Friday, January 29, 2010

Questions surround nominee to head DEA, Michele Leonhart

The Obama Administration is nominating Michele Leonhart to be the next Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the U.S. Justice Department. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee must not rubberstamp this nomination! The Obama Administration does not have a record of adequate vetting its nominations. As explained below, Leonhart's career is linked to the career of perjury by the DEA's singular informant, Andrew Chambers, who is estimated to have taken home $ 4 million in payout for his undercover work!

Leonhart has been with DEA about 30 years. DEA's publicists have planted a laudatory story in her old hometown paper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

However, back in 2003 DrugWarRant painted a very disturbing portrait of her career to that point, relying upon a 5000 word investigative report by Michael D. Sorkin And Phyllis Brasch Librach in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published January 16, 2000, republished here, into the widespread use by DEA agents of a super-informant named Andrew Chambers who, many courts and prosecutors, found committed perjury throughout his career. DEA regulations require that reports of informant misconduct be included in files on informants, but such records were never kept, and prosecutors were misled about Chambers's record for arrests and convictions. The chronology of the the careers of informant Chambers and agent Leonhart were closely entwined in St. Louis and Los Angeles. It stretches imagination that Leonhart, the supervisory DEA agent, was not closely following the activities of the DEA's single most valuable informant, ever! Is it mere coincidence that they both moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles at about the same time?

Leonhart's impassioned defense of Chambers is quite strikingly the conclusion of the Post-Dispatch story about Chambers $4 million estimated payout for his informant career. It follows the dramatic, pathetic transcript of an argument in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit at which Chambers's perjury is being conceded by a Federal prosecutor, and at which the prosecutor suggests that no one in the Department of Justice has the power to stop similar miscarriages of justice by informant perjury:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Wolfe was having a rough day. He was trying to explain to a panel of judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif., why the government had failed to tell the defense in a murder-for-hire case about Chambers' arrests and convictions.

Once again, as he had been hundreds of times before, Chambers was the paid informant. Once again, the government had depended upon his information, this time to convince a judge to issue an order for a wiretap.

Wolfe never told the trial judge about Chambers' background because, the prosecutor said, he hadn't known about it.

Addressing the appellate judges on Dec. 6, Wolfe sounded more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor. He began, . . . "What's not at issue is that the failure to disclose Chambers' background was a shameful dereliction of government duty. . . ."

Appellate Judge Alex Kozinski asked whether the wiretap would have been issued, "if the CI (confidential informant) is made out to be a total liar, as he has, and as you say he should have been."

Wolfe said it was clear that the drug agents never put any damaging reports into Chambers' file -- even though DEA regulations require it.

Kozinski: "So maybe we should just vacate the conviction here, just to give them a sense to do better the next time."

Wolfe: ". . . I'm not here to defend for a moment the past carelessness and recklessness and probably deliberate failure to put the bad news about Andrew Chambers into the informant file. . . .
". . . I'm not defending him. He's undefendable."
The judges asked how such abuses could be prevented in the future. Could they depend upon the head of the Justice Department's criminal division?
Wolfe: "No, I don't imagine. . . ."
Maybe the deputy attorney general then?
Wolfe: "I don't imagine that even she is."
Well, then, what about the attorney general herself?
Wolfe: "I don't imagine that Attorney General (Janet) Reno is capable of guaranteeing no repetition. . . ."
Soon after the hearing, lawyers at Justice agreed, belatedly, to open up all the damaging information the government has collected about Chambers.

Is it time to stop using Chambers?
"That would be a sad day for DEA," said Leonhart, the head of DEA's Los Angeles office. "And a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world. . . . He's one in a million.
"In my career, I'll probably never come across another Andrew.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will consider her nomination.
They must inquire into whether Leonhart knew about Chambers perjury and tolerated it. They must inquire into whether Leonhart's street reputation was that she, or the agents who reported to her, tolerated perjury by witnesses.

Under federal law, the longest sentences that are routinely imposed in criminal cases are for drug offenses. The consequences of perjury in drug cases are devastating to the accused. Half of the prisoners in the Federal prison system are there serving sentences for drug offenses, and informants affidavits and testimony are the key to the investigation and prosecution of those individuals.

The Senate must not signal to DEA agents, and its witnesses around the nation, that it tolerates perjury by not thoroughly investigation this nominee.

The Obama Administration, unfortunately, cannot be assumed to have carefully vetted this nomination any more carefully than it did for higher profile nominations in 2009 in which failures to pay taxes, for example, were undiscovered.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Is the CIA smuggling cocaine? Or is it that simply CIA airplanes are smuggling cocaine, again?

Hugh O'Shaugnessy has been covering the Western Hemisphere for British newspapers for 40 years. In this recent article in The Independent in London that looks at various strands that overstates the U.S. government's commitment to ending the war on drugs, he alleges that two CIA aircraft that the British Government and the European Parliament had identified as involved in the rendition of terror suspects had crashed in the Western Hemisphere carrying large loads of cocaine in 2004 and 2008 during the Bush Administration!

Evidence points to aircraft – familiarly known as "torture taxis" – used by the CIA to move captives seized in its kidnapping or "extraordinary rendition" operations through Gatwick and other airports in the EU being simultaneously used for drug distribution in the Western hemisphere. A Gulfstream II jet aircraft N9875A identified by the British Government and the European Parliament as being involved in this traffic crashed in Mexico in September 2008 while en route from Colombia to the US with a load of more than three tons of cocaine.

In 2004, another torture taxi crashed in a field in Nicaragua with a ton of cocaine aboard. It had been identified by Britain and the European Parliament's temporary committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners as a frequent visitor in 2004 and 2005 to British, Cypriot, Czech, German, Greek, Hungarian, Spanish and other European cities with its cargo of captives for secret imprisonment and torture in Iraq, Jordan and Azerbaijan.

Readers will remember that during the Reagan Administration, the CIA was aware that its assets were engaged in extensive cocaine trafficking to fund the Nicaraguan contras, and that staff of Reagan's National Security Council, Lt. Col. Oliver North, was keeping track of this traffic in his diaries.

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Exploitive? Disgusting? Salacious? Pornographic? What? It's the "new" drug.

Some cultural warriors now think that "drugs" have replaced "sin," "evil," "exploitation," "degradation," "obscenity," "pornography," etc.

So to fight pornography, they've created a campaign and website "Fight the New Drug" to recruit "fighters" against pornography.

Drugs are no longer dangerous chemicals; in some quarters they are now a compelling metaphor for evil and debauchery.

"The war on drugs" once was a metaphor for a national commitment to prevent and treat drug abuse. Then the compassionate aspect of this commitment was subsumed to the extirpation of drug traffickers by mobilizing that national security and intelligence components to assist the criminal justice and punishment agencies. Now drugs themselves are the metaphor.

It is as though adjectives like "obscene" or "pornographic" have lost their meaning and their power to condemn. To mobilize a protest, to provoke an action, to galvanize a fund raising campaign, cultural warriors are now invoking the nuclear bomb of shame, "drugs!"

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Catching up with Frank Serpico

The New York Times has a long profile with former NYC Detective Frank Serpico. Serpico joined the NYPD in 1959. Soon he was disgusted with what he saw as the routine graft and corruption in the department. His internal whistle-blowing was ignored. But he went to famous New York Times reporter David Burnham who put Serpico's charges on the front page,on April 25, 1970. This led to the famous Knapp Commission to investigate police corruption led by attorney and former prosecutor Whitman Knapp who became a prominent Federal judge. Some of the Knapp Commission recommendations were adopted, but police corruption and misconduct was the subject of the Mollen Commission investigations from 1992 to 1994. There is now a permanent Commission to Combat Police Corruption in the New York City government.

Serpico was famously shot in the face in the course of drug raid in 1971, in which his partners, embittered by his corruption-fighting, failed to back him up or get him quick medical attention. He still has bullet fragments in his head.

A book about him was made into a movie starring Al Pacino.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why guilty criminals sometimes go free -- a price of police perjury in drug cases

Gene Weingarten, a long time reporter and columnist at The Washington Post, has an excellent report in the Sunday Outlook section on his jury service last week in the D.C. Superior Court. Even though he was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty of selling $10 worth of heroin to an undercover officer, he was going to vote to acquit. But he was excused as an alternate. There was a mistrial because the jury could not agree and he learned that the jury split 10 to 2 to acquit.

Why vote to acquit if the defendant was guilty?

Because the cops lied. "...the willingness to cheat, I think, is a poisonous corruption of a system designed to protect the innocent at the risk of occasionally letting the guilty walk free...I think a police officer willing to cheat is more dangerous than a two-bit drug peddler."

This is a decades old problem with the police and their crusade against drugs.
It is a problem that I spoke about on PBS FRONTLINE's "Snitch" in January 1999.

This is problem that could be corrected by police managers and prosecutors. If prosecutors referred lying police officers to grand juries, and police managers cared, they could win some cases they are losing. But too often they blame losing cases on witness intimidation rather than the public's disgust with police perjury.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Why "good," old fashioned Cannabis didn't cause psychosis

Like many observers, I have wondered about the reports from Britain and Australia that "Skunk" Cannabis is causing psychosis among some users. Since psychosis from Cannabis use has not been revealed to be a genuine phenomenon in the numerous careful studies of Cannabis users since the 19th Century, was this real? Was this research "sexed up" like intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to justify the British government moving Cannabis from class C up to class B in January 2009? Is this recent "finding" simply the research wet dream of various law enforcement officials? It may be, but the scientists reporting these findings were reputable, even if the reporting seemed less than serious and careful.

Recent research just published suggests that breeding Cannabis to eliminate cannabidiol (CBD) and increasing THC may be the difference. A study that compared the responses of volunteers who were injected only with THC with subjects who were injected with the same amount of THC plus CBD, found that that the latter were evaluated as less psychotic.

This finding would help explain why so many patients who are prescribed Marinol (which is THC plus inactive ingredients) -- the DEA's and medical industry's "equivalent" to medical Cannabis -- find it to be so unsatisfactory ("However some reject it [Marinol] because of the intensity of the neuropsychological effects..." Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base (1999, p.156)).

For marijuana to become fully useful and accepted as medicine, it needs to be standardized. The chemical profile of every standard variety would be published and recommendations for dosage would be more authoritative.

The breeding of "skunk" as high quantity THC and no CBD is a relatively new phenomenon. Good, old fashioned Cannabis contained a balance of cannabinoids, and therefore did not cause psychosis.

The economics of prohibition encourage producers to manufacture the most potent product they can. During alcohol prohibition, why smuggle beer which is more than 90 percent water, when you could smuggle whiskey that is only half water or less? One consequence of spending billions of dollars to enforce the marijuana laws has been to encourage plant breeders to develop the highest percentage THC Cannabis they can. It might not be the best Cannabis at all, but it packs the biggest punch per gram of bud and brings the highest price.

Fortunately, many nations are moving toward ending prohibition of Cannabis. This research from the Beckley Foundation and others suggests that regulations that require product ingredient labeling would be a good idea.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Time for juvenile cliches at Washington Post when marijuana bills introduced in Va. 79-year old GOP pharmacist makes sense; Post makes jokes.

The headline sprawling across the top of page B3 in the print edition of the Jan. 21, 2010 The Washington Post reads, "A toke of Va. lawmaker's esteem." The lede of the story by Rosalind S. Helderman reads, "It's high times in the Virginia General Assembly. The lobbyists are cracking jokes about 'joint' sessions, and the legislators are laughing that free Girl Scout cookies delivered Wednesday could prove useful."

It looks like it was take-your-kid-to-work day in the Washington Post newsroom yesterday as the obvious puns and unfunny "jokes" that were stale three decades ago were recycled in a dismissive and lazy report on two bills introduced by a 79-year old pharmacist, Republican Harvey B. Morgan, the second longest serving member of Virginia's House of Delegates. Morgan is the powerful chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Resources, a Navy veteran and former Assistant Clinical Professor of Pharmacy at the Medical College of Virginia.

Morgan's bills -- HB 1134 would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, and HB 1136 would legalize medical use -- are serious policy reforms. These details are not in the Washington Post. But the reporter, sucking up to the jokesters at The Washington Post and in Richmond, could not resist the temptation to write the story that was spiked by her high school principal as she began her career in "journalism."

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A harm reduction conundrum in the land of prohibition: When is education as bad as advertising?

In the late 1970s, some American psychiatrists saw that powder cocaine sniffing was not a terribly dangerous practice. But they became aware of how addictive cocaine base smoking was. At first they dismissed as hysterical the reports from professional colleagues in Peru and Bolivia about the devastating practice of smoking coca paste or basuco. Then American researchers there confirmed the intense addiction, and occasions of hallucinations and psychosis that were found.

They faced a dilemma. Educate drug abuse prevention and treatment professionals about the phenomenon, but risk the substantial likelihood that the press would run wild with scare stories that would attract many Americans who were sniffing cocaine to the intense feelings of pleasure that base smoking creates, leading to a cocaine abuse epidemic. Or keep quiet about the phenomenon hoping to minimize or delay the spread the phenomenon. In six or seven years, base smoking -- a/k/a crack smoking -- was spreading widely throughout the nation. (Was this delay a success or a failure?)

Gary Webb wrote about this in the first chapter of his 1998 opus, Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion.

Other features of the crack epidemic, of course, were the changes in drug enforcement policies and strategies that discouraged marijuana exports from Colombia and Mexico in favor of cocaine export, the economic dislocations of the 1982 recession. These were the changes in production, distribution and among users identified by Michael Agar in flow theory as the factors leading to an epidemic.

There is a contemporary harm reduction conundrum as Earth and Fire Erowid observe in their June 2009 analysis "Spice & Spin-offs: Prohibition's High-Tech Cannabis Substitutes". Spice is a material that purports to be legal herbs, sold as incense and "Not For Human Consumption," but whose fraudulent labels fail to mention hard to identify, synthetic compounds it seems to contain such as HU-210, JWH-018, and/or an unnamed homolog of the cannabinoid agonist CP 47,497.

"The Spice phenomenon gives us a glimpse of the complexities to be faced in the future when providing harm-reduction and health information for an ever-shifting, ever-expanding profusion of psychoactive drugs, drug combinations, and technologies.
"Spice is a fascinating test case for unusually potent drugs of the future. The Spice story is part sci-fi, part Prohibition-style bootlegging, and part crass commercial venture. This new generation of recreational "research chemical" cannabinoids and cannabinomimetics are in the first wave of high-tech crypto drugs, more of which may be just around the corner. The evolutionary pressures of the last century have created a climate where new potent drugs are not only obscured, but obfuscated using specialized technical knowledge that even expert laboratories have difficulty sorting through."

What is the likelihood that the manufacturers and distributors of "spice" can replicate the enormous scale of distribution we witnessed with marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s, cocaine in the 1980s, and MDMA in the 1990s? It depends on production costs, profit potentials, catching the criminal wave of production, and the cultural wave of desire. With marijuana, cocaine and MDMA, at least the distributors were upfront about what the drug was, or was supposed to be. With "spice," the manufacturers and distributors aren't even telling what the active drug is! The potential for a lot of people to get hurt is that much greater.

Prohibition is dangerous! Sorry, that was so obvious.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

ABC News polling results on support for medical marijuana and legal personal use

ABC News just issued its ABC News/Washington Post polling results of Americans regarding medical use of marijuana, and legalization for "personal use." 81 percent support legal medical use, up from 69 percent 12 years ago.

46 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for personal use. It was 39 percent in 2002. 51 percent of persons under age 65 support this! Right now, only 30 percent of conservatives and 32 percent of Republicans support this, but 63 percent of Liberals and 53 percent of Democrats do.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

China abuses its drug addicts -- if it is not executing them.

This story from The New York Times is so sad because good treatment is possible.

Unfortunately this abuse in China is simply an extension of the "drug users are bad people" ideology, or as we teach in many American schools, "users are losers."

Notice how the Chinese practice seems to contradict the rhetoric about a "people-centered" approach to addiction and "community-based rehabilitation." Unfortunately such rhetoric is used in the U.S. as well, to disguise our abusive policies.

Why do we arrest people for possession of drugs?

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U.S. anti-opium strategy and program in Afghanistan in disarray

The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of State has reported that U.S. anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan are inadequate. The 64-page report says there is no clear strategy, inadequate planning and assessment, insufficient personnel, and contractors are operating under poorly written contracts. Interagency coordination is ad hoc and unsynchronized.

Of course, the Afghan narcotics industry helps finance the killing of U.S. soldiers and weakens the government we are trying to prop up.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baby Boomer drug use

SAMSHA has issued a superficial report titled, "Illicit Drug use among Older Adults." The younger adults of the older than 50 set are more likely to report using marijuana, using prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them or for the purpose of getting high, or another illegal drug like heroin or cocaine or LSD.

Some observations:
(1) 2.1 percent of adults older than 50 (1.9 million adults) used a medication that was not prescribed to them OR to "only for the experience or feeling they caused," i.e., supposedly "to get high" in the past year. We need harm reduction education for senior citizens to help them prevent adverse drug interactions, since they use a wide variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications. But the report does not propose that.

(2) To truly understand the nature of drug use by older adults, we must refine the questions in these surveys and how we report it. We can no longer use the term "non-medical use" the way we have.

Using medications that were not prescribed for the respondent may be illegal, but it certainly does not mean drug abuse as we understand the term. It may mean that for many persons, their necessary drugs are too difficult to get via bureaucratic health insurance regimes or are too expensive. If you have any experience getting medication at a pharmacy which is being paid for by your health insurance, you find that frequently the prescription is not filled because it is not the right time of the month. Are you going away for the holidays and won't be back until after the first of the month? Too bad, you can't get your prescription filled until after you get back. And if your medications are not generic or are not covered by health insurance, you truly face "sticker shock!"

The report calls the use of these medications as use of "illicit drugs." The report combines this kind of drug use with use of prescription drugs for the purpose of getting high. Combining these two types of drug use does not help us clarify our understanding of this drug use in the society. Rather it contributes to misunderstanding this drug use, to inflammatory or joking headlines, and most likely to poor policy making.

(3) 2.5 million adults older than 50 use marijuana IN THE PAST YEAR. As we think about mature adults using marijuana, I wonder if SAMSHA (and NIDA and DEA) could ever get intellectually honest and stop calling all marijuana use "abuse"?

(4) This report fails to include any comparable data on tobacco and alcohol use. If the goal is to help properly guide health policy for senior citizens, leaving that out is absurd!

(5) 664,000 adults older then 50 reported using IN THE PAST YEAR heroin, cocaine or a hallucinogenic drug, 0.7 percent of all the older adults. That is a pretty small group.

How does the agency interpret this study? Here's their press release. "It has been predicted that by the year 2020, the number of persons "needing treatment for a substance use disorder will double..." WE NEED MORE DRUG TREATMENT SERVICES SPENDING.

If the agency goal is to justify more spending for the agency in a time of budget slashing, a superficial study that is packaged to promote misinterpretation is a bureaucratic necessity.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

What Robert Creamer Learned in Prison

Chicago political organizer Robert Creamer writes in The Huffington Post about what he learned serving a five month sentence in a Federal prison camp. Of course, he writes of how excessively long are the sentences imposed against federal offenders. He observes how they hurt the nation as well as the families of the men who serve them.

Eloquently, he writes about how precious is freedom.

He writes about the importance of the rule of law and respect for the law. But he doesn't say how horrid it is that our society's laws threaten so many people with punishment and imprisonment for conduct that is not wrongful in the first place.

Respect for law is important, but it is striking for the husband of a senior Member of Congress, the highly respected Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), not to mention the reckless manner in which law is made. Much too routinely, our laws are written with a contempt for the dispassionate judgment and deliberative process upon which respect for law depends. It is fine to argue for respect for the law because of the idea of law, but when the law makers themselves do not write law with respect for the law, nor for the people whose lives will be effected, the respect he argues for is hard to grant.

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