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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 06/15/2010

Audit: El Paso Intelligence Center a bust

By Jeff Stein

The El Paso Intelligence Center, launched in 1974 to identify drug traffickers south of the border, is all but a complete bust, the Justice Department’s Inspector General reported Tuesday.

The 86-page report was a virtual laundry list of seemingly intractable problems at the border intelligence post, opened by the Drug Enforcement Administration with great fanfare 36 years ago.

“EPIC could not produce a complete record of drug seizures nationwide because of incomplete reporting into the National Seizure System, which is managed by EPIC,” Glenn A. Fine, chief of the Office of the Inspector General, reported.

“EPIC had not sustained the staffing for some key interdiction programs, such as its Fraudulent Document unit, its Air Watch unit, or its Maritime Intelligence unit….” Fine added.

“As a result, EPIC’s service to users in these program areas had been disrupted or diminished for periods of time.”

How long, or how seriously the programs had been “disrupted or diminished,” he did not say.

Then there were EPIC’s “coordination problems,” the OIG said, demonstrating that the unit is not immune to the failure-to-share bugaboo that has long afflicted U.S. intelligence, as documented in repeated reports and studies over the years.

“EPIC member agencies [are] not sharing information or contributing resources to sustain programs at EPIC,” the OIG said.

“Further, we found that EPIC’s coordination with federal and state intelligence organizations across the country is inconsistent,” Fine added.

Even worse: “EPIC did not maintain an up-to-date list of key intelligence and fusion centers and their points of contact, and EPIC did not know if it had users in each center….”

Fine’s other findings raise the question of how EPIC’s intelligence personnel spend their day.

“EPIC does not analyze some information that it uniquely collects, and as a result, EPIC may not be adequately identifying trends and patterns in trafficking activity that could be used to increase the effectiveness and safety of drug interdiction activities,” the OIG said.

“For example, at the time of our review, EPIC was not identifying trends or patterns in the use of documents sent to EPIC that were suspected of being used to commit fraud.”

In its most devastating statistic, the auditors found that “less than 1 percent of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers” use EPIC’s intelligence.

Tuesday’s report echoed problems found previously in drug interdiction programs, especially since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004, which scrambled responsibilities among a handful of new agencies.

“Partnerships have changed since 9/11 and outdated interagency agreements have led to conflicts with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and operational inefficiencies at CBP [Customs and Border Patrol],” the Government Accountability Office noted in 2007.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department recommended almost a dozen specific fixes for the problem at EPIC, which had a major cameo in Traffic, the 2000 movie about a skeptical White House "drug czar," played by Michael Douglas.

The DEA generally concurred in all of the criticisms, adding explanations (or rationalizations, the OIG seemed to think) for its shortcomings, and steps it had already taken to correct them.

“Although DEA has been responsible for the management of EPIC since it inception, EPIC is a true multi-agency center that remains heavily dependent on a variety of agencies for data, staffing and participation,” an OIG memorandum on DEA’s responses said. Some 21 agencies provide staff to EPIC.

Meanwhile, the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico continues at flood-like levels.

A nationwide, multi-agency counter narcotics sweep last week netted 429 arrests, plus “$5.8 million in cash, 2,951 pounds of marijuana, 247 pounds of cocaine, 17 pounds of methamphetamine, 141 weapons and 85 vehicles,” according to the New York Times.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. called the raid “our most extensive, and most successful, law enforcement effort to date targeting these deadly cartels.”

By Jeff Stein  | June 15, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Homeland Security, Intelligence, Justice/FBI  | Tags:  Michael Douglas, Traffic  
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EPIC Fail!

Posted by: kcx7 | June 15, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

As an El Paso resident and native, these findings aren't surprising in the least.

Our Congressional Representative, Silvestre Reyes, also heads the House Intelligence Committee, and had to have known about these problems since he was installed in that slot.

If Reyes won't bring pressure to bear and help clear up these problems, then the EPIC should absolutely be shut down.

"EPIC Fail" indeed sums it up.

Posted by: kingcranky | June 15, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Reyes has a vested interest in keeping the center irrelevant and powerless. Indeed, WaPo should look into how the center is staffed and the relationships of those that are employed there...

Honestly, you folks up on the east coast have NO earthly idea of what’s going on along the border with mexico.

You seem to have this idealized ‘vision’ of what mexico and it’s people are like. Things have changed and have changed considerably. Previous stories about how safe mexico and border communities are, leave us (who live in the border states), dumbfounded. It simply isn’t true.

Mexico is not our friend. It has absolutely no respect for the sovereignty of the United States yet demands that we repect theirs. It’s a corrupt and hypocritical nation that could implode soon.

I have lived and worked in El Paso and several other border cities providing health care services. You would be astounded at the number of mexican nationals who came over the border to have their babies in the US (anchor babies), and then go back to live in mexico. Whenever they needed services, food stamps, “benefits”, they’d cross over and receive them for free. These are some of the “rights” the anti-Arizona folks are demonstrating for.

Bookmark the El Paso Times and check periodically... in fact, bookmark several border area newspapers and read them.

Y’all need to pay attention up there...

Posted by: 4Jaxon | June 15, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Usually, when failure is so pandemic as it is here, someone is "on the take." Some official(s) is(are) getting paid off by cartels to keep the system ineffective and dysfunctional.

The War on Drugs itself has always been a failure.

Posted by: Anadromous2 | June 15, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

The war on drugs is a complete failure. I served on Federal Grand Jury in El Paso in the 90's for a whole year. Every month we indicted around 30-40 drug smugglers who attempted to cross drugs in their cars. The following month it was the exact same thing over and over. Every since Calderon has been cracking down on the large cartels in Mexico the violence has become unbearable in Juarez. Yet most of us keep blaming Mexico (who is partialy at fault)without looking into the mirror. It is us the USA who refuses to admit the we (USA) are the largest consumers of drugs and indifferent to the flow of arms going south. Most would not want our tax money to go to drug treatment programs, but the the same people demand that we spend billions sending low level drug dealers to prison and ramping up border protection. We need a complete change of drug policy. Drugs need to be decriminalized, and resources should shift to programs not enforcement. It worked well in Portugal. Drug use dropped only slightly 8 years after Portugal decriminalized all drugs, however all other drug related crimes dropped dramatically such as petty theft and murders.

Posted by: davirez42 | June 16, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse

EPIC was created just to justify a bunch of GS-14 and 15 positions.

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