Controlled Chemical Delivery – A Case Study

4 minute read

Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD

June 13, 2015

As has been covered in previous articles, policing involves resource distribution. At the end of the day, all mid level to higher level investigations are not interested in the supply chain and logistics management of the multiple tiers on dealing which happen. The operational objectives of a mid to higher level operation being run by professional investigators is the suppression and destruction of the supply line of the operation itself. If you cut out the logistics and supply chain, it is well documented and well known new people will fill in those vacant slots, for the simple fact that very seldom do they require expertise.

If you ‘take the head off the snake’ to borrow from one of those really commonly used idioms, then that’s the end of the game for that organization, so what is usually the target is the police looking to arrest higher up the chain is the objective of disrupting not supply, but the production facility – they’re not so much looking to disrupt activities as a street operation does, they’re looking for the conditions which are needed to shut down the operation. A very direct way of doing that, if your target is cooking up synthetic drugs domestically, is to go about finding and dismantling the laboratory.

But how do you go about doing that? Very seldom does one see a one pot meth cook or an MDMA synth set up or the lab gear needed to whip up fentanyl conveniently sitting under a spotlight with a gigantic neon sign on the highway pointing to it. Such labs also don’t need computer equipment into which some nerd can hack or drop a worm like a bad Hollywood movie. What a lab does need, however, is glassware and chemicals.

We’ve all seen how much of a plot point the need to acquire the highly restricted chemicals needed to whip up a batch of meth is in Breaking Bad – real life is not that different. If you or me is on the dark market world, comparing prices on oxy and what-have-you as a garden variety buyer, what we would not be doing is looking for the chemicals and components and constituents of cooking of our own drugs. There’s only a very narrow band of buyer that is actually interested in buying a quantity of red phosphorus or ephedrine, or maybe acetic anhydride, or perhaps some unusual flasks or separation filters, and its not to make road flares or nasal decongestants or to put together an advanced chemistry set for their kid, and that is someone interested in manufacturing drugs.

The tactic is known in police parlance as a controlled chemical delivery. It has been acknowledged to have been actively used in the UK and also in Australia, where it ended up resulting in huge quantities of drug precursor chemicals being corruptly sold by police, as was canvassed in an ombudsman’s report. I quote directly from that report to fully describe the program;

‘Controlled chemical deliveries (CCDs) involve the sale of commercially available pre-cursor chemicals by police to criminals involved in the manufacture of illicit drugs. The rationale for the adoption of this practice is that once the chemicals have been supplied to the criminals the police can then monitor the activities of the recipients of the chemicals in the manufacture of illicit drugs, and identify other persons who then traffic the illicit drugs.’

You can read the whole interim report on this sordid tale here, and the final outcome here;

As you can see, the program was a resounding failure in this particular jurisdiction. Numerous police became involved in corrupt activities, the repercussions of which, almost 20 years on in some regards, are still being felt today; at least one corrupt police officer, who ordered the murder of an informer (the trigger man voluntarily confessed and was sentenced) managed to beat the charges when the guy who organized the hit on his behalf, who was himself already doing life, managed to get murdered while in jail. Even the state itself got in on the tainted proceeds of the drug trafficking operation the cops themselves were running.

What I am not talking about in this article is detecting something naughty in transit and replacing most of it with pretend drugs – this tactic is completely distinct from grabbing something in transit and substituting it with a benign substance, as in the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988, Article 11. The police actively sold, both directly and through informers, restricted precursors with a view to following the trail – is this sounding to anyone else like the ATF’s brilliantly conceived ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ where illicit commodities were sold with a view to supposedly tracking movements? Look at how that turned out.

In some jurisdictions, this sort of tactic would arguably amount to entrapment if the real chemicals were actually delivered. But what it does provide an investigator is close to a guaranteed straight line to either an active or a prospective meth cook – and because it’s a physical good, drop or not, you’re going to have to pick that package up in person. Here is a very serious question that one should consider if looking at buying precursor chemicals on a dark market which could keep you from getting a 3AM visit from ninjas with M4s – if you have all the ingredients needed on hand to print money, why in the unholy fuck would you want to sell them to me cheaply so I can do it myself?

Updated: 2015-06-13