EXCLUSIVE–Former Bush Counternarcotics Advisor: We're Losing the Drug War Because of Government Bureaucracy

Big Government has obtained exclusive excerpts of a book scheduled to be released next month, which outline problems with the federal government’s handling of the drug war.

The book, The Border Challenge, authored by T. Michael Andrews, a former adviser at the Dept. of Homeland Security’s counternarcotics office, is scheduled to be released in bookstores in early February.

Andrews has suggestions for how federal drug enforcement agencies can reshape their strategies along America’s northern and southern borders, and he explains how government bureaucracy and shifting goals have made winning the drug war impossible thus far.

“One of the problems with having so many offices in the federal government directed at a common cause is direction and leadership,” Andrews wrote. “The scope of bureaucracy can be overwhelming. If one department wants to take a different policy direction from another, this could lead to an immediate bureaucratic tie-up and in some cases pushback among the many agencies.”

According to Andrews, bureaucracy comes from partisan politics, lack of consistent focus, and jurisdictional conflicts within competing law enforcement agencies that are not working together.

“One of the problems we always had–even today, I’m sad to say, are that there are still problems between the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement),” he said during an exclusive interview conducted from his home in northern Virginia.

“Those are really the two agencies that have drug enforcement power. ICE is charged with stopping any and all contraband coming into the United States under Title 18, and the DEA is charged with both domestic and international drug enforcement under Title 21.”

“The problem arises when once someone crosses over into the United States. Is it ICE or DEA? You’ve got two agencies that need to coordinate operations between one another. There’s already an inherent conflict with two different offices with two different missions that intersect. ICE will tell you that their job is securing the border. DEA will tell you their job is stopping drugs and if it’s at the border then they’ll be there, too.”

Andrews explained that one major problem is that ICE currently lacks independent authority to investigate smuggled drugs that end up in the U.S., but that the DEA has that authority. In order for ICE to pursue an investigation based on a Title 21 crime of drug trafficking, the agency must request approval to continue their investigation.

“The FBI is the only law enforcement agency that has total authority on each and every crime,” he explained. “ICE should have the same authority as the FBI in order to handle the Title 21 drug trafficking infractions much more effectively.”

Andrews said the federal government has also failed to develop effective long-range objectives and that foreign cartels are using the American legal system against itself.

“There’s no cohesive and long-range goal to fighting drugs,” he said. Every two years the goals change. If the goal shifts constantly the government can’t achieve it because it keeps moving. The goal shifts because of partisan politics and also the reality of the day we live in. Drug trafficking has been bumped off the radar screen for counter terrorism. There are limited resources to go around, so the same resources we were once using to fight drugs are now being used to fight terrorists.

“The Mexican cartels have some of our own people,” he explained. “Some of them know our laws better than we do. They have U.S. educated lawyers working down there. I learned that while working in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There are cartels that have U.S. law firms on retainer. They know all about the attorney-client privilege and they use it for money laundering.”

In his book, Andrews examines each president’s leadership in the drug war from George H. W. Bush through Barack Obama.

“Clinton came off really soft and that really hurt him,” Andrews explained. “But then he found a hard charging drug czar named Barry Mccaffrey, and under his leadership that was the first time you had established goals. McCaffrey said we’re going for outcome measures, performance measures, and an end game, and then he established a lot more drug agencies, which got more overall drug control funding.”

Andrews said that under President George W. Bush, the budget to fight the drug war increased from $10 billion in 2002 to $13 billion in 2008, but because of the Sept. 11 attacks the mission changed and the drug war suffered as a result.

“The focus changed,” Andrews explained. “I don’t blame him because we were just attacked. We weren’t able to worry about the street thug selling dope because we had to go to war against terrorists. So, even though the national drug budget increased, it didn’t lead to more success.”

Andrews explained that under President Bush, dedicated drug enforcement money was now utilizing the drug trafficking budget to fight terrorism in the Middle East.

“There was a legitimate nexus between drug trafficking and terrorist activities,” he explained. “George W. Bush was the first president to focus on the nexus between the two, that terrorists were selling drugs to buy weapons of mass destruction… but it depleted resources from fighting drugs on the border.”

As a result, Andrews said that drug activities at America’s borders increased.

“We used to have helicopters that were dedicated to combat drug runners in the Caribbean,” he explained. “Those assets were redeployed in the Middle East to assist in our counter-terrorism efforts there. As a result, we lacked those dedicated resources for the Caribbean corridor. There were less resources there to combat the drug runners.”

Andrews said Obama has downgraded the former drug czar cabinet position to a diminished role within the White House (Office of National Drug Control Policy).

“It gives the role less stature – it’s tough to say you speak on behalf of the president when you’re not cabinet level. You’re really just a glorified cheerleader. It doesn’t give the position the weight it merits.”

Andrews’ examination of the drug war is insightful because it touches upon the problems our government has in fighting a perpetual war that will not go away. To successfully combat drug trafficking, however, the government must work to structure its own legal code and law enforcement agencies so that they are in sync and can finally work together instead of apart from one another, and in some cases perhaps against one another.


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