WatchSonoma Watch

Thompson wants spy agencies to join pot fight

Mike Thompson


If North Coast Rep. Mike Thompson gets his way, the nation’s spymaster will join the fight against Mexican drug traffickers and others who use federal land in California and elsewhere to grow marijuana.

Thompson, D-St. Helena, authored a provision of the 2012 intelligence authorization bill that calls on Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to report on how intelligence agencies can help park rangers, fish and wildlife wardens and other U.S. land managers weed out pot gardens operated by foreign drug traffickers.

The bill, now before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also directs Clapper to consult with public land managers to identify intelligence and information-sharing gaps related to drug trafficking. The House passed the bill, HR 1892, in September.

Thompson said the nation’s intelligence apparatus needs to address marijuana grown on public land because of the presence of foreign drug traffickers and the accompanying threat of violence.

Thompson’s sprawling 1st Congressional District extends across the heartland of California’s marijuana country, encompassing Mendocino and Humboldt counties and reaching across swaths of national forest land to the Oregon border.

“We don’t know what they’re doing with the money, where the money goes, whose bank account it ends up in,” he said of the drug traffickers who operate on public land. “They’re here ruining our national resources, and they’re putting our citizens at risk. Hikers can’t go into the field for fear they’ll be harmed. Wildlife doesn’t have a chance.”

U.S. officials believe hundreds of millions of dollars generated from public-land gardens flow to Mexico, said David Prince, assistant special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in San Francisco.

“The amount of money being generated by this activity can’t possibly be happening without Mexican cartels wanting to get their hands on it,” Prince said. “My presumption is money can’t be made without cartels knowing and taxing at a minimum.”

Previous spy efforts

Intelligence agencies have tried to help with eradication efforts. In the 1980s, state and federal officials in California used a U-2 spy plane to help spot pot gardens, with limited success.

The Forest Service and the Interior Department already work with intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight marijuana growing. The department also has representatives at the National Counterterrorism Center and a major drug intelligence-sharing hub. Other spy agencies, such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, have joined individual cases.

A spokesman for Clapper declined to comment on Thompson’s provision, as did the Interior Department and Forest Service.

Tommy LaNier, head of the White House-funded National Marijuana Initiative, said land managers need help to take on a bigger role in addressing the problem because 65 to 70 percent of pot eradicated nationwide — and as much as 80 percent in California — comes off federal land.

“Bringing in the (intelligence community) to help public land managers have a better understanding of the threats is an essential part of managing the problem of marijuana cultivation on public lands,” he said.

Hearing next month

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has called a Senate drug caucus hearing next month on marijuana cultivation on federal public and tribal lands. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which Feinstein leads, is expected to take up the intelligence authorization bill — and support Thompson’s provision — in coming weeks.

Among agencies that could be tapped if the bill becomes law are the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for its unclassified satellite imagery of public lands and the Treasury Department’s intelligence office to track illicit money, La-Nier said.

The National Security Agency could be assigned, on a limited basis, to intercept public two-way radio communications. The CIA would not be involved.

While Thompson’s provision targets a specific problem rather than a nebulous issue, such as terrorism, it’s another example of the blending of intelligence and law enforcement in the decade after 9/11, said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

“The barriers between federal intelligence and domestic security that existed in the past have all but disappeared,” he said. “We have a right to ask for greater transparency.”

Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow with the National Security Archive, said there is a difference between an occasional task for spy agencies and direct consultation in a full-scale program.

“The question is, what specific constraints are there on the use of imagery — pictures of individuals and their activities?” he said.

“Inevitably, it gets you into the area of domestic spying by using overhead surveillance for law enforcement purposes. It always raises questions of what’s the next step? Where does it go next?”

No privacy expectation

Ronald Brooks, who leads the federally funded Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, acknowledged concerns by civil liberties groups but said the threat of foreign drug traffickers warrants the use of spy equipment focused on federal public land, where there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Domestic pot eradication, however, is not a traditional intelligence community role, he said.

Brooks said the Drug Enforcement Administration or White House drug czar may be a better fit to tackle the issue than the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“We’re calling on them (the intelligence community) to provide us with some expertise in dealing with this issue so we can all be working from the same sheet of music,” Thompson said. “It only seems reasonable that we collaborate and we work together at every level.”

He pointed to an anti-marijuana growing operation in and around Northern California’s Mendocino National Forest as an example of the growing threat of foreign drug traffickers.

The crackdown caught 131 suspects, all but 11 of whom were foreign nationals. Less than a third of those arrested were charged with marijuana-related crimes.

18 Responses to “Thompson wants spy agencies to join pot fight”

  1. Bob says:

    Actually in the Emerald Triangle a lot if not most of the growers voted against legalization (prop 19), as they like the higher price that the black market demands…

  2. Expendable says:

    Legalizing it will make them look like complete idiots for wasting all those years and the tons of money they used to ‘combat’ marijuana. NO one wants to admit it up on the hill, if they do you can imagine that they are not getting re-elected.

    BTW Mike Thompson is top-notch when it comes to any veterans issues. eg: Sent him a letter about my(and others) adverse reactions (triggers alopecia areata) to the anthrax vaccine not being reported… and a couple days later I am having a face to face meeting with him.

    Have had numerous other FTF talks. Good luck with another Rep.

  3. Non Violent says:

    THREE ballot initiatives are in the process of making it to the 2012 election ballot. One is already being circulated for signatures.

    No, we are not going to allow the bloated, greedy government to “tax” pot but we are going to legalize it.

    You public employees can figure out your own retirement fund problems without “taxing” everything you can get your hands on. No “tax” on pot. It ain’t going to happen.


    Initiative to cut pot penalties OKd for signatures

    Marisa Lagos,Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Columnist

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/11/BACO1LTP8K.DTL#ixzz1dVHdPhwT

  4. truth in news says:

    Growing dope on federal lands should be a long prison sentence. If it is an illegal who is caught their country should be billed for the price of keeping them incarcerated. This medical mj bs has gone on long enough.

  5. Fast and Furious says:

    Thompson is a first class chameleon. I wonder where he sits on “medical” cannabis? Let me guess, like all leftists, he is yes vote.

    I wonder where he is on the issue of the CIA or other federal intelligence agencies spying on US soil? Again, he would adamantly oppose it if it threaten his left wing base. But he is willing to over look any subtlety or the law to enforce his objective. In this case, re-election.

    So why has he changed his colors on intelligence gathering on US soil? My guess, he is totally pandering to the more conservative voters he now finds in his new district. This guy will say or do anything to be elected.

    The feds should resist his efforts to draw them into domestic surveillance. We have enough firepower to deal with the problem right now if politicians like Thompson stop taking out of both sides of their mouths and enforce the laws that exist.

  6. Steveguy says:

    The Mom and Pops have an address, and will be the real targets.

    Garberville, Laytonville, eyc, etc have relied on the growing income for decades.

    Wrong or right, that area depends upon it. The drug cartels are a cancer upon civil society.

  7. Non Violent says:

    If you dislike the failure of the “war on drugs.”

    If you dislike the misery of unemployment.

    If you dislike the failed economy which will likely never return to what it once was.

    If you really like all these things, then be sure to re-elect that parasite and political “lifer” Mike Thompson. He is one of the people who created all of our problems such as a failed economy.

  8. Non Violent says:

    Hey Mike,

    Legalizing pot would really anger the Mexican drug cartels since they ship so much of their weed into the state. So thats the way to go.

    But, uh, no. We’re not supporting your bloated public pensions by “taxing” pot.
    Save for your own retirement without “taxing” the rest of us. Don’t be so cheap. You can do it.

    Yes, Mike. You actually can save for your own retirement without “taxing” the rest of us.

  9. The Hammer says:

    It’s about time!

  10. Mike says:

    Just legalize it, tax it and solve the CA debt crisis. Really no different than booze. Actually, when have you heard of a biligerant pot smoker?

  11. Canthisbe says:

    Decriminalize drugs. By making drugs illegal, we make drugs much more expensive and we make growing drugs and manufacturing drugs very lucrative. By making drugs illegal we are putting hundreds of billions of $ in the hands of bad guys – Mexican drug cartels, the Taliban, the Mob, etc. We are overflowing are prisons with drug related defendants to the point where California has to release thousands of prisoners because of overcrowding. (This problem is so bad that we had to let Lindsey Lohan out after 4 hours!) The drug money corrupts the police and politicians. Contaminated drugs and drugs of unknown purity kill many drug users. Many drug users introduce non-drug users to drugs in order to get them addicted and become a source of income to support their habits (pyramid marketing). Lower drug costs would mean drug users require less money to support their drug habits. Drug users commit numerous thefts, robberies etc. to get the money to support their drug habit. Reducing the cost of drugs would reduce the amount of these crimes. The war on drugs has become a war on our civil rights. The police have killed numerous innocent people on drug raids gone bad. Mosquitoes are bad enough when we go camping, we don’t need Predator drones shooting Hellfire missiles at us by mistake. Decriminalizing drugs would free up tens of thousands of police to fight crimes against persons and make us all safer. Or we could lay some off and delay the time when all our cities go bankrupt. We would be better off taxing drugs like alcohol and cigarets (both a which, by the way, injure and kill hundred of times more people than drugs) and using that money on drug education, research and treatment. The war on drugs will never, ever, ever, ever be won. What makes anyone think that the prohibition on drugs will turn out any better than the prohibition on liquor?

  12. Interesting... says:

    I wonder if he’s simply pandering to more conservative voters he’ll need support from in his new district. In any case, it’s only more evidence that our approach to controlling marijuana is not only an expensive failure, but now a threat to privacy. It’s time we stopped the prohibition. Make it legal. Control it. Remove the incentive for cartels already.

  13. Ollie Appletree says:

    This legislator does not represent those in need of medicine.
    If he did he would move forward instead of backwards by legalizing and working to promote health and well being.
    Oh, please, eradicate prohibition. Pot is the new gold rush.

  14. Mary Jane says:

    Yes, spending a gazillion dollars on this project is so much more worthwhile than, oh, say, legalizing the stuff to bring it under control.

    Claiming we have to do all this security stuff because of Mexican cartels seems fishy. How do we know all those illegals just didn’t take a lucrative job? That’s like claiming all the illegals at car washes, fast food restaurants and hotels are funneling their money back to the cartels. Proof? No need for proof when your goal is to scare everyone into submission.

  15. bill says:

    Now we know his true colors. Pot should be legal.

  16. Non Violent says:

    Think of all the billions of dollars we as a culture would save if we simply legalized pot?

    Of course, all those people who rely upon a public paycheck (welfare) who enforce existing pot laws would oppose legalizing pot because then we’d have no need for them and all the army of government enforcers.

    Pot will be legalized. And we are not going to pay “tax” on it, either.

  17. Social Dis-Ease says:

    More surveillance.
    Later as The Wildlands Project culminates they can use it to catch dissenters.
    Legalize it, prevent fascist monopolization once it is.


  18. Average Joe says:

    Good Job! The Mexican cartels have gone way too far for way too long.

    I say use armed Predator drones and fire on them. Adios Banditos