El Paso Intelligence Center, El Paso
Established in 1974, the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) collects and analyzes intelligence related to drug trafficking, including state and local drug investigations. If you’ve ever been arrested for a drug offense or just happen to be a friend of someone arrested for a drug offense you might be somewhere in one of EPIC’ss massive databases. In other words, this is the narc capital of the known universe.
The El Paso Intelligence Center was established in 1974 in response to a Department of Justice edict that called for increased drug and border enforcement along the U.S./Mexican border. It began with 17 employees, drawn from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Customs Service. Today, EPIC has over 300 employees from 15 federal agencies including the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Coast Guard, Department of State, Department of Defense, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety (that is, the Texas state police) and the Texas Air National Guard. While EPIC’s original focus was on the Mexican border area, it now targets the entire Western Hemisphere for its intelligence activities.
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EPIC’s stated mission is to collect data and produce intelligence analyses on drug activities/shipments and immigration violations. It gets this information from state and local law enforcement agencies in addition to federal agencies, and enters it into its own set of internal drug and immigration databases. Just what is in those databases and how it is used is not fully known. EPIC shares the information in its databases sparingly with state and local law enforcement agencies; the “flow of information” into EPIC from them is largely a one-way street. However, the collected intelligence is freely shared with federal agencies. As EPIC’s official literature notes, “Member agencies have direct access to all EPIC information, with appropriate safeguards to provide for the protection and/or secure communication of highly sen- sitive or classified information.”
However, EPIC conducts numerous training sessions for state and local drug enforcement officers. In their official literature, EPIC says it conducts classes on “indicators of drug trafficking,” “concealment methods used by couriers,” and “methods of highway drug and drug currency interdiction.”
As with many other federal security agencies, EPIC expanded its activities after the 9/11 attacks under the guise of fighting terrorism. Speaking at EPIC in December 2004, DEA Administrator Karen Tandy said, “Drugs and terror frequently share a common ground of geography, money, and violence.” She added that the DEA had identified 17 foreign terrorist organizations with “potential ties” to the drug trade.
What’s There: EPIC is headquartered in the Enrique Camrena Building, named for a slain DEA agent. The building is clearly identified with a large sign reading “EPIC: El Paso Intelligence Center” but otherwise appears like a typical government office complex.
Getting a Look Inside: EPIC is located inside Biggs Army Airfield, and admittance is restricted to authorized personnel. It currently offers no scheduled public tours of its offices.
Unusual Fact: At her December 2004 address mentioned above, DEA Administrator Tandy said the U.S. military had used EPIC’s databases and capabilities to check the backgrounds of civilian contractors hired to assist U.S. forces in Iraq.
Getting There: The main EPIC building is at 11339 Simms Street inside Biggs Army Airfield, which is adjacent to the El Paso international airport. However, Biggs is generally closed to the public. (See next map.)
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