The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues That Shaped the DEA

The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues That Shaped the DEA

by Douglas Valentine

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Through interviews with former narcotics agents, politicians, and bureaucrats, this exposé documents previously unknown aspects of the history of federal drug law enforcement, from the formation of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the creation of the Drugh Enforcement Administration (DEA) up until the present day. Written in an easily


Through interviews with former narcotics agents, politicians, and bureaucrats, this exposé documents previously unknown aspects of the history of federal drug law enforcement, from the formation of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the creation of the Drugh Enforcement Administration (DEA) up until the present day. Written in an easily accessible style, the narrative examines how successive administrations expanded federal enforcement operations at home and abroad; investigates how the CIA compromised the war on drugs; analyzes the Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and second Bush administrations' failed attempts to alter the DEA's course; and traces the agency's evolution into its current stage of "narco-terrorism."

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"A Herculean exploration of the dark world of drugs and law enforcement."  —Anthony Summers, author, The Arrogance of Power, on The Strength of the Wolf

"Compelling."  —New York Times on The Hotel Tacloban

"No book to date conveys the hideousness of the Vietnam War as thoroughly as this one."  —Publishers Weekly on The Phoenix Program

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The Strength of the Pack

The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA

By Douglas Valentine

Trine Day LLC

Copyright © 2009 Douglas Valentine
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-936296-92-7


The Shadow of the Wolf

In April 1968, the Johnson Administration combined the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) with the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control (BDAC) to create the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD). With that action, the age of the freewheeling federal narcotics agent came to a close. The strength of federal drug law enforcement would thereafter reside in the Pack, not the Wolf.

But for all its sophistication, the newfound BNDD would still require extraordinary people to lead its 670 agents scattered in some 100 field offices, most in the United States. The preeminent personality would be the director of the organization. The odds-on favorite for the job was Henry L. Giordano, the ultra-conservative commissioner of the FBN. Also in the running was John Finlator, the iconoclastic director of the BDAC. Both were appointed acting associate directors of the BNDD upon its creation, with the tacit understanding that one would be chosen director.

Instead, when the day of reckoning came Attorney General Ramsey Clark announced the appointment of thirty-eight year old John E. Ingersoll as the BNDD's director. Clark never even considered Giordano because of "widespread corruption among FBN agents at the time." Other candidates were considered, Clark said, but Ingersoll "offered a clean break with a past that had ended in corruption and, I hoped, a new progressive, scientific based approach to drug control in a time of deep social unrest."

Ingersoll would be the organization's only director throughout its brief and tumultuous five-year existence.

Clark's decision stunned and humiliated Giordano, and knocked many a proud FBN agent to his knees. Indignities were heaped upon insults. To begin with, the FBN, with its 38-year tradition of hunting down the world's top heroin traffickers, had been forced into a shotgun wedding with the two-year old BDAC, which focused on "kiddy" drugs like LSD and pot, and enforced federal regulations on the medical use and abuse of prescription drugs. One wit described the merger of the two outfits as "a wedding between a drunken sailor and an old maid."

The hardest pill to swallow for Giordano and some FBN agents was that Ingersoll had never made an undercover drug buy or bust. How could a man with no hands-on experience lead the nation's top drug law enforcement agency? To make matters worse, Ingersoll came across as a "stiff bureaucrat" and made no effort to court the affections of his subordinates. This standoffish style was an affront to the FBN's "Goodfellows" culture. Street work was steeped in violence and deception, and agents often relied on one another for their lives. As a way of dealing with the stress, they bonded by drinking and socializing together after hours.

That was not Ingersoll's style. He wasn't eager to socialize, nor was he daunted at the prospect of commanding the FBN's legendary wolf pack. With a chuckle, Ingersoll recalled his first meeting with John J. Rooney, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Rooney greeted Ingersoll by saying, "So, you're the guy who got the job Giordano was supposed to get."

In another telling instance, Ingersoll approached Rooney for a budget increase that would allow him to spend almost $20,000 to arrest top drug traffickers. Rooney noted that in the 1930s, the FBN had sent Lepke Buchalter to the electric chair for mere pennies. Rooney asked Ingersoll if he had heard about this infamous drug trafficker. He hadn't. Rooney was aghast, but Ingersoll didn't care. His job was to break away from the past. His objective was to drag federal drug law enforcement — kicking and screaming — into the present.

Ingersoll's main qualification was his reputation as an effective manager. A native of Northern California, his philosophy was shaped by the internment of a Japanese friend during the Second World War. Ingersoll was determined to make the American justice system more equitable. A career in law enforcement seemed an appropriate mechanism for achieving this goal. After serving two years in the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), he enrolled in the criminal justice program at the University of California, Berkeley. While earning his degree, Ingersoll studied under criminology guru Orlando W. Wilson, whose progressive approach to law enforcement emphasized prevention, deterrence, and training. Wilson took an interest in Ingersoll's career, and in 1956 Ingersoll joined the Oakland police department. He served as a patrolman, as an administrative assistant to the police chief, and as commander of the planning division.

One manifestation of Ingersoll's independence was his membership in the "Cell," which he joined while on the Oakland police force. The Cell's origins are obscure, although member Richard Blum said it was formed as a response to the repression of the McCarthy era. Ingersoll was the group's youngest member and least senior in rank. Blum described it as "a group of people, all life time friends, all law enforcement, all progressive professionals." One famous Cell member was Wesley A. Pomeroy. As under-sheriff of San Mateo County, Pomeroy deftly handled security for the 1964 Republican Party presidential convention in San Francisco. His unique approach to crowd control included sharing police communications systems with protestors, and helping demonstrators set up barricades. Pomeroy, to the horror of hard-core law enforcement officials, was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a proponent of the decriminalization of marijuana; but he was the kind of guy Ingersoll could relate to.

Ingersoll stepped onto the fast track in 1961, when he became a consultant for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in Washington, DC. Two years later he was the IACP's director of field operations, touring the country with a staff of experts and surveying the operations of big city police departments, including New York. The IACP job gave Ingersoll senior management experience and put him in contact with the country's top law enforcement officials, including Deputy Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who shared Ingersoll's commitment to Civil Rights, and appreciated his innovative approach to law enforcement at a time when the nation was wracked by race riots and war protests.

"Ingersoll was trying to grapple with the problem on an intellectual level," a colleague explained. That intellectual approach, though heresy in the minds of many law enforcement officials, enabled him to achieve results. While director of IACP's field services, Ingersoll conducted a study of the segregated Charlotte, North Carolina police department. He recommended that the City Council hire a new police chief who would recruit and promote Afro-Americans, to promote racial harmony in the community. Despite fierce opposition within the 450-member police force, the City Council offered Ingersoll the job. Excited by the challenge of putting his philosophy into practice, he accepted in July 1966.

Ingersoll's experiment in desegregating the Charlotte police department, and his hiring of the first women into the force, became a model for modernizing big city police departments around the nation. He proved he could change the nature of an organization; and that accomplishment, along with his belief in "management by objective," combined to convince Attorney General Ramsey Clark that Ingersoll, not Giordano or Finlator, was the best man to lead the BNDD.

Ingersoll in the Saddle

In mid-1968, John Ingersoll was in his prime. Standing five-feet ten-inches, he had the stout, rugged build and the poker face of a jack-booted motorcycle cop. He was confident he could unite federal, state, and local agencies in an enlightened, systematic approach to drug law enforcement. In preparation for this task, Attorney General Clark assigned Ingersoll to his personal staff for approximately six months. From this relatively secure vantage point, Ingersoll had time to learn how the BNDD fit within the federal government. He tracked the merger of the FBN and BDAC, and met with staff officers and field supervisors from both organizations. He also toured the BNDD's foreign outposts.

At the end of this incubation stage, in November 1968, the BNDD was divided into two major divisions. Ingersoll named Henry Giordano as manager of the Enforcement Division, which was composed of three offices: domestic investigations; foreign operations and intelligence; and investigative services. Former BDAC director John Finlator oversaw the Scientific and Regulatory Division, which had offices for training, compliance, science and education. Giordano and Finlator obstructed Ingersoll, each in his own fashion. Finlator cooperated "superficially," but spent most of his time outside the office making public speeches that often contradicted Ingersoll's stated policies. Giordano was an "obstacle" and sat in his office with a permanent pout on his face.

Ingersoll accepted this unpleasant reality, primarily because he felt capable of reaching past his petulant deputies into their divisions to find people who were willing to get the job done. He tried to establish relationships based on cooperation. Rather than surround himself with outsiders, he decided to trust in the goodwill and professionalism of the people he inherited — not counting Giordano and a few other diehard opponents who, he felt, would weed themselves out.

Perry Rivkind and John Warner were the only friends Ingersoll brought into the BNDD. A wealthy Illinois Republican, Rivkind had met Ingersoll while teaching law enforcement at a college in Charlotte. Rivkind became Ingersoll's first executive assistant, handling his correspondence, and glad-handing dignitaries in a way that did not come naturally to Ingersoll.

John Warner had met and befriended Ingersoll while he was in the California state narcotics bureau and Ingersoll was in the Oakland Police Department. They remained friends, and in 1969 Ingersoll made Warner his liaison to state and local narcotics enforcement bureaus. In that capacity Warner formed the BNDD's Metro Enforcement Groups, using Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) funds to bring together federal, state and local narcotics units. The ultimate purpose was to free BNDD agents from having to arrest street addicts so they could develop interstate and international cases. Well respected and known as a loyal assistant who would never embarrass or backstab his boss, Warner became Ingersoll's executive assistant when Rivkind became the BNDD's chief of training.

Many BNDD agents accepted Ingersoll and his progressive outlook, in hopes of obtaining key positions. After decades of dealing with Harry J. Anslinger (the FBN's reactionary commissioner from 1930-1962), and then Anslinger's clone, Henry Giordano, officials from other government agencies generally considered Ingersoll a breath of fresh air. Anslinger and Giordano had resisted change, and they jealously guarded their power, but Ingersoll reached out and sought cooperation.

A focal point of change was the organization's legal department, which consisted of about ten attorneys involved in a variety of matters, including forfeiture law. Chief Counsel Donald Miller was a throwback from the FBN. Miller handled internal legal issues, including agent wrongdoing, and worked with Ingersoll forging agreements with foreign nations.

Miller's deputy, Michael R. Sonnenreich, was representative of the younger attorneys that gravitated into Ingersoll's circle. A Harvard graduate, Sonnenreich had worked in the Justice Department's criminal division before transferring to the BNDD. Sonnenreich would work closely with Ingersoll and Justice Department attorney John W. Dean III, crafting the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Sonnenreich and Dean also wrote the Model State legislation that brought state drug laws into synch with federal laws. Sonnenreich, Ingersoll and Dean would become friends, and Sonnenreich would serve as Ingersoll's legal advisor until his departure from the BNDD to head a controversial marijuana commission in 1972.

Ingersoll's most important personnel decision was awarding Andrew C. Tartaglino the job of chief inspector. Tartaglino had joined the FBN in New York in 1952, and had become intimately familiar with the drug underworld while making undercover buys from Mafiosi in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. (Tartaglino made a case on Joseph "Piney" Armone, who thirty years later would achieve notoriety as John Gotti's underboss.) Tartaglino served in Rome from 1956-59 and in Paris from 1959-60. He was a supervisor in the FBN's liaison group at the US Attorney's office until 1963, when he became a field inspector with the unenviable job of investigating agent wrongdoing.

In 1964, in what proved to be a major turning point in FBN history, George H. Gaffney, the FBN's Deputy Commissioner, assigned Tartaglino to David Acheson, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for law enforcement. Gaffney ostensibly sent Tartaglino to help Acheson on an issue regarding Interpol. In reality, Gaffney was an enemy of Tartaglino's mentor, legendary FBN agent Charlie Siragusa. And when Siragusa retired in 1963, Gaffney exiled Tartaglino to Treasury as a way of getting "Siragusa's man" out of his hair.

Gaffney's decision would come back to haunt him. Acheson came to rely on Tartaglino and when the Interpol assignment ended, Acheson asked Tartaglino to initiate, with Anthony Lapham (said by Tartaglino to be a CIA officer working undercover as Acheson's deputy) an integrity investigation that spanned three years and resulted in the resignation of dozens of FBN agents, including some of Gaffney's inner circle. In January 1968, at the request of Acheson's replacement James P. Hendricks, Tartaglino formed a special task force that expanded the corruption investigation and sealed the FBN's doom.

By his own account, Tartaglino met with Ingersoll in April 1968 and asked to be transferred back from Treasury to the BNDD "with status." Ingersoll felt that several corrupt FBN agents had slipped into the BNDD, so he agreed. Then, using Tartaglino as his filter, he began the critical task of selecting 17 regional directors. As Tartaglino recalled, "Ingersoll made every decision himself, in consultation with Giordano and Finlator." Behind the scenes, however, Ingersoll asked Tartaglino about each candidate's "lifestyle" before the interview.

When the process was over, former FBN agents held the most important regional directorship jobs in the BNDD. The most prized positions, New York and Los Angeles, were awarded to veteran FBN agents William J. Durkin and Daniel P. Casey. Two members of Tartaglino's anti-corruption task force became regional directors, and a third became the deputy regional director in Miami. Ingersoll's relocation of regional headquarters from Atlanta to Miami acknowledged Miami's new prominence as the cocaine capital of the drug world. The fourth member of Tartaglino's anti-corruption group, John G. Evans, became chief of general investigations under Giordano's assistant, John R. Enright. With Giordano sulking in his office, Ingersoll relied heavily on Enright to manage enforcement matters. Walter Panich, a twenty -eight year FBN veteran, ran Ingersoll's policies and procedures staff, which effectively organized the BNDD. Working closely with Panich was Phillip R. Smith, a veteran FBN agent with 18 years service.


Excerpted from The Strength of the Pack by Douglas Valentine. Copyright © 2009 Douglas Valentine. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this

Peter Dale Scott
An indispensible resource for those who wish to understand the politics of drug enforcement in America; and for those with any sense of the subject's real importance it is a gripping read as well. (Peter Dale Scott, author, The War Conspiracy, and coauthor, Drugs, Oil and War)
Roger Morris
Doug Valentine belongs to that precious remnant of journalists and historians with the wisdom to see our time, the integrity and courage to write about it, and the literary grace to bring it all chillingly alive. (Roger Morris, member of the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and author of bestselling biographies.)

Meet the Author

Douglas Valentine is a former private investigator and consultant and the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, The Strength of the Wolf, and TDY. He lives in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

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