Chief of International Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice
House Government Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice,
Drug Policy, and Human Resources
August 6, 1999
Chairman Mica and members of the Committee. It is a pleasure for me
to appear here today to testify on counterdrug issues in Colombia. We believe
that the international drug trafficking organizations based in Colombia
who smuggle their poison into our country are, indeed, a threat to the
national security of the United States.
As a law enforcement agency, DEA holds itself to a high standard of
evidence. Our investigations aim to gather evidence sufficient to indict,
arrest, and convict criminals. When DEA operates in foreign posts, we work
within the legal systems of our host nations, and of course within the
strictures of the U.S. legal system, and in cooperation with our host nation
police agency counterparts. Our evidence must be usable in a court of law,
and must withstand severe scrutiny at every level of the criminal justice
process. With that in mind, my testimony will be limited to presenting
DEA's view of the drug threat in Colombia today and a brief statement of
how we work to counter that threat.
I. INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME
DEA's mission is to target the powerful international drug syndicates
which operate around the world, supplying drugs to American communities,
employing thousands of individuals to transport and distribute drugs. The
most significant international drug syndicates operating today are far
more powerful and violent than any organized criminal groups that we have
experienced in American law enforcement. Today's major international organized
crime drug syndicates are simply the 1990's versions of traditional organized
crime mobsters U.S. law enforcement officials have fought since the beginning
of this century.
Members of international groups headquartered in Colombia and Mexico
today have at their disposal sophisticated technology -- encrypted phones,
faxes, and other communications equipment. Additionally, they have in their
arsenal aircraft, radar-equipped aircraft, weapons and an army of workers
who oversee the drug business from its raw beginnings in South American
jungles to the urban areas within the United States. All of this modern
technology and these vast resources enable the leaders of international
criminal groups to build organizations which reach into the heartland of
America, while they themselves try to remain beyond the reach of American
justice. The traffickers also have the financial resources necessary to
corrupt enough law enforcement, military, and political officials to create
a relatively safe haven for themselves in the countries in which they make
These international drug traffickers use sophisticated, high tech equipment
and are proficient in the use of cell phones, pagers, faxes and other conveniences.
The cell structure of the organizations necessitates a complex system of
communications to enable the organization's leaders to know where every
kilo of cocaine is located, how much profit is being made, and where and
when deliveries will take place. By using cell phones and pagers, the leaders
communicate with different segments of the organization, and provide only
pieces of information to each segment, thereby reducing the vulnerability
of individuals and the entire organization.
As complex as these communications arrangements of organized crime groups
are, U.S. law enforcement agencies have been able to exploit their communications
by using court-approved telephone interceptions. With the top leadership
of these organizations in hiding beyond the immediate reach of U.S. law
enforcement, we have directed our resources at their organizational structure,
and their transportation and distribution elements in the United States.
We have been able to identify, indict, and in many cases arrest, international
drug traffickers because the very feature of their operations which makes
them most formidable -- the ability to exercise effective command and control
over a far flung criminal enterprise -- is the feature that law enforcement
can use against them, turning their strength into a weakness. However,
it must be noted that the spread of non-recoverable encryption technology
threatens to remove this essential investigative tool from our arsenal,
and poses, in our view, a threat to the national security of the United
States because it will hamper law enforcement efforts to protect our citizens
from drug trafficking organizations operating abroad.
II. EVOLUTION OF ORGANIZED CRIME IN COLOMBIA
The international drug syndicates who control drug trafficking today
from the source zone, through the transit zones in the Caribbean and through
Mexico, and into the United States, are interconnected. We cannot discuss
the trafficking situation today without looking at the evolution of the
groups from Colombia --- how they began, what their status is today, and
how the groups from Mexico have learned important lessons from them, thereby
becoming major trafficking organizations in their own right.
Throughout the 1980's and into the early 1990's, the Medellin Cartel
dominated the international cocaine trade. In the late 1980's, the Ochoa
brothers (Juan David, Jorge Luis, and Fabio) ran the most powerful of the
Medellin Cartel drug trafficking organizations. Taking advantage of Colombia's
lenient sentencing provisions, the Ochoa brothers voluntarily surrendered
to the Colombian Government in late 1990 and early 1991. Following their
surrender and the violent deaths of Jose Rodriguez Gacha (December 1989)
and Pablo Escobar (December 1993), the Medellin Cartel fragmented and gradually
lost its secure lock on the international cocaine market.
In the early 1990s, as their predecessors from the Medellin cartel surrendered
to avoid extradition, the loose association of five independent drug trafficking
groups collectively known as the Cali Cartel dominated the international
cocaine market. Where the Medellin cartel was brash and publicly violent
in their activities, the criminals who ran their organization from Cali,
labored behind the pretense of legitimacy, by posing as businessmen carrying
out their professional obligations. The Cali leaders --- the Rodriguez
Orejuela brothers, Jose Santacruz Londono, Helmer "Pacho" Herrera Buitrago---
amassed fortunes and ran their multi-billion dollar cocaine businesses
from high-rises and ranches in Colombia. Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and
his associates comprised what was, until then, the most powerful international
organized crime group in history. They employed a wide range of aircraft,
including Boeing 727s, to ferry drugs to Mexico, from there the drugs were
smuggled into the United States, and then the money from U.S. drug sales
was returned to Colombia with. Using landing areas in Mexico, they were
able to evade U.S. law enforcement officials and make important alliances
with transportation and distribution experts in Mexico.
With intense law enforcement pressure focused on the Cali leadership
by the brave men and women in the Colombian National Police during 1995
and 1996, all of the top leadership of the Cali syndicate ended up either
in jail, or dead. The capture of the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers in 1995,
the death of Jose Santacruz Londono in March 1996, and the surrender of
Helmer Herrera in September 1996--have accelerated the decentralization
of the drug trade. Since the Cali leaders' imprisonments (on sentences
that in no way matched the severity of their crimes) traffickers from Mexico
took on greater prominence. The alliance between the Colombian traffickers
and the organizations from Mexico benefitted both sides. Traditionally,
the traffickers from Mexico have long been involved in smuggling marijuana,
heroin, and cocaine into the United States, and had established solid distribution
routes throughout the nation. Because the Cali syndicate was concerned
about the security of their loads, they brokered a commercial deal with
the traffickers from Mexico in order to reduce their potential losses.
This agreement entailed the Colombians moving cocaine from the Andean region to the Mexican organizations, who then assumed the responsibility of delivering the cocaine to the United States. As the arrangement evolved, trafficking groups from Mexico now are routinely paid for their services in multi-ton quantities of cocaine, making them formidable cocaine traffickers in their own right.
Drugs at The Source
The international drug syndicates discussed above control both the sources
and the flow of drugs into the United States. The vast majority of the
cocaine entering the United States continues to come from the source countries
of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. Virtually all of the estimated six metric
tons of heroin produced in Colombia in 1998 is destined for the U.S. market.
For nearly two decades, crime groups from Colombia have ruled the drug
trade with an iron fist, increasing their profit margin by controlling
the entire continuum of the cocaine market. Their control ranged from the
coca leaf production in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, to the cocaine hydrochloride
(HCl) production and processing centers in Colombia, to the wholesale distribution
of cocaine on the streets of the United States.
Colombian traffickers continue to import cocaine base from the jungles
of Bolivia and Peru, but in ever decreasing amounts. Coca leaf production
continues to grow within Colombia itself. The traffickers move the cocaine
to the large cocaine HCl conversion laboratories in southern Colombia.
The vast majority of the cocaine base and cocaine HCl destined for the
United States is produced in these laboratories throughout Colombia. Many
of these activities take place in the southern rain forests and eastern
lowlands of Colombia. Most of the coca cultivation in Colombia occurs in
the Departments of Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo. This cultivation occurs
in areas that are effectively under control of insurgent groups. Cocaine
conversion laboratories range from smaller "family" operations to much
larger facilities, employing dozens of workers. Once the cocaine HCl is
manufactured, it is either shipped via maritime vessels or aircraft to
traffickers in Mexico, or shipped through the Caribbean corridor, including
the Bahamas Island chain, to U.S. entry points in Puerto Rico, Miami, and
Drugs in Transit
Over half of the cocaine entering the United States continues to come
from Colombia through Mexico and across U.S. border points of entry. Most
of this cocaine enters the United States in privately-owned vehicles and
commercial trucks. There is new evidence that indicates a few traffickers
in Mexico have gone directly to sources of cocaine in Bolivia and Peru
in order to circumvent Colombian middlemen. In addition to the supply of
cocaine entering the U.S., trafficking organizations from Mexico are responsible
for producing and trafficking thousands of pounds of methamphetamine.
Drug trafficking in the Caribbean is overwhelmingly influenced by Colombian
organized criminal groups. The Caribbean had long been a favorite smuggling
route used by the Cali and Medellin crime groups to smuggle cocaine to
the United States. During the late l970's and the l980's, drug lords from
Medellin and Cali, Colombia established a labyrinth of smuggling routes
throughout the central Caribbean, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic
and the Bahamian Island chain to South Florida, using a variety of smuggling
techniques to transfer their cocaine to U. S. markets. Smuggling scenarios
included airdrops of 500-700 kilograms in the Bahamian Island chain and
off the coast of Puerto Rico, mid-ocean boat-to-boat transfers of 500 to
2,000 kilograms, and the commercial shipment of multi-tons of cocaine through
the port of Miami.
After Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his confederates in the Cali crime
syndicate were brought to justice by Colombian authorities in 1995, new
groups from the North Valle del Cauca began vying for control of the lucrative
markets on the United States East Coast, previously dominated by Rodriguez
Orejuela. Experienced traffickers who have been active for years--but worked
in the shadow of the Cali drug lords-- have more recently proven adept
at seizing opportunities to increase their role in the drug trade. Many
of these organizations began to re-activate traditional trafficking routes
in the Caribbean to move their product to market.
DEA's focus on the Cali organization's command and control functions
in the U.S. enabled us to build formidable cases against the Cali leaders,
which allowed our Colombian counterparts to accomplish the almost unimaginable--
the arrest and incarceration of the entire infrastructure of the most powerful
crime group in history. Although Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his confederates
continue to direct a portion of their operations from prison they are no
longer able to maintain control over this once monolithic giant. Now, independent
groups of traffickers from the Northern Valle del Cauca have replaced the
highly structured, centrally controlled business operations of the Cali
group. These new groups tend to be smaller and less monolithic; however,
they continue to rely on fear and violence to expand and control their
III. ORGANIZED CRIME SYSTEMS BASED IN COLOMBIA
Despite the rise to power by the Mexican crime syndicates and their
increasing control of the wholesale cocaine trade in the United States,
Colombian traffickers still control the manufacture of the vast majority
of cocaine in South America and their fingerprints are on virtually every
kilogram of cocaine sold in U.S. cities and towns.
DEA has identified major organizations based on the northern coast of
Colombia that have deployed command and control cells in the Caribbean
Basin to funnel tons of cocaine to the United States each year. Colombian
managers, who have been dispatched to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic,
operate these command and control centers and are responsible for overseeing
drug trafficking in the region. These groups are also directing networks
of transporters that oversee the importation, storage, exportation, and
wholesale distribution of cocaine destined for the continental United States.
Colombian trafficking organizations have potentially produced an estimated
165 metric tons of cocaine HCl, some six metric tons of heroin, and over
4,000 metric tons of marijuana in 1998. The bulk of these illicit drugs
is destined for the United States. Colombian traffickers continue to control
the supply of cocaine at its source and dominate the wholesale cocaine
market in the eastern U.S. and Europe.
As indicated above, traffickers from Colombia supply almost all of the
cocaine to the Mexican crime syndicates. The Mexican organizations purchase
cocaine, as well as accepting cocaine in payment for services, from Colombian
groups. This change in the manner in which business is conducted is also
driven by the new trafficking groups in Colombia, who have chosen to return
to the Caribbean to move their cocaine to the United States.
Mexican organized crime syndicates now control the distribution of cocaine
in the western half and the Midwest of the United States. Moreover, the
Colombians have franchised to criminals from the Dominican Republic a substantial
portion of the mid-level wholesale cocaine and heroin trade on the East
Coast of the U.S. The Colombian groups remain, however, in control of the
sources of supply. The Dominican trafficking groups, already firmly entrenched
as low-level cocaine and heroin wholesalers in the larger Northeastern
cities, were uniquely placed to assume a far more significant role in this
The Dominicans in the U.S., and not the Colombians, are the ones subject
to arrest, while the top level Colombians control the organization with
increasingly encrypted telephone calls. This change in operations reduces
profits somewhat for the syndicate leaders. It succeeds, however, also
in reducing their exposure to U.S. law enforcement. When arrested, the
Dominicans will have little damaging information that can be used against
their Colombian masters. Reducing their exposure, together with encrypted
communications, puts the Colombian bosses closer to their goal of operating
from a political, legal, and electronic sanctuary.
IV. COLOMBIAN CRIME GROUPS IN THE U.S.
Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the U.S. -- consisting of mid-level
traffickers answering to the bosses in Colombia -- continue to be organized
around "cells" that operate within a given geographic area. Some cells
specialize in a particular facet of the drug trade, such as cocaine transport,
storage, wholesale distribution, or money laundering. Each cell, which
may be comprised of 10 or more employees, operates with little or no knowledge
about the membership in, or drug operations of, other cells.
The head of each cell reports to a regional director who is responsible for the overall management of several cells. The regional director, in turn, reports directly to one of the drug lords of a particular organization or their designee based in Colombia. A rigid top-down command and control structure is characteristic of these groups. Trusted lieutenants of the organization in the U.S. have discretion in the day-to-day operations, but ultimate authority rests with the leadership in Colombia.
Upper echelon and management levels of these cells are normally comprised
of family members or long-time close associates who can be trusted by the
Colombian drug lords -- because their family members remain in Colombia
as hostages to the cell members' good behavior -- to handle their day-to-day
drug operations in the United States. The trusted personal nature of these
organizations makes it that much harder to penetrate the organizations
with confidential sources. That difficulty with penetration makes intercepting
criminal telephone calls all the more vital. They report back to Colombia
via cell phone, fax and other sophisticated communications methods. Colombian
drug traffickers continually employ a variety of counter-surveillance techniques
and tactics, such as fake drug transactions, using telephones they suspect
are monitored, limited-time use of cloned cell phones (frequently a week
or less), limited use of pagers (from 2 to 4 weeks), and use of calling
cards. The top level managers of these Colombian organizations increasingly
use sophisticated communications and encryption technology, posing a severe
challenge to law enforcement's ability to conduct effective investigations.
V. TERRORIST INVOLVEMENT IN THE DRUG TRADE
There is deep concern in DEA, as in the rest of the Administration and
in the Congress, about the connection between the FARC and other terrorist
groups in Colombia and the Drug Trade. This summer's events in Colombia
demonstrate the danger posed to the Colombian people by the terrorists.
The Colombian government is now engaged in responding to this armed challenge.
DEA will continue to pay close attention to FARC involvement in the drug
trade. We will, together with our Colombian partners, take whatever steps
are necessary to attack the international organized crime groups that are
the driving force behind the drug trade and the armed groups that may be
DEA has in the past demonstrated its ability and willingness to fight
drug trafficking. For example, we participated in the struggle with Pablo
Escobar in Colombia, a trafficker who turned to terrorism when the net
was closing around him. DEA worked openly with the Colombian Police to
hunt him down. We will work alongside our long-term colleagues in the CNP
to indict and bring to justice any drug trafficker, FARC or otherwise,
as long as the charges can be proven in court. DEA carries out its operations
in partnership with the CNP.
An alliance of convenience between guerillas and traffickers is nothing
new. Since the 1970s, drug traffickers based in Colombia have made temporary
alliances of convenience with leftist guerillas, or with right wing groups.
In each case, this has been done to secure protection for the drug interests.
At other times, the drug traffickers have financed their own private armies
to provide security services.
General reporting indicates that many elements of the FARC and the ELN
raise funds through extortion, or by directly selling security services
to traffickers. Their actions are by no means limited to dealing with the
traffickers. The terrorists extort from all manner of economic activity
in the areas in which they operate. In return for cash payments, or possibly
in exchange for weapons, the terrorists protect cocaine laboratories, drug
crops, clandestine airstrips, or other interests of the drug traffickers.
The terrorists are not the glue that holds the drug trade together.
It is, however, certainly true that the "cash cow" represented by the drug
trade has taken on a big, and probably growing role in financing the terrorists.
If the traffickers did not buy security from the FARC or ELN, they would
buy it from elsewhere -- as they have done in the past.
The frequent ground fire sustained by CNP aircraft when engaged in eradication
missions over FARC or ELN controlled areas is indicative of the extent
to which the terrorists will go to protect the drug interests. Some of
these shootings may well have been angry peasants lashing out at a government
target. In either case, these shooting incidents pose a threat to personnel
conducting counter-lab or eradication operations.
VI. LAW ENFORCEMENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
The Colombian National Police is a major law enforcement organization
with a long and honored tradition of integrity. The CNP had some corruption
problems in the 1980s and early 1990s, but took the needed steps to address
that corruption and have moved on to aggressively attack the drug menace.
Under the direct command of General Rosso Jose Serrano, the CNP has become
recognized for its dedication, patriotism and commitment to integrity.
The CNP has introduced fundamental changes in the force in order to make
it a thoroughly modern and efficient institution within the context of
Colombia and the international community.
General Serrano has been an advocate on behalf of the thousands of loyal
and dedicated Colombian National Police officers within the ranks. He has
encouraged their motivation, even in the face of the tragic losses of over
900 fellow police officers in the last three years alone. The fact that
the CNP, and other members of Colombia's law enforcement community, were
able and willing to pursue operations against the drug underworld is a
testament to their professionalism and dedication.
All of the top Cali drug lords either have been captured by the CNP,
have died, were killed, or have surrendered to Colombian authorities. These
unprecedented drug law enforcement successes were the culmination of years
of investigative efforts by the CNP, with active support from DEA. Unfortunately,
Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his associates, who comprised the most powerful
international organized crime group in history initially received shamefully
short sentences for their crimes. In January 1997, Gilberto was sentenced
to 10 and 1/2 years in prison on drug trafficking charges. As a result
of Colombia's lenient sentencing laws, however, Gilberto may serve only
five years. Miguel, originally sentenced to nine years, was later sentenced
to 21 years on Colombian charges based on evidence supplied by the United
States Government in the Tampa, Florida, evidence-sharing case. Miguel
is expected to serve less than 13 years in prison. The Colombian judicial
system must be strengthened to that the traffickers, once convicted, are
sentenced to terms commensutate with their crimes.
The CNP continues to pursue significant drug investigations in cooperation
with the DEA. The CNP is also aggressively pursuing significant counterdrug
operations against cocaine processing laboratories, transportation networks,
and trafficker command and control elements. We expect these operations
will result in prosecutions in both Colombia and the United States.
VII. CONCLUSION: HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
By way of conclusion, we can and should continue to identify and build
cases against the leaders of the new criminal groups from Colombia. These
criminals have already moved to make our task more difficult by withdrawing
from positions of vulnerability and maintaining a much lower profile than
their predecessors. A number of initiatives hold particular promise for
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee today.
I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have.