Richard A. Fiano, Chief of Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources
September 24, 1999
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Chairman Mica and Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate this opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today to discuss the issue of the drug trafficking along the Southwest Border. I would like first to thank the Subcommittee for its continued support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and overall support of drug law enforcement. My testimony today will provide you with an objective assessment of the law enforcement issues surrounding the drug threat along the Southwest border and its' potential impact on the United States. Due to the ever-increasing legitimate cross-border traffic and commerce between the U.S. and Mexico, several international organized crime groups have established elaborate smuggling infrastructures on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. Furthermore, it has long been established that in addition to drug trafficking, these international criminal organizations spawn violence, corruption, and intimidation that threaten the safety and stability of surrounding border towns, cities and states. The information that I am providing is based on a comprehensive and detailed analysis of every major narcotics investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration involving organized criminal drug trafficking activity in Mexico and our consultation with other Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
The complex and sophisticated international drug trafficking groups operating out of Colombia and Mexico are vicious, destructive entities, which operate on a global scale. The four largest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico --- operating out of Guadalajara, Juarez, Mexicali, Tijuana, Sonora, and the Gulf region --- under the auspices of Vincente Carrillo-Fuentes, Jesus Amezcua, Miguel Caro-Quintero, and Ramon and Benjamin Arellano-Felix, are in many ways, the 1990's versions of the mob leaders and groups that U.S. law enforcement has fought against since the beginning of the century. These international organized crime leaders, however, are far more dangerous, far more influential and have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives than did their domestic predecessors. The drugs and attendant violence they sanction reach many communities in the United States.
Those international traffickers and their organizations make operational decisions from places like Cali, Colombia; Sonora, Mexico and other locations outside U.S. borders, which dilute the quality of life of our citizens and directly impact drug-related crime in cities and towns across our country. These groups have reached new levels of sophistication and have become a threat not only to the United States and Europe, but also their own countries, and other Latin American nations, as well. Their power and influence are unprecedented. Unless innovative, flexible, multi-faceted responses are crafted, these drug trafficking organizations threaten to grow even more powerful in the years to come.
The international criminal organizations which currently control the entire drug trade from its source in South America, through transit countries in the Caribbean and Mexico and ultimately for sale in the United States, are thoroughly intertwined. Therefore, we cannot discuss the trafficking situation along the southwest border without looking at the evolution of the groups from Colombia, and how the groups from Mexico have learned from them, creating the situation along the Southwest Border that we are facing today.
Colombian Trafficking Organizations:
During the late 1980's and early 1990's, the major drug traffickers from Medellin, Colombia were investigated, arrested and prosecuted by the Colombian National Police (CNP) and the DEA, beginning with the landmark return of Carlos Lehder to face drug charges in the United States, and ending with the death of Pablo Escobar at the hands of the CNP. During this same time frame, proactive narcotics investigations by the DEA and other Federal, state and local entities created a choke point in South Florida and the Caribbean, through which most of the illicit drugs arriving in our country were transited.
As the Medellin traffickers disintegrated, the Cali traffickers quietly coalesced and assumed power equal to that of their predecessors. Due to law enforcement's response to the trafficking in the Caribbean, the Cali traffickers would later form an alliance with Mexican trafficking groups in order to stage and transport drugs across the Southwest Border. The drug traffickers from Cali were far more sophisticated than the Medellin group and eventually became deeply involved in all aspects of the cocaine trade, including production, transportation, wholesale distribution and money laundering. Whereas the Medellin traffickers seemed to revel in the terror and violence that became their trademark-and ultimately contributed to their downfall-the Cali traffickers attempted to avoid indiscriminate violence, contributing to their image as legitimate businessmen. However, when the Cali traffickers employed violence to attain their goals-and they frequently did-it was precise and exacting. The Cali leaders --- the Rodriguez-Orejuela brothers, Jose Santacruz Londono and 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 comprised what was, until then, the most powerful international organized crime group in history. They employed commercial aircraft to ship metric ton quantities of cocaine to Mexico. Using landing strips in Mexico, they were able to evade U.S. law enforcement and made important transportation alliances with the traffickers in Mexico. Once the cocaine was safely delivered to traffickers in Mexico, independent Mexican-based transportation groups, subcontracted by the Colombian trafficking organizations, arranged for the delivery of the cocaine to contacts within the U.S.
During 1995 and 1996, intense law enforcement pressure was focused on the Cali leadership by the brave men and women of the Colombian National Police. As a result, all of the top trafficking leaders from Cali were either in jailed or killed. During that time frame, U.S. law enforcement agencies were effectively attacking Colombian cells operating within the United States. With the Cali leaders' imprisonment in Colombia and the successful attacks by law enforcement on their U.S. cells, traffickers from Mexico took on greater prominence. A growing alliance between the Colombian traffickers and the organizations from Mexico worked to benefit both sides. Traffickers from Mexico had long been involved in smuggling marijuana, heroin, and cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border, using entrenched distribution routes to deliver drugs throughout the United States. The Mexico-based organizations' emergence as major methamphetamine producers and traffickers also contributed to making them a major force in international drug trafficking. The Mexican traffickers, who were previously paid in cash by the Colombian traffickers for their services, began to routinely receive up to one-half of a shipment of cocaine as their payment. This led to Mexican traffickers having access to multi-ton quantities of cocaine and allowed them to expand their markets and influence in the United States, thereby making them formidable cocaine traffickers in their own right.
Mexican Traffickers Rise to Prominence:
With the disruption of the Cali syndicate, Mexican groups such as the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization, the Arellano-Felix cartel, the Amezcua-Contreras brothers, and the Caro-Quintero group, consolidated their power and began to dominate drug trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border and in many U.S. cities. These organizations are no longer simply middlemen in the cocaine transportation business but reach into the very foundations of Mexican society. Events in Mexico and along the border emphasize the fact that trafficking groups from Mexico are now a significant force in international organized crime.
The violence that is an essential part of the operations of these ruthless and powerful organizations impacts innocent citizens across the United States. The traffickers' willingness to murder and intimidate witnesses and public officials has allowed them to develop into the present day threat they present 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.
Overview of Narcotics Smuggled along SWB:
Recent intelligence reports indicate that approximately 60% of the cocaine available in the United States comes over the U.S.-Mexico border. Typically, large cocaine shipments are transported from Colombia, via commercial shipping and "Go-fast" boats and off-loaded in Mexican port cities. The cocaine is transported through Mexico, usually by trucks, where it is warehoused in cities like Guadalajara or Juarez, which are operating bases for the major organizations. Cocaine loads are then driven across the U.S.-Mexican border and taken to major distribution centers within the U.S., such as Los Angeles, Chicago or Phoenix. Surrogates of the major drug lords wait for instructions, often provided over encrypted communications devices-- --phones, faxes, pagers or computers---telling them where to warehouse smaller loads, who to contact for transportation services, and who to return the eventual profits to. Individuals sent to the United States from Mexico and are often here illegally, contract with U.S. trucking establishments to move loads across the country. Once the loads arrive in an area that is close to the eventual terminal point, safehouses are established for workers who watch over the cocaine supplies and arrange for it to be distributed by wholesale dealers within the vicinity. These distributors have traditionally been Colombian nationals or individuals from the Dominican Republic, but recently, DEA has come upon evidence that Mexican trafficking organizations are also directly involved in cocaine distribution in New York City.
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 most importantly, several significant indictments. In fact, some of the leaders of these organizations---Ramon and Benjamin Arellano-Felix, Jesus Amezcua-Contreras, Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes----have become almost household names in every major law enforcement department in the United States. Despite this evidence of the crimes they have committed within the U.S., and the notoriety these traffickers have gained, they have been able to continually 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 and corrupt public officials.
Methamphetamine trafficking operates in a similar fashion, with major organized crime groups in Mexico obtaining the precursor chemicals necessary for methamphetamine production from sources in other countries, such as China and India, as well as from rogue chemical suppliers in the United States. Super methamphetamine labs, capable of producing hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine on a weekly basis, are established in Mexico or in California, where the methamphetamine is provided to traffickers to distribute across the United States. It is common today to find traffickers from Mexico, most of which are illegal aliens, established in communities like Boise, Des Moines, Omaha, Charlotte and Kansas City, distributing multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine.
The impact of methamphetamine trafficking, from all drug trafficking sources, on U.S. communities has been devastating. In Iowa, health experts have expressed grave concerns over the 4000 infants affected by drugs, ninety-percent of which were exposed to methamphetamine. An expert associated with Marshall County Iowa's Juvenile Court Services estimated in 1998 that one-third of the 1,600 students at Marshalltown High School have tried methamphetamine.
Furthermore, there have been numerous incidents where children have been injured or killed by explosions and fires resulting from their parents' methamphetamine cooking. In a major DEA case, a working methamphetamine lab established by traffickers from Mexico was discovered in an equestrian center where children were taking riding lessons. In another case investigated by the DEA, an operational methamphetamine lab, capable of producing 180 pounds of methamphetamine, was discovered within a thousand feet of a junior high school.
Heroin from Mexico now represents 14% of the heroin seized in the United States by federal authorities, and it is estimated that organized crime figures in Mexico produced six 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. Mexican black tar heroin is produced in Mexico, and transported over the border in cars and trucks. Like cocaine and methamphetamine, it is trafficked by associates of the organized criminal groups in Mexico, and provided to dealers and users in the Southwest, Northwest, and Midwest areas of the United States. At one time, it was commonplace for couriers to carry two pounds or so of heroin into the United States; recently, quantities of heroin seized from individuals has increased as is evidenced by larger seizures in a number of towns in Texas. This heroin is extremely potent, and its use has resulted in a significant number of deaths. In the small town of Plano, Texas, the dangerously high levels of purity and easy availability resulted in 19 heroin-related deaths and 3 near fatal overdoses since September 1994. Just this past May, former Dallas Cowboy football player Mark Tuanai died of a heroin overdose in Plano. In response to these tragedies, the DEA and Plano Police Department formed a Heroin Task Force to investigate, identify and prosecute the persons responsible for the importation and distribution of the heroin responsible for these deaths.
Mexican black tar heroin is also common in the Pacific Northwest. Last January, officers from the California Highway Patrol working near Sacramento, stopped a speeding car driven by a sixteen-year-old Mexican national. He and a passenger were from Michoacan, Mexico. A search of the car yielded six-kilogram packages of Mexican black tar heroin intended for distribution in Yakima, Washington.
Seattle, Washington has suffered from a dramatic increase in heroin overdose deaths. According to health experts, heroin deaths increased in 1998 to a total of 138. This figure is triple the number of heroin deaths in Seattle during the 1980's. Experts also estimate that there are 20,000 heroin addicts in Seattle and the surrounding area. Traffickers from Mexico use the I-5 highway to bring their product to cities and suburbs in Washington State.
Marijuana from Mexico dominates the illicit U.S. import market. Seizures of Mexican marijuana have increased from 102 metric tons in 1991 to 742 metric tons in 1998. Marijuana organizations from Mexico are very powerful and violent. In some places, traffickers from Mexico have established growing operations within the United States. In a recent case in Idaho, the DEA Boise office, working with other Federal, state and local law enforcement officials, arrested a group of illegal aliens from Zacatecas, Mexico. A total of 114,000 marijuana plants, weighing almost 20 tons, were seized. This operation represented the largest marijuana seizure ever in the state of Idaho.
It is important to note that although many of the transactions relating to the drug trade take place on U.S. soil, the major international organized crime bosses headquartered in Mexico direct the details of their multi-billion dollar business step by step. They are responsible not only for the business decisions being made, but ultimately for the devastation that too many American communities have suffered as a result of the influx of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.
Law Enforcement Response:
The Southwest border remains a major point of entry for approximately 70% of all illicit drugs smuggled into our country by Mexican trafficking groups. In response to this continued threat along the border, the DEA has established several initiatives that facilitate and improve intelligence and information sharing, while identifying and removing impediments to cooperation. These initiatives employ a multi-pronged strategy, which utilizes and combines law enforcement operations, intelligence operations, and provides for law enforcement assistance in order to achieve success in combating criminal drug trafficking organizations along the border. The objective of these initiatives are to disrupt and ultimately dismantle criminal organizations that smuggle illicit drugs into the U.S. by linking Federal, state and local investigations domestically and mobilizing multilateral enforcement efforts abroad. Based upon past trends, intelligence, and recent seizures along the border, the DEA has established the following priorities for its' SWB Field Divisions: (1) cocaine investigations involving violent organizations; (2) methamphetamine investigations, (3) heroin investigations, (4) marijuana investigations, (5) money laundering investigations and (6) diverted/dangerous drug and chemical investigations.
In response to the emergence of these Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization's (MDTO), it became apparent that a coordinated strategy for law enforcement counterdrug activities be implemented along the border. Due to a host of reasons, (i.e. diverse demographics, expansive geography, overlapping of law enforcement agencies, etc.), intelligence gaps have always existed in relation to the Southwest border. As such, the Southwest Border Initiative (SWBI) was mounted to address these concerns as well as the growing threat of drugs and violence along the southwest border. In order to combat drug production and trafficking networks operating along the U.S./Mexican border, DEA, in concert with other Federal Agencies established the Southwest Border Initiative - an integrated , coordinated law enforcement effort designed to attack the command and control structure of organized criminal enterprise operations associated with the Mexican Federation. This strategy focuses on intelligence and enforcement efforts targeting drug distribution systems within the U.S. and directs resources toward the disruption of those principal drug trafficking organizations operating across the border.
DEA, in cooperation with other Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies is focusing increased intelligence, technical resources and investigative expertise on the major MDTO's responsible for smuggling vast quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine across the border. Apart from this effort, DEA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also provide operational planning, intelligence and training to Government of Mexico (GOM) law enforcement authorities, to strength their capacity to collect drug intelligence, attack production capability, conduct transshipment interdiction, investigations and asset seizures and prosecute key traffickers.
The Southwest Border strategy targets specific Mexican trafficking organizations operating across the border and attacks their command and control infrastructures wherever they operate. These crime syndicates pose a significant challenge to the law enforcement agencies in the United States that enforce narcotics laws. Since the mid 1990's, we have watched with concern as powerful organized crime syndicates based in Mexico began to dominate the distribution of drugs within virtually every community in the United States. The Mexico-based criminal organizations have rapidly become one of the primary entities responsible for distributing drugs to the citizens of the United States.
The Southwest Border strategy includes a joint DEA/DOJ/FBI/USCS project that resides within DEA's Special Operations Division (OS). The Special Operations Division is a joint national coordinating and support entity comprised of agents, analysts, and prosecutors from DOJ, Customs, FBI and DEA. Its mission is to coordinate and support regional and national criminal investigations and prosecutions against trafficking organizations that most threaten the U.S. OS performs seamlessly across both investigative agency and district jurisdictional boundaries, providing field offices with necessary "leads" for investigative action. Within OS, no distinction is made among the participating investigative agencies. Where appropriate, state and local authorities are fully integrated into coordinated operations. As presently configured, OS consists of four sections; each of which has both DEA and FBI personnel assigned. One section targets Colombian Trafficking Organizations, a second concentrates on cocaine and heroin trafficking in Europe and Asia, and the remaining two sections are the heart of the Southwest Border Project and focus their efforts on the principal MDTO's. These two sections target, among other things, the command and control networks of the identified MDTO's, and their supporting organizations operating along the Southwest border. In attacking the command and control structure of these polydrug organizations, OS converts classified information and intelligence into usable leads and tips for dissemination to DEA/FBI Field Divisions. As such, the interagency regional objectives are; (1) Intelligence collection and analysis, (2) Investigations, (3) Interdiction and Enforcement and (4) Incarceration. Following are several significant operations that have been fully supported and complimented by OS personnel:
As an example of the success that a cooperative interagency initiative can accomplish, this past Wednesday, the DEA announced the conclusion of a two-year international investigation that culminated in the arrest of over 93 individuals linked to the Amado Carillo Fuentes (ACF) drug trafficking organization, headquartered in Cancun, Mexico. This investigation, known as "Operation Impunity", was a multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency investigation which directly linked drug trafficking activity in the United States to the highest level of the Mexican cocaine trade.
This investigation began in January 1998 and is being conducted jointly by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Customs Service (USCS) and a host of state and local law enforcement agencies. The investigation encompasses 53 DEA, FBI and USCS case investigations which spans 14 federal judicial districts. Since 1998, this investigation has resulted in 36 seizures, netting 12,357 kilograms of cocaine, a half a kilo of heroin, 4,806 pounds of marijuana, more than $18.5 million in U.S. currency, and the arrest of 93 individuals.
The above statistics only tell part of the story. Operation Impunity demonstrated an unparalleled coordinated and cooperative effort among the law enforcement community. Overall, the totality of this investigation allowed the law enforcement community to ascertain this organization's method of operation from the narcotic distribution in Colombia to the transportation through Mexico to the ultimate distribution networks throughout the U.S. Thus far, the accomplishments actualized over the course of this investigation demonstrates the need for the continuation of long term, multi-agency investigations.
In October 1997, the DEA Oklahoma City office initiated an investigation against the Martin Chavez, methamphetamine and marijuana drug trafficking organization. Martin Chavez is the leader of an organization that imports methamphetamine and marijuana from Mexico for distribution in the United States. The Chavez organization transported marijuana and methamphetamine from Mexico to Oklahoma City via Dallas, Texas. From there, the drugs were distributed to organization members and associates in Des Moines, Iowa and Kansas City, Missouri. This investigation has widened, bringing in the DEA offices in Fresno, Dallas, El Paso, and Des Moines, as well as U.S. Customs and state and local counterparts in these areas. The Oklahoma City investigation culminated on May 10, 1999, when authorities arrested three Chavez organization members on Federal charges. To date, this investigation has involved 13 Title IIIs and 35 pen registers. The information derived from them resulted in the seizure of 47 pounds of methamphetamine, 525 pounds of precursor chemicals, 1,378 pounds of marijuana, $47,000 in currency, and the arrest of 22 defendants.
In August 1997, the Miami Field Division received an Attorney General's Exemption to conduct a money laundering investigation utilizing selective undercover financial transactions as a method to identify organizational targets. By the use of selected undercover financial transactions, Operation Cali-Man has been able to assist other field divisions in the initiation of 10 separate investigations of money laundering cells operating in their respective divisions. Divisions that are supporting this operation are New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago along with the appropriate district and resident offices. To date, Operation Cali-Man has generated information leading to over 150 Title III intercepts and 135 arrests and the seizure of just over $5 million. This operation involves representatives from the INS, IRS, U.S. Postal Service, Metro-Dade Department of Public Safety, and police departments from North Miami Beach, Aventura, Indian Creek, and Homestead, Florida.
The intelligence collection process is critical to the interdiction of drugs. Each time we dismantle an organization DEA gains vital intelligence about the organization to use, both to further additional investigative efforts, and to increase the accuracy of intelligence information provided to interdiction operations conducted by other law enforcement agencies. The domestic and international aspects of trafficking organizations are inextricably woven together. U.S. law enforcement must be able to successfully attack the command and control functions of these international drug trafficking syndicates on all fronts if ultimate success in diminishing the operational effectiveness of these organizations is to be achieved.
The Joint Information Collection Center (JICC) is a combined DEA/Department of State and El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) program managed and operated by EPIC. The purpose of this multi-agency effort is to collect and analyze data relating to the trafficking of drugs with international origins and transshipment points. DEA, in cooperation with the Department of State, provides computer terminals to foreign government agencies, such as their narcotics units, customs agencies, and other law enforcement entities, to enter daily activity records of people, vessels, and aircraft. This information is compiled from all of the participating countries and analyzed to identify linkages to possible drug trafficking and other illegal activities. Through their local JICC, participating foreign counterparts may query the universal database at the El Paso Intelligence Center, which is a central hub for all of the participating JICCs. Then, normally within 24 hours, EPIC returns the response to the DEA Country Attach for review and delivery to the local foreign counterpart. The JICC program is currently in operation in 22 countries across the globe.
Supplemental Law Enforcement Assistance:
Highway interdiction is central to drug enforcement, especially on the Southwest border, since a vast number of seizures occur at checkpoint stops within 150 miles of the border in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. In addition to their drug and money seizures, state, local, and Federal agencies generate valuable intelligence on trafficking patterns, concealment methods, and cell membership and structure. Presently, there are drug interdiction programs promoted and monitored by the El Paso Intelligence Center, but carried out by state and local law enforcement officials. The operations are active along the highways and interstates most often used by drug organizations to move drugs north and east, and illicit money south and west. With DEA support, state and local highway officers are able to execute controlled deliveries of the drug shipments they seize, thereby furthering their own investigations. Furthermore, these programs consist of three elements: training, real-time communication, and analytic support. With support from EPIC, training schools are designed and delivered to state and local highway officers across the nation.
During the third quarter of FY '99, such programs delivered 12 training schools involving a total of 1,028 state and local officers. During this same period, in the five Southwest border states of Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas, seizures amounted to 34,303 kgs. of marijuana; 2,159 kgs. of cocaine; 184 kgs. of methamphetamine; 30 kgs. of heroin; 5 kgs. of crack cocaine, and over $23.03 million.
Since 1996, DEA funding for Southwest Border operations has increased precipitously, rising from a total of $116.0 million in FY 1996, to $161.0 million in FY 1999, an increase of 39 percent. During the same time frame, DEA has dedicated a total of 167 additional Special Agent positions to Southwest border offices and operations. At present, DEA allocates roughly 11 percent of the agency's total budget to ongoing Southwest border operations.
Cooperative Efforts with the Government of Mexico:
Subsequent to the arrest of General Rebollo in 1997 and the establishment of mechanisms within the Mexican law enforcement infrastructure, such as the Base Intelligence Units (BIU) and the Vetted Unit program, DEA became cautiously optimistic relative to the prospects of the GOM's commitment to bilateral investigations. Furthermore, the DEA has supported these programs financially and with other resources in the hope that our efforts would result in a successful attack against the drug lords who are creating so much damage to the citizens and communities with the United States. However, continuing reports of corruption and the rapidly growing power and influence of the major organized criminal groups in Mexico cause us great concern about the long-term prospects for success. Perhaps, the recent arrest of Operation Impunity target Jaime Aguilar Gastelum, by Mexican authorities, is indicative of the GOM's future commitment to such joint ventures.
Presently, the DEA and the Government of Mexico's (GOM) equivalent to the DEA, the Fiscalia Especializada Para la Atencion de Delitos Contra la Salud (FEADS), continue to conduct joint investigative endeavors throughout Mexico. The joint investigations are being conducted with the two primary investigative components of the FEADS Vetted Units, the Sensitive Investigative Units (SIUs) and the Base Intelligence Units (BIUs). As of June 1999, the GOM only had a total of 64 FEADS agents assigned to the Vetted Units (47 assigned to nine BIUs, and 17 assigned to three SIUs), despite the fact that DEA and the FBI conducted 539 polygraph examinations of FEADS personnel, resulting in 343 FEADS personnel being vetted according to U.S. standards. Approximately 280 of these vetted Agents are unaccounted for. It is unknown to DEA where these Agents are assigned.
Overall, the GOM has provided limited support to the Vetted Units, in terms of manpower, funding and equipment. Virtually all of the BIUs are under-manned and under-equipped. The BIU offices are sparsely furnished and contain only the most basic investigative equipment. In terms of staffing, the 64 FEADS Agents currently assigned to Vetted Units represents a decrease of four Agents from that reported by the GOM in December 1998. The decrease in personnel is due in part to the fact that three FEADS Agents assigned to the Monterrey BIU were arrested on March 2, 1999 on extortion charges; two FEADS Agents assigned to the BIU in Tijuana were arrested on September 13, 1998 on kidnapping charges; and one OCU Agent assigned to the Mexico City SIU was arrested on marijuana possession charges in Saltillo, Mexico on February 22, 1999. In Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, the charges against one of the three FEADS Agents were subsequently dropped when he testified against the other two FEADS Agents regarding the extortion charges. This Agent has since returned to the Monterrey BIU.
The investigative achievements by the BIU and the SIU as related to cases against the major Mexican drug trafficking organizations are minimal. The inability of these units to fully employ the provisions of the Organized Crime Law to properly investigate these major organizations has been equally disappointing. Further complicating investigative efforts, the Mexico City-based SIU was compromised in February 1999 by a Mexican news expose describing the operations of that unit, to include its location, its activities and its investigative targets. Because of this, the SIU has been largely shut down, and the GOM is in the process of searching for a new site to relocate the SIU. In addition, personnel from the Mexico City SIU have been separated into several smaller groups and deployed to various regions throughout Mexico in order to work other investigations. With these deployments, the SIU's cohesiveness has been significantly damaged. For example, in recent months vetted unit personnel of the Organized Crime Unit (OCU), of which the SIU is a part, have been investigating a drug smuggling network of the Carrillo-Fuentes organization in Cancun, headed by Alcides Ramon-Magana. During the course of this investigation, DEA has shared three principal witnesses with the OCU, which have provided information regarding the ties of this organization to corrupt high level military and civilian GOM officials, to include the former Governor of the State of Quintana Roo, Mario Villanueva Madrid. The information gleaned from these witnesses has resulted in the seizure of real estate in Quintana Roo and the arrest of several defendants in this case. In addition, the GOM issued arrest warrants for a total of 44 individuals associated with Ramon-Magana including an arrest warrant issued on April 5, 1999, against former Governor Villanueva Madrid on 28 counts of drug related offenses. Unfortunately, although important, the reassignment of OCU personnel to this investigation has resulted in the temporary cessation of any other investigative work previously initiated by the unit.
As reported earlier, in an effort to enhance coordination between U.S. law enforcement and the BIU's, as well as to improve bilateral investigations, DEA has acquired office space in three U.S. cities-San Diego, California, El Paso, Texas and McAllen, Texas. These sites serve as investigative coordination sites and afford Agents from the BIUs, DEA's Mexico Resident Offices (ROs) and domestic field offices from DEA, the FBI, and the U.S. Customs Service, a location to meet on a regular basis, and exchange information on trafficking organizations operating along the Southwest border.
Initial meetings between representatives of the respective U.S. law enforcement personnel and GOM vetted units have been conducted in San Diego, California and McAllen, Texas to discuss potential mutual targets of investigation. To this end, the GOM formed an Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO) Fugitive Apprehension Team, with a base in Tijuana, Mexico. The newly formed FEADS AFO Fugitive Team arrived in Tijuana, Baja California Norte, during the early part of May 1999. Although based in Tijuana, this team, in theory, is to travel throughout the country of Mexico in pursuit of their sole target, the AFO. The AFO Fugitive Team is to be staffed with a total of 15 to 20 vetted and U.S. Government trained Agents. To date, the AFO Fugitive Team is staffed with only nine "super-vetted" agents, and has not participated in any significant enforcement activity.
In McAllen, Texas the Monterrey-based BIU has met with representatives of the DEA, U.S. Customs and the FBI, whereby Gulf Coast cartel trafficker Salvador Gomez-Herrera was identified as their mutual target. A similar binational meeting was held on April 6, 1999 in El Paso, Texas, to discuss initial operational targets in that area; however, no significant enforcement activity has occurred in Mexico regarding this investigation.
Ultimately, DEA believes that the vetting process is our best chance at ensuring integrity with our counterparts. DEA will remain actively engaged with our GOM counterparts relative to this process. DEA will also encourage the GOM to fully staff and support the BIUs and the SIUs with FEADS personnel that have already been vetted. However, without the willingness of the GOM to pursue leads involving corruption, the merit of this labor intensive and expensive process is questionable. Until such time that adequate anti-corruption assurances and safeguards can be implemented, DEA will exercise extreme caution in sharing sensitive information with our Mexican counterparts.
Americas' long experience with countering organized criminal activity has necessitated the development of an aggressive, cohesive and coordinated strategy to identify, target, arrest and incapacitate the leadership of these organizations along the SWB. DEA's role in addressing the drug problem is to continue to attack the leadership of these international criminal organizations. With a strategy consisting of mounting attacks on the organizational command and control of Mexican trafficking groups which operate along the Southwest border, the DEA is able to diminish the ability of these organizations to conduct business and impede their efforts to import drugs into the U.S.
Due to expansive geography, diverse demographics and overlapping law enforcement agencies and drug units, intelligence gaps have always existed along the SWB. Therefore, it is imperative for law enforcement to continue to facilitate the flow of information and intelligence with identifying and removing impediments to cooperation. In this vein, it is vital for the DEA, along with other USG agencies, to continue to support the GOM in the field of counter narcotics operations. In turn, it is hoped that the GOM will provide adequate investigative manpower, financial resources, equipment and reciprocal drug intelligence in support of bilateral drug law enforcement. It is abundantly clear that concerted law enforcement efforts, such as "Operation Impunity," will significantly improve our ability to counter drug trafficking organizations along the SWB.