Administrator Karen Tandy Speech
August 25, 2003
“National Narcotics Officer Coalition”

Good afternoon. It’s great to be here with you, my long-standing friends for the 26 years that I’ve been a part of law enforcement. Thank you for such a kind introduction.

Your support and, more importantly, your partnership over time has been a critical part of our collective law enforcement efforts. It was something that I relied on when going through the confirmation process. Ron and I decided we would always be on the same page – something that is critical in law enforcement.

There aren’t going to be dramatic changes in the Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA is going to be doing what it has always done well. It is going to restore some of the things that it lost over the years. And the DEA is going to be the DEA that you’ve trusted, that you’ve worked with, that you’ve partnered with and that you’ve shared the joys and family heartaches with.

DEA agents and support staff have had a lot of changes to deal with – I am the fourth Administrator this year. And now, with two women at the top of the agency, you can appreciate the change we are experiencing together. I look forward to the challenges that we will face together in the future.

This past Friday, I got my very own badge and I have to tell you, it is a thrill to be truly adopted into the law enforcement family. They won’t let me carry a gun yet, but perhaps one day I will get to do that as well.

We are a small agency. I don’t have to tell you that many police departments and State Trooper organizations vastly eclipse the size of DEA. We have a little over 4,800 Agents, covering 72 offices and 58 foreign countries, as well as offices all across the United States. We’re spread pretty thin as our numbers indicate. Our total number of employees is 10,000, including the 4,800 Agents.

One thing that I have known from my years as a prosecutor and from working with you is that DEA is never there without you. I can’t remember a case where I have been involved with DEA that hasn’t also included the local law enforcement officers, the detectives, the sheriff’s department, and state troopers. It’s not possible for DEA to function without you and I’m not just up here blowing smoke your way. I want you to know that as the new Administrator, this is a critical aspect of my vision for DEA. Our partnership with you is real, and sustained. We work hard to build and maintain these partnerships. If someone had told me two years ago that DEA would be in Task Force Groups with whole FBI squads, I would have told them they were crazy.

We have incredible opportunities to expand our partnerships in very real ways beyond our 30 years thus far. I was recently in Mexico, where I saw similarly incredible changes. I went there to let them know how important working together is to law enforcement. I saw a videotape of a shoot out in Nuevo Laredo. I then wanted to go to Nuevo Laredo but my schedule would not allow it. When I looked at that video, I thought to myself how it easily could have been a scene out of the Middle East, with some obvious differences.

Mexico has changed for us; we could not be in a better place or in a better time as partners together. We can really have an impact on those drug organizations that are feeding not just this area in Chicago, but the entire country of Mexico. If you stop and think for a second, who would have ever thought that Benjamin Arellano-Felix would be sitting in jail praying to St. Jude, the patriot saint of lost causes? Who would have ever thought that they would actually pick up other vicious thugs like Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, who led the Gulf Coast Cartel?

Armando Valencia is another who was apprehended recently leaving Mexico with tons of cocaine and marijuana. Thanks to the Fox administration, our relationship and cooperative efforts with Mexico have never been better. They have weeded out the corruption in their judicial system and started over. This is our best opportunity to succeed with Mexico in breaking up the drug cartels of central and South America. Mexico is seeing great success, as evidenced by the recent arrests of these drug lords. This illustrates a great difference from past experiences.

We also have an obligation to work internationally to ensure that we take out the domestic piece of the drug organizations. For DEA, it’s something that we’ve been doing and it’s something that you’ve been doing. But I have asked DEA to redouble its efforts against these organizations – to redouble in a way that means if they are handing off to other agencies or nations, let’s be happy to cheer with them. There are some divisions where that does not come naturally. Well, that’s history. We are going to change our inspections process, and our promotions and performance ratings, in order to ensure that you get credit and attention and promotions based on your performance in handing off, and really sharing information.

We are all about the money now. I know this may be surprising to you, but DEA stepped down from the money, for all intents and purposes, in a big way, about eight years or so ago. We lost the expertise that we had at that time. We didn’t lose the jurisdiction though. Others stepped in to fill that vacuum for us. DEA is going to work like a dog to recapture its expertise on the money side and to follow the money. I explicitly said, “do not follow the assets, please don’t follow the assets, follow the movement of the money,” because if we do that the assets are going to come, and they are going to come three-fold over what you’ve seen already. Following the money is what’s really going to dismantle these organizations. And I go around talking about this and sometimes I assume that people already know how much money is moving out there.

Whether you are in New Jersey, whether you are in California, no matter where you are, it’s billions of dollars. It’s upper sixty plus billions of dollars and on our best years with all of our efforts; all federal, all state, all local, together we are only taking out 1% of that. We have so much work to do there, and the benefits this country will reap from us focusing our efforts on the money, and what it will do to our enforcement against the organizations, it is going to be untold. I look at drugs in America and sometimes we get so focused on our individual cases we lose sight of drugs and the face of drugs in America.

I look at the treatment out there. You’ve got over six million people who need treatment, but three out of four of them don’t think they need it and three out of four are employed. They’re working, and they’re drugged and working in our market place and our communities and among us. That is a critical obstacle for us, for this country. I look at the billion of dollars that we spent because of drugs, $400 billion a year, because of drugs. Any way you measure it, 16,000 to 19,000 people will die from drugs, and we have the national security of this country on our backs, on our shoulders, and in the palm of our hands. This country is counting on you.

All too often, the people you hear from are the legalizers. All too often, the people you hear from are the complainers. In DEA, I told the SACs that I want them to put up in front of their offices, in every office in DEA, the photo array of the 71 heroes who sacrificed their lives for this country and for DEA. There are 71 there, actually about to be a 72nd who died in the Chicago Division hanging a pole camera. The people on that Wall of Honor are agents and support employees, analysts, and diversion investigators, they are our entire walk of life, and how we do this job. And among those 71, and about to be 72, are 12 Task Force Officers.

These photos are going to be on the wall in every office because I want every DEA employee, when they walk through the door every morning, to be reminded about the heroes in this country, about the sacrifices that you’ve made and the people that you’ve worked with. And I’m sure that at every single table here you have your own partners, your own colleagues, and the people you have worked with, who have died for this country and died for the cause of drug enforcement. I want you to know it is critical to me that we honor the memories of these people and that our efforts in drug enforcement are carrying that baton for them. And that we never forget what they’ve given up for us.

I’m calling survivor members now, people and families of fallen heroes. I’m making a call when I leave here today to the surviving family of Special Agent Cash who died in Sierra Vista in 1987 while transporting prisoners, something that you can all relate to. In a couple of days, I’ll be calling the surviving members of those who were lost in Snow Cap, in the downed plane in Peru. I’m doing this every month of every year to remind these people how important they are to us. What we’ve lost is America reminding you how important you are to our national security, and I want to be the one standing up here telling you how critical you are, how important you are, to me and to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and how our success depends entirely on all of us fighting the good fight together.

I look at that good fight and I think about what we’re up against. I look at surveillance photos and tapes from your operations where school bus drivers are pulling up, parking their school bus on the side of the road, and going and buying drugs and getting back on the school bus. There are mothers that have children in car seats, infants in car seats in the back of their car, and they too are going to drug points and buying heroin, and can’t wait to get home to shoot up or to shoot up in the car with their children.

I am quite taken by the vicious levels to which drug traffickers descend. I look at treatment centers and see that traffickers are standing outside treatment centers as a ready source to distribute drugs. They got someone in the treatment center to let them drive those patients to the treatment center. It was a trafficker. So he was in the car driving the patients for treatment and selling them drugs because of that corrupted access.

We have tremendous obstacles in this country. And I think the last example I will give is our children. I am painfully aware that it is not just our children who are at risk, it’s our children and America’s children. I’m sure in this room some of you have children in your family, or in your extended family, who are dealing with the tragedy of drug dependency. We have them in DEA. We have them among our colleagues everywhere.

I was quite taken with a story out of Colorado. There was a hidden enforcement effort. They went into a house where a mom and pop meth lab had been set up. It was set up on a night stand of a four-year-old. And that four-year-old lived with that meth lab on her night stand so long that she no longer drew pictures of rainbows, and starbursts, and sunshine. She drew pictures of tubing and traditional accoutrements of a meth lab.

We’re going to build a partnership; we’re going to really engage in new information sharing and it’s going to come back to you. Right now we’re putting together a fusion center that will do, for the first time, real cross-analysis of multi-agency counter-narcotic information you don’t currently have. The House of Representatives has already put up the money to make this happen and the Senate will soon follow after Labor Day. This fusion center will represent an incredible opportunity for all of us to know where our connections are, and not just by relying on your agency and your department information, but NDIC with its docket mission and field specialist reports are going to feed into this fusion center.

DEA is putting everything in this fusion center and I mean everything. There will be no holes in it. The FBI has been very fulsome in its commitment to feed into this fusion center. When I was on the Hill during my confirmation process, the eyes started rolling when I talked to them about the center. They said, “Yea, right. I’m sure the FBI is going to put in. I will believe it when I see it.” I am no Pollyanna, and I’ve been around. I know the turf battles and I know the tendency to closely protect and guard our information for whatever value that gives us. The FBI is going to play and they are going to play in a big way, they’re committed to do it and I believe them.

Customs is not in the tent yet; FINCEN is going to be folding in its money information and the IRS is going to be putting its information in. We are going to have broad base participation that even includes drug ledgers, and forensic analysis of drug ledgers that are done for single cases and then dropped on the floor. All of that is going to go into a warehouse where there will be defense department technology to do cross analysis. This information will then be fed back out to you through the Special Operations Division and to you in the task forces and the HIDTAs so we make sure that we are all benefiting from the same information.

The money piece, I can’t stress enough. It is key – the real key to our success, and it has to be, for all of us. It can’t be just those assets of opportunities. Take your pick whether it was Ronald Reagan or Harry Truman, both of them said, “It’s amazing what America can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” I am all about focusing on the mission and not the credit and you need to know that that is my message to DEA. The credit will come. It is the mission and all of us together fighting the same battle that’s going to make a difference for us. It is really through your heroic efforts that America is going to stay safe. Already we are at a nine-year low in middle-school student drug use. I don’t know if you are aware that we have accomplished a decline in drug use, we are on track for the President’s goal of reducing it by 10% this upcoming spring. This nine-year low in student drug use is phenomenal and a great testament to you.

I will close by talking about my favorite people, and they would be the drug legalizers. These people who do not love freedom in America clearly are not focused on our children and our future. Bill Bennett said that medical drugs are code word for legalizers, and he got it right. They are funded in the millions of dollars and I don’t have to tell you that. Somehow we in law enforcement lost sight, lost our voice in combating these leaglizers and we are beaten up constantly because they want to portray us as jack-booted thugs who are focused on attacking and targeting the sick and dying. It just couldn’t be further from the truth, and we as an enforcement body and as a coalition must speak out and unmask the lies that these legalizers have promoted. ONDCP has done a beautiful job of marshalling together the argument against the legalizers. If you don’t have it please get it. What America does not know is that this is not about medicine. Marijuana already exists in medicine: It’s called “Marinol,” and it is prescribed. This is about smoking marijuana; this is not about what they would have you believe doctors wanting to prescribe marijuana for pain relief.

The America Medical Association had the chance to endorse marijuana as a legitimate drug and they rejected it. This is not about legitimate pain relief. If you look at the clinical trials you’ll see that marijuana, smoked marijuana, did not do any better than prescribed traditional pain relief. There is not a single legitimate drug that is smoked in this country and it is up to us to uncover and unmasked those lies.

I can tell you when I’m out there, I experience what you must feel all the time when you go to a party with non-enforcement people and they hear what you do for a living. What do they want to talk to you about? Medical marijuana. I get it all the time and when I tell people there is a pill they’re shocked. I tell people this is not about marijuana; it’s just about legalizers wanting to make it legal to smoke. You can see it awaken them and really get them. Now you’ll need to be out there saying this with me. What really gets them is when I tell them what I hear from the lips of John Walters and others and that is what you already know. In this country, we are dependent on marijuana more than any other drug, including alcohol. On the roads, 46% of the reckless drivers on the road with your family, on the road with your children, are marijuana impaired; that is 46% of those who are not alcohol impaired. That’s a pretty staggering figure and it’s really up to us collectively to get that word out and turn around those people in this country. That makes your job exceedingly difficult.

I am so grateful to you for the opportunity to share where we are at DEA; my vision has been called Back to the Future. It’s tried and true. You are not going to see any gimmicks or media-grabbing attention getters. We are going to get back to the core and the basics and I’m so grateful to you for being a partner for the 30 years of DEA and for many years to come. Lastly I want to pay tribute to you as our real American heroes and to those of your colleagues and staff who have died and made that ultimate sacrifice for our country. Thank you so much.


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