Drug Related Corruption


This paper explores the relationship between the global drug trade and the corruption of government officials. The drug trade’s corrupting effects are evident in major drug-cultivating countries, drug-transit countries and drug-consumer countries. I examine these three stages of the drug trade and how corruption operates at each stage. This study includes an analysis of corruption in Columbia, Mexico, and the United States. The paper is organized into five sections. Section 1 is a brief history of the international drug prohibition regime. Section 2 defines the problem. Section 3 describes cases of corruption by country. Section 4 details U.S. policies implemented to prevent corruption. Section 5 concludes analyzing the potential for success of implementing U.S. anti-corruption policies in drug-producing and drug-transit countries. 

Table of Contents: 


    The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between the global drug trade and corruption of government officials. It also explores government policies and other factors that may have a positive effect on deterring drug related corruption. The United Nations International Narcotics Board ascertained that corruption is a primary barrier to enforcing drug prohibition throughout the world (INCB, 2010, p. 1-13). Drug-related corruption is far-reaching, often found at all levels of government, from local police to members of the president’s cabinet and even at times the president him/herself (Cheurprakobkit, 2000, p. 21; Rempel, 2011, p. 147-155; Stout 2012, p. 36-37).

    The drug trade’s corrupting effects are evident in major drug-cultivating countries, e.g. Colombia, Peru, and Afghanistan (Bowden, 2001; Gutcher, 2011; Richani 2007, p. 411; Robinson 2003, p. 2; Jelsma, Kramer & Rivier, 2006, p. 15; Schweich, 2008, p. 3; Tickner, 2003, p. 74-76; Walser, 2010, p. 11). Corruption is also evident in major drug-transit countries, e.g. Mexico, Ecuador, and Venezuela (Booth & Fainaru, 2009; Freeman, 2011, p. 67; Grayson 2010, p. 181; Noriss, 2009, p. 2; Stout, 2012; Walser, 2008, p. 6-10; Walser, 2010, p. 4). Corruption is less evident in major drug-consumer countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom (Freeman, 2011).

    The United States is the largest contributor of foreign aid in the world for drug control programs (Alesina & Dollar, 2000, p. 36; UNODC). In the 2012 budget, the U.S. Department of State earmarked $1.75 billion in aid for narcotic control programs including strengthening law enforcement institutions around the world that are weak and corrupt (Department of State Budget 2011, p. 98). Other countries also contribute to drug control programs through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, most notably Japan and Britain (UNODC). Unfortunately the amount of U.S. and multilateral aid pales in comparison to revenue generated by drug-related crimes, estimated to be between $300 to $500 billion annually or 8 percent of global trade (Reutuer & Greenfield, 2001, p. 160; White, 2002, p. 975-976; World Drug Report, 1997, p. 124). Aid for narcotic control needs to go to programs that are effective. A primary goal of this thesis is to assist other researchers and policy makers in judging what anti-narcotic programs are effective.

    There is little research from the political science community on the international drug trade. One reason is that criminals try very hard to keep their crimes a secret. It is important for researchers to examine this illicit trade because it grows in size year after year and its effects of corrupting, de-legitimizing, and de-stabilizing governments are too great to ignore (Reuter & Greenfield, 2000; White, 2002; World Drug Report, 2010).

    Rise in Transnational Crime

    Throughout the Cold War years, the United States’ primary goal was to contain the Soviet Union (Hook & Spanier, 2010 p. 37-44; Kennan, 1947). For almost half a century the United States turned a blind eye to transnational crime, as evident with the Iran-Contra scandal and the U.S. support for Noriega. The criminal activities of Noriega, allowing drug trafficking through Panama, were overlooked because he was an American ally in the Cold War (Hough, 2008, p. 229-236; Bagley, 2011, p. 170). The United States supported right wing rebel groups while the Soviet Union funded leftist rebel groups throughout the world (Perdomo, 2007, p. 3, 11; Siegel 2008, p. 2; Steinberg, 2000, p. 262).

    When the Cold War ended, many groups and states lost their super power sponsor. Some turned to lucrative transnational crime for funding, e.g., the illegal arms trade, the drug trade, piracy, and human trafficking (Hough, 2008, p. 229-236; Keen 1998; Ross, 2004, p. 349). This period saw a dramatic increase in transnational crime. At the same time, governments began noticing the destabilizing effects that organized crime had on the state, especially the drug trade (INCB, 2010, p. 1-13; NSDD, 1986, p. 3, 6; Parliament of Canada, 2012, p. 34; United Nations, 1988, p. 10). New terms were added to the political lexicon to describe these global villains, such as, “narco-guerillas” and “narco-terrorist” (Spector, 1998; Stepanova, 2011).

    In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama and ousted the drug trafficking ruler, Manuel Noriega. In the 1990’s the United States became intimately involved in the assassination of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in Colombia (Bowden, 2001). In 1998, the Clinton administration gave a $1.3 billion aid package to Colombia to assist in its war against narco-guerillas. This made Colombia the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid (Chomsky, 2001). After September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration made a commitment to combat poverty and to strengthen states by increasing U.S. foreign aid by 50 percent after seeing the national security threats posed by failed states like Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium (Radelet, 2012, p. 104; Tarnoff, 2005, p. 3; World Drug Report, 2010, p. 31, 37, 39).

    The end of the Cold War saw the beginning of the rise of transnational crime. As interstate wars decreased in occurrence, crimes that cross states borders became more prevalent. It is important that government policies adapt to face this new human security threat. Before examining corruption-specific government policies, I would like to briefly review both U.S. anti-drug and intergovernmental anti-drug policies that shape the drug prohibition regime of today.

    My discussion to follow is organized into five sections. Section 1 contains a brief history of the international drug prohibition regime, and in Section 2 the problem is defined. In Section 3, cases of corruption by country are described. Details of U.S. policies implemented to prevent corruption are discussed in Section 4. Section 5 concludes with an analysis of the potential for success in implementing U.S. anti-corruption policies in drug-producing and drug-transit countries.

    Section 1: Pre-Drug Prohibition

    Drug use is not a new phenomenon. People have sought to alter their state of consciousness by consuming drugs for thousands of years and have done so unrestricted by governments (Nadelmann, 1990, p. 502). In the late 19th century, the Hill Tribe people migrated from China to the Golden Triangle region bringing with them the practice of using opium for recreation, social, and medical purposes (Cheurprakobkit, 2000, p. 19). Similarly immigrants from China brought opium to the state of Sinaloa in Mexico around the turn of the 20th century, where its cultivation went unregulated for decades (Bucardo et. al., 2005, p. 281; Astorga, 1999). In the Middle East narcotics have been used legally for over 4,000 years (Robins, 2011, p. 32). Afyon, Turkey gives an example of how important opium was, because the city was named after the plant, literally meaning opium (Robins, 2011, p. 32). In Yemen, Quat, a stimulant and mild hallucinogen, has been cultivated for decades and widely used daily. Indeed 80% of agricultural land is still devoted to growing the drug (Robins, 2011, p. 33). In the United States, drug use was not banned by the government until the late 19th century. Pressure from moral interest groups, large pharmaceutical interest groups, and a racial fear of immigrants and drug use all cumulated in the passing of the first state anti-drug laws on the west coast in 1875 (Nadelmann, 1990, p. 506).

    Significant U.S. Anti-Drug Laws

    The United States has been the leading advocate for global anti-drug laws. The structuring of the global drug prohibition regime can be traced back to U.S. domestic laws that were exported throughout the world. In 1970, the U.S. congress passed the Bank Secrecy Act in response to drug traffickers using U.S. banks to launder money. This required U.S. banks to report cash transactions of more than $10,000 a day and individuals were required to report cash in excess of $5,000 when crossing borders. This policy of identifying the source of bank deposits spread to other countries and soon became an international norm (Andelman, 1994, p. 96-96).

    In 1986, President Ronald Regan issued a National Security Decision Directive that made drug enforcement a national security priority (Andelman, 1994, p. 96; NSDD, 1986). This is the first U.S. government policy that links the drug trade to destabilizing states and the corrupting of government officials. That same year, the federal Anti-Drug Law was passed giving the president the power to determine whether or not major drug-producing and drug-transit countries were complying with anti-drug regulation. If a country loses its certification, the U.S. will cut its foreign aid in half and will vote against all bilateral aid to the country (Bagley, 2011, p. 169, 180; Room, Robin & Paglia, 1999, p. 31). In 1986, the U.S. Congress placed economic sanctions on Bolivia for not making enough progress in their coca eradication efforts (Bagley, 2011, p. 165). This law has been a source of tension between the U.S. and both Mexico and Colombia (Freeman, 2011, p. 66).

    It is worthwhile to explore whether or not the U.S. export of its anti-drug regulations have been successful. Stringent anti-drug laws may be effective in the U.S., with competent judicial and police institutions and where large scale drug production is not an issue. However, if the U.S. exports policies of stringent drug prohibition to a country that has for centuries cultivated drugs, and coerces that country’s already fragile judicial and police institutions to implement these laws, then the U.S. might be setting these countries up for failure (Parliament of Canada, 2012, p. 37).

    Building an International Prohibition Regime

    The international prohibition regime was established by three United Nations (U.N.) treaties. They are, the Single Convention, the Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. When examining these treaties, the influence from the Global North (the United States and Western Europe) is evident. In the Single Convention of 1961, a consolidation of 9 treaties, much of the responsibility was placed on the cultivating-nations, i.e. the coca producing countries in the Andean region of South America, the opium producing countries in Southeast Asia, and cannabis producing counties in Southern Africa (Parliament of Canada, 2000, p. 19-20). The Global North lacks the climate and the biogeography to permit the cultivation of coca and poppy plants in abundant quantities (Parliament of Canada, 2000, p. 9). This has compelled policy makers from the Global North to view the cultivation of drugs as a cultivating-countries’ problem. If the cultivating-countries could control the export of drugs from their country, then the Global North would not have to fight domestic drug wars. The war on drugs over the past 40 years has been primarily a war on the supply side of drugs. All of the cultivating-countries are developing countries who lack the military and economic force to fulfill the obligations required of them from the U.N. treaties and U.S. policies mentioned (Bagley, 1988, p. 173; Parliament of Canada, 2000, p. 37).

    The U.N. Single Convention was the first treaty to prohibit a drug internationally. The convention does not allow for the legalization of any drug prohibited in the treaty (Krajewski, 2008, p. 4). Countries like the Netherlands and Mexico, both signatures of the Single Convention, have in some cases de-criminalized and de-penalized classes of drugs, but they never legalized a drug prohibited in the treaty (Krajewski, 2008, p. 2-3, 5). The World Health Organization (WHO) has the authority to decide if a drug is addictive. Also the WHO was given the task of classifying drugs into categories, ranging from category I-IV (Room, Robin & Paglia, 1999, p. 306). Many of the classifications are dated, placing cannabis in the same category as heroin (Krajewski, 2008, p. 3). The United States is a founding member and a major contributor to the WHO, earmarking $106 million to the organization in 2012 (U. S. Department of State, 2011, p. 40). This gives the U.S. considerable influence in the organization, and possibly predisposes the WHO to biases.

    The U.N.’s 1971 Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances extends drug control to synthetic psychotropic substances (i.e., pharmaceutical drugs). The convention also criminalizes money laundering activities (Andelman, 1994, p. 104). There was tremendous resistance from the Global North, the main producers of pharmaceutical drugs, against drug control that would threaten a major economic market for them (Parliament of Canada, 2000, p. 20, 25; Room, Robin & Paglia, 1999, p. 308). In the end, multinational pharmaceutical industries had overwhelming influence on the Psychotropic Convention. The chief author of the convention’s preparatory draft was Arthur Lande, representing the U.S. Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association (Parliament of Canada, 2000, p. 25)

    The U.N. 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances was designed to combat trafficking. The convention promotes international cooperation on seizing assets of traffickers, preventing money laundering and the trafficking of pre-curser chemicals across national borders (Parliament of Canada, 2000, p. 33). The U.S. 1999 Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act is very similar to the U.N. convention mentioned. It gives the U.S. government authority to confiscate assets from drug traffickers within the United States and it also established criminal penalties for doing business with known drug traffickers (Department of Treasury, 1999, p. 1).

    Drug Prohibition Failure

    On the domestic front, the U.S. war on drugs has cost over $1 trillion dollars and more than 30 million people have been arrested for drug related charges since 1982 (Alexander, 2010, p. 25). Of the more than 1.8 million people arrested each year in the U.S., 40% of them are for possession of cannabis (Nadelmann, 2007, p. 30). The U.S. ranks first in the world in per capita incarceration, with 5% of the world’s population the U.S. in prisons representing 25% of the world’s total prisoners (Nadelmann, 2007, p. 26). Still, the U.S. consumes over half of the world’s illicit drugs (Robins, 2011, p. 41).

    A global analysis of the drug prohibition regime tells a similar story. Only 0.2% of global drug profits are confiscated annually (White, 2002, p. 975-976). After 40 years of fighting an ardent war on drugs, which has cost over 47,000 lives in Mexico alone, the street price of cocaine and heroin are at an all-time low (Cave, 2012; Freedman, 2011, p. 71). During the rare times that enforcement does drive up the prices of drugs, this only encourages addicts to commit more crime to pay for their addiction (White, 2002, p. 979). Production and consumption levels have remained the same over the past 10 years. Producers are becoming more efficient and drugs are more potent (Nadelmann, 2007, p. 24).

    The results of arresting drug kingpins and the dismantling of cartels are inconclusive. One would think the logical result of these actions would be a disruption in the drug trade, but conversely, there is a balloon effect. When pressure is placed on one cartel, then another cartel becomes more powerful (White, 2002, p. 976). This effect was seen in Colombia in the late 1990s. Both the U.S. and Colombian government put pressure on the Medellin Cartel to kill their leader, Pablo Escobar. But instead of deterring drug traffic, this strengthened the Colombian Cali cartel and the rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who became more involved in drug trafficking (Bowden, 2001; Rempel, 2011). This also strengthened the Mexican Cartels who began to take over territory in Colombia that the Medellin Cartel previously controlled.

    Section 2: Defining Corruption

    Corruption can take many forms and varies in its degree of severity. The possible participants involved in corruption are members of law enforcement, the military, central and local government, and the judicial branch of government. Drug corruption has decaying effects on these institutions. Where corruption is present within an institution, (e.g., the police), it is generally found throughout every level of the institution. In these cases of institutionalization, methods of corruption are taught to new members. The old adage applies: it is not just one bad apple, it is the entire barrel. Figure 1 lists four types of corruption, defining them and listing those government individuals that are involved in the corruption. All of the types of corruption listed in Figure 1 are a reaction to a strong government. If the government is weak and cannot enforce the law throughout its territory, then drug growers, traffickers and dealers can operate freely. These groups have to bribe government officials because they cannot circumvent them easily. Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) invest an ample amount of money each year to pay off officials. In Mexico, an estimated $500 million per year is spent by DTOs on bribery. This was in 1998 and this figure has undoubtedly has increased (Andreas, 1998, p. 162). This is $100 million more than the U.S. gave to Mexico in the Mérida initiative to assist in the war on the DTOs.

    Section 3: Country Specific Cases of Corruption

    Drug related corruption is found in every country where DTOs operate, especially in drug-producing countries where corruption is found at all levels of the government, from top officials to lower level government employees like custom officers. In drug-transit countries, corruption is generally found at the top levels of government and in law enforcement (Nadelmann, 1988, p. 7). In major drug-consumer countries, drug related corruption is generally only found at the law enforcement level, and these cases are few in number (Punch, 2000; Dombrink, 1988).

    An analysis of Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index data set, which ranks 183 countries level of corruption on a scale that ranges from one to nine with one being the most corrupt, found that the mean corruption rank of drug-producing countries is 2.5. Out of the seven drug-producing countries, two ranked in the top five most corrupt countries, ranging from, 1.5 to 3.4 on the scale. The mean corruption rank of drug-transit countries is 3.2, with scores ranging from, 1.8 to 7.3.

    I examine the three stages of the drug trade and how corruption operates at each stage from the drug-cultivating country to the drug-transit country to the drug-consumer country. I do this by examining corruption in Columbia, Mexico and the United States.

    Drug Corruption in Colombia

    Colombia is a major drug-producing country as identified by the United States code (2003, 618) as defined under the 490(h) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), where Congress has designated “drug-producing” and “drug-transit” countries (National Archives and Records Administration, 2162). There are 20 countries that produce and/or transit drugs.

    Corruption in drug-producing countries is found at all levels of the government, from top to bottom (Nadelmann, 1988, p. 7). The Columbian state is penetrated by members of DTOs. To realize how entrenched the Colombian state is in corruption, one only needs to look back to the early 1990s. Pablo Escobar, a drug kingpin and leader of the Medellin Cartel, campaigned and was elected to the Colombian Parliament (Bowden, 2001; Lynch, 2007, p. 2). Escobar later lobbied with the slogan: “plomo o plata” (silver or lead) to get Colombia’s extradition laws changed to prevent his extradition to the United States. The largest bribe Escobar offered was to pay off Colombia’s foreign debt if he was pardoned of all drug trafficking charges (Bowden, 2001). This bribe was turned down and Escobar served jail time in a private prison that he designed, built, and from which he was free to come and go (Bowden, 2001). Escobar served a year of his sentence before escaping, after he was told that he would be transferred to a real prison. A year later Escobar was killed by a special anti-drug unit trained and assisted by U.S. intelligence-agencies.

    Corruption in Colombia did not die with Pablo Escobar. Escobar’s rival DTO, the Cali Cartel, also paid millions of dollars in bribes to government officials including a presidential candidate (Rempel, 2011). After the death of Escobar, the guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), grew larger and became more involved in drug trafficking. It is estimated that 35% of the elected congress in Colombia supports the AUC (Richani, 2007, p. 411). Also in 2010 a major investigation began of 87 members of congress, 15 governors and 35 mayors for their illegal ties to the paramilitaries (Walser, 2010, p. 11). One of the more disturbing incidents of police corruption were the Trujillo massacres where between 1988 and 1991 over 100 assassinations were carried out by government forces in collaboration with DTOs (Tickner, 2003, p. 76). This is an example of extra-legal violence mentioned in Figure 1.

    Drug Corruption in Mexico

    The Mexican government, at the local and the federal levels, had a long history of cooperating with DTO’s. This dates back to the creation of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for over 70 years (Walser, 2008, p. 4-5). For 70 years the Mexican government, along with the police, served as mediators between the DTOs. The government divided the country up into plazas, or areas of control, that they sold to DTOs (Freeman, 2011, p. 65; Walser, 2008, p. 6). This had two results. First, having government enforced areas to operate, prevented turf wars among the DTOs. Second, it enabled the creation of a few very large DTOs. The smaller DTOs could not afford to buy and control plazas. This system of corruption was disrupted in 2000 with the election of Felipe Fox, a member of the National Action Party (PAN). Six years later, Fox’s successor Felipe Calderon, also a PAN member, began the war on drugs in Mexico. He persuaded congress to increase military spending by 24% or $2.5 billion a year. He followed this by deploying 25,000 troops to hot spots throughout the country. This led to the arrest of over 22,000 criminals (Freedman, 2011, p. 69). These forces have remained deployed along with further increased troop deployment by President Calderon.

    Mexican Law Enforcement

    Mexico’s law enforcement institutions are totally corrupt. In 1998 Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office estimated that 70 to 80 % of the federal judicial police were corrupt (Andreas, 1998, p. 164). This is why Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderon has used the military so extensively to fight a war on the DTOs; he cannot rely on the police. A 1995 study found that there were around 900 armed criminal groups throughout the country, 50% of which were made up of former police officers (Andreas, 1998, p. 162). This is an example of the type of corruption labeled “taking over criminal activity” as listed in Figure 1. The most prominent type of corruption found in Mexico’s law enforcement institutions, especially within the federal judicial police, is selling protection (Punch, 2000, p. 303; Nadelmann, 1988). It is very common for the police (both local and federal) to collect a “corruption tax” from criminal organizations in exchange for protection from the law. The groups who refuse to pay this tax are arrested and harassed by the police. These selective, “show arrests” create an illusion that the police are doing their job.

    A 1988 study found that customs officials are the most corrupt government officials in drug-transit countries (Nadelmann, p. 7). This seems evident in Mexico. With the election of Vincente Fox in 2000, 45 of the 47 customs inspectors along the American-Mexican border were fired or transferred. In just a month 150 trucks were apprehended carrying narcotics. This is a remarkable increase from the 38 that were apprehended the preceding year.

    The Military and the Problem with Special Drug Units

    The militaries in Latin America that are not involved in drug enforcement generally are not corrupt. It is the special drug units found in both Colombia and Mexico that are notoriously corrupt (Nadelmann, 1988, p. 7). One such group in Mexico is the Airmobile Special Forces Groups (GAFES). Created in 1996, thousands of GAFES were trained by an assortment of foreign specialists from the United States, France and Israel (Grayson, 2010, p. 183-184; Freedman, 2011, p. 67). The GAFES primary function was to serve as a special drug unit. Defected members of GAFES went on to serve as sicarios (assassins) for the Gulf Cartel. Later they formed the Zetas, a paramilitary-cartel. The Zetas are the most deadly of the Mexican DTOs. Their membership is estimated to range between 200-300 members (Grayson, 2010, p. 189). Their weaponry is military grade, including 50-caliber rifles, ground-to-air missiles, bazookas, dynamite, grenades, helicopters and even self-constructed tanks (Grayson, 2010, p. 185).

    The Zetas are an example of blowback from a specially trained military drug unit. This problem stems from the institutionalization of corruption. In Mexico, positions in the special drug units are sometimes auctioned off because it is known that these positions have the potential for earning the most in bribes. This institutionalized corruption poses a serious problem for U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) operatives in other countries. Since the DEA generally has few non-corrupt officials to with whom to work, they have found that the best approach is to create specialized anti-drug units within the country where they are working (Nadelmann, 1988, 11). Still, in every country where the DEA and U.S. State Department have created such units, corruption reached to the highest levels of government. It is difficult to shield these special units from corruption under these circumstances (Nadelmann, 1988, p. 13). Also, sometimes the successful works of these special units are undermined by the corrupt judicial system in the country.

    Past Drug Corruption in the United States

    Drug related corruption in the United States that has occurred within law enforcement institutions has been infrequent, although all the types of corruption listed in Figure 1 have occurred in the U.S. I will review two cases of drug related corruption below, one within the New York Police Department (NYPD) and one within the Miami Police Department (MPD).

    In the 1970’s, New York detective Frank Serpico made numerous reports to his superiors that corruption was widespread within the NYPD. After being ignored Serpico blew the whistle about the corruption to the New York Times. This publicity spurred the creation of the Knapp Commission to look into the corruption (Punch, 2000, p. 307; Dombrink, 1988, p. 201). The commission found that institutionalized corruption was present within the NYPD (Dombrink, 1988, p. 201). The corrupt practices ranged from turning a blind eye to some criminal organizations to other criminals being released on all charges. Twenty years later, the Mollen Commission found that some New York police officers not only sold protection to drug dealers but also had become users and sometimes dealers themselves (Punch, 2000, p. 208).

    In 1987, 27 Miami police officers were indicted for a racket where informants would lead them to million-dollar drug busts from which the officers would steal drugs and let the dealer go free (Dombrink, 1988, p. 206). In 1988, three Miami police officers were charged with first degree murder for participating in a drug execution (Dombrink, 1988, p. 207).

    The above mentioned cases all occurred over 20 years ago. Aside from the NYPD cases, police corruption in the U.S. generally is a case of one bad apple and not a failure of the institution. It would be misleading to think that there is no longer corruption within U.S. law enforcement institutions. But after searching news-databases it was difficult to find recent cases of drug related corruption within the United States. What has the United States government done differently from other countries to protect its institutions (law enforcement, judicial, and political) from corruption?

    Section 4: Preventing Corruption, the U.S. Model

    Police corruption in the U.S. has occurred in rare instances. Generally when corruption has occurred it has been a case of a few bad apples, such as the 1987 Miami case. The only case where it seems corruption was institutionalized was within the NYPD before 1970, later re-emerging as the drug trade grew with increased globalization in the mid 1980’s. Two police commissions, the Knapp and Mullen Commissions, were formed to investigate the corruption within the NYPD and to make policy changes to prevent future corruption. The policy changes made after the commissions appear to have transformed a once corrupt institution into a police department that is now free of corruption. A search of news-databases turns up no current cases of corruption within the NYPD. This affirms the effectiveness of the two commissions. Below I will discuss the commissions’ policy changes and analyze the potential for success of implementing these policies in drug-producing and transit-countries.

    In the 1970’s when police detective Frank Serpico informed his superiors that much of the NYPD was corrupt, he was ignored. It was not until Serpico informed the media that attention was given to the corruption issue within the NYPD (Punch, 2000, p. 307; Dombrink, 1988, p. 201). This highlights how important an independent media is to preventing government corruption in a society. Another example of the influence that the media can have on deterring corruption occurred in the Bahamas in the 1980’s. The U.S. government acquired information revealing that the Prime Minister, Sir Lynden O. Pindling, and some of his cabinet members were receiving bribes from DTOs. After diplomacy failed, the U.S. government leaked the incrementing information to the U.S. media. This created such a reaction with the citizens in the Bahamas that Prime Minister Pindling was pressured into appointing a commissioner to investigate the corruption charges (Nadelmann, 1988, p. 17).

    In January 2011, U.S. diplomatic cables were released by WikiLeaks detailing corruption within the ruling family of Tunisia. This was enough to push the Tunisian people over the edge, starting a revolution that eventually led to the overthrow of President Ben Ali (Dickinson, 2011; Sanina, 2011). The media holds public servants accountable by keeping the public informed.

    The Knapp Commission implemented four major changes within the NYPD to prevent future corruption.

    • First, an accountability system was established where police commanders were held responsible for their subordinates’ actions. To implement this policy a new police commissioner was appointed, Patrick Murphy, who told his 180 commanders he would hold them personally responsible for their subordinates’ actions (Dombrink, 1988, p. 218; Grayson, 2000, p. 307).
    • Second, integrity tests were carried out by special undercover units. They tempted officers in the street to commit crimes and/or to accept bribes. The police unit commanders were unaware of when and where an integrity test would occur.
    • Third, a robust Internal Affairs department was created that became a kind of feared Gestapo (Grayson, p. 307-308).
    • Fourth, citizens who offered bribes were arrested.

    These policies were successful at reducing corruption to an “almost minimal level” (Dombrink, 1988, p 218). It was not until 20 years later that some drug related corruption began to re-appear and it was limited to a few officers. The Mullen Commission found that Internal Affairs had become relaxed over the years and this allowed the few cases of corruption to occur. Internal Affairs was re-vamped after the Commission’s findings. These policies have had a positive effect on preventing corruption within the NYPD. This is quite an accomplishment keeping in mind that the NYPD is the largest police department within the United States.

    Section 5: Conclusion

    Can the anti-corruption policies that were implemented within the NYPD in the 1970s be successfully implemented in drug-producing and drug-transit countries? In drug-producing countries, corruption is generally found at all levels of the government from the top officials down to the lower level customs agents (Nadelmann, 1988, p. 7). In these cases, before police reform can be successfully implemented, reform would need to take place higher up in the government. As discussed in Section 4, an independent media can be an effective catalyst for political reform. In drug-transit countries corruption is generally more limited to lower levels of government. This may include police, customs agents and local government officials (i.e. governors, mayors, city officials). In these cases it would more feasible to implement police reform. Bear in mind that in this study the United States, Mexico and Colombia were used as case examples, but there are many other drug-consuming, drug-transit, and drug-producing countries that are also in need of reform. They may share some common characteristics in terms of how drug corruption occurs within their borders but it would be imprudent to over generalize. Rather, policy makers should adapt effective strategies to the specific situation with which they are dealing, (i.e. before 2000 Mexico had been ruled for 71 years by the PRI party and drug corruption reached the highest levels of government.) After the 2000 election and subsequent reform, corruption was limited to mostly state and local government officials, with the exception of the federal police. So a policy that might have been effective in 2001 was completely ineffective two years earlier under the PRI party. The lessons we have learned from the cases studied in this research are good starting places. The model describing government corruption in Figure 1 will not fit every country, but it should be used as guide in assisting future researchers and policy makers.

    Since the Cold War’s end, liberalism’s greatest threat is transnational crime. This might be terrorism, trafficking in nuclear, biological or chemical weapons or the drug trade fuelling corruption and leading to the degradation of governments. The wars on drugs and terrorism will not be won on the battlefield. The victory will begin with policy changes. It is essential to change path, or policy, when misjudgments have been made rather than to continue a failed policy and be limited by past bad decisions.


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    Figure 1: Types of Corruption



    Government actor who participate in the racket

    Protection or non-enforcement of the law

    Selling protection to a criminal to prevent enforcement of the law. I.e. this may be a onetime bribe to overlook a shipment of drugs or a weekly bribe to allow a criminal organization to operate.

    Law Enforcement(1), Military, Gov(2)

    Exonerating charges

    This can range from police tampering with evidence to judges ‘letting off’ criminals.

    Law Enforcement, Judicial(4)

    Extralegal violence

    Drug executions, physical abuse for coercive purposes.

    Law Enforcement, Military

    Taking over criminal activity

    This is where the government   employee literally runs an aspect of the drug trade, i.e. selling cocaine, trafficking cocaine etc.

    Law Enforcement


    1. Law Enforcement, to include: police, customs, border patrol and coast guard.
    2. Gov, to include: the executive branch or president’s cabinet, federal ministers and the legislative branch, governors and municipal public officials.
    4. Judicial, to include: both municipal and federal judges.

    *These types of corruption were identified by analyzing cases of corruption found in Colombia, Mexico and the United States all three of which have a federal system of government.

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