- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

From his 12th-floor office, Asa Hutchinson has a commanding view of the Pentagon, that stoic symbol of U.S. military might attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11.
While the new head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was not in his office at the time of the assault, the events of that day left a lasting impression and further motivated a man who two months ago during his swearing-in ceremony said he hoped to bring to the DEA "a sense of urgency" that would relate to deeds accomplished.
"The terrible events of September 11 have reminded all of us here of the role we play in fighting the dangerous battles against drug traffickers," he said in an interview. "It is a supporting role, but one that will have increased importance.
"Terrorism and drug trafficking are entwined. One generates money, the other needs money, and both involve the extraordinary use of violence. They feed on each other," he said.
After a whirlwind tour to visit agents and field offices across the country and efforts to acquaint himself with those at the DEA's twin-tower headquarters in Arlington, Mr. Hutchinson has an unflinching loyalty to the agency's 4,000 agents scattered throughout the United States and in 56 foreign countries.
He is confident they are prepared to wage an aggressive law enforcement effort "to help the country through a new kind of battle it has never faced before."
To the former federal prosecutor and three-term Republican congressman actively involved in anti-drug legislation, law enforcement is key to his still-developing DEA strategy, although he said he "fully supports" President Bush's goal of a balanced approach of aggressive law enforcement, increased treatment and expanded educational programs.
He called the president's plan a "seamless, integrated approach to our drug enforcement efforts."
"The DEA is designed to enforce the law, and that's our mission and that's what we're going to do," he said. "But it also is important to focus on new approaches that include an emphasis on educating our youth for the best life choices and the rehabilitation of those who have become addicted to drugs."
Mr. Hutchinson said that while law enforcement efforts should be aimed at reducing both the flow of illicit drugs into the United States and their illegal use, a balanced approach involving treatment and education is a plan also endorsed by the DEA's street agents.
"They believe in it more than anyone," he said. "They know that law enforcement is critical since it is the door hinge on which treatment and education works. It is an arrest that most often triggers treatment. They work together and that is our approach."
Included in his law enforcement program will be increased efforts to deal with international terrorism. He said the DEA will continue to aggressively identify and build cases against drug-trafficking organizations that contribute to global terrorism and, that while the agency does not have a counterterrorism mission, it does have 400 agents in 56 countries who collect huge amounts of important intelligence data.
"We will limit the ability of drug traffickers to use their destructive goods as a community to fund malicious assaults on humanity and the rule of law," he said.
Secure in his congressional seat from Arkansas, Mr. Hutchinson, a vocal critic of President Clinton during impeachment, ran unopposed in the 2000 election. Hence, some have asked: Just why did he take the job?
"The position was not one that I sought, and it was not an easy decision to make," Mr. Hutchinson said. "But I am old-fashioned enough to believe that you say 'yes' when the president calls.
"I have seen the drug war from all sides as a member of Congress, as a federal prosecutor and as a parent and I know the importance of fighting this battle on all fronts. During my service in Congress, I have made the problem of drugs one of my highest priorities, including developing fair sentences for offenders, increasing funds for drug education, working with our South American neighbors, and providing local law enforcement with resources to clean up" methamphetamine labs, he said.
At DEA, Mr. Hutchinson has the final word on the agency's well-established mission and in bringing to the criminal and civil justice systems those individuals and organizations who grow, manufacture or distribute a variety of illicit drugs. He will direct an agency assigned the task of targeting and dismantling the most powerful drug syndicates in the world many of whom have become more powerful and violent than any other organized criminal group in U.S. history.
The DEA is the only single-mission federal agency dedicated to drug law enforcement.
It operates with a budget of $1.6 billion, an increase of $120.6 million over last year. There are 3,772 agents stationed throughout the United States and at 78 offices in 56 foreign countries.
Mr. Hutchinson, nominated in June by Mr. Bush to head the DEA and confirmed by the Senate in August, is a former U.S. attorney for the western district of Arkansas.
As a member of the House of Representatives, he had an established record as a hard-line drug warrior, taking to the floor of the House less than two months after his first election to Congress in 1996 to vigorously attack the Clinton administration for "retreating" from the drug war.
He also was a leading proponent of laws aimed at attacking the burgeoning methamphetamine business, which by 1999 had established a significant foothold in Arkansas with more than 500 illegal methamphetamine labs. He wrote the "Methamphetamine Antiproliferation Act," which provided additional resources essential in stopping the flow of the drug, and lobbied successfully to include Arkansas among 26 "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas," where drug manufacturing and sales flourish.

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