Schaffer Online Library of Drug Policy Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy


Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Historical Research | Agency of Fear

Agency of Fear

Opiates and Political Power in America

By Edward Jay Epstein


Chapter 26 - Executive Order


Just before he left for his Christmas vacation in 1971, Attorney General Mitchell turned over to Leo Pellerzi, his assistant attorney general for administration, a White House plan for a new narcotics enforcement office. He instructed Pellerzi that the White House wanted this office to be administratively incorporated in the Department of Justice, but actually it would operate out of the executive office of the president. When Pellerzi, a careerist in the Department of Justice, read the details of the plan, he became decidedly alarmed. It called for a series of special strike forces to be formed around the country, each staffed with selected agents from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Bureau of Customs, the Alcohol. Tobacco and Firearms unit, and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as several state police officers. Each strike force would be empowered to use court-authorized wiretaps and no-knock warrants in making arrests of narcotics pushers around the country. Special grand juries would then be convened to indict the arrestees. Both the strike forces and grand juries would be under the direct control of Myles Ambrose, who would operate both from the Justice Department and from the president's executive office and report directly to the president.* What alarmed Pellerzi most about this new organization was that it Would temporarily detached from the agency, employ a group of CIA agents, for domestic-intelligence purposes, which in his opinion was clearly illegal. (This was never carried out.) Pellerzi also doubted the propriety of a provision in the plan which gave the new office the authority to assign grants from the Law Enforcement Administration Agency to local police departments that cooperated with the new federal strike forces. Pellerzi read the proposal over several times and then decided to take it to Henry Petersen, who was then the assistant attorney general for the criminal division of the Department of Justice, in which the new office would ostensibly be located.

* In fact, the White House staff. which was loosely called the Executive Office of the President and had grown from less than 100 persons when Nixon was vice-president to more than 1,200 by the time he had become president, was housed in a number of buildings, including the old Executive Office Building, the new Executive Office Building, and a row of brownstones, restored by Kennedy, on Jackson Street.

Petersen, who had worked his way up from a messenger boy to an assistant attorney general, was equally dismayed by this new White House plan. He told Pellerzi that he suspected it was no more than "political crap" designed to help the Nixon administration in the 1972 election, and he suggested that Pellerzi use his special talents in administrative procedures to slow down the implementation of this new office. He also said that he would attempt to select a deputy director for this new office, if it were finally approved, who would resist political pressures. As for the possible illegalities, Petersen assured Pellerzi that he would take them up with Richard Kleindienst, then the deputy attorney general, since Mitchell had left on his Christmas vacation.

Upon hearing the suggestion that this new office would employ CIA liaisons, Kleindienst called Richard Helms and told him what the White House was now proposing. Helms categorically rejected the proposal as a violation of the Central Intelligence Agency's charter, as Kleindienst had assumed he would do, and Kleindlenst then suggested that they work together to kill this particularly disturbing part of the proposal. Eventually they succeeded in eliminating CIA agents from the plan. Meanwhile, Pellerzi and Petersen managed to restrict the funds that could be used for special grand juries and to limit the White House takeover of the drug program was imminent. He immediately called Attofney General Mitchell, who was vacationing in Florida, and asked what this televised "presidential meeting" meant to his agency. Mitchell replied that he had not been told about any White House actions, but Ingersoll was not reassured. (The same evening, at the Playboy Plaza Hotel in Miami, Liddy, who drafted the original presidential option paper for this new office, and Hunt, a consultant on the plan, met with Jack Bauman, a former CIA agent and specialist in surreptitious entries, to discuss other operations that they claimed would function under the aegis of the White House.)

In the next month the White House strategists easily overrode the combined opposition of Assistant Attorneys General Pellerzi and Petersen, Ingersoll, and Rossides. In early January, Krogh told Ingersoll in no uncertain terms that since the BNDD had refused to intensify its efforts to arrest street pushers, the White House was creating another agency to do the job. Moreover, Ingersoll would be ordered to cooperate by turning over the agents, specialists in survel illance, and other unspecified resources required by the new White House agency headed by Ingersoll's rival, Ambrose. Although Mitchell initially told Ingersoll that he would work out a compromise plan with the White House whereby the BNDD would increase the number of street arrests it was making-at least, until the election was over-and, in return, the White House would abandon its plan to create this new investigative agency, he told Ingersoll in mid-January that the White House plans were too far advanced to be changed. At about the same time, Secretary of the Treasury John Connally reported to Rossides that the White House decision on the new agency was irreversible. Ingersoll even offered to increase the mass arrests the White House demanded. He later explained to me, "I was flexible as far as tactics were concerned, and if returning to more street arrests was the only way to save the bureau's programs, I was willing to do it." His last-minute offer was, however, rejected by Krogh as "too little, too late."

On January 28, 1972, less than a month after the director of the BNDD and his counterpart at the Treasury Department learned of the planned agency, ODALE was officially created by an executive order of the president (which, unlike an "executive reorganization order," need not be submitted to Congress for approval). President Nixon simply declared:  

Each department and agency of the Federal Government shall, upon request and to the extent permitted by law, assist the Director of the Office for Drug Abuse Law Enforcement in the performance of functions assigned to him or pursuant to this order, and the Director may, in carrying out those functions, utilize the services of any other federal and state agency, as may be available and appropriate.  

The president then appointed Ambrose director of ODALE and, simultaneously special consultant to the president on narcotics control.

The next day, taking his furniture and his two secretaries from the Bureau of Customs (Rossides later billed the White House for the removed furniture), Ambrose moved into his new offices-one located in the town-house annex of the White House, on Jackson Street, the other in the Department of Justice. Ambrose, a shrewd and outspoken former politician in New York, fully realized that his new office would be bitterly opposed by the agencies from which it was commandeering agents and money. To some degree, he was "doing their job for them," as he later put it. He thus fully anticipated the opposition from his rivals and was told by Krogh that both Ingersoll and Rossides had fought to abort the creation of his office.

Since there was virtually no precedent for an agency like the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, Ambrose had to proceed step by step, in assembling his strike forces. The first step was to appoint regional directors who would superintend and select the federal agents and local police on each strike force in each of the thirty-three target cities he selected. Andrew J. Maloney, an assistant U.S. attomey in New York, was put in charge of the East Coast from Maine to New Jersey. Joseph H. Reiter, whom Ambrose knew from his work in the tax division of the Justice Department, was given responsibility for the Mid-Atlantic states. Joseph Martinez, a Miami lawyer with a strong background in narcotics prosecutions, was assigned the Southern states. Fifty other lawyers, many of whom Ambrose knew personally, were deployed in instantly created field offices of the new organization. Four hundred investigators were requisitioned from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Bureau of Customs, and Ambrose requested more than a hundred liaisons from the Internal Revenue Service, as well as specialists from other agencies of the government. This was all accomplished during the first thirty days of existence of this new office, in what Ambrose himself referred to as a "monumental feat of organization."

However, since the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement was set up without approval of Congress, it had little direct access to Congress-appropriated funds. Though Ambrose succeeded in listing most of the special prosecutors he hired on the payroll of the Department of Justice as "temporary consultants," and managed to requisition funds from various agencies to pay for his clerical and investigative staff, finding money for the operating expenses of his strike forces presented serious difficulties. Finally, Krogh and other White House advisors decided that these strike forces could be temporarily financed through grants from LEAA, although it will be recalled that this fund was specifically established by Congress to finance local rather than federal police activities. As expected, some LEAA officials protested the granting of money to a federal office as a violation of the spirit of the law: "Congress never intended for LEAA grants to be used to bypass the appropriations process," one administrator warned. So, with White House assistance, the new office established a series of local organizations, with such names as "Research Associates," through which grants could be made by LEAA. The money was then channeled back to selected strike forces, with these organizations acting, in effect, as money conduits.

Problems were also encountered appropriating specialists for the new office. Ingersoll resisted supplying the wiretapping technicians requested by the BNDD on the grounds that the strike forces were supposedly set up to pursue street pushers, "which did not require a wiretapping capacity." After Krogh was asked to intervene on the president's behalf, Ingersoll finally was forced to part with a few wiretapping technicians. From Rossides, the new office demanded not only customs agents, who had the unique authority to conduct searches without warrants under certain circumstances, but also IRS agents working on the target-selection program. Rossides provided the strike forces with thirty-five customs inspectors and twenty-five secretaries, but drew the line on reassigning IRS agents. Despite White House pressure, Rossides argued that the strike forces did not need tax examiners to go after street pushers and cautioned that such a transfer of authority could undermine the autonomy of the Internal Revenue Service. Again, the new agency used its connections with the White House. This time, John Connally interceded and persuaded Rossides to allow thirty-five IRS agents to serve as liaisons on the strike forces. Ingersoll and Rossides were understandably confused about the objectives of this office, if only because the new strike forces, had little resemblance to more conventional law-enforcement forces. These highly unorthodox units, which were being controlled from the White House through the president's special consultant Myles Ambrose, included not only trained narcotics and customs officers but also Immigration and Naturalization Service officers; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms control agents; probation officers; state troopers; and local police officers. From the beginning these strike forces were not simply directed to enforce the narcotics laws but to make arrests by any lawful means possible, even if it meant bypassing the normal channels. For example, the guidelines for the Los Angeles strike force stated: 

What [the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement] is all about is the concept that hitting the heroin traffic in one manner only, particularly a manner which relies eventually on prosecutors or judges to keep heroin dealers out of traffic, must be unsuccessful.... In Los Angeles [we] will rely on many approaches, aimed at not only prosecuting heroin dealers, but at harassing and disrupting them by using the many statutes and procedures available to us. 

The guidelines then went on to suggest such tactics as using probation officers to revoke the parole of uncooperating suspects, using grand juries to harass suspects, and employing Immigration and Naturalization Service officers to deport targets. It was assumed that very few suspects or uncooperative witnesses could resist the powers of harassment held by this eclectic group of police officers. With the authority of court-authorized no-knock warrants and wiretaps they could strike at will in any of the target cities and against virtually anyone selected as a target. By March, 1972, the strike forces had become operational.




Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Historical Research | Agency of Fear