Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) yesterday criticized the Carter administration for not giving a high enough priority to fighting the increasing threat of heroin imported from southwest Asia.
Biden told reporters that his recent study of the problem found that the U.S. response was plagued by weak and uncoordinated authority in the White House, a failure to attack orgaized crime groups and their financial assets in this country and signs that communist bloc countries, such as Bulgaria, may be aiding the drug traffic.
"I'm not trying to alarm the American people. I'm trying to alarm the policymakers," he said. "I'm saying that business as usual won't work."
In a report he released yesterday, Biden recommended that Congress resist cutting funds for treating drug addiction, that the White House office director have more power and that the federal government work more closely with allies and international groups to fight the problem.
Biden said his interest in drug policy grew from his positions on the Senate Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Relations and Budget committees.
Lee Dogoloff, head of the White House office on drug policy, said yesterday that he welcomed Biden's interest in the issue, but disagreed with some of his suggestions. "Interagency cooperation is better than it's ever been before," he said.
And he added that the administration is aggressively taking steps to combat the flow of heroin from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. These include stepped-up customs details at airports, considertion of special aid packages to affected countries and more attention to treatment centers in East Coast cities -- including Washington -- where the new heroin is showing up in significant quantities.
Dogoloff also said he has met with Bulgarian customs officials and feels they are trying to stop the flow of drugs through their country.
A Biden aide noted that Turkish officials on a recent trip complained that Kurdish rebels were trading drugs for guns. "Drugs can be used as a tool to undermine democratic institutions and our foreign policy objectives," the senator said.
The major jumping-off point for shipment to the United States is through Sicilian organized crime families who have ties with similar groups in this country, Biden said. He said he was particularly concerned about the groups' ability to hide their illegal profits in legitimate businesses. "They don't carry around violin cases anymore. They use computers," he said.
The senators said the theory is to pursue the drug traffickers here with financial investigations. He called the Justice Department's success in seizing assets of such groups "abysmal, almost nonexistent."