The Drug Enforcement Administration, part of the Justice Department, is the arm of the intelligence community concerned with the enforcement of drug laws. (Surprise!) The DEA is omnipresent in fighting every aspect of the illegal drug trade—not just at home, but on the borders and overseas. Everyone knows a little bit about the DEA (and some of you know more than you would like), but here are a few things you might not know about the Drug Enforcement Administration.
1. It’s not that old.
President Richard Nixon established the DEA in 1974 in order to consolidate the federal agencies charged with drug law enforcement. Its forerunner officers were the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (itself a consolidation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control), and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement
2. By the numbers
In the United States, the DEA has 21 divisions and 226 field offices. Globally, it has offices in 66 countries. It employs 9,600 people—5,000 of whom are Special Agents. All of this, and the operations they conduct, run somewhere around $2.87 billion annually. What are they doing with all that money, you ask? Last year they arrested 30,476 people, seized 80,000 pounds of cocaine and 780,000 pounds of marijuana. There were 11,210 meth lab incidents last year. The worst offending meth state? Missouri. Since its inception, the DEA has cost the taxpayers $536,367,800,000.
3. Your doctor has a DEA license, which is the opposite of a “license to kill.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration licenses anyone who prescribes or dispenses drugs. This license must be renewed every three years. The DEA has pretty strict rules on prescription authority and recordkeeping. Prescribing personnel who, in the view of the DEA, abuse their privilege, are subject to large fines and loss of license.
4. They’re on the front lines of the war on terror.
The United States stepped up its counter-narcotics mission in Afghanistan in 2005, and the DEA took the lead on this enhanced mission. The U.S. military provided rotary wing aircraft and cargo planes to the DEA, as well as intelligence and logistics support. The Army trained DEA agents on the use of combat arm and how to make tactical movements, as well as the finer points of night operations and how best to employ night vision goggles. There was also extensive training on spotting IEDs.
5. They’re FAST.
The DEA has five elite Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Teams, or FAST. One of the teams is stationed in Afghanistan; the other four are based out of Marine Base Quantico. To join FAST, there is a grueling eight-week selection process, where more than half of the candidates wash out. In the field, FAST conducts direct action, counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics missions.
6. Heisenberg has thus far eluded them.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has a wide footprint in pop culture. DEA agents recruited James Bond for a mission in License to Kill. The DEA had its own reality TV series on Spike TV from 2008 to 2009. Meanwhile, every crime show on television (which, by my count, is every show on television) has a DEA agent turn up to solve a mystery from time to time. The most famous DEA agent on television is probably Breaking Bad’s Hank Schrader, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque DEA field office, and brother-in-law to meth chemist Walter White.
7. It’s a dangerous job.
There are eighty-two names on the Drug Enforcement Administration Wall of Honor, which commemorates the men and women of the DEA lost in the line of duty. They made the ultimate sacrifice in places as diverse as the streets of Wichita, on reconnaissance missions in Peru, and in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Five members of the DEA were killed when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The domestic terrorist was specifically targeting the DEA, ATF, and FBI. As a result, DEA headquarters was soon reclassified as a “Level IV security” federal building—one level below CIA Headquarters at Langley. (Except for Level V buildings, which are those deemed essential for national security, federal building security levels are determined by square footage, personnel numbers, and responsibility.)
The DEA doesn’t take just anyone. To become a Special Agent, you need a Bachelors degree (with a minimum GPA of 2.95) and the ability to obtain a Top Secret security clearance; or you must have extensive professional undercover narcotics investigation experience. The DEA is also looking for people who are fluent in any number of foreign languages, from Farsi and Urdu to “dialects of Nigerian languages.” And that’s just for consideration. Then there’s a three-part test, interviews, drug screens, exams by doctors, a rigorous polygraph examination, evaluation for psychological problems, extensive background investigations, and a physical fitness test. Former drug users need not apply, excepting “applicants who admit to limited youthful and experimental use of marijuana.” (They’re pretty inflexible on the no-drug-use rule.) Once you’re in the door, there’s a 19-week training pipeline. Special Agents with the DEA should expect to move around quite a bit. As they write on their website, “Mobility is a condition of employment.”
See more articles in this series: