Wikileaks Cables Reveal DEA's Increasing Global Reach

The New York Times examines the Wikileaks cables and the DEA. What it finds: the D.E.A. has been expanding its global reach. It now has 87 offices in 63 countries. One of the things foreign governments love about the agency: its wiretapping capability. The DEA has emerged from the shadow of the FBI and become much more than a drug agency. Its intelligence capabilities are in great demand, world-wide, but not always for the right reasons. This detailed article on the leaked Wikileaks cables concerning the DEA and war on drugs begins with Central and South America, where some governments want access to its technologies to go after political opponents. Because of the ubiquity of the drug scourge, today's D.E.A. has access to foreign governments, including those, like Nicaragua's and Venezuela's, that have strained diplomatic relations with the United States. Many are eager to take advantage of the agency's drug detection and wiretapping technologies. [More…] In some countries, the collaboration appears to work well, with the drug agency providing intelligence that has helped bring down traffickers, and even entire cartels. But the victories can come at a high price, according to the cables, which describe scores of D.E.A. informants and a handful of agents who have been killed in Mexico and Afghanistan. Some countries that won't deal with the CIA are welcoming the DEA. Others are not. In Venezuela, the local intelligence service turned the tables on the D.E.A., infiltrating its operations, sabotaging equipment and hiring a computer hacker to intercept American Embassy e-mails, the cables report. The DEA has refused some requests: When American diplomats refused to give Paraguay access to the drug agency's wiretapping system [to go after the the EPP or Paraguayan People's Army], Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola threatened to shut it down, saying: "Counternarcotics are important, but won't topple our government. The EPP could." The D.E.A. faced even more intense pressure last year from Panama, whose right-leaning president, Ricardo Martinelli, demanded that the agency allow him to use its wiretapping program – known as Matador – to spy on leftist political enemies he believed were plotting to kill him. The DEA has been fixated on "narco-terrorism" for years. In Afghanistan, it has embedded agents in military units. In 2007 alone, the D.E.A. opened new bureaus in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as in three Mexican cities. It has also moved into arms-trafficking. For example, Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian arrested in Spain, and Viktor Bout, a Russian arrested in Thailand,…were charged with agreeing to illegal arms sales to informants posing as weapons buyers for Colombian rebels. Notably, neither man was charged with violating narcotics laws. Another example provided by the Times is what I like to call the DEA's African vacation. The DEA used a 2006 naroc-terrorism law to charge them, even though there was no independent corroboration for their connection to al Qaeda: Experts on the desert regions of North Africa, long a route for smuggling between Africa and Europe, are divided about whether Al Qaeda operatives play a significant role in the drug trade, and some skeptics note that adding "terrorism" to any case can draw additional investigative resources and impress a jury. It also refers to the DEA's Mali and Sierre Leone operations discussed here. And Guinea, Nigeria and Liberia. In Guinea, where the President's son is the head of the drug cartel, the Government stages a faux-bonfire in the pretense of destroying drugs: In a colorfully written cable – with chapters titled "Excuses, Excuses, Excuses" and "Theatrical Production" – diplomats described attending what was billed as a drug bonfire that had been staged by the Guinean government to demonstrate its commitment to combating the drug trade. Senior Guinean officials, including the country's drug czar, the chief of police and the justice minister, watched as officers set fire to what the government claimed was about 350 pounds of marijuana and 860 pounds of cocaine, valued at $6.5 million. In reality, American diplomats wrote, the whole incineration was a sham. Informants had previously told the embassy that Guinean authorities replaced the cocaine with manioc flour, proving, the diplomats wrote, "that narco-corruption has contaminated" the government of Guinea "at the highest levels." From crime-fighting to intelligence-gathering to techno-giant, is the DEA destined to be the most powerful U.S. agency? Is there any DEA mission anywhere in the world Congress will balk at funding? So long as members of Congress continue to believe that support for the war on drugs is a pathway to re-election, even when the war strays far afield, probably not.

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