U.S. can't justify its drug war spending, reports say
Government reports say the Obama administration is unable to show that billions of dollars spent in the anti-drug efforts in Latin America have made a significant difference
Reporting from Washington? As drug cartels wreak murderous havoc from Mexico to Panama, the Obama administration is unable to show that the billions of dollars spent in the war on drugs have significantly stemmed the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States, according to two government reports and outside experts.
The reports specifically criticize the government's growing use of U.S. contractors, which were paid more than $3 billion to train local prosecutors and police, help eradicate fields of coca, operate surveillance equipment and otherwise battle the widening drug trade in Latin America over the last five years.
"We are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we are getting in return," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that wrote one of the reports, which was released Wednesday.
"I think we have wasted our money hugely," agreed Bruce Bagley, who studies U.S. counter-narcotics efforts and chairs international studies at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. "The effort has had corrosive effects on every country it has touched."
Obama administration officials strongly deny that U.S. efforts have failed to reduce drug production or smuggling in Latin America.
White House officials say the expanding U.S. counter-narcotics effort occupies a growing portion of time for President Obama's national security team even though it garners few headlines or congressional hearings in Washington.
The majority of U.S. counter-narcotics contracts are awarded to five companies: DynCorp, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT and ARINC, according to the report for the contracting oversight subcommittee, part of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Counter-narcotics contract spending increased 32% over the five-year period, from $482 million in 2005 to $635 million in 2009. DynCorp, based in Falls Church, Va., received the largest total, $1.1 billion.
Among other jobs, the U.S. contractors train local police and investigators, provide logistical support to intelligence collection centers and fly airplanes and helicopters that spray herbicides to eradicate coca crops grown to produce cocaine.
The Department of Defense has spent $6.1 billion since 2005 to help detect planes and boats heading to the U.S. with drug payloads, as well as on surveillance and other intelligence operations.
Senate staff members described some of the expenses as "difficult to characterize." The Army spent $75,000 for paintball supplies for training exercises in 2007, for example, and $5,000 for what the military calls "rubber ducks." The ducks are rubber replicas of M-16 rifles that are used in training exercises, a Pentagon spokesman said.
The Defense Department described its own system for tracking those contracts as "error prone," according to the Senate report. The report also said the Defense Department doesn't have reliable data about how successful its efforts have been.
A separate report last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that the State Department "does not have a centralized inventory of counter-narcotics contracts" and said the department does not evaluate the overall success of its counter-narcotics program.
"It's become increasingly clear that our efforts to rein in the narcotics trade in Latin America, especially as it relates to the government's use of contractors, have largely failed," McCaskill said.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on U.S. drug policy at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said the U.S. military and other government agencies, not private contractors, should take the lead in training foreign armies and police in drug eradication and control.
"But unless we are able to resource our government properly, that is the only way we can do it," Felbab-Brown said.
The latest assault on the United States' counter-narcotics strategy comes a week after a high-profile group of world leaders called the global war on drugs a costly failure.
The group, which included former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and past presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, recommended that regional governments try legalizing and regulating drugs to help stop the flood of cash going to drug mafias and other organized crime groups.
But James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department's efforts against the drug trade "have been among the most successful and cost-effective programs" in decades. He cited the U.S. success in the 1980s in stopping cocaine shipments from Colombia that had been inundating Florida, and the efforts in the 1990s at helping Colombia overcome a drug-fueled insurgency.
"By any reasonable assessment, the U.S. has received ample strategic national security benefits in return for its investments in this area," he said.
Administration officials say that the counter-narcotics program is producing more recent benefits as well.
Along the Mexican border, increased patrols and other efforts have helped seize 31% more drugs, 75% more cash and 64% more weapons during the first 21/2 years of the Obama administration than in the previous 21/2 years, the Homeland Security Department says.
After a decade of U.S. assistance to Colombia and years of using U.S. contractors there, annual cocaine production in Colombia has fallen 60% since 2001, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some of that cocaine production has shifted to Peru, however.
Backed by the U.S., Mexico's stepped-up offensive against drug cartels similarly has had the unintended effect of pushing them deeper into Central America, especially Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Violence has soared in those countries.
One result has been a new emphasis on surveillance technology and intelligence collection.
In particular, the U.S. effort has focused on improving efforts to intercept cellphone and Internet traffic of drug cartels in the region, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
During a visit to El Salvador in February, the head of the State Department's counter-narcotics programs, William Brownfield, opened a wiretapping center in San Salvador, as well as a regional office to share fingerprints and other data with U.S. law enforcement. El Salvador is the hub for U.S. law enforcement efforts in Central America.
Pima County GOP chair under fire for SWAT shooting comments
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The controversial case involving Jose Guerena led to some controversial comments by the Pima County GOP chair. Those comments have Brian Miller under fire.
Republican Brian Miller is in the hot seat for comments he made after Guerena was shot more than 70 times by SWAT members.
"I think it was inappropriate to go out and make a policy statement on GOP letterhead," said Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik.
The first statement reads, "We are all Jose Guerena." And used harsh rhetoric accusing, 'militarized local police of invading private homes.'
That was just the beginning. As more information on the case came out Miller spoke out more on social media and local talk shows.
All of this has led to growing pressure from party leaders behind the scenes that want Miller to resign.
"It's going to be very difficult for him to be the local leader of the party," said Miller. **(not the peron who said that)
Republicans like State Senator Frank Antenori say Miller made a mistake, but most don't want to talk about it on camera.
"I like the man on a personal level but he's overstepped his bounds and I think it's best if he resigns," said Kozachik.
It's not clear if Miller plans to resign. In his last statement he apologized to law enforcement for using the word "murder." But he did not back down for questioning the policies that led to Guerena's death.
"I find it human and excusable, but most wont excuse it. They think it was out of line," said Kozachik.
Hundreds on Facebook have stood up in support of Miller, but its unclear if that will be enough.
The investigation into the death of Jose Guerena is still ongoing And republicans don't want that to be the focus as local elections approach.
"It's a huge distraction. The party has candidates trying to raise money and it's just not productive," said Kozachik.
American Banks 'High' On Drug Money: How a Whistleblower Blew the Lid Off Wachovia-Drug Cartel Money Laundering Scheme
A fraud investigator helped expose the shocking world of multi-billion dollar drug laundering by American banks and the surprising lack of oversight by the Feds.
Martin Woods, an Englishman in his mid-40s, is blessed with a Sherlock Holmes instinct and demeanor. Woods is an expert at sniffing out "dirty" money passing through International Banking Systems.
A police officer for 18 years and later a detective with London Metro Police Agency, Woods capitalized on his unique expertise as a fraud expert by joining Wachovia's London-based Bank in March 2005 as an anti-money laundering officer.
It wasn't long after taking the job that he discovered that his own employer, one of America's leading banks, was a major player in aiding the "bloodthirsty" Mexico drug cartels to launder billions of dollars in drug money through Wachovia banks. Woods traced and identified a "number of suspicious transactions" related to Mexico-based Casa de Cambios (CDC).
Casa de Cambios are currency-exchange operations set up along the U.S. Mexico-border to assist cross border transfers of money to remit labor paychecks. And on the illegal side the Casa de Cambios are also known as the superhighway for narcotic proceeds into the U.S. and overseas financial markets.
When Woods zeroed in on deposited traveler's checks with sequential numbers sent by the CDC he discovered that large amounts of funds were exceedingly more than a typical person would need. The questionable CDC checks either lacked adequate identifying information or had none at all, including no legible signatures affixed on the funds.
Following this discovery investigator Woods issued a "suspicious activity report" (SAR) on a series of the CDCs' financial transfers and deposits. Then he requested the CDC checks to be temporarily blocked from transaction pending further investigation.
Not long after, an exchange of heated words occurred. A senior Miami-based manager called Woods' SAR reports "defensive and unwarranted."
Feeling jaded, Woods, as he recalls, "came under fire from the bank staff to change tactics and develop a better understanding of Mexico."
Wachovia officials ordered Woods to cease inquiries about Mexican CDCs and to also stop blocking other Eastern Europe and Moscow accounts. The British investigator, snapped, "I don't need to read up on Mexico. My interest are drug trafficking and money laundering."
His instincts proved correct. On April 10, 2006, during early morning hours, a DC-9 airplane landed onto the tarmac at the International Airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, located east of Mexico City. Once the engine turned off, military soldiers trained by U.S. FBI agents immediately grew suspicious and surrounded the aircraft. Armed with high-powered weapons, the soldiers searched the luxury plane and discovered five-plus tons of pure cocaine packed in suitcases.
The cocaine was valued at $120 million, and the Feds working with Mexico later determined the drugs were headed for the United States from Venezuela. A stash of paperwork found on the plane eventually identified discreet connections between an American bank and Mexico-based currency operation Casa de Cambios Puebla. A subsequent investigation would prove that Wachovia Bank washed billions of illegal drug money into the U.S. financial system on behalf of the Mexico-based Casa Cambios.
With U.S. Federal law enforcement backing him up, Martin Woods investigation assisted the Feds to build an airtight case against Wachovia. Starting off, the Feds discovered that $13 billion dollars in drug money was transferred by the CDC into correspondent bank accounts at Wachovia to purchase airplanes for the use of trafficking drugs from Colombia to Mexico and then the drugs were shipped to the U.S.
This high-profile investigation ultimately revealed that from 2004-2007, a staggering amount of illegal drug proceeds totaling $378.4 billion dollars were transferred into Wachovia by the Mexico-based Casa Cambios that violated U.S. government anti-money laundering compliance.
MORE at link
It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. It's one of the few issues that the small-government-states-rights tea partiers and progressives agree on, and there's damn near a 50/50 split in public polling.Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) are set to introduce a bipartisan bill today that would remove the federal prohibition on marijuana. The bill would instead let states legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.
The USA Today reports the bill is being championed by a legalization advocacy group:
The Marijuana Policy Project highlights that 46.5% of Californians voted for Proposition 19. It also cites a report released this month by the Global Commission on Drug Policy that slammed the decades-old war on drugs and called on governments to take a look at decriminalizing marijuana and other drugs.
The bill by Frank and Paul would "end state/federal conflicts over marijuana policy, re-prioritize federal resources and provide more room for states to do what is best for their own citizens," the group says.
Politico says the legislation is modeled after the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed the federal prohibition on alcohol and handed that responsibility to the states. Quoting the Marijuana Policy Project, Politico reports its "the first bill ever introduced in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition."
But, as CNN money puts it, the bill is a long shot. But part of the point, adds CNN, is to start a conversation.
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).
I would argue that it has a non-zero chance if this were in Obama's second term. I think the timing of this bill could be terrible, with all politicians looking over their shoulders and trying to "stay clean" leading up to the election.It stands almost zero chance, but it does further the discussion.
Bolivia fights for its natural narcotic
BOLIVIA is set to withdraw from an international narcotics convention in protest at its classification of coca leaves as an illegal drug.
President Evo Morales, who is also the leader of one of the country's main coca producers' unions, has asked Congress to pass a law that would take Bolivia out of the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
The government says the convention contravenes the Bolivian constitution, which says the country is obliged to preserve and protect the chewing of coca leaves as a cultural heritage and ancestral practice.
Bolivia has long argued that coca in its natural state is not an illicit drug. The plant is legally grown in the country for medicinal and traditional purposes. An international attempt to remove its chewing from the UN list failed in January, so the government in La Paz now wants to withdraw from the convention.
Under the draft law, which has already passed the lower chamber of Congress and is likely to pass in the Senate, where Mr Morales's party has a two-thirds majority, Bolivia would keep its international obligations in the fight against drug trafficking. Foreign minister David Choquehuanca said the country could rejoin the convention next year, but with a reservation: that it be allowed to consume coca legally.
''[This] is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practice of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people,'' Mr Choquehuanca said.
Bolivia is the third largest coca producer in the world. Much of it ends up as cocaine for Brazilian and European markets. Bolivia says it cannot defeat drug traffickers without a reduction in the consumption of cocaine in the West.
Why Prescription Ecstasy or LSD Could Happen Much Sooner Than You Think
If a growing phalanx of scientists get their way, prescriptions for psychedelic drugs could be yours within 10 years.
June 24, 2011
Let's say an abuse-ridden childhood has left you with PTSD that sparks panic whenever you hear shouts, even on TV. Or let's say a bad accident has saddled you with crippling anxiety and chronic pain. Now let's say that you could ease -- or even cure -- these woes with prescription psiloscybin. Prescription ecstasy. Prescription LSD.
If a growing phalanx of scientists get their way, those prescriptions could be yours within 10 years. Research into the medical benefits of psychedelic drugs is booming. An April conference on the subject at Great Britain's University of Kent featured lectures on such topics as "Ketamine Psychotherapy" and "Ayahuasca in the Contemporary World."
Leading this wave is the Boston-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), whose executive director Rick Doblin spoke at that conference. MAPS researchers have spent 15 years conducting international clinical trials whose results indicate that LSD and psilocybin counteract depression and anxiety and are effective pain-management tools while MDMA (ecstasy) conquers fear. Just this month, the Israeli Ministry of Health approved a new MAPS study using MDMA to treat PTSD.
"Time is on our side," Doblin says. "The world is full of aging baby boomers who are looking forward to psychedelic retirement and psychedelic hospice.
"They had psychedelic experiences in their youth that were useful to them. They gave up the drugs for family and career. Now they're thinking back to those valuable experiences and they want to get re-engaged."
But this isn't about ex-hippies seeking free highs. Rather, it's about mainstreaming these drugs, which MAPS does "by focusing on medical uses, which in our culture is the most likely way to create new legal contexts, because there is a love affair with medicine in this culture. There's a constant interest in whatever's the latest from the scientific lab."
It's not about money. Costing nearly nothing to manufacture, "these aren't the kind of drugs that you need to take every day for the rest of your life." Instead, it's about using cutting-edge technology to prove what millions around the world have been saying for thousands of years: This stuff gets to your head.
As a teenager in the early 1970s, Doblin first learned that psychedelics were being used to enhance art, spirituality and psychology.
"Then it all got shut down."
Those damn hippie freaks.
"People using psychedelics had accidents and did stupid things and ended up dying or going nuts. A bunch of famous people had extremely idealistic views that weren't particularly practical and weren't particularly patient. Timothy Leary and his ilk were making exaggerated claims, saying that if you do psychedelics you're more enlightened than others; if you do psychedelics you're better than others. One of that era's biggest mistakes was Leary saying turn on, tune in, drop out."
Richard Nixon called Timothy Leary the most dangerous man in America. Hello, backlash. Hello, War on Drugs.
"The government came out with its own exaggerated claims, saying that if you took these drugs you'd have deformed babies and brain-cell death. We now know that it isn't true, but back then it launched this huge cultural clash. You might say society had a really bad trip."
Research to the rescue. High-tech brain scans reveal that psilocybin inhibits blood flow in parts of the brain that regulate sensory input. Less blood flow means less regulation. Flooded with perceptions, a psilocybinized brain can help PTSD patients reprogram their fears, Doblin says. New tools also provide new insight into LSD's ego-dissolving "catharsis effect." And the ecstasy chemistry: MDMA reduces blood flow in the fear-processing amygdala while increasing blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, which facilitates our ability to put things into context.
"With MDMA, the fear circuitry is reduced," Doblin explains. This helps PTSD patients remember and re-examine long-buried aspects of their traumas. Aided by MDMA, "these memories don't immediately go straight to fear." Say you were traumatized by a bat-wielding, red-hatted assailant. Under MDMA, "the neural pathways connecting bats, red hats and fear are not so strong." Recontextualized in an MDMA-activated prefrontal cortex, triggers lose their power -- sometimes forever, he says.
"Under the influence of MDMA, people can make emotional changes that persist after the MDMA is out of their systems." On MDMA, "you operate on this much smoother level, and then you lose it -- but not all of it. You get so much material from that experience, which you can learn to integrate."
This doesn't mean you can recover by hitting a few raves. A key theme of the medical-psychedelics movement is that it's medical. These drugs are so strong and long-lasting that, for clinical use, Doblin says they must be administered in "a safe, supportive, controlled setting" overseen by professionals.
In one MAPS study, 10-hour LSD sessions took place in a medical office. Guided by a psychiatrist and a nurse, patients being treated for severe anxiety lay with their eyes shut, listening to music they had chosen for this purpose. According to a MAPS prospectus, each patient was encouraged to focus "introspectively on his or her sense of self and life-history in order to increase the psychological insights mediated by the LSD treatment." The nurse and psychiatrist would sometimes "use physical touch, such as holding hands." These drug sessions were followed by non-drug sessions in which patients discussed their drug experiences.
In a successful psychedelic therapy session, Doblin says, "there are times when the patient gets extremely lighthearted. You could have laughter. You could have joy. It's like a roller-coaster ride. You could have beautiful memories that give you the strength to go down to difficult memories, then come back to the surface and go back down there again, to a different level, hours later."
In old-school therapy, "it's the analyst who figures out your problems and tells you what your insights should be. But if these insights are disconnected from your emotions, it won't work." With psychedelics, by contrast, "the emotional connection is immediate and personal." Analysts can help you sort it out, "but it's an experience of yourself. The drug has simply given you a window onto yourself."
"There is a need for these substances," says Doblin, who along with his colleagues sees psychedelics as a powerful alternative or at least adjunct to SSRIs and, in the case of pain management, opiates. What's the difference between Zoloft and ecstasy? Legality. In other words: the FDA. MAPS submits its findings to the agency, which Doblin hopes "will put science before politics.
"The main problem with the drug war is the concept that there are good drugs and bad drugs," when what's actually good or bad "is the relationship between the person and the drug, and the context in which the drug is taken."
For instance, naysayers can claim "that MDMA is a drug of abuse and since people with PTSD have a high incidence of drug abuse, they shouldn't be given MDMA. But people with PTSD have a high incidence of drug abuse because they haven't been able to deal with painful emotions that they abuse drugs to escape." If those emotions could be processed via MDMA therapy, "their drive to abuse drugs would be reduced.
"We want to clarify that drugs of abuse can be used well. But the government is still too wedded to the drug war."
In that regard, the Bush-to-Obama handover "didn't really change things at all. We hoped it would."
Nonetheless, Doblin and his colleagues predict the legalization of prescription psychedelics within the decade. Until then,"we have to show society and scientists that these drugs can be used in ways that create greater benefits than harms."
In the new wave of psychedelic research, "there hasn't been a single person who has died or was driven crazy."
So far, so good.