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Written testimony of ICE for a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing titled “A Dangerous and Sophisticated Adversary: The Threat to the Homeland Posed by Cartel Operations”Release Date:February 16, 2017
ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) leverages its broad authority, unique investigative tools and global footprint to secure our borders. We work in close coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and many other domestic and international law enforcement and customs partners to target TCOs. Today, I will provide ICE’s perspective on the sophisticated smuggling threats that we face on our Southwest border, the approaches that lead up to our border and some of what we do to address TCOs and their smuggling activities before contraband arrives at our borders, and even in the interior of the United States.
The Cartels along the Southwest Border
The primary Transnational Criminal Organizations that threaten the Southwest Border of the United States are Mexican Drug Cartels (the Cartels). Over the last decade the United States, working with our Mexican law enforcement and military counterparts, has had sustained success in attacking Cartel leaders, as evidenced by the recent extradition of Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka “El Chapo”, to face prosecution in the United States. However, every law enforcement success against the Cartels is challenged by the fact that the Cartels are highly networked organizations with built in redundancies that adapt on a daily basis based on الاوقات التي يرتفع فيها سعر الذهب في السعودية 2013 their intelligence about U.S. border security and law enforcement.
I have brought with me today a troubling graphic that represents the interagency assessment of where the various Cartels in Mexico operate and the “approaches” or “corridors” that each controls along the U.S. Southwest border. Mexican cartels, notably Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartels, stretch across and beyond the Southwest Border, operating through networks and loose affiliations with smaller organizations in cities across the United States. The areas controlled by each Cartel have evolved over time, often as a result of U.S. or Mexican law enforcement successes that have weakened Cartel influence in certain areas, and as alliances between cartel leadership shifts over time.
In addition to drug smuggling, another criminal threat that we face along our Southwest Border is human smuggling. One, of the questions we are often asked is whether human smuggling organizations are part of the Cartels or operate as distinct criminal enterprises. Based on HSI investigations and intelligence, it is our opinion that, although alien smuggling organizations pay taxes and fees to the Cartels to smuggle in a specific geographic area, they are generally run as distinct criminal enterprises in both Mexico and the United States. Certain members of these criminal enterprises control the major drug markets and others control a portion of the border on behalf of their cartel. We believe that these drug Cartel leaders and associates play a coordinating role in the immediate border areas, dictating when and where human smugglers will be allowed to cross the border. This coordination ensures human smugglers and their human cargo do not bring unwanted law enforcement attention, particularly in the United States, to their smuggling efforts. Our investigations have shown that when human smugglers do not heed warnings from drug smuggling organizations about where and when they smuggle, they can be targeted for physical violence, including murder, by Cartel members.
Smuggling Trends along the Southwest Border
As many of the members of this Subcommittee know firsthand, the Southwest Border is a very diverse environment, starting with a maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Pacific Ocean that transitions to vast land border areas that include rivers, rural agricultural lands and densely populated urban areas along the nearly 2,000 miles of our border. In response to these vastly different areas, the Cartels adapt their methods and cargo to the smuggling environment. From an operational point of view, this means that there is not a single strategy, tactic or technology that will succeed in eliminating the smuggling threat on every part of the Southwest Border.
Mexico is a major source and transit country for illicit drugs destined for the U.S., including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and, more recently, fentanyl. Intelligence reports indicate that Mexico is not only a source country for the production of fentanyl, it is also a transit country for fentanyl originating from Asia. Finally, in the last two decades, Mexico has also become the largest transit country for South American sourced cocaine destined for the U.S.
As a result of Mexico’s dominant role as either a source or transit point for illicit drugs destined for the U.S., it has also become a primary destination for the illicit proceeds that the Cartels earn from the distribution networks in the U.S. Mexican cartels use a variety of techniques to repatriate illicit proceeds, from bulk cash smuggling to sophisticated trade-based money laundering schemes. Many of the more complex techniques rely on third party money launderers and corrupt financial institutions.
To give you a sense of the variety of smuggling challenges that we collectively face, it is important to start by talking about the specific drug threats, smuggling methods and modes used across the spectrum of the Southwest border.
Mexico has become the most significant source of heroin consumed in the United States, and according to the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, the U.S. government estimated that Mexican Cartels’ potential production of heroin was 70 metric tons in 2015, a 66 percent increase from 2014. The purity of Mexican-produced heroin has also increased over time, making it more marketable because it can be smoked or snorted as well as injected intravenously.
The Mexican Cartels have quickly added fentanyl to their smuggled drugs in response to the explosion of opiate abuse in the United States. . Based on recent seizures it has been learned that smugglers are mixing fentanyl in contraband loads also containing heroin and/or methamphetamine, reinforcing the poly-drug nature of the Cartels. While U.S. law enforcement continues to assess how much of the fentanyl market in the United States is supported by Mexican-sourced fentanyl, the size of individual seizures and the proximity of Mexico to the U.S. drug market is a troubling sign.
Mexico is a transit country for South American-sourced cocaine. Cocaine is almost exclusively seized at POEs in non-factory compartments of privately owned vehicles (POVs). Alternatively, the cocaine may be deeply concealed within commercial conveyances and cargo shipments.
The majority of methamphetamine consumed in the United States is now produced in Mexico using precursor chemicals from Asia. Methamphetamine is almost exclusively seized in non-factory compartments of POVs. The second most common method of smuggling methamphetamine is by pedestrians who secrete it on their bodies or within body cavities. Methamphetamine is seized in both crystalline and liquid forms.
As I mentioned earlier, the Mexican Cartels cultivate marijuana, with Mexico being the largest foreign supplier of marijuana to the U.S. drug market. The majority of the marijuana seized by DHS agencies is seized as it is being smuggled between the Ports of Entry (POEs). When marijuana is seized at U.S. POEs it is most often found concealed among commercial cargo shipments.
Southwest Border Smuggling Methods and Related Challenges
Recognizing that the border in Southern California is different than the border in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the Cartels adapt their smuggling methods to suit a specific area. The unifying goal of all smugglers is to try to blend into normal traffic in a given area in order to avoid law enforcement attention. On a daily basis the Cartels conduct surveillance of law enforcement operations along the border, principally focusing on CBP operations at and between the POEs. As the Department changes its tactics and techniques, or introduces new technology and infrastructure, the Cartels adapt their operations and probe our border security to determine the best way to accomplish their goals.
Land Ports of Entry
At POEs along the Southwest land border, smugglers use a wide variety of tactics and techniques for concealing drugs. Our special agents work every day with CBP officers from the Office of Field Operations to identify, seize, and investigate drug smuggling organizations that attempt to exploit POEs to introduce drugs into the United States. Within the POE environment there are three distinct threat areas exploited by the Cartels: Pedestrians; POVs; and Commercial Cargo. Pedestrians are primarily used to smuggle cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine on or within their bodies. POVs are used to smuggle cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and marijuana, often using deep concealment methods like non-factory compartments, gas tanks and other voids. At Commercial POEs, the Cartels utilize commercial tractor trailers to commingle narcotics with legitimate commercial goods or to conceal the narcotics within the tractor trailers themselves.
The Cartels also attempt to exploit CBP programs that facilitate the expedited entry of travelers and cargo into the United States. CBP seizures and ICE investigations have documented smuggling organizations’ attempts to exploit the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) and Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Programs.
The Cartels also use spotters/scouts and counter-surveillance techniques both at and between the POEs in order to increase their chances of success in smuggling ventures. Spotters/scouts watch and report on border law enforcement activities.
Between the Ports of Entry
The Cartels use the areas between the POEs primarily to smuggle marijuana in bulk. In these areas, the Cartels use a variety of techniques that are tailored to the terrain and other environmental factors. In Texas, the Rio Grande River creates a natural barrier that poses unique challenges for the U.S. Border Patrol.
Outside of urban areas along the land border, one tactic used by the Cartels is vehicle incursions, or “drive-throughs,” whereby smugglers breach the border by either going over or through border fences. Smugglers move vehicles over the fence using ramps or, on more rare occasions, lift vehicles over the fence using cranes. Going through the fence involves cutting fence panels and lifting them up or creating a gate in the fence allowing a vehicle to pass through. Vehicle incursions often rely on networks of scouts that are staged on the area’s highest points to warn them of U.S. Border Patrol or other law enforcement presence.
In areas where the Cartels cannot conduct vehicle incursions, they have experimented with ways to throw or launch marijuana bundles over the fence to co-conspirators waiting in the United States. Recently, we have seen Cartel attempts to use air or propane cannons to launch bundles of marijuana weighing more than a hundred pounds over the border fence.
Another tactic Cartels use in remote areas between the POEs is to have backpackers carry bundles of marijuana on their backs using improvised backpacks made of burlap or other materials. Backpackers often travel in groups and have been known to travel for days before getting to pre-designated locations where they are picked up by other members of the organization in the United States.
Smuggling by general aviation aircraft from Mexico has not been a significant threat since the late 1990’s. However, in the last decade we have seen the Cartels experiment with the use of ultralight aircraft to smuggle marijuana in Arizona and eastern California. More recently we have also seen the Cartels experiment with the use of small recreational drones to smuggle very small quantities of drugs, often just a couple of pounds.
In 1990 the first cross-border tunnel was discovered in Douglas, Arizona. Since that time a total of 194 tunnels (both completed and in progress) have been located along the Southwest Border, primarily in Arizona and Southern California. The discovery of illicit subterranean tunnels is evidence that smugglers are moving away from traditional smuggling techniques due to enhanced law enforcement efforts. In recognition of the significant smuggling threat present in Arizona and San Diego, ICE leads two Tunnel Task Forces in San Diego and Nogales under the auspices of the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Program, described in more detail below.
As infrastructure, technology and staffing have been added to the border in the San Diego area, we have seen an increase in maritime smuggling of marijuana from Mexico to California coastal areas north of San Diego. The Cartels use pleasure boats or small commercial fishing vessels known as “Pangas” that are able to achieve relatively high speeds under the cover of darkness to attempt to evade detection by CBP and USCG surface patrol vessels and patrol aircraft. Bulk quantities of cocaine are seized along the maritime approaches to our border during the transportation phase through either the Eastern Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea prior to being broken down into much smaller loads for transport along land routes through Central America and Mexico.
One of the major factors allowing the Cartels to sustain their existence and proliferate is public corruption in both Mexico and the United States. In Mexico, the Cartels rely on corrupt Mexican law enforcement and other public officials at every level of government to operate. U.S. law enforcement is not immune to corruption by the Cartels, who have used corrupt law enforcement officers from CBP, ICE and other Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies to avoid seizures and arrests.
Attacking Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs)
In response to the smuggling threat along the Southwest Border, we have assigned more than 1,500 special agents and almost 150 intelligence research specialists to our Southwest Border offices.
In fiscal year (FY) 2016, HSI drug smuggling investigations conducted by the five HSI Special Agent in Charge Southwest Border offices resulted in 5,659 criminal arrests, 3,941 indictments, 3,383 convictions and 330 administrative immigration arrests. We have continued to collaborate with our partners in Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies to identify, target, investigate, disrupt, and dismantle the Cartels. The following is a list of the various initiatives we use to combat TCOs:
DHS Joint Task Forces
In 2015 the Secretary of DHS created three Joint Task Forces (JTFs) to address the smuggling threats identified in the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan. Two of the JTFs, JTF East (JTF-E) and JTF West (JTF-W), are geographically focused task forces that concentrate on the southern land and maritime border of the United States and the approaches to our border all the way to Central and South America. HSI has provided Senior Executives to serve as the Deputy Directors of JTF-E and JTF-W, as well as staff-level support in the JTF-E and JTF-W Joint Staffs.
ICE has been designated as the executive agent for the third Joint Task Force, Joint Task Force Investigations (JTF-I), with other DHS components supporting. JTF-I is a joint, integrated, “functional” task force that has the responsibility of targeting top-tier criminal investigations and supporting JTF-E and JTF-W. The success of JTF-I in these diverse environments depends upon a high level of cooperation among HSI and our Federal, State, local, and foreign partners in consolidating resources and leveraging unique international maritime authorities in combating TCOs.
Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST)
Our BEST units employ a threat-based/risk mitigation investigative task force model that recognizes the unique resources and capabilities of all participating law enforcement partners. This model enables each unit to apply a comprehensive approach to combating TCOs, while recognizing the distinctive circumstances and threats facing the various border environments, be it land borders, seaports or airports. Additionally, BEST units are designed to incorporate other DHS-partner agencies, including CBP and the Transportation Security Administration, and are vehicles for establishing unity of effort, the cornerstone of a successful DHS mission. BEST units further solidify HSI’s role as the primary investigative entity for DHS.
We continue to expand the BEST program, which currently operates in 44 locations throughout the United States. BEST leverages more than 1,000 Federal, State, local, and foreign law enforcement agents and officers representing over 100 law enforcement agencies. BEST also provides a co-located space that allows for collaboration in conducting intelligence-driven investigations aimed at identifying, disrupting, and dismantling TCOs that operate in the air, land, and sea environments. In FY 2016, the BEST program accounted for 3,710 criminal arrests, 991 administrative arrests, and prosecutors obtained 2,248 indictments and 1,923 convictions.
Money Laundering Efforts
The Cartels move illicit proceeds, hide assets, and conduct transactions globally. Among the various methods Cartels use to transfer and launder their illicit proceeds are bulk cash smuggling, Trade Based Money Laundering, funnel accounts and professional money launderers, and misuse of Money Service Businesses (MSB) and emerging payment systems. The Cartels exploit vulnerabilities in the financial system and conduct layered financial transactions to circumvent regulatory scrutiny, which presents difficulties for authorities attempting to distinguish between licit and illicit use of the financial system. HSI has refined our ability to target money laundering and financial violations through various techniques, to include interagency investigations, training and capacity-building, targeted financial sanctions, and direct engagement with at-risk financial institutions and jurisdictions.
U.S. Anti-Money Laundering laws and regulations impose customer identification, recordkeeping, and reporting obligations on covered financial institutions that help deter criminals from moving illicit proceeds through the financial system. These preventive measures also create valuable evidentiary trails for law enforcement to employ during an investigation. As such, HSI has an abundance of investigative tools in our arsenal to disrupt and dismantle Cartel money laundering operations as well as to discourage new actors from engaging in illicit activity.
Our National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center (BCSC), located in Burlington, Vermont, generates long-term, multi-jurisdictional bulk cash investigations by analyzing incident reports and conducting intelligence-driven operational support to field offices. When contacted by Federal, State, and local law enforcement for support, the BCSC assists that jurisdiction as much as possible by engaging the full scope of its law enforcement intelligence data sources and referring requests for assistance to local HSI field offices for immediate response. Since its inception in August 2009, the BCSC has initiated or substantially contributed to over 1,428 investigative leads, which have yielded 1,182 criminal arrests, 747 indictments, 546 state or federal convictions, and seizures of bulk cash totaling over $326.5 million.
HIDTA - High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Forces
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program was initiated in 1990 by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in order to designate certain geographical areas as having especially high concentrations of drug trafficking activities such as distribution, transportation and smuggling. The HIDTA Program provides these areas with federal funding, which supports coordinated law enforcement counter drug efforts.
The ONDCP designates geographic areas as HIDTAs and allocates federal resources to establish formal cooperative law enforcement efforts between local, State, and Federal drug enforcement agencies. HSI, using its combined immigration and customs authorities, leads several HIDTA initiatives along the Southwest Border.
The OCDETF Program allows our Special Agents to partner and collaborate in investigations using our unique and far reaching authorities to enforce and regulate the movement of carriers, persons, and commodities between the U.S. and other nations. We have dedicated personnel on all eleven OCDETF co-located Strike Forces. These Strike Forces logically extend the OCDETF program beyond the creation of prosecutor-led task forces that join together on case-specific efforts and then disband at the end of the investigation. Now, permanent task force teams work together to conduct intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations against the continuum of priority targets. We also participate in the OCDETF Fusion Center, which support investigations of TCOs through interagency coordination.
International Partners and Cooperation
ICE HSI works closely with our Federal law enforcement and international partners to disrupt and dismantle TCOs. We have 63 offices in 47 countries and are uniquely positioned to utilize established relationships with host country law enforcement, to include the engagement of Transnational Criminal Investigative Units (TCIUs). These TCIUs are composed of DHS-trained host country counterparts who have the authority to investigate and enforce violations of law in their respective countries. Since our law enforcement officers working overseas do not possess general law enforcement or investigative authority in most host countries, the use of these TCIUs enables ICE to promote direct action in its investigative leads while respecting the sovereignty of the host country and cultivating international partnerships. These efforts, often thousands of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border in countries like Colombia and Panama, essentially act as an outer layer of security for our Southwest Border.
Working with Mexican Authorities
Mexico has proven to be an outstanding partner in the fight against TCOs, taking down the Cartels’ top leadership and helping in efforts to dismantle these organizations. ICE’s Attaché Office in Mexico City is the largest ICE presence outside of the United States. ICE has coordinated the establishment of TCIUs in Mexico comprised of Mexican law enforcement officers. Through our Attaché in Mexico City and associated sub-offices, HSI assists in efforts to combat transnational drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, human smuggling, and money laundering syndicates in Mexico. ICE Attaché personnel work daily with Mexican authorities to combat these transnational threats. Additionally, ICE—along with other DHS components—actively works through the Department of State to provide training and technical assistance to our Mexican counterparts. The spirit of collaboration and joint effort between DHS components and our counterparts in Mexico is unprecedented.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today and for your continued support of ICE and its law enforcement mission. ICE is committed to stemming cross-border criminal organizations through the various efforts I have discussed today. I appreciate your interest in these important issues.
I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.Topics:
Written testimony of CBP for a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing titled “A Dangerous and Sophisticated Adversary: The Threat to the Homeland Posed by Cartel Operations”Release Date:February 16, 2017
210 House Capitol Visitor Center, U.S. Capitol
Chairwoman McSally, Ranking Member Vela, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today on behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to discuss the evolving drug smuggling tactics and techniques used by transnational criminal organizations (TCO) and how CBP is working to address this threat and secure our Nation’s borders.
CBP is responsible for America’s frontline border security and has a significant role in the Nation’s efforts to combat the cross-border criminal activity of cartels and other TCOs. Thanks to the support of Congress, in the past decade, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has deployed more personnel, resources, technology, and tactical infrastructure for securing our borders than at any other time in history. As America’s frontline border agency, CBP protects the United States against terrorist threats and prevents the illegal entry of inadmissible persons and contraband, while facilitating lawful travel and trade. CBP’s mission demands we examine all border security threats, from human smuggling to drug smuggling. TCOs continue to exploit the border environment for their own gains, employing various capabilities to carry out illegal operations. We continue to meet and combat these capabilities.
CBP plays a critical role in the effort to keep dangerous drugs from illegally entering the country. Specifically, by leveraging a comprehensive, multi-layered, intelligence driven, and threat-based approach to enhance the security of our borders, we can diminish the effectiveness of TCO drug operations, as well as other border security threats. This dynamic approach to security both reduces the vulnerability of any single operational approach and extends our zone of security to include the avenues of approach, allowing threats to be addressed before they reach our borders. By leveraging international partnerships, we can ensure that our physical borders are not the first or last lines of defense.
The Current Border Environment
The border environment today is both challenging and complex. TCOs continually adjust their operations to circumvent detection and interdiction by law enforcement, and are quick to take advantage of technology advances, cheaper transportation and improvements to distribution methods, and improving fabrication and concealment techniques. Also, while the threats of illegal immigration and drug smuggling continue to be the principal criminal concerns in the border environment, TCOs continue to maintain a diverse portfolio of crimes to include fraud, weapons smuggling, kidnapping, and extortion. DHS, with the support of Congress, has made significant improvements to the physical security infrastructure along the Southwestern border and has invested in personnel, training, and information sharing. These investments have been valuable in combating the TCOs and have helped shape the current border environment.
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, CBP officers and agents seized and/or disrupted more than 3.3 million pounds of narcotics across the country1 including approximately 46,000 pounds of methamphetamine, 4,800 pounds of heroin, and 440 pounds of fentanyl. The vast majority of CBP drug interdictions occur along the Southwest land border from all environments and transportation modes.
Much of the illegal drug trafficking encountered by CBP officers and agents is facilitated by TCOs operating in Mexico. The reach and influence of Mexican cartels, notably Los Zetas, and the Gulf, Juarez, Jalisco New Generation, and Sinaloa Cartels, stretches across and beyond the Southwest border, operating through networks and loose affiliations with smaller organizations in cities across the United States. According to a 2016 Drug Enforcement Administration report, Mexican TCOs pose the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States. These criminal organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks.2 TCOs also maintain influence over U.S.-based gangs as a way to expand their domestic distribution process. Gang members are heavily involved in the domestic distribution of narcotics and, to a lesser extent, the actual movement of contraband across the Southwest border.
1 FY 2016 Border Security Report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2016-Dec/CBP-fy2016-border-security-report.pdf
2 Drug Enforcement Administration, 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, “Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations”, page 1, DEA-DCT-DIR-001-17, November 2016. https://www.dea.gov/resource-center/2016%20NDTA%20Summary.pdf.
In examining TCOs, it is apparent that they continue to seek ways to exploit the border environment. These TCOs pose a significant threat to both U.S. and international security. The illegal operations of TCOs affect both public safety and economic stability. Not only are these criminal networks resilient, but they maintain illicit pathways through foreign countries and towards the U.S. border, which could be exploitable by terror organizations to move personnel and assets into the United States. Furthermore, their operations are often diversified with separate operational cells, and with TCO participants often having the capability to participate in multiple roles. These TCOs are highly mobile and maintain sophisticated cross-border networks and are involved in a wide range of organized criminal activities including firearms trafficking, drug smuggling, and alien smuggling (See Exhibit 14). Additionally, TCOs operate throughout the spectrum of the border environment including at and between the ports of entry (POE), and in the various domains such as land, air, and sea.
The vast expanses of remote and rugged terrain between our POEs, and the large volume of trade and traffic at our POEs, continue to be targeted for exploitation by TCOs. These groups use a wide range of ever-evolving methods to move illicit goods into the United States. Some of these techniques include the movement of drugs by foot, conveyance, tunneling, and even through the use of projectile-type systems. These groups also rely on supporting tactics such as counter surveillance, concealment, and logistical support to further their illegal drug smuggling operations.
The Southwest land border POEs are the major points of entry for illegal drugs, where smugglers use a wide variety of tactics and techniques for concealing drugs. CBP officers regularly find drugs ingested, concealed in body cavities, taped to bodies (body carriers), hidden inside vehicle seat cushions, gas tanks, dash boards, tires, packaged food, household and hygiene products, in checked luggage, and concealed in construction materials on commercial trucks. While many smuggling attempts occur at POEs, the mail and express consignment environment, as well as maritime cargo also remain attractive options for smugglers.
TCOs have increased both the number and the sophistication of smuggling tunnels (See Exhibits 11-13). The tunnel threat consists of four categories of tunnels: conduit, rudimentary, interconnecting, and sophisticated. In the Arizona border regions specifically, TCOs also continue to attempt “drive-throughs” – incursions into U.S. territory by driving vehicles on ramps over the fence, or by attempting to cut the fence to drive vehicles containing illegal drugs across the border. Drive-through incursions generally involve large loads of illegal drugs, an expansive network of individuals (to include scouts), strategic logistics, and sophisticated communications equipment. TCOs have also improved their capabilities in passing drugs over existing fencing. Whereas TCOs previously threw, by hand, small loads of drugs over the border fence, they now utilize compressed air cannons to launch bundles of illicit narcotics in excess of 100 pounds over the border fence. These illegal operations are indicative of the ever-evolving and persistent intent of TCOs to exploit the border environment.
As interdiction and enforcement efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border have become more effective, TCOs continue to use maritime and air smuggling routes to transport contraband into the United States. TCOs use a variety of methods to enter the United States via maritime routes, including the use of small open vessels known as “pangas.” These small, wood or fiberglass, homemade fishing vessels cross the border at night, attempting to use their relatively high speed and small radar signature to evade detection by CBP and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) patrol vessels and aircraft. TCOs also use pleasure boats or small commercial fishing vessels — Sometimes equipped with hidden compartments — and attempt to blend in with legitimate boaters and transport contraband during broad daylight. Smuggling operations using this technique rely on the sheer number of similar boats on U.S. waters on any given day to elude detection. TCOs have also turned to new methods of smuggling by air with the emergence in recent years of the use of ultralight aircraft (See Exhibit 1). Under the cover of darkness, ultralights fly across the Southwest border and airdrop drugs to waiting ground crews.
TCOs regularly use counter surveillance tactics. This type of activity ranges from the use of scouts, individuals performing surveillance activity against law enforcement agencies, to more complicated activity such as interception of law enforcement communication. Scouts embed deep in the remote, rugged, terrain as well as urban communities, watching and reporting on border law enforcement activities. TCOs who deploy these scouts utilize a robust, highly technical, communication method – with the deliberate intent of concealing their communication from law enforcement (See Exhibits 2-5). While some of these operations are illegal in their execution (such as attempts to illegally obtain law enforcement sensitive information) others simply exploit the public venues from which, and within which, law enforcement operates (such as monitoring the coming and going of patrol vehicles from a border patrol station).
As TCOs involved in smuggling continue to explore new tactics and techniques to attempt to evade detection and interdiction, CBP, our Federal partners, and other law enforcement entities continue to adapt and increase our enforcement resources, enhancing our capabilities, and refine our strategies to anticipate and disrupt TCO activity.
CBP Efforts, Resources, and Capabilities to Counter TCOs
Addressing the TCO threat necessitates a united, comprehensive strategy and an aggressive approach by multiple entities across all levels of government. In close coordination with local, state, tribal, international and Federal law enforcement partners – specifically U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the USCG – CBP’s continued efforts to interdict illegal aliens, drugs, cash, and weapons at the border are a key aspect of U.S. border security efforts. We must also concentrate on increasing our understanding and identification of transnational criminal networks in order to identify, interdict, investigate, and prosecute TCOs and their criminal activity.
Along U.S. Borders
Since 2004, the number of Border Patrol agents has nearly doubled, from approximately 10,800 in 2004 to over 19,500 agents today. Along the Southwest border, DHS has increased the number of law enforcement on the ground from approximately 9,100 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to more than 16,000 today. At our Northern Border, the force of 500 agents that we sustained 15 years ago has grown to over 2,000.3
To combat the threat of TCO drug smuggling activities along the Southwest border between the POEs, CBP relies on a network of systems comprising of information, integration, personnel, technology, and infrastructure. CBP has deployed sophisticated detection technology, including fixed towers, mobile surveillance units, ground sensors, and thermal imaging systems to increase the ability to detect illegal cross-border activity and contraband and maintains 654 miles of border fencing and other tactical infrastructure in key trafficking areas. The CBP ReUse effort utilizes Department of Defense (DOD) technologies, including aerostat technology, spectrometers, land, air, and maritime radar, and night-vision equipment that are not needed by DOD but can be used to satisfy critical border security missions with minimal up-front costs for DHS. These resources are matched with personnel of various skill sets who work with other Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to interdict TCO drug smuggling operations.
As part of its efforts to prevent the illicit smuggling of drugs and other contraband, CBP maintains a high level of vigilance on avenues of egress from our Nation’s borders. TCOs deploy a sophisticated network of scouts into rough and remote terrain as well as highly populated urban areas along the Southwest border, making the identification and disruption of scout activity highly challenging. CBP utilizes predictive analysis, available technology, targeted enforcement, and the ability to rapidly readjust counter surveillance activities to affect and degrade the ability of scouts to operate in a given environment. When the location of a scout is discovered, we work quickly to counter the scout’s ability to take advantage of major vantage points and force spotter displacement or relocation; thus forcing them into more costly, vulnerable, and continuous reorganization.
When tunnels are detected and investigated, each U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) sector follows established protocols for coordination, confirmation, assessment, investigation, exploitation, and remediation. The USBP is an active participant in ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) tunnel task forces. Since 2010, CBP has operated a Tunnel Detection and Technology Program, to integrate the efforts of CBP, ICE, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to address tunnel-related activities and technology.
As an example of further CBP counter tunnel efforts, in March of 2016, collaboration through the cross-border coordination initiative and bi-national tunnel teams led Mexican officials to alert USBP agents in Nogales, Arizona, that a tunnel entrance in Nogales, Sonora had been located. During their investigation, USBP discovered that the incomplete cross-border tunnel extended approximately 30 feet into the United States. Since agents discovered the first illicit tunnel in 1990 in Douglas, Arizona, there have been 195 i1licit cross-border tunnels discovered - 194 along the Southwest border and one discovered along the Northern border near Lynden, Washington. Investigating a cross-border tunnel is a particularly dangerous task that requires an agent to crawl into what is usually a dark and confined space of unknown structural integrity and the potential to encounter a variety of threats. In some of the most narrow, dangerous tunnels, the Nogales tunnel team deploys a wireless, camera-equipped robot to investigate the passages. After a tunnel is investigated, the passage must be thoroughly remediated, or blocked to prevent further use.
At U.S. Ports of Entry
To support CBP’s evolving, more complex mission since September 11, 2001, the number of CBP officers ensuring the secure flow of people and goods into the nation through POEs has increased from 17,279 customs and immigration inspectors in 2003, to over 21,000 CBP officers and 2,400 agriculture specialists today. At POEs, the Office of Field Operations (OFO) utilizes CBP officer expertise and experience, technology, such as non-intrusive inspection (NII) x-ray and gamma ray imaging systems, and canine teams to detect the illegal transit of drugs hidden on people, in cargo containers, and concealed in conveyances (See Exhibit 6 and 8-10).
As of February 1, 2017, 313 Large-Scale (LS) NII systems are deployed to, and in between, our POEs. In FY 2016, LS-NII systems were used to conduct more than 6.5 million examinations resulting in more than 2,600 seizures and over 359,636 pounds of seized narcotics. NII systems are particularly valuable in detecting concealed contraband in vehicles. Two months ago, CBP officers working at the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas, referred a driver and vehicle for secondary inspection. Using both non-intrusive inspection equipment and a narcotics-detection canine, CBP officers discovered and seized 201 pounds of alleged crystal methamphetamine concealed in fiberglass pottery, with a street value of more than $4 million.4
Personal vehicles are not the only means by which TCOs attempt to smuggle illegal drugs. In April 2016, CBP officers used non-intrusive inspection equipment to discover approximately 121 pounds of heroin and eight pounds of cocaine in a shipping container of vegetables transiting from Ecuador to Miami, Florida, through the Red Hook Container Terminal in Brooklyn, New York.5 TCOs also move drugs – especially hard drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine – in smaller quantities to try to evade detection. This past December, CBP officers working express consignment operations in Cincinnati intercepted a shipment containing 53.46 pounds of methamphetamines concealed in decorative concrete sculptures shipped from Mexico.6
The OFO National Canine Program (NCP) deploys specialized detection canine teams throughout the nation. OFO’s 489 canine teams are trained to detect narcotics, currency, firearms, and concealed humans. The majority of the canine teams are concentrated in four field offices along the Southwest border. Of those 489 canine teams, 49 of these teams also trained to detect firearms and currency. During FY 2016, OFO canine teams were responsible for the seizure of 533,783 pounds of narcotics, $38,629,557 in seized property, and $21,530,795 in currency seized. The currency/firearms detection canine program was also responsible for 154 firearms and 14,000 rounds of ammunitions seized.
Because TCOs are also known to use legitimate commercial modes of travel and transport to smuggle drugs and other illicit goods, CBP partners with the private sector to provide anti-drug smuggling training to air, sea, and land commercial transport companies (carriers). The overall goals of these programs and their training component are to encourage commercial carriers to share the burden of stopping the flow of illicit drugs; to deter smugglers from using commercial carriers to smuggle drugs; and to provide carriers with the incentive to improve their security and their drug smuggling awareness. The Carrier Initiative Program is a voluntary training program directed at employees of carriers with route systems that are high risk for drug smuggling. The Super Carrier Initiative Program is for those carriers that face an batu penjuru forex extraordinarily high risk from drug traffickers. Participating carriers sign agreements stating that the carrier will exercise the highest degree of care and diligence in securing their facilities and conveyances, while CBP agrees to conduct site surveys, make recommendations, and provide training. CBP and various carriers have signed over 3,800 Carrier Initiative Agreements and 27 Super Carrier Agreements.
In the Air and the Sea
To advance counternarcotic efforts in the air and at sea, CBP deploys capable and effective aerial and marine assets, including manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems and strategic and tactical aerostats, providing critical surveillance coverage and domain awareness (See Exhibit 7). CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) employs high speed Coastal Interceptor Vessels specifically designed and engineered with the speed, maneuverability, integrity and endurance to intercept and engage a variety of suspect non-compliant vessels in offshore waters, including the Great Lakes on the northern border.
CBP AMO P-3 Orion Aircraft (P-3s) have also been an integral part of the successful counternarcotic missions operating in coordination with Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S). The P-3s patrol in a 42 million-square mile area known as the Source and Transit Zone, which includes more than 41 nations, the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and seaboard approaches to the United States. In Fiscal Year 2016, CBP's P-3s operating out of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida, flew more than 6,100 hours in support of counternarcotic missions resulting in 129 interdiction events of suspected smuggling vessels and aircraft. These events led to the total seizure of 87,657 kg of cocaine with an estimated wholesale value of $2.5 billion.7
In the air domain, AMO detects, identifies, investigates, and interdicts potential air threats to the United States including general aviation (GA) aircraft involved in the transit of contraband. The Air and Marine Operations Center (AMOC), a state-of-the-art law enforcement surveillance center, monitors complex airway traffic to identify illicit use of aircraft and those attempting to blend in with legitimate traffic. CBP’s eight Tethered Aerostat Radar Systems (TARS) form a network of long-range radars deployed along the border, which can identify and monitor low-altitude aircraft and vessels. TARS and hundreds of other domestic and international radar data are integrated through AMOC, located in Riverside, California, to identify and track suspect aircraft incursions. Also, AMO actively participates in Operation Martillo, an international counter illicit trafficking initiative whereby U.S. and regional partner nations’ military and law enforcement agencies patrol the air and sea environments in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the Eastern Pacific on a year-round basis.
3 As of January 7, 2017.
7 Drug Enforcement Administration, 2013 United States Illicit Drug Prices, page 7, DEA-DCW-DIR-012-15, January 2015. 2013 National Price Range, Cocaine, Approximately $28,700 per kilogram.
Intelligence and Information Sharing
Substantive and timely information sharing is critical in targeting and interdicting TCOs involved with drug-trafficking along the Southwest and Northern borders. CBP contributes to several initiatives to improve and integrate the combined intelligence capabilities of multiple Federal entities – including DHS, the Intelligence Community, and DOD – as well as our state, local, tribal, and international partners. For example, CBP participates in the Office of National Drug Control Policy-led Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy implementation effort, which includes a focus on the improvement of intelligence and information sharing among law enforcement agencies on the Federal, state, local and tribal levels From the use of labs to improved relationships with partners, we are committed to the creation of an intelligence and information enterprise for the benefit of all those combating drug smuggling. Improved technology and enhanced capabilities have expanded the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information among law enforcement partners working to dismantle TCO networks.
For example, the CBP Laboratories and Scientific Services Directorate uses advanced techniques to provide qualitative identification and quantitative determination as well as analysis of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine to assist with identifying potential drug smuggling routes. In addition, S&T is working to develop, test, and pilot new technology for securing and scanning cargo, improving surveillance of the Southern border, and enhancing detection capabilities for radar-evading aircraft. S&T is also pursuing and fielding new technology to monitor storm drains, detect tunnels, track low-flying aircraft, monitor ports, and enhance current mobile/fixed radar and camera surveillance systems to increase border security. S&T-developed technology recently put into operational use at the U.S.-Mexico border includes a new general aviation aircraft scanner in Laredo, Texas, and a new Brownsville-Matamoros Rail Non-Intrusive Inspection Microwave Data Transmission System.
CBP also hosts monthly briefing/teleconferences with Federal, state and local partners regarding the current state of the border – the Northern border and Southwest border – in order to monitor emerging trends and threats and provide a cross-Component, multi-agency venue for discussing trends and threats. The monthly briefings focus on narcotics, weapons, and currency interdictions and alien apprehensions both at and between the POEs. These briefings/teleconferences currently include participants from the Government of Canada, the Government of Mexico; ICE; USCG; DEA; FBI; U.S. Northern Command; Joint Interagency Task Force-South; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; Naval Investigative Command; State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers; and other international, Federal, state, and local law enforcement as appropriate.
CBP also contributes to the whole-of-government effort to combat narcotics-related threats by sharing critical information on travelers and cargo with investigative and intelligence partner agencies to identify and disrupt sophisticated routes and networks. Recognizing the need for open and sustainable channels to share information with our law enforcement and intelligence partners, personnel are co-located at the National Targeting Center to support efforts to combat narcotics and contraband smuggling by integrating real-time intelligence and all-source information into CBP targeting efforts and enforcement actions.
Information exchange with our partners within the Government of Mexico, facilitated by the CBP Attaché office in Mexico, has allowed for an unprecedented exchange of real time information through deployments of personnel between our countries. Representatives from Mexican Customs (Servicio de Administración Tributaria) are deployed at the CBP National Targeting Center in Sterling, Virginia, to share information and assist in targeting narcotics and other contraband. Likewise, CBP personnel are assigned to Mexico City and Panama under the Joint Security Program where we exchange alerts on suspicious TCO movements through the monitoring of our Advance Passenger Information System.
Enhancing counternarcotic information sharing in the air and maritime environments, the AMOC integrates data from multiple sensor sources to provide real-time information on suspect targets to responders at the Federal, state, and local levels. AMOC’s capabilities are enhanced by the continued integration of DHS and other Federal and Mexican personnel to increase efforts to identify, interdict, and investigate suspected drug trafficking in the air and maritime domains.
A whole-of-government approach that leverages interagency and international partnerships as a force multiplier has been and will continue to be the most effective way to keep our border secure. Providing critical capabilities toward the whole-of-government approach, CBP works extensively with our Federal, state, local, tribal, and international partners to address drug trafficking and other transnational threats along the Southwest border, Northern border, and coastal approaches. Our security efforts are enhanced through special joint operations and task forces conducted under the auspices of multi-agency enforcement teams, composed of representatives from international and U.S. Federal law enforcement agencies who work together with state, local, and tribal agencies to target drug and transnational criminal activity, including investigations involving national security and organized crime.
Under the Department’s Unity of Effort initiative, and with the establishment of three new DHS Joint Task Forces (JTFs), CBP is enhancing our collaboration with other DHS components – specifically ICE and USCG – to leverage the unique resources, authorities, and capabilities of each agency to more effectively and efficiently execute our border security missions against transnational criminal organizations, drug-trafficking, and other threats and challenges. The operation of the JTFs increases information sharing with Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and improves border-wide criminal intelligence-led interdiction operations to disrupt and dismantle TCO operations. CBP, together with our international, Federal, state, local, and tribal partners, is committed to reducing the risk associated with TCOs by addressing threats within the Southern Border and Approaches Joint Operating Area.
Joint Task Force-West (JTF-W), with CBP as executive agent, developed specific security objectives to frame and focus operations against prioritized TCOs, including integrating and aligning our intelligence capabilities; institutionalizing integrated counter-network operations to identify and target TCOs and illicit networks; prioritizing investigative efforts to disrupt, degrade, and dismantle TCOs and illicit networks; and strengthening international, prosecutorial, and deterrent efforts against TCO enterprises and significant activity impacting the JTF-W Joint Operating Area. Additionally, JTF-W continues to plant the seed for the next evolution of border security by targeting priority TCOs and their supporting illicit networks in ways never done before. As a result of the joint infrastructure that has been established during this past year, JTF-W is now able to plan, coordinate and execute integrated counter network operations beyond traditional DHS component operational capabilities and the immediate border. The ability to leverage the full spectrum of DHS intelligence, interdiction and investigative efforts has maximized consequence application to illicit network members exploiting our operational seams, prosecutorial thresholds and those abusing current immigration benefits.
TCO activity is a global problem and CBP continues to work with our international partners, especially the Government of Mexico to share information and leverage resources to combat this threat. Through the 21st Century Border Management Initiative, the U.S. Government, and the Government of Mexico are working to strengthen our collaborative relationship and efforts to secure and facilitate the cross-border flows of people and cargo. International Liaison Units (ILU) facilitate cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities as part of a multi-layered effort to target, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations.
The Cross Border Coordination Initiative (CBCI) provides an operational framework to enhance public safety and degrade and disrupt the ability of TCOs to engage in the smuggling of illegal drugs, currency, weapons, ammunition, and people. CBP works with the Government of Mexico to deliver targeted consequence strategy through patrols, interdictions, prosecution, investigations and intelligence. In FY 2016, USBP and the Mexican Federal Police conducted 1,584 coordinated patrols. Additionally, bi-national operations, such as Operation Double Threat/Blue Thunder, are innovative and mutually beneficial mirrored patrols that are key to border security and safety for both countries. Operation Double Threat/Blue Thunder took place between USBP and Mexican Federal Police on April 17-30, 2016, in Sonora and Nogales, Arizona. During the time of the operation, entries and arrests dropped by almost 50 percent in the targeted zone, and 3,504 kg of marijuana, 727g of cocaine and 55g of methamphetamine were seized.
On Eastern Pacific and Western Caribbean waters, CBP partners with the USCG and the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) to conduct maritime operations on both sides of the border and maintain a dynamic presence. For example, AMO along with DOD’s Air Forces North (AFNORTH) have partnered to deploy International Air and Marine Operations Surveillance Systems (I-AMOSS) to SEMAR locations. This system has proven to be an invaluable part of their anti-cartel mission and contributes to CBP/USCG/SEMAR joint planning. As such, efforts to expand this capability to other SEMAR locations are underway. Moreover, AMO supports SEMAR with Operation Albatros, providing maritime patrol aircraft over the Eastern Pacific with a SEMAR host-nation-rider onboard acting as a mission commander. Albatros patrols target cocaine-laden vessels transiting from the source and transit zone to the shores of Mexico.
CBP is committed to working with the Government of Mexico to identify and prosecute TCOs, and is working with Mexico Attorney General (PGR) to explore additional areas where CBP and the Government of Mexico can target and degrade TCOs. For example, the Operation Against Smugglers Initiative on Safety and Security (OASISS) is a bi-national prosecutorial program with the PGR that is focused on combating human smuggling across the Southwest border, by identifying and prosecuting Mexican nationals arrested for alien smuggling in the United States. Since the implementation of OASISS in August 2005 to October 2016, a total of 2,556 cases have been generated in the United States. From these cases, a total of 3,009 principals have been presented to the Government of Mexico for prosecution, and 2,196 of those principals were accepted for prosecution. In FY 2016 alone, 99 criminal cases were generated in the United States with a total of 111 principals and 70 of those principals were accepted by the Government of Mexico for prosecution.
AMOC’s coordinating efforts with the Government of Mexico and the deployment of shared surveillance technology continue to enable the Government of Mexico to focus aviation and maritime enforcement efforts to better combat TCO operations in Northern Mexico and the contiguous U.S.-Mexico border. AMOC’s joint collaboration with the Government of Mexico leverages intelligence and operational capabilities to further both air and maritime domain awareness. During FY16, this improved collaboration resulted in 15 Mexico-based seizures, six of which were mixed loads of narcotics. Smuggling events involved aircraft, semi-submersibles, pleasure craft, and panga type conveyances. The most recent example of these efforts was in October 2016, when AMOC detected and tracked an aircraft to a landing in Baja California, Mexico and alerted Mexican authorities. Mexican air and ground forces responded and reported the seizure of a Cessna 206, one vehicle, and 504 lbs. of methamphetamine.
In January 2016, AMO’s Tucson Air Branch participated in Operation “El Diablo Express,” a HSI-led investigation, resulting in a multi-agency operation that utilized HSI, DEA, FBI, Arizona DPS, Scottsdale PD, other CBP components, and Mexican Government agents. The operation was designed to combat Mexican drug cartels operating in Sonora, Mexico, south of Arizona. AMO air crews were instrumental in escorting Mexican Government aircraft and personnel through Arizona airspace on the day of mission, and provided real time information to them as they covertly crossed the border back into Mexico to conduct an early morning raid on a suspected drug cartel location, leading to multiple arrests and seizures.
It is important to acknowledge the significant strides that Mexico has taken in recent years to address transnational organized crime generally and narcotics smuggling specifically. Our relationship with Mexican counterparts is stronger today than it has ever been and their officers face the same challenges and threats that CBP experiences. We receive information from Mexican authorities on a daily basis that helps us better target narcotics smugglers at the border. In 2016, CBP’s Commissioner participated in a high level bilateral and interagency security cooperation meeting in Mexico City, where senior Mexican officials committed to working with the U.S. Government even more closely—including expanding efforts to combat heroin cultivation, production, and trafficking, and sharing more information on smuggling routes and networks. CBP will continue to work in close cooperation with our counterparts in Mexico as we seek to identify, interdict, investigate, and prosecute TCOs.
CBP, through collaboration and coordination with our many Federal, state, local, tribal, international government, and other partners, has made great strides in protecting the integrity and security of our borders. The investments over the years in our border security have been valuable and have helped shape the current border environment. Vulnerabilities have been addressed and this has led to the reduction of illicit activity in many areas along the border. CBP continues to maintain a vigilant watch on the changing dynamics of border security threats.
With continued support from Congress, CBP, in coordination with our partners, will continue to refine and further enhance the effectiveness of our detection and interdiction capabilities to combat transnational threats and the entry of illegal drugs into the United States. Furthermore, through the JTFs, we will continue to work with the intelligence community and our law enforcement partners to improve the efficiency of information sharing with relevant partners, to guide strategies, identify trafficking patterns and trends, develop tactics, and execute operations to address the challenges and threats posed by TCOs to the safety and security of the American public. The establishment of JTFs marks a renewed commitment to seek out and coordinate optimal, multi-component authorities, capabilities, competencies, and partnership expertise to combat all threats to the homeland.
Chairwoman McSally, Ranking Member Vela, and distinguished Members of Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I look forward to your questions.
Written testimony of USCG for a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing titled “A Dangerous and Sophisticated Adversary: The Threat to the Homeland Posed by Cartel Operations”Release Date:February 16, 2017
210 House Capitol Visitor Center, U.S. Capitol
Good morning Madam Chairwoman and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss the Coast Guard’s role in combating transnational organized crime and specifically how we address the drug smuggling methods of these networks.
Drug trafficking has destabilized regional states, undermined the rule of law, terrorized citizens, and driven both families and unaccompanied children to migrate to the U.S. To be clear, the flow of illicit drugs funds Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) networks, which pose a significant and growing threat to national and international security.
Today’s Coast Guard is a direct descendant of the Revenue Cutter Service, created by Alexander Hamilton in 1790, to stem the flow of maritime contraband into our newly-formed Republic. It is one of the nation’s five Armed Services, and the only branch of the military within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While our missions and responsibilities have grown significantly since then – addressing a full range of security, safety, and stewardship concerns – our anti-smuggling roots continue to be an essential part of our service to the Nation. The Coast Guard is the lead federal maritime law enforcement agency, the lead federal agency for drug interdiction on the high seas, and the only agency with both the authority and capability to enforce national and international law on the high seas, outer continental shelf, and shoreward from the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to our inland waters.
For over two centuries, the Coast Guard has built a reputation as one of the most agile and adaptive agencies within the Federal Government; these qualities have served the Coast Guard well in its efforts to combat smugglers’ ever-evolving conveyances and tactics. The modern role of the Coast Guard in this fight can be traced to the demand for a variety of illegal drugs. From 1973 through 1991, the Coast Guard removed over 26 million pounds of marijuana, targeting and interdicting a variety of smuggling conveyances including commercial fishing vessels, ocean going cargo freighters, and pleasure craft. Beginning in the late 1990s, through the present day, cocaine has been the predominant drug being trafficked via maritime routes, bringing with it shifts in smuggling tactics. Cartels initially began using some of the very same conveyances used by marijuana smugglers, which included multi-ton loads of cocaine vulnerable to interdiction by Coast Guard forces. Cartels quickly adapted to Coast Guard efforts and began expanding tactics to include the ubiquitous “go-fast vessel,” as well as more modern conveyances including the purpose-built self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS), to disperse loads onto more numerous and harder to detect conveyances.
Today we face a sophisticated and well funded adversary that leverages high-tech conveyances such as low profile vessels and semi-submersibles, employs multiple go-fast vessels to outnumber interdicting forces, and deploys GPS beacons if forced to jettison bales of contraband to allow later relocation; all are advanced and coordinated means to avoid detection and evade apprehension.
The change in flow of cocaine toward the U.S. from South America from 2015 to 2016 was the largest increase the service has observed to date. The rise of cocaine production is attributed to the largest single-year increase of coca cultivation in Colombia ever recorded (immediately following the second largest single-year increase in more than a decade). To meet this growing threat, the Coast Guard has dedicated additional focus and assets to the Western Hemisphere Transit Zone1, and is investing in the people and platforms necessary to carry out an agressive interdiction effort, in addition to helping build regional partner capabilities.
1 The maritime portion of the Western Hemisphere Transit Zone is a six million square-mile area, roughly twice the size of the continental United States. The Transit Zone includes the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Current Threat: Transnational Organized Crime, Violence, and Instability
One of the goals of the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction program is to interdict illicit traffic as close to the source zone as possible. This helps to stem the flow of drugs from reaching the Central America, Mexico, and the United States. Over the past five years, Coast Guard cutters and aircraft have removed more than 630 metric tons of high-purity cocaine from the high seas, with a wholesale value of nearly 18 billion dollars2. Our annual seizures at sea amount to more than three times the quantity of cocaine seized at our borders and within the U.S. combined. Despite these successes, TOC networks operate throughout Central America, vying for power through drug-fueled violence and corruption of government officials; in fact, eight out ofthe world’s ten countries with the highest per capita rates of homicide are along the cocaine trafficking routes in the Western Hemisphere3.
In response, the Coast Guard released its Western Hemisphere Strategy that indentifies three priorities for the maritime domain in the Western Hemisphere: Combating Networks, Securing Borders, and Safeguarding Commerce. To meet these priorities, the strategy emphasizes the importance of a robust offshore Airborne Use of Force (AUF) enabled cutter capability, which is supported by fixed wing maritime patrol aircraft and sophisticated intelligence capabilities.
2 [US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, http://blng.co.za/?rtio=%D8%AA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%81%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%B3&8d9=4c تداولات فوركس 2013 United States Illicit Drug Prices, DEA Intelligence Report, DEA-DCW-DIR-012-15, January 2015.. ]
3 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UNODC Research and Trend Analysis Branch, http://www.clinegreenhouse.com/?repertyar=%D9%83%D9%85-%D9%88%D8%B5%D9%84%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%87%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%84%D9%8A&84f=dc كم وصلت اسهم الاهلي Global Study on Homicide 2013,
Combating TOC Networks - A Layered Approach to Drug Interdiction
The Coast Guard uses a “maritime trident” of cutters, boats, and aircraft in a layered approach to combat TOC networks as they transport illicit goods from the source zone, through Central America and Caribbean islands, into the U.S. This approach maintains operational control by confronting the threat beyond our land borders, beyond Mexico, and beyond Central America on the high seas where traffickers are most exposed and vulnerable to interdiction by the United States. This layered approach begins overseas, spans the offshore regions, and continues into our territorial seas and our ports of entry.
The Coast Guard is the major maritime interdiction asset provider to Joint Interagency Task Force – South (JIATF-S), which executes the Department of Defense statutory responsibility for the detection and monitoring of illicit drug trafficking in the air and maritime domains bound for the United States in support of law enforcement agencies such as the Coast Guard. Our most capable force package is flight deck equipped major cutters with embarked Airborne Use of Force (AUF)-capable helicopters and deployable pursuit-capable boats, supported by fixed wing maritime patrol aircraft, along with Coast Guard law enforcement detachments embarked on U.S. and allied ships. When they are able to target cases, they have been 80-90 percent effective in disrupting drug shipments.
As an example of their effectiveness, Coast Guard Cutter HAMILTON, the fourth and newest of nine National Security Cutters (NSC) to be built for the Coast Guard, returned to her homeport of Charleston, South Carolina from her inaugural patrol on December 16, 2016. On deck, she carried more than 24 metric tons of high-purity cocaine from 27 different interdictions by U.S. forces with a street value of nearly $700 million4. These interdictions also netted 111 suspects bound for U.S. prosecution.
Our interdicting capabilities continue to prove their value against TOC networks’ conveyance of choice – the go-fast vessel. In 2016, our Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) of AUF-capable helicopters – along with partner aircraft from the U.S. Navy, the Netherlands, and United Kingdom operating under our law enforcement authority with Coast Guard precision marksmen – set a record 63 at-sea interdictions, netting over 44 metric tons of cocaine.
In addition, the Coast Guard began providing high speed pursuit boats and crews to U.S. Navy Patrol Coastal class ships operating in the transit zone in 2016 to increase interdiction opportunities. Coupled with Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments, this innovative force package capability netted 11 interdictions and removed 6.5 metric tons of cocaine in just a few months. In total for fiscal year 2016, the Coast Guard removed 201 metric tons of cocaine (7.1% of estimated flow)5 and 52,600 pounds of marijuana from the transit zone, worth an estimated wholesale value of $5.7 billion.
The importance of interdictions transcends the direct removal of drugs taken off the high seas; when the Coast Guard apprehends suspects from drug smuggling cases, they disclose information during prosecution and sentencing that is used to help indict, extradite, and convict drug kingpins in the effort to disrupt and dismantle TOC networks. Interdictions also take profits out of the pockets of criminal networks by denying them financial resources. Additionally, they contribute to actionable intelligence on future events, producing follow-on seizures and intelligence. TOC networks cause much of the corruption and violence that spurs the increased migrant flow seen in recent years.
While more than 90 percent of our 2016 interdictions were cued by intelligence, the Coast Guard’s aging major cutters limit our ability to respond to all intelligence cued events. Critical acquisitions like the National Security Cutter (NSC) and Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) are essential to our long-term success in our fight against TOC networks.
4 [US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, btc ce 2013 United States Illicit Drug Prices, DEA Intelligence Report, DEA-DCW-DIR-012-15, January 2015..
5 [US Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, Review of http://www.youthandfamilyconnections.org/?pindyk=%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AE%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AB%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A8%D9%8A-%D8%AD%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%A8&144=b6 الخيارات الثنائية تجريبي حساب U.S. Coast Guard’s Fiscal Year 2016 Drug Control Performance Summary, OIG Report, OIG-17-33, February 1, 2017. ]
In coordination with JIATF-S, the Coast Guard is engaging with partner nations in Central and South America, and Mexico, leveraging their capabilities and local knowledge to improve maritime governance in the littoral regions being exploited by TOC networks. Among the efforts to foster international cooperation and build partner capacity, Coast Guard personnel are posted as attachés, liaisons, and drug interdiction specialists at several of our embassies in the Western Hemisphere. These personnel develop strategic relationships with partner nations that facilitate real-time operations coordination, confirmation of vessel registry, waivers of jurisdiction, and disposition of seized vessels, contraband, and detained crews. The Coast Guard’s law enforcement, legal, and regulatory expertise are in high demand from Central American partners, whose Navies more closely resemble the U.S. Coast Guard than the U.S. Navy. Coast Guard International Training teams, as well as Coast Guard units deployed in the region increase professional interaction, shiprider activities, and training in conjunction with operations, and also execute maritime exercises coincident with port visits and patrols.
Working in conjunction with the Departments of State and Justice, the Coast Guard has negotiated, concluded, and maintains over forty-five counterdrug bilateral agreements and operational procedures with partner nations throughout the world, the majority of which are in the Western Hemisphere. These agreements enable the Coast Guard to rapidly gain authority to board suspect vessels, prevent suspect vessels from using under patrolled territorial waters of partner nations as safe havens, and coordinate interdiction and apprehension operations in the transit zone. Highlighting their importance to Coast Guard counterdrug efforts, 59 percent of all Coast Guard interdictions in fiscal year 2016 involved the use of a bilateral agreement or operational procedures agreement.
The Arrival Zone
Closer to U.S. shores, Coast Guard operational commanders work with the other operational components within DHS and across the interagency to provide a robust presence in the U.S. maritime approaches by deploying Fast Response Cutters, high speed pursuit boats, medium range fixed-wing aircraft, and land-based AUF-capable helicopters. To achieve unity of effort, the Coast Guard is a major contributor to DHS’ Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan. The Coast Guard Atlantic Area Commander, Vice Admiral Karl Schultz, serves as the Director of Joint Task Force East overseeing coordination efforts for DHS components operating in the maritime approaches in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern Pacific Ocean.
The Coast Guard endeavors to secure our vast maritime border by identifying emergent threats, countering them in a layered approach, utilizing strong international relationships, and maximizing domestic and regional partnerships; this approach has been key to combatting TOC networks. The Coast Guard stands ready to meet offshore, coastal, and inland drug trafficking threats in the maritime domain posed by TOC networks.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and thank you for your continued support of the U.S. Coast Guard. I would be pleased to answer your questions.