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2000-04-04

Drug War Gravy Train

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The Army colonel once in charge of the U.S. military’s anti-drug efforts in Colombia has been charged with covering up the money laundering activities of his wife, who has pleaded guilty to drug smuggling. [includes rush transcript]

In a letter written today to a New York federal judge, prosecutors revealed that Col. James Hiett is charged with ignoring a felony committed by Laurie Hiett. The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Mrs. Hiett, 36, pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges in January, saying she shipped packages containing $700,000 worth of drugs to New York City. She also admitted traveling to New York to collect the illicit proceeds to take back to Colombia–an act falling under the legal definition of money laundering.

The Washington Post reported today that Hiett will plead guilty to the charge on April 17. The newspaper, citing unidentified sources, said Hiett’s wife implicated him, and that he confessed in November. Hiett, 48, was the U.S. military group commander at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. In that job, he was in charge of all U.S. military activities in Colombia, including counterdrug operations.

Army spokesman Harvey Perritt said Hiett, a 24-year veteran, remains on active duty at Fort Monroe, Va., where he was transferred after allegations arose against his wife. Hiett has admitted that his wife gave him up to $45,000, which he stored in his apartment and embassy office safe, the Post reported. Upon his wife’s arrest last year, he came to the United States, where he reportedly deposited the money in banks in small amounts to avoid scrutiny.

Mrs. Hiett, an admitted cocaine addict, surrendered to authorities last August after they intercepted two packages of heroin that she allegedly mailed to New York from a post office at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

Today we’re looking at a story about the war on drugs. "At least six major U.S. magazines have submitted anti-drug articles they have published over the past year to the government’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in an attempt to qualify for thousands of dollars of financial credits under the same federal advertising program that has benefited the television networks." Salon.com reported. "Those magazines whose articles have been deemed by the drug czar’s office as "on-message" have qualified for the credits, which are awarded in lieu of advertising obligations. Those that failed the test have not."

"The drug-control office," the article continues to say, "has made some of the most lucrative ad buys from magazines that maintain an anti-drug editorial environment that it considers hospitable to its messages." Some of those magazines include U.S. News & World Report, Sporting News, Family Circle, Seventeen, Parade and USA Weekend.

Guests:

  • Dan Forbes, New York free-lancer who writes on social policy and the media. Broke story in Salon.com.
  • Rob Housman, Assistant Director Strategic Planning, Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

The Army colonel once in charge of the US military’s anti-drug efforts in Colombia has been charged with covering up the money laundering activities of his wife, who’s pleaded guilty to drug smuggling. In a letter written yesterday to a New York federal judge, prosecutors revealed that Colonel James Hiett is charged with ignoring a felony committed by Laurie Hiett. The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

After Laurie Hiett’s arrest made headlines, she pleaded guilty on January 27th to a plan to smuggle $700,000 worth of heroin into the United States, largely by mailing drug-filled packages from Colombia to this country and traveling to New York to collect the profits. At the time of his wife’s smuggling, Hiett was in charge of the estimated 200 US troops in Colombia, training security forces for counter-drug operations and protecting three large radar bases used primarily to track drug flights.

He asked to be reassigned after his wife’s arrest and was transferred to the Army’s Training & Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he remains on active duty. He’s scheduled to retire in November.

The two reportedly discussed how to transfer large amounts of cash to the United States without generating legally mandated currency reports. As Army CID agents prepared to search their apartment after Laurie Hiett’s arrest, the sources told the Washington Post, Hiett moved the money to his embassy safe. Once in the United States, they deposited small sums in various banks to avoid reporting requirements. Again, this is the latest news on the highest warrior in the US drug war in Colombia and his involvement in the smuggling of drugs into the United States.

Well, we’re going to take a look at a story closer to home, and it’s how the US press covers the so-called drug war. We’re joined right now by two people. We are joined by Rob Housman who is a spokesperson for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is where the drug czar, Barry McCaffrey resides, and there’s been a controversy over the last months around the issue of US magazines, newspapers, and TV and radio stations getting thousands of dollars of financial credits for articles that they have written that the drug czar approves of. We’d like to have this clarified first by our spokesperson for the drug czar, Rob Housman. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ROB HOUSMAN:

Hi, how are you?

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s good to have you with us. Can you tell us what this program is?

ROB HOUSMAN:

Sure. The program is what we call the Youth Media Campaign, and what the program does is it uses the full power of modern media, everything from television to the internet to radio to magazines, to send kids positive, scientifically proven messages to empower them to reject drugs. As part of the program, the Congress mandated that to maximize our ability to reach children and to maximize the return on the taxpayer dollar, because remember this comes out of all of our pockets as part of our budget, we have to get what we call one-to-one match. What that means is for every taxpayer dollar we spend, that the media has to provide an equal dollar’s worth of public service back to the campaign, back to the people, to reach kids and parents and others.

The way that works is sort of two-fold. One, they can do it through other advertising. In other words, if we buy a primetime ad on TV, the media can provide directly one other primetime ad. Alternatively, they can also get creative. For example, they can work on internet projects, they can do grassroots efforts within their community, and in some cases, they can provide, after the fact, after it’s already been run, examples of what they’ve already been doing on the drug issue to reach kids, in specific, and therefore get credit for that. I’d add though that we don’t provide credit for hard news. For example, in newspapers, we do not give at all newspapers credit for stories they run. That would be crossing the line into editorial, and we don’t want to do that.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, then, Daniel Forbes is a writer for Salon Magazine, also testified before Congress on this issue. What’s your problem with this?

DANIEL FORBES:

Well, Amy, I personally have no particular problem with it. I’m just trying to report what’s out there. Mr. Housman, good morning. We’ve met.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Good morning, Dan. How are you?

DANIEL FORBES:

Good. But what we have here is an approach at financial incentives encouraging a particular point of view. The federal government’s drug policies represent a political platform and, for instance, taxpayer money is only going to magazines that have an anti-drug profile. Just to give two quick examples, Family Circle, according to a research service, had eight-and-a-half pages of anti-drug material. It got the second highest ONDCP ad buy of $1.4 million. Its very close competitor, Woman’s Day, had zero pages in 1999, got not a single dollar of anti-drug money for advertising pages. Sporting News had half a dozen anti-drugs articles and, in some cases, the writer was requested by the ONDCP

ROB HOUSMAN:

Actually —

DANIEL FORBES:

That’s what Robert Lapchick of Northeastern told me.

ROB HOUSMAN: No, actually, Dan [inaudible] —

DANIEL FORBES:

If I may finish, Mr. Housman —

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, if I may, I’d just like to correct the record on that, Dan. You’re reporting on that is wrong. So if I may [inaudible] —

DANIEL FORBES:

Mr. Housman, if I may just finish with my example. Sport Magazine, just to finish, versus Sporting News

ROB HOUSMAN:

—- [inaudible] your reporting on that is factually incorrect. I have spoken to the publisher, the person that Mr. Lapchick said made that statement, and he firmly denies it. [inaudible] -—

DANIEL FORBES:

It was the writers —

ROB HOUSMAN:

—- incapable of writing that -—

DANIEL FORBES:

— it was the writer’s understanding that, quote, "from the writer, Robert Lapchick, who had severed his relationship with the Sporting News, had moved on to writing for another publication said to me, quote/unquote ‘ONCPD requested me.’” He wrote two articles.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Did you ask the publisher about that?

DANIEL FORBES:

This is the understanding of the writer —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Did you ask —- did you confirm it with the person who supposedly said it, because -—

DANIEL FORBES:

The publisher was no longer returning my calls. The writer —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Because I have here on record a statement from that person.

DANIEL FORBES:

I quoted the writer as saying so.

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, but, Dan, you may have quoted the wrong person in this instance. I have for you here, and I’m happy to provide it for you, and I hope that you’ll correct the record —

DANIEL FORBES:

That was the writer’s understanding.

ROB HOUSMAN:

— an email directed to me from the publisher that specifically says that he did not do that.

DANIEL FORBES:

I quoted only the writer’s understanding. Then after he had moved on —

ROB HOUSMAN:

I understand, Dan.

DANIEL FORBES:

—- to another publication -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, I understand that. But you may, in fact, be wrong.

DANIEL FORBES:

Well, anyway, Mr. Housman, if we may —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Admit the fact that you may be wrong.

DANIEL FORBES:

That’s a small — I don’t believe so.

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, Dan, you’ve been wrong throughout this reporting. You were wrong in saying it was secret. The New York Times had to correct the record.

DANIEL FORBES:

Mr. Housman, Family Circle had $1.4 million in anti-drug advertising buys at eight-and-a-half pages of anti-drug content.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Is that a bad thing?

DANIEL FORBES:

Woman’s Day had zero pages, —

ROB HOUSMAN:

But is that a bad thing?

DANIEL FORBES:

—-zero anti-drug buys. Sport had zero pages, a very small buy. The government is rewarding a congruent -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, that’s factually incorrect.

DANIEL FORBES: The government is rewarding a congruent —

ROB HOUSMAN: No, that’s wrong.

DANIEL FORBES:

If you would not interrupt me, please. The government is rewarding a congruent editorial environment. Seventeen magazine was paid more than $70,000, according to its ad salesperson, Jackie O’Hare, to include a description of a young girl in jail for ten years, to include that on their website. She told me it was extremely unusual for Seventeen to take an article from the printed magazine and put it on their website. They were compensated; it was valued by Ogilvy & Mather, the drug czar’s ad agency —

ROB HOUSMAN:

It has no set value yet. Here, again, you’re incorrect.

DANIEL FORBES:

Well, I’m only quoting the salesperson of Seventeen.

ROB HOUSMAN:

I checked yesterday, it hasn’t been valued. Here, again, you’re incorrect.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re talking with Daniel Forbes, who is a Salon magazine, the online magazine reporter who’s done a series of pieces on this, including “The Drug War Gravy Train: How the White House Rewarded US News, Seventeen and Other Magazines for Publishing Anti-Drug Articles.” And our guest on the phone is Rob Housman, who is assistant director of Strategic Planning at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, works with the Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. Rob Housman, you were saying?

ROB HOUSMAN:

Amy, let me go back and sort of —- Dan’s reporting on this has been half-truth and half made up. Let me go back and correct the record on a couple of these things. First of all, Dan may not like it, but we’re buying a wide range of magazines, and not all of them always agree with us. For example, we buy ads in Newsweek, we buy ads in Time, we buy ads in a variety of places, a variety of media outlets that haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with us on various drug issues. Now, the reason why we’re buying them is not because of their editorial focus. We’re buying them because they are an effective vehicle to reach either parents and other adult mentors of kids or kids themselves. And I can show you exactly why certain magazines get bought. But the bottom line is, it’s not about editorial content, it’s about reach and frequency, the ability to deliver messages. First of all -—

DANIEL FORBES:

Mr. Housman —

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, Dan —

DANIEL FORBES:

Mr. Housman —

ROB HOUSMAN:

—- I gave you -— I gave you the run.

DANIEL FORBES:

Alright, I’m responding.

ROB HOUSMAN:

If I may. Dan, I gave you the run, now you get to let — listen to me.

DANIEL FORBES:

—- twenty-six publications -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

I get to give — No, Dan. I gave you the run of the mike, now you get to listen to me.

DANIEL FORBES:

Let me just make one point, and I’ll let you go. Twenty-six—

ROB HOUSMAN:

I now get to correct the record, if I may, Amy?

DANIEL FORBES:

—- twenty-six publications were brought -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, Dan. Let me put it to you this way.

DANIEL FORBES:

Six —

ROB HOUSMAN:

You reported that this campaign was secret.

DANIEL FORBES:

— six submitted editorial content for evaluation.

ROB HOUSMAN:

The New York Times relied on your reporting. Amy, if I may?

AMY GOODMAN:

Yes, go ahead, Rob Housman.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, you said that this campaign was secret. The New York Times relied on your reporting. Max Frankel relied on your reporting, and the New York Times has had to correct the record. The New York Times has had to go on record saying they were wrong to rely on you, part one. Part two, you said now that a bunch of these things have been valued. They haven’t been valued yet, Dan. I don’t even know the value, and I work here.

DANIEL FORBES:

I said that six publications —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, if you’ll allow me —

DANIEL FORBES:

—- submitted their -— six publications submitted —

AMY GOODMAN:

Let Dan Forbes respond to what you said.

DANIEL FORBES:

Twenty-six publications received an ONDCP ad buy during calendar year ’99. Six magazines — US News & World Report, Family Circle, Seventeen, The Sporting News, and the two biggest circulation in the country, Parade and US Weekend — all on the record quotes from their own executives, either publishing or sales executives, those six said that they submitted editorial content to ONDCP and its ad agency for valuation. It was still up in the air whether they all would be done or not.

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, but you just said they were valued.

DANIEL FORBES:

The fact that they are saying that this editorial content should meet with the drug czar’s approval and release them from financial obligations raises questions.

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, no, no, Dan—

DANIEL FORBES:

Secondly, as to the television advertising I referred to, I never said it was secret.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Yes, you did.

DANIEL FORBES:

I said — that was a headline in the magazine.

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, no, no. It was known only to a small group —

DANIEL FORBES:

It was not—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, I’ve read you’re reporting. You can’t put —

DANIEL FORBES:

It was not known to the congressional subcommittee chairman did not know about it—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, it was testified to on the record. It was testified to on the record in 19—

DANIEL FORBES:

Kolbe of Arizona and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, if I may?

DANIEL FORBES:

— did not know.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, if I may?

DANIEL FORBES:

They are the subcommittee chairmen.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Do you actually believe —- Dan, do you actually believe -—

DANIEL FORBES:

If they don’t know, it was sub rosa.

ROB HOUSMAN:

— that if we were going to keep something secret it would run on the front page of the Los Angeles Times?

DANIEL FORBES:

If the chairmen —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Do you honestly believe that?

DANIEL FORBES:

—- if the chairmen of the subcommittee [inaudible] -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Come on, Dan. It ran on the front page.

AMY GOODMAN:

Let Dan Forbes respond. Let Dan Forbes respond.

DANIEL FORBES:

If the chairmen of the two subcommittees involved with financial oversight, Representative Jim Kolbe, Republican of Arizona, and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Republican of Colorado, neither one knew of this provision to value network television, I would maintain that that is an extremely covert effort on your part, if neither of those chairmen knew.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, then why does the New York Times, who relied on you, have to correct the record on that?

DANIEL FORBES:

I believe the New York Times has their own agenda. You’ll have to ask them.

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, no, no. Do you know the New York Times had to correct the record based upon your reporting.

DANIEL FORBES:

Sir, sir, neither of the —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Do you know that?

DANIEL FORBES:

—- neither -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, are you aware?

DANIEL FORBES: I —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Just tell me.

DANIEL FORBES: That’s a column by —

ROB HOUSMAN: Are you aware that-the New York Times


AMY GOODMAN:

Let him respond.

DANIEL FORBES:

That’s a column by Max Frankel. It’s hard news. Please address the fact that neither of the congressional chairmen involved knew of this, nor —- I interviewed -— how could then there have been disclosure on ONDCP‘s part?

ROB HOUSMAN: Dan, I have personally —- I have personally made available to Salon magazine, your publisher, the extensive -—

DANIEL FORBES:

Wait a minute, answer the question —

ROB HOUSMAN:

No, no, no.

DANIEL FORBES:

— regarding Kolbe and Senator Campbell.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Amy, are you going to allow me to answer that question.

DANIEL FORBES: I’d like you to answer that question, if you will.

AMY GOODMAN:

Yeah. Well, why don’t you answer that question first, and then—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, look—

AMY GOODMAN:

— make your point about these politicians knowing.

DANIEL FORBES:

Kolbe and Campbell told me on the record neither one knew. They’re the people — the people’s representatives in Congress who are supposed to have oversight for this.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Well, allow me to—

DANIEL FORBES:

Only obfuscatory language in the extreme was presented to them —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Obfuscatory! Amy, if you’ll—

DANIEL FORBES:

— in testimony. They didn’t know.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Amy, if you’ll give me about five minutes, I’ll be able to read the director’s October 21, 1999 testimony.

AMY GOODMAN:

I can’t give you five minutes —

ROB HOUSMAN:

I know that—

AMY GOODMAN:

— because we’re going on to a Microsoft debate.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Of course, you can’t, because you can, but —

DANIEL FORBES:

Phrases such as “pro bono” public service donations —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, Dan, I let you talk.

AMY GOODMAN:

Let Rob Housman respond.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Dan, I let you talk.

AMY GOODMAN:

Actually, we have to break for stations to identify themselves, but we’ll give you a minute after the break, and then we’re going on to the ruling of the judge yesterday that Microsoft is a monopoly. We’re going to get a response from Microsoft in just a minute.

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Our guests, Rob Housman, Assistant Director of Strategic Planning, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of the Drug Czar; Dan Forbes, reporter with Salon magazine, who broke the story on the relationship between the US media and the Drug Czar’s Office. You’re listening to Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. Rob Housman, our guest on the phone from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, about this controversy around awarding thousands of dollars of financial credits under a federal advertising program that rewards TV stations, newspapers, magazines, if they put out a message, a so-called on-message message on the war on drugs. Our guest in the studio, Dan Forbes, freelancer with Salon magazine, who broke the story.

Rob Housman, you were just saying, and we can only give you each a minute now to give a final sum up on the bigger picture here.

ROB HOUSMAN:

First of all, Amy, Dan no more broke this story than anybody who read the August 20, 1998 L.A. Times. It was this exact part of the campaign was covered on the front page of the L.A. Times, so anybody who read it has the same claim that Dan does to breaking it. Second of all, Dan’s reporting on this has been littered with factual error. The New York Times has had to correct the record based upon their reliance on Dan’s reporting. Now, he’s falsely quoted a publisher that he never spoke with, but he spoke with a reporter but didn’t think to go back up the chain, because he’s been slovenly in the reporting. Moreover, he’s been woefully blind to fact. On October 21, 1999, the director testified about this arrangement. And if Dan thinks the Congress didn’t know about it, he should be well to be reminded that the Congress required this. They voted on it. They put it in place. We didn’t do this on our own. The Congress itself, these chairmen and others, voted this requirement into place. I don’t see how you can say that they were blind to it.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Rob Housman, since I gave you the first word, I’ll give Dan Forbes the last word, then we move on to Microsoft.

DANIEL FORBES:

Well, on that small point, the —- neither subcommittee chairman knew. They didn’t know until I approached them. On larger points, let’s put this in perspective. ONDCP sent formal printed -—

AMY GOODMAN:

The Drug Czar’s Office.

DANIEL FORBES:

The Drug Czar’s Office, Amy, sent formal, printed instructions requesting specific content in magazines, even down to the point of asking for —- suggesting that different types of articles appear in different months. This was a formal, printed document that was sent out. We have such absurdities as a sales staff, as USA Weekend, cutting and pasting different paragraphs from four different articles, I was told by Lisa Helbraun, one of their sales execs, in an attempt to add up to sufficient amount of column inches to achieve the valuation.

As to that last point, I can’t let the “slovenly” slide. I spoke to the publisher of the Sporting News. I then spoke to his writer, Lapchick, subsequently, and then was dealing with -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Then why does he deny it?

DANIEL FORBES:

—- Times-Mirror, Times-Mirror PR -—

ROB HOUSMAN:

Why does he deny it?

DANIEL FORBES:

—- and they did not -— Times-Mirror did not —

ROB HOUSMAN:

Then why does he deny it?

DANIEL FORBES:

— make anyone available.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, on that note, we do have to end this debate. But I want to give you each a chance to give out more information. Do you have a website where people can get your articles, Dan Forbes, Rob Housman, where people can get more information on this program from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

ROB HOUSMAN:

Well, they can go to www.whitehousedrugpolicy, or they can go to www.projectknow, spelled k-n-o-w, and hear more about this.

AMY GOODMAN:

And Dan Forbes?

DANIEL FORBES:

I can only refer folks to Salon.com, that’s Salon magazine. I had articles on the 31st of March, on January 13th and January 14th on this issue.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us, and we’ll continue to follow that story.

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