Former DEA Agent Comes to Colgate

Last Tuesday Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Michael McManus came to Colgate to speak to students about his experiences in working for the government as an undercover agent and to inform students about illegal drug use.

McManus, who recently retired, spent 28 years in law enforcement. Beginning as a policeman, he decided to make the switch to the DEA when he was 30. There, McManus served as Chief of Operations for Mexico and Central America, working as an undercover drug smuggler. He lived in the Bahamas for several years and spent a lot of time in Colombia, where he coordinated undercover operations involving high-level international drug trafficking organizations. One of his successful operations and arrests inspired the movie Blow, starring Johnny Depp.

McManus spoke at a dinner prior to his general lecture to students interested in a career in law enforcement or international policy. He encouraged students to pursue jobs with the federal government, citing the great benefits programs and the opportunities to travel around the world and lead an adventurous lifestyle. He talked about his moral convictions regarding drug enforcement, which encouraged and tied him passionately to his job, despite the risks.

Although he was exposed to much danger and insecurity in his career, McManus truly enjoyed it and was still able to raise a family. He now works independently as a private investigator and consultant.

McManus gave a lecture entitled “Illegal Drugs in our World: The South American Connection” at Memorial Chapel, directed especially toward members of Greek organizations. This lecture focused less on his experiences undercover, highlighting instead the dangers of the use of hard drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and crystal meth. Extensive knowledge of these drugs and the business of drug trafficking gave him a unique perspective on the issue.

“You need to understand the lasting effects of a weekend out,” McManus said.

He showed a video of a 22-year old girl’s brain scan after three years of recreational use of ecstasy, which had eaten away at her brain, causing it to look like the brain of a 65-year-old woman with multiple strokes. He also showed a photo of a woman’s drastic change in appearance after eight years of meth use.

McManus also discussed the “War on Drugs” of the 1980s, in which he was directly involved as a DEA agent, explaining how Reagan’s work to expose the drug problem in the U.S. helped to decrease usage of illegal drugs. He stressed the importance of education of drug use.

“You are going to have to bear the responsibility of having discussions with younger siblings or your future children about drugs,” McManus said. “I challenge you to bring up this discussion. Take the opportunity to role play because it could make a big difference.”

McManus encouraged students to help prepare their younger siblings (or any younger children) for a situation in which they might be asked to try an illegal substance and to practice what one would do in such circumstances.

Colgate students found McManus’ talk to be a bit lecturing and didactic, but also quite informative.

“The tactics of shock and showing the brain of the 22-year-old girl were very effective in demonstrating what can happen with even slight recreational drug use,” junior Ian Maron-Kolitch said.