The Underground Empire Essay - Critical Essays

The Underground Empire

The secret anti-drug organization, Centac, created in the early 1970’s, had been phased out by 1986, a victim of rivalries within the Federal bureaucracy. Mills gives a detailed account of the war waged by Dennis Dayle, the head of Centac, against three major lords of the international drug traffic. THE UNDERGROUND EMPIRE is the fruit of five years of diligent legwork and extensive interviewing, supplemented by access to classified United States government documents.

Repeatedly emphasizing the enormous power of the drug lords, Mills brings forth one piece of evidence after another of the influence exerted by narcotics traffickers over anti-Communist governments in Asia and Latin America. The Central Intelligence Agency, the author charges, protects those foreign drug traffickers whom it values as sources of information. Although the author argues that the United States government should exert far more pressure on friendly but corrupt foreign governments than it has up to now, he offers no guidelines for resolving the inevitable tension between the goals of American foreign policy and those of drug law enforcement.

THE UNDERGROUND EMPIRE contains neither citation references, nor a bibliography, nor an index. The reader must take on faith everything that the author says. Although Mills’s many allegations regarding foreign governments have the ring of truth, some of these assertions are based on nothing but hearsay.

Mills provides little historical or sociological perspective on the drug problem. The history of narcotics diplomacy belies the author’s notion that United States government pressure could stamp out narcotics production in Latin America. It is doubtful, moreover, that a supply-side approach will cure America’s drug-use epidemic, as the author implies; efforts to reduce demand are also needed.

The practice of shifting abruptly from one criminal investigation to another makes the book hard to follow. The piling up of one brutal incident upon another, the repetition of scenes of arrest, flight, and capture, and the inclusion of details on individuals’ childhoods and love lives all make the book unnecessarily long.

Despite such defects, THE UNDERGROUND EMPIRE will appeal to the general reader because it is written in a vivid and hard-hitting style. No one will come away from this book without having gained a new awareness of the seriousness of the drug problem and the difficulties of dealing with it.