The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The shared roots of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, in one chart

If there was ever any doubt in your mind about the shared DNA between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, consider the chart above. It shows the number of wiretaps granted by state and federal courts in 2013. You'll see that nearly 90 percent of the wiretaps were issued for drug offenses.

Drug wiretaps came up last week when USA Today reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration had been secretly listening in on billions of Americans' international phone calls, starting well before 9/11 and the War on Terror. "For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking," USA Today found. The program "provided a blueprint for the far broader National Security Agency surveillance that followed."

As Andy Greenberg recently wrote in Wired, "the program serves as a reminder that most of the legal battles between government surveillance efforts and the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections over the last decades have played out first on the front lines of America’s War on Drugs." You can add surveillance to the ever-growing list of controversial criminal justice practices with roots in the drug war: Sales of surplus military gear to local cops, civil asset forfeiture, skyrocketing incarceration rates for non-violent offenses, harsh penalties for real or imagined drugs in the schoolyard.

One major thing that's come out of the Obama administration and the Holder Justice Department is a de-escalation of the War on Drugs -- starting by retiring the official use of that term. But some advocates have argued that federal drug policy still involves too much law enforcement and not enough public health. The numbers from the courts add one more datapoint to that discussion: since 2003, the number of drug wiretaps has nearly tripled.