DEA Museum:

A Monument to Failure

By Adam J. Smith,
Associate Director

On Monday, May 10, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum opened for viewing. The exhibit, housed within the Pentagon City, Virginia headquarters of the twenty-five year-old bureaucracy, presents the history of drug abuse and drug enforcement in America. The photos and the placards on its walls harken back to the turn of the century, the heyday of patent medicines when elixirs of all kinds were sold virtually without restriction. Many of these tonics owed their soothing powers to ingredients such as cocaine or opiates and, according to the exhibit, "by 1900... one of every 200 Americans was addicted."

But for all of the museum's photographs of dead drug users and displays of drug paraphernalia and Tommy guns, the most revealing feature comes at the end of the tour, where a placard tells of the situation today, including the emergence of multinational drug cartels and criminal organizations "far more ruthless, corrupting and sophisticated than anything seen heretofore in this country."

The irony is likely lost on the gun-toting bureaucrats, but it is rich, nonetheless. More than eight decades since the first drug laws and a quarter-century after the creation of the DEA, and despite millions of arrests and hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent on the drug war, the situation, on the whole, is undoubtedly worse than ever. According to the government's own estimates, three out of every two hundred Americans is a chronic user of either heroin or cocaine, meaning that addiction is flourishing at three times the rate of the bad old days, before the drug laws and before the DEA.

Given the nature of bureaucracies, we may never know the identity of the person who first came up with an idea for a DEA museum, but we can assume that the person has a hell of a sense of humor. At a cost to taxpayers of $350,000, the exhibit stands as a monument to the futility of Prohibition, and the impotence of even our best-armed and most well-financed efforts to enforce it. Twenty-five years of rising budgets and expanding power, of bigger arsenals and more sophisticated technology. Twenty-five years of the best laid plans, and yet, today, global crime syndicates, "more ruthless, corrupting and sophisticated" than ever, amass fortunes that dwarf the domestic products of many nations.

This marks the opening of the Drug Enforcement Administration museum on the main floor of that agency's headquarters in Pentagon City, Virginia. Looking back at the history of drug prohibition in America, maybe the person who came up with the idea really was onto something. Perhaps, one day, we'll be smart enough to recognize the point that is being made here. And then we can turn the whole building into a museum.

Drug Resource Coordination Network (DRCNet)
2000 P Street NW #615
Washington, DC 20036
tel. (202) 293-8340 o fax (202) 293-8344
E-mail: drcnet@drcnet.org
Web: http://www.drcnet.org 

DEA gets new training facility

In April, the Drug Enforcement Administration opened its new, $30 million training academy in Quantico, VA. The 100-acre site is less than a mile from the FBI Academy, allowing both agencies to share shooting ranges and mock-up buildings for specialized training. The DEA training center's first class of agents will graduate in August.

DEA agent seduces suspect's wife

Federal Judge Susan Illston conducted an unprecedented hearing on May 17 to explore the conduct of the DEA in busting John Dalton two years ago on a variety of charges related to marijuana production. DEA Special Agent Mark Nelson seduced Dalton's mentally ill wife, telling her she was a special agent of the DEA. Nelson even assigned Dalton's wife, Victoria "Tori" Horstman, a "special agent number," coaxing her to place a recording device underneath the bed she shared with her husband, among other questionable practices.

Frustrated DEA chief quits

Thomas Constantine gave his one-month notice on May 24. The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration said that, after five years on the job, he wants out of the Clinton administration.

His explanation was rather cryptic. "What was . . . important to me," he told the press. "was a strong reputation for integrity. I wanted to be able to leave here with it."

He and his 9,000 agents and employees at DEA have been fighting and, in some cases, dying for years to control the black market in drugs, with virtually no success.

Constantine claimed the Clinton administration refused to heed the warnings of the DEA that Mexican drug traffickers pose the biggest criminal threat to U.S. law enforcement agencies.

He also stated earlier this year in USA Today that the United States wasn't winning the war on drugs because "... the nation has neither the will nor the resources to win the drug war." and that " curbing drug use is not a high enough priority with the American people.

Snitch turns on DEA

Norjay Ellard has admitted flying tons of cocaine into the U.S. As a DEA snitch, he has taped personal meetings with some of the most violent Colombian drug kingpins, including the late Pablo Escobar. Ellard provided Escobar with the know-how to blow an airliner from the sky in 1989, a bombing that killed 107 people to silence two police informants on board.

Now Ellard, who was sentenced to five years in prison in federal court in Fort Lauderdale for violating probation, is turning on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents who helped him get a drastically reduced sentence in 1995.

As part of his defense, Ellard produced a secretly taped phone conversation with a New York-based DEA agent urging the smuggler to flout a federal judge's order and consummate a 26,000-pound cocaine deal with Mexican traffickers in violation of U.S. policy.