DEA Congressional Testimony
May 15, 2001 [Excerpt]
Statement by: Donnie R. Marshall
Drug Enforcement Administration
Before the: Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
Date: May 15, 2001
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Biden, distinguished members of the Caucus: I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss DEA’s strategy and role in combating drugs moving through the Transit Zone destined for the United States.
DEA’s primary function as an investigative law enforcement agency is to identify and dismantle the world’s most sophisticated drug distribution organizations. DEA’s role in interdiction efforts is crucial since the intelligence gained from these operations often provides the information needed to unveil the depth and magnitude of a drug trafficking organization’s abilities and intentions.
Drug trafficking has evolved into an international business. Decisions made in Bogota and Mexico City have a direct and immediate impact on what occurs in Transit Zone areas like the Dominican Republic and our major cities in the United States. DEA has crafted a Strategic Plan that aggressively targets the international drug syndicates who control drug trafficking today from the Source Zone, through the Transit Zone, and into the United States. DEA has developed a seamless cycle of investigations, law enforcement intelligence, and interdiction efforts in order to dismantle them.
The vast majority of the [hard drugs] entering the United States continues to come from the source countries of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. The Mexico-Central America Corridor is currently the predominant corridor for [hard drugs] flow with the majority transiting the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPAC). This situation occurred in large part due to increased law enforcement pressure in South America and the Caribbean. Drug traffickers were forced to turn to experienced Mexican smuggling organizations to move their products into the United States. These Mexican organizations now control virtually all cocaine sold in the western half of the United States, and we continue to see numerous attempts to expand into the lucrative east coast markets. This situation has also caused DEA to focus significant resources along our Southwest Border.
The Caribbean has long been a favorite smuggling route, with significant amounts of drugs moving through Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico. Mexican trafficking groups normally charge Colombian traffickers 50 percent of each shipment to transport their product through Mexico, while Dominican and Puerto Rican groups offer the same service for as low as 20 percent. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are the United States’ southernmost points of entry and provide an excellent gateway for drugs destined for east coast cities. More importantly, once a drug shipment enters Puerto Rico, it may not be subject to further United States Customs Service (USCS) inspection en route to the continental United States. This incentive, coupled with close proximity to the Dominican Republic (80 miles) and Colombia’s north coast (360 miles), make it essential for DEA to keep a strong and vigilant presence in the Caribbean.
The following is an account of DEA’s balanced strategy and a short description of operational endeavors that have successfully impacted the Transit Zone, primarily the Mexico-Central America Corridor and the Caribbean Corridor.
The Transit Zone: Balance and Strategy
Recent estimates show that overall detected primary flow of cocaine in the Transit Zone was approximately 645 metric tons in 2000. In 2000, most cocaine continued to move through the Mexico-Central America Corridor, which accounted for almost 66 percent of the total U.S. flow (the other 31 percent moved through the Caribbean Corridor, and just three percent moved directly to the United States). DEA reporting of law enforcement seizures during 2000 and 2001 indicates the volume of EPAC and Central America drug trafficking has significantly increased.
Mexico-Central American Corridor
Current intelligence estimates indicate that approximately 50 percent of the detected cocaine flow to the United States in 2000 transited the EPAC, most of which was noncommercial maritime movement (go-fast boats and fishing vessels) traveling directly to Mexico. Noncommercial maritime methods accounted for 88 percent of all detected primary movements through the Transit Zone, up slightly from 80 percent detected in 1999.
Multi-ton quantities of drugs moving into Mexico from Colombia involved the use of Colombian-flagged vessels. Go-fast boats continued to transport drugs from Colombia to Mexico or other EPAC offload sites, with fishing vessels providing both transport and refueling support. DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center reports that while the long-range go-fast mothership is still being used, drug traffickers are increasingly turning to EPAC fishing vessels to move multi-ton cocaine shipments. Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF)-West and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) have considered this an operational response by the traffickers due to disruptions of go-fast mothership supply lines and interdiction efforts by law enforcement.
In response to this increased EPAC drug traffic, the Government of Mexico initiated Operation Sellamiento in 1998, which is designed to seal off Mexico’s border and coastlines from drug smugglers. This operation was enhanced in May 2001 with the acquisition of additional ships, patrol boats, and surveillance aircraft, as well as the establishment of a 260-man elite Naval task force capable of carrying out maritime actions on land and sea.
Central America is a major transshipment point for drugs from Colombia and other South American source countries, onward to Mexico for distribution in the United States. This region is also used as a storage and transshipment region, and as a warehouse for the temporary storage and repackaging of drug shipments by South American polydrug trafficking organizations. South American drug trafficking organizations use land, maritime, and air trafficking routes via the Pan-American highway, the EPAC, and clandestine airstrips. Central America will continue to be used as a pit stop for refueling or as a rendezvous point for exchange of narcotics from one fishing vessel or go-fast boat to another.
Since 1996, cocaine smuggling into and through Mexico has shifted from large cargo aircraft to maritime conveyances (especially via the EPAC).
Major EPAC Seizures
In April 2001, approximately four metric tons of cocaine were seized from the fishing vessel Tolteca I in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico.
In February 2001, approximately eight metric tons of cocaine were seized from the fishing vessel Forever My Friend off the coast of Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico.
In December 1999, approximately 8.5 metric tons of cocaine were seized from the fishing vessel Alfonso Martinez Dominguez II off the coast of Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico.
In August 1999, approximately 9.5 metric tons of cocaine were seized from the fishing vessel Xoloescuintle off the coast of Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico.
DEA Operations in the Transit Zone (Mexico-Central America Corridor)
Operation Tormenta Azul
Operation Landbridge is the most visible and successful DEA operation in Central America. The successes of Operation Landbridge include the arrest of Colombian trafficker Jose Guillermo Gomez-Ramirez aka “Memo” in Panama on February 9, 2000, and the cumulative seizure of 7,000 kilograms of cocaine as a result of related investigations.
Operation Central Skies
Operation Central Skies is an initiative of the Department of Defense (DOD) (administered by the U.S. Southern Command), which first began in June 1998. Operation Central Skies was designed to provide U.S. Army air assets (Blackhawk UH-60 and Chinook UH-47 helicopters) based in Sotocano, Honduras, to support the counter-drug operations of various Central American countries. Costa Rica hosted the first Operation Central Skies deployment in June 1998, after first obtaining Host Nation concurrence. Currently, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador participate in Operation Central Skies deployments. The typical Operation Central Skies package consists of four helicopters, a complement of approximately 100 temporary personnel, an extensive pre-planning segment, and a total resource commitment by the respective DEA Country Offices.
Operation Central Skies has served as a successful training mechanism for Host Nation counterparts by U.S. military personnel and has achieved successes in joint eradication efforts in Central America. In 2000, a total of 2,287,322 cannabis plants and 12,500 poppy plants were eradicated as a result of Operation Central Skies deployments in Belize, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Expansion of DEA Counternarcotics Operations in the Mexico-Central America Corridor
The recent establishment of a 15-man anti-smuggling unit in Guatemala, comprised of members hand-picked by DEA and the DOS’ Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS), has been a great accomplishment. The unit is provided specialized training from DEA/NAS-Customs and appropriate equipment. The unit also receives performance incentives for successful enforcement activities. The operation of this unit includes deployment from the lead Guatemalan law enforcement agency headquarters to a roadside inspection site, border crossing, and the inspection of marine type containers and documents. The unit is also supported by a canine team which accompanies the unit on its deployments. There have been two separate seizures totaling 158 kilograms of cocaine. Although the unit is an expensive proposition, DEA and NAS agree that it is the best possible solution to curb drug flows through Guatemala. A similar second unit is anticipated in the future which may require additional USG funding.
Mobile Inspection Team in Nicaragua
On February 26, 2001, the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) and the U.S. Embassy held a ceremony to publicize the inauguration of the Mobile Inspection Unit (MIU). At the ceremony, an estimated $150,000 worth of equipment designed to dismantle suspect vehicles on traditional and alternative land routes was turned over to the NNP. INL Managua purchased the equipment based on ideas and plans generated by the DEA Managua Country Office. Since its establishment, the MIU has effected two seizures totaling 1,342 kilograms of cocaine.
Current reports indicate that the Caribbean corridor accounted for about 31 percent of total Transit Zone flow for 2000. In the Caribbean, maritime and airdrop operations are the primary methods used to transport illicit drugs through this corridor. Traffickers transport [drugs] via high performance go-fast boats, containerized cargo, cruise ships, fishing vessels, mothership operations, yachts, commercial and noncommercial aircraft. These various methods, combined with the region’s relatively weak law enforcement infrastructure, allow trafficking and transportation organizations to achieve a flexible response capacity which enables them to quickly shift their operational patterns to counter United States interdiction efforts.
Puerto Rico’s Role
Puerto Rico plays a key role in Caribbean smuggling operations by serving as both an Arrival and Transit Zone. A significant portion of the drugs that enter the island is consumed by the local population. In addition, traffickers use this location as a staging point for further transshipment of illicit narcotics to the United States. These activities are facilitated by Puerto Rico’s status as a regional commercial nexus with significant air and maritime links to the Continental United States (CONUS). Because the island is American territory, the USCS does not have the authority to search any cargo that is leaving the island for CONUS.
Due to its location between South America and CONUS, Jamaica is a significant transshipment point for drugs smuggled through the Caribbean. United States and Jamaican intelligence has revealed an increased presence in Jamaica of Colombian traffickers arranging for the transshipment of cocaine. Intelligence also indicates that maritime methods are the primary tactics being used to smuggle drugs into and out of the country.
Jamaica is the only significant source of marijuana produced in the Caribbean for distribution in the United States. Production is a year-round activity, with two major harvesting peaks, one in the spring and a larger harvest in the fall. Marijuana crops are planted in swamps and along the hills and valleys of remote areas that have limited road access. The Government of Jamaica has made a strong commitment to eradication via Operation Buccaneer. Jamaica’s security forces identify and eradicate marijuana sites throughout the country. United States mission components include DEA, NAS, and the Tactical Analysis Team. However, during 2001, the Jamaican Defense Force, normally assigned eradication duties, was diverted to other domestic responsibilities, such as prison security and street crime enforcement with local police.
During 2000, approximately nine percent of the cocaine destined for the United States transited Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Noncommercial maritime methods, primarily go-fast boats, were the principal methodology used to smuggle cocaine to the area. The cocaine then leaves Haiti or the Dominican Republic via coastal freighters destined for the CONUS or Europe.
Haiti will remain a primary trafficking vector in the Caribbean. The country lacks the resources, political will and law enforcement infrastructure needed to significantly impact drug trafficking operations and organizations. Intelligence indicates that corruption is deeply rooted throughout the Haitian government, further hindering law enforcement efforts. Haiti’s long coast line, mountainous interior, lack of physical infrastructure and 193-mile border with the Dominican Republic also facilitate drug trafficking activities and are major impediments to counternarcotics efforts.
DEA’s Counternarcotics Initiatives in the Caribbean Corridor
The operational focus of the Caribbean Field Division is to attack the command and control of international and domestic drug trafficking organizations through the arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of criminal leaders and their organizational members.
To achieve this goal, DEA continues its aggressive efforts to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking, transportation, and distribution operations and organizations that are conducting smuggling activities within the Caribbean Transit Zone. Individual nations within the Transit Zone lack the necessary resources to effectively counter this threat. DEA initiated a series of multinational regional operations designed to create an integrated regional response to drug trafficking activities. During the last operation, which took place during October 2000, 36 nations participated. Command control and communication were facilitated by the UNICORN system, which is an encrypted E-mail/computer communication network linking the counter-drug entities of 36 nations.
Multi-national regional initiatives have had a positive effect on disrupting the flow of drugs through the Caribbean for several reasons. First, from an operational perspective, the use of the UNICORN system by law enforcement organizations from different countries establishes a viable intelligence sharing network and the necessary communication structure needed to coordinate long-term operations. Secondly, the extensive political support for counter-drug efforts that continues to be generated by these types of initiatives facilitates the integration of anti-narcotics efforts. Thirdly, many participating countries strengthen their bilateral and multilateral relationships during operational phases.
Increased coordination, experience, and sophisticated investigative techniques will facilitate the region’s capability to conduct complex investigations targeting the leadership of significant drug trafficking organizations. This is illustrated by the recent establishment of a judicially authorized wiretap program in the Dominican Republic. Future initiatives will facilitate the integration of enforcement assets and promote an environment of trust between countries in South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Regional Operations in the Caribbean
Operation Columbus, which ran from September 29, 1999, to October 10, 1999, was a multi-national regional operation involving 15 Caribbean nations, plus Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama. The primary objective was to establish a cohesive and cooperative counter-drug environment and develop a regional strategy that integrated anti-narcotics efforts. The UNICORN system was used to facilitate command, control and coordination between the counter-drug entities that participated in the operation. The Dominican Republic served as the northern command post and Trinidad and Tobago served as the southern command post. Operation Columbus also disrupted drug trafficking activities within the Caribbean Transit Zone. The concepts and operational methodologies that were implemented during Operation Columbus were expanded during Operation Conquistador and Liberator.
Operation Conquistador, which ran from March 10, 2000, to March 26, 2000, was a multi-national regional operation involving 25 nations. This initiative broadened the success obtained during Operation Columbus by establishing an operational nexus between Caribbean, South American, and Central American counter-drug entities.
Operation Liberator, which took place during October 2000, was a multi-national, regional operation that followed up on the successes achieved during Operation Columbus and Conquistador. The initiative was a 36-nation effort involving counter-drug entities from the Caribbean, South America, Central America, and Mexico.
Operation Bahamas and Turk and Caicos (OPBAT)
OPBAT has resulted in approximately:
67 metric tons of cocaine seized
328 metric tons of marijuana seized
$32 million in assets seized
1,228 traffickers arrested
Expansion of DEA Counternarcotics Operations in the Caribbean
Caribbean Law Enforcement-Intelligence Committee (CLEIC)
Agencies represented at the CLEIC include DEA, Federal Bureau of Investigations, USCS, United States Marshals Service, Puerto Rico Police Department, National Drug Intelligence Center, JIATF-East, Joint Task Force-6, DOD/United States Army Intelligence, DOS, and foreign law enforcement officials from St. Martin (Dutch/French), St. Barthelemy, British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, and the British Consulate in Miami.
Venezuela’s geographic location and outstanding port facilities make it a natural gateway for drugs transiting from Colombia to the United States and Europe, as well as for essential chemicals smuggled through Venezuela to Colombia. In addition, Venezuela is a significant country for drug money laundering activities, due to its proximity to Colombia, and the size and sophistication of its financial markets.
The vast majority of drug traffic transiting through Venezuela consists of cocaine and heroin from neighboring Colombia. Venezuela is a major cocaine transshipment corridor, with multi-ton quantities passing through the country each year destined for the United States and Europe. By some USG estimates, over 100 metric tons of cocaine transit Venezuela annually. Cocaine enters Venezuela from Colombia by air, overland, or river routes and then exits Venezuela primarily by containerized cargo, commercial sea vessels, and commercial airplanes. Illicit opium poppies are cultivated along Venezuela’s northwestern border with Colombia and the extracted opium latex is then transported to Colombia for processing into heroin. Heroin from Colombia is commonly smuggled by couriers either internally, or in luggage via commercial air routes to international destinations.
Venezuela serves as an important conduit for essential chemicals used in Colombian cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) conversion laboratories. Chemicals originating in the United States and Europe enter Venezuela either legitimately or disguised as other products. These chemicals then are diverted for illicit use and transported overland or by maritime vessel to Colombian cocaine processing laboratories.
Colombian drug traffickers dominate Venezuelan cocaine trafficking, relying upon splinter Venezuelan trafficking groups to arrange for drug transportation to the international market once the cocaine arrives in Venezuela. Intelligence indicates that Colombians are storing multi-ton quantities of cocaine inside Venezuela before onward shipment to international destinations. Italian Organized Crime figures are also active in Venezuela involved in trafficking cocaine, heroin, and marijuana and, at times, work in concert with Colombian violators.
Operation Journey targeted Ivan De La Vega from Baranquilla, Colombia and other high level Colombian and European drug traffickers. The Caracas Country Office worked this case in coordination with Host Nation counterparts, other DEA offices, the USCS and Her Majesty’s Custom and Excise Service. A multi-national enforcement operation led to the seizure of more than eight tons of cocaine and to the arrest of De La Vega and more than 40 other significant organization members throughout Colombia, Venezuela, Europe, and the United States. De La Vega was ultimately expelled from Venezuela to Miami to face charges against him there.
Law enforcement is creating and implementing a serious, sustained, and coordinated international strategy to deter drug trafficking in the Transit Zone that applies significant enforcement pressure to all routes and methods (including maritime, air, and land). Absent these efforts, drug traffickers will merely adapt to the situation and modify their actions and drug routes accordingly.
DEA’s Global Approach to the Transit Zone
The International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) was established in 1983 in an effort to bring together executive-level drug law enforcement officials in the western hemisphere (Source and Transit Zones). The principal purpose of this conference is to share drug related information and develop an operational strategy that can be used against international drug traffickers. In the earlier years, IDEC served as a forum to discuss country specific enforcement problems and programs, and later to topical related issues (i.e., money laundering, chemical, and air traffic control).
Drug trafficking organizations have the capacity to overwhelm the defenses of individual nations. Traffickers have adopted a global approach to their operations, consequently amassing billions of dollars, weakening national economies and democratic institutions, spreading violence and destruction, and producing some of the most powerful and corrupting organizations in the world.
While the United States produces some illicit drugs, the vast majority of U.S. drug consumption depends on drug imports from abroad. Any solution to the drug problem in the United States must address both the domestic threat and that which emanates from abroad.
I have continually stressed the importance of developing a concerted, proactive, regional and global approach to reduce drug trafficking in the Transit Zone. This three-pronged approach would encompass 1) providing a cooperative operational strategy, such as, simultaneous joint operations; 2) sharing intelligence between national governments through joint intelligence sharing mechanisms; and 3) improving the sharing of information among the various law enforcement agencies within nations.
DEA has been instrumental in changing many aspects of the counter-drug environment worldwide, as evidenced by the many successful counter-narcotics initiatives we have coordinated with our partner nations in the Transit Zone. DEA will continue to be receptive to the needs and suggestions of our partner nations, providing requested resources helpful in the successful global drug trafficking organizations who disrupt the Transit Zone and other territories.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Senate Caucus on this important topic. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
From: https://www.dea .gov/pr/speeches-testimony/2001t/ct051501p.html