Monitor Breakfast: Asa Hutchinson

Selected quotations from a Monitor breakfast with DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson.

On what DEA contributes to the war on terrorism:

"What the DEA contributes that is underground, that is behind the scenes is our intelligence. ... With offices in 56 countries, we have 400 DEA agents overseas - about 10 percent of our force. If you are looking into what is happening in the bad world... in terms of human intelligence you are going to find it in that seedy hotel or bar..."

On changing drug laws:

"Here in the United States it is fair to debate our drug policies but we need to debate them within the context of what we have learned from history and it is moving in the wrong direction to decriminalize or take drug offenses out of the criminal context. Within the criminal context, let's debate them, but those should be the parameters."

On how to handle marijuana:

"Our legislators have to set the parameters for how we handle harmful products. And they have set parameters for alcohol and parameters for tobacco and they have set a different set of parameters for the more harmful drugs that are out there from marijuana to heroin... We are an enforcement agency. We take the laws and move on them.

"I think it is erroneous to argue that because we have regulated two harmful products in alcohol and tobacco, that we ought to adopt the same regime for other harmful products. I don't think that is necessarily required. These are lines we have drawn and they are acceptable lines. I don't think we should move the line to include more harmful products. If you like what Phillip Morris has done with tobacco, what would they do with marijuana cigarettes in the marketing strategy?"

On reducing drug use:

"I call it demand reduction which includes prevention, education but it also includes treatment... I want to put more resources into the demand reduction side, as well as tie it to our law enforcement efforts so we can have a better and more long-lasting impact in the community. I also want to leverage those resources against a community commitment. It is not just a federal problem and I want to be able to see greater community commitment whenever we recognize a serious drug problem.

"So after we finish an enforcement effort, we will send our resources in there be on the ground helping to build the community coalitions, greater treatment, working with the school counselors, working with the drug courts, I am a strong advocate of (drug courts). Seeing if there can be a longer lasting impact, not just taking the criminal organization out."

On law enforcement priorities since Sept. 11:

"Clearly we have mentioned Customs; the Coast Guard as well has moved some of its Caribbean assets. (The Coast Guard has indicated) that between 65-70 percent of their assets were moved into port security. That has an impact. I don't want Miami and the Caribbean to go back to the way it they were.... I have been really grateful for (support from European counterparts). They had assets in the Caribbean and will help coordinate with us to make up the difference. So I think we are holding our own. But long term we really can't give a window of opportunity to the traffickers. It is a battle of resources."

On the impact of changing assignments for FBI agents:

"I am not saying it has an impact in terms of the net result. Certainly they have - if you are looking at Florida, they have the terrorism investigation in Boca Raton, all the leads they had to follow in Boston and Detroit and so on, the agents that were working with us on some drug cases. They have had to pull off and do other duty. We have picked up the slack and we will continue to do so to make sure we don't go backwards on this effort."

On his assessment of the overall war on drugs:

"... We are holding our own. If you look at it historically from the mid 80s, we reduced cocaine use 75 percent. Overall drug use has reduced by 1/4th. But we plateaued out about 1992. We made the enormous progress between the mid 80s and 1992. Since 92, it has been fairly level. So we have to figure out how to get over that plateau. We have got to figure out how to get over that plateau and move those statistics on a downward trend again. In the last few years you see a few upticks, in heroin, for example, and we are very concerned about methamphetamines being on the upswing. But overall drug use has been fairly level.

"In the teens, you can point to some ages that have gone up, some have gone down a little bit. So we are holding our own but we have got to move beyond the plateau we have been on since 1992."

On why drug use has plateaued:

"It is lack of consistency. If you look the '92-93 timeframe, assets were moved out of the Caribbean, interdiction efforts were reduced, the drug czar's office was reduced, DEA agents were cut back, some of the national messages were inconsistent and mixed. All of that combined had an impact and we lost our momentum.... Consistency is the key to anti-drug efforts.... It is a long battle on terrorism; it is a long battle on drugs."

On how Osama bin Laden uses drug money:

"Bin Laden has many sources of revenue.... I wouldn't want to make the case that he is dependent on drug proceeds to fuel his terrorism. But whenever you look at the terrorist training camps and the drug trade/drug organizations carrying out their activities in the same geographic region in Afghanistan, you have a combustible combination there. You have got these drug organizations which make huge amounts of money and you have got the terrorists that need money. And when they are both operating illegally in the same region, there is going to be a symbiotic relationship between the two. And I think that's what you see and you shouldn't ignore that probability. The intelligence is a little bit more minimal in that regard in reference to bin Laden, than it is with the Taliban which is very clear."

On whether the Taliban would stay in power without drug money:

"They would be severely limited in what they were capable of doing. As to whether they would maintain their power, I don't know. But they would be much more limited, severely limited in their abilities because they draw a significant amount of revenue from it."

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