uses phony figures about interdiction campaign
According to Knight Ridder Newspapers and
other wire service reports from early-February, The Drug Enforcement
Administration used phony figures to tout the success of a 36-nation
"major takedown" of drug traffickers in the Caribbean
and Latin America last fall.
DEA's scorecard on "Operation Liberator" or "Libertador"
reported 2,876 arrests, but a Knight Ridder investigation found
that agency officials have no evidence to support hundreds of
them. Hundreds more were routine busts for marijuana possession,
and some drug eradication figures are double-counts of a State
Department program to burn marijuana plants. And while DEA said
$30.2 million in criminal assets was seized during the operation,
$30 million of that was confiscated four weeks before the operation
The DEA official who masterminded the exercise - since promoted
to head DEA's international operations - admits some discrepancies
but says the international cooperation that Liberator promoted
is what counts. If the DEA's official tallies are generally as
unreliable as Libertador's, however, the public is likely either
to overestimate the drug war's progress or grow cynical about
America's very difficult multibillion-dollar narcotics enforcement
Certainly, it's difficult to tell what happened during the operation,
described as a "tremendous success" by its leader,
Michael S. Vigil, then head of DEA's regional office in San Juan.
Operation Liberator, the fourth U.S.-led regional drug crackdown
since 1998, intended to engage U.S., Caribbean and Latin drug
authorities simultaneously in what DEA called "an attempt
to dismantle top-echelon traffickers in the region."
However, DEA's internal documents and interviews with drug agents
and officials from Libertador's participating countries show
- The DEA could not account for 375 of the
2,876 arrests attributed to Libertador. For most of the rest,
it simply accepted whatever number participating countries reported.
- The largest number of arrests - 996 - were
in Jamaica, where authorities said most of them were for misdemeanor
- Much of the marijuana interdiction credited
to Libertador consisted of plants that had been burned in Jamaica
and already counted as part of the State Department's "Operation
Buccaneer," which has been under way since 1982.
- No one cared much about drug-intelligence
gathering. The DEA did not, as a rule, ask for the names of those
arrested, the outcomes of their cases or what happened to their
drugs and cash.
DEA spokesman Michael Chapman reportedly said
that his agency saw no problems with Libertador or its operations
accounting system. "Everything was done properly and above
board," he said after discussing Knight Ridder's findings
with DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall. Marshall declined to
be interviewed about Libertador, Chapman said.
While unable to confirm the arrest figures he offered initially,
Chapman said his agency would "stick by the reported arrests,
because those were the numbers that were called in" by foreign
Now there's a novel idea certainly applicable for figuring annual
income taxes: just ask taxpayers to mail in some good-sounding
numbers, and then relax. Don't worry, be happy, the DEA and IRS
are on the way.
Source: various wire service reports including Knight Ridder