Former DEA Senior Intelligence Research Specialist
"Around the world, governments are squandering precious resources on
fighting the drug war while society suffers."
From 1998 to 2011, Sean Dunagan served as an intelligence research specialist for the
United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Over the course of his career within the
DEA, he participated in dozens of federal drug investigations during tours of duty in
Florida and Pennsylvania as well as internationally in Mexico and Guatemala.
From a law enforcement family where his father was the town police chief, Sean always
knew he wanted to go into public service and to make a positive contribution to people’s
lives. Within his first few years with the DEA, however, he began to doubt the efficacy
of the drug war. It was during his time in Guatemala that he truly started to understand
the grave effects of prohibition.
Sean explains: “I saw that Guatemala was very poor, with an abysmal educational system,
high infant mortality, malnutrition, poor health care, and very under-developed national
infrastructure. Yet the government, at U.S. insistence, directed much of its resources to
fighting drug traffickers. The people there suffer two-fold: precious government
resources are squandered fighting the drug war, and the only tangible results for those
expenditures are higher crime and law enforcement that can’t do its job. This is
occurring all over the globe.”
One case that sticks in Sean’s mind was a 1995 murder in which three people were
murdered. While assisting with trial preparation, Sean learned that one small-time crack
cocaine dealer had gotten into a dispute with a rival. Two of the dealer’s associates
ambushed the rival dealer as he drove into their apartment complex with his girlfriend
and her 5-year-old son. All three were killed. “My son was four at the time,” Sean says.
“Going through forensic photos from the case, it stuck with me that the violence which
prohibition causes is real. Just as with alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition
artificially inflates profit margins for the banned substance and simultaneously removes
any legal and peaceful means of dispute resolution.”
Sean holds a B.A. in philosophy and religion from Flagler College and a Master of Public
Administration from Valdosta State University. He lives with his wife and four children
in Washington, DC and works at a government accountability organization.