Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
DEA/Drug Enforcement Rollout
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks)
March 19, 2002

Thank you. It's my honor to be here today with the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Public service is a privilege and an honor under any circumstances, but these past six months have deepened the commitment we all share to protect the health and safety of Americans. These months have reminded us of what it was that we pledged to serve and protect when we assumed the responsibilities of our offices. We serve much more than a government, or a people. We are the stewards and protectors of set of values that together founded a nation.

When the nation came under attack on September 11, these values came under attack. For the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Agency, of course, the job of protecting our values pre-dates September 11. Nothing does more to diminish our potential - both as individuals and as a nation - than illegal drug use. Yours is the daily, dangerous, on-going work of reducing the onslaught of illegal drugs in our nation.

The apprehension of Benjamin Arellano-Felix earlier this month, the head of one of the largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations, is an example of your good work. Arellano-Felix was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. His organization is responsible for twenty percent of the cocaine that crosses the southwest border into the United States. Arellano-Felix's capture proves that when we identify major drug supply networks, isolate their leadership, and target our resources on dismantling these networks root and branch, we can reduce the availability of drugs on our streets. On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank Administrator Asa Hutchinson, the men and women of the DEA as well as Mexican authorities, the FBI and our U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of California for their courage and dedication in bringing about this capture.

The Department of Justice's priority of reducing drug abuse was given new urgency by the terrorist attacks of six months ago. Law enforcement has long known of the strong linkages between terrorism and drug trafficking. September 11 helped a wider audience of Americans see that the terrorist menace we face and the drug threat are often one and the same.

Terrorism and drugs go together like rats and the bubonic plague - they thrive in the same conditions, support each other, and feed off each other. Drug traffickers benefit from the paramilitary skills, access to weapons and links to other clandestine groups that terrorists can provide. Terrorists, for their part, gain a source of revenue and expertise in money laundering from drug traffickers.

Sometimes terrorists and drug traffickers facilitate each other's operations by providing protection or transportation services. Other times, terrorists and drug traffickers are one-in-the- same, with drug revenues providing the financing for terror campaigns. Today, almost half of the international terrorist organizations identified by the State Department are linked to illicit drug activities.

The Taliban's reliance on opium and heroin revenues, for example, is well known. And just yesterday, I announced the indictment for drug trafficking of one of the commanders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, a Colombian guerilla group. The State Department has called the FARC the most dangerous international terrorist group based in the Western Hemisphere. For decades the FARC has engaged in a campaign of terror against Colombians and U.S. citizens -- they have murdered 13 Americans and kidnapped over 100 more since 1980. Financing this activity, the State Department estimates, is the approximately 300 million dollars the FARC receives annually from drug sales. Ninety percent of the cocaine Americans consume comes from Columbia, and the FARC has controlled the primary coca cultivation and cocaine processing regions of Columbia for the past two decades.

So there is good news and bad news in the effort to protect our society from threats to its health and welfare. The good news is that we see now more clearly than before that drug traffickers are major supporters of terrorism. The bad news is that we - the American people - are major supporters of drug traffickers. Drugs in America today are bigger than big business. In 2000, Americans spent almost 63 billion dollars on illegal drugs. To put that in perspective, media giant AOL-Time Warner's total revenues for 2000 were 36.2 billion dollars -- just over half of what American drug users poured into the coffers of groups like the FARC. American drug abusers are paying for terrorism against America.

I have no illusions about the effort and dedication it will take this self-destruction. But I reject the fatalism that drives the call for surrender to the degradation and dehumanization of drug abuse. I reject the notion that a nation founded on the idea of freedom -- that each of us is free to maximize the potential that God has placed within us -- would surrender its citizens to the slavery of drug addiction. I reject the notion that America should, at the time of our greatest power and our greatest prosperity, willfully abandon millions to a deadly, destructive dependance on drugs.

In an era in which we know more than ever before about the ravages of drug abuse, surrender is not -- and cannot be -- an option. At a time when we see clearly the evil interdependence between the terrorists that kill American lives and the illegal drugs that steal American potential, surrender to either of these threats is surrender to both.

The Department of Justice is committed to freedom, not surrender to the slavery of drug addiction. Today we are announcing a new drug strategy to reduce the supply of illegal drugs that is clear-eyed without being fatalistic, ambitious without being unachievable. It is a balanced approach that understands illegal drugs as both a destructive force in the lives of individuals and a destructive force to the security of our nation.

Deputy Attorney General Thompson, who, as a former federal prosecutor of drug cases in Georgia will be the coordinator of the enforcement piece of this effort, will provide the details of this strategy in his remarks. Before he speaks, I would like to take just a few minutes to highlight some of the components of our strategy to reduce the supply of illegal drugs, which will be followed in the next several weeks with our strategy to reduce the demand for illegal drugs.

First, the federal law enforcement mission will be to cut the supply of drugs available in the United States. To establish a benchmark for our progress, we are developing reliable estimates of the amount of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine available in the United States. These inter-agency drug supply estimates will be the measure of our success.

Second, the federal government will create the first, unified national target list of drug trafficking organizations. I have issued a directive to federal law enforcement agencies to collaboratively develop this list of drug organization targets.

Third, we will focus federal resources on targeting and eliminating root and branch these major drug organizations. As we have in the Arellano-Felix and FARC cases, we will focus on the leadership level, and through the collaborative mechanism of OCDETF, move simultaneously against the different parts of targeted organizations in order to eliminate their ability to supply illegal drugs to Americans.

Fourth, through the inter-agency task force known as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, or OCDETF, we are coordinating at the highest level of the Justice Department - through Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson - the vast talent and resources of federal law enforcement to identify and target major trafficking organizations.

Fifth, OCDETF will place increased emphasis on conducting financial investigations to eliminate the infrastructure of drug organizations and on removing the profits from these organizations through asset forfeiture.

Sixth and finally, our strategy identifies the drug importation and bulk distribution "hot spots" and realigns resources commensurate with the drug threat. For the first time in the twenty year history of OCDETF, we expect major resource realignment under our strategy.

When he announced the national drug control strategy last month, President Bush set the following goals for the nation: a ten percent reduction in teenage and adult drug use over the next two years, and a 25 percent reduction in drug use nationally over the next five years.

These are great and ambitious goals, worthy of a great and ambitious nation. The drug supply reduction strategy that I have outlined today, together with the demand reduction strategy that will be announced in the next several weeks, is the Department of Justice's contribution to reaching these goals. It is our blueprint for change. And it is also our call to join the battle against drug use to the war on terrorism in an historic defense of the freedom we cherish.

Our call is not just a call to action; it is a call to values. For without freedom we cannot succeed. With freedom, we cannot fail.

Thank you very much. God bless you and God bless America.