When I worked at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart was one of the top Special Agents in Charge (SAC). SACs were the heads of our field divisions. Leonhart was SAC for our Los Angeles office.

Then Administrator Asa Hutchinson tried several times to recruit Leonhart to come to DEA Headquarters to join the executive leadership, but as an agent’s agent, she resisted as best she could (without offending the boss) so that she could stay in the field, leading operations to go after the drug gangs peddling drugs on the street and the cartels running massive quantities of drugs through Mexico into California.

A star like Leonhart, however, is always a target for recruitment, and when Hutchinon’s successor, Karen Tandy, came on board, she too went after Leonhart. Eventually, she gave in and came to Washington to serve as the Deputy Administrator under Tandy.

After Tandy abruptly resigned to go into the private sector, Leonhart was put into the top spot as Acting Administrator. She remained in that position, as the acting chief, for a long time while the Obama Administration dithered on making an official nomination to lead the agency. Considering that we had no nominee for ATF or DEA, and the nominee for Customs and Border Protection at DHS sat in the wings for months and months without confirmation, one had to come to the conclusion that border security and drug enforcement were not exactly high on the president’s agenda – despite the unprecedented level of drug violence on the Mexican border.  (I joined a State Department delegation to review the violence and seek ways to give voice to Mexican citizens who live in fear in the northern border states of Mexico. On the first day there, I awoke to the news that four people had been beheaded.)

Earlier this year, Obama finally nominated Leonhart to move from acting administrator to the permanent position. Why is this so important? The DEA is filled with dedicated and experienced special agents who continue to go after the bad guys, but in any government agency – and especially a law enforcement agency with its strict chain of command and adherence to rules – it is difficult for anyone in an acting role to implement bold innovative action that might not ultimately be in line with the new incoming boss.

Nobody wants to stick their neck out and have the new boss come in and cut it off. Moreover, in the acting role, there is an unspoken rule that nothing is permanent, leading the rank and file to be wary about the direction of the agency. They need to know that when they themselves take action, they won’t face any backlash should new leadership come into place and look for some potential heads to roll.

What’s the result? Ongoing professional work, executed by dedicated public servants, but a kind of hold-the-line and don’t-rock-the-boat mentality.

This is why President Obama finally giving the nod to Leonhart to become his choice to officially lead the agency is so important. She can begin to consider new strategies and reforms that may be necessary. I say “consider” because while she has been nominated she has not been confirmed by the Senate. Which means there is still the potential, for whatever reason, that she may not make it through the confirmation process. I suspect she will have no problems. She’s a stellar agent. But Washington is Washington, and Congress is Congress. We saw Obama’s nominee for the Transportation Security Administration get held up for months by senators who demanded that he publicly state he would not unionize TSA workers. Of course, that’s not the TSA chief’s call to make. Something as politically charged as that rises all the way to the White House, especially with this president who has shown a strong allegiance to unions.

So there is still some unknown factors that cloud Leonhart’s ability to lead the DEA the way it deserves to be led. It is unfortunate that Obama did not include Leonhart as one of his 15 recess appointments, as he did with Customs and Border Protection nominee Alan Bersin.

It’s curious as to why he did not. After all, if he was going to infuriate congressional Republicans by making an end run around the Senate’s role to confirm political appointees, why not go ahead and include the head of one of the most important federal law enforcement agencies.

It is equally curious why the White House selected Leonhart practically under the cover of night. There was no news release or public action to speak of. If you search Google News, you’ll find very little – if anything – about the announcement in the mainstream media. One has to suspect that the nomination was made so quietly because of the embarrassment that such a prominent federal agency had gone so long without a nominee.

Indeed, one suspects that drug enforcement simply isn’t something that interests this White House. After all, the Department of Justice issued new rules under Obama announcing that it would no longer pursue marijuana cases. This of course sent ripples of excitement through the Drug Legalization Lobby whose strategy is to start with legalizing marijuana (excuse me, “medical marijuana”) and then, with that precedent in place, move on to other drugs.

Whatever the President’s motives, he needs to push for Leonhart’s confirmation. She needs that if she is going to be able to push her agenda and implement a strategy for taking on the drug cartels. We’ve seen the horrific violence taking place in northern Mexico, especially Juarez City, which literally is a bridge away from the U.S. town of El Paso. We’ve seen the recent murders of American citizens there. We’ve seen the gun running, and we’ve seen the flow of drugs into the United States.

It’s time for this Administration to step up and act. The DEA needs official, Senate-confirmed leadership. Leonhart is the right choice. So let’s just do it.

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
  • Don't believe everything you hear from Christopher Battle. He's a paid liar. Paid to cover up the U.S. Government's medical Cannabis program, through a hack article printed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (see the article “Texan Totes “Pot”). Paid by Asa Hutchinson to go from Asa's errand boy to public relations hawk for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Christopher Battle knows that taking control of the illegal drug market will require more than appointing another “permanent” executive to the DEA. Our national drug prohibition policies are largely reponsible for the widespread murders in Mexico. But Christopher Battle will never admit that. Because he will never have to look, I mean really look, into the eyes of a grieving Mexican mother or widow. I wonder how much Christopher Battle is getting paid by the cartel kingpins he helps empower and enrich.

  • Christopher Battle knew the U.S. Government was growing and distributing medical marijuana to several sick and dying people (all the while claiming it had no medical value), yet he chose to run a “news” article that obfuscated and obscured, designed to make George McMahon look crazy, when in reality he was a recipient of the National Certificate of Heroism, and a recipient of legal federal marijuana, courtesy of Christopher Battle's tax dollars. Chickens are coming home to roost, Christopher. Say hello to Asa for me. And tell Asa to say hello to his friends at New Horizon Press. A Bitter Pill, indeed.

    Read George McMahon's book for the truth about medical cannabis. You can find it at It's called “Prescription Pot”.

  • sunshine_35749

    hoping that senate does NOT confirm michele leonhart to head DEA …. jeez! she's already taken a stand AGAINST VA docs to prescribe medical marihuana … UNTIL YOU have experienced the nausea & pain associated, u have NO right to criticize a doc's authority — THAT is between the doc & the patient — ONLY.

    agree, that OUR current policy (war on drugs) is and will continue to provide fuel to death and destruction in mexico and here in the u.s. (60% of incarcerated for low level drug offenses) ….

    • I'm not convinced by the “medical marijuana” argument. I have cancer
      myself and I can tell you I won't be smoking pot to feel better. The
      doctors have a lot better medications. Folks who want to legalize
      drugs should just say so and make credible arguments rather than
      exlpoiting the sick.

      • sunshine_35749

        hmm, wonder how get idea of “exploiting the sick”? undoubtedly, there r those that do … but, in this case, disagree.
        just like ppl have difn diseases, there's more than one type of cancer; u don't treat every disease nor every cancer w/ one medication; agree on that? undoubtedly, there ARE much stronger & apropros, meds! DOCs — NOT police, gummint, et al. SHOULD be the ONLY person qualified to decide which meds helps patients on which occasion(s); agree on that?
        my concern is that the gummint is telling us HOW “truths to be self evident … liberty, and pursuit of happiness” … attempting to put us all in a box; acting like robots? unless medical marihuana is eventually legal throughout the u.s., gummint will infringe on taking up MORE of our “liberty .. happiness” … mine isn't the same as joe's down the street, nor mary's in another state, etc.
        anyway, hopefully, we agree that we're both kinda talking about the same thing?
        my condolences … & best wishes — hang in there! never give up, Mr. Chris.
        sun in alabama

  • christopherlargen

    I am sorry about your cancer, Christopher (and I highly recommend the bestseller, “Love, Medicine, and Miracles” by oncologist Bernie Siegel).

    Now to the debate… You refer to “folks who want to legalize drugs”. I assume you mean the folks in the pharmaceutical industry, who have already legalized medical methamphetamine (market under the brand name Desoxyn, and even given to children), and medical cocaine (used in heart surgery when cardiologists need a quick boost in heart rate that doesn't last very long, and in sinus surgery to numb the nasal cavities).

    So since we currently have legal medical “meth” and “coke” in the United States, why do we never hear our self-righteous federal legislators decrying the “mixed messages” these legal drugs are sending to “the poor children who need to be protected”? The answer is simple… MONEY. Pharmaceutical companies cannot obtain research patents on substances that grow naturally. They can only get patents on syntheses (like meth) or derivatives (like cocaine). So if Cannabis (the proper scientific and botanical name for what slang-aficionados and government agents have termed “marijuana”) is legalized and regulated for medical use, patients will have access to a hearty, resilient herb that can be grown in their own gardens to treat pain, spasms, nausea, ocular pressure related to glaucoma, AIDS wasting syndrome, Alzheimer's wasting syndrome, and other maladies. So big pharma companies stand to lose a LOT of money if Cannabis is legalized for medical use. And then those companies won't be able to make fat political campaign contributions to legislators who scream “protect the children” when it comes to medical Cannabis, yet have no problem doping kids up with meth and coke. Legalize drugs, indeed.

    And Christopher… Don't worry too much about your tax dollars that are being used to cultivate and distribute Cannabis to sick and dying Americans through the secretive IND program. It only costs the feds 30 CENTS PER OUNCE to grow the medicine (apply prohibition policies, and the value of that ounce is increased by 1000 TIMES, enriching the cartel-terrorists who will use those profits to destroy our underfunded drug and homeland security agents). And Christopher, you should know that one of the federal patients successfully uses the government Cannabis to shrink his bone tumors (run a search on Irvin Rosenfeld). I know him personally, and he would be happy to talk with you.

    Or talk with federal patient George McMahon, the former Vice-Presidential candidate and recipient of the National Certificate of Heroism who uses government Cannabis to treat pain, spasms, and nausea related to years of surgical and pharmaceutical maltreatment, repeated stress and injuries, and a rare genetic condition called Nail Patella Syndrome, which causes bone deformities, immune system dysfunction, and a propensity for renal failure. Prior to being accepted in the government program, George survived 19 major surgeries, was declared clinically dead five times, and took 17 pharmaceutical drugs daily (including 400 morphine tablets each month – all legally, with a doctor's blessing). Since being accepted to the government Cannabis program, George has had NO SURGERIES OR HOSPITALIZATIONS, and no longer takes ANY pharmaceuticals. He just smokes ten Cannabis cigarettes a day (as required by the feds who send his medicine pre-rolled for consumption), courtesy of your tax dollars, Christopher. And George appreciates it. He truly does.

    You should read George McMahon's covered-up book, Prescription Pot, to find out more about how good your tax dollar-grown medical Cannabis truly is! George's book even covers his trip to Arkansas, back when you were with the Democrat-Gazette, back when your paper ran that hack piece on George titled “Texan Toting “Pot” Touts Medical Benefits”, which referred to some “man who held what he claimed was” medical marijuana from the U.S. Government. Funny how manipulative strategies like putting the word “Pot” in quotations and using words like “claimed”, in conjunction with a complete lack of research on the federal Cannabis program that has existed since the late 1970's, can eliminate the need to ever lie to the public outright, right Christopher?

    I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I do hope you are able to fight your cancer. And should you ever have a need for Cannabis-based remedies (even organic ones like Bayer's Sativex, currently in stage-three clinical trials through the FDA), I hope you never have to be thrown in a cage like some animal, but hope you will be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion. Truly I do.

  • christopherlargen

    One last thing… Legalizing dronabinol (Marinol) and Sativex while outlawing Cannabis is like telling your fellow citizens, “Go ahead and take that aspirin, but if we catch you chewing willow bark, we will bust your butt!!”

  • christopherlargen

    Wow… Christopher, I never realized you were previously employed by PHRMA, the central public relations firm for the pharmaceutical industry. Do your fiscal affiliations belie ulterior motivations?

    It's like you said, Christopher… “Folks who want to legalize drugs should just say so and make credible arguments rather than exlpoiting (sp) the sick.”

    Sometimes when English majors misspell words in public forums, it's basically a Freudian slip. Guilty conscience, Chris? ;)

    No offense. I'll still keep you in my prayers. But as a cancer patient who supports policies that throw cancer patients in prison for using medical Cannabis, you should really have some shame.