"You... You Human Paraquat!"*Gordon Liddy, godfather of the Drug War, tells the story (in Will) of how it began:
The second major problem on my agenda at Treasury was the problem of drug abuse. In September 1968 candidate Nixon had promised to "move against the source of drugs." President Nixon wanted to make good as soon as possible and the Departments of Justice (which had direction of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) and Treasury (which controlled the Bureau of Customs) were given the lead to do something effective, fast. That led to the formation of the Special Presidential Task Force Relating to Narcotics, Marijuana and Dangerous Drugs, which led to Operation Intercept and, eventually, to the Paraquat program.
Dick Kleindienst and Gene Rossides were appointed cochairmen of the task force. I was one of twenty members from a broad range of cabinet departments along with key agencies and bureaus assigned to develop a program for the President. By 6 June 1969 the report was ready.
It zeroed in on Mexico as the source of much of the problem; the idea was to get Mexico to do something effective about the growing of marijuana and opium poppy which were finding their way into the United States in great quantities. Although for diplomatic reasons our report paid lip service to the Mexican efforts -- more so than we would have but for the Department of State -- the fact was that the United States was not at all satisfied with the Mexican effort and we were determined to do something about it. As our report said:Despite this country's encouragement, and the efforts of Mexican authorities to aid in the effective control of illegal trafficking in marijuana and dangerous drugs, Mexican resources and efforts continue to be inadequate....
For a number of years the Mexican Government has employed light observation planes and helicopters on spotting missions, but it would appear that these operations to date have not been of sufficient scope to cover adequately the vast area where these crops can be found. The use of broad-remote-sensing techniques in states involved, with subsequent crop identification by agricultural experts, would appear to be more efficient and effective. If the Mexican Government has such a capability at the present time, it is not being used for this purpose. On the other hand, there is no question that the United States is capable of undertaking such missions. ([Liddy's] emphasis supplied.)
The last referred to a [sic] idea I submitted for the use of sophisticated aerial reconnaissance to spot the Mexican drug crops. We knew that Mexico had no such capability and wanted official Mexican acquiescence in our doing it. Regarding what should be done with the crops once located, here was the heart of what we wanted to do:...the Task Force is impressed with the potential effectiveness of chemical crop destruction utilizing aircraft.
Right there was the genesis of the Paraquat program, but:Before embarking on such a program, it would be necessary to obtain the agreement of the Mexican Government.
We rushed to get the report out by 6 June because there was a bilateral meeting between the governments of Mexico and the United States scheduled for 9-11 June to deal specifically with the problems of illicit traffic in narcotics and other dangerous drugs.
When the United States and Mexico met and these recommendations were raised, the Mexicans, using diplomatic language of course, told us to go piss up a rope. The Nixon administration didn't believe in the United States' taking crap from any foreign government. Its reply was Operation Intercept.
Operation Intercept was billed as a program to shut off the flow of drugs from Mexico by maximum application of the right to search persons and vehicles crossing the border for contraband. As part of the effort to convince people that that was what it was all about, I was sent on a speaking tour of every town on the entire 2,000 mile U.S. border with Mexico to explain what was going to happen and why, to citizens whose lives and economy would be disrupted.
When Operation Intercept was executed int he fall of 1969, the result was as intended: chaos. We produced a world-class traffic jam. In anticipation, most of the task force was on the West Coast where Kleindienst had an aging Corvair airliner (used by the Immigration Service to ferry illegal aliens back deep into Mexico) standing by for an aerial look at the thousands of vehicles backed up for miles on either side of the border at San Ysidro/Tijuana. It was the biggest mess any of us had ever seen, and we took perverse delight in our handiwork.
Operation Intercept has been called a failure -- but only by those who never knew its objective. It was actually a great success. For diplomatic reasons the true purpose of the exercise was never revealed. Operation Intercept, with its massive economic and social disruption, could be sustained far longer by the United States than by Mexico. It was an exercise in international extortion, pure, simple, and effective, designed to bend Mexico to our will. We figured Mexico could hold out for a month; in fact they caved in after about two weeks and we got what we wanted. Operation Intercept gave way to Operation Co-operation.
And there you have it, straight from the horse's ass. These drug war operations were often about little more than geopolitical bullying. Although the United States has meddled imperialistically in Latin America at least since James Monroe's Secretary of State John Quincy Adams told Great Britain to get fucked in the matter of Venezuela, and even allowing for the odd Theodore Roosevelt here and Woodrow Wilson there, the constant heavy-handedness didn't come until the late 50s-early 60s and then on -- and on. And at first, it was bi-partisan, with Nixon as VP and then P always cheering when not chairing the Republican part of the scheme (fans of the Kennedys still insist, laughably, on relative Liberal innocence in these matters, quite ignoring LBJ's own horror once he discovered the "Goddamned Murder, Incorporated" his predecessor had been running in the Caribbean).
But Nixon as President even had to out-outrage all that. In Liddy's story we can see the future unfold. The delight expressed by Nixon's goons at trashing the Mexican economy presages how Dick promised the CEO of Pepsi-Cola that he would make the economy of Allende's Chile "scream." And Liddy's total contempt of Mexican sovereignty neatly foreshadows Henry Kissinger's remarks apropos Chile: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people," and "the issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."
* - Cf.