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U.S.-Mexico Border Preferred Route for Cocaine Smuggling (DEA)

U.S.-Mexico Border Preferred Route for Cocaine Smuggling (DEA)

Statement of Donnie R. Marshall, Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, March 29, 2001. (Donnie Marshall testifies on drug trafficking on southwest border). Source: Washington File (EUR420), U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., March 29, 2001.

The U.S. border with Mexico continues to be the preferred corridor for drug traffickers to smuggle cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana into the United States, says Donnie Marshall, administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

In March 29 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Marshall said the problem highlights the "vulnerability of the U.S.-Mexico border to Colombian- and Mexican-based trafficking organizations intent on introducing drugs into the U.S. market."

He underlined the DEA's commitment to intensifying its efforts to curb drug trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border, and said that the administration of Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, "has given every indication of their intention to work as equal partners with American drug law enforcement, and we look forward to our future endeavors with optimism."

Marshall said he hoped that those new endeavors would include the extradition of major Mexican-based traffickers to the United States. Leaders of major drug trafficking organizations "fear the threat of extradition to the United States more than any other law enforcement or judicial tool," he said. "Extradition of significant traffickers ensures that those responsible for the command and control of illicit activities ... will be held totally accountable for their actions and serve a prison sentence commensurate with their crimes."

Following is the text of Marshall's prepared testimony: (begin text)

"Drug Trafficking on the Southwest Border"

Good Morning Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Scott, and other distinguished members of the Subcommittee. I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today for the purpose of discussing our continuing efforts to address issues and concerns associated with Drug Trafficking on the Southwest Border. As always, I would first like to preface my remarks by thanking the Subcommittee for its unwavering support of the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and overall support of drug law enforcement.

The border that joins the United States to Mexico is currently an extremely porous part of the nation's periphery. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2000, 293 million people, 89 million cars, 4.5 million trucks, and 572,583 rail cars entered the United States from Mexico. Unfortunately, the growing volume of commercial and pedestrian traffic that plays an integral role in our nation's economy creates an infinite number of opportunities for drug trafficking organizations to introduce their illegal goods into the commerce of the United States. Illegal drugs are hidden in all modes of conveyances, including the compartments of cars and trucks, and the bodies and baggage of pedestrians. Some organizations may employ couriers who cross the desert in armed pack trains, or who act as human "mules" by strapping the drugs onto their bodies. The means by which illegal drugs enter the United States range from extremely sophisticated concealment methods to simply tossing the drug laden package over border fences to be whisked away on foot or by vehicle. Drug trafficking organizations also utilize boats and ships to position their stash of drugs close to the border for eventual transfer to the United States.

Illicit drugs are smuggled in record levels into the United States via the 2,000-mile U.S./Mexico border. Over the past few years, Mexican based trafficking organizations have succeeded in establishing themselves as the preeminent poly-drug traffickers of the world, using our shared border to smuggle illicit drugs into the United States. These organizations present an increasing threat to the national security of this country, with voluminous amount of drugs, violent crime, and the associated corruption of public officials in Mexico. Mexico is the largest transshipment point of South American cocaine destined for the United States, and 65% of this cocaine reaches American cities via the U.S./Mexico border. Mexico also remains a major source country for heroin and marijuana, and many of these Mexican based trafficking organizations are utilized by Colombian Cartels to transship drugs destined for the United States.

Assessing the Threat: The Role of the U.S./Mexico Border in the Drug Trade

The drug threat presented by the U.S./Mexico Border is fairly consistent with the national drug threat, and to a certain extent, defines the overall drug threat against our nation. Clearly, the most distinguishable threat is the transformation and emergence of Mexican based trafficking organizations, whose activities now reach the highest echelons of the cocaine trade. Previously limited to marijuana and Mexican heroin smuggling, Mexican based groups have expanded and profited by maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with Colombian based traffickers.

The U.S./Mexico Border continues to be the preferred corridor to smuggle cocaine, black tar heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana into the United States. Overland smuggling constitutes a primary threat by secreting among the millions of pedestrians, cars, and trucks that the U.S. Customs Service (USCS) estimates cross the 39 legitimate crossing points from Mexico. There are 24 ports of entry (POEs) at the border as well as 15 additional crossing points. Some of these POEs include multiple points. Preliminary El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) statistics indicate that smuggling levels remained high: in CY-2000, authorities seized 17,660 kilograms of cocaine, 619 kilograms of heroin, 1,645 kilograms of methamphetamine, and 998,180 kilograms of marijuana along the U.S./Mexico Border.

These recent trends illustrate the vulnerability of the U.S./Mexico Border to Colombian and Mexican based trafficking organizations intent on introducing drugs into the United States market:

-- Cocaine is primarily transported from South America by vessel to the West Coast of Mexico and, to a lesser extent, the Yucatan peninsula, which is situated in the southeast portion of Mexico adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. The use of vessels to transport bulk shipments of cocaine represents a departure from the use of such modes of transportation as private aircraft and trucks utilized by drug transporters over the past two decades. From Mexico, bulk shipments of cocaine are then trucked to the United States, oftentimes secreted in produce and other perishable shipments.

-- Mexican black tar heroin is being smuggled into the United States in larger quantities than in the past; multi-kilogram seizures of heroin are becoming increasingly commonplace.

-- South American heroin is transported by courier on commercial airlines or by private aircraft from South America to Mexico, and then by commercial airline or by private or commercial vehicle to the United States.

-- The DEA Tijuana Resident Office (TJRO) reported that 13 methamphetamine labs had been seized in Baja, California in Fiscal Year 2001 as compared with three (3) seizures in Fiscal Year 2000.

-- MDMA is being smuggled into Mexico for ultimate transshipment to the United States.

-- On February 26, 2001, U.S. Customs and DEA investigated the discovery of a 25-foot tunnel

that took advantage of drainage lines that connect the U.S. and Mexico. A total of 375 kilograms of cocaine were recovered as a result of this effort.

Cocaine Trafficking Across The U.S./Mexico Border

Through the 1980s, most of the cocaine that entered the United States did so through the Caribbean and South Florida. Increased enforcement and interdiction efforts, however, forced traffickers to shift the majority of their smuggling operations to Mexico, a move that led DEA and other Federal agencies to mobilize along the U.S./Mexico Border. According to a recent interagency intelligence assessment, approximately 65 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States in 2000 crossed the U.S./Mexico Border.

Colombian based organizations rely on Mexican based groups in locations such as Guadalajara, Juarez, Matamoros, Sinaloa, and Tijuana to convey their cocaine into the United States. Mexican trafficking organizations have established themselves as transportation specialists for smuggling drugs across the U.S./Mexico Border. Frequently, these trafficking organizations are comprised of poly drug smugglers who transport marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin in addition to cocaine.

Over the past decade, Colombian based drug lords and Mexican based trafficking organizations have entered into a symbiotic relationship that has resulted in the Mexican based traffickers playing an increasing role in the cocaine trade. Under this arrangement, Mexican based traffickers often receive shipments of cocaine directly from Colombian based organizations, and contract with the source to deliver a portion of the shipment to a contact of the Colombian based network operating in the United States. The Mexican based traffickers are allowed to keep the balance of the cocaine shipment as payment for their services, transporting the shipment to Mexican-controlled wholesale distribution networks that principally operate in the Western United States.

By the mid-1990s, Mexican based transportation groups were receiving up to half of each cocaine shipment they smuggled into the United States on behalf of the Colombian based traffickers. By relinquishing a portion of the cocaine destined for the U.S. market to Mexican based drug organizations, as opposed to attempting to unilaterally control every aspect of importation and distribution, Colombian based drug lords radically changed the role and sphere of influence of Mexican based trafficking organizations in the cocaine trade. In doing so, the Colombian based traffickers have minimized their risk of exposure to U.S. law enforcement authorities, and provided Mexican based traffickers with a valuable source of revenue and domestic customers.

As a consequence of this development traffickers operating from Mexico now control a substantial proportion of wholesale cocaine distribution throughout the Western and Midwestern United States. Distribution of multi-ton quantities of cocaine once dominated by the Colombia-based drug traffickers is now controlled by trafficking groups from Mexico in cities such as Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. In addition to cocaine transportation, some drug trafficking groups operating from Mexico appear to offer a range of services, including wholesale cocaine distribution and money laundering for Colombian clients, and direct delivery to wholesale-level customers on behalf of the major Colombian based cocaine groups.

Routes and General Methods

Over the past two decades, cocaine was primarily moved by air and land into Mexico from Colombia. During the late, 1980s and early 1990s, traffickers used large commercial aircraft such as 727's and 737's, to move cocaine from South America to Mexico. Currently, maritime vessels are the most frequent method used to transport bulk shipments of cocaine to Mexico for ultimate distribution in the United States. Colombian based traffickers utilize fishing vessels to move cocaine usually to the West Coast of Mexico, and, to a lesser extent, the Yucatan peninsula. The cocaine is then off-loaded to a "go-fast" watercraft for final delivery to shore. Once secured on land, the drug shipments are consolidated for overland movement to the U.S./Mexico Border.

Traffickers continue to use trucking routes through Central America and Mexico to the U.S./Mexico Border. Cocaine shipments transported through Mexico or Central America are generally moved overland to staging sites in or near northern Mexico, although intelligence suggests that small aircraft may play a role in moving some cocaine to the border area. At these staging sites, the cocaine is broken down into smaller loads for smuggling across the U.S./Mexico border.

Three of the four primary cocaine importation points within the United States are located along the U.S./Mexico Border in Arizona, Southern California, and Texas. Cross-border cocaine shipments generally are smuggled across the U.S./Mexico border in concealed compartments within cars, trucks, and recreation vehicles, or commingled with legitimate tractor-trailer cargo. Typically, the land vehicles are driven across the U.S./Mexico Border, and then either left in parking lots for subsequent pick-up, or driven directly to storage sites in the United States. Using this method, traffickers are able to shroud their illegal activities in the tremendous numbers of people and vehicles crossing the U.S./Mexico Border. These cocaine shipments typically consist of 20 to 50 kilogram loads secreted in concealed compartments that are primarily located under floorboards and/or in gas tanks of passenger cars, pickup trucks, and vans. Larger quantities, however, have also been seized. For example, in October, 2001,109 kilograms of cocaine were seized at a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas. The cocaine was found inside boxes onboard a tractor-trailer, commingled with a shipment of tee shirts.

Cocaine also is carried across the U.S.-Mexico border by couriers known as mules, who cross into the United States either legally through U.S./Mexico Border ports of entry, or illegally through undesignated points along the border. The couriers typically carry small, kilogram quantities of cocaine, thus minimizing the losses incurred by the courier's controller in the event of robbery, theft, or law enforcement intervention.

Heroin Trafficking Across The U.S./Mexico

The U.S./Mexico Border is a significant transit point to the U.S. heroin market, not only for the Mexican black tar and brown heroin that dominate the markets west of the Mississippi River, but increasingly for South American heroin destined for the primary markets in the Northeast. Moreover, Nigerian and Southeast Asia based traffickers have been known to move opiate/heroin products across the U.S./Mexico Border.

Mexican Heroin

Mexican Black tar and brown heroin has been a threat to the United States for decades. It is produced, smuggled, and distributed by poly-drug trafficking groups, many of which have been in operation for more than 20 years. Mexican based heroin distributors operating within the United States have historically been Mexican nationals with familial and/or geographical ties to the States of Durango, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, and Sinoloa.

Mexican heroin primarily is smuggled overland and across the U.S./Mexico Border. Traffickers take advantage of easy border access and store bulk quantities of heroin in Mexico, where the perceived risk of discovery and seizure is low. When a transaction is arranged, the contracted amount, usually 1 to 2 kilograms, is smuggled into the United States, frequently by illegal aliens and migrant workers. By keeping quantities small, traffickers hope to minimize the risk of losing a significant quantity of heroin in a single seizure. Even large poly-drug Mexican organizations, which smuggle multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana, generally limit smuggling of Mexican heroin into the United States to kilogram and smaller amounts. Nevertheless, trafficking organizations employing this "piecemeal" strategy are capable of regularly smuggling significant quantities of heroin into the United States.

Recent intelligence indicates that some heroin traffickers are smuggling 5 to 30 kilograms of Mexican heroin in tar and powder form from the interior of Mexico, representing a departure from the previous practice of Mexican based traffickers, who smuggled heroin into the United States in 1-2 kilogram amounts.

As recently as January 2, 2001, 92 pounds of black tar heroin was seized by the U.S. Customs Service in Del Rio, Texas. In December, 2000, the U.S. Customs Service seized 59 pounds of black tar heroin at the Laredo port-of-entry. The U.S. Customs Service also reported several large seizures of black tar heroin at Arizona ports-of-entry. On October 3, 2000, for example, U.S. Customs Service Inspectors seized 101 pounds at the San Luis port-of-entry. This seizure ranks as one of the largest ever made along the U.S./Mexico Border.

Once heroin is smuggled into the United States, transportation is arranged to metropolitan areas in the western and southwestern states with sizeable Hispanic populations. Mexican heroin has also been transported to primary markets in Chicago, Denver, and St. Louis. Periodically, Mexican traffickers have attempted to find markets for black tar heroin in East Coast cities such as Boston and Atlanta. However, this effort at market expansion has, for the most part, met with failure. Although recent DEA cases have involved Mexican black tar heroin trafficking groups operating east of the Mississippi River, there has been no successful, long-term penetration of the East Coast heroin market by organizations selling Mexican-produced heroin.

South American Heroin

The availability of South American heroin, produced almost exclusively in Colombia, has increased dramatically in the Eastern United States since 1993. Despite having relatively limited production capacity, and relying on unsophisticated smuggling techniques, traffickers of South American heroin have had a substantial impact on the U.S. market. The traffic of South American heroin has been characterized by the production of modest quantities of the drug in small laboratories in Colombia, the smuggling of heroin in quantities of 500 grams to 1 kilogram by numerous couriers aboard commercial airlines, and distribution of the drug through traditional retail outlets in northeastern cities, primarily New York City, Newark, Boston, and Philadelphia.

In response to increased drag law enforcement presence at eastern ports of entry, some South American based heroin traffickers have sought out alternative routes. Recent seizures in 2000 and 2001 reflect an increasing use of Mexico to smuggle South American heroin into the United States. In February 2001, for example, two separate seizures of South American heroin, totaling 4.9 kilograms, were made at the airport in Tijuana, Mexico.

Methamphetamine Trafficking Across The U.S./Mexico Border

Over the last decade the methamphetamine trafficking and abuse situation in the United States changed dramatically. In the mid-1990s, methamphetamine trafficking and abuse increased in the United States, primarily in the West and Midwest. In 1997, this trend started to spread to a lesser extent, to the Southeast. The entry of Mexico-based trafficking organizations into the methamphetamine trade contributed to this resurgence.

Historically, outlaw motorcycle gangs and many independent dealers dominated methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking. Although independent trafficking groups continue to produce methamphetamine, in 1994, Mexican national drug trafficking organization operating in California and Mexico began to take control of the production and distribution of methamphetamine in the United States. From their experience in the trafficking of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, the Mexican organizations already had well established transportation routes. The entree of Mexican traffickers into the methamphetamine production and distribution trade in the early 1990s resulted in a significant increase in high-purity supplies of the drug.

In 1994, Mexican national drug trafficking organizations operating out of Mexico and California began to take control of the production and distribution of the methamphetamine in the United States. What was once controlled by independent regionalized outlaw motorcycle gangs was taken over by major Mexican organizations and independent operators based in Mexico and California. Mexican national trafficking organizations now dominate wholesale methamphetamine trafficking, using large-scale laboratories based in Mexico and the western and southwestern United States. Outlaw motorcycle gangs are still active in methamphetamine production, but do not produce the large quantities that are distributed by Mexican groups.

In the early to mid-1990s, Mexican organizations had ready access to precursor chemicals on the international market. These chemicals had fewer controls in Mexico and overseas than in the United Stated. The Mexican national organizations further developed existing international connections with chemical suppliers in Europe, Asia, and the Far East, and were able to obtain ton quantities of the necessary precursor chemicals, specifically bulk ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

From their experience in the trafficking of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, the Mexican organizations already had well-established transportation routes. Initially offering inexpensive, high-purity methamphetamine, the Mexican organizations ultimately gained a foothold in the existing United States market and expanded their operations. Since they produced their own drug, they maintained greater control of the methamphetamine market and reaped greater profits than with the distribution of other drugs. It should be noted that high-purity methamphetamine produced by the Mexican groups, in combination with the marketing strategy of providing free samples, created new population of addicts.

Until 1999, the methamphetamine problem was increasing at an alarming rate. International chemical control efforts, particularly the international "letter of non-objection" program enacted in 1995, reduced the supply of those chemicals needed to produce high-quality methamphetamine. As a result, the national purity level for methamphetamine, as well as amphetamine, has gone down dramatically. The average purity of methamphetamine exhibits seized by DEA dropped from 71.9 percent in 1994 to 30.7 percent in 1999, rising slightly to 34.6 percent in 2000. Emergency room mentions and overdose deaths involving methamphetamine show an analogous decrease.

With the success of the international efforts to control the flow of bulk ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, such as bilateral meetings and the letter of non-objection program, Mexican traffickers turned to tableted forms of the precursors in the U.S. In 1997 and 1998, the vast majority of methamphetamine laboratories operated by Mexican organizations that were seized in California obtained their precursor chemicals from sources in the United States. The Mexican organizations obtained their precursors from chemical wholesalers, rogue chemical companies, and back door/black-market sales of large quantities of ephedrine/pseudoephedrine tablets from unscrupulous retail and convenience store operators.

Marijuana Trafficking Across The U.S./Mexico Border

Drug trafficking organizations operating from Mexico have smuggled marijuana into the United States for over 20 years and are responsible for supplying most of the foreign marijuana available in the United States. Virtually all the marijuana smuggled into the United States, whether grown in Mexico or shipped through Mexico from lesser sources such as Central America, is smuggled across the U.S./Mexico Border.

Drug trafficking organizations employ a wide range of methods to transport the marijuana. The most common method is to smuggle marijuana in bulk quantities by truck and smaller quantities in vehicle tires, fuel tanks, seats, or false compartments. Traffickers use various vehicles to cross POEs; commercial vehicles, private automobiles, pickup trucks, vans, mobile homes, and horse trailers. Marijuana also is hidden inside agricultural products, and is smuggled across the border by horse, raft, and backpack. There are also sporadic reports of marijuana being smuggled via private aircraft; however, field offices do not consider border-crossings by air to be a significant threat. They do report that private aircraft are used to smuggle marijuana up to the border an the Mexico side where large quantities of marijuana are stockpiled. The primary routes for marijuana, however, remain the overland routes.

MDMA Trafficking Across The U.S./Mexico Border

In the future, Mexico may increasingly be used as a transit zone for MDMA entering the United States. In the year 2000, several seizures of MDMA en route or in Mexico were reported. For example, in September, 2000, Dutch authorities seized a 1.25 million-tablet shipment of MDMA destined for Mexico. On November 20, 2000, approximately 64,000 Ecstasy pills were seized at the Mexico City Airport.

Confronting the Threat: A Balanced Response

Given the expanse of the U.S./Mexico Border, it is clear that no single agency can "control" the border or completely filter illegal drugs from the massive quantities of legitimate commercial cargo that flow across our borders each day. Accordingly, DEA continues to implement a balanced approach to confronting the drug threat posed by the criminal organizations exploiting our U.S./Mexico Border. The elements of this approach range from capitalizing on the latest advances in telecommunications technology, to our adhering to basic, time-honored principles of interagency cooperation. As evidenced by the following program descriptions, DEA is continuously working to generate innovative enforcement initiatives that will serve to immobilize the most sophisticated international drug trafficking organizations operating today.

DEA's strategic approach to targeting major drug trafficking organizations is to initiate and pursue high-impact, intelligence-driven, multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction/multi-nation investigations that employ a combination of intelligence, investigative technology support, and the coordinated efforts of DEA and its federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement counterparts. By strategically and comprehensively targeting international command and control centers of drug syndicates based overseas in conjunction with their domestic entry and transshipment routes and local distribution points, DEA has been able to dismantle drug organizations in virtually all arenas. This approach requires DEA's foreign and domestic enforcement, intelligence, and technology elements to work collectively to transform isolated investigations into large-scale, multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction/multi-nation investigations.

In 1991, DEA established the Special Operations Division (SOD), a program that utilizes sophisticated technology to coordinate the investigative and intelligence resources of the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to target the command, control, and communications of major drug trafficking organizations. These investigations are also coordinated with attorneys from the Department of Justice's Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs section. SOD performs the following mission-critical functions:

-- Provides significant up-to-date, real-time intelligence to field investigators;

-- Coordinates and supports complex investigations and prosecutions of multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction, and international targets;

-- Focuses sophisticated Title III technology and assets against specific targets;

-- Manages and oversees DEA's contract linguist program and prioritizes use of limited Title III resources; and

-- Links and transforms isolated, local investigations conducted by single agencies into multi-agency, coordinated enforcement operations against multiple targets operating at regional, national, and international levels.

As the lead agency, DEA performs mission oversight responsibilities and provides the primary administrative services necessary to support the program's overall operations. DEA works closely with its partner agencies to set priorities and ensure a continued high degree of coordination and information sharing on supported investigations. SOD is currently staffed with a total of 228 personnel from DEA and other federal agencies. Of these personnel, 102 are DEA employees (48 Special Agents).

Southwest Border Initiative

One of DEA's primary functions is to coordinate the many drug investigations taking place along America's roughly 2,000-mile border with Mexico, an effort that involves literally thousands of federal, state and local law enforcement officers. As the threat from Mexican based poly-drug trafficking organizations continues to escalate, the workload steadily increases. Much of this increased workload is due to expansion by Mexican based traffickers into new geographic regions of the U.S., particularly the Midwest. Mexican based traffickers have become the world's preeminent drug traffickers, and their organizations are generally complex in nature and characterized by a high propensity for violence.

To counter this threat federal drug law enforcement has aggressively pursued drug trafficking along the U.S./Mexico border. Through a cooperative and coordinated enforcement effort, DEA, the FBI, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Customs Service, and state and local law enforcement agencies hav worked together to reduce the amount of illicit drugs entering the United States through the U.S./Mexico Border. The Southwest Border Initiative is intended to counter drug activity by Mexican and Colombian based drug trafficking organizations using the border to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States. The strategy is to attack major Mexican based trafficking organizations on both sides of the border simultaneously, employing enhanced intelligence and enforcement initiatives, and cooperative efforts with the Government of Mexico.

As indicated by the case examples below, the Southwest Border Initiative has built a record of success in targeting, immobilizing, and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations.

Operation Green Air (Marijuana) was a multi-jurisdictional investigation targeting a Mexican/Jamaican marijuana smuggling and distribution organization with ties to Traditional Organized Crime. The organization smuggled multi-thousand pound quantities of marijuana by trucks and other conveyances from Mexico through U.S. Ports of Entry in Southern California to warehouses in the greater Los Angeles area. Several corrupt warehouse employees shipped the marijuana via Federal Express to distribution cells on the East Coast. Operation Green Air culminated in April, 2000 with a nationwide takedown that resulted in the seizure of more than 15.25 tons of marijuana, $4,546,384 in U.S. currency, and the arrest of 106 individuals.

Operation Impunity II (Cocaine) was a multi-jurisdictional investigation targeting a Mexican drug trafficking organization responsible for the transportation and distribution of multi-hundred kilogram shipments of cocaine from Mexico to cities throughout the United States. This investigation targeted remnants of the Carrillo-Fuentes Organization and the Gulf Cartel Organization. Operation Impunity II culminated in December 2000 with a nationwide takedown that produced the seizure of 5,266 kilograms of cocaine, 9,325 pounds of marijuana, $9,663,265 in U.S. currency/assets, and the arrest of 141 individuals.

Operation Tar Pit (Heroin) was a multi-jurisdictional investigation targeting a Mexican heroin transportation and trafficking organization based in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico. Primarily, this organization imported multi-kilogram quantities of black tar heroin from Mexico into the United States. The heroin was transported to the greater Los Angeles area and distributed to organization cell heads throughout the U.S., including San Diego, CA; Bakersfield, CA; Honolulu, HI; Portland, OR; Denver, CO; Cleveland, OH; Columbus, OH; Pittsburgh, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Yuma, AZ; Albuquerque, NM; and Charleston, WV. In June 2000, a multi-nation takedown was conducted against Operation Tar Pit targets that included the principal Mexican command and control members in Mexico; U.S. based cell heads, workers for each cell, and couriers. This investigation culminated in the seizure of 64 pounds of black tar heroin, 10 weapons, $304,450 in U.S. currency, and the arrest of 249 individuals.

Operation Mountain Express (Pseudoephedrine) was a DEA operation that targeted traffickers of the methamphetamine precursor, pseudoephedrine. Existing regulations allowed DEA registrants to obtain multi-ton quantities of tablet pseudoephedrine from gray-market importers. California-based Mexican production organizations took advantage of this fact by purchasing ton quantities of pseudoephedrine for use in methamphetamine production. Since January 2000, several multi-jurisdictional investigations targeting pseudoephedrine traffickers have been conducted. For the first time in U.S. drug law enforcement history, the illicit trafficking of pseudoephedrine was traced from bulk importers to rogue registrants and eventually to pseudoephedrine extraction laboratories. Operation Mountain Express resulted in the arrest of 189 individuals and the seizure of more than 12.5 tons of pseudoephedrine, 83 pounds of finished methamphetamine, $11,100,000 million in U.S. currency, and real property in excess of $1,000,000.

Operation Gas Mask (Precursor Chemicals) is a recently completed investigation targeting a California based supplier of HCL gas to Mexican national methamphetamine production organizations. This investigation resulted in the seizure of 10 operational methamphetamine Super Labs, 5 pseudoephedrine extraction labs, 497 gallons of methamphetamine in solution, 140 pound of finished methamphetamine, and assets totaling $1.5 million. Additionally, Operation Gas Mask resulted in the arrest of 48 individuals including Mexican National laboratory operators, chemical brokers, the California based supplier of HCL gas and two suppliers of solvents and reagents.

Eduviko Garcia Organization (Mexican Methamphetamine) Recently, DEA concluded an investigation which targeted the Eduviko Garcia methamphetamine Organization. Garcia received methamphetamine through a Nuevo Laredo, Mexico based facilitator who in turn received methamphetamine from a variety of Mexican based sources. Methamphetamine seized in the Garcia investigation has been tied to Francisco Zarragoza, a methamphetamine source based in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Garcia investigation resulted in enforcement actions in the states of Texas, Indiana, Washington, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Kentucky and resulted in the seizure of 53 pounds of methamphetamine, 18 kilograms of cocaine, and the arrest of 50 individuals.

Other Enforcement Operations

Highway interdiction is central to drug enforcement, especially on the U.S./Mexico 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 (EPIC), but carried out by state and local law enforcement officials. The operations are carried out along the highways and interstates most often used by trafficking organizations to move illegal 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 that they seize, thereby expanding the scope of their own investigations. These programs consist of three elements: training, real-time communication, and analytical support. With support from EPIC, training schools in support of these programs are designed and delivered to state and local highway officers across the nation. The training and implementation of these programs are conducted in accordance with the Attorney General's guidelines for Fairness in Law Enforcement, and prohibit the use of race, ethnicity or nationality as the sole basis for initiating law enforcement interdiction of suspected drug traffickers.

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force

The mission of ONDCP's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program is to reduce drug trafficking activities in the most critical areas of the country, thereby lessening the impact of these areas on other regions of the country. The HIDTA program strengthens America's drug control efforts by intensifying the impact of drug control agencies through the development of partnerships between federal, state, and local drug control agencies in designated regions and by creating effective systems for them to synchronize their efforts.

There are 28 established HIDTA's and 43 Investigative Support Centers (ISC's), with EPIC serving as the "national hub" for the HIDTA ISC's. EPIC has re-organized to implement this mission and has created a new HIDTA Coordination Unit that serves has the focal point for EPIC's relationship with the HIDTA ISC's. DEA recently approved the placement of 14 supervisory Intelligence Analyst positions in selected HIDTA ISC's and has proposed additional Intelligence Analyst positions in the FY 2002 budget to further enhance intelligence support to the HIDTA program.

Since the initiation of the program in 1990, the HIDTA program has expanded to 28 areas around the country, including one HIDTA that is comprised of five partnerships along the U.S./Mexico Border. These HIDTA Southwest Border Partnerships are located in San Diego, Tucson, Las Cruces, W. Texas, and San Antonio, and address important local issues such as methamphetamine trafficking, commercial interdiction, and intelligence collection.

With a strong infusion of DEA intelligence analytical resources, guidance, and expertise, the HIDTA intelligence program has become part of the nationwide effort to develop effective mechanisms for the collection and sharing of intelligence information that can be applied in the enforcement arena.

Intelligence Operations

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 the interdiction operations conducted by other law enforcement. 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 front if ultimate success in diminishing the operational effectiveness of these organization is to be achieved.

Collocation of Law Enforcement Assets

In addition to conducting numerous joint investigations with the United States Customs Service (USCS), DEA is working to optimize the operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness of U.S./Mexico Border operations conducted with other DOJ components, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Public Law 106-553, which was signed by the President on December 12, 2000, states, "DEA is also directed to better coordinate its operations with other Federal Agencies, including INS and FBI, along the U.S./Mexico Border, and to pursue co-location of offices whereas practical."

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been drafted and is currently pending endorsement by administrative program managers from DEA, FBI, and INS. By adhering to the provisions of this MOU, the enforcement components of the Justice Department will coordinate the review of their respective facility lease terms, and determine compatible opportunities for collocation.


Drug trafficking organizations operating along the U.S./Mexico Border which are controlled by Mexican based kingpins continue to be one of the greatest threats to communities across this great nation. As a result of their alliances with Colombian organizations, Mexico based drug trafficking organizations increasingly have become organized, specialized and efficient with individual components steadily consolidating power and control over well-defined areas of responsibility and geographic strongholds. The power and influence of these organizations is pervasive, and continues to expand to new markets across the United States.

The DEA is deeply committed to intensifying our efforts to identify, target, arrest and incapacitate the leadership of these criminal drug trafficking organizations. The combined investigations of DEA, FBI, the U.S. Customs Service and members of other federal, state, and local police departments continue to result in the seizure of hundreds of tons of drugs, hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds, and the indictments of significant drug traffickers, and the dismantling of the command and control elements of their organizations.

Cooperative investigations will continue to serve to send a strong message to all drug traffickers that the U.S. law enforcement communities will not sit idle as these organizations threaten the welfare of our citizens and the security of our towns and cities.

The principal leaders of major drug trafficking organizations fear the threat of extradition to the United States more than any other law enforcement or judicial tool. Extradition of significant traffickers ensures that those responsible for the command and control of illicit activities, including drug smuggling and money laundering, will be held totally accountable for their actions and serve a prison sentence commensurate with their crimes.

In Mexico, the newly installed Fox Administration has given every indication of their intention to work as equal partners with American drug law enforcement, and we look forward to our future endeavors with optimism. Hopefully, these new endeavors will include the successful extradition of major Mexican based traffickers to the United States.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the Subcommittee may have at the appropriate time.

(end text)


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).