DEA Chief Will Step Down Amid Charges of Incompetence

Felipe Dana/AP
Felipe Dana/AP

On Tuesday, a senior Obama Administration official told Reuters that Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) since 2007, will soon resign her post. Last week, Leonhart revealed to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that DEA agents dallying with prostitutes in Colombia may have revealed sensitve information.

Leonhart said it was “absolutely” possible that information had been compromised, although she said there was “no evidence” of such a problem. The committee slammed Leonhart for her inability to curb the excesses of the agents, stating:

After over a decade of serving in top leadership positions at DEA, Administrator Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive ‘good old boy’ culture that exists throughout the agency. From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position.

Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House committee, admitted, “It is incredibly concerning that, according to the DEA itself, there is a clear possibility that information was compromised as a result of these sex parties.”

Despite the official’s claim to Reuters, on Tuesday White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not confirm Leonhart’s pending resignation. He acknowledged:

We continue to have concerns about the material that was presented in the I.G. report that raised legitimate and serious questions about the conduct of some DEA officers. The president, as you know, maintains a very high standard for anybody who serves in his administration, particularly when it comes to law enforcement officials. And the I.G. report raised serious concerns about that conduct.

Last month, a report filed by the inspector general delineated numerous incidents in which DEA agents hired prostitutes between 2001 and 2005; some of the prostitutes had been hired by Colombian drug cartels to elicit information from the agents. The DEA did not investigate the incidents until Leonhart’s reignation.

Oversight committee officials gave Reuters excerpts from a formerly confidential internal DEA report that could function as a smoking gun regarding the leakage of information. In the report, an informant identified as “Cooperator 2” said another informant, “Cooperator 1,” had “gained information from the U.S. agents by ‘getting their guard down’ through the use of prostitutes and paying for parties.” According to the report, Cooperator 1 “bragged about the parties with prostitutes and how he ‘sold’ the relationship/closeness with the agents” to Cooperator 2. Cooperator 1 also “stated he could easily get the agents to talk.”

The inspector general’s report, released in March, found that DEA’s internal affairs office in 2009 and 2010 was forwarded allegations from “former host-country police officers” that DEA agents, including senior supervisors, had “solicited prostitutes and engaged in other serious misconduct” while they were out of the United States; U.S. officials acknowledged the country in question was Colombia. The report spoke of “sex parties” financed by “local drug cartels” that were held at offices leased by the DEA, and quoted a DEA supervisor who said it was “common for prostitutes to be present at business meetings involving cartel members and foreign officers.” The report stated “prostitutes in the agents’ quarters could easily have had access to sensitive DEA equipment and information,” although there was no accusation that information or equipment had been transferred.