DEA Congressional Testimony
October 17, 2001

Statement by:

Asa Hutchinson
Drug Enforcement Administration

Before the:

Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation

Date: October 17, 2001

photo of Administrator Hutchinson

“The degree to which profits from the drug trade are directed to finance terrorist activities is of paramount concern to our nation and the DEA.”

-Administrator Hutchinson

Chairman LoBiondo, Ranking Member Brown, distinguished members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) strategy and role in combating drugs destined for the United States. I would like to begin by thanking the Subcommittee for its unwavering support of the men and women of the DEA in their ongoing efforts to enforce this Nation’s drug laws.

It is a distinct privilege to appear on this witness panel with Rear Admiral Cross of the United States Coast Guard (USCG). DEA and the USCG have an outstanding cooperative relationship that works to stem the flow of illegal drugs into our country.

I would like to talk to you today about three topics concerning our nation’s overall drug interdiction efforts. First, it is important to specify that DEA carries out its primary function as an Investigative law enforcement agency to confront and dismantle the world's most sophisticated drug distribution organizations. Second, I will provide an account of how we at the DEA attempt to use a seamless cycle of investigations, law enforcement intelligence, and interdiction in order to dismantle these drug trafficking organizations. And third, I will explain how DEA’s efforts relate to the specific function of drug interdiction, especially with the USCG and other federal agencies, is a critical component of putting these criminals out of business.

DEA has implemented a Strategic Plan that aggressively targets the highest levels of the most sophisticated international drug syndicates who control drug trafficking today. Most of these syndicates are headed by individuals living in Colombia or Mexico and they have many operatives living in the United States. These organizations smuggle drugs through the Source Zone, through the Transit Zone, and into the United States (Arrival Zone). Since these organizations are intricately interconnected and far-reaching, DEA uses a coordinated approach of investigations and intelligence, together with interdiction efforts lead by other elements of the government in order to dismantle these complex organizations. Clearly, drug trafficking is an international business that affects each and every one of us on a daily basis. Decisions made in Bogota or Mexico City have a direct and immediate impact on what occurs in our major cities across the United States.

Second, the DEA builds cases against these criminals. In short, we employ a coordinated and international approach. This approach creates a synergistic effect that benefits our overall drug law enforcement efforts. This process is not linear in nature and does not have as its primary end the interdiction of shipments of illegal drugs. DEA is not focused on interdicting drugs, rather we focus on permanently removing the organizations that produce and distribute these drugs.

DEA targets these drug trafficking organizations’ command and control including communications and infrastructure with our investigative efforts. DEA’s investigations frequently acquire quality law enforcement intelligence about their inner workings. Through the hard work and dedication of DEA employees worldwide, and other police investigators and prosecutors with whom we work, we find out the who, what, when, and how of the illicit drug businesses which ultimately impact upon communities across our nation. This information is used to target and eventually neutralize major drug trafficking organizations that erode the quality of life here in the United States.

The third point I would like to make is how DEA efforts relate to the interdiction of illegal drugs into our country. For us, the interdiction of drugs is often the beginning of an investigation rather than the final goal. DEA can assist other federal and local organizations by passing on information related to drug seizures and we can also benefit by receiving interdiction information, which often leads us to the highest levels of the drug trade. DEA compiles law enforcement intelligence into a threat assessment that gives a more detailed picture of the drug trafficking situation. DEA distributes this information to other interdiction agencies to support the interdiction of drug shipments, which is traditionally handled by the USCG, United States Customs Service (USCS), and selected support components of the Department of Defense (DOD). The information gathered from these seizures also feeds into our investigations and law enforcement intelligence initiatives, allowing us to indict and arrest these criminals pursuant to domestic prosecution.

I would like to direct your attention to the chart titled Major Corridors into the United States. This chart displays the countries which make up the Source Zone, Transit Zones, and Arrival Zones. In addition, this chart shows current routes utilized by drug traffickers. These routes are identified as the Caribbean Corridor, West Caribbean, and East Pacific.

As you can see from this chart, the majority of these trafficking routes require the utilization of maritime vessels and aircraft by the traffickers due to the large areas of water encompassing these routes. The drug traffickers will utilize different types of maritime vessels to smuggle illegal narcotics ranging from go-fast boats to fishing boats to large freighters. Other traffickers will utilize aircraft of various sizes to transport their narcotics from the Source Zone through the Transit Zone and ultimately to the Arrival Zone. This is where the USCG, USCS, and other selected support components of DOD play such a vital role in the interdiction process. These agencies have the proper assets to perform the maritime and aerial interdiction of drug shipments utilizing these trafficking routes.

Map showing Major Drug Trafficking Corridors into the United States, from South America through the Caribbean and the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

DEA/Coast Guard Joint Initiatives

The DEA and the USCG work in close cooperation and support of each other often sharing intelligence that leads to large drug seizures and the arrest of major traffickers. DEA and the USCG have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which details what responsibilities are carried out by each respective agency.

DEA and the USCG participate in several joint initiatives with other federal law enforcement agencies and support components of the DOD. These initiatives include: United States Interdiction Coordinator (USIC), Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) East and West, El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), and Operation BAT (Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos).

DEA and the USCG have numerous significant investigations as a result of their cooperation. Examples include:

  • In February 2001, DEA developed intelligence information that was passed to a Coast Guard Watch officer at EPIC, who issued a vessel lookout on the Forever My Friend. A USCG Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) onboard the USS John Young utilized this information, boarded the vessel, and seized 17,769 kilos of cocaine. This seizure occurred in the East Pacific Corridor and resulted in nine arrests. This investigation is currently ongoing.

  • In May 2001, DEA developed intelligence that was passed to a Coast Guard Watch officers at EPIC, who issued a vessel lookout on the Svesda Maru. A Coast Guard boarding team seized approximately seventeen metric tons of cocaine on board the ship. This seizure again occurred in the East Pacific Corridor and resulted in ten arrests at this point. This investigation is currently ongoing.

  • On July 27, 2001, the US Coast Guard Cutter NUNIVAK seized a shipment of 119 kilos of cocaine south of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Two go-fast boats originating from St. Maarten were intercepted after they received a maritime shipment from an unidentified vessel that left from Colombia. The intercept of this vessel resulted from a DEA and USCG investigation into maritime drug trafficking into Puerto Rico. This seizure occurred in the Caribbean Corridor.

  • On August 26, 2001, the DEA provided the US Coast Guard Cutter AQUIDNECK with information that a go-fast vessel ran aground on Dog Island, St. Maarten. The AQUIDNECK and a Dutch Coast Guard vessel searched the area and found the go-fast boat, resulting in the seizure of 560 kilos of cocaine. This seizure occurred in the Caribbean Corridor and is currently ongoing.

  • Acting on DEA information, the HMS Coventry with an embarked US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment and Belize law enforcement seized a shipment of approximately 1,200 kilos of cocaine near Hicks Cay, Belize on September 4, 2001. This shipment was transported by a drug trafficking organization located on the North Coast of Colombia and was moved on a 35-foot go-fast boat. This seizure occurred in the West Caribbean Corridor. No arrests have been made as a result of this seizure as of this date. This investigation is currently ongoing.

  • Acting on DEA information, the USCG Cutter MATINICUS intercepted a go-fast boat from St. Maarten southeast of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands on September 22, 2001. The USCG crew found 22 bales of cocaine that yielded approximately 500 kilos of cocaine. This seizure occurred in the Caribbean Corridor. Three people have been arrested and this continues to be an ongoing investigation.

The recent terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have stretched the assets and abilities of many government agencies to unprecedented levels adding the mission of homeland defense to already critical tasks. I recently testified before Congress regarding the connection between international drug trafficking and terrorism. This connection defines the deadly, symbiotic relationship between the illegal drug trade and international terrorism. The degree to which profits from the drug trade are directed to finance terrorist activities is of paramount concern to our Nation and the DEA. These terrorists, as well as drug trafficking organizations, demonstrated that they have attempted to overwhelm the defenses of individual nations. Therefore, it is incumbent on all nations to structure law enforcement operations that can dismantle these formidable sophisticated terrorist and drug trafficking organizations. The United States must do all it can to ensure that no nation on this hemisphere, large or small, is left to face these terrorist and traffickers alone.

Recently, Admiral James M. Loy of the USCG testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries on October 17, 2001. During his testimony, Admiral Loy advised that since the September 11, 2001 attack, over 55 cutters, 42 aircraft and hundreds of small boats have been underway aggressively patrolling domestic ports and coastlines. Admiral Loy also stated that these assets had to be diverted from other essential missions.

The DEA and the Coast Guard understand that some of their assets must be utilized in homeland defense to ensure the safety of our nation. However, a balanced approach needs to be taken to ensure that assets are left in place in these trafficking routes to monitor and interdict these illegal drugs. Interdicting and arresting drug traffickers is an essential part of our Homeland Defense. We cannot provide any opening to drug traffickers who target our nation’s youth during this critical time in our history. Aggressive interdiction of drugs prevents drug traffickers and terrorists from deriving income as a result of their criminal activities. The partnership of drug traffickers and terrorist will challenge the resilience of all law enforcement agencies, and will necessitate our perpetual vigilance against the threats they present. DEA will continue to aggressively identify and build cases against drug trafficking organizations contributing to terrorism. In doing so, we will limit the ability of drug traffickers to use their destructive goods as a commodity to fund malicious terrorist’s assaults on humanity and the rule of law.

Thank you for the opportunity to address this Subcommittee on this important topic. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

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