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US military has spent nearly $3 billion on domestic drug war efforts since 2004, but heroin use has nonetheless exploded

The US military doled out over $2.75 billion to US law enforcement through its National Guard counter drug programs between the years 2004 and 2015, but didn’t keep sufficient track of how that money was spent or what good it achieved, according to an October 2015 Government Accountability Office report. The Guard’s assistance to domestic law enforcement includes surveillance, intelligence and analysis, marijuana crop eradication, and school-based anti-drug education, among other efforts.

The GAO found that while DoD has performance measures, it does not apply them to information collected from National Guard funded programs. Therefore it seems as if DoD does not measure whether the money they are spending does any good. Body counts in the northeast United States from the explosion in heroin addiction rates suggest that, like other drug war efforts, it has not.

Despite these profound failures, each year since 2004 congress has allocated more money to the National Guard’s counter drug programs than the DoD asked for. Not all of this money is spent in the United States, however. Under congressional rules the military is allowed to reallocate a certain percentage of the money each year to other drug war efforts. In 2013 and 2014, for example, according to the GAO, DoD reallocated $51.8m from the program to “counternarcotic capacity building efforts in the U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Southern Command.”

In response to the GAO report, the National Guard claimed that it has achieved substantial results through its domestic drug war efforts. In fiscal year 2014, according to the Guard, its domestic efforts supported law enforcement agencies in “469 counternarcotics-related money laundering investigations with links to narco-terrorism, precursor chemical diversion, and drug trafficking.” National Guard drug analysts “contributed to the identification of over 713 suspects and 430 previously unknown money laundering methods, as well as the dismantlement of eight [drug trafficking organizations (DTOs)], disruption of 29 DTOs and seizure of over $9 million worth of currency, narcotics, and property.”

According to the Guard, it “supports all 32 High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Intelligence Support Centers and hundreds of HIDTA-funded task forces with analysts, reconnaissance, transportation and training.” Furthermore, the Guard says, its members translated 400 anti-drug documents in collaboration with the World Health Organization. National Guard anti-drug employees also received an award at the HIDTA National Awards Banquet for their role in dismantling a drug trafficking organization in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Finally, the National Guard has “received numerous letters of appreciation” from various domestic law enforcement agencies, says Charles Weaver, a colonel in the U.S. Army and chief of the National Guard’s Counterdrug Division.

In March 2015, Edward Snowden warned a group of technology leaders that people in the United States should be very concerned about the trickle down of illegal surveillance from the military and intelligence worlds to state and local police departments. Through entities like fusion centers and the HIDTAs, the drug and terror wars have substantially contributed to the breaking down of barriers between federal intelligence agencies and the US military on the one hand and domestic law enforcement agencies on the other.

If you are interested in parallel construction (also known as evidence laundering) and the trickle down Snowden warned about, keep an eye on programs like the National Guard’s domestic drug efforts. It very well may be that the US military is much more involved in local drug war policing than the government wishes to let on.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.