DEA Congressional Testimony
September 17, 2002

Statement of
Asa Hutchinson
Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration
Before the
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

Executive Summary

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is fully committed to aggressively targeting major international drug trafficking organizations. As part of this commitment, DEA's objectives include targeting and dismantling the networks and operations of these international cartels.

As the nations lead Federal drug law enforcement agency, the DEA works diligently to facilitate the objectives of the Andean Regional Initiative. The presence of the DEA in the Andean region has resulted in significant multi-national investigations and initiatives and noteworthy successes in the following ways:

  • Reduction of cocaine flow to the U.S. by nearly 100 metric tons since 1996
  • Decline of cocaine purity in the U.S. by nearly 10 percent since 1998
  • Federal indictment of FARC terrorist members
  • Apprehension of FARC terrorist Carlos Bolas
  • Extradition of 26 Colombian Nationals
  • Improved communication and cooperation between Host Nation Counterparts
  • Enforcement activity involving Priority Targeting, Sensitive Investigative Units, and Bilateral Task Forces
  • Intelligence Sharing with and between Host Nation Counterparts
  • Enhanced operational efficiency due to Andean region funding

Andean region countries face dramatic challenges, many of which are directly related to drug trafficking. DEA will continue to work in close partnership with our counterparts in these countries that are critical to DEA's mission. This is a partnership that we have invested substantial time and resources for the past twenty years and has yielded great success. The ultimate test of success will come when we bring to justice the drug traffickers who control their vast empires of crime, which bring misery to so many nations.

Chairman Biden, Co-Chairman Grassley, and distinguished members of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. It is a pleasure for me to appear before you today. I would also like to personally express my sincere gratitude to this Caucus for your unwavering and ongoing support for the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

I appear before you today to testify regarding the Andean Regional Initiative and how this initiative affects our nation's battle against illegal narcotics.


The strategic initiative known as Plan Colombia was based upon a proposal developed by the Colombian government to reduce the destabilizing influences damaging Colombia today. The Plan called for simultaneous approaches in ten areas to combat the crisis. These elements included economic reform, national security protection, judicial reform, and counter-narcotics enforcement.

In the counterdrug element of Plan Colombia, the Colombian government established six primary objectives designed to reduce the cultivation, processing, and distribution of narcotics by 50 percent. These objectives were to be accomplished within a six-year period. The United States Government appropriated $1.3 billion to fund this Plan.

The second phase of Plan Colombia was created and identified as the Andean Regional Initiative (ARI), in order to reduce the "spill-over" potential on neighboring countries. This initiative implemented strategic goals similar to those of Plan Colombia, in the countries of Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.


DEA has observed a limited "spill-over" effect in Andean countries with respect to cocaine and heroin trafficking. Colombian trafficking organizations are a dominant force in both Venezuela and Ecuador and, in addition, there are significant ties between elements of the FARC involved in drug trafficking and major drug traffickers in Brazil and Suriname. The Colombians traffickers, in alliance with other trafficking groups, have caused these nations to become transshipment points for cocaine and heroin. As a result of effective enforcement efforts, there has been a dramatic increase in Colombian heroin seizures in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama (See Chart). DEA reporting indicates that since 1999, heroin seizures have increased by 785% in Venezuela, 285% in Ecuador, 226% in Panama and 5.7% in Colombia. These seizure figures illustrate the importance of having a regional approach in combating drug trafficking.


The DEA continues to develop overwhelming evidence about the connection between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), other terrorist groups in the Andean region, and the drug trade. The U.S. State Department has officially designated the FARC, National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

An alliance of convenience between guerillas and traffickers is nothing new. Since the 1970s, drug traffickers based in Colombia have made temporary alliances of convenience with leftist guerillas, or with right wing groups. In each case, these arrangements are not grounded in common ideology, but rather to secure protection for the trafficking organizations drug interests. At other times, the drug traffickers have financed their own private armies to provide security services.

The FARC and ELN have routinely kidnapped U.S. citizens and attacked U.S. economic interests in Colombia. According to the 2001 U.S. State Department Annual Report on Global Patterns of Terrorism, 55 percent of all the terrorist acts in the world reportedly were committed in Colombia by the FARC or ELN. The report also claims that almost 85 percent of the terrorist attacks (219 attacks) against U.S. interests occurred in Colombia. Of these attacks, 178 reportedly were directed against the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline.

Since 1980, the FARC has murdered 13 U.S. citizens and kidnapped over 100 more, including the 1993 kidnapping of three U.S. missionaries, who now are believed dead. In May 2002, the Colombian Prosecutor General's Office charged Jorge Briceno-Suarez (aka Mono Jojoy) with the kidnapping and murder of the three U.S. missionaries. According to the investigation, Briceno-Suarez ordered members of the FARC's 10th Front to execute the missionaries. The brother of Briceno-Suarez, German Briceno-Suarez, also was charged in the investigation.

Recently, a high-ranking FARC member reportedly gave orders to specifically target U.S. personnel in Colombia. In late August 2002, the Colombian press reported that Colombian National Police intelligence confirmed that Briceno-Suarez had announced a decision by the FARC leadership to attack U.S. citizens residing in Colombia. Intelligence allegedly confirmed that the August 7, 2002, terrorist attacks in Bogota-the day of Alvaro Uribe-Velez' inauguration-were the work of the FARC.

Over recent months, there have been numerous reports of members and associates of the FARC exchanging cocaine or cash for weapons with arms suppliers from around the world. Although uncorroborated, these arms suppliers include criminals, revolutionary groups, and corrupt government officials from Mexico, Nicaragua, Russia, Venezuela, and other countries. Some of the weapons that allegedly have been exchanged for drugs include AK-47 rifles, M60 machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and MANPAD surface-to-air missiles (IGLS, STRELA, and Stinger missiles).

The Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) is a terrorist group operating in Peru that advocates the overthrow of the government in order to achieve their self-described form of "agrarian communism." The overlap of Peru's coca cultivation regions and the traditional Shining Path strongholds suggest their involvement in aspects of the local drug trade. Historically, the Shining Path has derived income from the taxation of coca production. U.S. State Department has designated the Shining Path as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

On March 20, 2002, a 60-kilogram car bomb exploded in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, killing nine people, one of whom was a Peruvian National Police Officer. There were no Americans injured or killed during the incident. Current investigations indicate that the Shining Path was most likely responsible for this attack.

This environment of civil unrest provides terrorists organizations, such as the FARC, with a ready-means of exploiting access to cocaine stocks for the purpose of securing weapons and munitions to facilitate their terrorist activities.


Since 1995, net coca cultivation in Colombia has more than tripled, from 50,000 hectares in 1995 to 169,800 hectares in 2001. When expressed in terms of potential cocaine base "output", Colombia's production has increased by 217 percent since 1995, from 230 metric tons in 1995 to 730 metric tons in 2001. Colombia accounted for 76 percent of the world's cocaine base production in 2001. Accordingly, Colombian traffickers have become far less dependent on Peruvian or Bolivian cocaine sources of supply than in the past.

Since the early 1990s, opium poppy cultivation in Colombia has rapidly expanded. With approximately 6,540 hectares of opium poppy under cultivation in 2001, Colombia potentially produced 4.3 metric tons of heroin. Production has risen fairly steadily since 1998, when Colombia produced about 2.7 metric tons of heroin. Capitalizing on existing cocaine smuggling routes, Colombian traffickers have effectively seized control of the heroin market displacing Southeast Asian heroin traffickers, who were dominant heroin distributors during the 1980's and early 1990's. Approximately 59% of the heroin seized in the United States is of Colombian origin as opposed to a combined 24%, which is estimated to arrive from Southwest Asia (16%) and Southeast Asia (8%).

Bolivia's cocaine production fell by 67 percent, from 240 metric tons in 1995 to 80 metric tons in 2000. This decrease in Bolivian potential cocaine production was largely due to unprecedented coca eradication, enforcement operations targeting essential chemicals, and decreased demand from Colombian traffickers. In 2001, production in Bolivia dropped by 25 percent, from 80 metric tons to 60 metric tons.

Peru's cocaine production decreased by 68 percent during the same five years, from 460 metric tons in 1995 to 145 metric tons in 2000. A combination of aggressive crop eradication, a persistent coca fungus in some growing areas, Peru's air interdiction program, and decreased demand from Colombian traffickers were key factors that led to this decline in potential cocaine base production. In 2001, production in Peru decreased by 3.4 percent, from 145 metric tons to 140 metric tons.



On March 7, 2002, a Federal indictment was unsealed against seven defendants, three of whom are members of the 16th FARC Front. This case, conducted by DEA's Bogota and Brasilia Country Offices, and the Government of Colombia, with assistance from the Department of Justice Criminal Division Attorneys, is the first time that members of a known terrorist organization have been indicted in the United States for their drug trafficking activity. The indictment charged that between 1994 and 2001, the commander of the 16th Front, Tomas Molina-Caracas, Carlos Bolas, and other members of the 16th Front, engaged in drug trafficking, and further alleged that Molina-Caracas collected cocaine processed in laboratories along the Guaviare River and sold it to international cocaine traffickers. This cocaine was ultimately transported to the United States, Brazil, Suriname, Paraguay, Mexico, and Spain. In addition, the 1st, 7th, 10th, 39th, and 44th FARC Fronts delivered to Molina-Caracas and the 16th FARC Front cocaine to be sold to international drug traffickers. According to the indictment, cocaine was sold in exchange for currency, weapons, and equipment.

The Bogota Country Office, Curacao Country Office, and the Surinamese Police developed a variety of intelligence and investigative leads concerning the whereabouts of former uniformed guerrilla FARC member Eugenio Vargas-Perdomo, a.k.a. Carlos Bolas. Vargas-Perdomo was indicted in the District of Columbia for conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. On June 18, 2002, Vargas-Perdomo was located and arrested. Subsequently, Surinamese authorities determined that Vargas-Perdomo was in Surinam illegally and expelled him from the country. On the same day, a DEA aircraft transported him to Washington, D.C.

On March 14 and 15, 2002, the Colombian National Police (CNP), in coordination with DEA Bogota Country Office (BCO), conducted several raids of cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) and cocaine base laboratories that were operated by different Fronts of the FARC. These three labs were located in the demilitarized zone (DESPEJE) near San Jose del Guaviare, Colombia. A combined total of seven tons of cocaine HCl and cocaine base and numerous pieces of documentary evidence were seized.

Current Colombian drug traffickers transport cocaine from Colombia, via maritime routes, through Mexico or the Caribbean Islands, to the United States. Coordinated go-fast boat and fishing vessel operations are very difficult to detect and interdict. However, in the last 20 months, the intercepting of the vessels, Forever My Friend, Svesda Maru, Atun X, Macel, Paulo and Maria Isabel, have led to the interdiction of approximately 71 tons of cocaine destined for the United States.

On September 2, 2002, Pedro Navarrete-Venganzones and Manuel Aviles-Duron were arrested by the Colombian National Police Sensitive Investigative Unit in Medellin, Colombia. Both defendants were principal members of a transportation organization and were responsible for shipping approximately 22 tons of cocaine through Mexico into the United States, since the late 1980's. The defendants were indicted in the Middle District of Florida for conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine into the United States and for money laundering.

An investigation by the Bogota Country Office, the Colombian National Police, and several other DEA foreign and domestic offices culminated on June 12, 2002, with Operation Juliet. This investigation/operation dismantled the international heroin and cocaine trafficking organization of Jose Jairo Garcia-Giraldo. Garcia-Giraldo's group coordinated and shipped multi-kilogram quantities of heroin and cocaine to the United States. As a result of this investigation, 16 individuals in Colombia were arrested, 46 kilograms of heroin, 21 kilograms of cocaine, and approximately 600,000.00 U.S. currency were seized. The Colombian National Police also seized a heroin-packing house used to conceal the heroin. Garcia-Giraldo was indicted in New York, is currently incarcerated in Colombia, and is awaiting extradition to the United States.


On August 13, 2002, the Venezuelan Guardia Nacional (VGN) seized 51 kilograms of heroin and arrested eight individuals, to include two Spanish nationals and six Venezuelan nationals at the Maiquetia International Airport in Caracas. The heroin was concealed in clothing, shoes, shaving cream canisters, shampoo bottles and other personal items. The investigation has revealed that nine individuals were traveling as a group of family members to New York, on a direct flight from Caracas.

On September 8, 2002, the Caracas Country Office, along with the Venezuelan National Guard (VNG), seized approximately 657 kilograms of cocaine, 15 "go fast" boats, a ranch, weapons, and communication equipment from the Juan Sanchez, a.k.a. Leon Cachito organization. Sanchez was arrested along with 15 other individuals. Subsequent to the initial seizure, law enforcement seized another 1,000 kilograms of cocaine. Sanchez is considered to be one of the top transportation specialists operating from Venezuela. Intelligence indicates that he has been shipping multi-ton loads of cocaine, on behalf of Colombian trafficking groups, for years.


On June 7, 2002, the Lima Country Office (LCO), the Peruvian National Police (PNP), and the LCO Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU), in coordination with the DEA Special Operations Division, Miami Division, Bogota Country Office and Mexico Country Office, culminated a six month investigation of Nelson Paredes-Ortiz. The investigation targeted a cocaine smuggling organization comprised of Colombian, Guatemalan, Mexican, and Peruvian violators. The investigation resulted in the seizure of 1760 kilograms of cocaine, $18,000.00 in U.S. Currency, a cocaine conversion laboratory, 1,520 kilograms of assorted chemicals, and equipment necessary for cocaine processing. In addition, 28 individuals were arrested as a result of this investigation. The lab is believed to have been capable of producing 600 kilograms of cocaine weekly.


On February 7, 2002, the DEA-supported Ecuadorian National Police (ENP) Canine Unit, while conducting inspections of flower shipments exiting Ecuador at the Quito International Airport, detected 19 kilograms of heroin secreted in plastic pellets within several hundred boxes bound for Miami, Florida. Follow up investigation by the DEA and ENP led to the discovery of 31 more kilograms of heroin destined for the United States.

The Ecuadorian port cities of Guayaquil and Manta are actively used by Colombian and Ecuadorian traffickers to send maritime shipments of cocaine to the United States. DEA investigations in these cities greatly contributed to the seizures of the vessel Svedsa Maru with 12 metric tons of cocaine, and the vessel, Forever My Friend, with 8 metric tons of cocaine.


The Brazilian Federal Police and the Sao Paulo Resident Office developed information that Colombian multi-ton cocaine distribution and trafficking cells had been established in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In May 2002, the Brazilian Federal Police seized 1, 238 kilograms of cocaine and arrested 28 members of the organization, including the cell leader, Luis Fernando Arismendy-Echavarria. Also as a result of the arrests, the Brazilian Federal Police seized documents that have proven to be valuable to subsequent DEA domestic and foreign investigations.


On July 24, 2002, the DEA Panama Country Office assisted the Panama National Police (PNP) in the arrest of six defendants (2 Colombians and 4 Panamanians) and seized 10 kilograms of heroin. Subsequent information developed from this arrest led to the discovery of a hidden basement in another location that contained an additional 6 kilograms of heroin, 300 kilograms of cocaine, and 260 kilograms of marijuana. Also discovered were 139 AK-47 Russian made rifles, 11 Dragonov sniper rifles, 1 Fal 7.62 rifle, two 45 caliber submachine guns, 247 AK-47 ammunition clips, and 598 rounds of 7.62 ammunition.

Regional Investigations

On December 12, 2001, DEA, in close alliance with its South American police counterparts, announced the results of Operation Seis Fronteras (Phase III). The multi-faceted operation resulted in numerous arrests, the seizure of significant quantities of liquid and solid chemicals, 94 laboratories, 81 kilograms of heroin, 5,490 kilograms of cocaine, and 1,163 kilograms of cocaine base.

As a direct result of the IDEC Conference in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the countries of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil participated in a coordinated regional operation, Operation Gran Chaco V. This operation was designed to interdict chemicals and drugs destined for the illicit market. The operation was conducted between May 20, 2002, and June 10, 2002, and yielded seizures in excess of 74 metric tons of sulfuric acid, 59 metric tons of dry chemicals, 28,976 liters of liquid chemicals, 78 kilograms of cocaine, two cocaine laboratories, as well as 58 arrests.

The DEA has noted in recent months an increase in the size of heroin shipments destined for the United States. Previously, couriers on commercial flights were the primary means of smuggling heroin to the United States. However, current DEA intelligence indicates that heroin has also been transported via commercial air cargo and maritime vessel in larger amounts. This trend may indicate that independent heroin trafficking groups are becoming more organized and are consolidating their shipments in a fashion similar to cocaine traffickers. In response to this threat, Operation Plataforma, a regional heroin enforcement operation that was carried out from April 15, 2001 until June 15, 2001, culminated in the seizure of 144 kilograms of heroin and the arrest of 85 defendants in Colombia, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The second phase of Operation Plataforma began in November 2001 after a multi-national planning meeting was held on October 23, 2001, in Bogota. Since the beginning of the second phase, approximately 1 ton of heroin has been seized.


Cocaine Purity in the United States

Purity levels of Colombian cocaine are declining according to an analysis of samples seized from traffickers. Since 1998, wholesale cocaine purities have dropped by nearly 10 percent.

This decline in purity may be attributable to several factors, including substantial DEA cooperative enforcement operations, the Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU) initiative, and Operation Purple, a DEA program which targets the illegal diversion of chemicals used in processing cocaine and other illicit drugs. Operation Purple, which involves 28 countries, restricts the supply of potassium permanganate and is thought to have an impact on the quality of cocaine base in the Andean region.

A second possible factor is that traffickers are diluting their cocaine to offset the higher costs associated with payoffs to insurgent and paramilitary groups in Colombia.

A third possible cause is that cocaine traffickers simply do not have sufficient stocks of product to simultaneously satisfy their stable market in the United States and their rapidly growing market in Europe. As a result, they are cutting the product to try to satisfy both markets.

At the same time, the street price of pure cocaine is rising in the United States. Cocaine abusers still pay the stable price of approximately $100 per gram price that has been in effect for the last several years, but they are now getting less pure cocaine for their money. The situation is comparable to a candy manufacturer's decision to either raise the price of its candy bar or to reduce the size of the candy bar and sell it at the same price.

In addition to the decline of cocaine purity levels, the importation of cocaine into the U.S. has decreased substantially. From 1996 to 1999, estimated cocaine flow to the U.S. declined by nearly 200 metric tons. From 1999 to 2001, estimated cocaine flow to the U.S. began rising again. However, overall estimated cocaine flow to the U.S. in 2001 was still down by nearly 100 metric tons, compared to 1996 levels.


Priority Targeting

DEA's Priority Targeting System is the mechanism within DEA that identifies and prioritize those highest level drug trafficking problems or drug trafficking organizations having the greatest impact on drug abuse in the United States. Based on an ongoing assessment process, DEA resources will be directed towards combating identified priority drug trafficking problems and organizations. The system provides for better measurement of field enforcement efforts, as well as resulting successes in these high priority enforcement initiatives. The Office of International Operations (OF) is attacking these Priority Targets on a regional basis due to the global nature of their operations. There are currently 22 listed priority target investigations in South America.

Bogota Heroin Task Force

The Bogota Country Office and the Colombian National Police have created a Heroin Task Force that coordinates all heroin investigations within Colombia, in cooperation with other South American countries and DEA domestic offices. The Task Force is comprised of 45 officers, working from five offsite locations in Colombia. This newly established task force initiates additional investigations against the major Colombian trafficking organizations. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees recently approved DEA's proposal to reallocate 13 foreign positions, including nine Special Agents, two Intelligence Research Analysts, and two administrative positions, to coordinate efforts with the task force.

The formation of this Task Force has significant importance for the U.S. because approximately 59% of the heroin seized in the U.S. is of Colombian origin. This is in contrast with an estimated combined total of 24% arriving from Southwest Asia (16%) and Southeast Asia (8%).

Sensitive Investigative Units

The Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU) program began in Colombia and has been used as a model since then for the formation of such units in other countries. This group of specifically trained and vetted police officers carry out highly sensitive investigations, which directly impact the United States and have been directed to target the command and control centers of Colombia's most significant drug trafficking organizations. There are currently four distinct SIU's operating in Colombia. They are divided based on their investigative responsibilities, which include high level investigations of major drug trafficking organizations, chemical investigations, and money laundering. The SIU's have offices located in the major cities of Colombia and are completely funded by DEA. This highly successful program has been responsible for the dismantling of numerous major drug trafficking groups since its inception. A residual benefit of this program is the long-term enhancement of the integrity and professionalism of law enforcement.

The DEA has also established other highly effective SIU's within the Andean Regional Initiative, including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil. Since FY 2000, DEA has trained 579 foreign law enforcement officers of the SIU program. These units, in concert with the local DEA office, have made significant contributions to the U.S. Government's Andean strategy.


Extradition is one of the most effective weapons available to the United States in the fight against Colombian drug trafficking organizations. The Extradition Reform Act of the Colombian Constitution, which allows for the extradition of Colombian nationals for crimes committed after the date of enactment, entered into force on December 17, 1997. Since that time, the Bogota Country Office, in support of DEA's domestic investigations, has been able to successfully coordinate the extradition of 26 Colombian Nationals.

Regional Intelligence Sharing with Host Nation Counterparts

In late November 2001, 25 Unified Caribbean On-line Regional Network (UNICORN) Systems were purchased and distributed to Host Nation law enforcement counterparts in nine South American countries. This on-line regional system is designed to improve effective communications and exchange of law enforcement information via electronic mail (e-mail). It has proven beneficial in sharing of interdiction and investigative information between local law enforcement agencies, as well as their neighboring counterparts and their respective DEA offices. To protect communications between the law enforcement agencies, encryption software has been integrated with the e-mail communications.


DEA's International Training Section provides substantial training for the Sensitive Investigative Units (SIUs) in the Andean regional countries. SIU members receive a five-week training course at the DEA Academy in Quantico, and selected members receive an additional two-weeks of enforcement intelligence training. In addition, International Training provides two-week bi-lateral training to other law enforcement officers operating in the Andean regional countries. The professional and specialized training provided by DEA is invaluable to the success of current and future enforcement and intelligence operations.

Andean Regional Funding

Although DEA did not receive direct funding through Plan Colombia and the Andean Regional Initiative, we have received substantial support from Congress through other Andean Counter-Drug Initiatives. In particular, DEA receives funding for Source Country Programs, Andean Ridge Programs, Sensitive Investigative Units, and the Riverine Program.

These programs, which were initiated in 1997, have provided DEA with immeasurable support and have greatly contributed to the many enforcement successes achieved by DEA and our host nation counterparts in the Andean countries. These Congressionally funded programs have allowed DEA to increase staffing in some countries, to create elite vetted police units, and to purchase the necessary law enforcement equipment.

The Bogota Country Office has used these funds to create four SIUs to fund jungle operations against cocaine laboratories, carry out regional operations to diminish the flow of essential chemicals, pay informants and purchase equipment necessary to collect valuable intelligence. The Caracas, Venezuela, Country Office has formed a vetted unit by combining the forces of the National Guard, the police and the prosecutor's office, and the Quito, Ecuador, Country Office has created an SIU, which has vigorously investigated maritime transporters of cocaine and heroin trafficking groups. In Tabatinga, Brazil, a joint intelligence complex has been established that joins the forces of Brazil, Peru and Colombia to interdict the flow of cocaine and chemicals along the river system.


The DEA remains committed to our primary goal of targeting and arresting the most significant traffickers in the world today. In particular, we will continue to work in close partnership with our counterparts throughout the Andean region. The DEA has invested substantial time and resources in this valuable partnership, resulting in many successful enforcement operations.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Caucus today. I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have.

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