Excerpt #2 from
The Underground Empire -
Where Crime and Governments Embrace
by James Mills
Doubleday, New York, 1986

Dennis Dayle was in his car, smoking a pipe, headed for his office amidst the porno parlors. Though he controlled scores of agents and police around the world, he could himself have been mistaken for a pauper. His car was a beatup blue 1971 Volkswagen, the broken horn rim held in place by a strip of adhesive tape. He took only two dollars a day spending money from his paycheck, and what he did with the rest was anyone's guess. His clothes looked as if he'd bought them in haste from a discount warehouse. No one ever saw him arrive for work, and no one ever saw him leave. He could have been living in the building.

Colleagues knew he had a wife, but they were uncertain about his children, and completely in the dark regarding many aspects of an extraordinary background he labored to conceal. His only pleasures appeared to be playing chess for keeps with the world's most vicious criminal minds and, in the rare moments when anyone had ever seen him relax, consuming prodigious quantities of very dry Beefeater martinis (a shot glass of olives on the side) and having what certainly looked like the time of his life. He allowed the nails on the thumb and first three fingers of his right hand to grow an eighth of an inch longer than the others. No one knew why. It was just one more mystery, a minor one, in the life of this enigmatic man.

Beside Dennis on the floor of the Volkswagen rested an oversized leather case not unlike those used by streetcar conductors to hold transfers and coin changers. He was never without it. An agent who lifted it said it was heavy enough to contain a body. One thing was in there for sure. A gun. He was never too far from the gun.

Dennis was fighting a one-man war. At Centac's operational base in Washington he had helpers, coordinators, but they were hardly more than tools and appendages. He did all the thinking himself. He had a million secrets -- big ones, little ones, old ones, young ones. One of his largest secrets never left him more than a few hours free of pain. It was like a constant visceral burning that only extraordinary distractions could momentarily subdue. The secret concerned a child, raised to the moment of manhood, then gone. Why? Where? Dennis Dayle was one of the loneliest men alive.

Dennis tuned the car radio to a classical music station, set the volume just below the intrusion threshold, and considered his adversaries: leaders of the most menacing criminal groups in the world, men whose names almost never appeared in the newspapers. Everyone had heard of Mafia superstars like Joseph Bonanno and Sam Giancana, but who were Lu Hsu-shui, Alberto Sicilia-Falcon, Donald Steinberg?

There was something appealingly sneaky about Centac, a crypto-force obscured within the belly folds of Washington's ponderous law enforcement bureaucracy. Like a solitary flower pushing vulnerably from a crack in parched earth, Centac's chances of survival in the tradition-bound bureaucracy were uncertain indeed. Predators surrounded it. Law enforcement managers, jealous of the promise of this new growth, threatened by its strength, spoke and plotted against it. The largest question facing Centac was this: Would it be allowed to grow and thrive, or would its enemies uproot it?

If you took seriously the threat of global criminal conspiracies, if you rejected the self-serving law enforcement bureaucracy that refused to engage them, if you liked long shots and audacious courage, then you rooted for Centac. And you rooted for Dennis Dayle.

No more than a handful of men in the world understood completely what Centac was and what it did. Though Centac was controlled from a position within the Drug Enforcement Administration, its operations and power reached far beyond that agency.

At any given time Centac had working for it full time more than fifty DEA agents around the world, plus agents from the Internal Revenue Service, Customs, and other federal agencies, as well as foreign police agents in a dozen countries, and state and city cops from New York to California. With a phone call from his office, Dennis could put agents on the street in Bangkok, intercept smugglers at a Bogota airport, send undercover men into the coca-rich Andes, mobilize surveillance planes and coastal gunboats. So discreet did Centac remain that many of the foreign agents and American police officers didn't even know they were working for Centac, that they were assigned, controlled, moved from city to city and state to state at the behest and expense of Centac. And when the case broke and arrests were made -- often hundreds in a single sweep -- Centac quietly withdrew, leaving headlines to the local officers and their politically dependent bosses. "When Centac targets an organization, Dennis told me, "intelligence has already identified its characteristics. We write an operational plan, select our staff, marshal our forces, and attack. From that moment on, the target is doomed. Centac has never lost. And we do not merely prune criminal organizations so they grow back stronger. We uproot the entire tree, chop it to splinters, burn it, and bury the ashes. That tree will never grow again." Centac had been felling trees since 1973, with Dennis as chief the last four years, and so far it had destroyed nearly a score of international criminal conglomerates, caused the imprisonment of thousands of criminals, solved hundreds of major crimes, seized millions of dollars -- yet remained, itself, virtually unknown.

Unlike more highly visible antinarcotics forces, Centac took almost no interest at all in drugs. Centac agents never appeared in news photographs standing around a table covered with bags of heroin or cocaine. "If you took all the heroin in the world" Dayle said, "and stacked it up on some barren wasteland, all you'd have is a large pile of white powder. You cannot put a kilo of heroin in jail. You cannot make it tell you who its friends are. The problem is not powder. The problem is people. And Centac just simply devours people. Its metabolism is such that it is constantly in search of kingdoms to consume."

In the next five years I was to see those kingdoms inside out, and concentrate primarily on three: one led by a wealthy, homicidal, power-obsessed Cuban homosexual named Alberto Sicilia-Falcon, another by a young American entrepreneur named Donald Steinberg (a man with criminal operations on four continents and a daily income greater than U.S. Steel's) and a third masterminded by a rumpled, retiring -- and murderously ruthless -- Chinese named Lu Hsu-shui (say Lu Shu Shui) whose global power included ties to a three-thousand-man drug army and the intelligence services of at least three nations.

Going up in the elevator to his cubbyhole office, I asked Dennis how many Centacs there might be in the world. (The word "Centac" was used to mean not only Centac itself but also each individual case -- each "Centac" -- as well as those organizations that might someday become Centac targets.) "Sometimes I wonder if maybe there's only one. It's as if you're working on one Centac on one side of a pyramid and another on another side and you get higher and higher, and at the peak they meet and suddenly you see it's all the same one."

"Are you serious? Could it all be one great conspiracy?" The suggestion seemed fantastic.

"I hate -- " The elevator stopped at the sixth floor, but the door did not open. Dennis gave it a couple of seconds, then threw himself at the jammed door, hitting it like a fullback. It popped open. Dennis stepped into the hallway. "I hate to think of it," he continued, as if that were how he always emerged from elevators, "but if it is one huge conspiracy it would probably have to do with the financing, the people who put up the money. As you get close to the top of the pyramid the air gets very thin and cannot support many people."

The idea of a single grand conspiracy stayed with me. It was many months, years in fact, before I was to realize, and hear Dennis discuss, the identity of the participants in what truly was the supreme conspiracy.

I sat in an orange chair at a tiny round table in a comer of his office near the door, hoping to be unobtrusive. Everyone who entered glanced uncertainly at me, then at Dennis. "It's all right," Dennis said, introducing two agents who wanted to discuss "mop-up aspects" of Centac-10. "He'll be here for a while. Don't let it bother you. Business as usual."

Centac-lO (they were numbered chronologically -- the next would be Centac-24) had destroyed the largest LSD organization in the world, and now LSD, once a major problem, had virtually disappeared. Dennis talked to the agents about lingering gun charges against the organization's leaders.

When the agents had left he selected a pipe from one of nineteen in three large ashtrays and two racks on his desk and windowsill. He loaded it from a white can of Captain Black taken from a desk drawer and tamped it down with a gold pipe tool.

"Most police antidrug groups," Dennis explained, getting the pipe going, "are geared toward seizure and interdiction because it has impact, it's exciting, visible, gets on TV7 and shows the taxpayer what he's getting for his money. But every drug seizure is really only part of a much larger conspiracy. Centac does not produce lots of cases, it exploits cases. We don't want to go in, search, make three arrests, seize a pound of heroin, and do that over and over and over again. We do it, and then we exploit. We get everyone connected to that pound of heroin, the people who made it, shipped it, wholesaled it, collected the money, invested the money -- just everyone. Centac does not hunt drugs. Centac hunts flesh."

He returned the Captain Black to the drawer.

"Centac and its targets are like St. George and the dragon. There's this extremely worthy opponent with resources and strengths that have been created over decades, passing from one criminal to another, and each time it passes it gains new strength. And now comes St. George, and just to wound the dragon, hew off one of its limbs, is only to inflame it to more activity. To take off the head of a criminal organization is only to inspire all of its membership to move up a step. All of those guys who've been looking at the top man and saying, 'That son of a bitch, he doesn't know what he's doing. If I were up there, here's what I would do.' That's the danger of targeting bosses rather than the whole animal."

A brass nameplate on Dennis's desk gave his name not only in English but also, for some reason I hoped to learn later, in Arabic.

"Now, one of the problems with the broad, conspiratorial approach is that most new fresh bushy-tailed agents would rather chase a nickel-bag dealer through the streets than go through files and records months on end to take out the whole dragon. But when they mature, sometimes they become excited by the intellectual pursuit, by the chess game."

I looked up and spotted a bumper sticker inserted into the white acoustical tiles around one of the four fluorescent ceiling lights. It said: "Psychologists Know Everything."

Dennis reached for the telephone and asked his secretary to get a number at the American Embassy in Bangkok. He had invited a Chinese informant, and the Bangkok-based American agent who had been controlling him, to a secret meeting in Tucson. From that meeting, Dennis hoped, would come a new Centac attacking a major, politically powerful criminal organization, the largest exporter of Southeast Asian heroin to the United States.

"The question, he continued, "is how long can you wait for payday. You can tell your partner let's go over and hit Joe Blow, and payday is right then. Or you can look ahead and work on Mr. Big, and payday isn't for a year or two. But it's got more in it."

The phone rang, the Bangkok call. "Dan, how are you? Fine. They still throwing bombs at the embassy? Very good. Listen, I just wanted to let you know personally how things are going with plans to meet our friend in Tucson."

He gave DEA's regional director in Bangkok a jovial blow-by-blow account of what was hoped for in Tucson, then hung up and said, "It's important for him to realize that my presence in Tucson is his presence in Tucson." Centac was often dependent on the cooperation of law enforcement bureaucrats around the world, and Dennis was careful to encourage friendship and keep his fences mended.

An agent entered, put a red-jacketed secret cable in Dennis's in-box, and withdrew As Dennis read the cable I walked over for a look at an oriental sword in a three-foot-long carved wooden sheath resting on a glass-doored cabinet against the wall.

Dennis's eyes rose from the cable. He smiled. "An athletic young man thought he was going to do something to me with that. He got a slap and I got the sword." He initialed the cable, dropped it in the out-box, and returned immediately to the subject of Centac.

"Vince Lombardi won because his teams never did anything fancy or secret or subtle. It was just the meticulous, implacable, relentless application of basics. It never helped any of his opponents to know in advance what he was going to do. He just rolled over you. Centac tries to operate the same way. We engage very powerful and difficult opponents, but that's the way it should be. You wouldn't want to go to the Super Bowl and play a high school team."

Dennis said he worked with a budget, provided by DEA, of $1,100,000 a year. This was only a fraction of the value of funds and property Centac seized. Centac made more money for the taxpayer than it spent. At least 60 percent of people indicted in Centac cases were top-level bosses, what the government called Class-l and Class-II violators. Dennis said that, on the average, one agent working one year for Centac produced 6 indictments of Class-l violators. One agent working one year outside of Centac in DEA produced only 1.6 Class-l indictments.

And Centac had invented a unique way of quickly displaying its effectiveness. The success of an antinarcotics organization was usually measured by the amount of narcotics seized. But since Centac concentrated not on narcotics but on those who profited from them, another yardstick had to be found to impress politicians responsible for Centac's existence and budget. Centac therefore employed a new statistic: cost per indictment. Dennis divided the total cost of a particular Centac by the number of people it indicted. A senator or congressman could thus be told that a major multinational trafficking organization had been destroyed, and hundreds of its members indicted, for a cost of, say, $17,200 per man. A bargain. And that didn't count the multimillion-dollar value of cash, bank accounts, buildings, ships, and aircraft seized along the way.

Dennis knew how important it was to have this easily grasped measurement of success. "I cannot fail," he said, reaching for the water carafe on the sill behind him. "I am not permitted to fail. Because everyone -- the Hill, the White House -- is watching. And if I fail once people are going to say, 'Why should I support something that doesn't work?' Centac is very controversial. There are still a lot of adversaries. In the past seven years we've been through our Model T and our Edsel and now it's working. But there are still a few people who say, 'Yeah, well that's just fine but I think I'll keep my horses.' "

He had kept Centac small despite opportunities to increase its budget, personnel, and power. At the moment he was operating five Centacs, which he said was just about right.

"If you have a few Centacs they can operate at a very high priority. But how can anything be a priority when you've got twenty of them going at once?"

He turned in his chair and poured water from the carafe into the two potted plants on the sill. I pointed out that the men he goes after were rarely mentioned by the news media. Could that be because the media's attention had for years been concentrated on the Mafia?

"I would think so."

"If you regarded the Mafia as a single corporation," I asked, "and all the other multinational criminal groups as a corporation, how would they compare?"

He thought about that, quietly returning the carafe to its tray. "I think the other groups together would be five times as great as the Mafia."

An agent with thick glasses walked in and complained that a particular Centac looked like a tough one. "I can't see a seizure coming out of it."

"Don't worry," Dennis said, confronting once again the seizure-is-everything theory of drug enforcement. "We'll take junk from past cases and put flesh with it."

This was what he meant by exploitation, taking old cases that had produced the immediate arrest of a couple of low-level dealers, and tying them to organization leaders. The tool that allowed him to do this, the tool with which Centac was built, was the federal conspiracy law.

Conspiracy law is the most powerful weapon in the battle against the international drug industry. It makes every member of a criminal conspiracy, including those at the very top, guilty of the criminal acts of every other member of the conspiracy. When a junkie sells a nickel bag of some millionaire executive's heroin on a street comer in Harlem, the executive shares his guilt. That the executive has never heard of the junkie, does not even know he exists, makes no difference. The executive is guilty of conspiracy to sell a nickel bag of heroin on a street corner in Harlem. One act, even a legal one, by any member of a planned conspiracy "activates" the conspiracy and makes all its members guilty of the criminal acts of all the others, whether they know of their existence or not whether they approve of, or are even aware of, their crimes.

If you and I discuss the possibility of robbing a bank, agreeing that I will procure a getaway car and you will obtain a gun, so far no crime has been committed. But as soon as either of us commits "an overt act", even a legal one, toward commission of the robbery, we are both guilty of conspiracy to rob a bank, and we will from that moment forward be guilty of all the criminal acts committed by any other member of the conspiracy, regardless of when the other member joined the conspiracy or whether we actually know of him or approve of his acts.

If I make a telephone call to ask a friend to help me find a getaway car, that overt act, even though there is no law against making a phone call, sets the conspiracy in motion. If that friend, perhaps without telling you or me, recruits a second friend. and that friend a third. and the third friend kills a man while stealing the getaway car -- you and I are both guilty of homicide. You may prove you never knew the killer, or even the man who recruited him, and that you would never have approved of his recruitment, that you had no idea anyone would be killed, that you would in fact have been horrified at the thought -- but it will make no difference. You are guilty of the criminal acts of all members of the conspiracy. You are guilty of homicide.

It's a powerful law. And it is particularly useful against businessmen, politicians, diplomats, and others so highly placed, so isolated by power, wealth, or respectability, that they never touch or see drugs, though they direct or profit from drug operations.

Conspiracy law is Centac's bread and butter.

"No criminal who has to work with others can escape Centac," Dennis told me, "because he can't wipe out what he's already done. It will always be there. And we will find it, and exploit it. The Centac methodology can destroy any criminal group in the world."

As Dennis was explaining all this, a young secretary stuck her head in the door and asked for a contribution "for Wendy's baby shower."

Dennis dug out five dollars (two and a half days' allowance) and handed it over with a grin. When she had left he said, "I don't know who Wendy is, but she's havin a baby, so God love 'er."

I asked about the eighteen Centacs already completed. The first had targeted an organization manufacturing heroin in Lebanon. Seven others also involved heroin, mostly in Asia and Mexico. Three went after large cocaine organizations operating into the United States from Latin America. Others destroyed groups making and distributing LSD, PCP, and amphetamines. Most Centacs, while targeting one major group, had also wiped out other large producers and distributors.

Centac-16, for example, had been so extensive it was split into two parts --West Coast and East Coast -- and reached also into Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. It knocked out a major international heroin organization, plus three other importing groups, as well as five major New York distribution networks. Along the way it seized nearly a million dollars and produced another million in bail money left behind by fleeing defendants. It indicted 161 traffickers (100 at the executive level), at a cost of only $1,752 each. Though the investigation lasted almost three years, the time averaged out to less than fifteen days spent by one agent on each defendant. Another Centac, targeting five related organizations smuggling cocaine into twelve American ports aboard freighters and cruise ships owned by the Colombian government, lasted a year and a half and indicted 160 traffickers at a cost of $763 and 19 agent-days each. For good measure, it also seized a beauty parlor in Queens.

Excerpt 3 The "War on Drugs"
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