Karen P. Tandy
IACP Second General Assembly
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
New Orleans , Louisiana
October 16, 2007 10:00 a.m.

Note: Administrator Tandy frequently deviates from prepared remarks.

Good morning. I’m honored and humbled to be among so many valued colleagues, friends, and leaders of the global law enforcement community.

I ask you to remember a time 6 years ago—shortly after our country was attacked on September 11. Post-9/11 was an uncertain time for law enforcement. We faced a foreign threat within our own borders, and as Police Chiefs, you faced tough challenges. Many of you:

--reorganized your departments to create specialized homeland security units;

--reassigned officers from patrolling traditional targets to patrolling critical infrastructure;

--reduced your own forces to help expand others, such as the Air Marshals Program;

--lost officers from your front line who were military reservists mobilized to a foreign front line;

--And as your responsibilities increased, overtime costs did too.

And, it was no different within DEA. Many of the people and assets that we traditionally relied upon to do our job around the world -- from Colombia , South America to Columbia , South Carolina-- were reassigned, too – including some of your officers who were the backbone of our DEA task forces.

But, our new post 911 priorities did not eliminate the fact that traditional crime still had to be fought. Because you know that:

  • drugs drive crime in your neighborhoods
  • drugs remain the biggest threat to your communities and families, and
  • there is no way to keep the people safe who you are sworn to protect, when drug traffickers rule your streets;

And, we still faced the same reality after 911, that --

  • 2/3 of the men arrested across the US tested positive for illegal drugs;
  • Drugs were killing 10 times the number of people killed in the 911 attacks; and
  • The economic costs of drug abuse in America topped $180 billion a year.

None of us gave up. We worked together, and turned the challenges presented by 911 into an opportunity to hit drug traffickers and their operations in ways they never imagined.

At DEA, we stopped using that tired phrase – “you have to do more with less” -- and started looking for the traffickers’ Achilles Heel – that narrow chokehold where:

  • we could inflict the most damage with the least amount of resources; and
  • use the traffickers’ corrupt officials against them,
  • causing them to make mistakes that we capitalize on
  • to seriously disrupt their traditional lines of transportation for drugs, money and chemicals.

We devised a strategy that did just that—the Drug Flow Attack Strategy. With this international Strategy, we stepped up our game – in essence, we went from playing checkers to playing chess.

It is a calculated plan designed to destroy drug traffickers’ operating procedures, to turn their world upside down. Because anytime we force them to change their game plan, we make them vulnerable—and then we relentlessly attack that vulnerability. With just 3 enforcement operations using this strategy – we arrested more than 1,000 traffickers and seized more than 20 tons of cocaine, 50 tons of marijuana, 100s of kilos of heroin and methamphetamine, and more than $400 million.

About a year ago, DEA told IACP leadership about this international strategy, and they saw that it could have domestic applications. Over several months we worked closely with IACP to develop a domestic prototype. That prototype became an operation combining both domestic and foreign efforts, focusing on the violence-ridden corridor between Laredo , Texas and Nuevo Laredo , Mexico .

That operation was basically a carefully orchestrated bluff. Our partners in Nuevo Laredo , Mexico helped create an illusion by bringing 800 extra police officers to their city. Drug traffickers accordingly halted their activities. Then they waited until they thought the coast was clear.

Collaborating with DEA on timing and location, our Mexican partners moved all their police officers to another geographic area away from the Laredo corridor – all as a design to get the traffickers to think that law enforcement was gone. It worked.

The floodgates opened. Massive amounts of drugs started moving north, and massive amounts of money started moving south.

DEA and all our law enforcement partners on both sides of the border were ready. For weeks there was a spree of seizures:

  • one day the Texas Department of Public Safety seized 134 pounds of cocaine in a tractor trailer;
  • the next day, the Roma, Texas PD seized 23 pounds of coke in a passenger vehicle;
  • within a week, Customs and Border Patrol reported the seizure of more than $1 million at a Port of Entry in Laredo.
  • Another amazing part of this strategy is that it’s portable. The information gleened from this operation in Texas led to the seizure of $5.1 million hundreds of miles away in Atlanta .

This innovative strategy also resulted in:

  • The arrest of key traffickers, including a Guatemalan kingpin;
  • Traffickers’ changing their MO. We know that one decided to go back to the older, more arduous way of moving money, physically carrying smaller amounts rather than transporting in bulk in vehicles; and
  • The traffickers became more frustrated and more violent. And, as is all too often the case when we succeed, these vermin retaliated – they stalked Omar Ramirez-Aguilar, a respected Mexican Police Comandante and a loyal friend to DEA, and then riddled him with bullets, assassinating this husband and father of three.

This strategy can easily be adapted in your cities to fight drugs, gangs, and other organized crime. DEA and IACP developed a training seminar on how you can apply this strategy. You won’t want to miss the seminar at 2:00 today .

So that is one new way we found to fight drugs -- to become proactive, more strategic, and more leveraged.

The result is that out of the dark cloud of 9/11 came an unexpected silver lining. And that is, across our country, these innovative enforcement actions are greatly impacting both drug demand and supply.

No matter how you slice it – we are having success against drugs. Just look at reducing drug use -- we’ve achieved that—and achieved it with the most important generation we could: our teenagers.

840,000 fewer teenagers are using illicit drugs now than they were 5 years ago. That's enough teens to fill the Louisiana Superdome 12 times, and about the same number of people who crowd the streets of this city for Mardi Gras every year. And we’ve seen drug use among workers fall to its lowest levels in almost 20 years.

Your enforcement efforts keep drugs away from our children. Anyone who doubts that should have heard—like I did—Kate Patton, a mom who lost her daughter to an Ecstasy overdose, say to a room full of DEA agents: “I wish you had arrested my daughter, because if you had, she might still be here for me to hug.”

No matter how you slice it – we are having success against drugs. Just look at the smaller drug supply and increasing drug prices in our neighborhoods, even in our biggest cities.

We are now experiencing the longest sustained price increases for cocaine and meth we’ve ever seen. The average price for a gram of pure cocaine sold for about $95 in January, and by June, it spiked to $118—a quarter percent increase. And we saw that happen in almost every region of the country.

For meth, the average price per pure gram increased 37 percent. At the same time, purity of both drugs dropped: cocaine by 11 percent and meth by 24 percent. Traffickers are clearly having to stretch their drug supply.

No matter how you slice it – we are having success against drugs. Just look at how law enforcement turns a small piece of information from an informant, a highway stop, or a cell phone into an international case with tremendous impact on entire organizations.

A Task Force Officer from the El Centro Police Department in California took an anonymous tip, turned that tip into a 22-pound cocaine seizure, and then turned the seizure into one of the largest drug investigations in 25 years. The kind of investigation that ends up with 545 arrests and $56 million in cash, 4,400 kilos of cocaine, 28,000 pounds of marijuana, and 1,100 pounds of meth.

Instead of ending this seizure with a load of dope and an arrest, the officer started a state wire on the Mexican transportation cell responsible. From that, he identified co-conspirators from San Diego .

So, the TFO teamed up with another TFO there. They traded leads back and forth, and together, we ended up identifying a huge Mexico-based drug trafficking and money laundering organization with cells throughout North America, which was led by previously unknown drug lords who are now on the most wanted list of international drug traffickers.

The investigation eventually tied to more than 160 other DEA investigations from Arizona to Illinois to New York , and it sent ripples throughout the drug transportation network.

When the El Centro Police Officer began this investigation, he had been on the Task Force for just 2 weeks. That’s the impact you have—sometimes in a very short time—far outside your jurisdictions.

No matter how you slice it – we are having success against drugs. Just look at what the traffickers themselves are saying about how hard it is to move drugs and money in and out of this country.

  • A dealer in L.A., talking about cocaine said: “I have a lot of connection with people in that busness and no one has anything, everyone is waiting…the guy was going to have to raise (the price) significantly because there was nothing no where.”
  • Then in Oakland , about methampetamine: “There is none and it’s expensive…he used to get it for $9 ($9000)…the minimum now is $12 or $11.”
  • After the arrest of Zhenli Ye Gon, the man behind the movement of tons of meth precursor chemicals from China to Mexico and also the man from whom we seized a history-making $207 million, a defendant told us, “There was no methamphetamine in Mexico because a Chinese guy got busted.”
  • A defendant associated with the once powerful Mexican kingpin Benjamin Arellano-Felix, described him as “depressed, beaten, and broke.”

No matter how you slice it – we are having success against drugs. Just look at the record seizures of drugs, money, and assets.

We are crushing all previous seizure records – within 3 years, we went from seizing less than $500 million in drug assets a year to a staggering leap this year of more than $3 billion in drug assets.

And thebest part is that these funds go from the coffers of drug traffickers into the hands of state and local law enforcement to use against them. In the past 2 years, DEA’s asset sharing with you has increased by more than $100 million.

Given that post 9/11 we all have fewer people, fewer resources, more responsibility, and shifting priorities, there’s no reason why I should be standing here before you with such great news in the war against drugs.

Any measure of success you throw out there, we’re achieving. All of us, together. We’re making drugs more expensive, less potent, and more difficult to get. And, we are frustrating the traffickers at every turn—taking their operating funds, and forcing them to react to us, instead of the other way around.

The reason is because of your leadership –

  • Because you remained focused on narcotics during the tough times, and
  • Because, together, we found new ways to achieve the greatest impact with what we have left --
  • And at the end of the day –

There are 1,000s of moms and dads who will never have to stand before your officers, tearfully wishing you had arrested their child.