Heckuva a Job, DEA

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

If you were wondering which poorly-named metaphor takes precedence when the government’s bumbling war on drugs butts up against its bumbling war on terrorism, here’s your answer.

American authorities sent David C. Headley, a small-time drug dealer and sometime informant, to work for them in Pakistan months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, despite a warning that he sympathized with radical Islamic groups, according to court records and interviews. Not long after Mr. Headley arrived there, he began training with terrorists, eventually playing a key role in the 2008 attacks that left 164 people dead in Mumbai.

The October 2001 warning was dismissed, the authorities said, as the ire of a jilted girlfriend and for lack of proof. Less than a month later, those concerns did not come up when a federal court in New York granted Mr. Headley an early release from probation so that he could be sent to work for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in Pakistan. It is unclear what Mr. Headley was supposed to do in Pakistan for the Americans.

“All I knew was the D.E.A. wanted him in Pakistan as fast as possible because they said they were close to making some big cases,” said Luis Caso, Mr. Headley’s former probation officer.

On Sunday, while President Obama was visiting India, he briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the status of his administration’s investigation of Mr. Headley, including the failure to act on repeated warnings that he might be a terrorist. A senior United States official said the inquiry has concluded that while the government received warnings, it did not have strong enough evidence at the time to act on them.

I’m sure Headley’s potential helpfulness to the DEA had nothing at all to do with how seriously the government took those tips that he was a possible terrorist. It’s not like the feds have ever sacrificed fighting terrorism for fighting drugs in the past.

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44 Responses to “Heckuva a Job, DEA”

  1. #1 |  JS | 

    Ok so he blew up a few people. Still if it prevents one kid from getting a buzz don’t you think it was worth it?

  2. #2 |  Aresen | 

    “A senior United States official said the inquiry has concluded that while the government received warnings, it did not have strong enough evidence at the time to act on them.”

    Let’s see:

    1) Fail to warn an ally about a potential terrorist attack because you don’t “have strong enough evidence.” Check.
    2) Invade a country because of bogus reports of WMD and falsified claims that that country was linked to 9/11. Check.

    Is there something I am missing here?

  3. #3 |  MassHole | 

    We are ruled by vicious morons.

  4. #4 |  JS | 

    Aresen it just doesn’t make sense to you because you don’t have the sublime wisdom of someone who works for the government. Otherwise it’d probably make sense.

  5. #5 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    You got it, Aresen. The evidence is strong enough when it supports what you want to do.

  6. #6 |  K9kevlar | 

    We are ruled by people with the best intention! What we need are better people ruling or lives. Just wait until the next election, then we will see real change.

  7. #7 |  Matt | 

    The violence means we’re winning!

  8. #8 |  Nick | 

    See Justin’s The Odyssey of David Coleman Headley.

  9. #9 |  Joe | 

    When I was in high school the slur in fashion was “narc.”

    Heads should roll at the CIA and DEA over this, but they won’t. There is no accoutability for any fuck ups.

    I suppose the Indians might have mentioned this little faux pas at the summit meeting with Obama? Did Gibbs have anything to say?

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    And I’m sure none of us are surprised that no one at the CIA is going to be charged for destroying video tapes of interrogations where torture was used.

  11. #11 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “Less than a month later, those concerns did not come up when a federal court in New York granted Mr. Headley an early release from probation so that he could be sent to work for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in Pakistan.”

    They gave me that plea option for my DUI. Damn, in retrospect, I shoulda taken it.

  12. #12 |  Joe | 

    The Islamic fascists we are fighting are vicious bastards. Make no mistake about that.

    But we need not sell our own souls in fighting them. And we need to be smart. I want us to live up to our own values and to be competent.

    And when someone screws up, I do not want a witch hunt, but I sure as hell want some accountability. Which is why the military tends to be better than the CIA, because there is at least some accountability in the former and none with the later.

  13. #13 |  Mattocracy | 

    This whole story makes me think of the Cohen Brothers film “Burn After Reading” In which the CIA nor anyone else has any real clue what the fuck is happening at any given time.

  14. #14 |  MassHole | 

    I disagree Joe. The military solved the Iraq torture issue by locking up the barely literate Lindsay England. Neither do I recall anyone being tossed for lying about Tilman, etc, etc.

    There is accountability for the disposable people only.

  15. #15 |  Professor Coldheart | 

    Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 100 to 200 killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

  16. #16 |  perlhaqr | 

    Much like the people in Mexico the DEA is willing to sacrifice, I’m sure they consider the dead in Mumbai simply part of the cost of eradicating the scourge of getting high.

  17. #17 |  JS | 

    Well look on the bright side, at least the republicans got elected. I’m sure they’ll start cutting all these government agencies and departments now just like they promised to.

  18. #18 |  Dante | 

    All in the same day:

    The story of the DEA (US Government) employing/aiding a known terrorist, who went on to kill innocent people.

    The story of the CIA (US Government) escaping prosecution for torture, and most likely escaping future prosecutions for murder.

    The story of a “Big Missile” fired off the California coast and the Pentagon (US Government) claims they have no idea what it was or who fired it. Riiiiiiiiight.

    Conclusion?
    US Government = Terrorists.

  19. #19 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Headley was sent to Pakistan by the US to carry out the Mumbai action. Why else? Anyone here believes a word out of the government?

  20. #20 |  Joe | 

    Masshole. It is a matter of degree in the military vs. the CIA. But there is at least some transparency (although it is fair to say things can be pretty opaque) in the military and some debate on the merits of things (think General Miller vs. General Petraeus). But General Karpinski was demoted and relieved of duty. Lindsay Englund deserved what she got. You can argue they did not go far enough (fair enough), but at least there was a change of policy with Petraeus leading the way.

    Personally, I am not for overly questioning battle field decisions unless clearly illegal (i.e., My Lai). It is a dangerous environment where you have to decide in split seconds whether to act or not. It’s war. The U.S. Military attempts to avoid innocents being killed, but I would rather our troops be safe if there is a question of doubt.

    But once a combatant is captured and in custody, they do not get beaten or abused. Just detained. Interrogation for battlefield detainees is fine, but do it humanely. It can be done humanely and effectively without violating the Geneva Conventions.

    The CIA remains black. None one is ever accoutable. And have you noticed, that does not change regardless of which party is in power. Why is that?

  21. #21 |  MassHole | 

    “But once a combatant is captured and in custody, they do not get beaten or abused.”

    With all due respect Joe, I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.

  22. #22 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Dave @ 10,
    Of course not! They passed a law protecting them or something.

    Joe, the above is why you can’t trust it to be “clearly illegal”. Just who makes the laws AND enforces them? Fox, guard the hen house. And what MassHole says @ 21.

    The safest place for the troops is at a US base.

  23. #23 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Speaking of terrorists, am I the only one who got pist at this:

    Netanyahu was in New Orleans to speak Monday to the general assembly of the Jewish Federation of North America, which is meeting for three days.

    In a speech that drew enthusiastic applause from the assembly, Biden repeatedly stressed that the Obama administration backs Israel.

    He said the Obama White House “represents an unbroken chain in American leaders who have understood this critical strategic relationship” between the two countries.

    “We will not yield a single inch,” he said.

    The vice president said the Mideast’s genuine threats come from Iran and he pledged to defend Israel from that country.

    He said any effort seeking to take away Israel’s right to existence would be met with “unshakable resistance from the United States.”

    So, my question is “Why?” It would be difficult to adopt a US foreign policy more beligerent to Muslims if we tried. Why MUST the US commit lives and money to protect another country. Yes, I’m biased because I have this crazy idea that Israel was born from ham-handed policy. In other words “a real bad idea from the beginning.”

    In the end, every US President, administration, and most of Congress has been pretty generous offering up my life and my money for a piece of desert on the other side of the world.

    Make no mistake, the US will escalate the situation with Iran.

  24. #24 |  Marty | 

    this whole article just killed my buzz. especially your post, Boyd!

  25. #25 |  Joe | 

    “But once a combatant is captured and in custody, they do not get beaten or abused.”

    Masshole, I have not stated that as a fact, but as a policy. Unfortunately I have paid attention and seen we have fallen well short of that in the past. But I note General Petraeus has promoted that policy and I believe he is doing so in good faith.

  26. #26 |  Matt | 

    I’m also puzzled at how U.S. leaders practically fall over themselves trying to prove they have dual loyalty to a foreign power. Here’s an idea, sic the IRS on Israel – why aren’t we collecting tax revenue from them, if we are responsible for their national defense.

    @ Cynical: Huh? You think the US plotted the Mumbai massacre?

  27. #27 |  Joe | 

    Boyd, we are not going to disengage completely in Iraq or Afghanistan anytime soon. And if we just pulled back to bases I doubt things would get better, but worse. But I defenitely do not want to see wild escallation anywhere and would prefer to see military, discretionary domestic spending, government payrolls, and entitlement spending reduced across the board. I also want to see al Qaeda remain on the defensive.

    As for Iran–maybe Obama is lookng for a game changer? I do not see it happening, but who knows. The opportunity for such an attack seems long gone for Israel. Hell, we could not even get sanctions to stick with the Germans, let alone the Russians. We should be quietly assisting forces of democracy in Iran to take on the Mullah oligarchy.

  28. #28 |  albatross | 

    So, in the last few years, we’ve seen terrorist attacks from Bruce Ivins (allegedly–his well-timed death ended the investigation), Nidal Malik Hasan (if you call mass-shootings terrorist attacks), and David Headley–all people who were in some sense trusted by our government.

    I’m not sure exactly what that tells us, but it’s probably not a good sign w.r.t. our government’s handling of personnel.

  29. #29 |  Aresen | 

    Joe:

    Disagree on the “quietly assisting forces of democracy in Iran”.

    Not because I think the Mullahs don’t deserve a kick in the madrassah, but because if any link between the US and the Iranian democratic movement were ever discovered, it would be a kiss of death for the latter.

  30. #30 |  Joe | 

    Aresen, I agree with your caution–hence the “quietly.” But the truth is the Mullahs need to be reigned in, pro democracy forces are hardly being embraced by the Mullahs in power, and the Russians, Chinese and Europeans like the current oligarchy because they can benefit from it financially. The Arabs countries around the Gulf hate the Mullahs, but they don’ t exactly have any warm and fuzzy feelings for Persian people in general. I am not saying it is going to be easy, but doing nothing is a decision too.

  31. #31 |  Meister574 | 

    @Professor Coldheart

    Nice Dr. Strangelove reference.

  32. #32 |  Aaron | 

    The Islamic fascists

    Isn’t “Islamic totalitarians” good enough. “Fascist” is far too specific. They don’t, for instance, generally believe in corporatism, a merger of state and corporate power. (No, religious bodies aren’t corporations in the relevant sense.) They’re evil and nasty, but that’s not synonymous with “fascist”.

  33. #33 |  Contracts | 

    Mr. Balko,

    All due respect, but the article specifically states, “Warnings about his radicalism were apparently not shared with the drug agency that made use of his ties in Pakistan.” Whether this “drug agency” was the DEA or a Pakistani group is, I suppose, open to interpretation, but the article shows that the DEA, FBI, and CIA were all involved and that the FBI investigated the radicalism concerns at least once. And if the “drug agency” was the DEA, then the article actually exonerates them from the most serious accusations.

    So I would submit that your thesis (drug warriors win over counterterrorism) is not entirely supported by the article. Certainly, it’s a monumental screwup, and I’m not suggesting that his aid to the DEA didn’t play a part in getting him sent to Pakistan, but singling DEA out seems to be premature at this point. Someone in CIA, FBI, or DEA is to blame, but even the NYT reporters seem unable to pin down the correct agency.

  34. #34 |  Joe | 

    #32 | Aaron | November 9th, 2010 at 11:18 pm
    The Islamic fascists

    Isn’t “Islamic totalitarians” good enough. “Fascist” is far too specific. They don’t, for instance, generally believe in corporatism, a merger of state and corporate power. (No, religious bodies aren’t corporations in the relevant sense.) They’re evil and nasty, but that’s not synonymous with “fascist”.

    +0

    We can quibble, but what al Qaeda desires is both totalitarian and fascist. I agree evil and nasty does not, in itself, equate to fascism. But the vision of Islam that al Qaeda envisions, comingling state, business and military power into an all powerful caliphate, is not all that much different than other fascist movements. Instead of traditional nationalism, the focus is on Islam as a unifying force and the Ummah as the people.

    But whether you call it fascism or totalitarianism, in the end, just like communism and other collective movements, the individual is completely crushed and the system takes priority over all.

  35. #35 |  Marty | 

    anslinger, nixon, and meese are all smiling up from their little suite in hell…

  36. #36 |  Ante Uppasta | 

    I’m sure the thinking here was that as long it doesn’t happen in America, who cares how many terrorist we deport. Anti-Middle Eastern sentiments are getting pretty nuts these days, especially in Oklahoma: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/11/01/oklahoma-may-ban-sharia-because-it%e2%80%99s-totally-about-to-take-over-or-something/

    Is everyone else also getting as sick of all this as I am?

  37. #37 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    anslinger, nixon, and meese are all smiling up from their little suite in hell…

    Meese hasn’t finished making us miserable here on earth yet.

  38. #38 |  Marty | 

    ‘Meese hasn’t finished making us miserable here on earth yet.’

    oops!

  39. #39 |  Nemo | 

    It’s really funny when you think about it. The CIA has been implicated in the drug trade almost from its’ inception: see The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade while the DEA has been used as its’ cat’s-paw literally from its’ inception. The left hand deals the drugs, and the right hand is supposed to…what? Actually stop them from dealing drugs? /snickering

    So, this convicted drug dealer gets sent into the heart of the largest heroin producing nexus on the planet, to do…what? Blow up Hindus? Something seriously wrong with this picture…

  40. #40 |  Nemo | 

    Oh, and whatever happened with that House of Death business? Yessir, DEA, heckuva job, indeed!

  41. #41 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Matt #26,

    Here’s an idea, sic the IRS on Israel – why aren’t we collecting tax revenue from them,

    I agree, Matt. Make Israel the 51st state. Not that the US Gov or Israel would prefer this. They both have a pretty sweet deal right now.

    Joe wrote:

    And if we just pulled back to bases I doubt things would get better, but worse.

    Joe, when you use terms like “better” and “worse” I suspect they mean something completely different to me than to you…or to the people in those areas.

    We should be doing nothing in Iran. Iran has a sizable revolution going on and it is their battle to win. The absolute last country in the world that should be involved in Iran is the USA.

    I am not going to sit here and promote “Democracy” and “Freedom” as mandatory goals for every people on the planet. When it means enough to them, they will fight for it.

  42. #42 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Nemo @ 39,
    What does DiCaprio have to do with this?

  43. #43 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #26 | Matt — “@ Cynical: Huh? You think the US plotted the Mumbai massacre?”

    It’s more of a default position Matt. Until it’s proved otherwise, I believe every black op is planned and executed by the US.

  44. #44 |  Dante | 

    Boyd @ 23:

    “Make no mistake, the US will escalate the situation with Iran.”

    I agree. I may be an ignorant, uneducated simpleton, but even I can see that our political “leaders” (both parties) use war as a tool for their own re-election campaigns. They (politicians) have become the exact thing they sanctimoneously swear to protect us from.

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