Drug War 40

The global war as seen from the center of North America

Wash Post: EPIC fail

From a column “Spy Talk,” written by Jeff Stein, which bills itself as “intelligence for thinking people.”

Audit: El Paso Intelligence Center a bust

The El Paso Intelligence Center, launched in 1974 to identify drug traffickers south of the border, is all but a complete bust, the Justice Department’s Inspector General reported Tuesday.

The 86-page report was a virtual laundry list of seemingly intractable problems at the border intelligence post, opened by the Drug Enforcement Administration with great fanfare 36 years ago.

“EPIC could not produce a complete record of drug seizures nationwide because of incomplete reporting into the National Seizure System, which is managed by EPIC,” Glenn A. Fine, chief of the Office of the Inspector General, reported.

“EPIC had not sustained the staffing for some key interdiction programs, such as its Fraudulent Document unit, its Air Watch unit, or its Maritime Intelligence unit….” Fine added.

“As a result, EPIC’s service to users in these program areas had been disrupted or diminished for periods of time.”

How long, or how seriously the programs had been “disrupted or diminished,” he did not say.

Then there were EPIC’s “coordination problems,” the OIG said, demonstrating that the unit is not immune to the failure-to-share bugaboo that has long afflicted U.S. intelligence, as documented in repeated reports and studies over the years.

“EPIC member agencies [are] not sharing information or contributing resources to sustain programs at EPIC,” the OIG said.

“Further, we found that EPIC’s coordination with federal and state intelligence organizations across the country is inconsistent,” Fine added.

Even worse: “EPIC did not maintain an up-to-date list of key intelligence and fusion centers and their points of contact, and EPIC did not know if it had users in each center….”

Fine’s other findings raise the question of how EPIC’s intelligence personnel spend their day.

“EPIC does not analyze some information that it uniquely collects, and as a result, EPIC may not be adequately identifying trends and patterns in trafficking activity that could be used to increase the effectiveness and safety of drug interdiction activities,” the OIG said.

“For example, at the time of our review, EPIC was not identifying trends or patterns in the use of documents sent to EPIC that were suspected of being used to commit fraud.”

In its most devastating statistic, the auditors found that “less than 1 percent of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers” use EPIC’s intelligence.

Tuesday’s report echoed problems found previously in drug interdiction programs, especially since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004, which scrambled responsibilities among a handful of new agencies.

“Partnerships have changed since 9/11 and outdated interagency agreements have led to conflicts with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and operational inefficiencies at CBP [Customs and Border Patrol],” the Government Accountability Office noted in 2007.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department recommended almost a dozen specific fixes for the problem at EPIC, which had a major cameo in Traffic, the 2000 movie about a skeptical White House “drug czar,” played by Michael Douglas.

The DEA generally concurred in all of the criticisms, adding explanations (or rationalizations, the OIG seemed to think) for its shortcomings, and steps it had already taken to correct them.

“Although DEA has been responsible for the management of EPIC since it inception, EPIC is a true multi-agency center that remains heavily dependent on a variety of agencies for data, staffing and participation,” an OIG memorandum on DEA’s responses said. Some 21 agencies provide staff to EPIC.

Meanwhile, the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico continues at flood-like levels.

A nationwide, multi-agency counter narcotics sweep last week netted 429 arrests, plus “$5.8 million in cash, 2,951 pounds of marijuana, 247 pounds of cocaine, 17 pounds of methamphetamine, 141 weapons and 85 vehicles,” according to the New York Times.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. called the raid “our most extensive, and most successful, law enforcement effort to date targeting these deadly cartels.”

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Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

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