Information on FBI involvement in the "war against drugs" in the U.S. and Venezuela [USA5521]

The FBI reportedly got involved in drug interdiction for the first time during the Reagan administration. [ "Drugs preventive policing; let's go for results, not publicity", in the Los Angeles Times, 13 March 1990, p. B7.] Since 1982 the FBI has reportedly shared responsibility with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) "for fighting the drug war". [ "FBI's Drug Target List Omits Washington", in The Washington Post, 11 March 1989, p.B5.] FBI director William S. Sessions stated that the FBI's drug-fighting mission is aimed at long-term investigations aimed at dismantling large narcotics smuggling organizations, such as the Colombian drug cartels. [ Ibid.]

In March 1989, Sessions added that the FBI had at the time approximately 1,100 agents assigned to drug-related investigations aimed at about 450 identified major drug organizations (see below for another reference to the latter figure). [ Ibid.] In October 1989 the U.S. Senate approved the hiring of an additional 1,000 FBI agents for involvement in the "drug war", since the FBI had been taking agents "from other duties with organized crime and white-collar crime task forces to add them to the drug war". [ "Medicaid funds for poor addicts backed in Senate", in Los Angeles Times, 4 October 1989, p. 7.] The quoted report indicates that FBI director William S. Sessions said his organization had been able to target only 225 of the 450 drug rings it had identified because of a shortage of personnel. At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on 14 March 1990, the director of the FBI requested US$1.6 billion for the Bureau's 1991 budget which would allow the hiring of 172 new agents. [ "FBI requests $1.6 billion for 1991", Reuters, 14 March 1990.]

According to a report, [ "FBI's Drug Target List Omits Washington".] the FBI reportedly selected six U.S. cities for its special drug plans New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and San Diego because of their importance in the distribution system of the major drug cartels. Washington, D.C., was reportedly omitted from the priority list because the drug trade in that city is said to consist mostly of low-level drug dealers rather than major narcotics-trafficking organizations.

Interstate FBI anti-drug operations have included a late 1989 series of raids throughout four western states in which at least 41 people were arrested in connection to a Mexico-based tar heroin and cocaine smuggling ring. [ "41 held as FBI raids target drug ring", United Press International, 17 October 1989.] The FBI is reported to carry out undercover operations in drug-related investigations. Cases reported recently include the investigation and arrest of mayor of Washington, D.C., and an operation in the Virgin Islands. [ "Barry arrested on cocaine charges in undercover FBI, Police operation", in The Washington Post 19 January 1990, p. A1.] According to the quoted report, the operation in which the mayor of Washington, D.C., was captured included the participation of the city's police department and "was part of an ongoing public corruption probe under the supervision of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia". Undercover operations have also been carried out in order to capture people involved in drug-money `laundering'. ["Silberman pressed for `bigger money' deals, FBI tapes reveal", in the Los Angeles Times, 17 January 1990, p. B3.]

The director of the FBI ordered in late 1989 the issuing of new semi-automatic 10mm handguns to all the Bureau's 9,700 agents, in response to "the increasing firepower in the hands of drug dealers and other criminals". [ "FBI to use semiautomatic handguns; Sessions issues order in response to criminals' increased firepower", in The Washington Post, 12 September 1989, p. A28; "FBI chief, citing threat, orders semiautomatic guns for agents", in the Los Angeles Times, 12 September 1989, p. 18.] The FBI has reportedly used tear gas in at least one operation in which a home was raided to capture a "drug suspect", [ "FBI agent shot, suspect killed", United Press International, 26 April 1990.] and has confiscated property in drug-related operations. [ "Apartment seized by FBI as alleged site of rampant drug sales", in the Los Angeles Times, 25 April 1990,
p. B3; "28 arrested, 18 cars seized in valley drug sting by LAPD, FBI", Ibid, 6 December 1989, p. P1.] A report states that the U.S. Justice Department expressed concern over a recent "FBI effort to gain broad authority to seize documents and other evidence in criminal cases without grand jury subpoenas or orders from federal judges". [ "Controversial FBI seizure proposal", United Press International, 13 April 1990.] Another report indicates that FBI agents involved in the "drug war" have taken bribes, describing this as "an occurrence unknown before the drug war". [ "Drugs Preventive Policing...".] At least one FBI agent has been recently convicted for selling cocaine. ["FBI agent sentenced in drug sale", in the Chicago Tribune, 27 September 1989, p. 3.] The director of the FBI announced in late 1989 that the Bureau's employees would be subject to random testing in 1990 for detection of possible use of drugs. [ "FBI to begin random testing of employees soon", The Associated Press, 28 November 1989.]

The FBI has a Chemical Toxicological Unit which has been participating in drug-related investigations. The testing of urine, blood and hair samples of suspects is reported to be among the techniques employed for such purpose. [ "Splitting hairs to find the roots of drug use; FBI machine can determine short or long term presence of illegal substances", in The Washington Post, 14 March 1990, p. A15.] The latter (hair analysis) is said to allow tracing of drug consumption over a longer period of time than the other two (blood and urine analysis), although it is considered unreliable and has not been admitted as evidence before courts.

Among the Bureau's overseas operations, FBI agents arrested in Panama in January 1990 a Panamanian businessman who allegedly conspired with Manuel Antonio Noriega to smuggle marihuana and launder drug money. [ "Panamanian executive surrenders to FBI agents", in The Washington Post, 19 January 1990, p. A16.]

Very little information is regarding FBI operations in Venezuela could be found among the sources currently available to the IRBDC. Although in a case not related to the "drug war", FBI agents arrested in 1987 a Palestinian accused of terrorism in the Caracas airport and took him to the United States. ["Arab-American Terrorism Suspect Trapped in Legal Limbo in U.S. Jail", in the Los Angeles Times, 24 September 1989, p. 22.] In October 1988, the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela reportedly blocked an attempt by U.S. authorities to apprehend Colombian drug `kingpin' Jorge Ochoa in Venezuela. [ "Interagency rivalries said to hinder drug fight", in the Los Angeles Times, 18 August 1989, p. 18.] Venezuelan president Carlos Andrés Pérez reportedly expressed concern over the U.S. government policy of allowing the FBI to arrest people overseas without the other country's permission, and described it as "the law of the jungle" for the policy's disregard for international laws and practices. [ "Venezuelan President calls congressional proposal `law of jungle'", United Press International, 17 October 1989; "UPI news at a glance", United Press International, 17 October 1989.]