Acting Drug Enforcement Administration director Chuck Rosenberg faced questions last week from a congressional committee last week over his agency’s sanctioned importation of drugs into communities. Incredibly (or maybe not, given this administration’s behavior), Rosenberg’s response was basically, “Gee. I don’t know.”
It’s a response that would be grounds for termination if say, the general manager of an Arby’s franchise were questioned over whether he permitted drugs to be sold in his store because they helped sell curly fries to customers with the munchies. And yet that’s not too different from the response the head of a federal government agency gave to a similar question.
Before a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the DEA and ATF, Rosenberg was asked if the DEA allowed its agents and informants to let drug supplies into communities so that they could track the money trail from the drugs and “get the bigger fish?”
The acting director then answered with confusing, non-definitive language, saying, “We’re not supposed to know, sir.” When he was pushed whether he was “aware of any instances where it may happen,” he answered, “I’ll have to check and get back to you on that,” as reported by The Washington Post.
The questions were phrased in the context of the notorious “Fast and Furious” program, a heavily scrutinized ATF operation which allowed the sale of black market guns in order to track the buyers, but lost some 1,400 firearms, two of which became involved in the murder of a Border Patrol agent in 2010.
Rosenberg did not answer definitively whether the DEA engages in similar practices. He did not even answer definitively whether he was aware of these practices or not. Luckily for him, it’s not required for the agency to report activity such as supervising the trafficking of illegal drugs without disturbing it.
But several people outside the agency say this kind of tactic is commonplace. “We are deliberately letting the drugs get to their final destination, get sold, get used, and in some cases letting someone die of an overdose,” said Brady Henderson of the Oklahoma ACLU.
Tony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance echoed that sentiment, telling the Post, “In my experience dealing with hundreds of drug war prisoners this behavior is embedded in DEA practices.”
Why exactly does the DEA get up to these potentially life-threatening shenanigans, prioritizing following money over intercepting drugs? There is that logic that Detective Freeman says in The Wire: “You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the fuck it’s gonna take you.”
But some more cynical people might see this as financial self-interest on the part of law enforcement agencies. Any drugs they seize get destroyed. But cash collected can be kept under asset forfeiture laws.