“Drugs were not Kissinger’s priority,” Jim Ludlum explained. “Drugs were a no-win situation.” (p 45, The Strength of the Pack)
Relentless is the pack in search of prey, relentless are the wolves.
Meticulous is the disclosure of truth about the real “war on drugs,” as chronicled by Douglas Valentine in The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues That Shaped the DEA (“Pack”). There may be other historians out there with Valentine’s attention to detail, access to resources, including interviews with agents themselves, but if there are, I haven’t read them.
This isn’t the standard “history,” it’s not about a series of splashy drug busts or heroism, though those elements are there; mainly it’s about inner and outer dynamics, where inner workings interact with outer forces, a complex book, as complex as the interlocking systems that define it, an examination of how the gears mesh.
The “wolf pack,” which distinguishes “PACK” from Valentine’s previous book, The Strength of the Wolf, is the multitude of agencies, and the agents and bureaucrats within them, that comprise The System of Federal Law Enforcement and U.S. adventures abroad. Once, The Wolf, the lone Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) agent, last of the noir cowboys, hard-boiled and streetwise, stalked his prey: Mafiosi, drug dealers both national and international (the French Connection), the occasional street junky, many of whom were useful as informants, and other ne’er’do wells. But the rise of the American Superpower in the fifties and early sixties, saw the Lone Wolf FBN replaced by a bureaucratic system more suitable to Empire: The Pack. The wolf pack includes the FBI, Customs, BNDD, numerous other agencies with acronyms too numerous to mention, and eventually, the DEA, created specifically for the purpose of “winning the war on drugs.”
Or was it?
“During his presidency, Bush sought over $8 billion dollars to fund the drug wars.8 Between 1989 and 1992, over 20 million Americans used illegal drugs, and around thirty-percent of Bush’s budget went to treatment and prevention. Ten-percent of the federal “drug supply reduction” budget went to the DEA while the military got the lion’s share, with nineteen-percent (twice what the DEA got) going to the Coast Guard alone. Instead of leaving drug law enforcement in the hands of trained professionals, Bush politicized and militarized it in ways giddy Gordon Liddy never dreamed possible. (p 391)
The “war on drugs” like the “war on terror” is about politics and political booty, stuffing deep pockets, creating bureaucracies for the deliberate purpose of obfuscation, and funding various paramilitary groups the State Department and/or CIA deems to be favorable to “national security.”
The buzz words, “national security,” allow the CIA and other sub-systems to get away with murder, literally.
There is a famous photo of Donald Rumsfeld smiling broadly and pumping Saddam Hussein’s hand on December 20, 1983, knowing full well “the brutal dictator” was pouring chemical weapons on the Kurds. At almost the same moment, Bush was meeting with another brutal dictator, Manuel Noriega, to seal an equally devious deal. … [Colonel Oliver] North was so pleased with Noriega’s assistance that he suggested that the CIA’s Office of Public Diplomacy ‘help clean up his image’ and lift the ban on arms sales to the Panamanian Defense Force. He did this knowing that Noriega was cutting side deals with the Colombian cartels. (p 393-394)
Nothing is as it seems, at least as it seems to us, for the information we, the American people, receive is filtered through a compliant (and often complicit) Media. According to the Mainstream Media fairy tale, the scenario described above is preposterous. “We” invaded Panama because Noriega was a “bad man” abusing power, inflicting woe upon his people, or some such nonsense.
Valentine is concerned not only with systems, but the living, breathing human beings who comprise them. All humans are flawed. But a flawed system corrupts all dependent and interdependent systems (and the human beings in it) from the top down.
Corruption becomes an unsolvable issue within the DEA when CIA officers suborn agents and get them to do their dirty work. Some idealistic agents think they are serving God and country by secretly working for the CIA; others see it in more practical terms, as career advancement. All fall into the abyss. (p 346)
At the top are the State Department, the CIA, the Department of Justice, The Department of Defense. Essentially, the largest subsystems within The System.
Valentine finds boxes within boxes within boxes. Reporting on Operation Intercept, a botched attempt to subjugate Mexico to U.S. Drug policy, Valentine writes,
Behind the scenes, the State Department viewed Intercept as a huge failure in foreign relations. It also prompted Henry Kissinger to involve the National Security Council more deeply in White House drug war policies, largely through his deputy General Alexander Haig, as well as through NSC narcotics advisors Arthur Downey and Arnold Nachmanoff and their staff. But Nixon was willing to pay the price, because Operation Intercept proved he was “tough on crime.” ( p 41)
Some of the players we know very well: Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan, the Bushes, J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedys. But most are as obscure to most Americans as the acronyms by which the particular sub-system from which they receive their paychecks is labeled.
“In October, 1975, the USA convened a grand jury and sought DEACON I intelligence regarding several drug busts. However, ‘intelligence the CIA provides to the DEA cannot be used in prosecuting drug offenders; and because the CIA would not reveal the identity of its assets, or even to confirm the fact of its cooperation with the DEA in court, prosecutions were ‘nolle prossed’ on National Security Grounds.” All were Latin American cases, many involving exile Cuban CIA “assets” who trafficked in narcotics and engaged in terrorism; and “ultimately they worked for Oliver North resupplying the Contras, as North Documented in his telltale diary. The line between the DEA investigations and CIA smuggling and terrorism, would continue to blur.” (p 306)
Through extensive research and compelling writing, Valentine explains loudly and clearly that “We the People” haven’t the faintest clue as to “what’s going on.” Then again, it’s difficult to believe that anyone outside the highest echelons of power (State Department, CIA) really does know what’s going on, as PACK chronicles the many ways “the mission keeps veering off course.” For instance, in one case heads of DEA and CIA decide DEA is so corrupt they have to infiltrate CIA agents in as “secret” inspectors to root out wrong-doing DEA agents – but actually the CIA uses the “secret” inspection to mount secret operations. Valentine exposes this, and other “intelligence” operations masquerading and drug operations.
… the public got its first peek into the CIA’s corrupting influence on federal drug enforcement agents in 1975 when the Rockefeller Commission reported that the CIA, through its MKULTRA program, had tested LSD on unwitting persons, and that one had died as a result. … the CIA had tested a whole range of powerful drugs on unwitting persons; used electronic and photographic equipment to record their behavior at FBN safe houses … One MKULTRA subproject involved keeping seven criminals high on LSD for 77 days straight.24 Another used poisonous mushrooms; another used instruments that administered drugs through the skin without detection, as part of an “Executive Action” assassination program. Perhaps most disturbing of all, one CIA document, dated February 10, 1954, described using hypnosis to create unsuspecting assassins. (p 346)
The “war on drugs,” is the war on drug-dealers who are not aligned with US interests. If you pass muster with the CIA you can deal all the drugs you want. Whatever is made contraband to control its use is probably something people want and will do much to attain. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be made contraband in the first place. As soon as a system is set up in which contraband materials that people want are supplied by “underground” characters and blocked by agents whose role it is to block the supply, you have an internecine war on human greed, desire, ego, etc.
Congresswoman Bella Abzug at the House Subcommittee on Government Information and Individual Rights was investigating [another narcotics case]. She submitted questions to DCI George H.W. Bush. As advised by Seymour Bolten, Bush explained in writing that the cover-up was legal under a 1954 agreement between the CIA and the Justice Department, giving the CIA the right to block prosecution or keep its crimes secret in the name of national security.67 In its report, the Abzug Committee stated: “It was ironic that the CIA should be given responsibility of narcotic intelligence, particularly since they are supporting the prime movers.” (p 319)
Despite the fog and mirrors of the “war on drugs” as portrayed in the media and the alleged powers of the neutered DEA, U.S. Policy, as conducted by the CIA and State Department, is to use drugs as a vehicle for cash and influence and to support “friendly” terrorists, such as the Contras and groups worldwide too numerous to mention. Drug-dealing, knowing the drugs will enter the veins and noses of U.S. Citizens, is U.S. Policy, and the CIA are in fact, “supporting the prime movers.”
In the early seventies, when Cuban exile Alberto Sicilia Falcon, a major Latin American cocaine supplier also began to deal in sophisticated weaponry, supplied by CIA contacts, “the war on drugs entered both a more violent and sophisticated stage, with drug traffickers armed with automatic weapons, as well as being linked to CIA counter-revolutionary activities in Mexico and South America. Falcon admitted working for the CIA, “to set up a network exchanging Mexican heroin and marijuana for weapons.” The guns were sent to guerrillas in hopes that besieged governments in Latin America would petition for US military aide. As recounted in Underground Empire, Peter Bensinger thought Falcon was a double agent for the Soviets, while several DEA agents thought he was a CIA informant reporting on Mexican revolutionaries in exchange for free passage. The CIA’s motive, naturally, was to destabilize the Mexican government, so US corporations could more easily manipulate Mexico’s competitive oil industry. (p 311)
Valentine is as concerned with the CIA and U.S. involvement abroad as he is about drug enforcement within our borders, and rightfully so. How do the drugs get into our borders if we have a multi-billion dollar intelligence and enforcement apparatus in place?
Because the Wolves who serve U.S. foreign policy use drugs as currency to support causes they support, and destroy the drugs, or rather, the drug dealers, of enemies: communist, rebellious former ally, or whatever.
Then again, what can you expect? You have a huge demand for something that is more valuable than gold, of COURSE the Players in Power are going to use it to support black ops. Where else are they gonna get the money? Congress? Not without “compromising National Security.” It’s not the fact that the CIA deals drugs, or that the DEA is a puppet of Republican power brokers, not to mention the CIA, that’s so disconcerting. It’s the willful ignorance of the American public. Sure there are “rumors” about the CIA creating the crack epidemic, though given the CIA’s dealings with the drug pushers of Afghanistan and South America, it’s not a far stretch, but Valentine shows us concrete proof of abuses large and small.
You cannot come away from reading PACK with your naivety intact. In addition to following the paper trail, Valentine actually interviewed many of the operatives, which lends further credence to the fact that people deep within The System “know what’s going on,” and the rest of us, or most of us, are in the dark, believing the CIA are the ‘good spies,” the movies tell us they are.
The mad wolves are out of control. Systems break apart and the protagonists within those systems become antagonists to other systems, the Nation they are allegedly serving, and life itself.
The the ease with which those who “go with the Program” (as developed by the CIA) attain money and prestige (doing right by the State Department and CIA never hurt anyone’s career) can corrupt even the most straight-laced agent. Perhaps more significantly, those who did not follow the pack in search of career advancement and booty received the same treatment as the NYPD once doled out to Frank Serpico:
Whistleblowers who revealed the Reagan Administration’s covert actions in Central America — especially its complicity in drug trafficking — were investigated, rather than officials like Oliver North who were involved in the trafficking. By aiding and abetting the Reagan Administration in this regard, senior DEA officials played a central and largely unreported role in the Iran-Contra cover-up. ( p 374)
By the time of the Reagan era, when the white house’s overt policy was to fund anti-communist reactionary forces abroad (think: Iran-Contra scandal; think: Afghanistan and “former” CIA asset Osama Bin Laden).
“In the early 1980’s, Latin American drug traffickers were visiting terrible violence upon politicians they viewed as collaborating with the US government. Reagan, in a reversal of Carter’s Human Rights approach to foreign policy, responded with greater violence. He declared drug trafficking a threat to national security and the age of narco-terrorism began, dove-tailing neatly with Reagan’s lawless imperial ambitions. To neutralize the threat to US security posed by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, Reagan’s Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, put Vice President George Bush (with that lean and hungry look) in charge of a secret operation to organize an insurgent group dubbed the Contras. To skirt Congress, Casey, Bush, and Bush’s national security advisor Donald Gregg formed and operated a “counter-terror network” of right-wing ideologues whose secret purpose was to illegally arm the Contras. Among them
was former DEACON I asset Felix Rodriguez, who had served as Gregg’s “counter-terror team” advisor in Vietnam. Assigned as an advisor to the Salvadoran Army’s Civil Affairs department, Rodriguez managed the CIA’s pacification effort in El Salvador and Guatemala, applying the same technique he had refined in Vietnam. General Paul Gorman, who commanded US forces in Central America in the mid-1980’s, defined this type of counter-terrorism as ‘a form of warfare repugnant to Americans … in which non-combatant casualties may be an explicit object.’” (p 376)
Gradually DEA agents realized, along with the rest of the country, that they had no choice but to adapt to the whims of the “powers that be.”
DEA operations were now indistinguishable from White House political actions, comparable to General de Gaulle’s Service d’Action Civique. Westrate rationalized the situation as follows: “DEA has always had a tremendous stable of sources overseas as you know, so it is not surprising that we developed information about the hostages. This continues today in the war on terror over and over again. We have always been a community player. (p 378)
Valentine demonstrates that the mission keeps veering off course in no small part due to CIA sabotage. In one case, heads of the DEA and CIA decide the DEA is so corrupt they have to infiltrate CIA agents in as “secret” inspectors to root out wrong-doing DEA agents — but actually the CIA uses the “secret” inspection to mount secret operations.
Let’s not forget that “we the people” are paying for this, not only with our tax money, but with our future. Again, it’s not the drugs that are the problem here, but the people who use them. And I don’t mean the users who imbibe them to get high, I mean the controllers, who use them to buy power, influence, weapons and promote US interests abroad.
Valentine does what all honest historians and journalists must do: find the truth and document it, though words of truth face stiff competition against the 24/7 barrage of television, DVDs, YouTube, and all screens big and small. Of course, you’ll never find this kind of information on any screen — except a few “alternative” web sites; hence Valentine fires events, scenes, corroborations at the reader much like the TV news blasts its viewers every evening with a parade of horrifying images that numb and pacify. Valentine does anything but “numb and pacify.” He poses serious questions with his expose, yet he wisely refuses to answer them.
There is no answer, for The System as it stands, but inertia. Inevitable collapse and decay. What will replace it? Who knows. But Valentine, through is impartial treatment of the flawed human beings — there are a few truly evil characters along the lines of George H. W.Bush, Nixon and other miscreants and there are a few straight-arrows, but the mass of agents, operatives, officials, bureaucrats etc. are a products of the particular sub-systems — DEA, FBI, CIA — they happen to be working for. Though the CIA is nefarious above and beyond the call of duty and hence recruits sadists and murderers, most agencies are comprised of people who think they are doing “the right thing,” and dedicate and risk their lives to “doing the right thing.”
The System is relentless, and thus the book must be relentless if it is to be true; however, Valentine has compassion for the players within The System, nearly all of whom believe, somewhat ridiculously, that they possess “free will.”