Pubdate: Sat, 02 Feb 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Lenny Savino, Inquirer Washington Bureau


Reports by the Coast Guard, Customs Service and Pentagon do not add up, the 
office found.

WASHINGTON - Federal agencies that oversee drug seizures on the high seas 
are double-counting the same cocaine confiscations, according to an 
investigation by the auditing arm of Congress.

The Coast Guard, Customs Service and Department of Defense are each taking 
credit for many of their joint seizures and presenting them to Congress as 
if they acted alone, the General Accounting Office says in a report to be 
released Monday. A copy of the GAO report was obtained by the Inquirer 
Washington Bureau.

GAO investigators reviewed 26 cocaine seizures in fiscal years 1998, 1999 
and 2000 in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the northern coast of 
South America, and the Eastern Pacific. They found that the Coast Guard and 
Customs each took credit for 16 of them. The exact amount of drugs seized 
was not disclosed.

The Defense Department also took credit for numerous seizures in the same 
drug transit area, where about 645 metric tons of cocaine were smuggled 
into the United States during 2000, the report said.

Federal antidrug agencies confiscated 118,398 kilograms of cocaine in 1998, 
118,398 in 1999, and 132,318 in 2000, according to Office of National Drug 
Control Policy figures. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds.

In news releases, the agencies mentioned when other agencies helped, but 
some lawmakers have frowned on the practice of double-counting because it 
skews seizure statistics and gives the impression that each agency played 
the lead role in the interdictions.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), a former U.S. drug prosecutor, requested the 
GAO investigation. Sessions said yesterday he also wanted an accounting of 
how the agencies were using the billions of dollars in drug interdiction 

The GAO report said that none of the three agencies examined in the report 
- - the Coast Guard, Customs or Defense Department - tracked how and when it 
used interdiction money.

"It's time for a really clear-eyed, honest evaluation of how our 
interdiction effort is working," Sessions said in a phone interview 
yesterday. "We need to analyze how much money is being spent, how much 
drugs are being seized, and the effectiveness of these operations."

During fiscal year 2000, the Coast Guard received $756 million for drug 
interdiction. The Defense Department got $545 million, and Customs received 
$436 million, according to the Web site of the Office of National Drug 
Control Policy.

The GAO report said that agency officials say double-counting is 
"appropriate" because each agency participates in the seizure, and 
cooperation would be hindered if only one agency could receive "credit."

Eric Sterling, director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a 
drug-policy think tank in Silver Spring, Md., said inaccurate seizure 
information "severely handicaps an effective defense against the drug trade."

Sessions has also asked the GAO to investigate "Operation Libertador," a 
36-nation "major takedown" of drug traffickers in the Caribbean and Latin 
America during the fall of 2000.

DEA agents had said they made 2,876 arrests, but Sessions ordered the 
inquiry as a result of an Inquirer Washington Bureau investigation that 
found that agency officials had no evidence to support hundreds of the 
arrests. Hundreds more were routine busts for marijuana possession.

While the DEA said $30.2 million in criminal assets was seized during 
Libertador, $30 million of that was confiscated four weeks before the 
operation began.
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