Agency of Fear
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Agency of Fear

Opiates and Political Power in America

By Edward Jay Epstein

Chapter 6 - The Education of Egil Krogh



Egil Krogh, Jr., was born in Chicago in 1939, the son of a Norwegian immigrant. After majoring in English at a small Christian Science college in southern Illinois, dropping out of business school at the University of Chicago, serving three years as a naval communications officer in the Pacific, and selling hats in a department store in Seattle, he finally graduated from the University of Washington Law School in June, 1968. Upon graduation, Krogh was offered an apprenticeship in the Seattle offices of John Ehrlichman, a long-time friend of Krogh's family; but he never had the opportunity to practice land-use law, as he had planned. in a few short months "Bud" Krogh followed Ehrlichman to Washington, where he was given the impressive-sounding title deputy counsel to the president, although in reality he was still Ehrlichman's personal assistant. Although Krogh had little experience in either government or politics (he had not even actively supported Nixon's quest for the presidency), Ehrlichman asked him to oversee the sensitive areas of federal law-enforcement and internal security matters. Before he had even turned thirty, Krogh thus found himself willy-nilly presiding over an unprecedented presidential law-and-order campaign. It was all a learning period, and he readily acknowledged his naivete to me in 1975, during a series of interviews. 

He recalled: 

I had been given the District of Columbia liaison responsibility in February, 1969, and I remember in a meeting with the president he said, "All right, Bud, I'd like you to stop crime in the District of Columbia," and I said, "Yes," I would do that. So I called the mayor, Walter Washington, and asked him to stop crime, and he paused for a moment and said, "Okay," and that was about it. 

As the first year of the Nixon administration progressed, Krogh soon found that "there wasn't much feel for the kinds of programs that would work in the area of law enforcement and crime control" and, like the president, he found to his dismay that the federal government lacked the wherewithal to diminish street crime in any substantial way. Now he quickly realized that his telephone order to Mayor Washington to "stop crime" revealed a picture of naivete in the extreme. He also found as he became more aware of the machinery of government that most of the other remedies for crime available to the federal government were equally ineffectual. In his political education Krogh found that he "didn't have the luxury ... to conclude that because the problem was so complex and seemingly intransigent nothing should be done." After discussing the problem with Ehrlichman, Krogh learned the prime requisite of "intelligent politics." Since "the president had campaigned on his desire to reduce crime nationally," Krogh found out that Nixon could not now state, "I've discovered that the federal government has little jurisdiction over street crime in the cities, towns, and counties; and therefore it is a matter for the states to handle. Good luck!" Krogh did what he could to reduce crime-he pressed for better streetlights in Washington, D.C., more police patrols, and other such measures, but they failed. Krogh was thus faced with his first crisis in the Nixon administration as he explained it to me: 

During the period from January to December, 1969, the crime rate measured by the FBI reports indicated that crimes per day continued to climb dramatically ... and during November hit an all-time high.... When the president learned the news, he became extremely upset and concerned. He called Mr. Ehrlichman and told him this must stop and that very immediate measures had to be undertaken to reduce the crime rate [in D.C.] by those in the District government, or else he would get a new team. 

Ehrlichman immediately called a meeting of his new organ, the Domestic Council, at Camp David to redress the situation. It was the first-and, as it turned out, the only-full meeting of the Domestic Council. This new White House group, originally conceived of as a sort of domestic counterpart of the National Security Council, was quickly converted by Ehrlichman to a personal instrument of power. He assembled a staff of young men in their twenties and early thirties with little or no previous experience in government, such as Krogh, and had them reduce the flood of ideas and suggestions from competing sources to a series of option and decision papers on given issues. By carefully structuring the pros and cons of the various options, and assessing the political as well as substantive ramifications of possible decisions, Ehrlichman eventually established a direct channel of information to the president which became impervious to the qualifications and caveats of scholars, bureaucrats, and even cabinet officials who had previously contributed to policy. In this initial meeting, in December, 1969, however, Ehrlichman simply went around the table and asked various staff assistants what measures had been taken in the area of crime control. Some of the staff assistants pointed to the "scare legislation" that had been proposed by John Mitchell, and other bits of symbolic politics. Finally, Ehrlichman turned to Krogh and asked him what actions were pending that might affect the crime rate. Krogh answered with brutal candor, "None." The entire council fell silent. Then, with an air of desperation, Ehrlichman reiterated the president's orders: "The crime rate must somehow be brought down."

As soon as he returned to Washington, Krogh called Graham Watt, the deputy mayor of the District, and Police Chief Jerry Wilson, and ordered them to prepare immediately a report on what could be done in the District in terms of improving the police force and reducing crime, at least statistically. Even at that point, however, Krogh realized that though pouring resources into the District of Columbia on an emergency basis (and changing statistics-reporting methods) could bring about an appreciable improvement in at least the crime statistics in the capital, these measures could not be reasonably expected to ameliorate crime in the rest of the nation. Despite the presidential injunction, and the threat to deploy a new team, there was still no concept of what could be done to implement a national law-and-order program. By 1970 all the Domestic Council was able to suggest, in a crime-control memorandum, was the shifting of the "burden for responsibility in controlling, crime to the state and local government which have jurisdiction over local law enforcement."

Such a strategy had the obvious advantage of providing a "solution" to the dilemma of rising street-crime statistics. Since there were ten times as many local police as federal police, and the local authorities had immediate jurisdiction over their local streets, they could more plausibly be assigned the responsibility for the success or failure of crime control. The rationale of devolving responsibility also fit neatly with the conservative view that the federal government had usurped legitimate functions of local governments (which presumably ought to be returned), and it could be supported by such other programs of the Nixon administration as revenue sharing and block grants to the states. If this strategy was adopted, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration could be used as an instrument for aiding local police departments-and gaining credit for the Nixon administration. Elliot Richardson, then secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, advocated such an approach. For example, in the spring of 1971 his general counsel at HEW, Will Hastings, suggested in a draft that he drew up for a presidential message on narcotics addiction, "The federal role ... must be one of leadership, of capacity building: By providing support ... the federal government can assist state and local agencies in dealing with the problem. The local authorities must assume primary responsibility." The response of the White House strategists, however, was not favorable to this conservative strategy of devolving responsibility. An analysis of the HEW draft by the Domestic Council's staff asked critically, "Is the President ready politically to abdicate responsibility ... by implicitly placing the burden on state and local government?" Ehrlichman answered that such an abdication would not be politically acceptable to the president. He explained to Krogh that although "most of the activities in the field are local ... conceptually we should not stress that the federal government was shifting responsibility back to the states because the administration was clearly identified with handling the problem.... The President was out in front on the issue, and ... as a matter of policy he should stay there." Krogh then realized, as he later told me, "To publicly disavow responsibility at the federal level and extend it to the states would have been perceived as a cop-out-and something that was directly inconsistent with what [the president] had campaigned on."

The suggestion of lawfully using the LEAA in the war against crime also presented a political problem. According to the legislative formulas then existing, the vast preponderance of LEAA funds had to be given in block grants to the states, which then allocated the money, without any, control from Washington, to local agencies. The Nixon administration thus would have little control over which police departments received funds-and for what purposes they were used and most of the money could be expected to be filtered down to the cities controlled by the Democrats (if only because, at that time, most city governments were Democratic). In evaluating the uses of LEAA, Domestic Council analysts noted that "there was profound GOP opposition [to] the theory of block grants" and that, moreover, it "makes more difficult the coercing of the states into reordering their priorities to emphasize street crime." With the twin objectives of reducing street crime and "maintaining the image of a massive administration assault on crime," the Nixon strategists recommended a change in "LEAA formulas to remit more funds invested in high crime areas, and thus to focus publicity on administration efforts. The memorandum concluded pessimistically that expanded LEAA grants would tend to induce "a bad reaction from GOP," and give credit for "more highly visible deterrents at local levels" to local politicians.

In any case, the issue of shifting the burden was decisively settled by Nixon himself in May, 1971, after an earlier meeting among Ehrlichman, Richardson, Krogh, and others. According to Krogh's notes of that meeting: 

Secretary Richardson recommends that the thrust of new initiatives be experimental, thereby shifting the burden of responsibility to the states. Expectations are [thus] not raised that the federal government is undertaking a multi-year responsibility. Can the President afford politically to abdicate responsibility on this issue?

 Ehrlichman then recommended to the president that "our posture not be worded in a tone which suggests, 'it's the problem of state and local government.' " President Nixon endorsed the option recommended by Ehrlichman, thereby ending any further consideration of the alternative of portraying the states as responsible in maintaining law and order.

Confronted with the seemingly impossible task of bringing about highly visible reductions in the reported muggings, burglaries, and robberies across the nation, and having found that all conventional levers of government could not easily be brought to bear on this problem, Krogh was compelled to seek out new and unorthodox tactics for prosecuting the war on crime. As Ehrlichman's emissary for the District of Columbia he had met Robert DuPont, a young and articulate psychiatrist who had been operating with missionary zeal a drug-treatment center in the District. Early in 1970, DuPont suggested to Krogh and his staff a "magic-bullet" scheme for quickly reducing crime statistics across the nation: since narcotics addicts committed much of the street crime in America in order to obtain money to pay for their drug habit, DuPont argued, the federal government could immediately reduce crime by breaking the dependence of addicts on illicit suppliers. The young psychiatrist impressed Krogh with "a statistical analysis which demonstrated that his client had reduced crime in the District" (even though it turned out, as a 1972 study by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse found, that the correlation he presented wits based on a statistical artifact). The proposition put forth by Captain Hobson in the 1920s-that crime was itself a disease caused by narcotics and cured by breaking the addictive habit-was thus rediscovered in 1970 by Krogh. G. Gordon Liddy, who was then developing law-enforcement pro-rams for the Treasury Department, also impressed Krogh with the potential for a massive federal offensive against narcotics as a means of dealing with the law-and-order problem. Liddy dramatically described how Rockefeller had masterfully identified narcotics with the crime problem in New York State, and periodically stirred the popular imagination with his highly publicized crackdowns on addicts. He argued persuasively that the Nixon administration could achieve the same effect. Most important, the president himself had shown a keen interest in the possibilities of a war on drugs. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, concerned about the reports of heroin abuse in the ghettos, had persuaded the president that the State Department should do everything diplomatically possible to curtail opium production in foreign countries such as Turkey, and that the president should elevate the suppression of narcotics to an issue of national security policy. The State Department, however, concerned about diplomatic complications, did little to implement this presidential directive. Moynihan later recalled, in a telegram to Kissinger:  

In August 1969 1 made a trip abroad with this matter primarily in mind ... in Paris I met with the American minister ... land] told him of the Washington decision to make the international drug traffic a matter of highest priority in foreign affairs, and this elicited... genuine puzzlement. The minister knew almost nothing of the subject and certainly had no inkling that his government back home was concerned about it.

 Krogh himself had some doubts about the immediate consequences of such a full-scale attack on narcotics production and distribution. He wrote in a memorandum to the Domestic Council on July 23, 1970, "If the supply of opiate and other addicting drugs is curtailed, the price of these drugs would likely rise, and the demand will continue, for the buyer is addicted; crime could go up in order to acquire more money for the more expensive drugs." In other words, if addicts were really stealing to pay for their habit, government efforts to reduce the supply of heroin could result in more, not less, crime. Krogh, however, was persuaded by his staff that the "crackdown" would drive most addicts into "treatment programs," where they would be effectively taken off the streets. He thus proposed a double-pronged attack on narcotics: while the State Department and National Security Council attempted to diminish the supply of heroin in the world available to the American market, and the Bureau of Narcotics and the Customs Bureau attempted to arrest as many of the smugglers and distributors of heroin as possible, the White House would also work to expand the treatment programs so that they could absorb a large number of addicts. Although John Ehrlichman also had doubts about the complexities involved in a war on drugs, especially since it was not an area that was yet researched by the White House, he was persuaded by Krogh that it was the only real alternative the White House had to reduce crime statistics by the 1972 election. The war on narcotics thus received White House sanction.




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