One of the good guys

The true-life adventures of Christopher Hughes rival Hollywood films. By the time he was in high school, Hughes knew that he wanted a career cracking down on drug trafficking. The native Portlander joined the United States Army to become a military police officer. There, he was transferred to the army’s Criminal Investigation Division and went undercover to infiltrate narcotics trafficking organizations operating on an army base. “I found myself in my element: I was a natural undercover agent,” Hughes says.

Hughes received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, with two medals: the U.S. Army Medal of Good Conduct, and the U.S. Army Medal of Commendation for Investigative Excellence. He moved back to Portland, and obtained his bachelor’s degree (‘85) from PSU’s Criminal Justice Program. He was ready to pursue his dream of becoming a U.S. government agent. He worked in local law enforcement until the U.S. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hired and trained him in1989.

Hughes’ first official assignment with the DEA was identifying drug traffickers at the Honolulu airport. “Weeks after I arrived, I helped capture two people smuggling in six pounds of heroin with a street value of $55 million,” Hughes recalls. “A year later, the DEA had me work undercover on Oahu, Kauai, and Maui, and then I ran helicopter missions on the Big Island.”

Several Spanish classes at PSU, and additional Spanish lessons during his government training, helped Hughes land an undercover assignment in Bogota, Colombia. “That was an eye

opener,” claims Hughes. “I battled the worst corruption I’d ever seen in my life. It was so dangerous, most people refused to go out in the field, but I didn’t want to sit at a desk. I needed action.” And action, he got.

As a U.S. agent, Hughes worked with the Colombian National Police helicoptering into the jungle to locate and destroy cocaine processing laboratories. He transferred to maritime investigations at Colombian seaports where one of his cases led to the confiscation of more than one ton of cocaine. He narrowly escaped death dozens of times – in the line of fire during explosions, a helicopter door ripping off mid-flight, being kidnapped twice... Undaunted, Hughes says, “It was an incredible adventure. It was everything an undercover cop would want to experience.”

After Colombia, he moved to Idaho and assumed the identity of a Canadian drug buyer in order to ferret out narcotics trafficking organizations. Hughes was a master at blending in. In fact, a gang member (who had become a police informant in order to reduce his own jail sentence) even tried to report Hughes. “The guy notified the police I was in town, and said he’d help them investigate me,” Hughes laughs. “You know you’ve reached your zenith as an undercover agent when the traffickers the cops on you.”

Now retired, Hughes lives in Washington where he teaches chess to young children in elementary school. Hughes is proud of his honorable career. “I made myself a promise that I’d be able to look myself in the mirror every day and know that I stood up against corruption.”