Pubdate: 27 Oct 1997
Source: The New American
Page: 11, Vol 13, No. 22

Battle Lines in the Drug War

by William Norman Grigg

Near the climax of Triangle of Death, a novel written by former federal
undercover agent Michael Levine, a confrontation takes place in Argentina
between a "deep cover" agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
and an officer of the CIA. The DEA agent had penetrated the heart of a
globespanning narcotics network which was producing an enhanced variety of
cocaine known as La Reina Blanca — only to learn that key elements of the
drug network were actively cooperating with the CIA.

"Make La Reina Blanca available in a country and within weeks a significant
and predictable portion of the population is turned into murderous,
uncontrollable zombies doomed to a slow, expensive death," the CIA official
muses. "You destroy that nation’s economy, its faith in its government. The
nation implodes on itself. You win a war and you never fire a shot. Look
what heroin and cocaine have already done — La Reina makes those drugs look
like powdered sugar."

"You’re not telling me anything I don’t know," the DEA undercover agent
angrily responds. "What I don’t understand is how … you, a socalled
American, can put that [drug] on our streets."

"How can you be so good at what you do and have so little understanding of
what really pulls your strings?" the CIA officer wearily responds. "Don’t
you realize that there are factions in your government that want this to
happen — an emergency situation too hot for a constitutional government to

"To what end?" asks the shocked drug agent.

"A suspension of the Constitution, of course. The legislation is already in
place. All perfectly legal. Check it out yourself. It’s called FEMA,
Federal Emergency Management Agency. ‘Turn in your guns … from here on out,
we’re watching you, you antigovernment rabble rousers.’"

>From Fear to Control

According to Levine, this shocking exchange is not the product of an
imagination fed by alarmist myths. "That scenario — an ‘epidemic’ of drug
abuse leading to a war on drugs, and eventually to a police state — came
from a specific conversation I had with a CIA officer in Argentina in
1979," Levine informed The New American. "There was a small group of us
gathered for a drinking party at the CIA guy’s apartment. There were
several Argentine police officers there as well; at the time, Argentina was
a police state in which people could be taken into custody without warning,
tortured, and then ‘disappeared.’"

"At one point my associate in the CIA said that he preferred Argentina’s
approach to social order, and that America should be more like that
country," Levine continues. "Somebody asked, ‘Well, how does a change of
that sort happen?’ The spook replied that it was necessary to create a
situation of public fear — a sense of impending anarchy and social upheaval
in which people will literally plead with Congress, ‘Take whatever rights
you need, but save us from drugs.’ And, of course, the powers behind the
scenes would be only too willing to oblige."

"Even now, the American public doesn’t understand the extent to which this
has happened," Levine observes. "In the name of fighting drugs, we’ve
allowed our federal government to become essentially a criminal enterprise
in a lot of ways." In the federal war on drugs, property can be summarily
seized from lawabiding citizens, and lives can be taken with impunity.
"We’ve come to accept criminal behavior from government to a shocking
extent," Levine declares, "and I watched it happen from the inside."

Firsthand Passion

For 25 years, Levine served as a "deep cover" specialist for four federal
agencies, eventually becoming the most highly decorated undercover agent in
DEA history. His inspiration in fighting the "War on Drugs" was his younger
brother David, who killed himself in 1977 after 19 years of heroin
addiction. In his suicide note, David cried out, "I can’t stand the drugs
anymore." A few years later, while Levine was working undercover for the
DEA, he discovered to his horror that his teenage daughter had also
succumbed to a drug habit — which she eventually overcame with his help.
There are few people more passionately opposed to the drug culture than
Levine — and just as few who are more critical of the federal government’s
war on drugs.

"The war on drugs was only an illusion that I had been fool enough to
believe in — a belief I might easily have died for, were it not for plain,
dumb luck," Levine wrote in his 1993 bestseller The Big White Lie: The CIA
and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic. "I had been one of those for whom being a
DEA agent had become my reason for living. There were agents like me all
over the world, having their illusions shattered, stepping on toes, trying
to lock up drug dealers who had bigger and better connections in the
American government than they did. Their cases were getting destroyed, just
as [my] cases were; they were getting in trouble, just as I was; yet they
kept on pushing, kept on butting their heads against the brick walls of
clandestine agendas."

When Levine was sent to Argentina as a DEA undercover agent in 1979, he was
"full of hatred for those druglords my leaders called ‘our nation’s biggest
enemies.’" Three years later, Levine returned to the states with the
chastened realization that "I had found as much to hate about many of my
own leaders — those socalled ‘good and loyal Americans’ who hid behind
official titles and secrecy laws — as I did about the criminals they

"Regrettable Incident"

Levine states without hesitation that "the CIA has long been a major
supporter of the people and organizations responsible for supplying drugs
to this country. Time and time again, I discovered that various people
against whom we were trying to build a case were regarded as assets by the
CIA. Of course, at that time those ‘assets’ were described as allies in the
Cold War, but my DEA sources tell me that this remains the case even now
that the Cold War is over."

Significantly, the CIA itself has confirmed at least one instance in which
their "assets" have been implicated in largescale drug smuggling. In
November 1996, a federal grand jury in Miami handed down a sealed
indictment against General Ramon Guillen Davila, a Venezuelan officer who
headed a CIAcreated antidrug program within that nation’s National Guard
in the late 1980s. From 1987 to 1991, a spy from Guillen’s CIAsupervised
unit who had insinuated himself into the Colombian drug network actively
collaborated in the shipment of at least 22 tons of cocaine through
Venezuela. This was done, according to the CIA, to win the confidence of
the drug lords.

In December 1989, as part of this collaborative effort, CIA officer Mark
McFarlin and Jim Campbell, the CIA’s station chief in Venezuela, met with
DEA attaché Anabelle Grimm to discuss the delivery of an "uncontrolled
shipment" of cocaine into the United States. Despite the fact that Grimm
and her associates at the DEA refused to sign off on this supposed "sting
operation," the CIA went ahead with it anyway — and at least a ton of
nearly pure cocaine was delivered to Miami International Airport for
distribution on American streets.

The CIA’s narcosnafu wasn’t exposed until November 1993, at which time
Agency spokesman Kent Harrington described it as "a most regrettable
incident." McFarlin resigned and Campbell was recalled to Washington.
General Guillen, whose role in the affair has never been fully disclosed,
was the only individual to face criminal charges. Anabelle Grimm, who was
unwilling to support the CIA’s drugrunning scheme, was essentially hounded
out of the DEA.

"The case of the Venezuelan cocaine is the only known instance in which the
agency has acknowledged that its actions led to drugs being imported into
the United States," reported the November 23, 1996 New York Times. "No CIA
official has been charged in the case, and there is no evidence that anyone
at the agency profited from sales of the drugs."

However, in a sense the CIA collectively profited from this scandal, which
occurred as the Bush Administration (which was led by a former CIA
director, lest we forget) was escalating its "War on Drugs": The
"accidental" delivery of cocaine to America’s streets could be looked upon
as a case of the CIA drumming up business for itself.

Incentive for Defeat

Like many of the "wars" waged by America’s political establishment, the war
on drugs is being prosecuted by a bureaucratic coalition that has no
incentive for victory and every incentive to perpetuate the status quo.
"The drug war under President Clinton is bigger and healthier than ever,"
writes Levine in The Big White Lie. "It seems like every department in the
federal government has a part in it — DEA, FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, DIA, ATF,
State Department, Pentagon, Customs, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force,
Marines — and each one is fighting for more turf and a bigger chunk of the
drug war budget. When I started out as an agent in 1965, there were two
federal agencies enforcing the drug laws, and the budget was less than $10
million." By contrast, in 1993 there were 54 agencies involved and a budget
of $13 billion. Notes Levine, "Orchestrating the whole mess is a Drug Czar
who is generally a political appointment with no specific qualifications
for the job."

But it is the CIA’s role in "supporting and protecting the world’s biggest
drug dealers" that most clearly illustrates the fraudulent nature of the
war on drugs, maintains Levine. In the 1980s, the roll call of
CIAsupported narcotics traffickers included antiAmerican elements of the
Afghan Mujahedin, certain factions of Nicaragua’s antiSandinista
resistance, the Shan United Army in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia,
and "any of a score of other groups and/or individuals like Manuel Noriega.
Support of these people has been secretly deemed more important than
getting drugs off our streets." Indeed, the Venezuelan cocaine scandal
seems to suggest that the CIA has on occasion deemed it a priority to put
drugs on our streets.

Cocaine Coup

The Big White Lie and Levine’s previous bestseller Deep Cover provide a
chronicle of the frustrations he experienced as he tried to penetrate the
Bolivianbased drug network that supplied the Colombian cartels. "By late
1979, after a series of undercover adventures in Argentina, Uruguay, and
Bolivia, I managed to penetrate the Roberto Suarez organization — the
biggest cocaineproducing cartel in history," writes Levine in Deep Cover.
"From the beginning I found myself battling forces within my own agency
who, for reasons I could not understand at the time, were opposed to the

In spite of this, Levine succeeded in building a case against key members
of the Suarez organization and developing crucial intelligence regarding
the extent to which drug traffickers "had already infiltrated the highest
levels of other South American governments." At this point, recalls Levine,
"strange things began to happen. All charges were dropped against one of
the two defendants and the bail of the other was mysteriously lowered,
after which he was allowed to leave the United States without the slightest
hindrance by our government."

This apparently inexplicable turn of events left Levine’s faith in the drug
war "shaken to its foundations." However, "what happened next blasted it to
kingdom come. The Roberto Suarez organization began a revolution in Bolivia
to oust the element in that government that had dared to cooperate with DEA
in allowing my sting operation to happen — a revolution supported by our CIA."

The July 1980 upheaval was conducted by a paramilitary force calling itself
Los Novios de la Muerte ("The Fiances of Death") who were recruited by
exNazi fugitive — and CIA asset — Klaus Barbie. The Novios liberated all
of the drug traffickers who had been incarcerated by the Bolivian
government and destroyed their police records. "When the smoke cleared,"
Levine recalls, "thousands had been tortured and killed and the cocaine
traffickers were in control of Bolivia" — which at the time produced more
than 80 percent of the world’s cocaine. Roberto Suarez’s cousin, Colonel
Luis ArceGomez, was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior,
and eventually became known as "Minister of Cocaine" for his role in
streamlining and expanding Bolivia’s cocaine industry.

Following the "Cocaine Coup" of 1980, Levine found himself caught in an
unusual cross fire. His complaints about the mismanagement of his operation
were rewarded with "a long and intensive internalaffairs investigation
that touched every corner of my professional and personal life." At the
same time, "Roberto Suarez issued contracts for my murder throughout the

Reagan Reaction

The "Cocaine Coup" came near the end of the Carter Administration, which as
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld observes in her study NarcoTerrorism, "was rife with
apologists for and consumers of all kinds of drugs." Peter Bourne, the
psychiatrist who served as Carter’s chief adviser on drugs, was appointed
to his Administration post after writing in favor of legalizing both
marijuana and cocaine. But the Carter Administration’s perspective on drug
use was entirely in harmony with the official findings of its Republican
predecessor. Notes Ehrenfeld, "In September 1975, a typical establishment
entity called the Domestic Council Drug Abuse Task Force, led by Vice
President Nelson Rockefeller, wrote a white paper that essentially condoned
the use of both marijuana and cocaine."

The late 1970s and early 1980s, notes Ehrenfeld, "were America’s maximum
tolerance for drugs." Cocaine became the recreational drug of choice for a
growing portion of the upper middle class, and the Latin American drug
network — supplied by the CIAbacked narcoregime in Bolivia — was more
than willing to service the rapidly expanding U.S. market. But with
metronomic predictability, the permissiveness of the Carter era yielded to
a Reaganera crackdown.

After the CIAbacked coup, Bolivia became the drug war equivalent of a
public works project. Dr. Ehrenfeld writes that Bolivia was targeted for "a
special project for cocaleaf eradication and drug control before such
programs were even attempted, much less allowed, in Colombia and Peru."
Agents from the Customs Service, the DEA, the Border Patrol, and other
federal agencies were dispatched to participate in drug suppression
initiatives in what was then an unprecedented display of "interagency
cooperation" in the drug war. Even more significantly, 170 U.S. Army troops
were deployed to Bolivia in 1986 to conduct "quick strike missions against
narcotics traffickers and their jungle processing labs" — the first such
use of the military in a foreign antidrug campaign.

The domestic front of the Reagan Administration’s drug war made plentiful
use of measure passed by Congress in 1978 that expanded the use of
"criminal forfeiture" in drug investigations. That law, writes Dan Baum in
his book Smoke and Mirrors, "let the DEA seize money and ‘derivative
proceeds’ without even charging — let alone convicting — the owner; the low
burden of proof required under civil forfeiture now was combined with the
extended reach of criminal forfeiture. Now drug agents could, on suspicion
alone, confiscate not only cars and boats but also bank accounts, stock
portfolios, anything they suspected of being bought with drug money."

Federally directed forfeiture efforts received an additional boost from the
Comprehensive Forfeiture Act of 1984. Baum documents that by 1989, "the
practice of confiscating citizens’ property was openly defended as a
lawenforcement cash cow.... The Justice Department,which had just been
given 175 additional prosecutors to work on nothing but forfeiture cases,
crowed in a public handout that ‘a natural byproduct is revenue which is
pumped back into law enforcement so that forfeitures beget more forfeitures
like a snowball rolling downhill.’ Assets seized annually in concert with
federal agents had increased twentyfold in just four years, to more than
$600 million. Ninetyfive percent of that was plowed back into law

Furthermore, the preponderance of forfeited wealth was seized from
lawabiding citizens. As the February 27, 1991 Pittsburgh Press reported,
80 percent of the people whose property was seized in federally mandated
forfeiture actions "were never charged. And most of the seized items
weren’t the luxurious playthings of drug barons, but modest homes and
simple cars and hardearned savings of ordinary people." Needless to say,
the practice of forfeiture — which is little more than plunder conducted
under the color of state authority — created perverse incentives for other
varieties of official corruption. In 1990, the Justice Department’s Asset
Forfeiture Fund kicked back $24 million to informants.

Even more astonishing is the fact that asset forfeiture, a supposed weapon
to combat drugs, created an incentive for at least one state government to
distribute drugs. In 1989, the Arizona state police imported nine tons of
marijuana to sell as part of a federally encouraged sting operation, seven
tons of which disappeared into the street — essentially a statelevel
version of the CIA’s Venezuela drug debacle. Yet, as Baum reports, the
official in charge of the sting "told reporters it was worth letting seven
tons of pot hit the streets to net $3 million in seized assets. The
operation was, in his words, ‘a success from a costbenefit standpoint.’" 

Profiles in Ambiguity

Asset forfeiture is not the only imposition on individual rights begotten
by the drug war. By the mid1980s, the DEA had adopted the practice of
detaining and frisking travelers at airports on the basis of "drug courier
profiles." In 1987, the North Carolina Law Review published a list of 155
"suspicious" characteristics culled from various profiles used by the DEA.
Some passengers had provoked the agency’s suspicion by purchasing
roundtrip tickets; others had tagged themselves as potential couriers by
obtaining oneway tickets. Some had called attention to themselves by
taking nonstop flights "to and from [a] source city (such as Los Angeles
or Miami)"; others had taken connecting flights to or from a "source city."

Passengers had been detained for "walking slowly, walking quickly, being
very tense, [having a] calm demeanor … carrying no luggage, carrying [a]
mediumsized bag … [being] sloppily dressed, casually dressed, [or] smartly
dressed … first to deplane, last to deplane, deplaning from the middle" —
in short, for any and every conceivable reason.

Even more ominous, as recently documented in The New American by an
activeduty Army Special Forces Soldier (see "Quartered Among Us" in our
September 1st issue), the war on drugs has undermined the Third Amendment’s
prohibitions against the creation of a standing occupation army, and the
Posse Comitatus Act, which was intended to segregate the military and law
enforcement functions of the federal government. This illicit blending of
military and law enforcement functions is accomplished through Joint Task
Force (JTF)6, headquartered in Fort Bliss, Texas. JTF6 provides training
and support to law enforcement agencies involved in counterdrug operations
— which, as the Waco tragedy illustrated, can be defined to include an
assault on an eccentric religious sect.

During planning for the Waco raid, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms (ATF) contacted "JTF6 and asked for training, medical,
communications, and other support," note scholars David B. Kopel and Paul
H. Blackman in their book No More Wacos. "The JTF staff explained that JTF
could only be involved if the case were a drug case." Accordingly, ATF
redefined its case as a drug investigation on the pretext that the Branch
Davidians were running a methamphetamine lab. The U.S. Special Operations
Command (USSOC) authorized JTF6 to assist in serving a warrant on the
sect, which was described by USSOC as "a dangerous extremist organization
believed to be producing methamphetamine," supposedly in "direct support of
interdiction activities along the southwest border." Of course, the warrant
itself did not mention illicit drugs, and no federal official bothered to
explain how the fullforce raid on the Branch Davidian community, located
300 miles from the border, could have assisted "interdiction" efforts.

Futile Federal Efforts

Michael Levine left the DEA after growing increasingly disillusioned with
the fraudulent effort known as the war on drugs. "The war on drugs is a
fraud for many reasons, but most of all because its basic approach —
interdiction to control supply — just cannot work, and the ‘suits’ in
charge of the effort know this," Levine explained to The New American. "All
that is accomplished by efforts to reduce the supply of narcotics is that
the kingpins are made wealthier, and the occasional highprofile bust
enriches the careers of a few politicians and bureaucrats. In the meantime,
drug consumers still manage to find their sources and lives are still
destroyed. The fundamental problem with the socalled war on drugs is that
both sides are winning — the drug lords and the ‘suits’ — because they both
are making a killing."

Since leaving federal service, however, Levine has focused on what he
refers to as the "rampant criminality of our own government." He observes
that "we’ve seen our society accept the idea that rights can be traded in
exchange for protection from drugs, just as that CIA officer [in Argentina]
said we would. People have been panicked into letting our government engage
in widescale abuses and criminal behavior, and as the Waco episode
illustrates, the feds can write their own rules when they find a drug angle
to a case."

However, Levine remains committed to the struggle against narcotics —
pursued at a local level with community leaders and locally accountable law
enforcement agencies. "I was made the ‘Drug Czar,’ if you will, of Cape Cod
for two years, from 1992 to 1993," he recalls. "We essentially followed a
strategy of attacking demand by enforcing laws against drug consumers. 

We let it be known that drug users would be arrested and punished. Demand
was reduced dramatically — until the feds came in and told us that we were
‘screwing up their operations against the dealers.’ Pretty soon all of the
taxpayer and foundationsubsidized nonprofits said the same thing — that
we were ‘taking the wind out of the sails’ of their campaigns. Of course we
were — we were actually winning, which is a nono in the drug war."

Levine experienced nearly identical results when his methods were given a
trial run in Greenville, Mississippi. "We went into innercity schools and
told the students that there was going to be a new war on drugs — that we
were going to enforce laws against users, and that users would be expected
to help us identify dealers," Levine recalls. "Within a short period of
time, arrests were made and drug use declined. Sure enough, the feds showed
up and complained that our effortswere undercutting their operations
against dealers. Enough political pressure was created to close down the
Mississippi program, and I finally got tired of butting my head against the
wall and resigned from the Cape Cod program as well."

War on Rights

The decadeslong "war on drugs" has been, in practice, a war on individual
rights — and Levine is convinced that such has been the purpose of the
enterprise from the beginning."We haven’t had the type of upheaval my CIA
friend predicted, but there has been a long process of undermining our
freedom and institutionalizing criminal behavior by our government," Levine

"If we’re going to fight a war on drugs, it’s going to have to be carried
out at the local level, by locally accountable people working with the
cooperation of the community," Levine concludes. 

"The feds — and, remember, I was one for 25 years — are following a
different agenda. There are some very good, courageous federal agents whose
efforts are being wasted, just as mine were, by a political elite that has
no interest in winning this war."