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With All the Trouble at the Mexico Border, What’s the Holdup For a New DEA Chief?

Chris Battle [1]

Chris Battle

By Chris Battle
Security DeBrief

WASHINGTON — 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 an 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.