This is part one of a two-part series.
The Drug Enforcement Administration was established under the Justice Department in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. Its mission was to keep the nation off and away from drugs, which, at least according to the White House, were a moral evil and catalyst of criminal behavior. The agency was formed just two years after Nixon launched what became known as the “war on drugs.” Congress and the rest of the nation remained convinced that the scourge of narcotics and drug abusers — and perhaps particularly those who were young, poor or black — was pounding at the gates. Over the next four decades, with most drug policy now firmly in the grips of law enforcement officials, the DEA’s annual budget saw a fortyfold increase, going from a paltry $75 million to nearly $3 billion in 2014.
With more than 11,000 employees and a host of responsibilities, the agency’s activity has expanded worldwide, all the while attracting scrutiny from critics of the drug war who contend that the DEA is an ineffective agency that uses controversial tools to enforce often misguided or unjust federal drug laws.
The catalog of controversies below helps explain why the public has often questioned the DEA’s priorities, as well as the methods it employs to advance them. While the DEA does its best to keep many of its dealings out of the public eye — it regularly claims secrecy is imperative to the success of its anti-drug operations — here are some of the most sketchy, messed up things that we know it has done:
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