Derek S. Maltz, Retired Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration ( DEA)

the global drug trade

After working 28 years as a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the last 10 as the Agent in Charge of the Special Operations Division, a Virginia based Operational Coordination Center with participation from over 30 agencies; I learned many disturbing aspects of global drug trafficking which includes the severe consequences of drug addiction. Too often I hear stories about the sudden deaths of young children with bright futures. Over the years, I have listened to many parents crying out loud after finding loved ones dead in their bedrooms after overdosing. I have also witnessed the shrinking budgets of drug education in America and the lack of serious attention from leaders in Washington on this topic. How can we ignore the crisis of drug addiction, death and destruction of families? To make matters worse, we have a national health epidemic that connects to national security matters impacting all Americans.

Drug traffickers are in the business to make money while terrorists need money to operate and achieve their objectives. As President Obama and other national leaders have stated, “terrorists are increasingly turning to crime and criminal networks for funding”. The threat of terrorists and drug traffickers forming a strong alliance is real and emerging quickly as a result of the worldwide demand for drugs and the exorbitant profits made from the business. Is state sponsorship of terrorism declines, terrorism fueled by drug trafficking is on the rise. More than ever, this ongoing and expanding crisis needs the proactive attention of government. Sadly, it takes the death of a celebrity like Prince, or affluent children from influential families to grab the attention of the folks who are responsible for dealing with this serious problem. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there has been a 24 8% increase in heroin deaths from 2010-2014 , according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 28,000 people died in 2014 from opioid painkillers and heroin, and according to the DEA, more than 4 6,000 people in the U .S. died from drug overdoses in 2013. Isn’t this alarming enough for Congress and others to get serious about this problem?

Many Parents, teachers and educators have never heard of Spice or K2. They think K2 is a brand name for skiing gear and Spice is a seasoning for meals. The manufacturers and distributors of these dangerous synthetic drugs want non-users to believe its incense or nice smelling potpourri. The creative marketing scheme designed to protect the distributors from prosecution even mark the exotic designed packages, Scooby Snax, King Cobra, Kush Apple, Kong, Magic Dragon and as “not for human consumption”. Meanwhile, parents around the country are finding this synthetic cannabis and the paraphernalia in the bedrooms of their beautiful children as they lay either unconscious, dead or in the middle of a psychotic episode. The public’s perception is marijuana is safe so how bad can synthetic marijuana be? This is an emerging trend that has garnered the attention of the national media organizations, but sadly the public still doesn’t realize that this dried plant substance that is sprayed with chemicals and made in laboratories in China is actually like “poison” destroying so many lives and families. There is no quality control in the labs and the organizations behind the distribution are making tremendous amounts of money. Because the laws are behind and the legal system in America is slow to respond, the traffickers are taking complete advantage and making lots of money.

A disturbing trend that I saw growing as the Director of the Special Operations Division, was that synthetic pot was generating tons of profits and proceeds from this business were being sent to countries in the Middle East from the U .S. organizations. After Project Synergy and a major case in Alabama as part of Operation Red Tide, many wondered why millions of dollars were being sent to Yemen from convenience stores, gas stations and smoke shops selling synthetic drugs on the streets of America. During multiple interviews, reporters always asked, “do we have the smoking gun to support that the millions funneled to Yemen were supporting terrorists”. Unfortunately, there is no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that these funds are going to terrorists and it remains an unanswered question due to limited intelligence. However, as an investigator for almost 30 years, it’s very hard to justify or accept that these large sums of money are not getting into the hands of violent jihadist organizations. If you look at all the evidence and facts relating to Yemen and that the base of operations for AQ AP, Al-Q aida in the Arabian Peninsula, is in that country, it’s certainly not a stretch to think that the people running these U .S. businesses are assisting the AQ AP and other groups who need cash to operate. They need funds for training, recruiting, weapons, bribery, explosives, travel and logistics. AQ AP is a Sunni extremist group that has conducted numerous high profile attacks targeting the west. There was plenty of suspicious activity developed in the money movements as U .S. banks and law enforcement agencies examined the flows of cash to Yemen.

Since U.S. officials have overwhelming responsibilities in keeping America safe, it’s very difficult to get anyone excited to investigate this emerging problem without the “smoking gun” to support that these monies are supporting the agenda of terrorists. In my opinion this phenomenon is actually a “two for one special” for the terrorists. They can destroy families and kill children in the U .S. by selling synthetic drugs, and at the same time they can make tons of money in the process to support their cause. This is nothing new to DEA as high level Afghani heroin traffickers have stated that selling heroin to customers in the west is part of the global jihad. They can kill and make money at the same time. This is a win-win scenario for the enemy as the U.S. officials continue to debate the topic and disagree on what’s actually happening. It’s clearly more important for the government’s resources to prioritize the investigative efforts on the most pressing threats like when there is an active subject looking to kill innocent people on the streets of America. It’s not possible with limited resources to investigate every aspect of terrorism, but shutting down the funding streams from the criminal activities like selling synthetic drugs in the U .S. will certainly disrupt the terrorist’s activities.

The most important aspect of this article is to understand the larger issues with the drug problem in America. Yes, it’s very sad that
our youth are dying and lives are ruined. It’s horrible for parents and families to experience the impacts of drug addiction. It’s the responsibility of our government to educate the great citizens of this country on the other realities of global drug trafficking. The public and policy makers must understand the economics behind terrorism since that’s a critical component of addressing the threat. According to the United Nations World Drug Report, the global drug trade generates approximately $ 4 00 billion on an annual basis. It would be very naïve to think that radical jihadists in Yemen wouldn’t be benefiting directly from the synthetic drug sales in America when millions and millions are funneled from their U .S. based illicit activities.

Derek S. Maltz was the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Special Operations Division (SOD) from May 2005 through July 2014 in Chantilly, VA. SAC Maltz previously held the position as the Associate SAC of the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force. SAC Maltz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Syracuse University. Mr. Maltz retired from the DEA after 28 years of dedicated service and is currently working for Pen-Link Ltd as the Executive Director, Governmental Relations.