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Drug Enforcement Administration

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was established in 1973 by President RICHARD M. NIXON as part of the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, thus uniting a number of federal drug agencies that had often worked at cross-purposes. Its mission is to "enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system those organizations and principal members of organizations who are involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances in the United States." In addition to its domestic oversight the DEA has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing U.S. drug investigations abroad. The DEA also works closely with federal, state, local, and INTERNATIONAL LAW enforcement agencies to address drugs and drug-related crime.

The DEA concentrates on investigating and prosecuting organizations and their members who are involved in the cultivation, production, SMUGGLING, distribution, or diversion of controlled substances in or destined for the United States. The agency seeks to disrupt these organizations by arresting their members, confiscating their drugs, and seizing their assets. It creates, manages, and supports enforcement-related programs, both domestically and internationally, aimed at reducing the availability of and demand for controlled substances. This effort requires the ongoing management of a national narcotics intelligence system, the fruits of which are shared with federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities.

Because the importation of controlled substances is the main source of illegal drugs, the DEA has increasingly put its energies into international enforcement programs. It currently has offices in 56 foreign countries and maintains contacts with the UNITED NATIONS, INTERPOL (the international police organization. It is headquartered in Paris and has approximately 180 member countries), and other international drug enforcement agencies.

Training DEA agents and other law enforcement personnel on the intricacies of the drug trade has led the DEA to create rigorous educational courses. It provides training to DEA agents and support personnel, as well as to state and local police, international law enforcement officials, and other law enforcement employees on a wide range of critical subject matter. In 1999, this effort took a significant step forward with the opening of the DEA Justice Training Center in Quantico, Virginia. Apart from training, the DEA also conducts an international visitor program. The agency briefs foreign officials and U.S. diplomats on drug trafficking developments and new enforcement initiatives.

The collection of human and electronic intelligence is a major piece of the DEA's work. A substantial infrastructure supports these efforts to collect, analyze, and disseminate drug-related intelligence. The agency maintains a number of airplanes that are used to provide sophisticated electronic, air-based assistance to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. It also operates eight laboratories in the United States that are used to analyze seized drugs and to provide evidence for drug prosecutions by law enforcement.

Since the 1990s, the DEA has put more emphasis on asset FORFEITURE. Federal law provides that profits from drug-related crimes, as well as property used to facilitate certain crimes, are subject to forfeiture to the government. Asset forfeiture removes the profit from these illegal activities and it can financially disable drug-trafficking organizations. Assets that are acquired through forfeiture are sold and the money is put into the Asset Forfeiture Fund, which is used to help crime victims and to fund law enforcement programs that further combat crime. Property is seized by the DEA only when it is determined to be a tool for, or the proceeds of, illegal activities such as drug trafficking, ORGANIZED CRIME, or MONEY LAUNDERING.

The DEA seeks both to destroy illegal narcotics and to reduce the demand for drugs. For example, The DEA aggressively strives to halt the spread of marijuana cultivation to the United States through the Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression Program (DCE/SP)—presently the only nationwide program that exclusively targets marijuana. The DEA continues to improve the effectiveness of its marijuana eradication efforts by spending $12.2 million in 2002 to support the 99 state and local agencies that are now active DCE/SP participants. In addition, the DEA continues monitoring state legislation to combat marijuana legalization. The DEA also funds a Demand Reduction program in the hopes that education will lead to reduced drug use. There are demand reduction coordinators in every field division in the United States.

The public is most familiar with the DEA's interdiction programs along the southern border of the United States. The El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) was created in 1974 to increase border security and to serve as a strategic drug and border enforcement facility. It coordinates enforcement intelligence with state, local, and other federal law enforcement agencies. EPIC also serves as the training center and real-time information outlet for Operation Pipeline, a national highway interdiction program. By 2000, the DEA's fleet of 95 aircraft routinely patrolled this border.

The DEA also participates in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) program. This program was authorized by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and is administered by the OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY. Its mission is to reduce drug trafficking throughout the United States by coordinating federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts. There were five HIDTAs in 1990, but the number expanded to 31 in 1999.

With the growing popularity of community-based policy in the 1990s, the DEA sought ways to provide local law enforcement agencies with support for reducing violent crime related to drugs. Out of this concern came the Mobile Enforcement Team (METs) program. METs use DEA, state, and local law enforcement personnel and resources to target high-crime areas. Thanks to the program, by August 2000, 265 deployments were completed resulting in over 11,000 arrests of violent drug criminals. In areas where the DEA has deployed METs, assaults have been reduced by 15 percent, homicides by 16 percent, and robberies by 14 percent. METs also contributed to the overall national decrease in violent crime during the 1990s.

By 2002, the DEA had identified heroin and methamphetamine as major threats to the United States. Although heroin is imported to the United States, methamphetamine is produced domestically in numerous "meth labs" throughout the country. In addition, the DEA argued that international terrorists had used drug trafficking and the laundering of proceeds from this trafficking to fund their violent actions against the United States and other nations. The agency labeled these persons as "narco-terrorists."


Drug Enforcement Agency. Available online at <www.dea.gov> (accessed June 2, 2003).


Drugs and Narcotics.

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