DEA special agents are trained to operate within some of the most dangerous criminal environments imaginable. They may infiltrate criminal organizations as undercover financiers, middlemen or buyers. They may also assume a completely tactical role in some of the federal government’s most elite tactical units, the DEA Special Operations Division. In other situations, DEA agents may act as international intelligence operatives collecting information about narcotics organizations from informants, local police organizations or human intelligence assets.
Multi-Agency Task Forces
Within the United States, DEA agents have sweeping authority to operate within almost every jurisdiction. DEA agents may organize counter-drug operations in concert with federal law enforcement agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FBI, or the Food and Drug Administration. The DEA is also actively involved with law enforcement agencies at the state and local level.
This involvement is usually conducted within the framework of State and Local Task Forces. These multi-agency operations have been used effectively for the past four decades in identifying, investigating and dismantling drug operations throughout the nation. In some areas of the country, like the Southwest where populations and law enforcement are sparse but conducive to drug traffic, the DEA Task Force provides monitoring and narcotics interdiction services. These joint units are comprised of 1,890 DEA agents and more than 2,200 local and state officers.
Special Domestic Units
Throughout the United States, there are 226 field offices in 21 divisions. These offices support a variety of critical services like aviation, marine and urban interdiction. The DEA currently employs almost 92 airplanes and helicopters piloted by 108 DEA agent pilots. These pilots have clocked almost 63,000 flight hours over 24,000 flights.
Because so much of the drug trafficking into the United States is conducted through the Southwest, the DEA works with an array of federal agencies to staff the El Paso Intelligence Center, which oversees policing and monitoring duties near the U.S.-Mexico border. The majority of the agency’s intelligence processes are conducted in conjunction with the Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s office at its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
Special Operations Teams
One of the DEA’s premier units is the Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Teams. Of the five FAST units, one is permanently stationed in Afghanistan to conduct counter-drug or counter-terrorist operations in the world’s largest opium producing nation. The other four FAST teams are stationed at DEA headquarters and are available for immediate deployment to any location in the world. This elite tactical team recruits only the most qualified DEA agents through a rigorous eight-week selection program.
In addition to world-class tactical units, the Drug Enforcement Administration maintains 86 Foreign offices in 67 nations. Of the almost 750 workers stationed abroad, many are DEA agents who are authorized to conduct investigations into foreign nationals, organizations and governments to uncover evidence of narcotics activities, initiate programs to destroy narcotics organizations and obtain support from foreign authorities.
These offices provide the legal, diplomatic and investigative foundation for many anti-drug operations and have been enormously successful in the disruption of these trafficking networks. In 2005 alone, 458 Priority Target Organization (PTO) investigations were conducted with evidence collected connecting a hundred of these PTOs to terrorist groups. The DEA agents in these offices were also instrumental in the apprehension and extradition of seven major international narcotics traffickers.
DEA agents working abroad are often assigned to Sensitive Information Units, which operate under strict protocols designed to limit detection by hostile organizations and leak information to unreliable associates. SIU teams have proved highly effective in countries like Mexico, Thailand and Colombia, where government corruption is endemic. SIU teams receive additional training at the DEA Training Academy before field assignment. These covert units also receive direct Congressional funding and resources to successfully complete assignments.