Crime and Punishment

Technocrats of the Drug War

Posted by on February 23rd, 2013 at 7:02 pm

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.

Director Tom Carr accepts the award for the best High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area of 2012. " The W/B HIDTA 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."

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.



3 thoughts on “Technocrats of the Drug War

  1. My name is Jack Cole. I am the co-founder and Board chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). I am also a retired detective lieutenant—26 years with the New Jersey State Police and 14 in their Narcotic Bureau, mostly undercover. I bear witness to the abject failure of the U.S. war on drugs and to the horrors produced by this self-perpetuating, constantly expanding policy disaster.

    Despite accepting awards for HIDTA’s work, Director Tom Carr apparently has a hard time convincing folks other than HIDTA that HIDTA is a good idea.

    On April 30, 2007 I debated Thomas Carr, the Director of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) in the Washington, DC and Baltimore area, an organization funded by the Office of National Drug Policy Control (ONDCP). The LEAP-HIDTA debate on whether prohibition of drugs should continue was held at the Greater Baltimore Leadership Council annual seminar, which had 46 attendees and included upper level law-enforcers, public health workers and others. After the 90-minute debate, where I had used my PowerPoint presentation, the moderator ask for a show of hands to indicate those who think we should legalize all drugs, those who think we should continue the war, and those who wish to abstain. The moderator estimated that 70 percent agreed with ending drug prohibition, about 15 percent wanted to continue prohibition and the other 15 percent abstained.

    Carr asked for a rematch with me on April 28, 2008 at the Greater Baltimore Leadership Council annual seminar. Again the seminar was attended by about the same number of participants, which included upper level law-enforcers, public health workers and representatives from the Mayor’s office. Speaking with Tom before it started, I learned that he was very confident. He said in 2007 he didn’t understand exactly what he was up against, but this time he had taken the time to read everything on LEAP’s website and had prepared his own PowerPoint presentation. After another 90 minute debate the moderator asked for a show of hands to indicate those who think we should legalize all drugs, those who think we should continue the war, and those who wish to abstain. The moderator estimated that this time 85 percent agreed with ending drug prohibition. Tom Carr said he had to leave immediately to catch a train back to Washington, DC. As Tom was walking up the isle toward the door, the moderator called to him and asked if he wanted to come back and try again next year. Mr. Carr replied, “No, I think I’ve had enough.”

    If you want to reduce death, disease, crime, and addiction while saving billions of our tax dollars, join and help us end drug prohibition.

  2. As a former understudy of Thomas (Tom) Carr, I question his motive for being a significant champion for this policy disaster. While under his command I learned the tricks of drug prohibition enforcement. From cultivating and manipulating snitches to the improprieties of asset forfeiture, many of us learned and worked the system. Many of us now know the damage done.

    In the early 1990s Tom Carr was the bureau chief for the Maryland State Police, Bureau of Drug Enforcement, before being demoted to captain by the Maryland State Police superintendent for alleged improprieties within the bureau. During this time, I was a lieutenant with the Maryland State Police under his command and assigned to manage seven multi-jurisdictional drug task forces in the western half of the state. We arrested quite a few unsuspecting folks back then and the temptations of the “undercover narc” lifestyle got a few police officers into plenty of hot water. It’s even worse today. This was also part of the reason for his state police demise.

    If there is ever a crime fighter who understands the failure of this disastrous policy, it would be Tom Carr. There is no doubt in my mind that he gets it, especially after the dual dusting by Jack Cole. If he were a true beliver of prohibition and his current work with HIDTA, he would continue defending his position year after year in front of the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program where I have replaced Jack as the annual debater. US Attorney, Andrea Smith is LEAP’s current debate competitor for the annual event and I must say that it is now more of a discussion than a debate of where we go from here with the Nation’s drug policy. Yes, Andrea Smith recognizes the problems we have with prohibition .vs a health centered approach for drug abuse.

    The internal self celebration will continue. Everyone needs an occassional pat on the back, especially when your work is not popular. So, if you can’t find anyone to do it, give yourself a pat.

    Major Neill Franklin is the current Executive Director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a 2001 graduate of the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program.

  3. Thank you for thoughtful reporting and commentary on the war on drugs, harm reduction,and prohibition issues.Your website is of great value to students in my college writing class centered on “The Wire.”

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