Soon after being sworn in as defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld made
headlines by delicately questioning current national drug policies. Much
to the delight of drug-war critics both in and out of government,
Rumsfeld told Congress that "the drug problem in the United States is
overwhelmingly a demand problem, and to the extent that demand is there
and it's powerful, it is going to find ways to get drugs in this
country, to our detriment." He also indicated he would be examining the
U.S. role in Colombia, where a shooting war is taking place between drug
cartels and the Colombian government.

Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington,
and a military historian, cautions that it's too soon to predict whether
the Bush administration will make any significant changes in national
drug policy. "Rumsfeld's statement was one of the most enlightened views
to come out of the federal government in years. ... I've talked to many
active-duty military personnel in private, and they are the ones who are
most passionate against this 'war,' believing that it is a policy action
that will lose in the end. They don't want their beloved institutions
tarnished in this disastrous effort."

Defense Department officials, policy experts and military analysts
interviewed for this article agreed that, despite some recent successes
by the U.S. government in seizing large shipments of drugs and capturing
smugglers, there is an uneasiness associated with military and defense
industry involvement in a war whose cause is decidedly domestic in

In 2001, the White House office of national drug control policy will
spend roughly $18 billion, of which approximately $2 billion to $3
billion will be for the Pentagon's activities in the conflict. Another
$20 billion will be spent by U.S. states and localities.

"There is a definite food chain in all of this", said a defense industry
official. "If you could somehow track one single dollar through this
whole process, you'd probably find it travels through the military,
defense industry, law enforcement, public health and commercial banks,
all of which have a mission or money interest in all this. Everyone is
involved in some way."

There are constitutional and organizational reasons why the war on drugs
has been "detrimental to military readiness and an inappropriate use of
the democratic system," said former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger
in a recent interview. In 1988, Weinberger became one of the first
high-ranking government officials to publicly warn the nation about the
problems of involving the military in what he viewed as a domestic
law-enforcement problem.

In an editorial published in the Washington Post, he warned that cries
for the use of the military made for "hot and exciting rhetoric, but
would make for terrible national security policy, poor politics and
guaranteed failure in the campaign against drugs."

Nonetheless, Weinberger said, "Something has to be done, and we can't
give up because it's a difficult task. Just because you can't stop bank
robbers doesn't mean you legalize them, but I would not expand the
military's role any further than it is in civilian law enforcement.

"My preference would be for the Coast Guard to have primary
responsibility for drug interdiction and, where appropriate, cooperate
with military elements. But I do think one-half of our funds should go
to supply reduction and one-half to demand reduction."

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Tom Conroy described the drug war as a
"steady-state war in which the U.S. is buying time until demand reduces.
We have to do something. We can't do nothing."

That viewpoint infuriates Timothy Lynch, a drug policy expert at the
Cato Institute, and editor of "After Prohibition," a publication
focusing on national drug policy. According to Lynch, the political and
military leadership should have heeded Weinberger's advice 14 years ago.
"The military needs to be 'detoxed' from its current role, which is
entirely inappropriate. One of the most dangerous things is that there
are now so many loopholes in Posse Comitatus that it is little more than
an assemblage of words."

The drug policies and programs now in place, said Lynch, "have a life of
their own. ... I get so tired of hearing that 'something must be done,'
or 'we are doing the best we can.' You should never underestimate the
power of inertia here in Washington."

"Who in government is going to stand up and say, 'We need to change
direction,' or what agency is going to turn down funding for this? This
should have been a public health issue, not a military issue."

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel and a military analyst for NBC News,
told National Defense that the current national drug policy seems
destined to get the nation mired in a Vietnam-like conflict, only this
time closer to home, in Colombia. He sees parallels between the
political-military thought process that got the United States into
Vietnam and the thinking that drives U.S. policy on Colombia. In both
instances, contractors, advisors and special forces were dispatched.
"It's formulaic," he said.

"We can't wait to do something stupid," said Allard. "Before we deploy,
let's ask some intelligent questions," he said. "Our [special
operations] soldiers are extremely capable, but the other guys -- the
guerillas and drug producers -- have an exit strategy, and we don't."

Special operations forces, he added, are "too easy to commit. Drugs are
not [their] primary mission." In terms of civilian involvement, he
noted, "I believe that drugs both corrupt the political process and the
criminal justice process. That has to be taken into account."

A senior government official with the White House drug policy office
agreed with Allard that there are problems inherent with military
involvement in the drug war, particularly the public perception that
it's a military driven project. "It is a mistake to view this as solely
a military problem. ... Our policy is more akin to treating a cancer
than fighting a war. Our number-one goal is to prevent abuse, and our
goal is a mix of attacking both supply and demand."

The uniformed services are involved in air, land and sea anti-drug
support operations. The Navy and the Coast Guard work the waterways, and
Air Force pilots in F-16s fly in hot pursuit of drug-smuggling pilots in
their Cessnas. Special operations forces are on the ground in Central
and South America, advising host government forces on counterinsurgency
techniques. They also are active within U.S. borders. According to Brian
Sheridan, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special
operations, they play a support role in making "America's citizens safe
by substantially reducing drug-related crime and violence."

In a statement to Congress, Sheridan indicated that $95 million was
spent in 1999 supporting domestic law enforcement with excess military
equipment and foreign-language translators. The Defense Department
funded schoolhouse-training programs provided to domestic law
enforcement personnel.

The U.S. National Guard has 126 rotary and fixed-wing aircraft dedicated
to fighting in the drug war. A National Guard official who requested
anonymity indicated that, "We have 116 OH-58 helicopters and 10 C-26
fixed-wing aircraft, which are the Guard's counter-drug assets." They
are deployed in 32 states across the United States for counter-drug
operations. The Guard also is looking at new technologies such as
unmanned aerial vehicles to use in domestic drug operations.

Dyncorp, a government contractor, in Reston, Va., provides the State and
Justice Departments with a one-stop-shop, counter-drug support
expertise. The company supports drug-war operations at both the front
and back ends -- from airborne crop-dusting in Colombia, to asset
forfeiture experts who work at 385 Justice Department sites in the
United States.

Dyncorp operates in obscure places such as the Peruvian naval base in
Pucalpa and the jungles of Colombia -- where the drugs are produced and
shipped. The company is working currently under a $316 million contract
for assistance and management of the Justice Department's "asset
forfeiture program." According to a Dyncorp spokesman, most of the 1,000
staff members in the program hold "secret" clearances and have been
involved in more than 60,000 asset seizures in the United States. Among
other things, they provide "criminal-intelligence collection and
analysis, forensic support and asset identification and tracking."

Contractors such as Dyncorp and MPRI (based in Alexandria, Va.)
frequently are caricatured by the news media as "mercenaries" run amok
in the war on drugs. In a recent interview, a senior U.S. State
Department official bemoaned the fact that, "Dyncorp and the State
Department have unfairly become a stalking horse for criticism of Plan
Colombia. ... All I can say is that most of the Dyncorp employees down
there in Colombia are from Colombia and very few are American. For their
security, [all I can say is that] this is a nuts-and-bolts support
contract, nothing more."

"Everyone calls us mercenaries, but not one person at MPRI carries a
gun, " said Ed Soyster, a retired Army general and MPRI spokesman. "The
lieutenant general with a mission has a hell of a lot more latitude than
we do. We are held to the letter of the law and, besides, we want to get
paid. If we don't meet contract terms, we don't get paid. The contract
is the failsafe for abuses. In addition, we are able to do many things
that free up the guys in uniform." For example, MPRI manages the Army's
ROTC program at 217 universities in the United States.

MPRI is seeking new business opportunities from domestic law enforcement
agencies, said Soyster. "Law enforcement guys like to talk to 'cops',
not generals." The company is assembling retired and second-career law
enforcement officials, such as police chiefs and ex-drug enforcement
agents, to develop "change strategies" for the drug war.

For every step forward in the drug war, there seems to be an equivalent
step backward, officials said. The total tonnage of illicit drugs
interdicted must be measured against gross amounts that make it into the
country. According to Coast Guard Adm. Terry Cross, the intelligence
community provides classified estimates of total drug flow into the
United States. "We interdicted 11 percent of the total amount of cocaine
in 2000, which was about 60 metric tons," he said. "It doesn't sound
like a lot in terms of percentage of the total, but measured in street
value, it's a lot of money."

Drug seizure statistics provided by the U.S. government should be viewed
carefully, said Tree, the military historian. "They capture those who
are dumb enough to get caught. After three decades of this, we are worse
off according to all public health indicators and statistics than we've
ever been. If you argue with their numbers or want to change the
paradigm from law enforcement to public health, they label you as a

One questionable U.S. policy, according to Lynch, is the practice that
encourages a U.S. Navy warship to hoist the Coast Guard flag before
firing on a craft suspected of carrying drugs -- with the rationale that
a Navy ship flying the Coast Guard flag has transformed into a Coast
Guard vessel for purposes of meeting the limitations of Posse Comitatus.
It comes perilously close to the military making arrests," said Lynch.
"These drug policies have generated so many obscure rules on the books
that dangerous games like this can be played." He also questioned why
the Coast Guard is operating in waters that are far away from U.S.

Coast Guard cutters operate off the coast of South America, said Cross.
Two-thirds of the cocaine is transported through Mexico, and "our very
best chance is to get it before it makes its way into Mexico. That
dictates that you make that effort a long way from your border. No
matter what we do, some drugs will get through, but you have to send a
signal that there will be a price to pay for producing and transporting
drugs and using them."

About one-half of all cocaine seizures in 2000 were made with the help
of Navy warships, along with Dutch and British vessels. If Defense
Department assets and the military services were not committed to this
mission, said Cross, "we would not be successful by any measure."

Meanwhile, the White House drug policy office recently announced that
roughly 26,000 hectares of illicit drug crops were successfully sprayed
and destroyed in Colombia. Allard's reaction is "What does that mean?"
The side effects of that operation are refugees spilling over into
bordering countries, and new coca plantations are moving from Colombia
and appearing in the northwest corner of Brazil.

According to eyewitness accounts and the United Nations Global
Internally Displaced People Project, Colombia ranks second behind Sudan,
with 2 to 3 million refugees crossing over into neighboring countries as
the direct result of both the long standing Colombia civil war and the
U.S. drug war.

"I just returned from a trip to Colombia," said Tree. "Our policies are
causing huge displacements of people. These people are incredibly
impoverished. If their crops are ruined, they have few options. The soil
is too acidic for the types of crops we are forcing them to grow. They
either go to the city for handouts, move into Brazil and chop down a few
acres of rain forest to grow new crops, or they turn to the number one
and two employers around: the guerillas and the paramilitaries. Our
policy is incredibly flawed."

He traveled to a remote area, about 10 kilometers from the border with
Ecuador. It is a bleak picture, said Tree. "There's no sign of the state
or any organized economy. There's no infrastructure, no newspapers, no
radio. ... The first contact that these people -- who have been chewing
coca leaves as part of their culture for hundreds of years -- have with
the state is with fumigation planes, helicopters, contractors and
advisors telling them to destroy their crops. They don't understand why
we are attacking them."


Agency Coordinates Counter-Drug Support

Since its inception in 1989, a Defense Department agency in Fort Bliss,
Texas, has completed more than 4,800 counter-drug missions in support of
more than 430 different local, state, regional and federal law
enforcement agencies.

The Joint Task Force Six (JTF-6) staff coordinates military support to
civilian agencies, explained spokesman Armando Carrasco. "This unique
relationship that exists between the law enforcement community and the
military nets what we term a win-win situation," Carrasco said. "The
nation's law-enforcement agencies receive invaluable and unprecedented
support that they would not otherwise have, and the military gains
tremendous training opportunities in new environments that offer unique
challenges and situations."

JTF-6's area of operations includes the entire continental United
States, with primary focus in the southwest border states of California,
Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"The military support is aimed at enhancing the capabilities of our
law-enforcement clients in curtailing illegal drug smuggling
activities," said Carrasco. "The military personnel are strictly in a
counter-drug support role." Federal law prohibits the use of active duty
and reserve military personnel in a direct law-enforcement capacity.
Military personnel performing JTF-6 missions cannot search, seize,
detain or make arrests.

As a joint-service command, JTF-6 is comprised of active and reserve
soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and women. "The personnel and units
volunteer to perform specific JTF-6 counter-drug support missions that
are directly related to their mission-essential tasks," explained

The funding for JTF-6 activities comes from the Defense Department
budget, Carrasco said. The law-enforcement agencies only fund the costs
of the required materials, such as engineer construction supplies.

Recently, U.S. Army engineers from the 46th Engineer Battalion, based at
Fort Polk, La., deployed to the Arizona border on a projected one-month
engineering mission to be completed in support of the U.S. Border
Patrol. About 160 active-duty soldiers are conducting operations to
improve 2.5 miles of border roads and construct a 1-mile fence.

Among the most popular pieces of equipment are unmanned aerial vehicles,
which recently flew in support of two South Texas U.S. Border Patrol
sectors. These aircraft are equipped with day/night cameras and infrared
sensors. "We were also able to assist the Border Patrol in integrating
the Texas Army National Guard C-26 aircraft, a highly sophisticated
counter-drug platform, into the overall effort," said Carrasco.

Newshawk: stree
Pubdate: Tue, 1 May 2001
Source: National Defense Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2001, National Defense Industrial Association
Author: John Stanton