There has been quite a bit of discussion about the surge of drug-related violence on the Mexican border, rightly so. There has also been quite a bit of discussion lately, thanks to a recent GAO study and congressional hearings, about whether the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are allowing turf issues to interfere with an effective U.S. response to that increased violence. Also an appropriate topic of inquiry.

Is anyone else, though, wondering why – if the narco-violence on our southern border is indeed so important (and it is) – why the Administration has yet to announce a nominee to lead the DEA?

The DEA is a rare government bird; it has only one focus. That focus is to combat the large-scale trafficking of illegal narcotics. If you ask anyone at the FBI, he or she will inform you that The Bureau does it all. You got a crime? They got a jurisdiction. They do drugs. They do white collar. They do terrorism. They’d do circus clowns if circus clowning were a federal crime (which, by the way, I am actively lobbying for). Which is why they can sometimes come off as disorganized and thinly stretched.

The DEA, though? Just drugs. The agents of the DEA are trained to go under cover and bust up violent drug cartels. Take down the worst of the worst. In other words, they are made for this kind of job — going after the heads of the Mexican drug cartels.

In the end, though, the DEA is a government organization. Moreover, it is a government organization with a law enforcement culture. That means, nobody is going to start launching any bold initiatives until The Boss arrives. Kicking down the doors of sociopathic criminals is one thing. Stick your neck out in the shark-infested waters of Washington, DC, though? Hey, these guys aren’t crazy. They see what’s happening to the poor SOBs at the CIA.

Even with Michele Leonhart, an aggressive and outstanding leader, as Acting Administrator, the DEA is hampered because Michele doesn’t have the bank to start calling the shots. Unless, that is, President Obama steps up to the plate and nominates her, allowing her to drop the “Acting” from her title. Then the cuffs are off.

Whether its Special Agent Leonhart, or a new man selected by the Attorney General or President to come in from outside the agency, it is past time for this Administration to give DEA some leadership … and allow it to do what it was made to do. Until that happens, all the bold talk in Congress about the need to take action is going to remain mostly … talk.

Chris Battle founded Security Debrief as a forum for the homeland security community to discuss pressing issues and current debates in national security, counter-terrorism and law enforcement. After a long fight against kidney cancer, Chris passed in August 2013. Read More
  • Old Customs Guy

    The DEA has a unique job and function with this said 90% of illegal drugs are smuggled into the USA via all of the POE’ s. hence it would make sense to put the DEA within the Dept. of Homeland Security and combine thier function within ICE-OI. This would give border search authority eliminate dual work by these agencies that has never ended even with DEA being created in 1973. Additionally the need for dual Attache offices would also be eliminated as would the need to have seperate labs to conduct examinations of inbound and outbound items believed to be prohibited. The combantion of these two independent agencies would create a super agency presence at the borders fighting the illegal importations and exportation of prohibited items. We really need to have one super agency at the borders working together.

  • Chris Battle

    Those are some interesting and valid arguments. I would suspect it would be difficult to achieve politically, since this was not done when the massive reorganization to create DHS occurred. DEA would argue that by merging it with ICE, you would water down its single-mission focus, which has made it so successful. However, you are correct that new efficiencies would be achieved through the elimination of certain redundancies, resulting in a much more powerful border and homeland security investigations agency.


    I’ve been on the US southwest border with DEA over 10 years. Everytime you plug a hole, another two or three open up and the drugs, weapons, people, and money come spilling through to fill the void. I probably sound burned-out. Fact is, I am. Standing on its own or merged with ICE or the FBI won’t make a bit of difference. Money and drug demand in our country are the real choke-points, but nobody wants to point the finger at themselves and take the blame for the problem.