Michele Leonhart’s resignation as the head of the Drug Enforcement Administrator (DEA) does not come as a surprise. If anything, what seems astounding is the fact that she remained in the post for so long, considering the agency’s myriad problems.
DEA’s latest scandal was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The administrator lost the trust of Congress after it was revealed that a group of agents participated in numerous parties with prostitutes in Colombia, paid for by drug cartels. An internal report showed that the incidents were broadly dismissed, dodging an investigation by Washington. Then, the details of the cases were hidden from an inspector general’s inquiry. The agents involved were given risible penalties of between 7 and 10 days’ suspension.
Under Leonhart, who had been at the agency’s helm since 2007, the DEA has been engaged in countless controversies. According to the Department of Justice, these range from incidents such as a botched operation in Honduras in 2012 – in which three innocent people, two women and a 14 year-old boy, died, – to the payment of millions of dollars to lying informants, to instances of agents confiscating cash from people – frequently targeted because of their race – without probable cause.
The worst part is that, long before 9/11, the agency was gathering lists of virtually every phone call made from the U.S. to 116 countries linked with drug traffic activities. News agency Reuters exposed the way the date collected through this gigantic surveillance operation was being shared with local police departments that used it to make arrests. The DEA would advice the police on how to hide the source of the information from defense lawyers, public prosecutors and judges.
This change of direction is a chance to reconsider DEA’s priorities and procedures in the light of the transformations occurring in U.S. society, for instance, regarding marihuana legalization. It could also help restore the agency’s general credibility, both inside and outside the U.S.
Democrat Congressman Elijah Cummings said the internal report showed that the agency is “out of control.” A change in administration is the right time to make corrections.