A long-awaited review of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s foreign operations has faced criticism from experts who say the report gives short shrift to past scandals and fails to provide a roadmap for meaningful reform.
The report, published March 24, stems from an independent review of the DEA’s overseas operations conducted by former federal prosecutor Boyd Johnson and ex-DEA chief Jack Lawn.
The DEA ordered the first-of-its-kind review in August 2021 after an internal US Department of Justice audit slammed the DEA’s “insufficient” oversight of its foreign operations.
Pressure for an independent review mounted following the audit’s investigation of a number of scandals, including an agent based in Colombia and Miami who stole $9 million from the organization and accepted bribes from criminals; a high-ranking Mexican police commander involved in a DEA program who had obstructed an investigation; and agents who had solicited prostitutes while in Colombia.
But the newly released review glossed over details of some of these incidents, like the accusation that drug trafficking organizations had paid for DEA agents to attend sex parties.
The report acknowledged some ongoing issues contributing to problems in the DEA’s foreign operations, highlighting subpar information-sharing practices and a lack of proper preparation for agents sent to work in difficult overseas assignments.
But the review largely held back on criticizing the agency, instead focusing on the DEA’s progress toward implementing the recommendations of the earlier Department of Justice audit.
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The review has faced criticism from experts who say it was too deferential in its assessment of the DEA’s response to foreign operations scandals.
Former federal prosecutor Bonnie Klapper, who now works as a defense attorney, said the review failed to adequately address how lack of training and oversight have contributed to ethical problems in the DEA’s foreign operations.
“There needs to be clear guidance, much clearer rules, and most importantly, a will to enforce those rules,” she told InSight Crime.
Klapper also noted that pressure for agents to capture high-value targets can sometimes incentivize misconduct.
“Some agents seem to feel that if their work results in these captures, the means justify the end, even if rules are broken,” she said.
Former DEA International Operations head Mike Vigil told InSight Crime that the report failed to adequately examine how poor vetting of foreign partners, particularly senior officials, had exposed the agency to working alongside corrupt colleagues overseas.
“The vetted units for the most part were closely monitored, but the major weakness was that no one was vetted above the commander of the group, which has resulted in corrupt activities,” he said.
Vigil added that the report was “flawed from the onset” because Johnson and Long had “little” experience in foreign operations.
US Senator Chuck Grassley also slammed the “stunningly vague” report.
“This speaks to the agency’s broader effort to evade oversight,” Grassley noted in an email to InSight Crime.
The DEA did not respond to InSight Crime’s request for comment.
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