instances. Second, the CIA's operational capabilities should be fully explored to determine how the infrastructure of drug trafficking organizations can be disrupted, consistent with the concerns expressed in Executive Order 12333 and elsewhere. Finally, the CIA's considerable research and development capabilities should be used to develop additional means for furthering efforts directed at international drug traffickers.

In connection with these contributions by the intelligence community, it is encouraging to note the rapid evolution of a cooperative relationship between the intelligence and law enforcement communities. This is evidenced by the pertinent language of Executive Order 12333, which provides that:

1.7 Senior Officials of the Intelligence Community. The heads of departments and agencies with organizations in the Intelligence Community or the heads of such organizations, as appropriate, shall:

(g) Participate in the development of procedures approved by the Attorney General governing production and dissemination of intelligence resulting from criminal narcotics intelligence activities abroad, if their departments, agencies, or organizations have intelligence responsibilities for foreign or domestic narcotics production and trafficking.

This direction is complemented by the inclusion of a representative of the CIA on the Coordinating Group of the National Drug Enforcement Policy Board.

Defense Capabilities

The intelligence community is not the only available source of drug-related intelligence. The Department of Defense has a wide range of facilities, equipment, and operations, which lend themselves to effective participation. Although such a role is most frequently discussed in connection with interdiction operations near the U.S. border, intelligence-gathering opportunities for Defense Department components exist much farther afield. Like their counterparts in the interdiction area, such efforts may be subject to Defense Department directives and priorities, which in turn rely on a changeable definition of "national security." Nevertheless, if as a matter of national policy, the military view of national security draws closer to that of the intelligence community, as expressed in Executive Order 12333, the potential for military drug-related intelligence-gathering is profound. Because of the connection between some drug trafficking organizations and terrorist or insurgent groups, whatever assets are currently in place or in planning for intelligence-gathering regarding terrorism or insurgency could just as well function in connection with drug traffickers.

Intelligence-gathering in source and transshipment countries would be particularly effective in the interdiction effort, in the opinion of former SOUTHCOM Commanding General Paul F. Gorman:

I can't stress enough that it seems to me that the easy way to operate on the [drug smuggling] pilots is down at the other end. He is at the other end of his communications tether where the airfields are much more primitive, where he is dependent on these cartels and it's easier to penetrate.

Because they occur outside of U.S. territory, such operations would not violate the Posse Comitatus Act. In addition, with an expanded definition of national security, such as that manifest in Executive Order 12333, the Economy Act would not be an obstacle. Such an expanded intelligence-gathering role is a desirable course of action for the Department of Defense. The Commanding Officers of Unified Commands should be given maximum flexibility in deploying their forces.

Another change in our application of military assets to drug-related intelligence is much less sweeping in concept, but nevertheless appears very useful. That is the inclusion of Coast Guard officers in our Defense Attache programs in drug source and transit countries. This Commission has been advised that such a program is in process and encourages the agencies involved to pursue this program with all due speed.

Allied governments in affected areas could significantly enhance the intelligence operations of our own military units. Such activities already under way and worthy of note include a regional radio communications network being set up among the drug enforcement authorities of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. This network is designed to give these countries the opportunity to coordinate drug enforcement strategies and work closely together in confronting the drug trafficking threat common to all. Agreements signed very recently by Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia allow these countries to initiate joint investigations on their common borders, call for periodic meetings between drug enforcement police, exchange intelligence, and solve common problems. Although such efforts must contend with the endemic problems of corruption and organizational and national rivalries, they are a step in the right direction. To the extent that United States assistance can contribute to the elimination of corruption and other systemic problems, such assistance should be provided to promote these programs.

All Source Intelligence and Operations Center

Data collection is but one phase of a complete intelligence operation. To be effective collection should be followed by thorough and timely analysis and dissemination. This Commission therefore concludes that this Nation's anti-drug intelligence efforts should be built upon an all-source intelligence and operations center. Such a concept is described briefly above in connection with interdiction efforts. EPIC and NNBIS together provide an existing core upon which such a center could be built. EPIC has demonstrated the feasibility of joint agency operations, and NNBIS has shown that interagency operational coordination, particularly involving military components, is well within capabilities.

As a component of a comprehensive intelligence program, such a center should be designed to collect drug-related intelligence from the broadest base possible, including those sovereign nations that will provide consistent, timely data on a cooperative basis. In this regard, it is encouraging to note that Latin American drug enforcement agencies are reported to be planning to establish a regional intelligence center in a strategic location, such as Panama, in the near future. Because analysis should be as complete as possible, such a center should include not only supply and transit-related intelligence, but also counterpart demand data, including information on such topics as drug-related deaths and emergency room admissions. This will allow a complete picture of drug distribution from one end of the chain to the other. This center would assume the functions, including issuing annual reports, currently undertaken by the National Narcotics Intelligence Consumer Committee (NNICC). In addition, it should integrate all financial data currently available to agencies of the Federal government, to enable analysts to complete their knowledge about the drug-money cycle whenever possible.

To be consistent with the rest of our national effort, such a center should be under the general direction of the Policy Board or its delegate, with the Vice President retaining primary responsibility for management and coordination of the information related specifically to interdiction. Such a facility would thus coordinate the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence, covering every topic from production and cultivation (including related political issues) to domestic enforcement and detailed patterns of domestic consumption. It would also provide the necessary centralized data base for thorough inter-agency coordination of operations. Given the sensitivity of many of its sources and the data received therefrom, the functions and output of such a center would, of course, require physical and communications security. The resources and expertise of the National Security Agency with regard to operational and communications security is an extremely valuable national asset, which should be exploited to the fullest extent possible in this connection. As this Commission has sought to demonstrate repeatedly, drug traffickers have regularly and successfully sought to penetrate law enforcement communications. The equipment available for such purposes is readily available. Communications security thus requires very careful attention in the planning and design of all anti-drug operations and facilities.

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