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Former DEA Agent Details Undercover Career

'The Dark Art: My Undercover Life in Global Narco-Terrorism' by Edward Follis

As Mark Twain said, truth is stranger than fiction. Ed Follis, a former Drug Enforcement Administration undercover agent has shared some true but larger-than-life stories in his book, “The Dark Art: Inside the World’s Most Dangerous Narco-Terrorist Organization.”

“The book was cathartic,” Follis told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Monday. “I finally looked back on all those days and the stuff we did.”, the author of "The Dark Art: Inside the World's Most Dangerous Narco-Terrorist Organization," was involved in the DEA's undercover operations and biggest arrests for nearly three decades. On Monday, "St. Louis on the Air" talked to Follis.

Follis worked for the DEA for nearly 30 years. During that time, the job and the people he was chasing changed, he said. The so-called war on drugs began in the 1970s after President Richard Nixon called drug abuse “public enemy number one.” It has expanded (with help from the “Just Say No” ad campaign in the 1980s and ’90s) and now includes pursuing drug traffickers outside of the United States. But has it been successful?

“The war on drugs is somewhat like a number of other wars that we’ve advanced since Vietnam,” Follis said. “I’m not quite sure that we’re pressing in as hard as we should. I did, personally, as an agent. But the war on drugs has to focus emphatically on the larger figures. I never pursued people that were addicted. They’re not victims, but they are in need of extreme assistance. It’s those who exploit them … They’re not concerned about the addicts and the people that are hopelessly addicted.”  

Follis is adamant on that last point.

“Heroin and methamphetamine steal souls,” he said. “You see the poor people who are just wholly addicted. I don’t think the addict is the one, ever, to be pursued. It’s those that enable everything.”

Several terrorist organizations have their roots in the drug trade, Follis said, including ISIS. Pursuing them comes down to another popular phrase from the ’70s: Follow the money.

“The only way you’re going to beat these narco-terrorists is take their funds away from them, ’cause without that, they’re nothing,” Follis said.

Working for the DEA, Follis said he never took drugs — and the people he typically dealt with while undercover didn’t either. Instead, Follis said he relied on two things.

“Number one, beyond anything else, you have to have the right access. That’s through informants, of course, because they already have standing with these people. Number two, you have to be like them, because once they trust you, they don’t want to disbelieve their trust with you.

“Even today, I have guys that call me from jail because they just don’t want to believe that it happened. It’s a matter of persona. It’s a matter of taking your will and yourself and placing it in their world. Once you get into their world, they want to trust you,” Follis said.

Follis has high praise for the DEA. “Of an organization with greater integrity, I do not know,” he said. Accusations of racial profiling and prejudice are rampant in other law enforcement agencies, but not in the DEA, Follis said.

“The manner in which DEA is stunningly successful is just pure investigations. (It) has nothing to do with someone’s pigmentation — it just doesn’t,” he said.

But Follis is concerned with the number of states moving to legalize marijuana.

“I know that if people are able to access drugs — psychotropic drugs — through a legal system, the black market and the underpinnings of all that will still produce hyperstrong products that will be more attractive and less expensive than what would occur if it was legalized,” he said.

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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