Open Secrets

PhotoHow the government lost the drug war in cyberspace.

For 36 years the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) quietly published a quirky monthly newsletter called Microgram for a small audience of forensic chemists. It was "law enforcement restricted," which meant you could obtain it only if you were a law enforcement official, a government investigator, or a forensic scientist. As far as the public was concerned, it was a secret. In January 2003 DEA officials started to make Microgram publicly available via the Web, where it joined a vast sea of information about illicit drugs: how to get them, how to use them, why to avoid them, why laws controlling them should be either tightened or reformed.

Microgram?s release was mostly unnoticed, and its reception has been subdued -- so subdued that even the chemical underground, where people in years past might have found in the newsletter a wealth of knowledge about how to synthesize and distribute psychoactive substances, has hardly noticed it. Yet the seeming nonevent is worthy of attention because it reflects the government?s recognition that their strategy to control drug use by controlling drug information has failed.


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