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FRONTLINE's Archive:  14 years of these reports

Stopping Drugs Part I (1987)

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(4:04) FRONTLINE follows what happens to a young woman--addicted to cocaine, speed and heroin--as she tries to stay off drugs after completing a 21-day treatment program.
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In this first of a two-part series on the national crusade and personal battle against drugs, FRONTLINE examines the personal stories of four addicts and their uphill struggles trying to get off drugs--and stay off. Filmed over a six-month period at a 21-day treatment center in Austin,Texas, FRONTLINE's producer and cameras follow these addicts through their treatment and release-- showing their hopes, failures and fears. Until the very end, it's unclear who will succeed and who will fail. Of the four, only one makes it. It reflects a disheartening national statistic; 70% trying to get off drug addiction will relapse following one treatment program.

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Stopping Drugs Part II (1987)

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(4:29) This clip details some methods parents in East Greenwich, Connecticut used to stop their children from using drugs and alcohol--and how the kids reacted.
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In the second of this two-part series, FRONTLINE journeys to middle class communities to examine drug prevention programs started by middle-class teens and parents. In one suburb, a parent coalition takes a hard-line approach, asking police to stake out school dances and search homes while parents are away. Not surprisingly, the students resist, saying drinking and recreational drug use is simply a normal part of adolescence.

In other communities FRONTLINE profiles teens working to prevent alcohol and drug use. One group has a "no tolerance" policy--but it makes them unpopular. Another group refrains from saying "never use," and has more success. In interviews with students, this FRONTLINE report reveals that many young people are drinking and using drugs, and that most feel it doesn't affect their ability to succeed in school.

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Guns, Drugs & the C.I.A. (1988)

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(5:02) An accountant for the Medellin drug cartel explains how he was asked by the CIA to provide funding to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
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This provocative report explores whether the CIA used drug lords and drug money in two of its largest anti-Communist covert operations: Laos during the Vietnam era and the Contra war in Nicaragua.

Drawing on declassified documents, and interviews with informants and other key players, the producers look at how the CIA bankrolled an army run by Hmong leader Vang Pao. Witnesses and former pilots say Vang Pao used the CIA airline, Air America, to send narcotics to a CIA-run base in Laos and on to other distribution points in Asia; opium was a primary source of funding for the Laotian army.

The most controversial chapter in this report focuses on connections between the CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua and drug dealers. Ramon Milian Rodriguez, a Cuban-American convicted of laundering drug money for the Colombia drug cartel, tells how he funnelled $10 million in drug profits to the Contras. He alleges he was solicited to do so by a CIA operative claiming to report toVice President George Bush.

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WHO PROFITS FROM DRUGS? (1989)

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(4:54) This relates the story of the college-educated "Boston Boys." They bucked the stereotype of drug kingpins and quietly made millions of dollars in marijuana sales.
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FRONTLINE follows the U.S. DEA's penetration of several multimillion dollar drug money laundering operations--uncovering white, college-educated American traffickers who know the tricks of converting mountains of drug money into real estate and other investments. With the "Boston Boys"--two college-educated yuppies--it involved a web of overseas bank accounts, dummy corporations and the help of seemingly reputable businessmen, lawyers, and accountants--so complex, investigators found it almost impossible to connect them to their own assets.

Another trafficker profiled, Michael Levine, tells some secrets. He's a Miami lawyer serving time for laundering drug money, regularly laundered millions by investing in boats and real estate. A disturbing aspect of this report is the ease with which drug dealers can smuggle millions out of the U.S. into foreign bank accounts and the growing number of U.S. banks and lawyers who are more than willing to help turn illegal drug profits into legitmate investments.

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THE DALLAS DRUG WAR (1989)

South Dallas, Texas was another frontline in the drug wars during the 1980s--a "war zone" of crack houses, killings, unemployment and residents fighting to win back their community.

FRONTLINE interviews kids who talk about the lure of thousands of dollars a week in selling drugs--mostly crack cocaine--and residents frustrated seeing police raids on drug houses failing to stop the pushers. In one chilling section, the program's producers set up a "night-cam" in the home of one couple. The camera's grainy black and white footage captures the nightmarish violence outside their house each night.

This report also probes the tensions between a predominantly white police force and a predominantly black population and how police efforts are being aided by a South Dallas group--African American Men Against Narcotics--who are trying non-violently to reclaim their neighborhood from the pushers.

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(11:28) A profile of Fahim Minkah, a former Black Panther who created African American Men Against Narcotics (AA-MAN) to rid his neighborhood of pushers when the police failed.

(12:43) A look at how Dallas's drug wars have affected race relations. The situation is brought to a head when several citizens and police officers are shot and killed

(5:05) A trip inside South Dallas' War Zone, showing how people of all ages can get caught up in drug dealing when it's a source of big profits or, there's no other job.
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INSIDE THE CARTEL  (1990)

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(8:26) This clip shows the violent rivalry of the Medellin and Cali cartels and their distinctively different ways of operating in Colombia.
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FRONTLINE examines the 15 year-long rise of Colombia's two major cartels, Cali and Medellin, and their vast cocaine wealth's grip on Colombia.. With unique access to the cartels' lawyers in Miami as well as their bankers, businessmen and hired killers in Colombia, FRONTLINE lays out how deeply the cartels have penetrated the economic, political and social structures of Colombia.

This report also looks at another aspect of Colombia's anti-drug war: U.S. military equipment sent to help the Colombian government's war on drugs is used to bomb villages where leftist guerrilla insurgents are supposedly based.

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WHEN COPS GO BAD (1990)

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(5:12) This clip tells the story of "The Miami River Murders," the case which exposed widespread corruption in Miami's police force in the late 1980s.
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In the war on drugs, sometimes the good guys become the bad guys. FRONTLINE looks at the temptation facing narcotic detectives when they find themselves surrounded by millions of dollars in unmarked cash during a drug bust.. (In the late 1980s, the FBI called narcotics-related corruption the number one threat to the integrity of police forces.)

Three cases are examined: Miami's notorious police corruption which broke in 1985 (105 cops were arrested, disciplined or convicted); corruption in the L.A. Sheriff's Department narcotics squad; and money skimming cops in the small town of Sea Girt, N.J. In detailing how law enforcement is trying to remedy the problem, FRONTLINE looks at factors fueling it such as bad screening policies and the asset forfeiture policy.

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THE HUNT FOR HOWARD MARKS  (1990)

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(3:34) The story of "Mr. Sewage and the Vicar" and how an out-of-work actor became involved in Howard Marks' marijuana smuggling business.
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Howard Marks was a cunning and charming Oxford-educated drug smuggler who for over twenty years shipped tons of Asian marijuana into the U.S. and Europe. Craig Lovato was the DEA special agent determined to take him down.

FRONTLINE dramatically recounts how Marks turned his small-time marijuana dealing into a multimillion dollar global network based in Spain, used friends and relatives as employees; never trafficked in cocaine or heroin, calling them "the evil ones;" and how Marks believed he was too smart to be caught .

But the DEA's Lovato, an instinctive hunter, thought otherwise. From the moment Lovato started on Marks' trail--listening to wiretapped phone calls, deciphering elaborate code names of his contacts--Marks came to fascinate Lovato. In the end, Lovato identifies one of Marks' associates and uses him to gather incriminating evidence for an arrest.

[UPDATE: Marks was released from prison in April 1995 after serving 7 years of a 25-year sentence. He has written a book about his life called "Mr. Nice," released a number of music recordings, and continues to spread his message of legalization of marijuana.]

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CUBA AND COCAINE   (1991)

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(3:54) A look at how the Cuban military helped drug traffickers do their business, and how Fidel Castro may have given the orders.
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Throughout the 1980s, as Colombia-U.S. cocaine smuggling increased in Carribbean waters, Fidel Castro denied Cuba's involvement. Then in 1988 a smuggler and his associates were arrested in the U.S. and began naming names of their Cuban contacts. Castro could no longer deny the Cuban Connection.

This report documents in detail and corroborates with several key figures how drug trafficking was coordinated through Cuban government departments. The Cuban Coast Guard escorted drug boats; Cuban airspace was provided free; Cuban military personnel helped unload shipments. This FRONTLINE investigation tracks a web of connections reaching up to Cuba's highest ranks.

One critic said of this report: "The cast of characters is right out of some yet-to-be-written thriller." They include Robert Vesco, the international crook who lives in luxury in Cuba; Reinaldo Ruiz, convicted smuggler, Jose Blandon, former aide to Mnauel Noriega, and Carlos Lehder, founding member of Colombia's Medellin cartel.

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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DRUG WAR?  (1993)

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(4:39) The story of how the U.S. government bought some expensive "go fast" boats to stop drug smugglers, but never caught anyone.
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In an eight-month investigation along the U.S.- Mexico border, where an estimated 70% of cocaine was entering the U.S. in the early 1990s, FRONTLINE looks at costly, high-tech U.S. Customs strategies being used to stop drug traffickers--from "go fast" boats to Blackhawk helicopters to large radar balloons known as aerostats. In interviews with Customs agents and smugglers, FRONTLINE learns how the smugglers can outsmart these barriers and why drug runners are very rarely, if ever, being caught.

FRONTLINE also investigates political aspects of this part of the drug war, including a U.S. senator who helped push through funding for the aerostats, but reportedly had close ties to lobbyists working for the company that won most of the $100 million aerostat contract.

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THE GODFATHER OF COCAINE  (1995)

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(5:57) A look at the rise of Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cartel, and how it divided up drug trafficking for U.S. markets with its rival, the Cali cartel.
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In the late 1970s Colombian cocaine became America's newest threat. FRONTLINE recounts the bloody, flamboyant rise and fall of Pablor Escobar, the richest and most violent drug lord who built Colombia's first cocaine cartel--Medellin. It amassed billions of dollars and injected fear into the drug war with its wave of assassinations, terror tactics and ability to pressure Colombian government officials.

Drawing on Escobar's home movies, interviews with his family, U.S and Colombian officials, this report vividly details Escobar's early rise as a small-time smuggler who recognized that more money could be made if he increased the scale of his business. His airplanes ultimately were smuggling three ton planeloads of cocaine. The program also investigates Escobars brutal methods and how his most common target was law enforcement and the government. In the end, Escobar made too many enemies; there was nowhere to hide. He was killed in 1993, running from the DEA and Colombian police.

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THE OPIUM KINGS  (1997)

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(5:00) Travelling through the jungles and poppy fields of Burma's Shan State, producer Adrian Cowell examines how opium production affects the everyday lives of the population.
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[NOTE: Click on title above for companion web site for this report.] In a journalistic odyssey of more than three decades, British filmmaker Adrian Cowell ventures into a remote corner of Burma known as Shan State, where much of the world's heroin originates. FRONTLINE chronicles the rise and fall of Khun Sa, a Shan nationalist leader and warlord who has long been a chief target of U.S. drug enforcement..

In interviews with drug-war figures ranging from opium farmers to U.S. officials, Cowell unravels in this report the complex political, economic and diplomatic web that surrounds the heroin business.

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BUSTED: AMERICA'S WAR ON MARIJUANA  (1998)

[NOTE: Click on title above for companion web site.] Studies estimate that marijuana is used by up to thirty million Americans--more than all other illegal drugs combined. The DEA spends ten million dollars a year trying to eradicate the crop, and in 1998, one of every six federal prisoners was behind bars because of marijuana.

FRONTLINE goes behind the scenes of America's marijuana industry--taking viewers underground to see firsthand a hidden indoor marijuana grow room; telling the stories of men and women who are serving sentences of up to ninety-three years for marijuana offenses; and following state police and DEA agents as they arrest offenders. FRONTLINE also traces the history of U.S. marijuana policies and, in particular, mandatory minimum sentencing--enacted in 1986--which resulted in stiff sentences for convicted growers and sellers.

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SNITCH  (1999)

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(5:00) This clip tells the story of Clarence Aaron, a minor drug offender who is serving three life terms because of snitches who got big sentence reductions.
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[NOTE: click on title above for companion web site for this report.] FRONTLINE investigates how a fundamental shift in the country's anti-drug laws--including federal mandatory minimum sentencing and conspiracy provisions--has bred a culture of snitching that is in many cases rewarding the guiltiest and punishing the less guilty. The programs looks at several unsettling cases in which prosecutors go after small fish --drug dealers' mothers, cousins, even lawyers--either to pressure them into testifying or because the big fish snitched first.

Although informants have become a lynchpin in prosecuting federal drug-trafficking cases, defenders of the current system argue it is a proper and necessary strategy in fighting the war on drugs. But critics interviewed, including one Supreme Court Justice, charge the system is perverting justice.

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