ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Drug enforcement agents say they have shut down a major drug transportation network into the US from South America. In what is being called Operation: Three Hour Tour, agents have arrested more than 160 people in four cities over the past two days. Officials say the group was responsible for bringing millions of dollars' worth of drugs into the country each month. NPR's Laura Sullivan is covering this story.
And, Laura, tell us more about the arrests.
LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:
Well, there were 164 arrests in Los Angeles, Des Moines, New York and New Haven, Connecticut, as well as a handful of arrests in the Dominican Republic and Colombia. It was a 10-month investigation, but what is most remarkable about it is that it involved 27 separate distribution rings here in the United States. One official described it as similar to the kind of national distribution systems that supermarkets use.
SIEGEL: What kind of drugs are we talking about?
SULLIVAN: Mostly cocaine, a lot of methamphetamine, some heroin, a little marijuana, just pretty much ran the whole gamut.
SIEGEL: And how were they getting the drugs into the US?
SULLIVAN: Planes, trains and automobiles. They were not particular, but their method of choice was shipping containers coming through the shipping ports. And as we all know from some of the terrorism investigations, they're pretty vulnerable.
SIEGEL: Yeah. How did the Drug Enforcement Agency find out about these drug rings? What do they say at least?
SULLIVAN: Well, they wouldn't be specific, but they did say that they have been watching this group for several years. And when they shut them down this week, they seized $5.5 million in assets, a lot of luxury goods, yachts, cars, 58 vehicles.
SIEGEL: Are they saying whether they--Is it 164 people they arrested?--do they include kingpins? Are these mostly midlevel functionaries, lower-downs?
SULLIVAN: For the most part, they were midlevel functionaries here in the United States. They would get the drugs en masse and then distribute it throughout the States here.
SIEGEL: The administration calls this one of the year's biggest drug busts. Is that true, and how significant is it?
SULLIVAN: It's certainly significant, but it's not one of the biggest ever. The administration's been under a lot of pressure lately to say that they've been fighting the war on drugs, especially when it comes to methamphetamine. They've been under a lot of criticism that they haven't been doing enough. So it's not a coincidence that they announced this big bust a day after they announced that initiative. But, you know, here's how drug officials like to describe today's bust. They said the group was supplying enough drugs for 1.8 million cocaine users and 22,000 meth users a month.
SIEGEL: Some people far from Iowa might be surprised to hear Des Moines as one of the cities that was listed there. Any details at all on who was busted in Des Moines?
SULLIVAN: Well, it's pretty unclear at this point, but there is a significant number of them that were in Des Moines. And a lot of people speculate that that's because it's easy to get drugs into the heartland from Des Moines. It's a big city. It's got a big airport. It's got a lot of transportation networks.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Laura.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
SIEGEL: NPR's Laura Sullivan reporting on today's drug busts announced by the government.