Mass drugs bust at US base
Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK 

More than 80 US Marines and sailors have been convicted in one of the
largest drug busts in US military history.

Investigators seized $1.5m of narcotics including Ecstasy, cocaine, LSD
and methamphetamine at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Of the 84 charged, 61 were accused of distributing drugs and 23 were
accused of using them.

Another 99 civilians have also been charged in connection with similar
offences following the operation, codenamed Xterminator.

No details on the type of convictions have been revealed, but the US
military imposes a maximum sentence of 15 years for dealing drugs and
five years for drug use.

Investigators were alerted two years ago by a large number of Marines
using nightclubs in Wilmington, 40 miles south of the camp.

Base spokesman Major Steve Cox said those involved were only a tiny
fraction of the 60,000 personnel at the coastal base.

"That's 0.001% of the forces at Camp Lejeune. It's not an epidemic by
any means," he said.

"From a Marine Corps perspective, we view drug use as a societal issue.
We would be naive to think our Marines are not using drugs."

Although drugs in the military are not rare, they usually involve a
smaller number of people.

The US Air Force Academy in Colorado was rocked by a rash of incidents
last year with one cadet sentenced to three and a half years in a
military prison for using and dealing drugs such as Ecstasy and LSD.

Sniffer dogs

Five cadets at the US Naval Academy in Maryland were court-martialled
and jailed on drugs charges in 1986 and 15 others were expelled.

The Marines joined other branches of the US military last December in
introducing random drugs testing.

Tests are becoming more sensitive and more are being done at weekends
and on Mondays because by Tuesday, Ecstasy taken on a Saturday may be

Dogs are also being trained to detect Ecstasy in lockers.

The case at Camp Lejeune comes at a time when respect for the military
has never been higher, with Americans ranking it the country's most
trustworthy institution.