If the San Diego DEA is looking for suspects with more than a little bit of coke dust sticking to their lapels or a few marijuana seeds in a car ashtray, we’d like to help.
Nine college students got together on a Friday night recently in an off-campus apartment in San Diego to commemorate a group of teenagers calling themselves the Waldos, who met during the school year back in 1971 promptly at 4:20 pm every day beneath a statue of Louis Pasteur at San Rafael High School to smoke pot.
At the San Diego office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, this harmless bit of frivolity apparently caused something of a hissy fit. The next day, Apr. 21, DEA agents with guns drawn burst through the door at the apartment of a friend of Daniel Chong, and took all nine people inside into custody.
The result—as is now well-known—was that Daniel Chong, a senior engineering student at a California university, was handcuffed and then abandoned for nearly five days in a federal holding cell, where he was forced to drink his own urine to stay alive.Chong says he suffered kidney failure and nearly died.
But that wasn’t even the worst thing that happened.
While in complete darkness in a 5-by-10-foot cell, Chong grew so desperately hungry that he ingested a powdery substance in a bag left in the cell.
It turned out to be methamphetamine. Chong began hallucinating. In a fit of suicidal despair he broke his glasses, carved the words "Sorry Mom" on his arm, and then swallowed a shard of the shattered lens, slicing his esophagus.
Too much time on their hands
When the truth came out, the recriminations began. Observers were forced to consider which was worse: was the DEA that inept, or—a more sinister note—whether they were capable of having done it intentionally. But this begs the real question:
Can’t the San Diego DEA find a more worthy opponent than college kids smoking pot? The answer—which is ‘no’— lies at the heart of America’s endless Drug War.
The San Diego DEA’s big dirty secret is this: they cost a lot of money but don't add value to the human enterprise. DEA Agents are men and women with literally nothing to do of any real social utility… and they know it.
They are not allowed to interrupt or interdict major operations transporting the overwhelming percentage of illicit drugs into the U.S., because those operations are protected, at the local, state, federal, and international level.
Ten years ago Miami Private Detective Gary McDaniel, a 30-year veteran investigator for both Government prosecutors and attorneys for major drug traffickers, educated me on the basics of the drug trade.
“Every successful drug trafficking organization (DTO) needs four things to be successful,” he said. He ticked each one off on his fingers: “Production, distribution, transportation, and—most important of all—protection.”
La plus ca change
Since then, nothing has changed. All over the world in drug-consuming nations, the overwhelming percentage of illicit drugs come into the country under official auspices. When a tin-horn General in Venezuela, or a former President of Colombia or Mexico is implicated in drug trafficking—Fox, Salinas, Calderon, Uribe— no one seems surprised.
Why the media acts as if things were different in the U.S. is a source of profound bafflement and envy in places where the political discourse is less naïve.
So, as a public service to San Diego’s hapless DEA, here are a few leads to major local drug trafficking targets that might be worth strapping on the Kevlar vests.
But they’re not college kids. They’re not easy marks. Like Wall Street bankers whose $3000 three-piece suits masks their true criminal status, the real American Drug Lords wrap themselves in cloaks of respectability… and national security.
The parasitic rich and U.S. national security
Two San Diego corporations were instrumental in a mammoth operation that supplied more than 30 American aircraft to the Sinaloa Cartel, two of which were busted in the Yucatan, one carrying more than 5.5 tons of cocaine, the other 4 tons.
These guys got caught with more than 10 tons of cocaine, and suffered no legal recriminations. Zero. Zip. Either somebody taught them how to walk on water, or they’ve got immunity.
They don’t get much bigger than San Diego defense contractor Titan Corporation, today a division of L3, one of America’s largest defense contractors.
And there’s also Argyll Equities LLC, a shady Texas “investment bank” transplanted to La Jolla, California, a city whose La Mesa Resort has hosted top Mobsters and Mafia conclaves for decades.
Both companies sit in plain sight in San Diego. Bringing down either one would be a feather in the cap of any ambitious DEA Special Agent.
Here's how it went down:
The operation started unraveling at 6:30 pm on the evening of April 10, 2006. The last rays of sunlight were glinting off the wings of a sleek silver American-registered DC-9 airliner circling the international airport in Ciudad del Carmen, a hardscrabble industrial town set on the edge of the vast green jungle of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Waiting on the ground were a half-dozen officers from Mexico’s Federal Police (PFP) dressed in civilian clothes, scanning the sky nervously from the air-conditioned chill of the airport terminal. They were not there, as soon became plain, to interdict the drug shipment on the Dc-9 as it landed…
They were there to protect it.
When the DC-9 rolled by, the waiting bystanders were treated to a quick glimpse of the plane’s unusual color scheme: a gold-bordered blue stripe running down the side, and the Great Seal of the United States on the fuselage next to the door, containing the familiar eagle clutching twin olive branches, surrounded by blue-and-white with gold trim.
The plane looked as if it might be carrying US government potentates home from the international conference recently held at a posh hotel in Cancun, on drug interdiction, which was ironic, because inside the plane, which carried no passengers, were 128 identical black leather suitcases stuffed with what turned out to be 5.5 tons of cocaine.
Around the Seal on the side of the DC-9 was a legend: “SkyWay Aircraft, Protection of America’s Skies.”
It was a 'milk run,' until it wasn't
The American-registered DC9 airliner (N900SA) was busted while flying what evidence indicates was a “milk run”—a routine flight flown many times before without incident.
When you’re flying a commercial airliner carrying 128 suitcases—but no passengers—you’re clearly not expecting any serious scrutiny.
The big question in the seizure of 5.5 tons of cocaine, as in all big seizures, is why it happened in the first place. Which brings us to Titan Corp…
If corporations really were people, as Mitt Romney asserts, Titan Corp— awash in criminal charges, political payoffs and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal—would have long ago gone down on a three strikes charge.
Even more bizarre, the embattled San Diego defense contractor has unexplained and inexplicable—but deep—ties to SkyWay Aircraft. At SkyWay Aircraft’s inception in 2000, Titan Corporation put up $72,386 for 1,113,627 restricted shares of a company with no employees and no product located 3000 miles away.
San Diego is on the other side of the country from Miami, where SkyWay was brought to life. Yet Titan made an early investment ($70,000) in a company which didn't have enough cash on hand to buy paper clips. The company's founder made reference to Titan's investment six times in early SEC filings.
Why did Titan do it? What did they see in a company which never produced anything but planes to fly cocaine?
Titan has always been extremely well-connected. The company used to be the biggest campaign contributor of San Diego’s perennial Congressional powerhouse, Randy Cunningham… at least until he went to prison.
Word is, they perform the same function for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter. Not only has he proudly earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars for Titan, he's also obstructed efforts to investigate the company, which is his largest campaign contributor.
Yet if drug officials are correct in asserting that only 10% of drugs being transported into the U.S., then Titan Corporation participated in a scheme that brought 100 tons of cocaine into the U.S. before getting busted with ten.
Sunny La Jolla exerts a strange pull
Argyll Equities LLC was the second-largest shareholder in SkyWay Aircraft, according to bankruptcy filings. Argyll owned nearly 21 million shares of worthless stock, which might be considered something of an investment black eye.
Another one of Argyll’s clients was Jose Serrano Segovia, a Mexican industrialist accused in published reports of involvement in drug trafficking. Serrano passed on Argyll’s investment to Manuel Losada, a major Chilean drug trafficker who Chilean authorities said worked for the Cali Cartel.
Argyll had a pretty sweet market niche for an investment bank, offering specialty financing to drug traffickers.
Welcome to America’s Endless Drug War. It’s more than four decades old and shows no signs of progress, let alone ultimate success. But it is guaranteed to remain fully funded as far into the future as anyone can see.
How odd is that?