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Agency of Fear

By Edward Jay Epstein



The Secret Police


A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder. 



"Sometimes there's a thin line between the hunted and the hunter. . . ." 

-An anonymous federal narcotics agent interviewed by the New York Times on June 25, 1973.

 On the night of April 23, 1973, Herbert Joseph Giglotto, a hardworking boilermaker, and his wife, Louise, were sleeping soundly in their suburban house in Collinsville, Illinois. Suddenly, and without warning, armed men broke into their house and rushed up the stairs to the Giglottos' bedroom. Giglotto later recalled, "I got out of bed; I took about three steps, looked down the hall and I [saw] men running up the hall dressed like hippies with pistols, yelling and screeching. I turned to my wife. 'God, honey, we're dead.' " The night intruders threw Giglotto down on his bed and tied his hands behind his back. Holding a loaded gun at his head, one of the men pointed to his wife and asked, "Who is that bitch lying there?" Giglotto begged the raiders, "Before you shoot her, before you do anything, check my identification, because I know you're in the wrong place." The men refused to allow the terrified couple to move from the bed or put on any clothes while they proceeded to search the residence. As books were swept from shelves and clothes were ripped from hangers, one man said, "You're going to die unless you tell us where the stuff is." Then the intrusion ended as suddenly as it began when the leader of the raiders concluded, "We made a mistake."

The night raiders who terrorized the Giglottos that April night were members of a new federal organization called the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) On the same evening in Collinsville, another group of raiders from ODALE kicked in the door of the home of Donald and Virginia Askew, on the north side of town. Virginia Askew, who was then crippled from a back injury, fainted as the men rushed into the frame house. While she lay on the floor, agents kept her husband, Donald, an operator of a local gas station, from going to her aid. Another agent kept their sixteen-year-old son, Michael, from telephoning for help by pointing a rifle at him. After the house was searched, the agents admitted they had made another mistake and disappeared. (Virginia Askew the next day was rushed to a mental hospital for emergency psychiatric therapy.)

In another demonstration, that Easter week, of their extraordinary powers, a dozen agents of the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement broke into a farmhouse on Cemetery Road in Edwardsville, Illinois, and imprisoned one of the occupants of the house, John Meiners, a salesman for the General Electric Company, for seventy-seven hours. "I was asleep about three A.M.," Meiners said, "when the agents rushed in and pushed me against the wall." A pistol was held to his head, and, in Meiners' words, "they began to ransack the house." Walls were smashed and windows were broken, and stereo equipment, a shotgun, golf clubs, and a camera were confiscated by the agents. Meiners was then forcibly taken to police headquarters and questioned for more than three days without being told of the crime he was alleged to have committed or being allowed to telephone a lawyer or anyone else. Finally, the General Electric salesman was released without a charge ever being filed against him.

None of the ODALE agents who broke into these homes carried the required search warrants, nor did they legally have any authority to enter forceably any of these homes to effect an arrest. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees "The fight of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" and that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized." The warrantless raid, by the ODALE agents were subsequently characterized as "extra-legal" by Myles J. Ambrose, director of that office, and the agents were suspended. In an interview in U.S. News & World Report in 1972, prior to the Collinsville raids, Ambrose explained that extraordinary procedures, to the limit of the law, were necessary because the nation was engaged in an all-out war against drugs and that the very survival of the American people was at stake. One purpose of the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement was to facilitate the arrests of pushers on the street, Ambrose said further. In effect, this meant that local Justice Department lawyers assigned to ODALE could obtain warrants to authorize agents to break into homes in order to effect an arrest. The office further had the power to go before special "grand juries" to seek indictments of the arrested individuals. 

These particular incidents were reported in the press because they involved "mistaken identities" (agents had broken into the wrong homes). These agents were immediately Suspended and a full-scale investigation was launched, although they were finally acquitted after being tried on criminal charges. However, at the time, little attention was paid to the unique powers of the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement. Indeed, most commentators on these particular cases, though outraged that innocent people had been terrorized, did not question the legitimacy of ODALE itself, or question the need for deploying strike forces with extraordinary powers against narcotics dealers, who were presumed to be an equally extraordinary enemy.

Despite the matter-of-fact acceptance of the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement by the press and the public, there was little precedent in the annals of American law enforcement (or government) for such an investigative agency. It had been established on January 27, 1972, by an executive order of President Nixon, without approval or consideration by Congress. The office operated out of the Department of Justice, but, interestingly, its director, Myles Ambrose, also had an office in the Executive Office of the president. ODALE was empowered by presidential order to requisition agents from other federal agencies, including the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Bureau of Customs, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and to redeploy these agents into strike forces. These forces could use court-authorized wiretaps and no-knock warrants, as well as "search incidental to arrest" procedures. This unique office could also feed the names of suspects to a target-selection committee in the Internal Revenue Service, which would then initiate its own audits and investigations. The office received most of its funds not from congressional appropriations but from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), an appendage of the Justice Department created by Congress in 1968 for the purpose of financially assisting state and local law-enforcement units (not presidential units). Most of its operations were financed by funneling grants from the LEAA to local police departments that participated with ODALE in its raids against narcotics suspects. This method was necessary because LEAA was never authorized by Congress to disburse its funds to federal agencies.

As long as President Nixon could focus the attention of Congress and the press on the "menace" of heroin addiction destroying America, the hope was that this new office could execute his orders free of any normal restraints from the "bureaucracy," from congressional subcommittees, and from the press, which normally reported only the stories presenting the government's statistics in the war against drugs. The power of this new instrument thus depended directly on the continued organization of fear by the White House.



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