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Public Statements

Briefing by Rep.s of the Obama Administration

Press Conference

By:
Date:
Location: Albuquerque, NM

Subject: National Strategy to Reduce Drug Trafficking and the Flow of Cash and Weapons Across the Southwest Border of the United States

Briefers: Attorney General Eric Holder; Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Secretary; Gil Kerlikowske, Director National Drug Control Policy

Moderator: William Webster, Chairman, Homeland Security Advisory Council

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ATTY. GEN. HOLDER: Thank you, Judge Webster, for that introduction and for all that you have done and continue to do for the American people.

It is good to return to the Southwest, especially with my friends and partners, Secretary Napolitano and Director Kerlikowske. Fighting the cartels and preventing cartel-associated violence from spreading in our border region is one of this Administration's most important tasks.

To the members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, as well as the many state and local law enforcement agencies, we appreciate your efforts and hope we can help provide you with the support you need. It is you who are on the front lines, facing these issues every day and doing your best to protect our communities. We are grateful for your courage and hard work, and we are committed to ensuring your continued success.

The National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy we are introducing today is a central component of our comprehensive national response to the threat along the Southwest border.

Drug trafficking cartels spread violence and lawlessness throughout our border region and reach into all of our nation's communities, large and small. By focusing on increased cooperation between the United States and the Mexican governments as well as enhanced communication within the U.S. law enforcement agencies, the National Southwest Border Counternarcotics strategy that we introduced today provides an effective way forward that will crack down on cartels and ultimately will make our country much safer. The strategy complements the increases in border security resources recently announced by the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security's operations plans for border-related contingencies, our cooperation with Mexico through the Merida Initiative, and our national effort to reduce the demand for illegal drugs at home. This strategy is tough, it is smart, and it is balanced.

The Department of Justice, along with the Department of Homeland Security, OMBCP and numerous other state and local agencies all bring valuable expertise needed to disrupt the drug trafficking and related criminal activity that fuel the devastating violence in Mexico and diminishes the quality of life, not only along the Southwest border, but in many other areas of the United States as well.

This fight must be a national priority.

Now, our success requires all related agencies to communicate and work together effectively. It also depends on our ability to continue working effectively with our partners, the government of Mexico. President Calderon has taken unprecedented steps to fight the cartels in his country. His administration is showing in its actions that they are committed to match and enhance our efforts. I am confident that this will ultimately yield sustained progress against drug cartel activities in both of our nations.

The National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy outlines steps that we can take in the fields of intelligence and information- sharing, border security, investigations and prosecutions and law enforcement technology to continue building on our success and partnership on both sides of the border.

Of particular importance to me and to the Department of Justice are the components of this new strategy aimed at enhancing investigations and prosecutions of drug traffickers, arms traffickers, and money launderers. To win this fight we must pursue the most significant and strategic cases against these cartels, their leaders, and their operations. But just as importantly we must enhance coordination among federal agencies and identify areas for improved coordination with our state and local partners and bilaterally with the government of Mexico.

These efforts in part will build upon existing successful programs like the Interagency Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, the El Paso Intelligence Center, and our bilateral work with our Mexican counterparts.

Ultimately, they will allow us to more effectively generate intelligence about cartel activities, target cartel vulnerabilities, and thereby give us a greater ability to arrest and prosecute cartel leaders and to dismantle cartel operations. It was a successful strategy that was employed against organized crime in the past, and it will be effective again.

Just yesterday in the Eastern District of Texas prosecutors announced the arrest and indictment of 17 individuals in Operation Highway, a coordinated effort targeting an alleged drug trafficking organization. Over 1,000 kilograms of cocaine worth $22 million were seized as a part of that operation.

Now experience shows that the most effective means to attack sophisticated criminal organizations such as the Mexican drug cartels is through the use of multi-agency task forces. Such task forces allow each participating agency to bring its specialized knowledge and expertise to bear against a common target. Through the pursuit of this strategy, we anticipate additional successes similar to what was achieved in Operation Accelerator, a 21-month multi-district and bilateral narcotics trafficking and money laundering investigation targeting the Sinaloa Cartel.

This operation combined numerous individual investigations in the United States, Mexico, and Canada with a common focus on the drug trafficking activities of one of the largest Mexican drug cartels. The extensive cooperation and coordination with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners resulted in more than 750 arrests, the seizure of $59 million in illegal drug proceeds, more than 12,000 kilos of cocaine, 1,200 pounds of meth amphetamines, 1.3 million Ecstasy pills, and more than 160 weapons. This is the kind of effort that we have to replicate.

This new strategy will improve intelligence support to investigations and increase the number of agents, prosecutors and other criminal justice system personnel along the Southwest border.

The strategy also acknowledges that drug trafficking (audio break) arms smuggling as well. Now while this new strategy will not solve all of our problems related to drug trafficking along the Southwest border and throughout the United States overnight, it lays out a practical and effective new approach that I am confident will yield measurable and significant results. I look forward to working with our partners in the days and in the weeks ahead as we implement the strategy and bring to bear the full resources of the government against these organizations.

It's now my pleasure to introduce my friend who I had the privilege to get to know as a fellow United States Attorney and who is now one of my most trusted colleagues, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. (Applause.)

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, thank you. And good morning. Thank you, Attorney General. It's good to see everybody again.

We are here together, the three of us, because all three of our respective agencies—the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and ONDCP—have critical roles to play in our ongoing fight against not just the drug cartels but drug trafficking across the Southwest border. And then with respect to the presence of the arms or the fingers of these organizations into the neighborhoods, the cities, the communities, in every state basically of the United States.

This is a unified plan that is being announced today.

It crosses, as I just mentioned, a number of different areas and coordinates them in many, many significant ways. It is a reinvigoration of a truly national strategy and national priority against drug trafficking.

Now as has been mentioned, the Department of Homeland Security has been heavily engaged on the Southwestern border since the advent of the Obama administration. The Homeland Security Advisory Committee has already heard a report from Alan Bersen (sp) on our efforts underway at the border. But suffice it to say that we have added literally hundreds of agents in the field. We've added technology at the ports, things like scales so we can measure vehicles to see if they are heavier than they ought to be, things like scanners. We've added more dog teams, dogs trained to sniff not just drugs but also guns and bulk cash because in addition to our enhanced efforts about traffic and contraband moving north, we are also engaged on a southbound strategy. That is, knowing that the cartels are fueled in part by the cash that is garnered by the sale of drugs in the United States and by arms that they can acquire in the United States. We are working to impede the traffic of that cash and those arms moving south.

So for the first time we are doing southbound inspections of rail, and we are now doing southbound inspections of vehicles and working with the government of Mexico so that they themselves begin doing southbound inspections as well, which is something that before was not occurring.

In addition to this, we are expanding our Secure Communities Program. Secure Communities is the name given to an approach that allows us to identify criminal aliens that are already located within our local jails. Basically it allows local sheriff's deputies, whoever it is that's operating the jail, to have immediate access to immigration databases to know who is in the country, who is in the jail, who is in the country illegally so that the immigration status can be verified before whoever is in the jail is simply released back out into the public.

This has proven very successful in its initial stages, so much so that in the FY '10 budget the president has asked for a huge increase in the funding for Secure Communities so we can spread it across the country.

We think that by making it easier for law enforcement working local, state and federal and getting access to these kind of databases, we make for better law enforcement, and we make for better use of our law enforcement dollars to identify those who are already in our country who are seeking or violating our criminal laws. And a great number of these will be in jail because they were violating the laws against drug trafficking. They are part of that network. So that is ongoing as well.

We are working to improve communication and intelligence sharing, to better detect smuggling patterns on both sides of the border, and we are working with our partners in the Department of Justice to handle a number of cases. But one in which I think we have particular interest is if we can supply information that will help in the prosecution of the crimes that augment drug trafficking such as money launderers.

In addition to that, our international cooperation is very, very key. And quite frankly, as someone who has been working on border related matters for a number of years, we have an unprecedented opportunity now working with the federal government of Mexico to take the fight against these cartels from both directions. And this is a window of opportunity that we should not let go by.

As the attorney general mentioned, the Merida Initiative is very important. This is a congressional appropriation of funds to provide resources, training and equipment for Mexican law enforcement. The goal obviously is to increase civilian law enforcement within Mexico in the capacity of civilian law enforcement within Mexico on an ongoing and sustained way.

So our working state and local, working to make better yield or better use of the dollars that we do have through things such as Secure Communities, working with the government of Mexico, all part of a cohesive strategy against the drug cartels and drug trafficking.

But let me close with the other part of this. This is so very, very important. That is, we cannot just fight drugs at the border, and we cannot just fight drugs by fighting the drug traffickers. We have to go after the distribution within the United States because it's not just the border that is at risk here. This is why this is an issue for Homeland Security because every community, every state in this country is experiencing the outreach of the drug traffickers and of these big, large multi-national cartels.

So interior enforcement is key, and as well is demand reduction. In other words, how do we get at not just the supply side of this issue but at the demand side in a more effective manner? That's what is meant by, when we say "a comprehensive Southwest border drug strategy," because it covers all of these elements. And the plan that is being released here covers these elements together because without them all together we will not achieve the kinds of successes that we should.

So with that, let me introduce the head of ONDCP, with a long record and a distinguished record in law enforcement, Director Gil Kerlikowske, to talk about the ONDCP aspect of this very, very important strategy.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: Well, good morning, everybody. It's a pleasure to be with you. I certainly want to thank the secretary, and it's such a pleasure to be also with the attorney general and the Homeland Security Advisory Committee. It's much better committee now that I've been kicked off, so -- (laughter)

There's so many friends here, so many people on this committee that will serve you so well and the Department of Homeland Security and our nation with their advice.

Twenty-five years ago Judge Webster presented my recognition when I graduated from the FBI National Academy, and he has embodied throughout his whole career the importance of cooperation among law enforcement agencies. Twenty-five years ago I didn't need these reading glasses, but now if you'll let me do that.

I'm so grateful to the secretary and her team at DHS that put this strategy together and the attorney general and the team at the United States Department of Justice. The Counternarcotic Strategy that we're releasing today is going to leverage the talent and the energy as we face some of the most significant challenges in our country.

You know, there's been a lot of discussion, as there should be, about the drug and violence-related challenges faced by the government of Mexico and the steps they need to take to defeat the cartels. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the courageous efforts made by President Calderon in taking on the cartels. He and his administration deserve our absolute sustained support.

We talked about the importance of working together as one team to stop the flow of drugs into our country, and as the secretary mentioned the southbound flow of both currency and weapons. You know, this is a large, complex and important undertaking, and I applaud all of the partners who are involved in this effort.

Clearly the money and the weapons are just as important to the cartels as the drugs. DHS and DOJ are actively engaging and listening to state and local officials. I can't think of three people -- (audio break) -- of former U.S. attorneys, prosecutors, a governor, a police chief, that really recognize and appreciate and understand the importance of the cooperation we have to have from, and the support that we have to provide to, the state and local officials.

We also knew, whether I was in Seattle or whether I talked to my colleagues that were police chiefs in other parts of the country that the border didn't stop at Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or California. The tentacles of the drug cartels are in many communities. They operate in cities and suburbs, in rural areas. Without the help of state and local enforcement, federal authorities will never have the detailed knowledge of how these cartels theirselves operate and distribute the drugs and collect the money and take the weapons back.

The shipments of bulk currency and weapons that slip across the border into Mexico every year don't appear out of thin air. These illegal organizations operate throughout the United States. They collect and they move their contraband through local communities, and they build networks of stash-houses, organizational cells, and others. And they have a courier, a fleet of vehicles and a fleet of people, who can transport these things.

You know, I'm committed to making sure that the federal agencies cooperate and share information, and they are doing an incredible job of supporting local law enforcement. Significant improvements during the long career that I have had in law enforcement.

Let me reiterate that state and local law enforcement also has to put the vast array of the data that they collect in the course of just daily police work into our national efforts to reduce the drug problem and to stop these cartels. We're not going to beat back this tough challenge through border interdiction alone. And the best way to partner with President Calderon and the Mexican authorities is for us to gain a deeper understanding of these trafficking operations. We have to collect and analyze and disseminate vast quantities of information. We have to invest the time and the effort in the complex investigations, and we have to use all of the legal investigatory tools that are available to us.

Part of the Obama administration's efforts to turn this problem around in addition to previous initiatives that have been announced by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice is through the document that we're releasing today, the National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy. Each chapter contains specific recommended actions developed by teams of experts throughout the government. ONDCP, the office where I serve as director, is committed to ensuring the implementation of all parts of this comprehensive plan. There are a number of specifics in there, some of which were mentioned by colleagues, and I'm sure that this august body will memorize all of the specifics contained in this plan.

As part of the plan, we also will provide a public report on the implementation of the counternarcotic strategy as part of the Obama administration's National Drug Control Strategy which will be released early next year. This will not only ensure accountability, but it will make it clear that combating the flow of drugs and money and weapons across the Southwest border must be a core element of our nation's approach to the entire drug problem.

I look forward to working with my colleagues here today as well as my partners and friends in local and state law enforcement as we address this, and I thank you very much. (Applause)

MR. WEBSTER: Thank you very much, Gil. We wish you continued success in your new assignment, and we're glad we'll have an opportunity, and we hope we'll have an opportunity to continue to work together.

MR. KERLIKOWSKE: Thank you, Judge.

MR. WEBSTER: Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder, we really appreciate your finding time to be with us this morning on this important occasion, and significant occasion, and we pledge you our continued efforts to be helpful to you.

At this time, we're going to bring the session to a close. Members of the public and Fusion participants who are picking this up on the television who would like to provide comments to the Homeland Security Advisory Council may do so in writing—so if you have your pencils ready—by writing to the: Homeland Security Advisory Council, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC 50528. You can also e-mail us at hsac@dhs.gov. HSAC information and meeting minutes may be found at www.dhs.gov/HSAC. Our meeting notices are posted in the Federal Register in compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Members, will you please stay in your places as our guests leave and our members, those in the audience, are free to leave at this point. We appreciate your attendance, and we look forward to serving you in the future.

This meeting is closed. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END.


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