Donnie Marshall, Deputy Administrator
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere House Committee on International Relations
March 3, 1999
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Chairman Gallegly and Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear today at this hearing on "The Anti-Drug Effort in the Americas and Implementation of the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act." I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for your support of the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act and your overall support of drug law enforcement. My testimony will provide you with an objective assessment of the law enforcement issues involving international organized criminal groups, drug trafficking problems associated with these groups, and the role that the Drug Enforcement Administration plays in identifying and combating these groups. In addition my testimony will attempt to provide the members with a full picture of how these organized crime groups operate, harming so many aspects of life in America today, and how the DEA takes action to counter these groups.
DEA's primary mission is to target the highest levels of the international drug trafficking organizations operating today. It is through targeting the command and control elements of international drug syndicates that DEA makes its major contribution to the overall interdiction effort. Moreover, DEA makes significant contributions to drug interdiction with its law enforcement efforts within the United States. I will, therefore, discuss in some detail DEA's role in the interdiction of drugs both overseas and domestically and how those efforts interface and contribute in our joint efforts to counter these organized crime groups.
It is important to demonstrate at the outset why the threat posed by international drug syndicates is so ominous. The United States must be able to attack the command and control functions of the international syndicates which are directing the flow of drugs into this country. Focusing the attention of law enforcement on the criminals who direct these organizations is the key to combating international drug trafficking. DEA directs its resources against the leaders of these criminal organizations, seeking to have them located, arrested, prosecuted, and given sentences commensurate with the heinous nature of their crimes.
Many terms have been used to describe the complex and sophisticated international drug trafficking groups operating out of Colombia and Mexico, and frankly, the somewhat respectable titles of "cartel"or "federation" mask the true identity of these vicious, destructive entities. The Cali organization, and the four largest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico --- operating out of Guadalajara, Juarez, Mexicali, Tijuana, Sonora, and the Gulf region --- are simply organized crime groups. They are not legitimate businessmen as the word "cartel" implies, nor are they "federated" into a legitimate conglomerate. These syndicate leaders --- the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers in Colombia to Vincente Carrillo-Fuentes, Jesus Amezcua, Miguel Caro-Quintero, and Ramon and Benjamin Arellano-Felix --- are simply the 1990's versions of the mob leaders U.S. law enforcement has fought since shortly after the turn of this century.
These International organized crime leaders are far more dangerous, far more influential and have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives than did their domestic predecessors. These organized crime leaders, from their headquarters locations in Colombia and Mexico, influence the life style choices made by many Americans today. The drugs ---and the attendant violence which accompanies the drug trade ---has reached virtually every community in the United States.
Today's international organized criminal groups are strong, sophisticated, and destructive organizations operating on a global scale. These groups make operational decisions from places in Cali, Colombia, and Guadalajara, Mexico. Decisions such as where to ship cocaine, the quantity of cocaine to be shipped to these locations, which warehouse will be utilized to store the cocaine pending distribution, which cars their workers in the United States should rent, which apartments should be leased, which contract murders should be ordered, which officials should be bribed, and how much those officials will be paid. These organized criminal groups send thousands of workers into the United States who answer to them via faxes, cellular phones, pagers and computers. Whereas previous organized crime leaders were millionaires, the Cali drug traffickers and their counterparts from Mexico are billionaires.
The international drug syndicates who control drug trafficking today from the source zone, through the transit zones in the Caribbean and through Mexico, and into the United States, are interconnected. We cannot discuss the trafficking situation today without looking at the evolution of the groups from Colombia --- how they began, what their status is today, and how the groups from Mexico have learned important lessons from them, thereby becoming major trafficking organizations in their own right.
During the late 1980's and early 1990's members of the Medellin cartel were investigated, arrested and prosecuted by the Colombian National Police and DEA, beginning with the expulsion of Carlos Lehder to face drug charges in the United States and ending with the death of Pablo Escobar at the hands of the Colombian National Police. Thereafter, the Cali group assumed more of the international drug trafficking power. Where the Medellin cartel was brash and incredibly violent in their activities, the criminals, who ran their organization from Cali, labored behind the pretense of legitimacy, by posing as businessmen carrying out their professional obligations while infiltrating and corrupting government and public institutions. The Cali leaders --- the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Jose Santacruz Londono, Helmer "Pacho" Herrera-Buitrago--- amassed fortunes and ran their multi-billion dollar cocaine businesses from high-rises and ranches in Colombia. Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his associates composed what was, until then, the most powerful international organized crime group in history. They employed commercial size aircraft, such as the 727 to ferry drugs to Mexico, from where they were smuggled into the United States, and then the aircraft would return to Colombia with the money from U.S. drug sales. Using landing areas in Mexico, they were able to evade U.S. law enforcement officials and make important alliances with transportation and distribution experts in Mexico.
With intense law enforcement pressure focused on the Cali leadership by the brave men and women in the Colombian National Police during 1995 and 1996, all of the top leadership of the Cali syndicate are either in jail, or dead. Throughout this period, U.S. law enforcement agencies were effectively attacking Colombian cells operating within the United States. With the Cali leaders' imprisonment in Colombia and the attacks on their U.S. cells, traffickers from Mexico took on greater prominence. The alliance between the Colombian traffickers and the organizations from Mexico benefitted both sides. Traditionally, the traffickers from Mexico have long been involved in smuggling marijuana, heroin, and cocaine into the United States, and had established solid distribution routes throughout the United States. Because the Cali syndicate was concerned about the security of their loads, they brokered a commercial deal with the traffickers from Mexico, in order to reduce their potential losses and risks to the members of their organizations operating in the United States. This agreement between the Mexican organizations and the Colombians entailed the Colombians moving cocaine from the Andean region to the Mexican organizations, who then assumed the responsibility of delivering the cocaine to the United States. The Mexican traffickers, who were previously paid financially for their services, would now routinely receive up to one-half of the shipment of cocaine as payment for their services. This led to Mexican traffickers having access to multi-ton quantities of cocaine allowing them to expand their markets and influence in the United States, and making them formidable cocaine traffickers in their own right.
The international drug syndicates discussed above maintained control over both the sources and the flow of drugs into the United States. The cocaine entering the United States continues to come from the source countries of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. According to DEA's Heroin Signature Program, which provides a chemical analysis of domestic heroin seizures and purchases to determine the geographic sources of origin, South American heroin comprised 75 percent of all heroin seized in the United States in 1997 (1998 figures have not been compiled). Heroin from Mexico now represents 14% of the heroin seized in the United States, and it is estimated that organized crime figures in Mexico produced 6 metric tons of heroin last year. A current study being conducted by DEA indicates that as much as 29% of the heroin being used in the U.S. is being smuggled in by the Mexico-based organized crime syndicates. Virtually all of the estimated six metric tons of heroin produced in Colombia in 1997 was destined for the U.S. market. For nearly two decades, crime groups from Colombia have ruled the drug trade with an iron fist, exponentially increasing their profit margin by controlling the entire continuum of the cocaine market. Their control ranged from the coca leaf production in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, to the cocaine hydrochloride (HCL) production and processing centers in Colombia, to the wholesale distribution of cocaine on the streets of the United States.
Colombian traffickers continue to dominate the movement of cocaine from the jungles of Bolivia and Peru to the large cocaine HCL conversion laboratories in Southern Colombia. An estimated thirty-five percent of the world's coca leaf is grown in Colombia and the vast majority of the cocaine base and cocaine HCL is produced in these laboratories throughout Colombia. Many of these activities take place in the southern rain forests and eastern lowlands of Colombia. Most of the coca cultivation in Colombia occurs in the Departments of Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo. Also, cultivation occurs in areas of high insurgency that are effectively beyond the control of the Colombian Government. Cocaine conversion laboratories range from smaller "family" operations to much larger facilities, employing dozens of workers. Once the cocaine HCL is manufactured, it is either shipped via maritime or aircraft to traffickers in Mexico, or shipped through the Caribbean corridor, including the Bahamas Island Chain, to U.S. entry points in Puerto Rico, Miami, and New York.
Approximately two-thirds of the cocaine available in the United States comes over the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of the cocaine enters the United States in privately-owned vehicles and commercial trucks. There is new evidence that indicates traffickers in Mexico have gone directly to sources of cocaine in Bolivia and Peru in order to circumvent Colombian middlemen. In addition to the supply of cocaine entering the U.S., trafficking organizations from Mexico are responsible for producing and trafficking thousands of pounds of methamphetamine into the U.S. Mexican traffickers have been major distributors of heroin and marijuana in the U.S. since the 1970's.
Drug trafficking in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas) is overwhelmingly influenced by Colombian organized criminal groups. The Caribbean had long been a favorite smuggling route used by the Medellin and Cali crime groups to smuggle thousands of tons of cocaine to the United States. During the late l970's and the l980's, drug lords from Medellin and Cali, Colombia established a labyrinth of smuggling routes throughout the central Caribbean, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamian Island chain to South Florida, using a variety of smuggling techniques to transfer their cocaine to U. S. markets. Smuggling scenarios included airdrops of 500-700 kilograms in the Bahamian Island chain and off the coast of Puerto Rico, mid-ocean boat-to-boat transfers of 500 to 2,000 kilograms, and the commercial shipment of multi-tons of cocaine through the port of Miami.
Our focus on the Cali organization's command and control functions in the U.S. enabled us to build formidable cases against the Cali leaders, which allowed our Colombian counterparts to accomplish the almost unimaginable-- the arrest and incarceration of the entire infrastructure of the most powerful crime group in history. Although Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his confederates continue to direct a portion of their operations from prison they are no longer able to maintain complete control over this once monolithic giant. Now, independent groups of traffickers from the Northern Valle dal Cauca, and splinter groups from the Cali syndicate have risen to prominence and are responsible for huge volumes of cocaine and heroin being shipped to the United States through the Caribbean. These groups, who have replaced the highly structured, centrally controlled business operations of the Cali group, tend to be smaller and less organized, however, they continue to rely on fear and violence to expand and control their trafficking empires.
DEA has identified four major organizations based on the northern coast of Colombia that have deployed command and control cells in the Caribbean Basin to funnel tons of cocaine to the United States each year. Colombian managers, who have been dispatched to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, operate these command and control centers and are responsible for overseeing drug trafficking in the region. These groups are also directing networks of transporters that oversee the importation, storage, exportation, and wholesale distribution of cocaine destined for the continental United States.
However powerful these international organizations appear to be, the very feature of their operations which makes them most formidable -- the ability to exercise effective command and control over a far flung criminal enterprise -- is the feature that law enforcement can use against them, turning their strength into a weakness. The communications structure of international organized crime operating in the United States is, therefore, the prime target for drug law enforcement. Information on drug flows developed during investigations of these organizations, which mostly take place in the United States, underscores the seamless nature of the continuum of international drug trafficking from foreign sources to markets in the United States.
The organizational structures we target resemble those set up by the Colombians in the 1980's. Today's Mexican organized crime groups replicate the Colombian structures. The Colombians organized their cocaine trafficking groups in the U.S. organized around "cells" that operate within a given geographic area. Some cells specialize in a particular facet of the drug trade, such as cocaine transportation, storage, wholesale distribution, or money laundering. Each cell, which may be comprised of 10 or more employees, operates with little or no knowledge about the membership in, or drug operations of, other cells.
The head of each cell reports to a regional director who is responsible for the overall management of several cells. The regional director, in turn, reports directly to one of the drug lords head of a particular organization or their designate based in Colombia or Mexico. A rigid top down command and control structure is characteristic of these groups. Trusted lieutenants of the organization in the U.S. have discretion in the day-to-day operations, but ultimate authority rests with the leadership abroad.
Upper echelon and management levels of these cells, in Colombia and in Mexico, are frequently comprised of family members or long-time close associates who can be trusted by the drug lords to handle their day-to-day drug operations in the United States. They report back to their foreign based command structures via cell phone, fax, computers and other sophisticated communications methods. Drug traffickers continually employ a wide variety of counter-surveillance techniques and other tactics, such as staging fake drug transactions, using telephones they suspect are monitored, limited-time use of cloned cellular telephones (frequently a week or less), limited-time use of pagers (from 2 to 4 weeks), and the use of calling cards. Organized crime groups continue to show an active interest in acquiring more sophisticated secure communications equipment for their operations. The communication systems which make the top-down command and control of these organizations possible is the exact target for both intelligence analysis and law enforcement operations against the organizations, working hand in hand with interdiction efforts.
DEA's role in countering the threat posed to the American way of life by these international drug trafficking organizations has been, and will continue to be to target the most significant drug traffickers and their organizations. It is in this area that we make our contribution to interdicting the flow of drugs into the United States. Naturally, we cooperate fully with other elements of the United States government, and foreign authorities, that are directly involved in physically interdicting smuggled drugs and in eradicating drugs at the source.
Our law enforcement experience shows us that, over time, the United States has been able to effectively counter organized crime, both domestic and foreign, by attacking the command and control systems of the syndicates through the use of court approved intercepts. Successful investigations against the leaders of international drug trafficking groups ---such as those against the Medellin cartel and Operation Tiger Trap against the Southeast Asian heroin organizations -- most often originate from investigations being conducted in the United States. Through what was originally designated as the Southwest Border Initiative and has now become a strategy employed throughout the hemisphere, DEA and our counterparts direct law enforcement resources against the communications systems of the command and control functions of the organized crime groups throughout the Western Hemisphere.
There is of course a domestic component to our hemispheric strategy, which should also be understood as part of DEA's contribution to the overall national strategy to reduce drug smuggling into the United States. The United States has initiated a wide range of law enforcement and intelligence programs that aim to prevent illicit drugs from entering the country. One of the nation's most effective drug interdiction programs -- Operation Pipeline -- has been carried out on its highways for over a decade, and has been responsible for seizures that match or exceed those of other, more costly programs. Operation Pipeline is a highway drug interdiction program led by state and local agencies, and supported by DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center [EPIC]. Through EPIC, state and local agencies can share real-time information on arrests and seizures with other agencies, obtain immediate results to record check requests, and receive detailed analysis of drug seizures to support investigations.
Beginning in the early 1980's, the rate of seizures and arrests signaled to State and local law enforcement officers that the nation's highways had become major arteries for drug transportation. Tons of illicit drugs were flowing North and East from Florida and the Southwest border, while millions in drug money returned South and West -- as if traveling through a pipeline. During annual conferences and other multi agency gatherings, officers shared their experiences in highway interdiction, which the state and local police communities termed "Pipeline" investigations. DEA retained this name in 1984 when it established Operation Pipeline, which targeted only private passenger vehicles. In 1990, Operation Convoy, Pipeline's sister operation, was created to target the commercial operations of drug transportation organizations.
Operation Pipeline is now active along the highways and interstates most often used by drug organizations to move illicit drugs North and East and illicit money South and West. Since the initiation of this program in 1986, the following seizures were made on the nations highways: $510,000,000 in U.S. currency; 872,777 kilograms of marijuana; 116,188 kilograms of cocaine; 748 kilograms of crack; 369 kilograms of heroin, and 3,274 kilograms of methamphetamine. In the last calender year alone, from January 1998 through December 1998, Pipeline Seizures totaled: $86,189,860 in U.S. currency; 121,587 kilograms of marijuana; 14,860 kilograms of cocaine; 80 kilograms of crack; 75 kilograms of heroin; and 979 kilograms of methamphetamine. These increasingly more effective interdiction results dramatically show the high value of this interdiction program. The results were achieved with no more than the initiative of state and local police officers and the cost of training provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
With support from DEA Agents across the country, state and local highway officers are able to execute controlled deliveries of the drug shipments they seize, thereby furthering their own criminal investigations and contributing to federal and international investigations. By identifying and arresting members of the transportation cells of drug trafficking organizations, along with the U.S. customers, law enforcement authorities are better positioned to target the command, control, and communication of a criminal organization, and arrest its leadership.
Some of our efforts within this Hemispheric response point to the connection between domestic law enforcement in the United States and the problems posed by international drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. Operations RECIPROCITY and LIMELIGHT, are two examples of inter-agency investigations which clearly prove the interrelation between high level traffickers headquartered in Mexico and their organizations in many U.S. cities. The Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization was deeply involved in a sophisticated drug operation that stretched from Mexico to New York, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Tucson, and other parts of the U.S. At one point, several independent and seemingly unrelated investigations were being conducted in Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Michigan, and New York. Eventually these separate cases were combined under the umbrella investigations known as RECIPROCITY and LIMELIGHT.
These operations show, as do most of our investigations, that arresting the leaders of international organized crime rings often ultimately begins with a seemingly routine event in the United States. For example, two troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety stopped a van with New York plates on Interstate 30. They became suspicious when they learned that one man was from New York while the other was from El Paso, and they were not well acquainted. Neither man owned the van and their stories conflicted regarding where they were going and where they had been. The troopers found 99 bundles of money hidden in the vehicle's walls.
It took three hours to count the $1.3 million they had found. As the officers continued their search, they discovered another $700,000, bringing the total to $2 million. On December 3, 1996, after receiving an anonymous call, the Tucson Police Department and drug task force officers raided a warehouse containing 5.3 tons of cocaine. On December 13, 1996, the same Texas troopers stopped a northbound tractor trailer and seized 2,700 pounds of marijuana. Follow-up investigation connected this interdiction to their previous seizure of money, to the cocaine warehouse in Tucson, and to ongoing investigations in Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Michigan, and New York.
All of these investigations provided our Special Agents and federal prosecutors with the key to investigating the operations of the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization. This powerful Mexican syndicate was apparently using U.S. trucks and employees to transport huge amounts of cocaine to various U.S. destinations. The resulting investigation, Operation LIMELIGHT, secured 48 arrests, the seizure of $7.3 million in cash, 4,102 kilograms of cocaine and 10,846 pounds of marijuana.
A parallel investigation, Operation RECIPROCITY, resulted in the seizure of more than 7.4 metric tons of cocaine, 2,800 pounds of marijuana, $11.2 million in cash, and 53 arrests. RECIPROCITY showed that just one Juarez-based organized crime cell shipped over 30 tons of cocaine into American communities and returned over $100 million in profits to Mexico in less than two years. Distribution of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, once dominated by the Cali-based drug traffickers, was now controlled from Mexico in cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Carrillo-Fuentes organization was also beginning to make inroads into the distribution of cocaine in the East Coast, particularly New York City, the traditional stronghold of the Cali drug cartel.
It is important to note that these interdiction operations form an integral part of DEA's over-all strategy. A seemingly unconnected series of seizures on America's highways can turn into a major investigation, leading to a significant blow against an international drug trafficking organization. With its strategy of mounting strategic strikes on command and control, DEA is able to degrade the ability of the organizations to conduct business and impede their ability to import drugs into the United States. Each time we demolish an organization as part of this strategy, we will further facilitate the intelligence collection process which is critical to the interdiction of drugs. DEA will gain vital intelligence about the rest of the organization to use both in further strikes and in increasing the accuracy of information provided to interdiction operations conducted by other agencies.
Recent events highlight the ever-changing nature of drug law enforcement efforts against international drug traffickers. The Mexican-Central American corridor has been the primary smuggling corridor for cocaine destined for the United States since the 1980's. Events in Mexico and along the border bring emphasis to the fact that trafficking groups from Mexico area significant force in international organized crime. These organizations are no longer simply middlemen in the cocaine transportation business. With the disruption of the Cali syndicate, groups such as the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization, the Arellano-Felix cartel, the Amezcua-Contreras brothers, and the Caro-Quintero group have consolidated their power and now dominate drug trafficking along the U.S./Mexico border and in many U.S. cities. These organizations can reach even into the very elements of the Mexican government which are intended to fight drugs, as the traffickers continue a reign of terror and violence along the border with the United States.
The violence that is an essential part of these ruthless and powerful organizations impacts innocent citizens who live in the Untied States. The traffickers' willingness to murder and intimidate witnesses and public officials has allowed these organizations to develop into the present day threat they are to the citizens of the United States and Mexico. Drug traffickers continue their brazen attacks against both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials and their sources of information.
For example, on June 3, 1998, as two Border Patrol Agents responded to a ground sensor detection of a possible illegal entry shortly after midnight two miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border they encountered five Mexican males carrying backpacks full of marijuana. During the initial encounter the Border Patrol Agents identified themselves and instructed the men to sit down. As Agent Alexander Kripnick was preparing to arrest two of the men, one got up and began running. When Agent Kripnick turned around, Bernardo Velardez Lopez shot him in the head. The suspects then fled the scene. Agent Kripnick was pronounced dead four hours later. Manuel Gamez, one of the smugglers, was arrested by U.S. authorities several hours later. Mexican authorities arrested Velardez Lopez in Nogales on June 11th. Velardez Lopez has now been extradited to the United States for the murder of Agent Kripnick and this action is much appreciated by law enforcement.
Traffickers have long had the ability to corrupt public officials and institutions throughout the world. The traffickers' ability to corrupt government officials is highlighted by events during the week of August 9, 1998, when twenty (20) Mexican military officials assigned to a "Grupo Armado de Fuerzas Especiales" (GAFES) unit were arrested in Mexico City on charges of drug trafficking and alien smuggling. Among the arrested officials were several military personnel, captains and majors, all of whom had been assigned to the Attorney General's Office as anti-narcotics agents of the Federal Judicial Police. In addition, on August 11, 1998, another sixty (60) officials were removed from the GAFE which was based at the Mexico City international airport. The arrests were conducted by elements of the Attorney General's Office and from the Secretariat of National Defense (SDN). These officials had been pursing this investigation for several months, based on information indicating that GAFE officials assigned to the international airport were involved in protection of drug shipments.
The battle against corruption is a long-term endeavor that requires constant vigilance. The ability of any government to attack powerful criminal organizations is dependent upon the existence of honest, dedicated law enforcement professionals. To attain this goal, meaningful anti-corruption initiatives which lead to sound criminal investigations and prosecutions of corrupt officials must be aggressively pursued. Only when implementation of these measures results in widespread behavioral changes can success be realized by a honest cadre of law enforcement officials against these organizations.
The reign of terror, as drug traffickers use violence, intimidation, and assassination to protect their turf, continues along the border. On September 9, 1998, Rafael Munoz Talavera was abducted, tortured and murdered in Ciudad Juarez, in close proximity to the residence occupied by Munoz's father. This could have possibly been a message to other members of the Munoz Talavera organization. Munoz was a lieutenant of the late Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, and was fighting to gain control of the ACF organization. Evidently, he was assassinated as part of the on-going power struggle, the outcome of which will clearly influence who controls the flow of drugs across the Mexican border through the Juarez corridor. Munoz' rivals will now seek to divide control between them.
On December 27, 1998, Mexican law enforcement officials, Eleazar Hernandez-Pena and Joel Raul Rodriguez-Hernandez were abducted from the streets of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, reportedly by a group of at least ten armed men. On January 8, 1999, the bodies of Hernandez and Rodriguez were found in a sand pit on U.S. soil, in an area of Brownsville, Texas which is a notorious corridor for alien and drug smuggling. Both men appeared to have been tortured before being executed. Hernandez is a former Matamoras commander for the INCD, the former federal agency that was disbanded due to systemic corruption. He was reportedly a close associate of a Mexican trafficker from the Matamoros area. Rodriguez, a nephew of Hernandez, was an active official of the Federal Judicial Police (PJF), although he is not documented as being associated with drug trafficking.
Violence against law enforcement personnel continues to be high, demonstrating the deadly power of the trafficking organizations that control the flow of drugs into the United States. In August 1998, in Colombia, leftist rebels handed Colombian authorities another blow in a string of defeats, raising concern about the Colombian government's ability to contain trafficking within its borders. In the final days of the Samper Presidency, rebels launched attacks in 17 of Colombia's 32 states, killing an estimated 140 soldiers and police officers and scores of civilian bystanders. The most stunning attack occurred during August 3-4 at the base at Miraflores (275 miles south of Bogota) which is used for coca eradication operations. Three police officers were killed, eight wounded, and 54 were taken prisoner. Fortunately, no Americans were based at any of the locations attacked by the rebels, nor were any Americans harmed in Colombia during the attacks. For the Colombians, however, the terror continues. During the first week of September 1998, 20 policemen were taken prisoner in a National Liberation Army (ELN) attack on Las Mercedes, a small town in Norte de Santander province. According to press reports, this incident brings to about 270 the number of security force officers now being held by the ELN and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), both of which are closely associated with Colombian trafficking organizations.
From the perspective of drug law enforcement, DEA views drug trafficking as a seamless continuum. The domestic and international aspects of the trafficking organization are inextricably woven together. Therefore, DEA believes that the United States must be able to attack the command and control functions of the international syndicates on all fronts which are directing the flow of drugs into this country. DEA makes significant contributions to drug interdiction with its law enforcement efforts within the United States as well as overseas.
DEA does not set the relative priorities in the multi-agency counter drug effort. Nor are we in a position to comment on the relative merits of different resource allocations. It is within the context of DEA's mission, therefore, that I would like to discuss certain provisions of the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act, the authorizing language for which was included in the Fiscal 1999 Omnibus Spending Bill, signed into law by the President on October 21, 1998.
As you know, the bill authorized to DEA for FY 1999-2001, funding for a number of programs to support DEA's international operations. DEA received, as part of the Omnibus Spending bill for FY 1999 appropriations related to the Western Hemisphere bill of $10.2 million. These funds were part of the $ 690 million supplemental appropriation for drug interdiction. Along with what I will refer to as the Western Hemisphere funds, DEA also received appropriations for these programs from our usual source in the annual Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary Appropriation Act, funds related to the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act.
We have used the majority of the Western Hemisphere funds to continue installation of a classified computer infrastructure referred to as MERLIN -- which operates together with our FIREBIRD computer system -- throughout DEA offices in the source and transit countries. This system is the single most important enhancement that can be made to enable the flow of critical intelligence to and from these regions and the United States. The funds have enabled DEA to accelerate installation of MERLIN and FIREBIRD into source and transit country offices not already covered under previous funding.
Western Hemisphere funding has also enabled DEA to enhance an intelligence-related computer-based data mining system. The system will search substantive data bases automatically in order to retrieve certain data elements critical to drug law enforcement operations. The system will make possible a near-real time association of the search data with investigations. This money has been used for equipment to increase the system's processing capability.
We are also using the Western Hemisphere funding for the purchase of wireless intercept equipment to augment programs in the source and transit zones. The switch to digital communications and the sophistication of traffickers in their efforts to conceal their communications, as well as the expansion of our intercept programs in all of the source countries, has significantly increased our demand for this equipment. We have already procured a reserve of equipment for deployment from Headquarters to meet emergent needs.
The intelligence gained through these systems will be used to directly support law enforcement operations and enable them to be better targeted against the key command and control elements of international criminal organizations. The enforcement operations will not only result in the arrest of criminals and seizure of drug evidence, but will gather new intelligence in the form of documents, electronic records, telecommunications information and data on the structure and functioning of the criminal organization. All this new intelligence will be processed through the intelligence systems -- such as those funded under the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act -- and be applied to making future enforcement operations even more effective. In this manner, drug intelligence is used in a continuous processing loop, allowing the resources spent to become a powerful force multiplier for enforcement operations.
DEA will use the Western Hemisphere funds in our operations throughout the source and transit zones as we build cases against the organized criminal groups that control the flow of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States. DEA remains committed to targeting and arresting the most significant drug traffickers in the world today. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners throughout the world in support of their efforts and to improve our cooperative efforts against international drug smuggling.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have.