Pubdate: Sat,  29 Jun 2002
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Chris Roberts,  Associated Press
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


EL PASO -- Federal agents in the war on terrorism are working longer hours 
and sharing their talents with other agencies to create a fine-mesh safety 
net that will produce benefits in the war on drugs, the nation's drug czar 

"If you compare the threat posed by terror, which we've had a brutal 
education in, a small number of people, a small amount of money, small 
amounts of various kinds of substances can be used to cause devastating 
destruction," said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug 
Control Policy.

"Compared to that, drugs, while a difficult target, are thousands of tons 
of product, tens of thousands of individuals, thousands of tons of money 
and millions of retail customer sales," he said. "Compared to terror, it's 
a gigantic target."

Walters toured U.S. Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization 
Service inspection facilities at the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso last 
week and the El Paso Intelligence Center, a multi-agency operation formed 
to help fight the drug war.

He was shown X-ray machines and density meters used to find hidden 
compartments in commercial trucks.

Walters asked one group of immigration and customs officials if they were 
confident they were making it hard for smugglers. "Absolutely," they answered.

Customs Service seizures of heroin, marijuana and cocaine are on a record 
pace this year, the agency reports. In the past eight months, agents have 
seized 252,227 pounds, compared with 198,040 pounds for the same period a 
year ago.

Walters said the Sept. 11 terror attacks have added importance to the task 
of protecting the country. He said many U.S. officials are working 
overtime, sometimes straining agencies' resources. He said Mexican and 
Canadian officials have been helpful.

"There's no question that the war on terror has made them more willing to 
come forward in sharing information that will help us in the future," he 
said. "We are essentially making the mesh in the net protecting the country 
smaller and more effective."

On his tour, Walters repeated his intention to reduce both the supply and 
demand of drugs. The White House has set a goal of a 10 percent reduction 
in drug use over the next two years and 25 percent over the next five years.

"The vector by which that disease (drug addiction) is spread is the 
occasional nonaddicted user," Walters said. "They have a friend, usually a 
peer, who says, 'It's fun, it's safe, you can handle it.' And that's how 
they start. And all too many of those individuals end up with a serious 

"We are going to vigorously attack the nonaddicted, casual user."

Walters said recent ads linking drug purchases with support of terrorism 
are examples of that attack. He said people must be educated, in schools, 
offices, families, churches and hospitals, so they can identify the signs 
of drug use and confront individuals they think are involved.

Walters said prevention and treatment will receive priority funding.

"The most important (factor) is prevention," he said. "If we do not have 
teenage children initiate drug use, alcohol use, cigarette use -- they're 
all the same -- they're unlikely to go on to use them in their 20s.

"We can change the dimensions of this problem for generations to come if we 
do what every civilized society needs to do, and that is take care of its 

Walters said he will dedicate $3.8 billion of his fiscal 2003 budget for 
treatment, with the goal of increasing the number of people who can be 
treated and improving the quality of treatment. This year the agency's 
budget was about $19 billion.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom