Pubdate: Sun, 10 Mar 2002
Source: Tribune Review (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Robb Frederick


The battened-hatch approach to air and border security since Sept. 11 
brought a big, but short-lived, win in the war on drugs, state and federal 
authorities say.

In Pennsylvania, the link was almost immediate - and accidental. State 
troopers arrested a man in Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, the day 
after United Flight 93 crashed into a former strip mine. The man, caught in 
a field near the crash site, where he'd gone for a better look, had a 
marijuana pipe in his pocket.

A day later, police charged three more gawkers when a trooper manning a 
traffic checkpoint smelled marijuana in their car. One handed over a 
plastic bong, another a pouch full of pot.

By then drug markets were drying up. Street prices doubled. Drug seizures 
fell dramatically.

U.S. Customs agents working the Mexican border seized 8,700 pounds of drugs 
in the two weeks following Sept. 11. That's a fifth of what they saw over 
the same period the year before.

"There was a real shutdown right after Sept. 11," said Tom Riley, a 
spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "People knew 
there was going to be a huge crackdown and decided it wasn't worth the risk."

Allegheny County's Airport Drug Interdiction Team, which polices Pittsburgh 
International, saw a similar drop in drug activity. "Obviously, with the 
planes shut down, there were fewer seizures," said Paul Wolf, assistant 
superintendent in charge of the county police uniform division. "Then 
people figured, 'They're going to search everybody.'"

Police also stepped up security at Amtrak and Greyhound stations. That cut 
other established drug routes, said Sgt. Dale Gregoritch, head of the 
Pennsylvania State Police Area 3 Tactical Narcotic Team.

Gregoritch's 33-man force covers 15 counties, targeting mid- and 
upper-level dealers. Most had hunkered down, hoping to wait out the new 
scrutiny, he said. Drug shipments were scarce for a full three months.

"We were looking a little harder, and the dealers knew it," said Kevin 
Harley, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office. "They 
had to use other means of transportation."

For many, that meant moving drugs by truck, or by mail.

"A lot of the drugs that were being carried by people are now being 
shipped," Wolf said. "They're using the U.S. mail and private carriers."

Highway drug seizures are also up sharply. Troopers working the Nebraska 
stretch of Interstate 80 doubled their normal drug take between October and 
January. Ohio officers intercepted 1,872 pounds of marijuana in just one 
day last month.

Those numbers suggest drug traffickers have abandoned air routes, 
authorities say. But it's possible that better training and a Sept. 11 
sense of risk simply made police more suspicious.

It's also possible that the initial drop in drug seizures reflected other 
pressures police felt immediately after the terrorist attacks.

"I'm thinking they weren't paying much attention to (drugs), since they had 
more priorities at the time," said Sgt. Jim Williams, a detective with the 
Greensburg city police. "Everyone was focused on other things."

Dealers, of course, kept their pagers on. The six-month push toward 
homeland security has had almost no effect on local drug markets, municipal 
police say.

"I don't see any lack of drugs around," Williams said.

Federal officials will continue to link the drug war to the six-month war 
on terrorism.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has extended its current 
anti-drug ad campaign through June. The spots, which appeared during the 
Super Bowl and in 190 newspapers, warn that teen drug use bankrolls 
international terrorist groups. "I helped blow up buildings," one ad reads. 
"I helped kill a judge," says another.

"The goal was to get people to think about the consequences of their 
actions," Riley said. "The idea isn't that if you buy $5 of pot, that's $5 
in Osama bin Laden's hands. It's that when you buy drugs, you don't know 
where that money goes."

The drug office based the campaign on State Department briefings on 28 
international terrorist groups, including al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad. Half 
engage in drug trafficking, Riley said.

Staffers focus-grouped the new ads for two months before their Super Bowl 
debut. The CIA, the National Security Council and the Department of Health 
and Human Services offered input.

Each of those agencies would get a boost from President Bush's proposed 
budget for fiscal year 2003. The Bush plan would spend $19.2 billion on 
drug initiatives - a 2 percent increase over this year's funding levels.

Half that money would be spent on domestic law enforcement.

Other initiatives are specific to homeland security. The U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Administration would get $35 million for counterterrorism 
intelligence and another $17.4 million to launch Operation Containment, a 
heroin program based in Afghanistan.

The Border Patrol would hire 570 new agents. The National Guard could 
contribute another 1,600 border troops.

Some 20,000 people cross the Mexican border every day. In the last five 
months, Customs officials say, the number of drug seizures there has more 
than doubled.

"That's a dividend from the increased focus on homeland security," said 
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the federal Office of Homeland Security, 
run by former Gov. Tom Ridge.

He expects it to continue.

"Border security is not going to go back to the way it was before Sept. 
11," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom