The Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (W/B HIDTA) was named the 2012 HIDTA of the Year by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. The January announcement was made by the University of Maryland’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences where the W/B HIDTA is housed. The little noted award ceremony, honoring a largely invisible program, allowed for a moment of self-congratulation for those who have a deep practical and ideological commitment to America’s war on drugs.
Working with the University of Maryland and Mercyhurst University, the W/B HIDTA “sponsors nearly 50 law enforcement, prevention and treatment initiatives involving representatives of 134 federal, state and local agencies. Their efforts have led to demonstrable reductions in drug trafficking and drug-related crime in the region,” the University proclaims.
The W/B HIDTA received this honor at an awards ceremony in December and “was recognized for its extraordinary efforts in disrupting and dismantling drug production and drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in the region, many of which were international in scope and/or had multi-state connections.”
The HIDTA program (which now includes programs in 28 U.S. regions), was created with the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 which—representing the sentiment of that age— had as its non-ironic policy objective, the creation of a “drug-free America.” The primary mission of the HIDTA is the coordination of “enforcement activities” of local, state and federal policing authorities to “to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in designated areas of the United States and in the Nation as a whole.”
Despite the proliferation of “enforcement activities” since the program’s founding there is abundant evidence and growing public sentiment that the model represented by HIDTA has failed to reduce the supply of drugs in any meaningful sense and has, rather, been a catastrophic failure for America.
In the same month that W/B HIDTA was receiving its award, the Wall Street Journal (no organ of liberal sentiment) was asking “Have We Lost the Drug War?” They begin by pointing out that federal programs like HIDTA were not meant to continue in perpetuity: “President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971. The expectation then was that drug trafficking in the United States could be greatly reduced in a short time through federal policing—and yet the war on drugs continues to this day. The cost has been large in terms of lives, money and the well-being of many Americans, especially the poor and less educated.”
Similarly, Forbes magazine which bills itself as a voice of capitalist economic rationality wrote last spring, “Let’s Be Blunt: It’s Time to End the Drug War.” Forbes offers that it is precisely the self-congratulatory belief that federal programs like HIDTA are actually making us safer where we go wrong:
At the recent Association of Private Enterprise Education conference, David Henderson from the Naval Postgraduate School pointed out the myriad ways in which government promises to make us safer in fact imperil our safety and security. The drug war is an obvious example: in the name of making us safer and protecting us from drugs, we are actually put in greater danger. Without meaning to, the drug warriors have turned American cities into war zones and eroded the very freedoms we hold dear.
Beyond this growing chorus of mainstream media consensus, what is even more notable in the present—40 years into the war on drugs—is the emergence of front line police officers calling for an end to this war.
Yet as with other American war efforts, the work of front line soldiers, over time, become less relevant and central to the war’s justification. The war’s leaders, their programs and methods, along with the ideology that supports the continued conflict become institutionalized ends in themselves.
What is going on at the University of Maryland and the W/B HIDTA is a case study:
- HIDTA becomes intertwined with the University’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and spins off a Center for Safe Solutions that “is committed to supporting science-based initiatives that will reduce drug trafficking, money laundering, firearms trafficking, drug-related violence and gang activity.”
- Something called the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC) is created that “is the focal point for federal, state, local, and private sector partners in the collection, analysis and dissemination of criminal and homeland security information important to all Marylanders.” MCAC neatly combines gangs, drug traffickers and terrorists as their object of analysis.
- A Technical Assistance With Grants (TAGS) program is created to help local law enforcement agencies to pay for their drug war efforts.
- A software tool called Case Explorer is created and marketed with quasi-military jargon, and said to “[offer] a critical officer safety component where police, watch centers, or other law enforcement agencies can enter vital information about their operation and complete event deconfliction. Law enforcement officers will receive immediate feedback about any potential [drug enforcement] conflicts with other planned event operations in their geographic proximity.”
- The University coordinates with Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania where they have something called the “Intelligence Studies Institute” (You can get Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and certificates in “Intelligence Studies.”) Mercyhurst describes its connection to the war on drugs like this:
Mercyhurst’s Intelligence Studies Institute has been heavily involved in supporting HIDTA’s efforts since 2008 when it undertook a $250,000 study for the Office of National Drug Policy to examine how intelligence is used at HIDTA offices around the nation.
Among the institute’s findings … was the need for more training and the resources to go beyond mere tactical intelligence to more operational and strategic intelligence.
The intellectual labor of entities like the award winning HIDTA program, the University of Maryland, Mercyhurst University and similar institutional sites across America purports to show that the drug war is being won, the best and the brightest are on the case.
Thus the war goes on.