Daily Variety
July 11, 2002

DEA Chief Gives Hollywood Straight Dope

By Jonathan Bing and Pamela McClintock

NEW YORK — Washington and Hollywood got even more cozy Wednesday, with Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson meeting producers, directors and scribes during an unusual tete-a-tete at the Beverly Hills Hotel -- unusual because the DEA has been one of the more reclusive government agencies.

Now, the DEA is hoping to follow the lead of the Pentagon and other government agencies in making themselves available to Hollywood for consultation and education.

"The session was intended to give background on what the DEA does and how we might be of benefit to people in the entertainment business who are interested in depicting a more realistic role of what the DEA does, and a more realistic view of the war on drugs," DEA spokesman Chris Battle told Daily Variety.

"We have been very cloistered. Our agents have been trained to stay out of sight and bring down the bad guys. Now, we want a culture of opening up a little bit. There are stories DEA can tell that won't jeopardize agents or ongoing investigations," Battle said.

The hotel was swarming with security personnel during the two-hour rap session, as a handful of drug activists clustered outside, holding placards carrying pro-marijuana slogans.

The event was organized by the Washington-based Entertainment Industries Council. In addition to Hutchinson, DEA chief of intelligence Steven Casteel also briefed the 40 or so industryites attending the gathering, who included helmers Michael Mann and Arthur Hiller.

Other guests included Tribune's Dick Askin, co-producer David Zabel, ABC/Disney Cable's Anne Sweeney and NBC Entertainment's Herman Rush.

Most of the major studios dispatched a representative to the briefing, while producers from such shows as "Third Watch" and "E.R." also turned up.

Hutchinson and Casteel covered topics including the relationship between drug money and international terrorism and the drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico.

"Hollywood, whether in movies or TV, is interested in getting a better grasp of what's taking place in the war on drugs," Battle said.

He added the DEA liked the Oscar-winning movie "Traffic" because the picture provided a realistic depiction of the illegal drug trade, even if it didn't always portray the DEA in the most flattering light. Former DEA intelligence chief John Brown served as a consultant on the movie, though Barry R. McCaffrey, who was drug czar at the time, kept a distance.

"What we liked about it is that it got to all sides of the drug issue," Battle said. "If we would have written the script, would it be different? Probably."

Wednesday's discussion was well worth Hutchinson's time and effort, Battle said. "Entertainment has a huge impact on the public's perception. This was an opportunity to explain what the DEA does. We want realism."

In recent months, there has been a flurry of pictures and TV shows -- from "The Sum of All Fears" to "Behind Enemy Lines" -- focusing on America's military, with both the Pentagon and CIA consulting.