"Justice delayed is justice denied" (William Gladstone)

    Fighting the drug problem consumes a vast amount of police resources, which is ordinarily a rather unchallenging activity much like shooting ducks in a barrel since simple police techniques such as confidential informants and physical surveillance tend to work well.  On the other hand, many DTOs (Drug Trafficking Organizations) readily adapt to counterdrug activities, constantly presenting immediate, new challenges for policymakers and resource planners.  Intelligence-driven narcotics enforcement is quite challenging.  To provide a brief overview, intelligent policing has tried to improve upon traditional demand-side and supply-side strategies where the dominant thrust in law enforcement was a supply-side, targeted sting approach toward a rather futile effort at catching "Mr. Big."  Other efforts have been directed at reducing "systemic" violence, the kind of crime that grows up around the drug trade, like drive-by shootings and deals gone bad.  On the user side, despite recent innovations in treatment possibilities such as vouchers for treatment, police have tended to operate with a supply-side economics approach, in that by reducing the supply of drugs on the market, there's an increased search time required of addicts to find a new source, thus acting as an incentive for them to seek treatment and get off drugs.  Planning strategies that have usually worked well in this area have made use of known displacement phenomena, like the announcement and phantom effects, which dislocates the drug crime to other areas simply on word getting out that some original area is not safe for dealing anymore.  Real-time satellite monitoring and geospatial analysis also tends to work well in conjunction with intelligence-driven drug enforcement (as it does for executive-level personnel security).

    Intelligence can be useful at three (3) operational levels of narcotics investigation: (1) street-level transportation and distribution; (2) midlevel distribution networks; and (3) major narcotics syndicates.  Research has shown the most efficient attacks are on midlevel targets.  Basically, intelligence is used to increase the quality of arrests, not the quantity of arrests.  Any police department anywhere can easily increase its quantity of arrests; whereas well-pinpointed quality arrests have more of a long-term impact, and also tend to generate funds by way of asset forfeiture.  Hence, the central role of intelligence analysis of narcotics deals with the strategic development of more effective action plans.  With this role, it is important to be crystal clear about what is the nation's overall drug control strategy because you can't have different jurisdictions in America going off in different directions.  We will begin with an examination of America's centralized strategy, explore the scope of America's drug problem, and then look at how analysis feeds into more effective anti-drug operations.


    The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which is part of the Executive Office of the President, was established by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.  ONDCP's purpose is to establish policies, priorities, and objectives, and most importantly produce a document called the National Drug Control Strategy.  It is an unclassified document, updated every year, and available at ONDCP's website at  It is the official, one and only, drug control strategy for all levels of law enforcement in the United States, and it provides measurable goals such as a 25% reduction in drug use over five years.  ONDCP itself conducts very few operations, but is involved in coordinating the funding for cooperative operations between federal agencies, like the DEA (still the lead agency for investigation of international and domestic narcotics markets) and ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), and Homeland Security agencies like BTS (Border and Transportation Security) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) as well as state and local agencies.  Other things that ONDCP does is assess technology, sponsor advertising campaigns, research prevention and treatment programs, and monitor the drug trafficking trade internationally.  In fact, their International Division that monitors drug trafficking draws upon the collective intelligence of an impressive number of international agencies and organizations, and maintains a (classified) list of the 53 top drug traffickers in the world.  However, it is the HIDTAs (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas) that are of most interest to us, because they are intended to be intelligence and support centers set up regionally around the United States. 

    The HIDTA Program designates geographic areas (usually multi-county areas) where federal resources are allocated to link local, state, and federal drug enforcement efforts and optimize the investigative return (by combining the resources of 7 or 8 agencies).  Properly targeted, HIDTAs offer greater efficiency in countering the drug problem.  In 1990, there were only five (5) areas set up as HIDTAs because these areas were the major ports of entry.  Today (2003), there are twenty-six (26) areas designated as an HIDTA, and they touch on about 46 states.  The drug problem may be different in each HIDTA, but the umbrella of coordination that an HIDTA provides is a standard for partnership and intelligence sharing.  The program has achieved a great deal of success in breaking down barriers between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.  For example, one of the things that is coordinated is report writing and paperwork, and furthermore, threat assessments make use of local expertise.  One detective in each police department in the region is assigned as an intelligence analyst with responsibility for securely sharing information with other agencies.  At any given time, there are about 6 or 7 major investigatory cases that an HIDTA is working on, and the main targets are midlevel drug dealers.  Some investigations take weeks, and other investigations take months.  On average, about 30 midlevel dealers are taken off the streets every year by an HIDTA, and because each of these people supply about 20 street level dealers, that works out to about 500 street dealers having their business disrupted.  Marijuana and/or other "gateway" drugs are a priority because ONDCP figures that 60% of all who test positive for drugs do so for marijuana, and not to prioritize marijuana would be ignoring 60% of the problem.  Besides, the potency of some marijuana coming in today (from places like Canada) is not like the marijuana people smoked in the 70's, which was 11 to 14% THC, but is instead high-potency, highly addictive marijuana with about 30% THC.      


    Nobody in the United States is more than one handshake away from virtually any drug they want to get.  Illegal drugs are so prevalent that some 6 million Americans meet the clinical criteria for needing drug treatment.  UCR figures indicate some 900,000 adults are arrested every year for drug law violations, with the largest proportions of those arrests being simple possession (81%) of marijuana (42%).  OJJDP figures indicate about 200,000 juveniles are processed as delinquents every year for drug law violations (in about the same proportions), but juveniles are three times less likely than adults to go to prison for a first-time drug law violation.  Self-report surveys indicate more than half of high school seniors have tried drugs.  Certainly drug use is higher than anyone would like, and drug criminals account for 75% of new federal prison admissions and 20% of new state prison admissions.  The hallmark of these crimes is that they involve willing participants and consenting partners.  Few victimless crimes, however, involve no injured party.  The best arguments in favor of tough drug control is that where drugs are found, there is poverty, disease, wasted human potential, fragmented families, and support for an underground economy that is linked to the overthrow of democratic governments in the Western hemisphere.  In a larger sense, drug use threatens lawful authority and the social fabric of society.  Drug use is also correlated with some interesting criminological factors relating to adolescent development, as follows:



Documented Drug Use Correlates

Correlate Category

Risk Factors

Protective Factors




1. Individual Factors

a.       Anxious/Withdrawn

a.      Self Confident/Out Going


b.      Mental/Emotional Problem

b.     Mental/Emotional Stability


c.       Sensation /Risk Seeking

c.      Inhibited/Self-Disciplined


d.      Adolescent Smoking

d.     First Tobacco Use in Later Teens


e.       Adolescent Use of Alcohol

e.      First Alcohol Use in Later Teens


f.       Impulsive/Attention Deficit

f.      Patience/Delays Gratification


g.      Early Problem Behaviors

g.     Conventional Behaviors


h.      Lack of Goals/Ambition

h.     Goal/Achievement Oriented


i.        Delinquent/Criminal Activities

i.       Enjoys Conventional Activities


j.        Lacks Empathy for Others

j.       Empathetic Toward Others


k.       Feelings of Hopelessness

k.      Aspirations for the Future/Hope


l.        Illness/Pains/Failing Health

l.       Good Health/No Pains


m.      Pregnancy/Birth Complications

m.     Routine Pregnancy/Birth


n.      Antisocial Beliefs/Attitudes

n.     Pro-social Beliefs/Attitudes


o.      Early Onset of Sexual Activity

o.     Late Onset of Sexual Activity




2. Family Factors

a.       Parent(s) Tolerate Deviancy

a.      Parent(s) Intolerant of Deviancy


b.      Alcoholic Parent(s)

b.     Non-Alcoholic Parents


c.       Parent(s) Use Illicit Drugs

c.      Parents Do Not Use Illicit Drugs


d.      Father’s Criminality

d.     Non-Criminal Father


e.       Parental Arrests (before 10 yrs)

e.      Neither Parent Arrested


f.       High Parental Conflict

f.      Low Parental Conflict


g.      High Parent–Child Conflict

g.     Low Parent–Child Conflict


h.      Low Family Achievement

h.     High Family Achievement


i.        Living in Poverty

i.       Not Living in Poverty


j.        Maltreatment/Abuse/Neglect

j.       Parental Care/Support/Monitoring


k.       Parental Rejection

k.      Parental Acceptance


l.        Lax/Punitive/Harsh Discipline

l.       Consistent/Reasonable Discipline


m.      Family Breakup (before age 10)

m.     Family Remains Intact




3. Peer Factors

a.       Friends Antisocial

a.      Friends Pro-Social


b.      Sensation/Risk Seeking Fiends

b.     Few Sensation/Risk Seeking Friends


c.       Friends in Gangs/Delinquent

c.      Few Delinquent/Gang Friends


d.      Friends Smoke

d.     Few Friends Smoke


e.       Friends Use Alcohol

e.      Few Friends Drink Alcohol


f.       Friends Use of Marijuana

f.      Few Friends Use Marijuana


g.      Friends Use Other Illicit Drug

g.     Few Friends Use Other Illicit Drugs


h.      Low Peer Achievement

h.     High Peer Achievement


i.        Sibling Delinquency/Drug Use

i.       Non-Delinquent/Drug Using Sibling




4. Community Factors

a.       Wide Drug Use in School

a.      Low Drug Use in School


b.      Disorganized Neighborhoods

b.     Well Maintained Neighborhoods


c.       High Levels of Street Crime

c.      Low Levels of Street Crime


d.      High Levels of Drug Use

d.     Low Levels of Drug Use


e.       Unsupervised Activities

e.      Mostly Supervised Activities


f.       Prevalent Street Gangs

f.      None/Few Prevalent Street Gangs


g.       Frequent Victimization

g.     Never/Rarely Victimized


h.      Poor Grades/Failure/Dropout

h.     Good Grades/Graduation


i.        Frequently Truant from School

i.       Not Truant from School




5. Acculturation Factors

a.       Negative Race/Ethnic Identity

a.      Positive Race/Ethnic Identity


b.      Weak Family Cohesion/Pride

b.     Strong Family Cohesion/Pride


c.       Low/No Church Attendance

c.      Regular Church Attendance


d.      Perceived Discrimination

d.     No Perceived Discrimination


e.       Few Prevention Messages

e.      Many Prevention Messages


f.       Difficulty with the Language

f.      Little Difficulty with the Language

Source: Gilbert, M. (2004) "Drug Use: Extent and Correlates" Encyclopedia of Criminology, ed. by M. Miller, NY: Routledge.

    America began its drug war in 1875 in San Francisco by cracking down on opium smoking parlors run by Chinese immigrants.  This effort mostly failed, and in 1914, America tried regulating it with the Harrison Act, which only allowed medical professionals to possess opiate derivatives by paying a tax.  The idea of taxation was extended to the $100 per ounce fee for marijuana in the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, but revoked in 1951 with the Boggs Act.  Penalties for violations of these acts kept increasing until the Narcotic Control Act of 1956 included the death penalty for sale of heroin to anyone under 18.  The current schedules which classify drugs into five types comes from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which provides for penalties of life imprisonment for first-time possession of a Schedule I drug -- heroin, LSD, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, marijuana, hashish, and other hallucinogens.  Denial of federal benefits and student loans for drug offenders was part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.  That Act, and a number of appropriations bills which followed, also allowed the government to declare some geographic areas as high intensity drug trafficking areas (HIDTAs) where criminal justice officials could conduct joint operations with military officials.  The schedule of penalties can be seen below: 

Schedule I
(no medical use)
Heroin, Opium, Mescaline, Psilocybin, LSD, Marijuana, Hashish 15 years/$125,000
5 years/$50,000
Schedule II
(some medical use)
Methadone, Morphine, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Methamphetamine, PCP 15 years/$125,000
Schedule III
(moderate dependence)
Codeine, Steroids 5 years/$50,000
Schedule IV
(limited dependence)
Barbiturates, Lithium, Valium 3 years/$25,000
Schedule V Cough Syrups 1 year/$10,000

     There are four ways to fight a war on drugs -- source control, border control, dealer sweeps, and user stings.  Source control involves intervention in the affairs of foreign nations to eradicate crops and apprehend drug lords.  Agencies involved in this effort include the DOD, DEA, FBI, CIA, IRS, and INS.  Border control attempts to interdict drugs as they enter the country, and involve agencies like Customs, INS, and the Coast Guard.  Dealer sweeps primarily involve infiltration, investigation, and large-scale busts.  User stings make the most use of informants, decoys, and controlled buy-bust operations.

    Although the drug abuse problem is skyrocketing, there is some evidence that fewer and fewer crimes are committed on account of drug abuse (Conklin 2003). Neither the UCR nor the NCVS is well suited to measure the relationships between drugs, alcohol, and crime.  Most experts obtain data from one of the following sources: the Monitoring the Future study (MTF), the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program (ADAM), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONCDP), and the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).  Finally, Justice Department programs like DUF (Drug Use Forecasting) promise to shed light on the drug-crime connection (which comes first?) by tracking, via urinalysis results, the drug levels of "hot" arrests for crime (caught red-handed). There's some variation geographically in the dozen or so cities that participate in DUF, but an average of 32% of offenders are on drugs at the time of offense, and of this number, 68% use crack cocaine and 58% use marijuana. The crack problem is especially difficult because of its unusual addiction cycle. Instead of a normal withdrawal, the pains of trying to quit may last as long as 10 weeks. There's also an unusual binge (high) and crash (anxiety rather than depression) pattern which doesn't produce much downtime. Crack houses have become a target of community mobilization, and here's a typology of crack houses:

    The drug distribution system is the most complex and complicated thing on the planet, crossing five continents, and unprecedented in its economic might.  Economically, it's what probably holds the world together more than the official financial markets.  Billions of real dollars exchange hands every day.  The major parties in this vast network are as follows:

     Drugs are a known factor in recidivism rates.  RAND, for example, has consistently estimated that drug dependence is a factor in 52% of parolees who return to prison.  In fact, rates of drug use are high within prison.  The following table provides some relevant estimates:



Percent of Prison Inmates who are Substance-Involved Offenders




Ever used illegal drugs regularly 64 43 59
Ever in treatment for alcohol abuse 29 14 15
Ever convicted of Driving While Intoxicated 2 1 8
Ever convicted of a drug law violation 19 55 21
Ever committed a crime to get money for drugs 17 10 13
Under influence of drugs/alcohol at time of offense 48 23 55
Substance-Involved Offenders
(Percent who fit into at least one of the above categories)
81 80 77
Source: Belenko (1998)


    The purity of drugs is an important intelligence consideration.  Increases and decreases in drug purity, as well as price, tend to be associated with patterns in the expansion of drug networks and territories.  All police officers should be trained in how to field test narcotics.  Traditional field testing methods run the gambit of color to crystalline tests, and consist of a variety of names, the controversial Nalline test being the most well-known, which presumably indicates recent use of narcotics. Here's a list of some common drugs and specific tests for them:

Forensic Tests for the Identification of Drugs

Opium Marquis test (formaldehyde/sulfuric acid)
Marijuana Duquenois-Levine test (vanilla/hydrochloric acid/chloroform)
LSD Van Urk test (p-dimethylaminobenoldesone/hydrochloric acid)
Cocaine Scott test (cobalt thiocyanate/hydrochloric acid/chloroform)
Barbiturates Dillie-Koppanyi test (cobalt acetate/isoprophylamine)

    Opium is a true narcotic, providing an euphoric escape from reality. It is derived from the milky secretions of the poppy bulb before flowering. In raw form, it turns dark brown and stays moist. The most common type of opiates are:

    Marijuana is technically a hallucinogen but has been thrown in with narcotics since Reyna v. State 1968. It tends to make a person lethargic rather than euphoric (an effect like alcohol but without the aggression). It's active ingredient is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is contained mostly in the flower tops and to a lesser extent in stems and seeds. One particular species, Cannabis Sativa, as opposed to other species, e.g. Cannabis Indica, Cannabis Ruderalis, tends to contain more THC (Delta-9-THC) as the main cannabinoid, than the other species, if "species" is the right word since Small & Cronquist's (1976) study found only one single species with two subspecies (Sativa & Indica), each divisible into a cultivated and wild variety.  Cannibis Indica has a significant amount of THC as well, along with several other cannabinoids.  It should be noted that some experts classify Indica as a subspecies of Sativa, thereby frequently missing an accurate description of Indica's chemical profile.  The THC content is heavily affected by the sex of the plant, with female plants generating substantially more resin than their male conterparts.  Toward this end, during plant growth, males are generally removed before pollination occurs. The average marijuana cigarette contains only 1% THC while hashish (made from ground flower tops) is 10% THC. Other hallucinogens include:

    Marijuana is reputed to have some medicinal effects, and Earleywine (2002) and others have attempted to chronicle these research findings.   There are about 65 different psychoactive substances, besides THC, in marijuana, so the research is pretty exhausting.  To summarize, marijuana does little more than a placebo to kill pain, and there are no known appetite enhancement effects of the drug.  The so-called "munchies" appear to be subcultural in origin.  No one has ever died from smoking marijuana although a couple of cases are known where blood flow to the limbs became so bad amputation was needed.  There is evidence that the drug is addictive and produces withdrawal states among heavy users and about 10% of recreational users.  During the 1980s and 1990s, doctors in the U.S. used to prescribe a drug called dronabinol (synthetic THC), but users claimed it worked too slow.  In Great Britain, a pharmaceutical company produced a mouth spray which avoids the lung damage that comes from smoking anything, and marijuana vaporizers accomplish the same thing.  Marijuana is more irritating to the lungs because it contains 50% more tar than tobacco, and has a greater harmful effect on the upper airways (sinuses and larynx).  Criminologically, what remains important is the effect on mood, judgment, and behavior.  While there seems to be no lowered IQ or impulsivity effects, there are indeed some negative effects on short-term memory, time perception, and motivation.  There is a need for incorporating these known effects into theories about marijuana-induced crime.  While the perceptual distortions may be pleasant, some people make bad judgments or decisions while under the influence. 

    Marijuana is, by far, the most commonly used illicit drug. The 1999 National Survey on Drug Abuse estimates that there were 2.3 million new marijuana users in 1998. That same year it is estimated that there were:

    Cocaine is technically a stimulant, but has been classified along with narcotics for a long time. It's a natural alkaloid found in coca leaves (C17 H22 CLNO4). For making what is called freebase or crack, it's melting point needs to be lowered, and this is done by releasing the hydrochloride in it (HCL) through mixing it with a sodium substance like baking soda, adding water, letting it cook slowly, and then letting it cool off. The crystal residue or pellets are called "crack" which is a widely abused drug. Other stimulants range from the least powerful (benzedrine and dexedrine) to the most powerful (methamphetamine).  Cocaine tends to impair verbal abilities.

    Barbiturates are known by the color of their tablets: Nembutal (yellow jackets); Seconal (reds); Tuinal (Christmas trees); and Amytal (blues). Steroids are another group or family of drugs, and the anabolic ones (that promote muscle growth) exist in about 80 different varieties.  So-called designer or "rave" drugs are hallucinogens, mostly, which have been chemically altered in some way to as not to be placed on the controlled substances list. However, under emergency measures, the DEA can put anything on the list they want. Such drugs are: variants of XTC, Ice, and Nexus, to name a few.  Barbiturates tend to have many side effects, some of which are behavioral in nature.

    XTC, or MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) use is frequently classified by law enforcement as a synthetic stimulant that has mild hallucinogenic effects.  Many of the 682,000 new users of stimulants were probably using Ecstasy.  The 2000 Monitoring the Future study found that Ecstasy use in the 8th, 10th and 12th grade exceeded the use of cocaine (Johnston, O’Malley and Bachman, 2001).  Ecstasy is most commonly sold and used by young people at all night dance parties and concerts called “raves” and the primary risk associated with the use of Ecstasy purchased on the street or at a rave is that unscrupulous dealers “cut” the MDMA with other chemicals to increase their profits. Unless each tablet is tested the user cannot be certain about what they are actually consuming. Ecstasy users commonly report a mild euphoric sensation, a feeling of well being, increased self-confidence, heightened affection for others and increased stamina while dancing. The most hazardous side effect associated with Ecstasy is that users may overheat while dancing in a hot, crowded club and suffer heat stroke. Ecstasy use has been associated with a sharp increase in hospital emergency room visits. Recently, tablet-testing services have become available at many raves to help users assess whether the drug they purchased has been mixed with other substances and whether it contains MDMA.  Ecstasy has serious short-term and long-term effects in disrupting the brain's serotonin system so that mood, emotion, sleep, and perception of pain are altered.

    Quite a few interesting defenses exist to a drug charge. With marijuana, for example, one could raise the "species defense" and then the plant would have to be proved to be Cannabis Sativa. With steroids, one could raise the "roid rage" defense, that their behavior was out of control. A basic defense is that the person was not trying to feel good, but better, a "medical necessity" defense. It's unconstitutional to make the status of being an addict a crime in itself (Robinson v. California 1962).  Drug charges can also be challenged on scientific grounds, such as whether the sampling method was representative, the quantity was usable vs. measurable (since sometimes just a trace is found in pipes or bongs), and whether the Pure vs. Aggregate Weight Rule is followed, pure being the uncut amount, with most states following an aggregate weight rule, so, for example, 10 pounds might refer to the blotter paper the LSD is on rather the actual weight of the LSD.


    At this level, it is probably most important to get good intelligence on the patterns of systemic violence.  Drug-afflicted areas at the street-level are usually violent areas.  Violence is either used to expand territory or to protect existing "turf."  Violence is either used to intimidate competitors or to retaliate quickly and put the competition out of business before it gets started.  Knowing the direction and pattern of how violence is utilized by drug dealers at the street-level is a difficult, yet essential, function of police intelligence.  Being able to estimate fairly predictable responses can guide raids, sweeps, and stings in a way that is timely and more productive.

    Drug use also produces a spiral of decay in neighborhoods, as housing values decline, and one shortly begins to see abandoned houses in drug-infested areas.  If a crime analyst is able to map this pattern of decay (with crime mapping and statistical software), then it is possible to defeat the spiral of decay simply by directing law enforcement activity to the next-nearest neighborhood in that direction, allowing for known geographical displacements.  This kind of intelligent targeting requires the analysis of all available information, however, and is not just based on crime data alone.  Community surveys or ethnographic research should be used to develop "indicators" of suspected drug dealing.  Landowners and apartment managers should cooperate with police to let them know of any "renters" who inquire about the availability of corner units on the ground floor, offer to pay with cash, move in with little furniture, and provide little or unverifiable information about past employment or previous residences.

    Some courts are allowing specially trained police officers (especially DEA agents) an expertise in identifying movements of a drug dealer (or other criminal), the meaning of "drug (or gang) lingo", paraphernalia, the significance of phone traffic and other behaviors, and what behaviors are typical of someone transporting drugs.  Such drug courier profiling has resulted in thousands of arrests since it was first introduced in the mid-1980's.  A "courier" is someone who drives or travels to transport the drugs from one locale to another.  They are typically immigrants who don't use drugs themselves and work in teams (often with a trailer vehicle).  When caught, they will typically say they are just paid to drive and drop it off, or call a pager number.  The couriers themselves are often useless for intelligence purposes, but from their interception, an accounting of their destinations (as well as concealment methods) has great payoffs in formulating a geographic distribution analysis cross-linked with M.O. by methods used to conceal the drugs in the vehicle or on the courier.  Informants are also useful with street-level operations, and typically the most useful informant is one who is a nonparticipant in the drug business yet connected by family ties or friendship, and typically the best information is precise about specific shipments coming in on a certain date by a certain means.


    At this level, police typically have surveillance in place and have exhausted how many lower-level informants they can "flip" from being bad to useful.  One of the primary characteristics of a "midlevel" drug dealer is poly-drug distribution; that is, they can get various quantities of just about any drug you want.  Their supply is steady, their product is distinctively packaged, they may own several properties, they have the best lawyers, they have assistants or helpers (lookouts, runners, collectors), they seem to have an exclusive territory of operation, and they have state-of-the-art communications equipment (pagers, cell phones, scramblers).  Such midlevel dealers (more accurately called "distributers") have established connections to a major narcotics network, and their phone records will reveal calls made to other countries or to port cities in the United States.  Intelligence analysis of mid- or upper-level dealers will include telephone record analysis, association analysis, event flow analysis, and financial analysis.  The RISS (Regional Information Sharing System) network of law enforcement task forces will most likely already have intelligence on such individuals as they have moved up the drug dealer hierarchy.

    Another type of drug activity at the midlevel involves a grower or manufacturer.  Here, the type of analysis called for might involve utility records, because a lot of electricity is needed for the grow lights (for marijuana) or a lot of water is needed (for methamphetamine).  Clandestine drug labs can exist in the trunks of cars, motel rooms, apartments, or rented houses, especially remote farmhouses.  Ventilation is usually needed as a drug lab tends to produce noxious, unmistakable odors.  The requirements for chemicals, glassware, water, and electricity vary from drug to drug.  Each state in the U.S. probably has about 4 or 5 drug labs in existence at any given time, but the trend is for more of them to be found in the Western states.  Anyone who visits a hardware store and purchases several cases of Drano (sodium hydroxide) probably is supplying a drug lab, and the DEA monitors such purchases nationwide with their Precursor Chemical Tracking Program.  Raiding a lab requires being aware of the many booby traps that are set.  Much law enforcement training has gone into raiding drug labs.  It is often the case that a drug lab is abandoned by the time police launch their raid.  Leads as to who the chemist was might be obtainable from criminalistics on the trace evidence, and it is just as important to catch the chemist (who has the scientific knowledge to make the drug) as it is to identify the financial backers of the lab. 

    Briefly, a police raid must involve a carefully devised deception plan.  There is a need for overwhelming manpower during a raid.  First of all, there is the assault team, who usually occupy a van which attempts to park as close by as possible.  Then, there is the backup team, which is part of the deception, and they stage some reason (a traffic stop, a flat tire, what-have-you) to be there.  Then, there is the perimeter cover team, which you don't see, but is strategically positioned all around to cut off any means of escape.  The backup team tries to draw around itself as many people as possible, and then one of them gives a signal, and the assault team jumps into action. 


    At this level, a syndicate usually exists which has mapped out territories, nationally or internationally, where exclusive networks exist for the manufacture, smuggling, and distribution of large quantities of narcotics.  This syndicate can be a cartel, ring, gang, or posse.  The word "cartel" is somewhat outdated since no drug trafficking group really controls the price of their product.  None of them operate the same, as some are more hierarchical than others.  Visual investigative analysis is usually needed, and a typical product the analyst uses is CaseRunner or the Analyst's Notebook, software programs by i2 Corp.  Good organization, cross-referencing, and link charts are necessary when investigating major cases.  Informants and undercover operations are especially hazardous at this level.  Most cases are international in scope and require cooperation with law enforcement in other countries.  Attempting to interdict the supply as it comes into the United States usually requires multi-state cooperation. 

    Money laundering is a frequent target at this level, as the diversity and income of major narcotics operations vastly outsize the Gross Domestic Product of many small nations, so something has to be done to make all those billions of dollars look like earned income.  Wire transfers, business fronts, and conversion of cash into securities are frequent activities, as well as using those twenty-six banks around the world which abide by secrecy.  The uncovering of money laundering trails is a complex and painstaking task.  If and when any major player in a drug syndicate is arrested, every effort should be made to focus on documenting their financial dealings.

    Major organizations involved in drug trafficking should be thought of as a grouping of coalitions or consortiums that come together for mutual business enterprises.  Such amorphous organizational characteristics defies most law enforcement attempts at analysis.  Since about 1984, the U.S. military has been part of the analysis effort, the precise date being traceable to July 1983 when the U.S.S. Kidd fired upon a cargo ship laden with marijuana.  Since 1989, DIA intelligence support has been provided to law enforcement under a joint DEA operation known as EMERALD and within the Pentagon's C3I (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) structure.  The real success story has been the National Guard, however, who do the foot-slogging grunge work of inspecting containers on dock, managing border checkpoints, and manning ground surveillance radars along the borders.  Useful Department of Defense products do include intelligence on crop and cultivation estimates in source countries around the world.    


    Perhaps the most important function intelligence can serve in the war on drugs is to provide a definitive picture of the drug trafficking threat.  Police tactics in dealing with the drug problem are hardened in habit and custom, and it is difficult to get state and local law enforcement to see the big picture.  Commissioned in 1988, but only active since 1993, in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, is the NDIC (National Drug Intelligence Center), funded by the Department of Justice.  It's purpose is to craft multisource strategic intelligence products for use by state and local law enforcement.  For example, one can visit their website, click on Products, and then on North Carolina to learn about the tractor-trailers that Mexican criminal groups use to transport multi-ton shipments of marijuana into the state.

    Narcoterrorism is a controversial term that instigates debate among experts. Some believe it's a useless term that confuses the drug war with the war on terrorism. Technically, it refers to the financing of terrorist activities by participation in the drug trade. Theoretically, it's both a mode of attack (saturating the enemy population with dangerous narcotics) and a tactic (raising so much money you don't have to fight, just buy friend and foe alike).  America's primary defense against the threat of narcoterrorism is EPIC (El Paso Intelligence Center), which has been tasked since 1974 to track drug and alien movements that present possible threats and provide timely intelligence products that allow for interdiction before entering the United States.  Unfortunately, however, most interdiction (60% of it) occurs after the drugs have entered the United State.  In the world of counternarcotics, decisions must be made within hours, not days or weeks.  There is an enormous amount of pressure on intelligence analysis of narcotics, and most of this pressure is wrongfully directed at the failure to provide specific, tactical action plans.  Drug intelligence can eventually evolve for that purpose, but it is better utilized for strategic purposes. 


    Meth labs are used to produce methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant that has existed since 1919 and is made and sold illegally in pill form, capsules, powder, and chunks.  Some names for it are crank, ice, crystal meth, or crank.  Crank refers to any form of methamphetamine, while Ice is a clear, crystallized, smokeable chunk of methamphetamine that produces a more intense reaction than cocaine or speed.  Intravenous methamphetamine abuse became prominent in the late 1960s among "hippies" and by the 1980s, meth had become the favorite revenue generator for motorcycle gangs, and the favorite drug of choice among users who believed cocaine was less plentiful and too expensive.  The drug is produced in crude laboratories typically located in rural areas via a simple process. 

    The precursor and main ingredient is ephedrine. Ephedrine is commonly found over the counter, in bronchodilators, nasal inhalants, decongestants, nighttime cold medications, and diet pills.  Other items needed include iodine crystals, red phosphorous (frequently extracted from matchbooks), isopropyl alcohol, red lye, sodium metal or lithium battery ribbons, liquid ammonia, engine starting fluid, salt and drain cleaner.  These ingredients are then "cooked" using Coleman stoves, aquariums pumps or cooler pumps, several pieces of glassware, rubber tubing, Pyrex dishes, and mason jars. Cooking time normally takes 24 hours, although accelerated methods of cooking exist.

    Meth lab operators are often well-armed, and their laboratories are frequently booby-trapped and equipped with scanning devices. Laboratory operators, or "cooks," frequently display little concern for public safety or the environment. Cooks vary from high school dropouts with no real chemistry education to professionals with graduate degrees in chemistry. Some laboratory operators act as their own chemists, while others hire chemists to run the laboratories for them. Many manufacturers are independent producers who cook for various organized groups.  Other cooks manufacture for themselves rather than for a particular organization.  Noxious odors inevitably eminate from a meth lab that have harmful effects on nearby children, and explosions are not that uncommon which kill people in the nearby area.  Meth labs are a definite public safety hazard.  Even months after a lab has been closed, chemical residue (such as hydriodic acid) will have seeped into the carpet, floors, and wall, and can be dangerous. Invisible poison gases (such as phosphene gas) may exist which are so deadly that one sniff kills.  Red phosphorus, if mishandled, converts to yellow phosphorus and can ignite spontaneously. Meth makers also use solvents like ether, chloroform and Freon. A gallon of ether has the same explosive properties as five sticks of dynamite.

    Addiction to meth is a nightmare, sometimes producing visions that the user is demon-possessed. Abuse of the drug has three patterns: low intensity (does not involve psychological addiction), binge, and high intensity. The binge and high-intensity abusers try to achieve a faster and stronger high, and the binge cycle is made up of these stages: rush, high, binge, tweaking, crash, normal, and withdrawal.

Drug Courier Profile Indicators
Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)
Drug Watch International
Future Synthetic Drugs of Abuse
Higher Education Center for Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention
LAPD's Drug Recognition Expert Unit
Meth Labs
National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information (NCADI)

National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC)
National Drug Threat Assessment 2009 (DOJ)
RAND Drug Policy Research Center
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

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Last updated: Aug 15, 2010
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