FRONTLINE: DRUG WARS {PART 1 OF 2} (TV)

Summary

One in this documentary series. This program uses archival footage and interviews to detail the U.S. government's attempts to block the trafficking of drugs over the last thirty years.

As part one of this production begins, Egil "Bud" Krogh, Jr., deputy for domestic affairs at the White House from 1969 to 1973, recalls being called into President Richard Nixon's office in 1969 and told to put an end to the proliferation of drugs in the D.C. area. Dr. Robert DuPont, director of the Narcotics Treatment Administration from 1970 to 1973, tells about having noticed a surge in heroin addiction among those jailed at the time. He suggested the use of methadone to help wean prisoners off the narcotic. While the drug proved controversial, crime statistics dramatically decreased in D.C. by 1970.

In the meantime, marijuana and LSD became the drugs of choice for members of "the counterculture." In addition, reports of U.S. soldiers becoming addicted to heroin while in Vietnam resulted in Nixon sending Krogh to check out the situation in Asia. Krogh validated the findings, after which Nixon appointed psychiatrist Jerome Jaffe to head up a national drug treatment office. However, in 1972, Nixon appointed Myles Ambrose, commissioner of customs, to head a new White House drug office that allowed law enforcement policies to overshadow Jaffe's treatment methods.

The 1973 origins of the Drug Enforcement Administration quickly brought criticism about "overzealous" agents. Krogh corroborates that numerous abuses took place, ultimately forcing his resignation in 1973 and resulting in his being sent to jail. Meanwhile, the emergence of the Watergate scandal ended in Nixon's resignation and brought an end to his drug efforts, with only the DEA remaining after Jaffe left office. DEA agent John Marcello recalls how the use of marijuana blossomed as agents were told to focus all efforts on heroin. By the time Gerald Ford assumed the presidency, the DEA was left foundering, with drug laws declared a low priority.

Next, George Jung recalls how he dropped out of college in the '70s and began importing marijuana from Mexico, carrying approximately 700 pounds on each planeload, with a street value of $48,000. Such transactions continued as DuPont, now the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, worked toward decriminalization of marijuana use and possession, which President Jimmy Carter also backed. In the mid-'70s, Jung was imprisoned for dealing in large quantities of marijuana. While in prison, Jung met Carlos Lehder of Columbia, who told him about the profitability of cocaine; following their release, Jung and Lehder began trafficking cocaine with Lehder's childhood friend, Carlos Toro. Jung details how cocaine became the drug of choice for American jet-setters. DEA agent Jim Kibble explains why cocaine traffickers weren't prosecuted at the time, and the drug's usage soared.

In Colombia, Pablo Escobar, Rodriguez Gacha, and Juan David Ochoa and his brother Jorge -- collectively known as the Medellin Cartel -- dominated the cocaine trade through bribery, extortion and extreme violence. The Ochoa brothers explain how they got started in the cocaine trade and the manner in which the operation flourished, particularly after Bahamian Prime Minister Norman Pindling allowed his country to become a critical part of the business. When teens across America began joining the legions of "recreational drug users," parent-based groups began springing up. By 1980, the Parents Movement had more than a thousand chapters nationwide.

When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981, he pledged to work for drug education, which he said would lead to a reduction in demand. Meanwhile, Miami became the U.S. import capital for cocaine and marijuana. Hollywood was also proving a lucrative market, as Jung recalls being able to make five million dollars in a night from the sale of one hundred kilos of coke. Toro and the Ochoa brothers relate how they continued to make millions from cocaine distribution.

At the request of Miami citizens and officials, the South Florida Drug Task Force was formed in 1982, headed by Vice President George H.W. Bush. Pindling was soon convinced to shut down Toro's Bahamian operation, allowing the DEA to focus their efforts on the Medellin Cartel. Alex Watson, deputy chief of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, recalls efforts to extradite members of the Medellin Cartel to America. When Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, Colombian justice minister, supported such actions, he was subsequently assassinated. The Colombian president imposed a state of siege and ordered the arrest of drug traffickers. An unprecedented series of murders of officials, police, and journalists were subsequently executed by the cartel members. Back in the United States, the Parents Movement was continuing its fight against marijuana, strengthened as First Lady Nancy Reagan started her "Just say no" campaign.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dick Gregorie tells how the Medellin Cartel moved its base of operations to Nicaragua in 1984, where the Sandinista government provided sanctuary. A scheme was devised by the Reagan administration to lure Escobar to Nicaragua, with damaging photos secretly taken of his participation in the drug trade. However, the story appeared in U.S. newspapers, causing the plan to be aborted. Colonel Oliver North, national security adviser to Reagan, tells how he leaked the story to Senator Paula Hawkins of Florida, a supporter -- like himself -- of the Contras, Nicaragua's resistance movement.

Former DEA supervisor Hector Berrellez states that the Contras were also involved with cocaine smuggling, and were assisted by CIA agents in bringing it into the country to help fund the Reagan-backed Contras' goals. Accordingly, the Medellin Cartel remained able to move its product, at least until a new drug began invading the market in 1983 -- a smokable form of cocaine known as crack.

Cataloging of this program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Details

  • NETWORK: PBS
  • DATE: October 9, 2000 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:56:48
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:75999
  • GENRE: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Drug traffic - Columbia
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1983-
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • David Fanning … Senior Executive Producer
    • Michael Sullivan … Executive Producer
    • Stephanie Ault … Coordinating Producer
    • Robin Parmelee … Coordinating Producer
    • Sharon Tiller … Senior Producer
    • Martin Smith … Producer, Series Producer, Writer
    • Brooke Runnette … Producer, Writer
    • Sam Bailey … Producer
    • M.G. Rabinow … Producer
    • Ivana Damjanov … Associate Producer
    • Marcela Gaviria … Associate Producer
    • J.P. Olsen … Associate Producer
    • Sarah Moughty … Associate Producer
    • Oriana Zill … Field Producer, Writer
    • Reeves Gabreis … Music by
    • Martin Brody … Theme Music by
    • Mason Daring … Theme Music by
    • Will Lyman … Narrator
    • Lowell Bergman … Reporter
    • Myles Ambrose
    • Hector Berrellez
    • Rodrigo Lara Bonilla
    • George H.W. Bush
    • Jimmy Carter
    • Robert DuPont
    • Pablo Escobar
    • Gerald Ford
    • Rodriguez Gacha
    • Dick Gregorie
    • Paula Hawkins
    • Jerome Jaffe
    • George Jung
    • Jim Kibble
    • Egil "Bud" Krogh, Jr.
    • Carlos Lehder
    • John Marcello
    • Richard Nixon
    • Oliver North
    • Jorge Ochoa
    • Juan David Ochoa
    • Norman Pindling
    • Nancy Reagan
    • Ronald Reagan
    • Carlos Toro
    • Alex Watson