Fatal Priorities

It seems as if attorney general Ashcroft is putting more effort into fighting drug-use than terrorism, and this shortly before a war on a Muslim country. This isn’t just a misallocation of resources, it also sends the wrong signal to federal law-enforcement agencies. During the the decades-long war on drugs promotions were mostly awarded based on the number of drug-related arrests an agent made. Due to institutional inertia it is to be expected that agencies as well as individual agents will continue to give the war on drugs preference over the war on terror; field agents have to know that lip-service to fighting terrorism aside, their superiors will continue to make drug-related arrests the main yardstick for evaluating their performance. Resources and personnel assigned to counter-terrorism had been inadequate for years, leading to such failures like this and this. If only one of these leads had been properly been followed, 911 could arguably have been prevented, but the FBI lacked the manpower. To avoid repeating those mistakes, Ashcroft presently needs not only to increase resources and personnel for fighting terrorism, he also has to make sure that they aren’t shifted towards busting drug-rings. Bureaucrats who won’t get with the program should be weeded out. But instead he emphasizes the importance of fighting drugs, positively encouraging to continue the misallocation of resources. If the pre-911 failures are replicated and the terrorists manage to pull off some large-scale attacks the Bush Administration will have to accept the lion’s share of the blame.