Retired Drug Agents Criticize Goverment Efforts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The federal government has never fought hard enough in the war against drugs and has not equipped its agents to do their jobs, say retired narcotics officers.
Ex-agents here for this weekend’s annual conference of the Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents say they had no authority to wiretap, no laws to seize hidden drug assets and had to beg other agencies for airplanes.
George Belk remembered a time when a team in Texas was sent on surveillance in a car that had no reverse gear.
″It was more of a mission than a job. We enjoyed it,″ said Belk, 62, who became an agent in 1948 and rose to assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
″We called them junkies back then instead of patients or clients. We were after dope peddlers. Now everyone wants the big cases. They’re not going after the guy in the schoolyard,″ Belk, who lives in Annapolis, Md., said Friday.
Belk and others in the 300-member association said they had no idea the nation’s drug problem would escalate to the crisis of today when they were coming through the ranks in the 1950s.
They blame a lot of factors, especially what they say was government neglect at a crucial point in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Drug-fighting agencies should have linked up with local law enforcement officials in places like Colombia, Bolivia and Peru before the producers of cocaine got so strong their governments could barely hold on, they said.
″They’re just coming on line with these things now,″ said Frank Monastero of Vienna, Va., who headed the DEA’s airplane force once the agency got one.
″They should have been doing it five or six or 10 years ago.″
Monastero, 54, who began his career in 1958 and retired as a deputy administrator of the DEA last year, said cooperation with local authorities is what made a difference in slowing the flow of heroin and hashish from Turkey, Italy and France.
The former agents, about 100 of whom met Friday and Saturday, also blame a lack of government focus for the drugs pouring into the United States and the rise of abuse among Americans. John Windham, 61, said 40 or so federal agencies are involved and should have an outside overseer.
″Right now there’s too many cooks,″ Windham said. ″They need an independent czar because giving the responsibility to the FBI or the attorney general’s office won’t do it. You shouldn’t mix it in with some job description of another agency.″
The DEA has about 2,400 agents. It also had about 2,400 agents a decade ago, though equipment and techniques are more sophisticated now, the former agents said.
In fiscal 1985, the DEA seized about $366 million in cash from drug peddlers, the former agents said. The agency asked for a budget of $468 million that year and its current administrator, John C. Lawn, said the DEA is among the only self-sufficient federal agencies around.
But the agency is fighting a bigger war now than it once did.
″People had to come to the big city to get their dope back then,″ Belk said. ″Now all they have to do is cross the street.″