- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson has ordered a top-to-bottom review of the DEA as part of a post-September 11 reorganization aimed at giving field offices additional manpower and resources to battle domestic and international drug smuggling.

Mr. Hutchinson, during an hourlong meeting with reporters at DEA headquarters, said the agency's renewed anti-drug effort was aimed at attacking narcotics smugglers in the country and overseas whose illicit profits are used to fund terrorism.

"We are struggling with how to register with the American psyche as a reality that drugs do support terrorism," Mr. Hutchinson said, adding that he hopes to create "mobile groups of agents" to combat border smuggling and to reassign 10 percent of the agents at headquarters in Washington to field offices nationwide.

"They can be more effective in the field, and that's where they want to be," he said.

The proposed DEA review and reassignments are in response to a reorganization plan announced earlier this month by the FBI, which is transferring 400 bureau agents with drug-investigation assignments to counterterrorism cases.

Mr. Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor and Arkansas congressman, told reporters that the reassignment of DEA headquarters personnel was a "starting point" in an overall plan to streamline the agency, which is committed to reducing illicit drug use in the country by 10 percent this year.

"Our first responsibility is not to just throw more money at the problem but to look at our allocation of resources something that hasn't been done in 20 years," he said. "Things have changed over the past 20 years and we may not have adequately adjusted our resources."

During the press briefing, Mr. Hutchinson also said:

•The DEA has assigned 17 agents to Afghanistan to address an ongoing drug threat there. Afghanistan, in recent years, has been a major source country for the cultivation, processing and trafficking of opiate and cannabis products.

He said Afghanistan produced more than 70 percent of the world's supply of illicit opium in 2000, but the newly elected Afghan government, under Hamid Karzai, had been "extraordinarily helpful" in efforts to reduce drug production. He noted, however, that there was "a difference in making decrees and having the law enforcement structure to enforce them."

•Seizures of drugs coming into the United States from Mexico had gone up since the September 11 attacks, a result he attributed to increased border enforcement efforts. He said transportation costs for the smugglers are mounting, and risk had increased. Also, the price of the products had risen.

Mr. Hutchinson noted, however, that while the DEA had not documented any increase in production, it could not say the production had decreased.

The DEA review will seek to strengthen efforts along the U.S.-Mexican border, where many of the agents at DEA headquarters are expected to be reassigned as members of a border enforcement team. The DEA boss said he expects the team to be "mobile" to address Southwest border threats.

Mr. Hutchinson, noting that the DEA is the only single-mission agency in the country dedicated to fighting drugs, said the nation "needs the full attention, expertise and focus of the FBI on preventing terrorism against United States citizens," describing it as "the right priority" for the bureau.


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