Pubdate: Tue, 17 Mar 2015
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Yudhijit Bhattacharjee


Using undercover agents, the DEA spent four years trying to bring 
down a cocaine trafficking gang in west Africa. Was the operation a 
triumph in the global war on drugs or a case of American overreach? 
By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

On a sultry May afternoon in 2009, a car stopped at the end of a dirt 
road in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Guards toting Kalashnikov 
rifles opened the gate to a large house, and the vehicle rolled into 
the driveway, setting off a chorus of barking by a group of mastiffs 
caged inside the compound.

A muscular Nigeria Nigerian named Chigbo Umeh stepped out of the car 
with two Colombians, both members of a drug cartel.

The three were led into an elegantly decorated living room, where one 
of the most powerful figures in the Liberian government was waiting.

Their host was Fombah Teh Sirleaf, the stepson of Liberia's president 
and director of the country's National Security Agency. After Sirleaf 
had greeted the visitors, the men sat down to talk. Chigbo, dressed 
in jeans and a T-shirt that showed off his biceps, opened the 
conversation with a line that summed up his worldview. "In this 
life," he said, smiling, "you have to make some money." He then 
spelled out the cartel's proposition: it would pay Sirleaf handsomely 
in exchange for his help in using Liberia as a transit hub for 
smuggling cocaine from Colombia into Europe. The traffickers would 
bring the cocaine into the west African country by air and sea; from 
there, they would move it to cities across western Europe, where the 
drug fetches as much as UKP34,000 per kilogramme.

Sirleaf assured them of his cooperation before sitting back and 
letting his representative, who called himself Nabil Hage, take over. 
Hage, a balding man of Mediterranean descent, laid out the terms of 
the deal, fiddling with a pack of Marlboro Lights as he spoke. 
Sirleaf's men would take care of security arrangements at the airport 
and at ports.

For bringing in a tonne of cocaine, the traffickers would have to pay 
$1m upfront and provide 50kg of cocaine that Hage said would be 
smuggled to the United States. He was very insistent on this final point.

The meeting went on for two hours, with Chigbo and Hage doing most of 
the talking.

Chigbo, blustery and keen to control the negotiations, cut Hage off 
when Hage began conversing directly with the Colombians in Spanish. 
"These are my people," he told Hage sternly. "You don't talk to them. 
You talk to me." Worried about eavesdropping, Chigbo would pause the 
discussion every time Sirleaf's housekeeper came in to serve drinks 
or empty the ashtray.

One of the Colombians took notes on a tablet computer.

The two sides eventually agreed to an advance payment of $200,000; 
the balance would be paid after the traffickers had brought their 
first shipment into the country.

Shortly after the visitors had left, three agents from the US Drug 
Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrived.

One of the agents was Sam Gaye, a friend of Sirleaf. Every minute of 
the meeting had been recorded by cameras hidden inside the room. What 
the traffickers had taken as the closing of a deal was in fact the 
opening of a sting operation planned by the DEA and the Liberian 
National Security Agency.

Reviewing the videos of the meeting, Gaye thought Chigbo's face 
looked familiar.

Later, when he saw a mug shot of the Nigerian, familiarity turned 
into recognition. "I know this guy," Gaye said. "I arrested him in the 1990s."

In the decades since President Richard Nixon formally declared a "war 
on drugs" in 1971, naming drug abuse "public enemy number one in the 
United States", that war has evolved from a primarily domestic effort 
into an offensive that crisscrosses the globe.

The DEA, formed in 1973, partnered with law enforcement agencies in 
Mexico and Colombia through the 80s and the 90s to help destroy 
marijuana plantations and cocaine labs in those countries.

Under the Ronald Reagan administration, DEA agents trained with the 
military and entered South American nations such as Bolivia to aid 
local police fight drug cartels. The argument for these incursions 
was straightforward: a significant portion of the drug supply into 
the United States originated in or passed through these countries.

Disrupting the supply near the source, before it crossed over into 
the US, was a desirable solution.

Over the past decade, the DEA has taken the fight to other parts of 
the globe in the belief that breaking up drug trafficking 
organisations anywhere in the world benefits the United States. Elite 
DEA squads of commandos trained by the US military have been deployed 
in Afghanistan, where narco-trafficking helped fund the Taliban, as 
well as in Haiti, Honduras, Belize and the Dominican Republic. In 
recent years, the DEA has increased its presence in Africa, primarily 
in response to the growing footprint of Colombian and Venezuelan drug 
cartels in west African countries.

DEA agents based in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt 
have conducted a series of investigations in the region, exercising 
extra-territorial authority to pursue charges against individuals overseas.

As a result, several drug traffickers arrested in west Africa have 
been extradited to the United States and prosecuted under US law. The 
trend has created the distinct impression that the DEA is, 
increasingly, assuming the mantle of global cop. Appearing before the 
US Senate caucus on international narcotics control in 2012, the 
DEA's deputy administrator, Thomas Harrigan, explained the rationale 
behind the agency's extended reach. "The cocaine, heroin, 
methamphetamine, chemical, money laundering and narcoterrorism 
threats in Africa have an impact on the US," he said, "particularly 
since some of the drug trafficking organisations that smuggle illicit 
drugs in the US are the same as those using Africa as a base of 
operations for smuggling drugs in Europe and the Middle East."

Sam Gaye, one of the three DEA agents who led the operation to nab 
Chigbo and his associates, has served as a foot soldier in this 
expanded war. He is a bald man with kindly eyes and a quiet 
demeanour, closer in image to a laid-back school principal than a 
cop. Despite that unassuming persona - or perhaps because of it - 
Gaye has successfully navigated danger time and again throughout his 
career, having run dozens of undercover operations for the DEA. He 
has often played the role of a drug dealer himself.

Born in Liberia, Gaye moved to the United States when he was 20, and 
went to college in Philadelphia before joining the DEA 11 years 
later, in 1987. In one of his first cases, he posed as a corrupt 
African diplomat and negotiated a fake drug deal with a Dominican 
drug trafficker and his aide, a Washington, DC cop, at a parking lot 
in DC. In 1989, upon instructions from his supervisor, Gaye had an 
informant show up near the White House and sell him a bag of cocaine. 
He learned later that the operation had been requested by White House 
officials who wanted the bag as a prop for a speech by President 
George HW Bush about the nation's fight against drugs.

In the early 90s, Gaye was posted to Nigeria to track down fugitives 
and leads relating to cases the DEA was pursuing in the United 
States. A decade later, in 2005, after stints in Haiti and Puerto 
Rico, Gaye returned to Nigeria for a second posting to help the DEA 
fight an alarming trend.

Once considered a backwater of the international drug trade, west 
Africa was quickly becoming a hub for cocaine smuggling.

Colombian cartels had already established safe passage for their 
contraband through Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Guinea by bribing 
top government and military officials.

In an increasingly interconnected world, these new trafficking routes 
were seen by the DEA to be as much of a threat to the United States 
as to Europe and Africa.

In the autumn of 2007, Gaye received a phone call at his office in 
Lagos. It was from Fombah Sirleaf, who had spent part of his 
childhood in Philadelphia and got to know Gaye when he was there. 
Sirleaf's mother was at the time married to a distant cousin of Gaye, 
and Gaye often came over to their house to visit.

Sirleaf, who was not yet a teenager, came to regard Gaye as a big brother.

Through the decades since, their friendship had grown.

Sirleaf told Gaye he had something important to discuss with him that 
he couldn't mention on the phone.

Gaye flew to Monrovia for a meeting. Sirleaf said he had been 
approached by a cocaine trafficking organisation that wanted to use 
Liberia as a base. Gaye suggested that the DEA could help Sirleaf's 
national security agency identify the traffickers and stop them. If 
Sirleaf simply turned them away, they were likely to target other 
officials in the Liberian government. Preventing traffickers from 
making inroads in Liberia wouldn't just be an act of goodwill by the 
DEA - the operation would further its goal of disrupting global drug 
trafficking networks.

After Sirleaf's stepmother, President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, gave her 
approval, the DEA and the National Security Agency began planning a 
sting. Leading the effort, along with Gaye, were three agents from 
the DEA's special operations division in Chantilly, Virginia: Lou 
Milione, a former movie actor who helped capture the international 
arms dealer Viktor Bout, and two of Milione's younger colleagues, 
James Stouch and Ryan Rapaszky.

Supervisors at the DEA suggested that Gaye play the role of Sirleaf's 
assistant, but Gaye felt uneasy because he had heard that a Nigerian 
was involved. "I had this intuition," he told me. "Something told me 
it could be somebody that could recognise me because I have put 
Nigerians in jail."

The special operations division ended up assigning the primary 
undercover role to a Greek-American named Spyros Enotiades, a 
flamboyant, talkative personality who had worked with the DEA on 
dozens of cases before.

With his Mediterranean looks, Enotiades was a natural fit for the 
part he'd been given: that of Nabil Hage, an ostensible member of the 
Lebanese expatriate community, which controls several businesses in 
Liberia. Picking Enotiades for the job - rather than Gaye - proved to 
be a prescient choice.

If Gaye had been the one to represent Sirleaf in negotiating with 
Chigbo, the sting would have ended in an instant.

Chigbo got into the drug trade in the early 1990s, when he was a 
student in Lagos, studying business administration. The university 
shut down because of a strike just as he was getting ready to take 
his final exams.

Frustrated by the delay in graduating, the enterprising Chigbo began 
helping Nigerian friends in the US to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan 
through Nigeria into New Jersey. He earned so much money that he 
forgot about returning to college when the strike ended.

But the good times were soon to be interrupted. In 1993, a DEA 
investigation in New Jersey led to federal indictments against Chigbo 
and his associates. Chigbo, who had yet to set foot in the United 
States, became a fugitive in the eyes of American law.

For about two years, the indictment did not change anything for 
Chigbo, who continued to traffic heroin through Lagos. Then, one day 
in 1995, before sunrise, one of Gaye's informants led a team of 
Nigerian law enforcement officials - accompanied by Gaye - to an 
apartment in an affluent Lagos suburb where Chigbo had been living 
with roommates.

He laughed as the team handcuffed him and marched him out of the building.

He was not as nonchalant, however, when officials put him on a flight 
to the US, accompanied by Gaye. "Then he knew it was serious," Gaye told me.

Chigbo served a six-year sentence in the US, and was sent back to 
Nigeria after his release in 2001. If the jail term was aimed at 
reform, it was a failure.

When he returned home, Chigbo moved up in the trafficking world.

Travelling between South America, Europe and Africa, he graduated 
from moving heroin in and out of Nigeria to brokering deals involving 
hundreds of kilograms of cocaine across continents. He taught himself 
Spanish and built connections with members of a Colombian cartel who 
found in him the ideal partner to help them carve out new trafficking 
routes through west Africa.

After that first meeting at Sirleaf's house in the summer of 2009, 
Chigbo stayed in touch with Nabil Hage by phone.

In October, he returned to Monrovia for another discussion with 
Sirleaf and Hage that was again secretly filmed by the DEA. He 
attempted to convince Sirleaf to allow the drugs to come into Liberia 
without a downpayment, but Sirleaf and Hage would not budge.

They were anxious not to arouse suspicion and did not want to lose 
authenticity in Chigbo's eyes. "You need to pay $200,000 before 
anything can happen," Sirleaf told Chigbo, who agreed to wire the 
money when he went back to Nigeria.

But the payment did not arrive as promised.

Chigbo called Hage to explain that banking rules in Nigeria were 
causing a problem.

He would have to break up the $200,000 into several smaller amounts 
and wire those individually into the Liberian account that Hage had 
provided. When he called Hage again a day or so later to say he was 
still having trouble, Gaye texted Chigbo from a Liberian mobile phone 
to make it look like a message from Sirleaf: "Chigbo, there have been 
too many delays.

If I don't get the money now, don't call me any more. The deal is off."

Chigbo panicked.

Within minutes, he called Hage to say that he was willing to pay 
$100,000 in cash immediately if Hage could have a trusted person to 
pick up the money in Lagos. Hage agreed, and Gaye began planning the 
pick-up, recruiting a young woman he knew in Lagos to do the job. 
They arranged for the exchange to take place in the lobby of the 
Federal Palace Hotel in downtown Lagos. At the agreed hour later that 
day, Chigbo's courier showed up at the hotel and handed Gaye's 
contact a bundle of $100 bills wrapped in a newspaper.

Now that real money had changed hands, the deal was on. "Chigbo 
figured he got Sirleaf," Gaye told me. "He had the credibility now." 
Over the next few months, from late 2009 to early 2010, Chigbo made 
several trips to Monrovia, sometimes accompanied by the Colombians.

With Sirleaf's blessing guaranteed, the DEA agents and their Liberian 
counterparts expected the traffickers to waste no time in having the 
cocaine flown into Liberia. But Chigbo wanted to revise the business 
plan. Bringing in a single tonne of cocaine at a time would not be 
cost-effective for the traffickers, he explained to Hage and Sirleaf. 
They would need to fly in bigger shipments to make it profitable 
enough for investors in Colombia, and that would require a larger 
aircraft. "He was very articulate in explaining the breakdown of the 
different costs, and why the initial proposal would need to get 
adjusted," the DEA's Ryan Rapazsky told me. "It was a drug dealer's 
version of economics 101."

Chigbo's partners only had access to small planes, and they asked for 
help in arranging a larger plane.

The DEA had one on hand. Working a trafficking case out of 
neighbouring Guinea two years earlier, the agency had confiscated a 
Russian Antonov that, in addition to having the required capacity, 
was equipped with an extended fuel tank that would enable it to fly 
straight from Venezuela to Monrovia.

Even before the operation in Liberia began, DEA agents had been 
pursuing a Russian pilot named Konstantin Yaroshenko, a handsome, 
blue-eyed man in his 40s who they believed to be an international 
transporter of contraband. Since June 2009, the DEA had been looking 
to develop a case against him and now an informant had told them that 
Yaroshenko was looking for work.

The DEA thought pairing Chigbo's partners with Yaroshenko would seem 
like a perfect solution to both sides.

The informant put Yaroshenko in touch with Nabil Hage, who flew to 
Ukraine for meetings with the pilot, first in December 2009 and again 
in March 2010. During the conversations in March, at Kiev's 
Intercontinental Hotel, Yaroshenko agreed to provide his services to 
Chigbo's Colombian partners.

He would fly cocaine from South America to Liberia, and then from 
Liberia to Ghana and other parts of Africa.

Despite soliciting Hage's help in finding a larger aircraft and a 
pilot, the Colombians did not need Yaroshenko's services to fly their 
first shipment from South America. By April 2010, they were 
finalising plans to send 2,000kg of cocaine to Monrovia by a 
Gulfstream business jet controlled by one of the traffickers, a 
Colombian named Marcel Acevedo Sarmiento. The shipment was expected 
to be flown in by mid-May. The traffickers still wanted to hire 
Yaroshenko, however, to fly a portion of the shipment from Liberia to 
Ghana. Chigbo would send it on from there to Europe, into the hands 
of bulk dealers in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

At the end of April, three of the DEA team - Stouch, Rapazsky and 
Milione - who had flown in and out of Liberia several times over the 
previous year, travelled to Monrovia once again for what they 
envisioned as the last phase of the sting.

Chigbo was going to be there when the shipment arrived in May. Hage 
had invited Yaroshenko to be there as well. The plan was to seize the 
cocaine when it landed and swoop down on all the targets.

Then began the waiting game. Chigbo was stuck in the Netherlands 
because of the eruption of the Iceland volcano, which had forced 
thousands of flights to be cancelled from 14 April to early May. When 
he finally made it to Monrovia, there was still no word from the 
Colombians on when the shipment would arrive.

On 13 May, Hage arranged a meeting between Chigbo and Yaroshenko, who 
had landed in Monrovia days earlier.

Hage wanted the two men to come to an agreement on the price to be 
paid to Yaroshenko for his first job  flying 700kg of the cocaine 
arriving in Monrovia to Accra, Ghana's capital.

When they met in a cosy hotel room, Hage asked Yaroshenko if he 
wanted a drink, and the Russian asked for tonic. "I'll give you 
Coca-Cola. I know you like Coca-Cola," Hage said with his usual aplomb.

Chigbo and Yaroshenko exchanged greetings, sizing each other up. Hage 
told Yaroshenko that he had arranged for 200kg of that amount to be 
loaded on a Delta flight bound for the United States. "It's going to 
be with diplomatic baggage," Hage said, implying that the contraband 
would have safe passage through customs. Yaroshenko's willingness to 
transport the cocaine, despite being made aware of Hage's plan - as 
the investigators saw it - made the Russian potentially culpable of 
conspiring to violate US laws.

Hage stepped back, letting Chigbo and Yaroshenko haggle.

The two discussed jobs within Africa, as well as transportation from 
South America to Liberia. At one point, when Chigbo remarked that 
Yaroshenko was asking for too much money, the Russian stood firm. "My 
friend, I know all prices from working from Latin America to here," 
Yaroshenko said. "I know all prices." The two agreed on a sum of 
$4.5m for flying a future shipment of five tonnes from Venezuela to 
Liberia. For the more immediate job of transporting to Ghana, 
Yaroshenko would be paid $1.2m.

Over the next few days, while they awaited word from Colombia, Chigbo 
and Hage continued to meet almost daily.

Chigbo had a new business plan for Hage's boss to consider: he wanted 
to build a lab in Liberia to make ecstasy and ice, an amphetamine 
drug. Using Fombah Sirleaf's backing and influence, he told Hage, it 
would be easy to import the chemicals required to synthesise the drugs.

He claimed to know 10 Mexican chemists - the best in the business - 
who could staff the lab. At one point, when Hage was talking about 
distributing ecstasy in the United States, Chigbo highlighted the 
perils of doing business there, without going into his firsthand 
experience of those risks. "America is a delicate market," he said. 
"Everywhere is delicate," Hage replied. "Chigbo, tell me one place 
where it's not delicate. Even fucking Colombia is delicate, man."

"Everywhere is delicate, but what I'm talking about is in the sense 
that everywhere else you can do it and you can get fucked up and you 
can go home," Chigbo continued.

That wasn't the case in the US, he said.

He knew, he explained, because he had lived in the US for 15 years. 
"I went to school in America. University of Minnesota." "Really?," 
Hage asked. "Yes, I played football in America, I went to school on a 
scholarship for playing football, American football," Chigbo replied. 
"Wow. Which ... which?" "Golden Buffaloes," Chigbo said. It sounded 
like a plausible name for a team.

"Really?" Hage asked, doing his best to sound admiring rather than 
sceptical. "Yes." "You could have been a multimillionaire without all 
this shit," Hage said.

Chigbo laughed, then continued with the story.

He had been drafted by the New York Jets, he said, but had to quit 
after a year because of an injury. "I couldn't perform.

So that was it," he said. "I'm sorry to hear that," Hage replied, 
sounding sincere. "But you are OK now?"

"Yeah. I'm OK, you know, I'm OK."

While these meetings were going on , Stouch and his fellow DEA agents 
had to cool their heels at their hotel, reviewing the recordings of 
each day's conversations. As the wait for the anticipated shipment 
stretched from days to weeks, with the traffickers informing Hage of 
new delays, frustration mounted for the agents. "We called it 
Operation Speculation at those points," Rapazsky told me. "When you 
do these cases, you get used to the drug traffickers not getting 
there on time." To keep themselves occupied, the agents hit the hotel 
gym frequently. Stouch - who was training for a triathlon back home - 
ventured out to the ocean to swim whenever he could.

Finally, in mid-May, Hage got an email from Chigbo's Colombian 
partner, Marcel Acevedo Sarmiento, providing the flight plan for the 
shipment. It said that the aeroplane would take off from Venezuela on 
26 May. Weather problems got in the way, and the departure was 
scheduled for two days later.

Then, on 29 May, Acevedo called Hage to say the plane had been seized 
by Venezuelan authorities on the tarmac.

The DEA and Sirleaf's agency decided it was time to end the charade. 
Hage asked Chigbo to come to Sirleaf's office the next day. When 
Chigbo showed up, Sirleaf's assistant led him to a waiting room, 
where he found himself surrounded by policemen from the NSA. "I don't 
want you to make any sudden moves, because if you do you could lose 
your life in this office," the assistant told Chigbo. "I want to see 
the director," Chigbo said with anguish, as he was put in handcuffs. 
"It must be a mistake." Around the same time, another set of NSA cops 
arrested Yaroshenko at the hotel where he had been staying.

When Chigbo was being taken to another floor of the NSA headquarters 
for fingerprinting, Sirleaf passed him by on the stairway. "He didn't 
look me in the eye," Sirleaf told me. "I felt bad. Because you have 
been in this undercover capacity for such a long time, you develop a 
relationship, like you are friends, but really you are not. You feel 
so awkward.

It's a funny feeling." While Chigbo was being fingerprinted, Gaye 
walked into the room. "Do you know this guy?" somebody asked Chigbo, 
pointing at Gaye. Chigbo nodded in recognition, his facial expression 
betraying a sense of unpleasant deja vu.

On April 10 2011, Chigbo, Yaroshenko and two of Chigbo's accomplices 
stood in a federal courtroom in Manhattan, facing trial for 
conspiring to bring cocaine into the United States. The case rested 
on the DEA's secret recordings of the conversations these men had had 
with Hage and Sirleaf over the previous year. Chigbo and the others 
now understood precisely why Hage had in the course of these meetings 
mentioned, time and again, that he intended to send a portion of the 
cocaine to the US. The traffickers' acquiescence to Hage's plan - 
even though they hadn't thought of it themselves - was enough for 
them to be charged with violating American law.

None of the defendants except Yaroshenko had any qualms accepting 
their involvement in the global drug trade.

Chigbo's lawyer, Ivan Fisher, described his client as having been 
"for a very long time a very active international drug merchant all 
over the world". But even though putting an end to drug trafficking 
anywhere in the world was a noble thing to do, Fisher argued, the 
United States government had no right to punish Chigbo for his 
actions as long as those actions did not harm the United States. "You 
see, no crime against the United States was ever afoot until this man 
named Nabil [Hage] went around attempting to create it," Fisher said. 
He argued that Chigbo had in fact, after serving his six-year 
sentence in the US years earlier, effectively become a spokesperson 
for the DEA in the narcotics world, dissuading dealers from sending 
drugs to the US because of the risks involved.

In the end, that argument failed to save Chigbo. The jury delivered a 
guilty verdict for him as well as for Yaroshenko. Chigbo was later 
sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Yaroshenko was handed a 20-year 
sentence. Acevedo Sarmiento, who was to supply the cocaine, was 
arrested by Colombian authorities and extradited to the US. He 
pleaded guilty and, in March 2013, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Chigbo and I began talking by email and phone shortly after he was 
placed in a medium-security prison in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to 
begin serving his sentence.

He called me once on his 44th birthday to tell me how angry he was to 
be thousands of miles away from friends and family. "What I did in 
Africa is wrong.

My way of life is wrong," he told me. "But I have nothing to do with 
the United States. I did not live here. I did not go to school here. 
I did not pay taxes here. I never asked for a loan from a US bank to 
start my business in Africa. I believe I have the right to make my 
living the way in the way I see fit in Africa, and if Nigerian law 
caught up with me, I should be punished there, not in the United 
States of America."

In later conversations, Chigbo told me that he had explicitly advised 
Hage and Sirleaf against sending cocaine to the US, since Europe was 
a far more profitable market.

The price of bulk cocaine in parts of the US is comparable to what it 
sells for in countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, Chigbo wrote to me 
in an email.

The shipment from South America would have fetched $21,000 per 
kilogramme in Liberia itself and $25,000 per kilogramme in Ghana, he 
said, while selling for a marginally higher $27,000 per kilogramme in 
New York - about half the price it would command in Italy or France. 
"The ultimate goal of a drug dealer is to make money and make it 
safe," he told me. Knowing the risks of transporting cocaine from 
Africa to the US, and given the slim profit margin, "tell me who will 
be doing that kind of deal?" Chigbo asked. "Only the delusional DEA."

I asked Milione what he thought of Chigbo's defence.

Milione did not deny that it would generally make more economic sense 
for traffickers to ship cocaine from west Africa to Europe rather 
than to the US. However, he said, that would not automatically 
preclude traffickers from also taking advantage of opportunities to 
send a supply to the US. For example, if a trafficker had a 
trustworthy contact at an airline flying to New York, Milione 
explained, the trafficker would not mind sending a shipment there, 
even if the profit were smaller than selling to Europe. "The 
connection that they have at the airport in west Africa is the one 
that's going to give them personal profit," he told me. "They don't 
care about the logic.

They care about making money."

Even though the US was not their chosen destination country, Milione 
denied that Chigbo and Yaroshenko were hapless victims of a DEA trap. 
"They knew that a portion of what was coming into Liberia was going 
to go to the United States. They didn't choose to walk away," he 
said. "They were nervous about that fact because they didn't want to 
necessarily expose themselves to US laws but they still went forward on it."

Milione portrayed the investigation less as an example of the US 
policing the world and more as a strategic strike against the 
multi-headed hydra of global drug trafficking - intended to help both 
the United States and its allies in Europe and Africa. "There was a 
national security interest in making sure that the trafficking groups 
that are in west Africa don't believe they are completely 
untouchable," Milione said.

Some have questioned the policy, especially the lengths to which the 
DEA is going to in order to bring these cases under US jurisdiction. 
As Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal-defence lawyer in Colorado, puts it on 
her blog, TalkLeft: "Considering unless the DEA demands otherwise, 
the (illusory) drugs are going from South America to Africa to 
Europe, why is it even their business to intervene?

Or to steer non-US criminal activity into the US?"

The intervention does appear to be having an impact, however. 
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the 
estimated flow of cocaine through west Africa declined from 43 tonnes 
in 2007 to 16 tonnes in 2013. Bruce Bagley, an international studies 
professor at the University of Miami who examines the effects of the 
narcotics trade on security, believes it is worthwhile for the US to 
continue dismantling drug trafficking networks in the region. "The US 
needs to disrupt these organisations in west Africa to prevent them 
from growing much stronger and threatening many weakly 
institutionalised African governments in danger of becoming failed 
states," he says.

For Sirleaf and Gaye, who now runs a security company in Monrovia, 
the operation's success was more than an accomplishment in law 
enforcement. It was also a tribute to their friendship and shared 
love for Liberia. If the traffickers had succeeded in developing a 
base on Liberian soil, they told me, it would have done incalculable 
harm to the country's future. "It would have been terrible," Sirleaf 
said. "When you infuse that kind of money into a political system, 
you're going to turn it into a narco-state."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom