It sits beside the freeway, a three-story, nondescript building. Security is tight, with TV cameras monitoring the hallways and scrambler coding machinery securing the telephone lines.

From it, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) monitors drug trafficking worldwide: a heroin suspect flying from Hong Kong to Honolulu, a four-engine cargo plane from Colombia to Florida, heroin from France to JFK Airport in New York.

Within 20 minutes, a U.S. drug agent overseas can query EPIC's intelligence files on the registration of an airplane, the name of a ship or the background of a suspect and learn if they are suspected of any drug involvement.

In the United States, the answer comes back in seven minutes, and of the 120,000,146 inquiries received at EPIC last year, one-third produced a "hit" -- something in the files on a person or vehicle.

EPIC operates on $717,000 a year, plus the salaries of the 127 employees drawn from six federal agencies.

All connected in some way to drug trafficking, the DEA, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms try to interdict the movement of drugs into and within the United States.

In addition, over the past two years, EPIC director Arthur Fluhr, a former drug agent on the streets who now likes to play the stock market, has gotten 40 state police departments to tie into EPIC under strict security. The result is that a country sheriff in Georgia can quickly learn whether a suspect airplane is known to be involved in drug trafficking -- much the way a traffic policeman can ask the FBI if a car is listed as stolen.

All told, EPIC was involved in lookouts last year that resulted in the seizure of 34 pounds of heroin, 361 pounds of cocaine, 1,464,548 pounds of marijuana and 970 pounds of Quaaludes.

But neither these seizures nor the hundreds of others in which EPIC played no part had any impact on the availability of cocaine, marijuana or Quaaludes.

Says DEA analyst Charles Updegraph at EPIC, "there must be a goddamn slurry pipeline."