National Drug Intelligence Center Gives Partial Response to DRCNet FOIA Request on "Drug Menace" Web Sites 5/31/02

Last December, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) quietly released a report, "Drugs and the Internet: An Overview of the Threat to America's Youth (, that purported to examine web sites displaying information facilitating the production, cultivation or use of federally controlled nonprescription drugs, specifically what it referred to as the three "club drugs" MDMA (ecstasy), GHB and LSD.

NDIC identified the "threat" to American young people as information. "The threat to adolescents and young adults in the United States accessing the Internet consists of information, disseminated by drug offenders or others, that is intended to facilitate the production, use, or sale of federally scheduled, nonprescription drugs," NDIC asserted. "Information facilitating production includes explanations of equipment or other resources needed or processes used. Information facilitating use includes explanations of the nature, effects, or administration methods of drugs. Information facilitating sales includes explanations of how or where drugs may be obtained or mechanisms allowing for online purchase of drugs."

In the report, NDIC wrote that it had examined 52 web sites, but "32 web sites were probably associated with drug legalization groups." NDIC did not list the web sites.

DRCNet requested the list of the 52 web sites from NDIC, but NDIC refused to make that information available. DRCNet subsequently filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on March 27. This week, NDIC responded with a partial list of 37 web sites (see list below), only one of which was an obvious drug reform organization, The Lindesmith Center, now part of the Drug Policy Alliance. (In the typed, unsigned list of web sites delivered by NDIC, Lindesmith was listed as DRCNet verified that there is no, but the complete URL with its spelling corrected does point to Lindesmith's ecstasy pages.)

For the remaining 15 web sites, NDIC FOIA officers ruled that identifying information must be withheld because such law enforcement records "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

But in the original NDIC report, the authors were careful to note that: "To ensure compliance with the Privacy Act, NDIC did not collect information on specific individuals."

When DRCNet pointed out the contradiction to NDIC FOIA officer Pamela Nemeth, she replied only that she was told she could not release information on private individuals. "The intelligence unit upstairs compiled this list," she said, "and I would have to take it further up the chain of command if you appeal."

DRCNet will file a FOIA appeal with the Department of Justice on two issues: The contradiction between NDIC's original claim that it did not collect information on specific individuals and its insistence that revealing the remaining web sites would invade someone's privacy, and the fact that 32 web sites "probably associated with drug legalization groups" appear to have vanished.

Except for the Lindesmith Center's ecstasy web page, the web sites revealed by NDIC are a motley group ranging from Dutch GHB sellers to numerous "make LSD" web pages to clear harm reduction sites to psychedelic experience archive sites such as Erowid and the Lycaeum.

While NDIC portrayed the information purveyors it surveyed as "drug offenders, drug culture advocates, advocates of an expanded freedom of expression, and anarchist individuals and groups," some of the web sites listed hardly see themselves that way.

Gary Bense is director of the Lycaeum, home of LEDA, the Lycaeum Entheogen Database, a compendium of information on psychedelic drugs. Bense told DRCNet that the Lycaeum "exists to supply unbiased and factual information concerning consciousness-altering plants and chemicals. As far as we're concerned, providing factual information is the most effective facet of harm reduction, so of course we consider our info 'harm reduction info.'"

And he isn't happy about making the government's "internet drug threat" list. "The intent of this study is obvious, but the effect in the long run will still be nothing more than intimidation," said Bense.

Bill McColl, director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which includes the former Lindesmith Center, was equally displeased at making the list. "This is quite an outrage," he told DRCNet. "I have no idea what they think is a problem here. This web page consists of scientific research, my testimony before the Sentencing Commission and similar items. It is flat-out political speech. Ours is a responsible web site -- we acknowledge that drugs are dangerous and warn people that they need to be careful -- and to characterize it otherwise goes against every principle the founders stood for. The federal government ought to be ashamed of itself," he said.

McColl also lashed out at NDIC for its terminal confusion about harm reduction as "facilitating drug use." "I don't think the government ought to be in business of trying to prevent people from learning harm reduction information," he said. "Drugs are all around us, they are everywhere in our culture, and people have to learn how to live with drugs within the culture. That is the basic mistake the government made and continues to make. Their policy of repression and suppression hasn't worked for 70 years of drug prohibition. Why do they think it will work now?"

With the "war on terror" already leading to greatly expanded police powers, the NDIC study takes on especially ominous overtones. "It's absolutely clear they're aiming at political speech," said McColl. "This is stunning, even for this administration with its record of secrecy and attempts to crack down on dissent."

The following are the 37 web sites provided by NDIC. Note that some appear to be outdated or no longer functioning.