Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. It is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss drug trafficking in the Caribbean, and Coast Guard Transit Zone interdiction operations. I am often asked to discuss the many missions of the Coast Guard with various committees. Throughout my discussions, I always emphasize that saving lives and protecting property is the common thread that runs through all Coast Guard missions. Drug interdiction is no different. By reducing the supply of cocaine, heroin, and other drugs which are smuggled across our borders, the Coast Guard saves lives and protects property from drug-related violence.
My objective in testifying before you today is to make six key points:
The connection between drugs and violent crime is irrefutable.
Interdiction is a key to successful supply reduction efforts.
Maritime interdiction is effective -- when the correct resources are applied. The Coast Guard has demonstrated this during Operation Frontier Shield.
The Coast Guard is unique in that it is the only agency with the authority and jurisdiction to conduct law enforcement operations on the high seas. As the lead agency for maritime interdiction, we are vital to the success of Transit Zone interdiction.
STEEL WEB is a comprehensive campaign plan to enable the Coast Guard to carry out our National Drug Control Strategy responsibilities. It encompasses Coast Guard operations throughout the Transit Zone, including the Eastern Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean.
The Coast Guard remains a true interagency player. We ensure our efforts are not duplicative, and adjust as neccessary to complement the efforts of the other law enforcement agencies and the Department Of Defense.
The importation of illicit drugs continues to be a significant threat to the safety, security, and well-being of all Americans. The cost to society -- in terms of lost worker productivity, soaring medical costs, and drug related violent crime -- is staggering.
The magnitude of the drug smuggling threat is enormous. About 760 metric tons of cocaine are produced annually in South America, of which roughly 640 metric tons flow north through the Transit Zone, approximately 600 metric tons of which are destined for the U.S. market. An estimated 58 percent of all cocaine enters the U.S. by crossing the Southwest border from Mexico. Most of the remainder enters through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The majority of cocaine traffic is transported by non-commercial air and maritime modes through the Transit Zone. Intelligence indicators show a shift from non-commercial air transport back to non-commercial maritime surface routes in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. This trend is most likely a result of source country successes against air traffic and a perceived lack of maritime enforcement assets. Approximately two-thirds of all cocaine reaching the U.S. is currently shipped via maritime surface modes at some point during transit, while the remainder is transported entirely via air routes. I truly believe unless the Coast Guard maintains a robust, proactive Transit Zone interdiction effort, the U.S. will see an even greater flood of cocaine on the streets and in the schools of the continental U.S. and all those Caribbean points it contacts enroute. That reality will drive prices down, increase purity, and make drug use more pervasive in our neighborhoods and schools.
The drug threat has not abated. Concealment techniques have improved, and criminal smuggling organizations have expanded their distribution networks, reaching even into our nation's elementary schools. These trends have chilling implications, as drugs have a number of detrimental effects on our society - the most notable of which is their connection to violent crime. Recent statistics show that 62 percent of violent crimes are drug-related, and violent crimes topped the list of concerns for 84 percent of American taxpayers surveyed in a 1996 Gallup poll. Marijuana use is rising in high schools, and 82 percent of Americans polled believed reducing illegal drug use among children and adolescents is an extremely important use of their tax dollars. Drugs are directly responsible for as many as 14,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the illicit drug trade drains our economy of approximately 67 billion dollars each year.
In his letter transmitting the 1997 National Drug Control Strategy to Congress, President Clinton wrote, "We must continue to shield America's air, land, and sea frontiers from the drug threat....We must continue our interdiction efforts, which have greatly disrupted the trafficking patterns of cocaine smugglers and have blocked the free flow of cocaine through the western Caribbean into Florida and the Southeast." And Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, in his acceptance speech at the beginning of the 105th Congress stated, "Drugs aren't statistics....Drugs are real human beings being destroyed....Drugs are real violence." These statements by our nation's leaders demonstrate our bipartisan commitment to combat this plague.
Among the Coast Guardsmen seated behind me is Boatswains Mate First Class Mark Fitzmorris, a boarding officer from the USCGC TAMPA, which is based in Portsmouth, Virginia. Like so many others, he has spent months on patrol in the Transit Zone. He will tell you the story of a dark and stormy night, when he and his shipmates interdicted a vessel attempting to smuggle nearly 1,700 pounds of cocaine into Puerto Rico. His story is representative of countless others, several of which will be recounted by the Coast Guard personnel on the panel, which show how the commitment of Coast Guard personnel in the Transit Zone and around the nation keeps drugs from reaching the streets and schools in your cities and towns.
Let me now provide you with an overview of the Transit Zone, which is a six million square mile area between the U.S. and the source countries of South America. It includes all of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, as well as much of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The sheer size of this area presents a formidable obstacle which must be overcome in order to achieve our objectives. The task of maintaining a comprehensive overview of activity and sorting targets of interest from legitimate air and surface traffic is daunting. Equally difficult is the logistical challenge of supporting our forces in such a widespread theater of operations, particularly in the Eastern Pacific. However, both challenges are nonetheless manageable.
As you are aware, I also serve as the United States Interdiction Coordinator (USIC). In that capacity, I provide oversight to our drug interdiction efforts in the Western Hemisphere, and ensure our interdiction programs are consistent with the President's National Drug Control Strategy. I can assure you the synergy of interagency coordination and action has never been better. Customs, Coast Guard, the Department of Defense (DOD), and the law enforcement agencies work in concert, coordinated by the Joint Interagency Task Forces (JIATF) East and West, as well as the Domestic Air Interdiction Coordination Center (DAICC). Our relationship with Caribbean countries in the Transit Zone is equally important. We have, in conjunction with the Department of State, taken measures to promote increased air and maritime interdiction efforts with these nations. One need only understand the economic implications of the narco-traffickers illicit trade to gain the proper sense of importance to the nations in this area. I am especially heartened by the development of the Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative and the exceptional interagency cooperation occurring here.
The National Drug Control Strategy specifies that an important and direct method of reducing the fiscal and social costs of illicit drugs is to interdict them before they reach our nation. Source country initiatives, domestic demand reduction programs, domestic law enforcement, and Transit Zone interdiction are all mutually supportive, but effective Transit Zone route denial forces the smuggler to do things differently ... things he doesn't want to do ... thereby exposing him to interdiction.
Coast Guard law enforcement operations are a vital component of the supply reduction aspect of the National Drug Control Strategy. Goals 4 and 5 of the Strategy clearly define our obligations: to shield America's air, land, and sea frontiers from the drug threat; and break foreign and domestic sources of supply. Within the classified annex to the Strategy, there are some 25 mission-essential tasks which we, the Coast Guard, are expected to fulfill to create an adequate level of deterrence in the Transit Zone. I'll be happy to discuss these with you in closed session, Mr. Chairman.
For those of you who may not be fully aware of the scope of the Coast Guard's counternarcotics responsibilities, let me provide some brief background information. The Coast Guard is the lead agency for maritime interdiction and co-lead with the U.S. Customs Service for air interdiction. As such, for over twenty years we have played a significant role in responding to this national problem. The Coast Guard is the only armed service with law enforcement authority, and thus is uniquely suited to balance the detection and monitoring support capabilities of the Department of Defense with the interdiction and apprehension efforts of other Federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Border Patrol.
The Coast Guard also supports South American initiatives aimed at stopping the flow of drugs at the source. We have deployed air interdiction aircraft to support the U.S. Southern Command's Operation LASER STRIKE, and provided personnel from the Coast Guard International Training Division to perform assessments and conduct riverine law enforcement training in key Source Countries. As the USIC, I am also a strong supporter of the Source Country strategy, which is consistent with the President's direction to stop drugs at the source. Furthermore, as our operations in the Source Countries disrupt the activities of the trafficking organizations, our interdiction in the Transit Zone will have even more impact on the flow of drugs towards the United States.
However, Transit Zone interdiction is by far the most important aspect of Coast Guard counternarcotics operations. In an average year, the Coast Guard keeps nearly $1.8 billion worth of illegal drugs off America's streets and out of the hands of our children. That's more than 175 million doses of cocaine. Of all Federal agencies, only the Coast Guard has jurisdiction to conduct maritime law enforcement beyond our customs waters. As a result, the Coast Guard is involved in approximately 25 percent of the total volume of all U.S. seizures of cocaine and marijuana.
Our cutters, Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs), and aircraft have established a continuous Coast Guard deterrence along the major threat axes. These high threat areas alone measure almost two hundred thousand square miles. To broaden the impact of our current Transit Zone efforts, the Coast Guard is actively involved in numerous joint operations with other agencies, and frequently conducts combined operations with the military and law enforcement organizations of our Transit Zone neighbors. Coast Guard LEDETs are deployed on U.S. Navy vessels, as well as aboard British and Dutch warships in the Caribbean. Lieutenant Jim Carlson, is the Commanding Officer of the USCGC VASHON, a 110-foot patrol boat based at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. He has participated not only in FRONTIER SHIELD, but also in several other interagency and international operations in the Transit Zone. He can personally attest to the benefits of the force multiplier effect which these joint and combined operations provide.
Coast Guard officers are also vital members of Department of State-led interagency teams which are negotiating a series of bilateral maritime counternarcotics agreements with our Caribbean neighbors to enable us to work more effectively and efficiently with them. A tribute to their success is the recent signing of a bilateral maritime counternarcotic agreement with the Government of Colombia. Over the past several years we have also signed agreements with sixteen other Transit Zone nations. These agreements help maximize the effectiveness of our cutters by reducing the time they spend waiting for authorization to either board suspect vessels or enter the territorial seas in pursuit of suspect vessels. Our multilateral efforts have made progress toward effective cooperation with our Caribbean neighbors who are working with us to deny safe havens to our adversaries who routinely violate national sovereignty. We will continue every effort to bring them to justice.
STEEL WEB is a comprehensive, flexible campaign plan to shield our maritime frontiers from the scourge of illegal drug trafficking. It is based on the premise that Transit Zone interdiction efforts remain the line of defense against drug smuggling, contributing to the ultimate success of source country initiatives and demand reduction efforts. The Operation STEEL WEB campaign has three primary objectives:
1. Shield our sea frontiers from the drug threat by:
- Increasing interdiction capability,
- Reducing gaps in surveillance coverage,
- Enhancing sea based endgame, and
- Denying transit routes.
2. Complement Source Country drug control efforts and Demand Reduction programs of other agencies.
3. Take action to meet our responsibilities under the National Drug Control Strategy.
Funding for STEEL WEB has been included in the President's fiscal year 1998 budget request. The Coast Guard has requested $388.6 million for counternarcotics, a 1.2 percent increase over the fiscal year 1997 budget. This is the first stage of a multi-year strategy to enable the Coast Guard to better meet its responsibilities and attain our program standards in support of the National Drug Control Strategy by positioning the proper asset mix in the right places.
The STEEL WEB campaign is composed of two synchronized major operations. It is a Coast Guard initiative which will be fully integrated with operations of other agencies.
OPERATION STEEL VISE is designed to apply pressure to smugglers using maritime routes to transshipment locations in Mexico. It will also provide a maritime component which will support U.S. Customs' OPERATION HARDLINE, a Southwest border control initiative. This Transit Zone operation will target the maritime routes used to ship drugs into Mexico and will cover the maritime flanks of our Southwest border in the Eastern Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.
OPERATION STEEL GAUNTLET will target the maritime routes used to transport drugs to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It will provide direct support to U.S. Customs' OPERATION GATEWAY and the ONDCP Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands HIDTA interagency initiative. We are so convinced of the importance of this initiative that we are surging our current resource base for the immediate future to continue OPERATION FRONTIER SHIELD, an ongoing proof of concept operation designed to deny smuggling routes into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As you know, it has been enormously successful as a concentrated effort in high-threat areas based on available intelligence.
The lessons learned during FRONTIER SHIELD are being applied to the design work in the STEEL WEB campaign plan. Our foremost concern, and a harsh reality, is that this operation is not sustainable for the long term without adequate funding and proper resources. The four Coast Guard personnel seated behind me have been on the front lines of this operation. They are here to tell you about their personal involvement in FRONTIER SHIELD and some of the successes which have been achieved, as well as answer any questions you may have about the operation.
The President's fiscal year 1998 budget request includes the resources we have identified to help fulfill our law enforcement mandate. Our resource priorities include, first and foremost, leveraging existing technology with an acquisition plan to enhance command and control, as well our interoperability and complementary compatibility with DOD assets. Additionally, investing in sensors will help fill the void in our surveillance and detection capability by expanding and improving the capability of our resources. Lieutenant Commander Randy Forrester is an HU-25 pilot from Air Station Miami, Florida; and Lieutenant Jim Cullinan is a C-130 pilot from Air Station Clearwater, Florida. They were both deployed to FRONTIER SHIELD with forward looking infrared (FLIR) equipped aircraft, and can illustrate the increased effectiveness which advanced technology can provide.
On February 25th of this year, the President introduced the 1997 National Drug Control Strategy. He described it as a "guide for action for the next ten years." In line with this declaration, General McCaffrey, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has required all agencies to submit five-year budget plans to provide a long-term commitment to support the Strategy. The Coast Guard is developing such a plan, and the President's fiscal year 1998 budget request is the first step in securing the necessary resources to meet our program standards and effectively carry out our Transit Zone interdiction missions.
We are seeking funding for a well-balanced package which includes investment in personnel, sensors, intelligence, OPTEMPO, and support requirements. By staging and supporting more assets and personnel in high threat areas, we will increase our presence and strengthen our ability to interdict and deter drug traffic. The investment in sensors and intelligence will allow us to work more efficiently and effectively. These are the cornerstones of our STEEL WEB campaign plan.
In summary, our mandate is clear. During the rollout of the 1997 National Drug Control Strategy, the President stated, "we have to do more to shield our frontiers against drug traffickers." He went on to say, "we have had some successes against trafficking," and "we can do better with interdiction, and we're learning how to do it," citing the success of the Coast Guard's Operation FRONTIER SHIELD as his example. Drug traffic in the Transit Zone remains a substantial threat to our national security. We must employ new tools to weave a seamless STEEL WEB of enforcement. Appropriate Coast Guard resources to detect and deter drug smugglers will enhance our maritime interdiction capability in the Transit Zone. The fiscal year 1998 budget request and the five year plan mandated by the National Drug Control Strategy will seek funding for the tools to meet our responsibilities under the Strategy by strengthening our drug interdiction program. The Coast Guard has a unique role and a sizable area of responsibility. The funding and resources requested for the STEEL WEB campaign will allow the Coast Guard to effectively shield America's maritime frontier.
In closing, I would also like to recognize your support, oversight, and
commitment to the national counternarcotics effort. As America moves into
the next century, the Coast Guard stands ready to meet our responsibilities in
this important effort. With your continued support, we can achieve the
objectives of the National Drug Control Strategy, and protect the safety,
security, and well-being of all Americans. I would like to thank you and the
members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to discuss drug trafficking
and the Coast Guard's role in the Transit Zone. I will be happy to answer
any questions you may have.