Sunday, December 4, 2011

IN THE FIELD WITH A DEA AGENT: Law Enforcement, A Mystery Writer's Best Friend!

Sisters in Crime, Chessie Chapter, arranged for a DEA Agent to talk to us mystery writers on December 3, 2011. I will call him Agent A.

As a young college student, Agent A applied to the DEA, was accepted, spent 17 weeks training in Quantico, VA, and having no idea what he was doing – his words – he was given a gun, a badge, credentials and shipped off to a job in Switzerland where he did surveillance on an international drug dealer who was finally apprehended in a Motel 8 in CA.
DEA: Seized Drugs

I suspect this agent will be writing thriller novels in the future.  He can really tell a story. One point he made stuck with me. If agents are trained to lie, and you’re married to one, how can you ever believe them? Makes for a high divorce rate.

I lucked out yesterday as Agent A wound up at my table during the lunch. Loved it when he gave me the answer I wanted to hear. My new Nikki Latrelle novel takes place at Colonial Downs racetrack in Virginia and takes a hard look at the illegal drug trade in methamphetamine. When I write a book, and a couple of years go by, I worry. Is it still timely?

I asked agent A about meth. He said it’s once again one of their biggest problems. That, and the new synthetic cannabis and synthetic stimulants, many of which are coming out of China, some in the form of “bath salts.” He said he doesn’t believe the things people are willing to put in their bodies.

Agent A talked about the DEA’s fight against the Mexican drug trade, and coincidentally, the New York Times broke a story on December 3, about how DEA agents launder drug money as a means of tracking these criminals.  (To see this story, cut and paste into your browser bar)

Agent A said one of their best weapons against the Mexican drug cartels is the seizure of their money.  Thinking the recently increased violence in Mexico is a bad thing is somewhat counter intuitive. He explained by cutting off the Cartel’s money, cutting off their drug routes, these criminals are like rats in a cage. They turn violent –  turn on one another. Agent A believes our agents are relatively safe when fighting the Mexican cartels, since the cartels know that if they kill an American drug agent the wrath of the US Government will be on their heads. 

Regarding our two ICE agents that were murdered, he explained the agency’s furious backlash against the cartels caused one of these criminal gangs to give up the perpetrators of this crime in two days! 
He did admit he wouldn't want to be a Mexican drug investigator at this time and he wonders how much longer the Mexican government can fight this vicious war. 

I’d had no idea that DEA has so many agents overseas and around the world. Agent A spent two years in Haiti and here again, though it is one of the most dangerous places in the world, he felt fairly safe as a US agent. He said the trouble comes when an undercover agent does such a good job, the drug lords think he’s one of them, then think nothing of killing him if is suits their needs. What a life.

Nasty Most Wanted Guy!

Agent A suggested the DEA website ( is a great place for writers to root around. He’s right. Looking at pictures of their most wanted criminals in the area where I live was enough to keep me up half the night checking that windows and doors were locked, and my dog was on guard duty. 

On their site I found this picture:

And was fascinated to discover I’d already seen it, that I’d been there before. In 1993, one of my favorite mystery authors, Michael Connelly wrote a novel called “The Black Ice.” His character, LA detective Harry Bosch, ends up in a Mexican tunnel used to ship drugs into the US.  Because of Connelly’s authorial magic, this DEA photo brought on a tremendous sense of deja vu. I know Connelly works hand in hand with law enforcement agencies to get his books right. 

Personally, I am very grateful to these agencies who take the time to make sure us mystery authors get it right!

The DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency, operates under  the US Department of Justice, and is our nation's largest enforcement agency.