William E. Ledwith
Office of International Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Oversight
May 16, 2000
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to speak briefly on the threats posed to federal law enforcement officers. I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for its continued support of the Drug Enforcement Administration and overall support of drug law enforcement.
Because DEA is the only single-mission federal agency dedicated to drug law enforcement, the agency has, over the years, developed the ability to direct resources and manpower to identify, target and dismantle drug organizations headquartered overseas and within the United States. DEA's strategy to successfully accomplish these goals is straightforward, requiring that the agency's resources and manpower be focused on all three levels of the drug trade: the international, national/regional and local levels. Each of these categories represents a critical aspect of the drug continuum, which affects communities across the nation.
The 9,000 dedicated men and women of the DEA are committed to improving the quality of life of the citizens of the United States. The agency directs and supports investigations against the highest levels of the international drug trade, their surrogates operating within the United States, and those traffickers whose violence and criminal activities destabilize towns and cities across the country. These investigations are intelligence-driven and frequently involve the cooperative efforts of numerous other law enforcement organizations.
Drug enforcement is an extremely hazardous occupation. This is due to the fact that drug traffickers have no regard for civil order, justice, or human life. Their goal is to amass large sums of money in order to maintain their obscene and lavish life style, free from the boundaries or confines of the law. U.S. law enforcement poses the greatest threat to the drug traffickers ability to operate unabated. We have become the major stumbling block to them and have, therefore, voluntarily become targets of their criminal violence and ruthlessness. Nowhere has this violence become more prevalent than along the Southwest border and in Mexico at the hands of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations pose the greatest challenge to law enforcement agencies in the United States. For years, we have watched with concern as powerful organized crime syndicates based in Mexico began to dominate the distribution of drugs throughout our country. Through the dedicated efforts of Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, we now have a clear picture of how these drug lords direct the sale of drugs within the U.S., how they collect their billions of dollars in drug profits, and how they arrange for the assassination of witnesses in both Mexico and the United States.
We have not only identified the drug lords themselves, but in most cases, the key members of their command and control structure. The combined investigations of DEA, FBI, the U.S. Customs Service and members of state and local police departments, have resulted in the seizure of hundreds of tons of drugs, hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds and the indictment of virtually every one of the leading drug lords. However, despite the evidence against these powerful drug traffickers, they have been able to evade arrest and prosecution. The primary reason they have been able to avoid arrest and continue to ship drugs into the United States is attributable to their ability to intimidate witnesses, assassinate public officials and their ability to corrupt many of the civilian law enforcement agencies in Mexico, often at the command level.
The violence that is an essential part of the operations of these ruthless and powerful organizations, has a deadly effect on innocent citizens and law enforcement officers across the United States as well as those federal law enforcement agents stationed in Mexico. The trafficker's willingness to murder and intimidate witnesses, public officials as well as law enforcement officers has allowed them to develop into the present day threat they have become.
For decades, a number of threats have been made against U.S. law enforcement personnel stationed in Mexico by Mexican drug traffickers. Some of these threats and assaults resulted in serious injury and death. One of the most heinous acts of narco-terrorism against DEA was the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena. On February 7, 1985, Special Agent Enrique Camarena and Mexican Captain Alfredo Zavala, a DEA confidential source of information, were kidnapped by Mexican drug traffickers from two separate locations in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. On March 5, 1985, the bodies of S/A Camarena and Captain Zavala were found in plastic bags lying in a field adjacent to a busy road. Tape recordings seized by the Mexican military from a notorious Mexican drug trafficker, confirmed that S/A Camarena had been brutally beaten and tortured while being interrogated about his knowledge of Mexican drug traffickers and the identity of DEA sources of information. Special Agent Camarena's brutal murder captured worldwide attention and subsequently sparked an international investigation in order to bring to justice those individuals responsible for his death. The investigation ultimately revealed the involvement of corrupt Mexican law enforcement elements, military and public officials, in the execution of S/A Camarena's murder.
Just over a year later, DEA would again realize the ruthless and bold tactics of Mexican drug traffickers and their corrupt counterparts. In August of 1986, DEA Special Agent Victor Cortez and DEA informant Antonio Garate-Bustamante were kidnapped in Guadalajara, Mexico by corrupt Mexican police officers. S/A Cortez and Garate-Bustamante were interrogated, beaten and tortured at a local Mexican police station for four hours. The corrupt police officers, who were obviously acting on behalf of a Mexican drug trafficking organization, attempted to learn the names and locations of other DEA Agents, their families, and cooperating individuals who were working with DEA personnel in country. S/A Cortez and Garate-Bustamante were released only after the DEA Resident Agent in Charge arrived at the police station and relentlessly demanded their release. Six individuals were eventually arrested by Mexican authorities and charged with this heinous act of narco-terrorism.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations routinely rely on violence as an essential tool of the trade. Much of the drug-related violence which has become commonplace in Mexico, has spilled over into the United States. Many of these acts of violence have been aimed at U.S. law enforcement personnel working along or in close proximity to the Southwest Border. Drug traffickers believe that Mexico represents safe refuge from U.S. law enforcement, regardless of their crime.
On June 30, 1994, DEA Special Agent Richard Fass of the Phoenix Field Division, was killed by Mexican drug traffickers during an undercover operation in Glendale, Arizona. The subsequent investigation revealed that Augustin Vasquez-Mendoza, identified as the leader of this drug trafficking group, orchestrated a plan to steal $160,000.00 from the undercover agent. During the attempted rip-off, S/A Fass was murdered while attempting to defend his life and the life of a DEA informant. Although four other members of this organization were captured and prosecuted, Vasquez-Mendoza fled to the mountainous region of Apatzingan, Michoacan, Mexico before he could be apprehended.
Mexican drug traffickers have adopted a strategy of taking increasingly confrontational and defensive actions when moving drug loads across the U.S./Mexico border. During 1998, a relatively new trend involving armed attacks by Mexican traffickers on U.S. law enforcement officers continued with fatal consequences. These armed encounters always developed during the drug trafficker's attempts to avoid arrest while fleeing back to Mexico. One such attack took place on June 3, 1998, along the Mexican border near Nogales, Arizona. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Alexander Kirpnick and a fellow agent were attempting to arrest five Mexican males who were transporting marijuana north across the border when he was shot and killed.
Although drug related violence in Mexico has been historically commonplace, within the last year, drug related violence has increased exponentially. Daily newspaper articles have memorialized the recent rash of kidnappings and executions of Government of Mexico (GOM) officials assigned to investigate narcotic related crimes. Since January of 2000, numerous Mexican officials assigned to anti narcotics operations have been murdered and several others were seriously injured.
Of note, Tijuana Police Chief, Alfredo de la Torre-Marquez, was shot and killed by two carloads of assassins on February 27, 2000. On March 23, 2000, former Director of Investigations for the Organized Crime Unit (OCU), Cuauhtemoc Herrera-Suastegui, was shot in an ambush - one day before he was set to testify before the Mexican Attorney General in an investigation of the Carrillo-Fuentes Organization.
In perhaps the most heinous recent incident, on April 10, 2000 Mexican Attorneys Jose Luis "Pepe" Patiño and Oscar Pompa, and Army Captain Rafael Torres Bernal, who were working closely with DEA and FBI Special Agents assigned to San Diego, were murdered. The three were en route from San Diego to the PGR (Mexican Attorney General's Office) Headquarters in Tijuana, Mexico. The three never arrived as planned. They were apparently intercepted on the way, and brutally beaten to death. Their bodies were discovered two days later. Investigations are underway on both sides of the border to bring to justice the perpetrators of this savage act.
The trail of violence continues as evidenced by the ambush and subsequent torture and murder of two Mexican law enforcement officials assigned to a Border Task Force which occurred just days before this hearing.
DEA remains gravely concerned about the more recent threats and assaults directed against U.S. Government personnel. Of particular concern was an incident occurring in Matamoros, Mexico November 9, 1999. A DEA Special Agent and an FBI Supervisory Special Agent were travelling in a vehicle, while debriefing a Cooperating Source in Matamoros, Mexico. They were surrounded and physically threatened by a Mexican drug trafficker and approximately 15 of his bodyguards, brandishing automatic weapons. The Tampaulipas State Police Commander, who was aware of the situation as it was happening, did nothing to assist the two agents. The traffickers demanded that the two agents turn over the source - certainly to face death at the traffickers hands. To their credit, the agents refused to turn over the source. During the confrontation the trafficker ordered his henchmen to shoot the agents and the source. However, displaying calm control of an explosive and deadly situation, the two were able to talk their way out, and made their way to safety in the United States.
Many of the threats or assaults on our personnel have been subsequent to or while executing major enforcement operations. As an example, in January of this year, the FBI advised DEA that the Amado Carillo-Fuentes Drug Trafficking organization offered a $200,000.00 bounty to anyone who murdered any U.S. law enforcement agent in Mexico or the U.S. In addition, in February of this year, DEA was again advised by the FBI, that a major drug trafficker identified as Juan Jose Esparragosa-Moreno, threatened retaliation against U.S. law enforcement and/or facilities located within Mexico and along the U.S. southwest border. The DEA regards these threats as extremely serious and has taken immediate actions to ensure the safety of our personnel.
Mr. Chairman, the safety and security of DEA personnel and their families is a priority within our agency. The DEA has, and will continue to utilize, every means available to ensure their safety and security. We do, however, remain extremely concerned regarding the Government of Mexico's ability to effectively respond to these incidents in a timely manner. In addition, in virtually every incident involving a narcoterroristic threat against our agents or personnel in Mexico, Mexican Police officials, acting as enforcers for drug traffickers, were involved. This fact alone speaks to the continued ability of the heads of these criminal drug trafficking organizations to corrupt Mexican law enforcement. However, we are encouraged regarding the recent arrests of key members of the Amado Carillo-Fuentes drug trafficking organization. We are hopeful that the recent events are a sign of renewed commitment of our cooperative counter-drug investigations.
Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the brave men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee today. At this time I will be glad to answer any questions you may have.