The Drug Enforcement Administration operates with a staff of over 10,000 employees and a budget of over $2.6 billion. That is a large force that still operates under the perception of being overwhelmed by even larger forces of those who wish to traffic in, who become enriched by, and who use illegal substances and drugs.
When the goal and mission is to work with international, national, regional and even local government and law enforcement agencies to enforce laws that cover every kind of mood altering substance from prescription medications to marijuana, the complications and burdens are immense.
There are investigations of major violators, including those who are so well funded and powerful that they get to US waters in state of the art, custom made submersible vehicles. Then, there are state of the art tunnels that bypass any border security. There are planes that fly outside of the radar detection and boats that get past the ocean and sea patrols. When one drug cartel alone can hold money and assets that can reach a hundred times more than the annual budget of about $2.6 billion, investigating and bringing major violators to justice is a challenging issue.
In terms of bringing major violators to justice, the gangs, organizations and groups that are effective in controlling witnesses and even whole communities in some cases present challenges that wind up with hard core criminals who remain free to go anywhere that they please, even with allegations of criminal activity and with no citizenship status. In some rare cases, major violators can even have diplomatic immunity or very strong political connections, and the DEA has to work through those issues and restraints, too.
The DEA has a heavy and vast intelligence gathering burden, in the US as well as in other countries where every language, cultural, social and interpersonal issue has to be dealt with. Add in the banking, finance, import/export and money laundering operations, and the complexity of work becomes exponential. As one hole is closed, others open to allow incredible amounts of money to move from the street user level to the highest levels of well organized, well armed and well connected organizations that operate on almost the same levels as major corporations and even governments.
This is not as easy as it sounds when rural, isolated or even entire sections of cities are very closely guarded and controlled by organized drug operations that can easily recognize strangers or outsiders.
Another critical issue is the ability of drug operators to continue to run successful businesses and organized crime institutions from inside of prisons, with many of the most powerful groups having gained local community, national and even international reach.
In summary, the reach of the DEA is vast, but the reach of the criminal drug industry is more vast and is also pervasive, reaching to every community, school, institution and workplace in the US and possibly in the world. With over 30,000 arrests in 2009, it would make many feel better to see ten times that number and to see the arrests reach to the highest levels of the illegal drug industries.