“The Drug Problem Has Exploded Into Frightening Proportions” – John E. Ingersoll: Bureau Of Narcotics And Dangerous Drugs – 1970
In 1970, statistics showed that the drug problem in the U.S. had achieved epidemic proportions – the leader in this perceived problem was Marijuana. According to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, Marijuana was the gateway drug – and all forms of insanity and overdose were directly attributed to smoking Marijuana.
In 1968, Congress presented a plan to combat the drugs issue by forming the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and appointed a 39 year-old Law enforcement officer by the name of John E. Ingersoll to head up the department. By 1970, under the Nixon Administration, Ingersoll revamped the department, adding some 1500 agents and setting up seizures of drug shipments on an international basis. The big issue was over Heroin. But Ingersoll was convinced Marijuana was only the beginning of an adventure that would turn occasional Pot Smokers into full-fledged drug addicts.
And so the campaign to eradicate drugs from every walk of life was on – and through the encouragement of the Nixon White House and Attorney General John Mitchell, had the resources and ability to actively engage the problem head-on.
Of course, this newly formed Bureau was acting independently of the Department of Justice, and investigations revealed that The Department of Justice was wallowing in its own little scandal – where a large number of agents were actively involved in dealing drugs themselves and had come under the influence of the dealers they were allegedly trying to arrest.
This excerpt, from the book Agency of Fear by Edward J. Epstein, gives some idea the climate around the DOJ and BNDD:
By 1970, the bureau was fully engaged in the business of international narcotics seizures. With the help of computers and intelligence experts Ingersoll identified nine “primary systems” of heroin distribution throughout the world. Scores of agents, with large amounts of “buy money,” were dispatched to Marseilles, Naples, Hamburg, Hong Kong, and Bangkok to make contact with foreign traffickers. By stationing agents abroad, the bureau was able to claim credit for “cooperative” arrests that occurred in these countries (even if they had not participated in them). Thus the bureau reported in 1970 total worldwide seizures (the bulk of which took place in France, Italy, and Thailand) of 1,593 pounds of heroin, morphine, and opium with a street value of $311 million. The street value was estimated by calculating the retail price at which the heroin would have been sold if it had reached the United States and been fully diluted into the maximum number of portions that could be sold on the street.
Ingersoll was fully aware that these seizure statistics were somewhat misleading. Most of the heroin had actually been confiscated by foreign police in foreign countries, and it could not be definitely established that it was ever destined for the American market. Moreover, the value of the confiscated heroin was exaggerated manyfold by using the street-level calculus. For example, a kilogram of heroin seized in France in 1970 could be replaced by the trafficker in France for about $5,000; yet the Bureau of Narcotics would report the street value for that same seized kilogram at $210,000, or roughly forty times what the heroin was actually worth to the trafficker. Measuring the value of confiscated heroin in terms of street value is analogous to measuring the value of rustled cattle in terms of the price per pound of steak in the finest New York restaurant (in both cases, the retail price reflects distribution costs and profits that never actually occurred). Ingersoll was concerned that inflating the value of heroin could eventually encourage amateurs to enter the business as dealers, but when he suggested using a more realistic measure of the value of seizures, such as replacement cost, both White House and Bureau of Narcotics press officers strenuously objected. Any such change, they claimed, would be disastrous, since the press would presume that the lower figure indicated a sharp decline in the bureau’s performance. For example, after U.S. News & World Report revealed in 1970 that only 3 percent of the drugs being seized were “hard drugs,” as opposed to marijuana (in what appeared to Ingersoll to be a leak from the Treasury Department in the ongoing interagency war), Krogh asked Ingersoll in a memorandum, “How can ‘hard drugs’ be defined to show that much more than 25% of the seizures were of hard drugs?” The problem was that the magazine was defining seizures in terms of the weight of the seizures. Ingersoll replied in another memorandum, “Rather than redefine ‘hard drugs’ to suit our purposes, perhaps we could approach the situation by redefining our seizures in terms of … specific units for each drug…. A unit of hard drugs could be one injection and a unit of marijuana could be one cigarette. This method would deflate the marijuana figure by a factor of 50-100 in relation to heroin.” The ever-present G. Gordon Liddy attempted to solve this same problem by suggesting the development of an “Index of successful performance.” This novel criterion would divide the total weight of the drug seized in the year by the total number of estimated users in the population. Since there were presumed to be 100 times as many marijuana users as heroin users, it would appear that the government was, according to Liddy’s calculus, twenty-five times as successful in seizing heroin. In any case, Ingersoll continued reporting the higher street value of seizures.
The strategy also proved quite successful with Congress. When Ingersoll was questioned by members of the House Appropriations Committee in 1970 as to why his bureau produced substantially fewer arrests despite a 50-percent increase in its operating budget, he cited the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of seized heroin (measured by its street value) as evidence that his agency was becoming increasingly effective against the higher-level heroin wholesalers. The committee apparently was persuaded by his argument, since it recommended a further increase in the bureau’s appropriation for the following year. By 1971 the BNDD had grown considerably, with a force of 1,500 agents and budget of some $43 million (which was more than fourteen times the size of the budget of the former Bureau of Narcotics).
Copyright, 1977, G. P. Putnam and Sons, New York.
Here is that interview with John E.Ingersoll on Meet The Press from August 16, 1970. This was the state of things at the time.