Are You Taking the Bait?

In the first episode of Narcos, narrator Steve Murphy, an officer of the Drug Enforcement Agency, describes Pablo Escobar’s rise to power. One day in the 1980s, Escobar walked into a cocaine lab in the Peruvian jungle, took a few kilos back with him to Columbia on the spot, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As Escobar came up with more and more smuggling routes to get the addictive white powder into the United States, Murphy, who was used to chasing weed dealers in flip-flops through the streets of Miami, seriously had to step up his game — and he did.

“When I started, a one-kilo grass bust was cause for celebration,” he reports. But after Escobar? “Before long we were seizing 60 kilos of coke a day.” As Murphy explains this, we see him confiscating several pallets of decorative plants in the Miami harbor, hidden under which are, well, “other plants” — except the latter come as powdery white bricks.

While Murphy is busy busting the containers, however, two unsuspecting divers approach the ship from which they’re being unloaded. They jump into the water, unscrew the caps on some of the ship’s anchoring weights, and lo and behold, out comes…more cocaine. There are more bags. Longer bags. Bigger bags. And suddenly, the plant pallets ten meters above look like a joke.

“We thought we were making a huge difference,” Murphy admits. “The truth is, we weren’t even making a dent. They let us have 60 so they could bring in 600.”

At the height of his power, Pablo Escobar and his Medellín Cartel smuggled several dozen tons of cocaine into the United States every month. 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 kilos. That’s two tons a day — so who cares about the DEA seizing 60 measly kilos? And of course, for far too long, the officers took the bait.

Even if you’re not trying to chase down drug lords on a daily basis, chances are, somewhere, you too are taking the bait. Which small catch are you celebrating while the big fish might be swimming loops right under your nose? Is the bait your level of distraction? Your useful-but-far-from-essential role at your company? Or a trophy too small to celebrate for the amount of effort you put in?

I hope we won’t have to catch another Escobar for a long time, but chances are, your big feat will be no less difficult. Don’t take the bait.