The Real Reason Nixon Created the DEA – Part II

August 5, 2015

CIA cold war and hot war activity was coming to light for the first time and was falling into the crosshairs of Congress and the media.  Anti-communist arguments had been a sufficient rationale, up to this point, to conduct black ops in the foreign and domestic arena.  Not anymore.  This gold mine was being shut down.  The war against commies was no longer palatable to Congress or to the public.

DEA Saves the Day for Disgraced Cold Warriors

But the new three-letter agency, which was created by executive fiat on the exact same day that the long successful anti-red rationale for war was shut down by Congress, saved the day for previously covert and sometimes overt warriors who were facing unemployment.  The array of soon-to-be homeless CIA Agents now had a home in a brand new start-up agency – with an elusive unrestrained seamless foreign and domestic mission – that needed immediate staffing.  What a concept.  A war on a substance.  Go anywhere; foreign, domestic; and do anything  – covert and overt – against anyone!  No more need for a big propaganda campaign to build up public contempt for foreign foe after foreign foe or domestic foe after domestic foe with a lot of expensive hype.  Many CIA Agents were given positions in the new organization which possessed few restrictions in the foreign arena.

As the grand adventure in Vietnam, and accompanying cold war interventions around the globe, largely came to a screeching halt with Nixon’s disgrace, the activities were now re-branded and re-legitimized.  Just in time!  Whew, that was close!  Quick thinking by Tricky Dick kept the covert arena alive and immune from scrutiny for at least another 25-30 years until a new kind of taxpayer war fatigue would set in.

The displaced spooks were glad to know that their foreign resumes and skills could have them back on the road to their previous overseas posts – and many new ones – without the bothersome ever-increasing restrictions on direct CIA activity that continued to be forthcoming throughout the 1970s.   The outcome of the Watergate Committee investigation coupled with The New York Times publication of the “Family Jewels” revelations about CIA assassination attempts, attempts to subvert foreign governments, and efforts to spy on U.S. citizens resulted in the creation of the U.S. Senate “Church Committee” (officially called the “United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities”) chaired by Senator Frank Church.   The Committee investigated the activity of the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI.  The hearings resulted in additional restrictions on CIA activities including the issuance of President Ford’s Executive Order 11905 prohibiting assassination of foreign heads of state.   But, the renamed CIA agents quickly got to work in their new agency crafting permissive procedures for foreign operations, keeping them as informal as possible, so as to not be too restrictive and too well known and “reviewable.”

The now aimless U.S. military was given a massive foreign support role in the “war on drugs.”  So, the covert and overtactors could now return hand-in-hand to the jungles of Southeast Asia with the same equipment and tactics and branch out into new places as well.   The visual parallels to the Vietnam War were amazing.  American and foreign pilots were once again flying in the exact same American-provided green Hueys sporting M-60 door gunners.  Foreign guys with interspersed American agent “advisors” and troops all wearing Vietnam style green floppy boonie hats and clad in U.S. purchased green camo uniforms were patrolling the jungles again carrying M-16s and M-79 grenade launchers.

There was the same appearance of winding muddy rivers lined with banana and palm trees receding under the whop-whop of the Hueys as colored smoke grenades were thrown to mark “LZs”(landing zones) for troops who inserted by scampering off of helicopters followed by a quick dust-off of the choppers.  C-130s and pursuit aircraft criss-crossed the skies over the Hueys.  Armed patrol boats and armed motorized rubber zodiac rafts once again snuck along the tropical rivers á la “Apocalypse Now.”  Thuds of high explosives reverberated through the jungles as TNT, C4, and grenades were tossed around to destroy infrastructure.   Large cratering charges created shock waves in the humid mist of the surrounding jungles as airstrips were destroyed.  Flames rose up into the sky as structures and vehicles were burned to the ground with thermite grenades.  Automatic weapon fire rang out occasionally as the aerial and ground personnel fired at profiled “enemies.”   Many (including me) were amazed that all of this was occurring continually around us while U.S. news sources showed practically nothing and said that the U.S. had no foreign wars and was at peace.

For all intents and purposes, this was a continuation of the Southeast Asian overt and covert anti-communist money-burning activity, but now targeting a different “enemy” and expanded into additional geographic areas.  Put a “Doors” soundtrack of “The End” behind video footage of the Southeast Asian and Latin American drug wars and you would have a hard time telling the difference between the sounds and images of the foreign drug war and the Vietnam War.  Yet, these more visible operations carried out by DEA are not its main foreign activity.  Most of it is invisible “plain clothes” activity – garnering even less public scrutiny – as has been the case with most of the CIA’s foreign activity.

DEA, the New Unfettered CIA

The significant foreign role of DEA had been relatively unknown to those outside the intelligence community until the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when the public became somewhat aware of the DEA’s widespread and diverse role overseas.   The media reported that troops in the Afghanistan war would deliver prisoners to DEA and its foreign teams for interrogation.  Before this, no one in the media really cared, or bothered to report on the fact, that DEA had established low-key foreign networks for interrogation, response, and military targeting.

DEA has been the U.S. Government’s main effective foreign-imbedded entity with the ability to handle multifaceted intelligence and paramilitary activity since the mid-1970s.  This agency has served to drag people into U.S. or foreign civilian courts and prisons, and for that matter, U.S. or foreign military courts and prisons.  You would strain to find an agency whose range of action  rivals the ultimate range of options  – including taking and destroying things – available to this do-all low-profile agency who is relatively unmatched in the black ops world in its unconstrained ability to “get things done.”

A  CIA without admitting that role.   An FBI without admitting that role.  An ATF without admitting that role.  A DHS without admitting that role.  A Border Patrol without admitting that role.  A Secret Service without admitting that role.  A military and a military targeting agency without admitting that role.  A county sheriff’s office or city police department without admitting those roles.  The agency’s investigative activities in non-drug areas, particularly in the foreign realm where other U.S. agencies are few, can branch out into and involve a spectrum of activity including such things as arms trafficking, counter-terrorism, WMDs, human trafficking, murder for hire, and counterfeit currency.  On any day of the week, the DEA may be cooperating and working directly with Israeli, Russian, Chinese, or fellow U.S. intelligence, military, and police agencies, or members of private organized crime; and making deals with all of them.

DEA has been one of the primary innovators and utilizers of regulations on banking / financial institutions in both the foreign and domestic environment utilizing OFAC, Patriot Act, and FinCEN devices, along with money laundering laws, and civil, criminal, and administrative asset forfeiture mechanisms to either outright take things or to implement restrictions and to decertify or penalize foreign and domestic persons, companies, and banks (or, if needed, entire governments) from doing business if they don’t play ball with U.S. imposed rules.

And, of course, as had been reported repeatedly in the media, the DEA has been a leader in data collection and communications intercepts; another preferred technique of its discredited cold war predecessors.

The other older, more bureaucratic, and more hamstrung federal agencies desire that DEA come to their meetings.  They want access to DEA reporting, assets, and streamlined procedures.  They like DEA to use its expertise with, and access to, foreign investigative units to implement interrogation sessions and to expand on interrogation results.  Get the guys involved in the show that have been doing this ever since the CIA went (temporarily) belly up.   If the “investigative” tactics or small group assaults don’t work, DEA can always just call in the foreign (or domestic) police or the foreign (or U.S.) military to assault the targeted individuals.

The Age of Cooperation

What has made it all the more wonderful is that we have entered the area of official interagency “cooperation.”  Fusion centers.  Deniability.  No snooping is illegal because the other guy from the other agency has a need and he asked you to access that data stream that you couldn’t otherwise access legally.  Legitimate request.  Approved.  Reason for using invasive illegal system?  Let’s see, the binder says, “official request from other agency,” so we are all good here.

Share everything.  Pursue everything.  Use every tool.  If one agency has the power or means, then we all benefit from that not yet defamed technique or “asset.”  Drug dealing and “turism” are rampant you know.   Wasn’t this the enlightened conclusion that came from the 9/11 reviews of government’s failings?  Isn’t this what we all wanted?  Wasn’t the clear message that agencies had all of these wonderful spying systems and wonderful information that could have saved the world, but just weren’t talking to each other?

Shouldn’t we be happy at a more complete merger of covert and overt activities and sharing of intercepted intelligence across the board?  If one heroic guy tightens the screws on a bad guy, shouldn’t the whole “intelligence community” benefit?   When another heroic guy illegally hooks some wires together so he can grab some data “if needed,” shouldn’t that data all be centralized and available to all of Leviathan – just in case?  Those crazy jealous disconnected power centers have done great harm by not centralizing their functions and cooperating.  Hurray for the new era of centralized group hugs, sharing, and high fives!  If one guy blows up a turist, we all blew up a turist.  If one guy shouldn’t have blown up a turist, then nobody really blew him up because some “bad intelligence” originated from an unidentifiable, unblameable source.

Nixon’s Genius Revealed

DEA’s obscure role as the foreign eyes, ears, hands, and guns of the U.S. government is becoming more visible as the years go by.  The advantage of a war on a substance is that the “war” can reach into foreign territory without the need to continually demonize a series of “bad” foreign individuals or groups in order to justify a continued presence.  The presence has been justified under the nebulous war on drugs.  The agents aren’t seen as a political threat to the hosting country.  The military support and involvement in the war led by the state’s “agents” is a natural blend with the hidden imbedded agents making the judgement calls and serving as one of the invisible unnamed protected sources who will not be held accountable for “bad intelligence” when things go wrong.  As long as an agent comes out of a closed-door interrogation session and gives the thumbs up, the turbines can spool up, the ordnance can be dispensed, and any kind of scorched earth that results after that is A-OK for the military.  No demerits will be forthcoming.  It’s nobody’s fault.

So, it has turned out to be a very workable arrangement for the total state in recent decades which no longer needs a congress to specifically authorize a war or black ops against a certain “bad buy” or his people.  It can be done with the ubiquitous connection to the war on drugs.  Don’t you know that all the bad foreign people that the U.S. wants to attack, discredit, or wreak havoc on obtain their funding for terrorism from drug trafficking?

Now, finally, to answer the question alluded to previously.

Question:  Why did Nixon create the DEA?

Answer:  In the early 1970s, the black ops functionaries of the Executive Branch, both domestic and foreign, were in the spotlight, had been disgraced, and were being shut down.  He needed a new mechanism to do both covert and overt ops in a seamless manner between the foreign and domestic environment and along a new line with a new rationale that was not related to the cold war which the public was weary of.  Something new.  Something that the public and Congress did not yet detest because they did not know the ultimate reach of the new monster being created to replace the old one.

This process – cold war to drug war – was, of course, not instantaneous, all occurring on that fateful date of July 1, 1973.  Nixon had made preludes for a desired drug war before that date and the cash-strapped cold war limped along for a while after that date with some confused glory seekers – who apparently didn’t get the memo – trying to mix commies and drugs in places like Nicaragua.

But, it is interesting to see that on the same day that Congress was officially nailing the coffin shut on the cold war, Nixon opened a window to let the demons – that had possessed the soul of the previous war- out of the grave.  Those demons then flew into a convenient herd of swine that Nixon summoned in the nick of time.

Completing the Circle

Fast forward.  Nowadays, with fatigue for the drug war setting in, a new rationale and a new direction have been devised to wage the worldwide war on freedom.  A condensation of concerns from within W’s Beltway in 2001 might have been summed up and expressed in the following query which would make a person reminiscent of the dilemma in which Nixon found himself in 1973:

“We’ve had a good run; more than a quarter of a century, but now that the drug war is falling into disrepute, what will be the next nebulous war against an undefinable enemy that will justify the continuation of covert and overt operations around the world for another 25 years?”

But that question is no longer timely since it has already answered itself.  And with that new direction came the resurgence of the old agency that fell into disrepute in the 1970s.  All evil and embarrassing things are apparently forgotten and forgiven by the state; and sadly by an apathetic public.  The previous restrictions on the CIA are now seen to have been short-sighted in recent times.  Non-reading Americans don’t know we have gone through this before.

Who knows, with a multi-decade hiatus and retreat out of the limelight into the sewer, the substance war may even rear its head and become popular again sporting a new round of door smashing and asset stealing.  But next time, the seizures should probably be creatively rebranded as something new, and therefore not yet recognizable and detestable.  How about “carbon forfeitures” made from “carbon cartels” headed by evil “carbon kingpins.”

“Hey Bob, what happened to your car?”

“The CEA took it.  They said it was a ‘Schedule One’ car on the carbon list and had no legitimate purpose.”

Comments are closed.