The Drug Enforcement Administration didn't want it. The Pentagon never asked for it. Nevertheless, tucked away in a mammoth defense appropriations bill that passed Congress last week was $10 million for a new "National Drug Intelligence Center" to track the narcotics trade.
The creation of yet another federal anti-drug agency -- only one session after Congress had vowed to streamline the anti-drug effort -- baffled some members until they looked closely at the fine print. It directs that the new Pentagon facility -- whose scope and functions are left largely undefined -- be located in Pennsylvania, home state of the amendment's author, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
While the legislation doesn't specify any particular location in the Keystone State, Murtha -- who wields considerable sway over the defense budget -- already has made it clear to Pentagon officials where he expects the new facility to wind up.
"We want it to be in Johnstown -- no doubt about it," said Murtha spokesman Peter Landis, referring to the largest city in Murtha's district. "There's a lot of factories that have closed there."
Murtha's maneuvers were cited by some staffers last week as a prime example of how the congressional pork barrel rolls along despite the federal budget crisis. His moves also infuriated Bush administration officials who had initially proposed that a new drug intelligence center be created within the Justice Department and were caught off guard when they discovered it wound up in the Defense Department budget.
A Justice Department intelligence center, they argued, at least made sense because the Justice Department investigates and prosecutes drug traffickers. "I've not heard anybody in the Pentagon who said they wanted this," said John Walters, chief of staff and national security adviser to National Drug Policy Director William J. Bennett.
"I don't know what this is," he added. "It certainly doesn't look like anything we proposed."
In fact, debate about the need for any new intelligence center has divided federal drug fighters for months.
Bennett last February proposed that a $45 million intelligence center be created to develop long-term "strategic" intelligence about the organization and operations of the drug cartels. The proposal quickly ran into opposition from critics, including officials within the DEA and other federal anti-drug agencies, who charged that it would become yet another bureaucratic layer in an already fragmented anti-drug effort.
Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, which studies drug law-enforcement issues, noted that a plethora of federal agencies already operate drug-intelligence centers.
Since 1974, the DEA has run the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) in south Texas, collecting and distributing intelligence about drug traffickers to all federal agencies. The Central Intelligence Agency last year set up its own Counter Narcotics Center. The Coast Guard has created a Maritime Intelligence Center; the Treasury Department a Financial Crimes Information Network (FINCEN) to collect intelligence on international and domestic money-laundering.
Creating one more intelligence center "makes no sense at all -- it's purely duplicative. . . . How can you have more than one center?" charged Sterling. "This smells of classic pork-barrel, election-eve politics."
That argument seemed to carry the day last August, when Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department, knocked out any funding for Bennett's proposal. Unbeknownst to the administration, however, Murtha quietly went to work in the House. He inserted an amendment creating the center into the main defense appropriations bill, arguing the center was needed to "coordinate all the intelligence from various agencies to pinpoint which drugs are coming from which countries along which routes," as he later explained in a press release.
The congressman also specified that it should be located in his home state as part of the appropriations panel's efforts to "move government operations out of Washington, where costs are very high." The panel didn't say why Pennsylvania would be less expensive than the other 49 states. Murtha didn't respond to requests for comment last week.
At first, administration officials said they paid little attention to Murtha's amendment. "Nobody took it seriously, nobody thought it would survive," said one Bennett staffer. "But this thing took on a life of its own."
During the end-of-session conference-committee deliberations, Murtha gave a strong defense of his proposal and Senate conferees -- who had come to haggle over the fate of major strategic weapons systems -- chose not to wage a fight. The final language requires that the new center be created as a "separately funded defense agency," with its own director and deputy director, somewhere in Pennsylvania. It must begin operations "no later than June 1, 1991."