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While the fire and brimstone of drug war rhetoric continues to saturate the mainstream press, high-ranking drug war insiders continue to come forward in attempts to expose the “war” for what it really is: a battle for the hearts, minds, and tax dollars of the American public. And the media continue to be the government’s apparently willing ally in this war.

The latest to “go public” is Michael Levine, who recently retired from the DEA after 25 years as a leading undercover agent for various law enforcement agencies. Over the course of his career, Levine has personally accounted for at least 3,000 people serving a total of 15,000 years in jail, as well as several tons of various illegal substances seized. Upon his retirement Levine published a critical expose of the DEA in which he thoroughly documents his journey from true believer to drug war heretic.

Levine documents numerous instances of CIA involvement in the drug trade, State De­partment intervention, and DEA cooperation with both parties. Levine’s story closely parallels that of Richard Gregorie whose defection from the Attorney General’s office was the fourth ranked “censored” story of 1989.

According to Levine, “the only thing we know with certainty is that the drug war is not for real. The drug economy in the United States is as much as $200 billion a year, and it is being used to finance political operations, pay international debts – all sorts of things.” While not being completely frozen out by the media, not one DEA or other government official would appear to respond to his charges.

Levine’s appearance on The MacNeil/Lehrer show was significant because Terrence Burke (the acting DEA chief), when asked by Lehrer, agreed with Levine that “we (the U.S.), have consistently chosen drugs over communism,” but Burke only agreed to appear on the show after the Levine interview (which was taped) and with the proviso that he would not discuss any of the charges made in the book.

Another strange media non-event was the proposed “60 Minutes” segment on “the drug war fraud”. On January 24, “60 Minutes” producer Gail Eisen called Levine and explained that executive producer Don Hewitt had ordered a “crash production” for a segment on his experi­ence with the DEA. Levine gave “60 Minutes” extensive documentation and he was instructed to get his passport in order to do on location shooting in Panama. He then received a phone call informing him that “60 Minutes” had suddenly and inexplicably dropped the piece.

“The whole drug war is a media war,” says Levine, “It’s a psychological war, aimed at convincing America through the press that our government is seriously trying to deal with the drug problem when they’re not.”


SOURCE: EXTRA!, 130 West 25th St., New York, NY 10001, DATE: July/August 1990

TITLE: “Ex-DEA Agent Calls Drug War a Fraud”

AUTHOR: Martin A. Lee

SOURCE: THE HUMANIST, 7 Harwood Drive, PO Box 146, Amherst, NY 14226-0146, DATE: September/October 1990

TITLE: “A Funny, Dirty Little Drug War”

AUTHOR: Rick Szykowny

COMMENTS: Investigative journalist Martin A. Lee, co-author of “Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media,” felt the “drug war” issue received minimal exposure. “Charges by Michael Levine, a 25-year veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration, that the drug war is a fraud, got very little coverage in mainstream U.S. news media – this at a time when the so-called drug war was perhaps the biggest ongoing news story in the U.S. press.” Lee said that his interview with Levine was reprinted in a handful of alternative weeklies, but no mainstream news outlet picked up his charges and explored the serious issues he raised. Rick Szykowny, author of the article in The Humanist, said that the media coverage of the drug war amounted to a propaganda exercise, as the media focused on the Bush Administration’s self­-serving pronouncement and rigorously avoided any analysis of either the systemic social and cultural causes of drug use (and abuse) in this country or the political aspects of the “war on drugs”. Szykowny also suggested that “The Bush Administration is the most obvious beneficiary of the mass -media’s uncritical coverage of the drug war – as were the Reagan and Nixon administrations before it. The Drug War is the kind of issue that lends itself quite handily to cynical political manipulation. By declaring “war” on drug abuse – essentially a thorny social (non-military) problem – the Bush administration was able to achieve a number of things. It could foment a kind of crisis mentality in the general public, to the point where the average American supported the suspension of constitutionally protected civil liberties in order to wage that war. It could divert the attention of the American public (and mass media) from far more substantial political issues – and from the fact that the United States government has cynically colluded with international drug traffickers when it has served the interests of `national security.’ The Bush Administration was also able to intervene in the internal affairs of South American nations under the pretext of `going to the source,’ and even invaded Panama to (allegedly) bring Manuel Noriega to trial on drug trafficking charges.”

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