Washington — The battle against drugs sometimes seems a never-ending struggle. Cocaine and heroin continue to flow into the United States in large quantities, according to official statistics, and marijuana smuggling, though down, is still a huge business.
But the supply of drugs, insists FBI director William Webster, is not the whole story.
''It's true that drugs continue to come into the US in large quantites,'' he says, ''but the amounts seized have also been enormous. They've created problems of storage and handling of evidence.''
Though drug-supplying countries are still not faultless allies, Mr. Webster claims many of them are trying much harder to stop the controlled substances leaving their countries. ''Colombia is realizing it's good politics . . . to have a drug interdiction program,'' he says.
All in all, the picture is not quite so bleak as it seems, he claimed at a meeting with reporters.
''The most important aspect (of the fight against drugs) is how you deal with the distribution system,'' he says. And in this area, he says, the US is making good progress as it continues to eat away the power of organized crime.
Going after the Mafia and other ''criminal enterprises'' has become the FBI's top priority since Webster, a former federal judge, took over the agency in 1978 . The agency handled some 25,000 investigative matters dealing with organized crime this year. About a quarter of the agency's efforts in this area attack non-traditional groups, such as Asian gangs and today's rogue motorcycle groups; half the organized crime program fights more traditional organized crime groups. The rest of the effort is split among such miscellaneous problems as corrupt public officials and loan sharking.
Most recently, the bureau helped round up organized crime figures in the US identified by Tommaso Buscetta, an organized crime chieftain arrested in Italy who has turned informant.
''We've seen a revival in relations between the Sicilian Mafia and its US (counterpart),'' says Webster. ''They're sending young Sicilian nationals'' here to learn the drug-distribution business from the ground up.
The FBI has had notable successes against organized crime figures in recent years - Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia ''families'' have all had their ranks thinned considerably due to agency arrests. But Webster admits that putting people behind bars doesn't solve the whole problem.
A major challenge, he says, is to ''maintain initiative and make sure the vacuum is not filled by people of equal competence.''
Such an effort, he says, involves striking at the very core of the organized crime culture.
''We will create an environment where the mystique of the code of silence doesn't apply any more,'' he claims.
Already, says Webster, organized crime figures are far more unsure about where they can safely meet and who they can talk to.
Even so, the battle against crime enterprises is one in which progress is only discernible over a period of years, according to the FBI director.
Another of the FBI's priorities is fighting terrorism in the US. ''I would like to think'' this problem has been greatly eased in this country, he says.
When Webster first assumed the director's job six years ago, the US was averaging around 100 terrorist incidents a year. So far this year the FBI counts only eight such incidents - and in a year when the Olympics, two national political conventions, and a world's fair could have provided tempting terrorist targets.