US drug agents want paraquat used to kill Colombian marijuana crops

The fight against drug smuggling into the United States is not going well, in spite of some recent, dramatic "busts." Supply lines for bringing marijuana, cocaine, and heroin into the US from overseas remain largely intact, according to top federal law-enforcement officials. They say the greatest needs now are for more agents, more equipment, and tougher laws against drug smuggling.

And they want to start spraying marijuana fields in Colombia -- the main supplier of that narcotic to the US market -- with the controversial herbicide paraquat.

Paraquat spraying in Mexico several years ago, funded by Washington, ended that nation's role as No. 1 supplier to the US. But the funding was halted because of concern about health hazards to American marijuana users.

The Reagan administration's new budget restores money for the Drug Enforcement Administration that had been cut by the Carter administration, according to DEA administrator Peter Bensinger.

But Mr. Bensinger said in a telephone interview that he now puts his most of his hope in revisions of federal laws that would permit --marijuana fields in Colombia, provide a tougher bail policy regarding drug smugglers, and permit US Navy assistance in spotting smugglers.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director William Webster says smugglers are "overwhelming" enforcement efforts. HE speaks of greater FBI involvement in cracking down on them.

Lee Dogoloff, who was White House drug policy coordinator under President Carter, also endorses US resumption of paraquat spraying. Both he and Bensinger say the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has not found a single case of harmful health effects due to paraquat-sprayed marijuana. But John Liddle, chief of toxicology at the CDC, told the Monitor: "I cannot say it [paraquat] is not harmful."

A US House subcommittee recently prepared legislation to repeal the amendment that blocked US funding of paraquat spraying.

Meanwhile, federal agents are pleased with their two most recent major attacks against the vast network of drug smuggling, of which Florida is the main conduit:

1. In late February, federal agents entered two Miami banks unannounced and confiscated records which they hope will provide evidence that smugglers have deposited millions of dollars in illicit drug funds at those banks. On the previous day, agents arrested Colombian Issac Kattan, whom Atlee Wampler III, US attorney in Miami, describes as "the biggest money launderer for major [South American] narcotic organizations."

The bank records seizures were part of "Operation Greenback," aimed at disrupting the flourishing drug trade by tracking its enormous profits.

2. In March, federal grand juries in Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia indicted 155 people on drug smuggling charges. Some 135 have been arrested. This was the result of "Operation Grouper," a 22-month undercover operation by nine federal agents

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