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Hearing of the Ad Hoc, Subcommittee on State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Counternarcotics Enforcement: Coordination at the Federal, State, and Local Level

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

SEN. PRYOR: We'll go ahead and get the hearing underway. Thank you all for being here today. I'd like to call the hearing to order. This hearing is significant for several reasons. It's the first hearing of the Subcommittee on State, Local, Private Sector Preparedness and Integration for the 11th Congress. It also is the first hearing where Senator Ensign will be the ranking member, and he's on his way here, but encouraged us to go ahead and start. He'll be here just momentarily, and I look forward to working with him and working -- helping him work on his agenda, as well as helping get a lot of good things done for the committee and the subcommittee.

Let me just start with a very brief story. Last year at some point, the Arkansas state police made what was just -- at the time appeared to be a routine traffic stop. As part of that, they were given permission to search the vehicle.

Thank you, John. Thank you for being here.

But they were given permission to search the vehicle, and as they did, the state police found a hidden compartment with over 40 pounds of cocaine stashed in the vehicle. And through their good police work and also in sharing that information with the DEA -- and again, a lot of discussions and back and forth and leg work -- the DEA realized that they had the exact same type of vehicle somewhere on the West Coast that I guess had been impounded as part of something. And they searched that vehicle. Sure enough, found the very same hidden compartment with over $300,000 in cash in it.

And the reason I bring that story up -- it's an example of how local law enforcement -- in this case, the Arkansas state police -- can work with the national agencies -- in this case, DEA -- to get a lot of great police work done and to really make inroads in fighting these drug cartels. So I just wanted to mention that because it's an example of how the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies can work together and can get great things done.

Today's hearing is entitled, Counternarcotics Enforcement: Coordination at the Federal, State and Local Level. We have three witnesses representing three levels of government. Each of them plays an important role in our nation's counternarcotics enforcement efforts. I want to thank you all for being here today, and I'm going to introduce you in just a few moments.

But first, the purpose of this hearing is to provide an overview of the role and mission of DHS's Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, CNE . I hope that we will hear today about the level of coordination with other counter-drug programs within DHS and the federal government, as well as coordination with state and local partners. The link between the federal government and state and local partners is crucial, in my opinion.

We've all seen the recent news stories, media accounts of the escalating violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. This violence is attributed to drug trafficking and smuggling, led by several of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels. There's a poster here that we've put up that shows a map of the territory that each of these cartels controls. We got this image from The Economist Magazine. And I'm pleased to say right now at least that our law enforcement believe that most of the violence has not spilled over into the United States. It does occur on the Mexican side of the border, and it involves mostly Mexican citizens.

The federal government is taking measures to ensure that the violence happening on the Mexican side of the border does not carry over to the U.S. side. The efforts range from one, increasing the number of Border Patrol agents in -- (inaudible) -- and Border Patrol officers along the border, to two, the creation of Border Enforcement Security Task Force -- they're called BEST teams -- in which various federal, state, and local partners work together in cases such as southbound vehicles inspections and investigation of suspected stash houses, to three, the development of an updated Southwest border security strategy, which I understand is due out in late April, early May of this year.

State and local governments around the country have also taken steps on their own to try to curtail smuggling and trafficking operations in their areas. These efforts include the High-intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, which is actually a federal program, but is used at the local level in the leveraging of fusion center resources to address drug trafficking. The need for state and local partnership is highlighted by the findings of the 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment, which is produced by the Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center.

This report identified 230 cities, and we have a map here at the front of the room on this poster that -- these 230 cities within the U.S. that have an established Mexican drug trafficking organization. And as you can see, these cities are spread throughout the country, so we can't say that this problem is limited to the border region with Mexico. This truly is a national problem, and these are some of the things we'd like to discuss today.

With that, I'd like to turn the microphone over to my colleague from the state of Nevada, and I welcome you as the ranking member, and I look forward to working with you, and I know you have some agenda items you'd like to discuss either now or in the future, and I just look forward to working with you during this Congress.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R-NV): Well, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate it. Obvious -- we have a great friendship, and I know that not only the two of us, but our staffs will make this a very effective subcommittee here in the U.S. Senate. I look forward to your leadership and know that you have grave concerns in a lot of the areas that will be before this subcommittee, and I think that we can have a very effective partnership. I know we can, and I look forward to the next couple of years working together.

Today's hearing -- I'm looking forward to the testimony of our witnesses. You mentioned the 230 cities that are represented on that map. Three of those cities -- Reno, Carson City, and Las Vegas -- are in my state. Methamphetamine and specifically crystal meth produced in Mexico and imported into my state -- and it has become the principle drug concern of Nevadans.

And unfortunately, Nevada often serves as a trans-shipment point for various drugs to the central and eastern sections of the United States. And I am particularly interested in hearing from DHS's Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement on how they are working with state and local law enforcement officials to combat this drug trafficking that's going on.

And on that note, it is a pleasure that I will welcome my sheriff, a sheriff from our state -- is Sherriff Doug Gillespie. He began his law enforcement career with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 1980 as a police officer, and his promotions included sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, deputy chief and under sheriff. Sherriff Gillespie assumed the position of sheriff of Clark County leading Las Vegas Metro Police Department in January of 2007. He has a multifaceted career, which includes many programs he founded, such as Friends of Las Vegas -- (CANA ?) Foundation, SWAT's Explosive Breaching Program in the executive leadership training for metro supervisory employees.

In 2003, he and former Sheriff Young established the Sheriffs' Multicultural Advisory Committee. Sherriff Gillespie is also the chair of Homeland Security Committee for the Major Cities Chiefs of Police, which represents the 56 largest cities in the nation, as well as vice president of major county sheriffs representing the top 100 counties.

And I'm pleased that Sherriff Gillespie has agreed to be with us today and discuss his role in Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center, and specifically, how to address the interrelated problems of violent crime and drug trafficking. And obviously, I'm also very interested in the fusion centers that we have, effective funding for those, but also making sure that we aren't wasting that, that the grants are being done properly, and that there is no -- any kind of abuse or fraud or waste going on with any -- because the dollars that we have are so precious. It is a very vital role for this Congress to do proper oversight working, obviously, with the agencies making sure that those dollars are used in a very specific and very efficient manner.

So thank you for doing this hearing today, and I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.

SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.

Senator Bennet, thank you for joining us. Welcome to the subcommittee. Would you like to make an opening statement?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I've got one that I'd like included in the record. I will say that Colorado, like Nevada, is a place where -- that shows up on this map in many red dots, and having spent the last two weeks traveling in my state, the meth problem is one that people in our rural areas in particular are feeling extremely keenly. And everywhere I went people said it was getting worse, not better.

So in this time of limited resources, the cooperation of law enforcement at every level of government becomes that much more important. So I'd be interested to hear out witnesses on that, and thank you for being here today.

Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. PRYOR: Thank you. I will go ahead and introduce the witnesses, and what I'd ask the witnesses to do if possible is limit your opening statements to five minutes if possible. There's a little red light there that should come on as you're getting closer when you get -- reach your time. But let me go ahead and introduce the witnesses.

Mr. John Leech, acting director of the DHS Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement. He serves as the primary policy advisor to the secretary of the Department, and from 2003 to 2009 he served as chief of staff to the director of CNE, and will return to that position when a new CNE director is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Second, we have Ms. Francis Flener, who happens to be Arkansas' state drug czar. She was appointed the state drug czar by Governor Mike Beebe in April of '07. She serves as the chairperson of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council, which oversees the spending of state and federal dollars on alcohol and drug education prevention treatment and law enforcement.

And thirdly, I'm not sure I can add to the sheriff's introduction by Senator Ensign, but would you like to say anything else about him?

SEN. ENSIGN: He's a great sheriff. (Laughter.)

SEN. PRYOR: (Laughs.) Great.

Well, if we -- Mr. Leech, if you'll lead off, and if you all can keep your opening statements to five minutes, it would be appreciated.

MR. LEECH: Thank you.

Chairman Pryor, Senator Ensign, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today and provide an update on the activities of the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement.

Secretary Napolitano is actively engaged in securing this nation's borders from the violence waged by the drug cartels in Mexico and the general threat posed by the flow of illicit narcotics. The secretary has stated that the violence is not only a threat internal to Mexico, but is also a Homeland Security issue in which all Americans have a stake. Our mutual security is inextricably linked to our shared border.

To this end, the secretary recently announced several departmental border security initiatives that call for additional personnel, increased intelligence capability, and greater coordination with state, local, and Mexican law enforcement authorities. My office is and will continue to be instrumental in furthering the Department's plans.

Among many other responsibilities, DHS's Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, or CNE, is statutorily charged with two primary functions; one is to coordinate counter-drug policy and operations between DHS and other federal departments and between DHS and state and local agencies, and two, to track and sever the connections between illegal drug trafficking and terrorism.

CNE, along with DOJ's Office of the Deputy General, were designated as the executive agents to lead the interagency development of the 2009 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy. The strategy focuses on substantially reducing the flow of illicit drugs, drugs proceeds, and associated instruments of violence across the U.S.-Mexico border by fully developing specific counter-drug, counter- violence actions within ten threat domains that include intelligence and information sharing at the ports and between the ports of entry, air and maritime domains, investigation and prosecution, money, the southbound flow of weapons, technology, cooperation with Mexico, and tunnels.

In addition to complimenting the Merida Initiative in the Southwest Border Violence Plan in terms of strengthening our security at the Southwest border, the strategy is one component of a broader and more comprehensive counter-drug border security effort developed by CNE. In 2008, my office submitted to Congress the Department's northern border and maritime transit border counternarcotics strategies. These three strategies will collectively integrate and synchronize the Department's overall ability to respond to changes in drug trafficking routes.

Another overarching CNE responsibility focuses on connections between drug trafficking and terrorism. Worldwide, illicit drug trafficking generates significant revenue that buttresses the infrastructure of organized crime and terrorism. CNE is statutorily tasked to track and sever connections between illegal drug trafficking and terrorism. Our Drug Terror Nexus Division, or DTX, works closely with our interagency partners primarily within the Joint Terrorism Task Force, or JTTF construct, to collect and analyze information about the links between terrorist groups and drug trafficking and to target those connections.

A critical DTX function is to ensure a steady exchange of drug terror information between law enforcement and intelligent communities at the federal, state, local and tribal levels of government. As part of this effort, our DTX division is working to improve relationships with high-intensity drug trafficking areas, or HIDTAs, JTTF, fusion centers, and state, local and tribal entities.

Less than two months ago we met with key personnel from the south border HIDTA to establish working protocols and to ensure accurate and timely information flow on drug terror issues.

In addition, at the request of the director of the Gulf Coast HIDTA, CNE's senior staff participated in the HIDTA Investigative Support Center managers' meeting to establish robust interface with HIDTAs nationwide. We will continue to foster relationships between various federal, state, and local partners by sharing intelligence related to drug trafficking and terrorism, and other data related to this evolving threat.

I will conclude by reflecting back on my experience as the senior chief of staff and most recently as the acting director for the past five years. Over this time it has become readily apparent to me that successful counternarcotics efforts cannot be solely conducted at the federal level. Our communities, and especially those at our borders, are directly impacted by drug trafficking. State, local, and tribal partners have tremendous responsibilities, and they possess the expertise, since they are on the front lines of the fight.

I am committed to partnering with these colleagues. Only through a combined federal, state, local and tribal effort highlighted by robust communication and coordination can this nation hope to combat illicit narcotics activities.

I thank the subcommittee and would also like to personally thank Ms. Flener and Sheriff Gillespie for all the work that they do and for this opportunity to testify today, and look forward to answering any of your questions. Thank you.

SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.

Ms. Flener?

MS. FLENER: (Off-mike) -- Ranking Member Ensign, Senator Bennet, and honored guests, it is indeed my pleasure to appear before you today. On behalf of Governor Mike Beebe and our state, I would like to thank this subcommittee for its continued support of counternarcotic enforcement.

Senator Pryor, we are grateful for your continued support of the men and women in law enforcement. Your first speech as a senator dealt with the importance of continued and increased funding for this group. Through your ongoing support and dedication to this issue, our state and nation have both benefited, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for that leadership.

Methamphetamine is the number one drug threat in the state of Arkansas, followed closely by cocaine and marijuana. Pharmaceuticals continue to rise in epidemic proportions within the state. Our local meth lab seizures have risen slightly in 2008. However, most methamphetamine found in Arkansas is now produced outside of the state and is being transported into Arkansas by Mexico-based polydrug trafficking mobilization.

These groups have developed distribution networks that have been responsible for a series of drug-related crimes and social problems. To compound what Senator Bennet from Colorado stated, for instance, my home town of Batesville, Arkansas was the center of a three-year joint drug trafficking investigation led by the DEA entitled (Tando Halo ?) or ICE (store ?). To date, it has resulted in 52 arrests, seizures of more than 100 pounds of methamphetamine ICE with a street value of over $11 million and the dismantling of a drug trafficking organization with ties to a violent Mexican drug cartel. This little town of Batesville, Arkansas is less than 10,000 in population.

However, the investigation was a textbook example of multi-agency coordination. Seven federal, five state, ten local, and four drug task forces were actively involved. We are fortunate in Arkansas in having outstanding relationships between federal, state, and local law enforcement. In February 2008, Arkansas received a tremendous boost in its ability to disrupt illicit drug trafficking.

With the support of you, Senator Pryor, Senator Lincoln, Representative John Boozman, Governor Mike Beebe, and the entire congressional delegation, four counties in Arkansas were added to the HIDTA program as apart of the Gulf Coast HIDTA. We now have two initiatives in Arkansas, one in the Northwest corner, one in the central portion of the state.

The Byrne JAG program funds 19 multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, or DTFs. The size of our local law enforcement agencies is so small that most find it impossible to conduct proactive drug-related investigations without federal assistance. While this funding for '09 is expected to increase, the optimal effectiveness of the DTFs is in jeopardy of being too low, and reduced staff and low morale. Without the '09 increase, some programs would disband, leaving Arkansas communities with little or no proactive, organized efforts to combat drugs.

If we are to have a robust national drug control strategy, we must not cut the resources available for these efforts. Federal assistance is the incentive that has caused dramatic improvements in cross-jurisdictional cooperation. The impact of diluted drug policies and a reduced federal commitment would be devastating to society.

Senator Pryor, we support your inclusion of the budget amendment that calls for expanding the number of counties participating in the HIDTA program. Other parts of Arkansas desperately need those HIDTA resources to address their own drug trafficking problems. The Byrne JAG Assistance Grant should be funded at full strength of $1.1 billion as originally recommended by the Senate.

Our nation's drug problems are extremely complex, will not be solved quickly or easily. However, by using a comprehensive approach that embraces education, treatment, and enforcement, we can dramatically reduce illegal drug usage and associated violent crimes.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before the subcommittee, and I will be happy to answer any questions at the appropriate time.

SEN. PRYOR: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Sheriff Gillespie?

MR. GILLESPIE: Thank you, Chairman Pryor, Ranking Member Ensign, and distinguished members of the subcommittee. Today I speak for both major city chiefs, as well as major county sheriffs.

Because Las Vegas is home to many of the world's largest hotels and a major center of international tourism and entertainment, my jurisdiction is continuously mentioned by our enemy as a potential target. To counter this well-established threat, we have created the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center, which embraces the all crimes, all hazards fusion doctrine.

The fusion center is comprised of 13 different agencies representing federal, state and local government, including the private sector in terrorism prevention. In our community there are 6,700 private security professionals and thousands more valet attendants, housekeepers, and bell captains, each poised and capable of detecting suspicious behaviors indicating criminal activity. We are working to harness this incredible force multiplier. To supplement and enhance this ground-level suspicious activity reporting, we are participating as a pilot city in a nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, referred to as SARS.

Embracing the intelligence-led policing philosophy within the fusion center -- within the fusion center we have a robust analytical group that focuses on traditional criminal activity and crime patterns. These crime analysts scour all crime data looking for patterns and trends, as well as any social causative factors. Now, narcotics trafficking and associated violence in our fusion center -- Las Vegas has long been considered the crossroads for narcotics trafficking between suppliers in Central and South America and the consumers in the United States.

As the site of a HIDTA, we are on the front lines of the war on drugs. With drug trafficking comes the associated violence. In October of last year, we found out just how ruthless drug traffickers can be. Six-year-old Cole Puffinberger was inside his home in Las Vegas when armed intruders posing as police officers snatched him away from his mother. My detectives quickly learned that young Cole was likely abducted because his grandfather owed Mexican drug cartels several millions of dollars.

As detectives worked to locate the young boy, special agents from the FBI and DEA worked feverishly to learn more about the abductors and their criminal organizations, all of which took place within our fusion center. The intensity and tenaciousness of the investigators paid off when Cole was recovered unharmed four days later.

The role of DHS in combating drug trafficking violence -- because fusion centers are the heart of federal, state, and local information sharing efforts, we urge the distinguished members of this subcommittee to consider this when contemplating the role of DHS in countering violence related to drug trafficking. We would like to have these information channels in place and firmly entrenched within the fusion centers so we can react quickly and effectively when violence related to narcotics trafficking occurs in our community.

The Department of Homeland Security has a number of agencies under its control which have a statutory responsibility for the counternarcotics mission. It is critical to the nation's security that the efforts of these various agencies are coordinated with the DEA. The roles of the respective federal entities that are tasked with this mission have overlapped, and in some cases -- redundancies. Neither are in themselves are negative. They do, however, require coordination at the federal level. The important aspect of this, I believe, is to ensure that the respective agencies are focusing on their efforts on what it is they do best and are best situated to address.

To further enhance our counternarcotics and counterterrorism capabilities, we in Las Vegas are considering the options available to us to improve the coordination between the fusion center and the HIDTA. Among the options are exchange of intelligence analysts, relocating the investigative and operational de-confliction function into the fusion center, and the possible future co-location of a Southern Nevada counterterrorism center in the Las Vegas HIDTA task force.

On behalf of major city chiefs of police, as well as Major County Sheriffs' Association, I thank this distinguished subcommittee for the opportunity to share our views. Thank you.

SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.

Sherriff, let me start with you, if I may. I know that you have this fusion center, what you talk about, which sounds like it's very effective and is running the way one should run. My first question on the fusion center is how many staff the fusion center and from what agencies? How do you have it set up?

MR. GILLESPIE: We have a total of roughly 60 people that actually would -- I would say working -- what you're referring to as the fusion aspect of that particular center. That's the analytical people that we're relying on day-to-day to analyze a variety of information from local crime information to national and international as well. We have representation there from all public safety within Southern Nevada.

SEN. PRYOR: Including the federal side?

MR. GILLESPIE: Correct. Yes, we have DHS, as well as FBI participation.

SEN. PRYOR: And you're happy with how the fusion center operates?

MR. GILLESPIE: Well, I'm much happier now than I was a number of years ago in regards to the information exchange. We're not where we need to be yet. We continually work through the obstacles that we find, but I think any time you place that number of individuals in a room in a building of cross-jurisdictional and cross-disciplinary -- because, you know, we have fire in that room. We have emergency managers as well. So when you're combining all those things, you run into some of these territorial type issues, policy-procedural type issues that you have to continually work through. But we are making progress.

SEN. PRYOR: Good. And what would you guess is the percentage of the workload -- relates to drugs?

MR. GILLESPIE: At our fusion center -- very little right now. Actually, the fusion center concept -- there wasn't a lot of discussion early on about the integration of the narcotics type information. However, I have seen at the national as well as the local level renewed -- I shouldn't say renewed interest, but interest in that. One example I would give you, senator, is -- I happened to be participating in a meeting where the chief of police of -- I believe it was Newark, New Jersey -- gentleman by the name of Gary McCarthy -- talked about the fusion center in New Jersey and that they had recently incorporated the narcotics information, as well as their HIDTA information, and they were seeing huge benefit from it.

Not to mention, as I stated with the Cole Puffinberger case, bringing in the DEA in particular, with that particular case, because day-to-day they are not -- they do not have a seat in the fusion center -- was invaluable to us from the resources that they were able to bring to the table.

I don't mean to go on too long, but in regards to that, our HIDTA, in particular, has just funded an analyst position that will now be in our fusion center. So I think we definitely see the benefits of having that information incorporated into our fusion centers.

SEN. PRYOR: Great. Senator Lieberman yesterday had a committee field hearing in Arizona, and there some of the witnesses talked about the obstacles in fusion center participation, and I think the biggest obstacle they focused on was funding. They don't have the resources to fully staff and fully equip a fusion center. What have been the obstacles that you've had with your fusion center? You mentioned some of the cross-jurisdictional turf battles, but what else has been an obstacle?

MR. GILLESPIE: Funding actually people and other entities willing to give up a full time position to be at the fusion center. I have been very fortunate up 'til about -- I would say roughly a year ago to have a very robust economy in Las Vegas, and my police department was growing, which afforded me the opportunity to shift some resources. My counterparts throughout Clark County weren't quite so lucky.

So funding continues to be an aspect for us, and I think long- term one of the challenges that we will see within the fusion center aspect is that sustainment type funding, because there are -- you know, the majority of your costs associated with these centers are your salary and benefit packages associated with your personnel.

SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.

Ms. Flener, in Arkansas we have drug task forces, and they've been around for a long time, and we also now, as you mentioned in your testimony, have been able to utilize the High-intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. How do the drug task forces coordinate with the HIDTA effort? How does that work in the state?

MS. FLENER: Well, it appears to be working quite well in both places where the HIDTA is physically located. You know, that's in extreme Northwest and in the central -- but, for instance, the (Tando Halo ?) operation that I mentioned -- that brought in several of the drug task forces which were not in those sections of Arkansas that required that.

So because Arkansas is small, you know, we work on a very personal type relationship. We all know one another, and through that I think we work as well as can be expected. We just need additional resources to incorporate the northeastern part of Arkansas, which is a tremendous area for methamphetamine trafficking. You know, I think I mentioned in my written comments that those drugs that came in from Mexico came in three hubs in the western part of the United States with a population of 4.1 million, and when they were transported into a county of less than 30,000 for redistribution back to another four million, so we have -- we do have tremendous trafficking problems, and our drug task forces need the federal assistance dollars and resources to attack those problems.

SEN. PRYOR: I'll ask a question then, because I'm sure that if I don't ask it, Senator Ensign will, but I think it's on the mind of a lot of senators, and that is I think most senators -- I think it's fair to say -- don't mind allocating resources if we feel like there's accountability and we know that the money is being spent properly and is being managed well and being used effectively.

So from your perspective of a state stakeholder, what assurance can you give the subcommittee here that the HIDTA money and the other money that you are able to get from the federal government is actually being used effectively?

MS. FLENEL: Well, you know, the Gulf Coast HIDTA, of which we are apart of, has established best practices, and those have been adopted, and through the efforts with Tony Soto (ph), we intend to put those best practices in place with all of our drug task forces as well as the HIDTA initiatives.

SEN. ENSIGN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just to follow up on that, maybe all three of you could answer this. I think more specifically what we're looking for is metrics. You know, how do we measure effectiveness? You know, we can say that, you know, we all want more money, we want this, we want that, but it's just like job training programs, you know, the -- we have 13 I think different job training programs in the United States government, and not all of them are the same. They use different metrics, and metrics are really important, whether something is effective or not.

So under the areas at least under your jurisdiction that you're testifying here today, what would you establish as far as some of the metrics for this subcommittee to be able to look at and see whether you're using the money effectively?

Start with Mr. Leech.

MR. LEECH: Senator, that's a challenging question to answer. I can say that in an indirect way, not specifically on the funding of the HIDTAs and the drug task forces, that the Southwest border counter-drug strategy, which I believe -- I think we submitted a copy to Congress some time ago, the 2007 version. . I have the 2009 version here that we're in the process of finishing up. Soon we'll be putting the implementation plan to it. When we developed that implementation plan, what you will see in the strategy, the counter-drug strategy -- and it will cover those nine areas that I spoke with earlier, or rather, those ten domains that I spoke to earlier. Those will have performance measurements and metrics attached to the various actions that we'll be executing along the border.

Many of those actions have to do with our HIDTAs. As a matter of fact, of the 93 sub-supporting actions within the strategy to achieve our objectives, 24 of those have to deal with our HIDTAs, and those various actions which -- it's pre-decisional right now, so I'm not free to discuss it in detail, but of those 24 actions, there are metrics and performance measures that attach to them.

SEN. ENSIGN: Before we go to the other panelists, on those metrics, what's the feeling in DHS as far as the Title 21 authority specifically that DHS I guess maybe lacks when it comes to the -- the DEA supposedly has full Title 21, and you all don't. How do you think that that's going to affect your metrics? In other words, do you need more flexibility under Title 21?

MR. LEECH: Senator, I think for ICE to have Title 21 authority -- I think it is a very good idea. Now, I know that issue is being worked at very senior levels. The secretary is very interested in trying to work this issue. I think we are now, as you know, operating in an environment unlike any environment we've ever had in the past, and I think it's imperative that we marshal all available resources to fight this drug fight. And I think that we have to equip our soldiers, our frontline fighters, which includes our ICE agents, with every available tool out there to help them move the counter-drug effort forward.

So I think the whole issue of Title 21 -- ICE having Title 21 authority -- would be a tremendous benefit for the overall drug fight.

SEN. ENSIGN: I just raise that point because I think it is also. I think that it -- you know, it reminds me a little bit of pre- September 11th when we had all of these basically stovepipes in our intelligence community, and Sherriff Gillespie, you mentioned the whole turf battles -- you know, there's a -- there will always be turf battles, but we need to minimize them whenever possible, whoever -- I mean, from what I understand, for ICE, for instance -- if they have somebody and they arrest -- and they -- you know, it turns out to be a drug problem, they don't have the proper authorities that they need, and the bureaucracy basically gets in the way and the rules get in the way of effectively protecting our country.

MR. GILLESPIE: Yes, sir.

SEN. ENSIGN: So thank you for that.

Ms. Flener, if you could just address what I had asked, basically for specific metrics to -- for instance, the Gulf Coast HIDTA you're talking about.

MS. FLENER: Well, you know, to me, that's one of the beauties of the HIDTA program. It enables a group of executive law enforcement officials to sit down and to adequately outline performance goals and what those goals are. And I might make mention that in Arkansas within six months of having our HIDTA initiatives up and going we had already met our yearly goals. Now, maybe they may have been set somewhat low.

SEN. ENSIGN: Give me some examples of those yearly goals.

MS. FLENER: With the different types of -- well, I'm just drawing a blank. I'm sorry.

SEN. ENSIGN: Let me just -- just so we -- you know, because we can do this in writing. That's not a problem. If you could all come back to us, because we just want to know as a subcommittee what we're -- if we're going to judge you on performance, we want to know what your metrics are going to be. And we want to know -- we want to be able to look at that and have our staffs look at it and see whether we think those are also, you know, fair metrics, whether we have any ideas for other metrics to be involved, because we are, you know, the folks who have to authorize the funding.

MS. FLENER: Absolutely.

SEN. ENSIGN: And I like to authorize and appropriate funding to things that are being effective, not just because somebody likes the idea, but because they're actually being effective.

Sheriff Gillespie?

MR. GILLESPIE: I think if you look at the fusion concept itself and how it has grown since it began being discussed after 9-11, it shows at the local and state levels a desire to have an efficiency aspect to it. When it originally started, it was just Homeland Security type information that we were looking at exchanging, and we realized that we didn't just want to put all of our people in that building just to do that. We wanted to approach this all crimes, all hazards -- have it a robust 24-7, 365 type operation and the different types of information that you could exchange.

I think from a fusion center standpoint, what you need to do is talk to our customers. Are they getting the information that they desire to get? Are you getting the information that you need? Is the governor? Are other rural counties, agency heads from an information sharing standpoint? From a narcotics type standpoint, I think you can look at the numbers per se that the HIDTAs do produce, and that we as HIDTAs have to produce in an annual -- I don't know if it's an annual or biannual actual evaluation where they come out and they take a look at your individual HIDTAs and how much narcotics have you seized, how many arrests, how many PIN registers, and a variety of other things that they look at.

But really, so much of these fusion centers is focused on not only pushing the information out, but are they user friendly for the information coming in? And I really think if we develop the process to talk to our customers -- and there would be a little filtration coming back to you as to our effectiveness. It would hold us more accountable to what it is that we're doing as well.

SEN. ENSIGN: Good suggestion. When we look at, for instance, the fusion centers, you know, one of the -- you mentioned personnel coming from different, you know, agencies. And this gets back a little bit, you know, to turf and whether different agencies think things are important.

Are you getting the proper level of expertise, and also within that, do you think the DEA should have a seat? In other words, should we have DEA people within the fusion center as well permanently?

MR. GILLESPIE: I think from an analytical standpoint, yes, the information that they have. And, you know, that's our challenge at the local law enforcement level from my perspective, senator, when you're talking about personnel, because bringing in a 15-year veteran police officer and placing them in the fusion center from an analytical standpoint isn't necessarily the best way to spend your money. There's a lot of people out there that have become very good at analyzing this type of information, but they don't come cheaply. There's a huge demand for them out there. And what we're seeing is people that we may get, or other fusion centers may get -- we're losing them to other places, you know, based on salary and benefit, not only in the public sector, but the private sector as well.

SEN. ENSIGN: But to further answer the question, do you -- I guess do you feel comfortable with the expertise that, for instance, DHS would put in the fusion center, or the FBI would put in the fusion center right now? Do you feel comfortable with -- I mean, you can control some of the local, but you don't have a lot of control of who DHS puts over there, who the FBI puts over there.

MR. GILLESPIE: Within our fusion center, I'm very pleased with the level of expertise that's there. There's definitely at the local level a commitment to giving us quality people within the center.

SEN. ENSIGN: Very good.

Mr. Leech, just as a final question -- you know, the whole issue -- and I know this isn't directly under -- but maybe you and your department could get this question for us -- the issue of guns going to, you know, the southern part. I think that there's no question when the President talks about -- and when Senator Clinton, secretary of State have talked about -- you know, the demand for drugs in the United States certainly drives the drug trade. I think we would all agree with that, and we should do everything that we can to diminish the demand in the United States in every possible way, and I'm hoping that the President uses his bully pulpit to talk about drugs.

You know, the whole Just Say No campaign that Nancy Reagan embarked on was laughed at, but drug use in the United States dramatically went down during the 1980s. And I think that the President can have a tremendous role on using the bully pulpit, especially with young people, and his influence right now with young people on talking about drugs and the danger of drugs and things like that.

But the gun issue itself -- the Mexican -- you know, this whole -- 90 percent. It has been said 90 percent of the drugs, you know, going -- you know, that drug cartels are from the United States. From what I understand, the statistics is way off in that that's 90 percent of the guns that the Mexican government turns over to us for doing a background search on to find out where it came from, not 90 percent of the guns that are seized, that they only do the ones that they know come from the United States, and the vast majority -- I mean, let's just use common sense. You know, there are other countries in the world that produce guns, that it's a lot cheaper to buy from than it is from the United States, or you have to get most of these guns illegally in the first place.

And so if you could get that information so we can actually have a number when we're talking to our Mexican neighbors on a fair basis, that we're not actually -- I just visited a -- we have a wonderful machine gun manufacturer in Northern Nevada that I just visited the other day. The controls that we have -- and this is for military machine guns, obviously. The controls that we have in the United States, you know, from those weapons manufacturers are so strict that to get those weapons, you know, are very, very difficult versus buying them from other countries that produce these that don't really care and have the kind of responsibility the United States government puts on these weapons.

So if you could get that information so we can share much more legitimate numbers, especially when we're talking, you know, in the political realm with our neighbors down south, I'd appreciate that.

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir, I will. Sir, if I could also comment on just the issue of guns in a much broader sense in what we're trying to do -- the -- in particular, our office -- what our office is trying to do. And I had mentioned earlier about the Southwest border counternarcotics strategy for 2009, which you should be receiving soon, hopefully towards the end of April or very early May. It is an interagency effort that our offices -- was asked to serve as executive agents with the deputy attorney general, Officer Deputy Attorney General Stuart Nash, with his office.

And if you look in a broad sense about what the U.S. government is trying to do to secure the U.S.-Mexican border, we tried to look at it in terms of three legs, on a stool. South of the border we're talking about the Merida Initiative, resources going to the government of Mexico and how they can strengthen their law enforcement community. And then on our side of the border we have this document, the Southwest Counternarcotics Strategy. And then the third leg of that stool would be a plan, if you will, a strategy, the Border Violence Plan, which I believe you may have been briefed on the Border Violence Plan. Admiral Roof (ph) is running the operations on that.

And so we see the security of the border is very dependent on those three legs, and if Merida fails, I think this would fail. If this fails, Merida's going to fail. Very dependent. As I said in my oral -- inextricably linked -- the border violence security.

But to get back to -- address your arms issue, this is a very, very complicated issue, but the wonderful thing about it is that we have brought the two primary interagency players to the table, which is ATF and ICE, and we have actually produced an arms chapter, and I think you would be very proud of what the United States of America has put in this document in terms of trying to get control of the arms problems in the southbound flow of arms going to Mexico.

So it has been a maturing process over the years. I think we have hit our stride. The interagency has hit our stride. I think we're making a very concerted, collective, collegial effort to get at the heart of the gun problem, and not so much concerned about, you know, numbers, 80 percent, 90 percent, or, you know, how -- what percent is traceable? What percent is not as traceable? But to really address the gun issue with tremendous respect to the Second Amendment rights of every Mexican citizen. And that's what we're seeing different in this new strategy that we haven't seen before. And I think you'd be very proud of that.

SEN. ENSIGN: Just quickly, since you did put that report together, the guns that are coming from the United States -- are they bought legally, or are they obtained legally or illegally, the majority of them?

MR. LEECH: Sir, I'm not an expert, and I feel out of my league to qualify the --

SEN. ENSIGN: Could you get that? Can you get that answer for us?

MR.LEECH: Yes, sir. I will.

SEN. ENSIGN: Okay.

MR. LEECH: I mean, I can tell you in a general -- only in general terms a little bit of both, but I can get you exact numbers. I'm just not qualified.

SEN. ENSIGN: No, no, no, that's fine, and as a matter of fact, we'll have a lot more written questions that -- for all three of you for the record simply because limited time, and I know I've gone way over my time, but I appreciate the indulgence of the chairman.

SEN. PRYOR: Thank you very much. Those were great questions.

Let me start with you, Mr. Leech, kind of where you left off, and you mentioned a Southwest border counternarcotics strategy, and we should maybe have that in April, May timeframe?

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir. The strategy itself is with the White House now. Our office, CNE, with the deputy attorney general as the executive agents have been working since this past summer with the interagency to develop the actual strategy itself, roughly 40- something pages. That strategy is up at the White House.

It will be now interagency vetted through OMB, and it will come to you. We will immediately get into the implementation planning process, which typically in the last strategy, the March 2006 strategy, expanded that basic document up to around 260 pages, the implementation portion of it. So you not only have a strategy, but you have the implementation -- implementing mechanisms to execute the strategy.

SEN. PRYOR: How long will it take you to work on the implementation?

MR. LEECH: Sir, I hope to have from the time we start -- and I anticipate -- once the document is delivered to you -- let's just -- for planning purposes, let's say you get it May 1st. I hope to have the implementation complete, the implementation phase complete, by the end of May.

SEN. PRYOR: Oh, wow. Okay. So it should take you 30 days-ish.

MR. LEECH: To complete it, but then it goes through the court process, which -- it's out of our hands at that point. It's now with the White House and OMB.

SEN. PRYOR: Okay.

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir.

SEN. PRYOR: Okay. Well, you maybe have anticipated my next question, but as you are preparing the strategy and the implementation, who are you working with to do that? In other words, is it just your department? Are you reaching out to local folks? I mean, tell us who all is sort of in the room as you're having these discussions.

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir. Let's first talk about -- at the federal level. Of course, virtually all of the DHS law enforcement or pseudo law enforcement agencies within DHS, which would include your ICE, CPB, U.S. Coast Guard, include our policy office and our intelligence and analysis, our state and local folks, our inter-governmental affairs -- that is from the departmental side. ODAG, Deputy Attorney -- Office of Deputy Attorney General Stuart Nash will reach out to his Justice subordinates and bring those folks to the table. And we'll go out to the remaining of the interagency -- (OMBCP ?) works with us in corralling of the interagency together.

So at the federal level we do quite well in bringing the entire interagency together. Now, we also recognize -- and I'll just -- in terms of evolution when we built the first strategy, the 2006 strategy, two people pretty much masterminded -- or mastermind -- it's the wrong word -- choreographed that strategy. It was myself and Mr. Cronister (ph) sitting behind me. The two of us worked overtime in trying to bring the interagency together. It was a learning process. At that time the state and local players -- we reached out to state and local players, but not anywhere near to the extent that we have reached out this past effort, this most recent effort. We sent out roughly 160 invitation letters to our state and local and tribal partners asking for input on the strategy itself.

Not only that, but the -- Mr. Ted Sexton, who is part of our state and local law enforcement office within the Department of Homeland Security -- I am now apart -- have partnered with him in bi- weekly teleconference calls with all of our Southwest border sheriffs, roughly 23 sheriff communities and state and local folks where we teleconference with them every two weeks. Most recent meeting was about a week ago where we solicited more input from our state and local partners.

And if you would allow me just to take about a minute, I would like to just give you some -- this is an example of the feedback that we're getting from our state and local partners. This is from Assistant Sherriff Jim Cooke, San Diego County. And the call went out for the strategy. Please give me your input and tell us what you would like to see. What would help you do your job in a national strategy? And Mr. Cooke -- Sherriff Cooke came back and he said the increased cooperation and collaboration among federal, state, and local enforcement agencies to address drug trafficking and drug related violence are encouraging and have established the foundation for the kind of integrated and comprehensive approach that is necessary.

And then he listed specifics. He said I would like to see enhanced intelligence capabilities associated with Southwest border among all agencies. And I can provide you his letter, which -- I've made copies for everyone in the subcommittee. But he goes into further detail. He talks about fusion centers and information sharing, what needs to be done. That is, in fact -- we addressed it. We addressed it in the strategy. He said I'd like to see increased interdiction of drugs, drug proceeds, associates instance of violence through patrols, land, air, and sea, and check point operations at the points of entry.

He goes on to talk about what San Diego County is doing in that area. He said I'd like you to explore alternatives to the prosecutorial protocols based on the amount of narcotics seized, the various thresholds. Gave him an opportunity to comment on that. He said I would like to see you disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations through the use of -- layered approach involving federal, state, and local law enforcement. He said please explore the possibility of expanded involvement of all DHS agencies and local law enforcement task forces. For example, providing sworn DHS personnel who can be cross-sworn.

I want you to increase deployment of counter-drug technologies and use off-the-shelf technologies. We developed a chapter on technologies. Enhance U.S.-Mexico cooperation regarding joint counter-drug efforts by encouraging Mexico law enforcement and intel agencies to share or provide anti-narcotic information, camera feeds, license plate readers, to our state and local fusion centers. And the last one -- he said authorize federal field personnel more latitude and discretion in making resources available to assist with local anti-narcotic and anti-crime initiatives.

So the point I'm trying to make is that this didn't occur in the first strategy, nothing like this. We asked for input. Most of it was either via email or phone calls. This time we've gotten a little more robust in trying to integrate state and local into this strategy. Now, we are getting ready to open up the northern border strategy and the transit zone strategies. I talked about that in my oral. What you can expect to see as we start securing the Southwest border -- you can expect to see increased activity in the transit zone and most likely through the northern border. In our office in 2008 submitted to you those two strategies. Now, right now those are sitting at the departmental level, and we're working with the White House to try to develop those at an interagency level, and we will have to build interagency -- we'll have to expand that to an interagency strategy, and we'll have to build implementation around those strategies.

And what we've learned by developing this Southwest border strategy and working with the state and local is that we will have to make every effort to meet them face-to-face and include them at every level of state and local government to make this an effective strategy. Otherwise, it will fail if state and local is not reflected in these strategies.

SEN. PRYOR: Okay. That's helpful. Well, let me say that last month you were over at the House Homeland Security Committee and testified.

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir.

SEN. PRYOR: And you mentioned a recommendation for the adoption of criminal penalties for, quote, "persons who construct and use a tunnel or subterranean passage," quote, "for illegal traffic in drugs, guns, money, or people. Can you talk about that a little bit, and specifically, I'd just like to know about what's going on with the tunnels and the subterranean passages, and what the current penalties are for that behavior and use of those, and what you think the penalty should be to be more effective?

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir. What we've done is, again, pre-decisional, and I will provide you actually (it will be ?) from my office of general counsel because they provided input. But the use of tunnels and subterranean passages actually are a part of the strategy. So the (OEPD ?) authorization of 2006, part of that reauthorization is the requirement to build the strategy, and so every two years (OEPD ?) has to update the original 2006 strategy with the objective agents for that. But in the most recent reauthorization, we were required to address the tunnels and subterranean passages.

And again, everything is pre-decisional, but I will provide you, if you would allow me to, what the executive branch will let me forward up to you.

SEN. PRYOR: Yeah, I'd appreciate that because I think that's an important piece that I think we need to understand and keep an eye on. Let me ask Sheriff Gillespie if I can about out there in the field if there's, we've already talked about you all would like more resources, you'd like more federal money if possible and more resources, more people, et cetera. But what about is there any change in the federal law that you think would be helpful to do your job out in the field, especially as it relates to counternarcotics?

MR. DOUGLAS GILLESPIE: Not off the top of my head, Senator. I'm probably one of those police practitioners that believe we got a lot of laws on the books, and I don't always know that creating new ones is the best approach. We have to be flexible with that, and I think methamphetamine is a really good example of that. The by-products to make methamphetamine were readily available to anyone, and when we, as states, restricted the availability of those items, it significantly impacted the amount of methamphetamine that was being made in our communities.

SEN. PRYOR: Right.

MR. GILLESPIE: So I think it's one of those things you have to be flexible with and off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you right now a new federal law I'm open for.

SEN. PRYOR: Fair enough. Ms. Flener do you have any federal law that you think we ought to change?

MS. FRANCES FLENER: No, I would agree with what Sheriff Gillespie has said there. We need to work better with the laws that we have on the books. You know, in Arkansas we're quite successful with our precursor limits that we set that reduced our local labs by 50 percent, and then the tracking with an actual on-line log, that reduced blocking some 12,000 purchases.

I think, you know, we just need to do a better job to break down the silos that Senator Ensign had mentioned earlier. And that comes through dialogue. But things like the fusion centers I think go a long way in creating an environment to where we can work together.

SEN. PRYOR: Good.

MR. LEECH: If I may, Senator.

SEN. PRYOR: Yes.

MR. LEECH: My memory kicked in a little bit. One of the challenges that we are projecting to see at the enforcement level is our ability to monitor communications with encryption and a variety of other sources that have come out. Now, I'm not prepared at this point to tell you what exactly the law modifications would be, but I can tell you as early as yesterday in a meeting that I was in with other agency heads, we're projecting in out years, this could be a challenge for us. Unlike a number of years ago, we were readily accessible via wiretaps and things that were helpful to us, and we're seeing that diminish with the advancement of technology.

SEN. PRYOR: Okay, I think that's a good point. Let me ask you, Mr. Leech, I was pleased to hear you in response to Senator Ensign's questions, mention that ATF and ICE are working together on the gun portion of this issue, and I do think it's important for us to understand the facts, and the facts have been a little bit murky, or I'm not quite sure what the true facts are. But is it your impression that, and I know you're not an expert on this but maybe though if you know you can tell me, otherwise you can come back to this. But is it your impression that most of these guns going into Mexico are from the United States, or is it your impression that maybe what Senator Ensign alluded to that it's really only a portion of the guns and they're probably coming in from other countries, but they just report a pretty high percentage back to us?

MR. : (Off-mike.)

MR. LEECH: I just don't feel qualified to provide that because I've seen what would appear to be valid arguments on both sides. I've seen evidence for the rate 90 percent. Then I've seen arguments for the 90 percent represents only a small percentage. For example, in 2007 I believe there was roughly 15,000 weapons seized. Of those, 6,000 weapons were traceable back to the U.S. The other 9,000 had serial numbers taken off or had been (purchased prior to ?) 1968. The paperwork wasn't up. The federal license would have already gone out of business. So there is a great portion of those that cannot be tracked back. I don't know the answer, and I'm not the expert. So I don't want to mislead you in any way or give the impression that I know the answer, but I will get back with you with the HS position on that.

SEN. PRYOR: That'd be helpful. Like I said, I think what Senator Ensign and I would just ask is that we have a better understanding of the real facts.

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir.

SEN. PRYOR: And that'd be very helpful if you could get back to us on that.

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir.

SEN. PRYOR: The last thing I had for you, Mr. Leech, is a concern about the Mexican drug cartels reaching out to, perhaps recruiting, U.S. street gang members and gangs as well as U.S. prison gangs in their operation. Is that a valid concern, and can you tell me about that?

MR. LEECH: Certainly, in fact, to get back to you on that. The DOJ and the DOJ counterparts would have, I think, better information for you. They have gang units set up over there that study that, and anything that I could add, would just be my own personal opinion or speculation, and I don't think that's of any value to you. If I could get back with you, I'd prefer to do that.

SEN. PRYOR: That'd be helpful too because I think the first time I saw that or the first time I thought of it was in some news media reports where, you know, my impression after reading the news story was that somehow the drug cartels were operating in the U.S. in a lot of these cities, and they were doing it largely through gangs. At least that was my impression after reading the story, and again, I think it will help us considerably if we know the real state of the facts and to have a better understanding of what's going on there.

MR. LEECH: I will speak with Mr. Nash in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General's Office and get a DOJ position on that for you. As you said, the cartels have a reach into 230 cities. They have to recruit someone for their supply-chain operations, you know, for collection and distribution of those drugs. I would assume they do come from gangs. I just don't know exact numbers, but I will provide that, get that information provided to you.

SEN. PRYOR: And I guess a corollary to that would be are they also, possibly, likely using other organized crime entities that exist in these areas? You know, are they just tapping into, I'll call it, distribution infrastructure for lack of a better word. How are they doing this? I guess is the question.

MR. LEECH: Yes, sir.

SEN. PRYOR: I don't have any. Do you have any additional questions? Is there anything else you want me to? What we'll do at this point is we have some more questions that, for the record, that I'd love for you all to answer, and I know that you all have some, Senator Ensign has some, and there's probably a few more around the table that do. And so what we'll do is we'll leave the record open for 30 days. Is that, 15? Fifteen days, we'll leave the record open for 15 days, and we'll try to get those to you as quickly as possible, and if you could get those back to us within 15 days, that'd be great.

But I really want to thank you all for being here today. This was very helpful to us not only because this has been in the news media quite a bit, but also just because it's a real national problem as we've talked about. And it's an international problem with our neighbor to the south. So I really appreciate you all helping us get a better handle on this and understanding the federal, state, local coordination that needs to happen and helping us identify ways that we can be more effective in our fight against these drug cartels and these drugs coming into our country. So with that, we'll leave the record open. I know that a few people will submit either their opening statements, like Senator Bennett, or questions, and we'll leave the record open, and thank you very much. We're adjourned.

MR. LEECH: Thank you, sir.

END.


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