The Drug Enforcement Administration's International Operations (Redacted)

Audit Report 07-19
February 2007
Office of the Inspector General

Chapter 1: Introduction

Illegal drug trafficking is a global problem, with criminal organizations worldwide participating in these illegal drug trafficking activities. In a recent study, the United Nations estimated the world market for illicit drugs at $322 billion.15 In 2002 the U.S. government projected the economic cost of drug abuse on the United States at $180 billion.16

Overview of the DEA

On July 1, 1973, a Presidential Executive Order created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and it became the primary federal agency responsible for investigating illicit drug trafficking organizations operating within the United States. The DEA’s stated mission is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States, bringing to justice the illicit drug organizations and their principal members involved in the growth, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances that are smuggled into and throughout the country. The DEA’s enforcement philosophy is to develop investigative cases to attack the organizational command and control structures of major drug trafficking organizations.

The ultimate goal of these efforts is to significantly disrupt drug trafficking operations and to dismantle the criminal organizations entirely, while ultimately bringing their leaders to prosecution, either in the United States or through another country’s judicial system. The Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains a working list, which is updated at least annually based on a collection of intelligence from various agencies, of the drug trafficking organization kingpins throughout the world whose operations most significantly affect the United States. According to DOJ officials, since its inception in 2002, this “Consolidated Priority Organization Target” (CPOT) list has contained a total of 80 targets, none of whom resided in the United States. As of June 2006, the list included 46 targets. Therefore, to combat the highest priority drug trafficking organizations, the DEA extends its efforts to countries where major drug traffickers live and operate. DEA personnel are stationed abroad to work closely with other foreign law enforcement agencies, as well as other U.S. agencies operating in the international arena.

According to the DEA, the U.S. government was operating offices overseas to combat illicit drug trafficking well before the DEA was created in 1973. In 1951, for example, the U.S. government opened its first foreign office dedicated to drug trafficking matters in Rome, Italy. Offices in Beirut, Lebanon, and Paris, France, followed in 1954 and 1959.17 A major example of international partnerships occurred as early as 1960 when U.S. foreign drug agents worked with their foreign counterparts to investigate morphine trafficking out of Lebanon and Turkey to France for heroin production. This international coordination resulted in the Turkish government banning morphine production and led to the dismantling of French heroin trafficking organizations.

Since the current DEA Administrator took office in 2003, she has pursued an increase in DEA resources dedicated to the international arena. During this time, the DEA has increased its number of foreign offices, bolstered its international funding, and augmented the number of personnel assigned in the foreign arena to combat illicit drug trafficking organizations at their foundation.

DEA Headquarters

DEA headquarters, located in Arlington, Virginia, is responsible for developing the strategic objectives, management policies, and operational protocol for the agency.18 It provides oversight and assistance to its operational field entities located throughout the United States and across the world. Six operational divisions comprise the majority of the workforce for DEA headquarters. The Operations Division contains the components that have the most interaction with and responsibility for DEA foreign activities. The following is an organizational chart of the DEA’s Operations Division.

DEA Operations Division Organization Chart

Top of chart-Chief. Under Chief- Office of Operations Management, Office of Diversion Control, Office of Financial Operations, Special Operations Division, Office of Aviation, Office of International Programs, Office of Enforecement Operations.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration

In brief, the Operations Division contains the headquarters offices responsible for the support of all DEA operational activity, both foreign and domestic. The first four offices in the chart above support specialized DEA investigative activity and developing and promulgating agency policy. The Office of Operations Management is involved with foreign offices and activities mainly by generating management policies and coordinating formal working agreements with international law enforcement counterparts. The Office of Diversion Control assists foreign offices in activity related to precursor chemical awareness and movement.19 The Office of Financial Operations is responsible for initiating policy and coordinating matters related to money laundering investigations, which the DEA Administrator has announced as a major priority of the agency. The Special Operations Division (SOD) coordinates intelligence related to and derived from pen registers and communication intercepts for domestic and foreign offices.20 The DEA’s Office of Aviation is also managed by its Operations Division and has posts located internationally, such as in Colombia and Mexico, to provide support to various DEA operations.

The remaining two Operations Division offices have the most involvement in DEA foreign offices. All drug enforcement matters – domestic and foreign – are coordinated through the Office of Enforcement Operations. This office’s foreign functions include ensuring cooperation of investigative cases between domestic and foreign DEA offices, coordinating large international operations, and developing strategic targeting initiatives.

The DEA’s Office of International Programs is dedicated to supplying necessary administrative support to DEA foreign offices and international programs. This office is also responsible for representing the DEA within the international law enforcement community, coordinating foreign dignitary visits to DEA domestic offices, arranging for DEA Administrator meetings with foreign counterparts, planning international conferences, managing the overall DEA foreign budget, and preparing DEA personnel for foreign postings. The Office of International Programs has no involvement in any enforcement activities.

DEA Foreign Objectives

The DEA’s legal operating authority abroad is different than in its domestic offices because DEA agents stationed overseas do not have law enforcement jurisdiction. The DEA’s operating authorities differ from country to country depending on host-country laws, agreements between governments, international treaties, and local policies issued to U.S. agencies by the U.S. Ambassador. Despite different working environments, DEA foreign offices pursue five principal objectives when working with foreign counterpart agencies: (1) participate in bilateral investigations; (2) cultivate and maintain quality liaison relations; (3) promote and contribute to foreign institution building; (4) support intelligence gathering and sharing efforts; and (5) provide training opportunities.

DEA Foreign Field Offices

According to the DEA and the DOJ’s CPOT list, the criminal syndicates involved in the trafficking of illegal drugs into and throughout the United States often reside in other countries, beyond the DEA’s enforcement jurisdiction. DEA officials further asserted that the DEA must develop and maintain relationships with foreign law enforcement agencies to obtain information necessary to further its investigations and to successfully combat drug trafficking into and within the United States. To this end, the DEA has an established network of foreign field offices that liaison and work bilaterally with foreign law enforcement agencies, as well as with other U.S. entities located abroad.

DEA foreign field offices are considered part of the U.S. Embassy mission and may be housed within or outside the Embassy or Consulate. The primary DEA office in a foreign country is referred to as the DEA Country Office. In some instances, the DEA has more than one office in a country, and these secondary offices are called Resident Offices. A typical DEA foreign office is staffed by Special Agents, Intelligence Research Specialists, administrative support personnel, and foreign national hires, also known as foreign service nationals (FSNs).21 The senior DEA position in each Country Office is the DEA Country Attaché. In addition to reporting to the appropriate DEA management, the DEA Country Attaché must also report to the U.S. Ambassador on DEA matters and activities within the host country. The DEA Resident Offices report to the DEA Country Office.

The chart below shows the overall growth in the number of DEA foreign offices over the last 30 years. The DEA increased its foreign offices from 66 in 1975 (shortly after its inception) to 79 in fiscal year (FY) 2005.

Number of DEA Foreign Offices
1975 – Present

1975: 66, 1980: 57, 1985: 60, 1990: 70, 1995: 68, 2000: 77, 2005: 79, Current: 86.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration Office of International Programs

Currently the DEA operates 80 foreign offices and is in the process of opening 6 more offices, which will give it a total of 86 offices in 62 foreign countries. The map on the following page indicates the locations of DEA foreign offices, noting Country Offices (red dot), Resident Offices (green dot), and future offices (black dot).

DEA Foreign Offices
(as of June 2006)23

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Source: Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of International Programs

According to a DEA headquarters official, the agency is constantly asked by foreign governments to open offices in other countries. However, the DEA only opens offices in countries that are in some way tied to the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. This includes countries that are a source of drugs or precursor chemicals, countries where significant money laundering occurs, or countries that are linked to drug trafficking organizations that threaten the United States. Ultimately, the host government, the U.S. Chief of Mission, and Congress must authorize the opening of a new foreign office. As a sovereign state, any host country may withdraw this permission at any time.

In 2004, the DEA divided its foreign offices into seven regions. These regions are managed by Regional Directors who are located within certain DEA foreign offices. The position and role of a Regional Director is equivalent to that of a DEA Special Agent in Charge (SAC) for a domestic office.

A Regional Director has overall responsibility for the activities of DEA Country Offices and Resident Offices in multiple countries.24 For instance, the DEA Regional Director for the Andean Region is responsible for countries predominantly located along the northern portion of the Andean mountain range in South America, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Comparably, the SAC for the DEA Atlanta Division oversees DEA offices and activities in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The following exhibit shows the DEA foreign regions and the cities in which the DEA Regional Directors are located.

DEA Foreign Regions

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Source: Drug Enforcement Administration

DEA Funding and Personnel

The DEA’s FY 2006 overall budget was approximately $1.67 billion.25 Its foreign offices and activities comprise nearly 20 percent of this funding, with an allocation of almost $312 million. The amount of resources allocated to foreign offices varies from country to country, and from location to location. Each office is provided a funding allocation, the amount of which is determined based upon the breadth of operational activity and the number of personnel assigned to the office. In turn, the level and type of allowable operational activity determines the staffing size of DEA foreign offices. For example, if host country officials permit DEA personnel to work with them in conducting bilateral investigations, a DEA foreign office may have a larger staff than other locations that are limited to more liaison-type activities. Further, the exact number of positions located in foreign offices requires approvals from various Department of State (State Department) officials including the U.S. Ambassador, and in some cases the host government. The number of DEA personnel stationed in a foreign office varies from 109 allocated positions in Colombia to 2 positions each in Australia, Japan, and Laos. On average, DEA foreign offices are allocated about 9 positions.

DEA Budget

Over the last 7 years, the DEA’s overall budget grew by 33 percent, from $1.25 billion in FY 2000 to $1.67 billion in FY 2006. During this same period, the DEA’s foreign budget increased 55 percent, from about $201 million in FY 2000 to almost $312 million in FY 2006. Thus, the DEA proportionately increased the budget for its foreign activities at a greater rate than its overall growth. The DEA’s proposed FY 2007 budget request is over $1.7 billion, including nearly $352 million for international endeavors. If these amounts are appropriated, the DEA’s budget for foreign activities will have expanded by 75 percent from its FY 2000 funding allocation. The greater proportionate growth in the DEA’s foreign budget, compared to its overall budget over the last several years demonstrates the agency’s increased emphasis on international activities. The following table illustrates percentage growth from FY 2000 for the DEA’s overall budgets and the funding dedicated to international operations.


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Source: OIG analysis of Drug Enforcement Administration budget figures

DEA Personnel

In total, the DEA had 10,866 authorized positions for FY 2006, dividing its personnel resources into seven main categories: (1) Special Agents; (2) Intelligence Research Specialists; (3) Diversion Investigators; (4) professional, administrative, technical, and clerical (PATC) staff; (5) Investigative Technology Specialists; (6) chemists; and (7) attorneys. Special Agents are the standard investigative personnel of the federal law enforcement community, while Intelligence Research Specialists provide support to DEA investigations by collecting and analyzing drug intelligence relevant to the DEA’s mission. Diversion Investigators investigate the illegal diversion of pharmaceuticals, coordinate with the pharmaceutical industry, and educate the public about precursor chemicals and the impact of diverted prescription drugs. The majority of the DEA’s administrative support functions are handled by PATC employees.

Approximately 7 percent of the DEA total allotted positions are allocated to foreign offices. DEA personnel must apply for foreign assignments, all of which are competitive positions. DEA management informed us that only experienced DEA personnel are eligible for an overseas posting. The DEA also hires FSNs for certain positions such as secretaries, drivers, and investigative assistants in its foreign offices. The following table shows the number of DEA authorized positions for FY 2006.

FY 2006 DEA Authorized Personnel26
Type of Position

Total Foreign Percent in

Special Agent




Intelligence Research Specialist




Diversion Investigator








Investigative Technology Specialist
















Source:   OIG analysis of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Resource Management, May 2006 data

Since 1997, the DEA has increased its foreign allocated personnel by 195 positions, from 556 to 751. The most significant area of increase was in Special Agent positions, which increased from 382 in 1997 to 491 in 2006. Additionally, its Intelligence Research Specialist positions and PATC positions have also increased significantly during this period. The following chart provides a perspective of the change in DEA foreign personnel resources from 1997 through 2006.

Change in DEA Authorized Foreign Personnel Positions

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Source: OIG analysis of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Resource Management data

DEA Foreign Rightsizing

In October 2003, the DEA completed a review of its foreign offices in an effort to determine the number of personnel needed to fulfill the objectives and needs of each office. This rightsizing review resulted in a proposal that called for adjustments in the number of authorized positions within particular DEA foreign offices. The proposal recommended reducing the personnel size of some offices, increasing others, and keeping the majority of its foreign offices’ position levels the same. In all, the report recommended that 17 foreign office positions be reallocated to other foreign offices and 65 domestic positions be transferred to foreign offices. The report also recommended that the DEA open five new foreign offices in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Matamoros, Nogales, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; and Paramaribo, Suriname.27 Since this original review, the DEA has instituted a foreign rightsizing assessment into its annual resource planning, which the DEA will consider when preparing its budget requests.

Prior Reports

The OIG previously reviewed various programs and management areas of the DEA that pertain in some way to this audit of the agency’s international operations. In September 2003, the OIG released a report on the DEA’s compliance with the Government Performance and Results Act.28 The OIG found that while the DEA had developed a strategic plan in line with DOJ's strategic plan, the agency had not developed objectives and measures definitive enough to effectively evaluate performance and operational outcome. As of September 2006 the OIG continues to coordinate with the DEA on resolving this deficiency.

In May 2005 the OIG issued a report on the DEA’s payments to confidential informants detailing procedural and management control issues regarding such payments.29 We made 12 recommendations in that report, calling for improvements to the DEA's risk management and procedural control over payments to informants. While that review of DEA informant payments concentrated on DEA domestic offices, we believe the implementation of some of the report’s recommendations also applies to the DEA’s foreign offices. Because of that report, and the DEA’s agreement to address the recommendations in that report, this review of the DEA’s international operations did not include a direct assessment of DEA foreign office payments to confidential informants.

Audit Approach

The objectives of this audit were to: (1) review the DEA’s foreign office performance, including its efforts to track operational activity and its internal mechanisms for evaluating the performance of its foreign operations; (2) examine the DEA’s involvement and management of international investigative activity; (3) assess the DEA’s relationships with its law enforcement counterparts abroad, including its liaison associations and the exchange of information; (4) analyze the DEA’s processes and controls over foreign administrative functions, including those related to security, firearms, property management, and fiscal matters; and (5) review the training provided or coordinated by the DEA to its foreign counterparts and DEA personnel stationed abroad.

To accomplish these objectives we conducted numerous interviews with DEA personnel, representatives from other U.S. government agencies, and foreign government officials. Additionally, we reviewed DEA internal documentation such as manuals, financial reports, and workload data; we analyzed DEA empirical data pertaining to investigative casework and personnel utilization; and we conducted fieldwork at 10 DEA foreign offices in five foreign countries: Colombia, Italy, Mexico, Thailand, and Turkey. We selected locations that would provide us with a broad overall perspective of DEA’s international operations, including geographic location, jurisdiction, operational activity, and personnel composition.

In addition, we met with officials at DEA headquarters to discuss the foreign offices’ goals and objectives, and the DEA’s oversight and support of foreign offices and operations. We also interviewed personnel at the DEA’s Training Academy, the SOD, the EPIC, and three DEA domestic offices (Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; and El Paso, Texas) about their interaction with DEA foreign offices.

We also interviewed representatives from various DOJ components, such as the Office of International Affairs, the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), about their agencies’ coordination with the DEA in the foreign environment. We also spoke with several State Department components, including the Office of Rightsizing and the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), about the DEA’s communication and coordination with those offices. Additionally, we held discussions with officials from the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the Department of Defense.

In each of the five countries in which we conducted fieldwork we reviewed the DEA Country Office, and in four of the five we performed work at selected DEA Resident Offices. At the offices we visited, we interviewed DEA management officials, such as the Regional Director or Country Attaché and Assistant Regional Directors, about the DEA’s foreign activities. At each Embassy, we interviewed the U.S. Ambassador or the Chief of Mission designate, representatives from various State Department offices, and personnel from other U.S. law enforcement, intelligence, and defense agencies.30 At these locations, we also reviewed DEA procedures, documentation, and files applicable to our review. Moreover, we discussed the DEA’s activities and conduct in each country with representatives from the host government’s law enforcement and judicial entities with which the DEA foreign offices work. The following table indicates the DEA foreign offices in which we conducted fieldwork. Appendix II includes profiles for each country we visited during this review.

DEA Foreign Offices – Fieldwork Locations
Country Country
Resident Office
in U.S.
Resident Office
independent of
U.S. foreign property










Mexico City










  1. United Nations, Office of Drugs and Crime. Annual Report, 2005.

  2. The Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of National Drug Control Policy. The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in the United States 1992-2002, December 2004.

  3. This Beirut office closed in 1958, reopened in 1959, and closed again in 1976.

  4. Certain headquarters-level components are located outside of the DEA’s main headquarters campus in Arlington, Virginia. For instance, the DEA Training Division is stationed in Quantico, Virginia; the Special Operations Division (SOD) is housed in Chantilly, Virginia; and the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) resides in El Paso, Texas.

  5. Precursor chemicals are materials used in the manufacture of a controlled substance.

  6. A pen register is a tool employed by law enforcement agencies that allows an investigator to view phone numbers called and received from a specific phone. A communication intercept is the recording of telephone conversations and can be a hardline phone tap or an interception of wireless communication. These are two of the SOD’s principal functions.

  7. Foreign service nationals are non-U.S. citizens who enter into employment contracts with U.S. government agencies abroad, including DEA foreign offices.

  8. The current DEA foreign office figure in the chart represents foreign offices that the DEA opened in FY 2006 and offices that the DEA is in the process of opening.

  9. The office in Warsaw, Poland, opened in 2006. The future offices identified in Mexico are pending approval from the government of Mexico.

  10. Being the highest ranking DEA officer in the country, the Regional Director is also the DEA Country Attaché. The Caribbean Region is managed by the DEA’s San Juan Division; the San Juan office is a domestic field division managed by a SAC.

  11. Drug Enforcement Administration. FY 2007 Congressional Budget Submission, February 2006.

  12. The DEA also had 259 contract employees in its foreign offices in FY 2006. These included FSNs, spouses of other U.S. Embassy employees, and other U.S. citizens living abroad.

  13. The Suriname office opened in 2006 and the Kyrgyzstan office is slated to open in 2007. The proposed new offices in Mexico have been approved by Congress and are pending approval from the government of Mexico.

  14. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. The Drug Enforcement Administration's Implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act, Audit Report 03-35, September 2003.

  15. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. The Drug Enforcement Administration's Payments to Confidential Sources, Audit Report 05-25, May 2005.

  16. A complete listing of agencies with which we met is contained in Appendix V.

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