Operation Snowcap

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Operation Snowcap (1987–1994) was a counter-narcotics operation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), BORTAC (U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit) and military/police forces in nine Latin American countries. At an annual cost to the DEA of $80 million, and involving approximately 140 agents at its onset,[1] Snowcap was the largest counter-narcotics operation that had been launched in Latin America.[2] The U.S. Department of Defense leased 6 UH-1 Huey helicopters, and provided flight training to Bolivian air force pilots and Special Forces training for UMOPAR and DEA agents.[3][4] Operation Snowcap recruited U.S. Army infantry officers attending the Army Infantry Officer's advanced course in the late 1980s. Senior lieutenants and captains attending the course were given classified briefings attempting to recruit them from the Army to participate for operations in Bolivia and Peru.

In late 1987, Clandestine Laboratory and Chemical Program Czar, Gene R. Haislip, Deputy Assistant Administrator of DEA and Douglas A. Snyder, frequent Snowcap operative, convinced high level DEA officials that change was needed in the Snowcap program. They successfully lobbied DEA brass, David Westrate, Terry Burke and Chuck Guttenson, for Frank E. White, Chief of DEA Special Training, to become the new head of Snowcap because of his breadth of military experience and no-nonsense law enforcement perspective. The top brass accepted their recommendations. In one incident in a remote jungle location, DEA Operatives White and Snyder, and Navy Seals R. Gonzales and Red Hernandez were cornered by several dozen local campesinos wielding machetes and the team barely escaped harm by boarding an air transport provided by DEAs Addison Air Wing. In a 1988 memo, White, as new head of Snowcap, charged that agents were not being given adequate to support for their mission, warning that without immediate changes, "DEA agents are going to agonize along through an excruciating death on an isolated jungle floor." DEA brass supported his request for more U.S. Military special forces assistance to field DEA agents deployed under Snowcap, with the additional deployment of Navy SEALS/medics. However, Frank White never thought the level of support was adequate to protect deployed DEA agents in such remote jungle locations, but trudged forward.

By the end of 1990, Colombian National Police participating in Operation Snowcap had seized 53 metric tons of cocaine, arrested about 7,000 suspected traffickers, destroyed over 300 processing facilities, and seized over 700,000 gallons of precursor chemicals.[5][6] Snowcap was successful in temporarily reducing the amount of Colombian cocaine entering the United States, however, it ended up handing control of narco-trafficking from the powerful Medellín and Cali cartels over to the smaller Mexican cartels. According to the SAC who was in charge of Operation Snowcap, Tony Laza, the DEA's "success with Medellín and Cali essentially set the Mexicans up in business, at a time when they were already cash-rich thanks to the budding methamphetamine trade in Southern California."[7]

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  1. ^ Though the U.S. government expected the number of agents to increase to 180. (Chepesiuk, 1999: p. 177)
  2. ^ Chepesiuk, 1999: p. 177
  3. ^ Bewley-Taylor, David R. (2001). The United States and international drug control, 1909-1997. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-8264-5813-1.
  4. ^ See also: Ledebur, Kathryn (2005). "Bolivia: Clear Consequences". In Youngers, Coletta; Rosin, Eileen (eds.). Drugs and democracy in Latin America: the impact of U.S. policy. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 150. ISBN 978-1-58826-254-7.
  5. ^ Menzel, Sewall H. (2000). Cocaine Quagmire: Implementing the U.S. Anti-Drug Policy in the North Andes-Colombia. University Press of America. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-7618-1643-0.
  6. ^ See also Menzel, Sewall H. (1997). Fire in the Andes: U.S. Foreign Policy and Cocaine Politics in Bolivia and Peru. University Press of America. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-7618-1001-8.
  7. ^ Reding, Nick (2010). Methland. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 157. ISBN 978-1-60819-207-6.