drug wars

home
warriors
business
buyers
symposium
special reports
video
AFTERNOON PANEL II: THE MULTIBILLION DOLLAR ILLEGAL DRUG BUSINESS AND CLOSING REMARKS  JUAN WILLIAMS, PANEL MODERATOR...Wednesday, October 4, 2000 - Georgetown University Law Center

 

MR. WILLIAMS: From Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., I am Juan Williams, and this is "Talk of the Nation."

One of the world's most profitable businesses is illegal drugs. Estimate sales are somewhere between $500 billion and $1 trillion each year. That is double the global sales of pharmaceuticals.

If you are thinking to yourself as you listen, maybe I should invest some money in this, you may have already have done so unwittingly. Fortune 500 companies like Intel Computers, General Electric, Merrill Lynch, and Pricewaterhouse have all been warned by the State Department about their possible involvement in money-laundering schemes related to the drug business.

Cleaning up dirty money has become more sophisticated since the days when Al Capone first coined the term "laundering" by investing in laundromats. Money from drugs has been largely responsible for a $10-billion turnaround in the official balance of trade between Colombia and America over the last decade. Colombia now buys $5 billion a year more from us than we do from them.

U.S. law enforcement through agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, Customs, and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been fighting back. In 1999, in one undercover sting, DEA and IRS agents posed as stockbrokers. They netted $72 million worth of cocaine, indictments against five Colombians, and arrested 45 people across the nation.

But, increasingly, the size and scope of drug monies entry into legitimate businesses makes countries around the world dependent on this source of tainted money. The business of drugs now employs sophisticated legal and financial professionals. After all, the industry manages cash flows larger than the annual budgets of many small nations. Globalization has given a new boost to the old profession of drug trafficker.

My guests for this hour are Carlos Toro, a childhood friend of Medellin drug cartel leader, Carlos Lehder, and he was also an informant working for the Drug Enforcement Agency who helped put Lehder and many of his associates behind bars. He now lives under the Witness Protection Program.

Also with me is Steve Castillo, chief of Intelligence for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Greg Passic, retired special agent for the DEA and Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. He is a consultant on money laundering.

Carlos Toro, let me start with you and ask about the lifestyle and the business organization of a major drug dealer. What is it like? What did you do? What does it feel like to carry a million dollars around in hundred-dollar bills? Is it heavy?

MR. TORO: More than heavy, and in many respects.

MR. WILLIAMS: More than heavy, yeah.

[Laughter.]

MR. TORO: When you reach the level of wealth, which is to most common Americans beyond understanding, you lose respect for the value of money. You lose respect for the value of currency, for what it can buy, what it can purchase, because it might seem unbelievable, but we could have a location where you store $200 million in cash and it gets in your way and you have to do something with it. You already spend--buy expensive automobiles and the airplanes, and you have the governments in your pocket and you have the red-carpet treatment. So there is so much can spend, and now the problem is how to get rid of it, how to make it legal.

MR. WILLIAMS: You can't put it in a bank.

MR. TORO: No, we couldn't.

We found mechanisms to it in those days, but obviously I couldn't walk into Bank of America and say, "Okay, good morning. Can I have my $2 million from yesterday?"

MR. WILLIAMS: So there is a distribution system that is in place?

MR. TORO: There is a very sophisticated distribution system that had to do with help with American authorities that were corrupt to a certain point, where people at the FAA that facilitated flight routes and access to airports and information on--what do they call it?--altitudes and flight plans so we could fly without radar detection for DEA or Customs, and indeed, it was a very sophisticated process.

MR. WILLIAMS: So you have people who are cultivating the drugs, and you have them under your hire. And you have people, then, that are distributing the drugs in the United States. They are under your hire.

MR. TORO: That's correct.

MR. WILLIAMS: So how many people, for example, do you think were working for the Medellin Cartel?

MR. TORO: Thousands, thousands. Here in the United States and Colombia and in growing countries and Colombia and the kitchens down in Los Jenos [ph], in Peru, in Venezuela, in the Bahamas, a great number of people, and those many countries in Panama and in Central America where we have connections with governments that were in the take, were working very closely with us, heads of state and police departments and law enforcement agencies in various countries that helped us conduct--cocaine business and successful at it.

MR. WILLIAMS: Now, explain to me how a drug cartel is organized. Who is in charge? Who makes decisions? How do you become a member?

MR. TORO: Well, you don't go to the Yellow Pages and look for cartels employment. And in my case, I was fortunate and unfortunate to have grown up with Carlos Lehder, we all know is head of the Medellin Cartel, but the Medellin Cartel had heads of different departments.

Carlos was in charge of transportation. He was a very good pilot himself, and he trained pilots and he trained them his way, and he coordinated. He was in charge of transportation for the families of all the heads of the Medellin Cartel, for Mr. Pablo Escobar and for Rodriguez Gacha and for the Ochoa family.

MR. WILLIAMS: And he's also in charge of transportation for the product, the drugs.

MR. TORO: Absolutely.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. So who else--how else does the organization work? What are the other sections of a cartel?

MR. TORO: The other sections are, just like any other company. We have the raw product. We have the people that have to do with the growing, with the cultivation of the coca leaf, and then we have another segment that goes into the production, what we call the kitchens, "los cosinas," in the jungles of Colombia and Bolivia. And then we have the segment that is more sophisticated, and it has to do with Carlos and how we are going to load the airplanes, how we are going to take them, what airplane we are going to purchase, how the planes are going to be fueled and refueled, and what routes are we going to take for a certain trip.

And ultimately, of course, the receiving end, we have--

MR. WILLIAMS: The United States.

MR. TORO: --a crew in the United States, a Colombian crew that will receive the drugs with a bill of lading like any other shipment, and we have distribution points. It is California, Miami, and New York.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. Greg Passic, I wanted to ask you as a retired DEA person, what do you do about American companies that then get involved with these major businesses. I was going to say cartel, but it is a major business, as we hear Carlos describe it.

MR. PASSIC: Well, I would like to respond to the fact that Carlos brought up. Money becomes a liability. One kilo of cocaine equates to 3 kilograms of cash, and just physically moving that back to Medellin would require three times the aircraft that they used to bring it up here.

The fact that law enforcement keyed off that and developed programs to attack the returning cash caused them to take advantage of the business community, and I think that the first time I talked to a person on the money side--Carlos was on the transportation side--he flatly told me that, "We really don't launder money. What we do is we call it 'sigura,' or 'insurance' in Spanish. What we have learned is it is a liability. You guys chase it. It causes problems for us. So why handle it? Let's sell it to somebody."

MR. WILLIAMS: You sell money.

MR. PASSIC: And there was a willing business community in Colombia that needed to purchase between 1- and $3-billion worth of goods from our economy. Drug traffickers said, "Hey, why don't you take advantage of our dope money? It's cheaper. You can buy it for 80 cents on the dollar," and the Colombian business people wanting to evade taxes in Colombia and wanting to take advantage of a good deal bought the drug money and then turned around and brought products from our appliance manufacturers, liquor, alcohol. Anything sold on the market in Colombia was basically purchased with our own drug money.

In a way--in a bizarre way, we began to see a little bit of our drug money returning at least back to our country, but then we had Fortune 500 companies involved in this process, and we had to do something about that.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, Steve Casteel, you can do more than just urge them to move in the right direction, as the Chief of Intelligence for the Drug Enforcement Administration. You can determine who is involved. How do you determine who is involved, and then what do you do once you understand that some larger American corporation maybe unwittingly is involved in laundering drug money?

MR. CASTEEL: Well, the economic world is changing, and then law enforcement is having a hard time keeping up with that. You see the fusion of criminal organizations out there, just like you see the fusion of businesses. Global economies are the way things go, and in your opening remarks, you hit right on it. This drug thing is a business, and the way we attack it is as a business. The way they run it is as a business, and as we lose borders--and in my opinions, borders no longer exist. They are kind of areas where transition takes place, and as you see these economies all coming together, it gets very, very complicated for us.

There is legislation on the books. We had quite a bit of success in Colombia with programs like IEPA and things like that where--

MR. WILLIAMS: What is that? I don't know what that is.

MR. CASTEEL: It was a program where we identified the proceeds and the fake companies that the drug cartels were operating, and we actually could go in there and then stop having them do any kind of business with U.S. organizations or companies.

And as Greg said a few minutes ago, we have found most of these U.S. companies quite willing to work with us, quite willing to help us if we identify tainted money coming into their system. I have never run into a situation where a U.S. company when we approached them and said we believe you are getting money that is coming from drugs--it didn't stop that--go out of their way to help us.

Under IEPA, we were able to stop that, and we did everything from make these cartels sell their soccer teams, not be able to travel overseas for medical care. There are several ways that you can use this, if nothing more, irritant to these organizations.

MR. WILLIAMS: How did you make them sell their soccer teams?

MR. CASTEEL: Because they were not allowed to travel outside the country to participate in sports, and it sounds like a very simple thing, but you can't believe the intelligence we got back on how much of an irritant that was to them because, when you get right down to it--Greg used to always say in our meetings, it is not the money, but it is the money, and it doesn't do any good to get this money if you can't play with it. It doesn't do any good to have it in the bank and know it's there unless you can go out and use it for something.

Greg Passic, as you were talking about money laundering--and I later heard from Steve--big companies, you know, the Intels and others, they are all too anxious to make sure that drug money is not involved, but in fact they may not even be aware that it's drug money involved because, as we heard from Carlos, they are buying everything. Legitimate businesses are coming into the United States and buying things and doing--maybe even investing in American businesses with drug monies.

MR. PASSIC: It is a good point. In fact, as the cartel bosses became bigger in Colombia, they acquired legitimate businesses. Some of the Cali guys that Steve and I used to chase a few years ago would complain that their business holdings in the legal field were--exceeded their cocaine holdings and they had to spend more time on that, and that brought a lot of problems with it, but... what it did bring with them, though, when they started acquiring legitimate companies, transportation companies, airlines, even hospitals, they got accountants and professional people, professional lawyers who advised them, "Hey, the way you guys handle your money is suspicious. You are going to have problems. The way you should handle it is like a legitimate business company handles it," and all of a sudden, we had an integration of that wealth.

The money that had already been laundered into Colombia was now being reinvested into companies that were investing in Hamburg, Germany, in apartment buildings, as Carlos mentioned, and into the United States.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, how is it broken, Steve? Tell me. I mean, what do you do?

MR. CASTEEL: It's a paper trail. There has to be a trail there someplace, and you have to learn to be able to decipher that trail. It sounds easy because we think of moving money as the $20 your wife gives you when you leave the house in the morning.

These people are moving such large amounts that they have to use banking systems. They have to use regular financial institutions to handle that money, and we have to get smart on how that is done.

MR. WILLIAMS: They do know it.

MR. CASTEEL: They recognize it.

MR. WILLIAMS: Is Miami a hot spot for this, for money laundering?

MR. CASTEEL: It was at one time.

If you recall, during the heavy years of the cartels, it was a wide-open city, to some extent, on money laundering, but the banks were naive at that time. And through law enforcement and activities of training with them, we raised their attention.

We also had a lot of success against some of the corrupt members of these organizations and put a few bankers in jail, and as a result of that, you see the organizations moving, using different places rather than Miami now.

MR. WILLIAMS: What are the other cities?

MR. CASTILLO: Well, what you see them doing is not necessarily changing their cities, but changing the type of methods they are using.

In the old days, you could find a crooked banker. You could pay him to accept the money for a percentage. He would move it to an offshore bank. Then it would move from the offshore bank into Colombia, whatever, and get into the banking system there.

What you see now is a lot more movement of bulk money than we used to see. For example, along the Texas-Mexican border where I used to supervise that area, you saw money moving across in trunks of cars, in the tops of refrigerated vans. The Mexican organized crime groups had learned that we had been successful against a Colombian sophisticated normal banking techniques.

As a result of that, they did not feel safe putting their money into those systems until they got back into Mexico, and so you see that bulk movement, or you also see a lot more of what we call "smurfing" today, where they use individuals to do small amounts, hundreds of small transactions rather than that one big transaction or that one corrupt person working in a bank.

MR. WILLIAMS: Carlos Toro, would you--in terms of when you were a player in the Medellin Cartel, would you fear people like Steve Castillo and Greg Passic? I mean, did you think they really knew where the money was?

MR. TORO: Not in those days. We were doing silly ways to get the money out of the country. We would go to Sears Roebuck. We would buy 500 dish washers. We would take the insides out of the dish washers, and we would put money into the dish washers and we ship to Colombia. So we were laundering money.

MR. WILLIAMS: Literally.

MR. TORO: Right. [Laughter}

Now, this is back in 1980, like 1981, '82. We knew that we have to be careful. Now, in those days, we had banking industry working very closely with us.

MR. WILLIAMS: The U.S. banking industry?

MR. TORO: The Colombian banking industry and also Colombian banks that had subsidiaries in Miami and Panama working very closely with us.

In those days--and I cannot point things today because I don't know today, but in those days, we had Colombian banks, Banco de Colombia, Banco [unintelligible], Banco Cafetero [ph], Eagle National Bank of Miami. We were allies.

In those days--and maybe Steve knows how Eagle National Bank was a powerful aid for us between 1980 and 1984.

MR. WILLIAMS: But the cartel did not own the bank. It was simply allied with the cartel.

MR. TORO: The cartel didn't own the bank in front of FDIC, but we own the bank.

MR. WILLIAMS: You own the bank.

MR. WILLIAMS: What was your responsibility?

MR. TORO: My responsibility, I was hired to be kind of a public relations person. I was hired to be in Nassau, in the Bahamas, convincing the prime minister that we wanted our island back. I was hired to--

MR. WILLIAMS: Wait a second. That you wanted your island back?

MR. TORO: Yes.

MR. WILLIAMS: You're saying that to the prime minister--

MR. TORO: Yes.

MR. WILLIAMS: --as if it's not his island, it's your island?

MR. TORO: Well, it was our island. We had bought it.

MR. WILLIAMS: You had bought it? Who did you buy it from?

MR. TORO: From the owners at the time. I am talking about [unintelligible], an island that was purchased by Carlos Lehder. So that was my job. We have lost the island. We were losing a lot of revenues because we had to go to Central American countries, to Fidel Castro, to Manuel Noriega, to get the first leg of the trip, to refuel our airplanes. It was costing us a lot of money, and it was not safe because we didn't trust the middle man.

MR. WILLIAMS: Now, when you go to see a world leader, do you say, "Hi, I am Carlos Toro from the Medellin Cartel"?

MR. TORO: No, no. It's different in every meeting. I first met with his--in terms of talking to Mr. Pindling.

MR. WILLIAMS: In the Bahamas.

MR. TORO: Prime Minister of the Bahamas. I first went through is attorney who introduced me to another attorney, member of parliament, the chief of tourism in the Bahamas, and it took many, many meetings for me to get to the prime minister's son and talk to the son and then try to get a first appointment with the prime minister.

MR. WILLIAMS: And you're laying money on all these people?

MR. TORO: We are--for years, we have been sending presents to the prime minister's wife, and we are throwing money around the island, not only directly with the prime minister's family members, but with members of parliament and influential people on the island. So we would get to the prime minister.

MR. WILLIAMS: This is a business. I mean, it's like any other business, but it is just bigger. Is that appropriate--

MR. TORO: It's public relations at its best.

MR. WILLIAMS: That's how you would describe it?

MR. CASTEEL: It's a business with a lot of resources available to it, but the--you've got to recognize that the cartels have gone through many changes. In the first iteration of the cartels, they did business by threat, intimidation, and, you know--

MR. WILLIAMS: Violence.

MR. CASTEEL: The old saying, take lead or take gold. Take a bullet or take what we're paying you. The next iteration which you saw with Cali is much less violence and much more sophistication in the business sense, we meet, we send presents, we negotiate, we do these type of things, and each generation gets more sophisticated.

Now, what we are seeing out of Colombia is even a more sophisticated organization that focuses more on Europe now which has fear of the laws in the United States and are always trying to put middle men in there. So the whole transition has changed.

As law enforcement changes to address the problem, the criminal element changes to try to escape that.

I would like to mention the danger of a wealthy trafficker. First of all, a wealthy trafficker is not an easy guy to catch because he can build isolation, he can buy isolation. They can influence the laws in their country. They can--in the case of Colombia, actually rewrote their constitution. And the old guys were very smart as far as infiltrating the political system and the economic system, and that is why I think it is more than just taking money away from dopers. It is also about how do you contain a group of criminals that actually manages huge amounts of assets worldwide and can affect markets.

MR. WILLIAMS: All right. Let me go to a question from the audience, please.

QUESTION: Yes. My name is Kendra Wright. And my question is, at what point do we stop enlisting regular citizens such as bank employees as drug war enforcers, and at what point does the disregard for the rights and privacy of law-abiding citizens become so severe that the strategies that we pursue in the name of the drug war become unjustifiable?

MR. WILLIAMS: Steve Casteel, you are with the Drug Enforcement Administration. How would you respond?

MR. CASTILLO: Well, I think I have a bit of a problem with saying that it is not the personal responsibility of citizens of the United States to address problems of our country, and I guess what I mean by that is simply this. We have a habit in this country of passing a law and then thinking it is somebody else's problem. When you pass, you make it my problem to some extent, but everybody has personal responsibility.

MR. WILLIAMS: Let's go to the phones. Let's go to James in Laramie, Wyoming. James, you are on "Talk of the Nation."

CALLER: Aye-aye.

MR. WILLIAMS: James, are you there?

CALLER: My question was for the DEA officer there.

MR. WILLIAMS: Yes.

MR. PASSIC: Yeah, go ahead, James.

CALLER: I wanted to know if a person like me who a lot of his life has dealt drugs for his family and things like that, not for obstructing the streets of America--I want to know. Do you guys really feel that you are winning this war worldwide or not?

MR. PASSIC: Well, you know, we're always asked, are you winning, are you losing. What do you want to look at to judge that?

The American population or people made a decision back about 1980 that they wanted to take a lot more stronger criminal actions against people that dealt drugs because our crime rate had risen substantially, especially violent crime through the '60s and '70s.

Well, we made a decision that we wanted to lock people up that were drug dealers. If you want to judge the success based on what is happening in the United States criminally, the crime rate is down. I think for the eighth straight year. I think it is down another 8 percent this year, probably safer than it has been in the last 30 years.

MR. WILLIAMS: James, let me ask you. You said you deal drugs and you said you didn't do it--

CALLER: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMS: --to destroy America. You say you do it to support your family.

CALLER: That's correct.

MR. WILLIAMS: How much money do you make a year dealing drugs?

CALLER: About $40,000.

MR. WILLIAMS: And what do you deal?

CALLER: Marijuana.

MR. WILLIAMS: And you don't think that you are having a negative effect on community life in Laramie, Wyoming?

CALLER: No, I don't because I am not dealing to 12-year-olds. I am not dealing smack to 5-year-olds. I am dealing to people who are of age, are mature, know what they're doing.

MR. WILLIAMS: Okay.

CALLER: You know, and--

MR. WILLIAMS: What does your wife--

CALLER: --as you go along in life--pardon me?

MR. WILLIAMS: What does your wife--what do your kids think of this?

CALLER: I don't do this for my kids and my wife. I do this for my mother. She has a really bad disease, and she can't pay for the bills. So I do my own way.

MR. WILLIAMS: Let me ask Greg what you would say to James. I just want to hear what someone who is involved in trafficking, in stopping trafficking would say to someone like James who is a small-time drug dealer in Laramie.

MR. PASSIC: Well, I'm a cop.

[Laughter.]

MR. PASSIC: I'm a hunting dog, and my job is to catch the prey here. That's kind of an unfair question for me, and I think in general, the law enforcement community, a lot of the stuff gets dumped in our lap and they say, "Gees, you guys put too many people in jail and you put the wrong kinds of people in jail and you're seizing money from a guy who is trying to take care of his sick mother."

To be honest with you, I don't have a response for that, Juan.

MR. WILLIAMS: Okay. Let's go to Greg in Rochester, New York. Greg, you're on "Talk of the Nation."

CALLER: I just wanted to ask a question of anybody, really, who would care to respond, and really--lately, I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject of the CIA and Iran Contra involvement in the drug war, and in the books that I have been reading recently, one in particular called "Cocaine Politics, Drug Armies, and the CIA in Central America" by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, it talks at some length about the involvement or at least, let's say, the CIA ignoring the use of its airplanes in some cases that were used to run arms to the Contras for drug trips back to the United States.

MR. WILLIAMS: So you want to know if the Government is involved in drug trafficking? Steve?

MR. CASTILLO: Well, these kind of stories make great books. They make great movies. Things like this have been fully investigated. To my knowledge, we have never found a smoking gun. We have never found anyone going to jail on these kind of accusations, but he hits on a very important point.

This money has a lot of effects other than just making some drug dealer have a nice swimming pool. This money can change the politics of countries. This money can change the environment of terrorism, for example.

Right now, you see a diminishment in state-sanctioned terrorism, and you see a lot of these terrorist organizations moving into drug trafficking because it is a way to fund it, and having political influence that way.

I would ask you, is Osama bin Laden a drug trafficker? Is he a money launderer? Is he a terrorist? Is he a white slaverer or is he a nuclear proliferations person? What is he? All of those things. These organizations go to drugs first because it is the quickest way for money.

Now, on the legitimate side, I just came back from a recent trip to the Balkan region, and it is a very interesting, unstable region right now of the world because the Russian influence is removed and you see a lot of nationalistic fervor in the former Yugoslavia and places like that. And I have the politicians coming there and talking to me about all the illegal money being shipped into their countries.

They said when the Russian sphere of influence left, the vacuum that was created was filled by organized crime, Russian organized crime, Israeli organized crime, the more traditional organized crime groups in those places.

And I said, "What do you mean?" He says, "Well, anything worth owning, they bought. They bought the hotels. They bought the legitimate businesses."

MR. WILLIAMS: And they bought it with drug money?

MR. CASTILLO: With money--with drug money which is the number-one capital they have over there, that and white slavery money, and then the interesting thing the politicians said at the end--he said to me, "And they're buying me." And I said, "What do you mean by that?," and he said, "We have lived for generations under the idea that we didn't know it took money to be elected. We were a certain party, and we stood for election and we were elected." He says, "Now I didn't realize, it takes money to run a campaign, to have advertising, to go out and get elected," and he says, "Unfortunately, the only people offering me money right now are criminal elements. I am trying the heck not to take it," but he has this fear, one way or another, he's going to get tainted by that.

MR. WILLIAMS: But I am also, then, prompted to ask you, what about American politics and what about American Government. Do you see that money going into American politics?

MR. CASTILLO: I haven't seen that on a national level of something like that. I am not saying that we haven't seen that to some extent. Corruption is not something that the American society doesn't have. I mean, we always point to a lot of other countries and talk about corruption. We have it in the United States. We have it in counties along the border. A very famous county in Texas called Star County--I don't know for sure if it has made it through a full term there in the last 8 or 9 years.

Money breeds corruption, and money of this amount does affect our political system at those lower levels.

MR. WILLIAMS: Carlos Toro, could you buy an American politician when you were at the Medellin Cartel?

MR. TORO: Yes, but I do not know at what level. I mean at White House level of Congress. We were able to negotiate favors at FAA level, employees at Customs, employees at airports, airlines, and crossing of borders, Canada and Mexico.

MR. WILLIAMS: Okay. Let's take another question from the audience.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is David Garlen [ph]. I am from the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

Powerful criminal forces are addicted to the $500 billion to $1 trillion international drug trade. The U.S. is addicted to the drug war spending to the tune of about $250 billion since 1980.

Now we are talking about multinational corporations laundering drug money. They are addicted to the money as well. More and more law enforcement and Government officials are being found to take bribes. They are addicted to the profits.

One way to take the profit, motive, and corruption out of it is to regulate drugs. Indeed, the U.S. is expert at regulation. Why don't we allow American ingenuity to pursue a strategy that would deflate the massive profits, curb corruption, and restore some semblance of--

MR. WILLIAMS: Greg Passic, how would you answer that?

MR. PASSIC: I don't think we should overreact. The businesses, like I said before--we can say yeah, they are addicted to the drug money and we in law enforcement are addicted to our budgets, and that is not true.

What we are addicted to is trying to do something about the problem, and I think all of us need to exercise some common sense when we address these things and try to find some middle ground, open some dialogue, know your customer.

MR. WILLIAMS: Go right ahead, Sam.

MR. DASH: I want to thank Juan Williams as host of "Talk of the Nation" for his really remarkable moderating this--this remarkable panel and the one before.

CLOSING REMARKS:

MR. DASH: I think that there has been some consistency in the discussion, and part of that consistency is that we have been dealing with a problem which too long has been focussed primarily on law enforcement, not that law enforcement hasn't been acting with integrity, not that law enforcement wasn't important to the national strategy, but it was a reaction to a problem that looked worse than even alcohol or some of the other problems that we dealt with under prohibition.

The problem is that I have seen this and I have been through the program of being a drug warrior for many years, back in the '50s. I was one of the earlier drug warriors, as District Attorney of Philadelphia, and we invented the Sting Operation. We were the ones who first sent the first undercover police officers into make buys and ended up over a period of time--a short period of time--arresting, convicting, and sending 2,000 drug dealers to prison for 20-year sentences that I got the courts to agree with.

And the United States Senate came to Philadelphia to broadcast this great success on how we broke the back of the drug problem. The fact is we had not even made a dent in it, but we were primarily arresting pusher users, not great dealers, and every one arrested was quickly replaced by somebody else.

Now, what we are talking about--and I think that has been emphasized by this particular panel--is a multibillion dollar business, and not just organized crime even during the prohibition period under Al Capone. This is much larger than that. It is international. It is intertwined with so many other organized crime activities, and as we have just heard, that even the terrorists are getting in the business because it is a great money-maker, and it is a money-maker because of, unfortunately, prohibition. The price and the profit that they make comes from prohibition, and one of the things that was not really dealt with as candidly during this symposium all day, although it was touched upon, is that whole question to what extent do we have to look at the issue of prohibition when we deal with the supply.

And if profit and prohibition drive the supply, isn't it a question that has to be addressed? It is not an easy question. There is no easy solution, and unfortunately, it has got itself into emotion, politics, and the story out to the American public is that if you even begin to deal with some reduction of prohibition, you are soft on crime.

And many of our politicians, State legislators and Congressmen, know what the problem is and would like to reconsider not total ending of prohibition, but a more balanced program and a more shifting of resources in an area in which we can be more constructive and intelligent in how we deal with the drug problem, but we have told a story to the public that makes it difficult for a political person to go and change the story.

And it seems to me that the dialogue that we have had today, all day, one that ought to be repeated and must be repeated all over the country, by experienced people who know what the problems is and are willing to talk candidly about the problem, to reeducate the American people to some of these issues.

Frankly, it was through our Watergate hearings that we informed the people of the scandal of Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon would not come about by what we did, but what a special prosecutor did, but the unprecedented response of millions of Americans who understood what the issues were finally and wrote to Congress and wrote to the President and Congress had the courage to begin impeachment proceedings.

So I really do believe that we have to communicate what the real facts are, something that General McCaffrey said. We ought to know the facts, communicate them, and have a program that repeats itself over and over again throughout this nation so that we can be honestly candidly looking at this problem.

As I say, there is no general agreement now as to what the ultimate solution is, but I think we all agree it is not really all that good, and that law enforcement has been given a dirty job.

I chaired a special committee of the American Bar Association some years ago, just a few years ago, in which Janet Reno was on my committee, police chiefs were on the committee, tough judges were on it. I didn't want professors. I wanted to be able to have a committee that could give a credible report, and we held hearings all over this country. And the people who spoke to us were police chiefs, prosecutors, law enforcement agents, and all of them said that the problem with the criminal justice system today is the drug problem. It is overwhelming. It is corrupting. It is frustrating, and it pushes aside so many of the other priorities of the criminal justice system that we should be dealing with.

One police chief said, "Asking me to deal with drugs in my community is like giving me a teaspoon and telling me to bail out the Atlantic Ocean."

Another said that the street cleaners come every day to sweep up the streets knowing full well that the next day there will be litter on the streets. Don't count on the street cleaners to keep the streets clean. They just sweep it up. And this police chief said don't count on the police to end drug addiction or drug problems, we just sweep it up, and it is there the next day as well.

So we know that we have a problem we have far from solved, and we have had this problem for many years, certainly, as long as I know about it and from the time of the '50s when I was prosecuting, but way before the '50s, and it is a problem that we have not faced honestly from a political point of view. There was concern expressed at this symposium why haven't the Presidential candidates in this election campaign faced what is one of the biggest problems of America today, the drug problem, that can be eroding so much of our wealth and our health in the United States, and they haven't done it. And that is because, again, it is almost an untouchable subject.

We have to make it touchable. We have to bring the kinds of people who we have heard today and so many others and so many in this room who will join in the national dialogue and talk about this and talk about it, but primarily to the American people because I still have faith and confidence in the American people that, if properly informed, they will respond, and if they respond, they will be giving courage to our political leaders.

So I want to thank all of the participants in this symposium today, thank the audience for all of your very constructive questions and attention, and hope that you will leave here today committed to a national dialogue until we do in America what Americans deserve.

Thank you.

[Applause.]

MR. DASH: We are adjourned, and thank you for joining in.

home · drug warriors · $400bn business · buyers · symposium · special reports
npr reports · interviews · discussion · archive · video · quizzes · charts · timeline
synopsis · teacher's guide · tapes & transcripts · press · credits · FRONTLINE · pbs online · wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation.

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS