Opening Remarks by
Deputy Attorney General
Larry D. Thompson
OCDETF Southwest Regional Conference
September 4, 2002
San Diego, California
It is a privilege to be here in the Southwest Region of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. It truly was the opportunity to be a part of the OCDETF renaissance that was one of the things that lured me from private practice back into Government service. And I particularly want to thank Core City U.S. Attorney Mike Shelby for his leadership in moving this important OCDETF program forward. It was Mike who observed immediately that the effective administration of OCDETF demands accountability and full time, focused management by the regional coordinators. Other OCDETF Regions are now beginning to follow Mike's lead.
Presently, our country and the Department of Justice are grappling with some of the most profound perils it has ever faced . the continuing threat of terrorism of unspeakable dimensions, and pervasive corporate fraud that corrupts our economy and destroys the important investor confidence in our market. Yet, the drug problem in this country remains one of our most serious and crippling. We cannot ever forget this. And think about this: Terrorists may have taken 3,000 souls from us on September 11 . but drug traffickers take at least 16,000 American lives every single year. These same traffickers cost the United States $400 billion each year in substance abuse and addiction. The stakes are too high. We simply cannot afford to ignore this crisis or let other issues in this country divert our attention from drug enforcement.
There is a reason the Attorney General called upon OCDETF to sharpen its attack against major drug trafficking organizations and their money laundering operations. Because, it is through OCDETF and through YOU that we have the greatest chance of reducing the supply of drugs in this country and of breaking the vicious cycle of drugs and violence that threatens our nation.
Look at what drugs create. On August 9, drug violence robbed us of 28 year-old Arizona National Park Service Ranger Kris Eggle. On that day, just 2 months after graduating from training at FLETC, Ranger Eggle was shot and killed in the line of duty, as he helped the Border Patrol chase a group of hit men who had just executed 4 men for their failure to pay for a load of marijuana.
And the violence continues. Ten days later, 8 men and 1 woman were lined up and executed in Michoacan [mish - o - a - con], Mexico in other drug violence. And, during the recent National OCDETF Conference, I had the privilege of meeting the Director of Mexico's Organized Crime Office, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, who had just lost two of his commanders to drug assassinations in a 10 day period.
It is against that backdrop that the President has set ambitious goals to reduce drug use in America by 25% over the next 5 years. Only a multi-faceted drug strategy with prevention, treatment, and enforcement can get us there. But, it is our enforcement effort through OCDETF that this Administration is counting on to reduce the availability of drugs.
This is not some gamesmanship between political parties that you are caught
in the middle of. I will always be candid with you. OCDETF cannot solve America's
drug problems. Americans must solve America's drug problems . by condemning
the attempts of some to glamorize drugs and culturally de-stigmatize drug use.
While OCDETF is not the cure-all, it shoulders a great responsibility and duty
to our country. When we accomplish the President's goals, it will be due in
large measure to the fact that you men and women on the front lines of enforcement
pushed yourselves to be extraordinary.
Former Drug Czar William Bennett recently wrote about Drug Prevention and treatment, and their mutual reliance on enforcement:
"Prevention involves more than simply teaching that drug use is wrong. It entails making drugs scarcer, more expensive and less pure. When drugs are more readily available, more people try them and more people become addicted."
You in the Southwest Region are where the rubber meets the road for the entire country. Americans consume 60% of the world's cocaine, and the vast majority of that cocaine supply enters the U.S. through the Southwest Region. We have succeeded in the past and will do so again. Over the past 20 years, cocaine usage has been reduced by 75% and overall drug usage cut by one-half. We are not losing this war. I know from my own experience that OCDETF was a major player in that success. But when we allow our efforts to become diluted and unfocused, we lose ground in this battle. For example, from the mid-1980s to the early 90's, drug use amongst our high school seniors was cut in half, steadily declining each year from a high of almost 30% to a low of 14 % in 1992. But throughout the mid-1990s, the high school senior drug rate jumped back up to more than 26% for the class of 1997.
Our children are the key battlefront where we cannot afford to lose ground. It may have become unpopular in past years to refer to our struggle as a "war on drugs". But we can take a page from the successful tenets of our armed forces -- "Know Your Enemy". The Consolidated Priority Organization Target List, or "C-POT", is a clear step in that direction. Not surprisingly, more than 60% of the investigations linked to the CPOT International Command and Control Targets come from the Southwest Region. Next, following our military analogy, the military identifies a clear mission. For OCDETF, it is the singular goal that every step we take must focus on what will have the greatest impact on reducing the largest supply of drugs. And, just as the various branches of the military strategically combine air, land and sea assaults to succeed on the battlefront, the coordination of our joint forces in OCDETF are essential to our success.
For you in the Southwest Region, coordination means not just working up the supply chain to the foreign command and control of these drug organizations, but also outwards to the domestic feeder systems that move the drugs and money across the United States. Without identifying and eliminating these domestic networks, we cannot begin to stop or disrupt the revolving door of emerging leaders who assume control of drug organizations. Coordinated, multi-district cases that span the nation and the globe must become our rule . not the exception.
We are taking meaningful steps in that direction . with the new requirement of full database checks for all OCDETF investigations, along with our efforts to expand our terrorism tracking systems to identify overlaps among our drug targets, and through this region's proposed transportation strategy. I have asked that OCDETF funds be reprogrammed to support your transportation strategy. The Southwest strategy has the potential to expose all facets of the systems used by the cartels to move drugs and money throughout this country, and to lead to the identification and coordinated prosecution of these linked transportation and distribution cells throughout the United States. This is precisely the kind of strategic planning that OCDETF must cultivate if we are to have real impact in reducing the drug supply.
But to truly succeed, we must also get serious about pursuing money laundering systems and the more than $63 billion in drug money that changes hands here in the United States each year. If we don't strip traffickers of that money, we will never end the constant recycling of these drug networks.
A year ago, prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Attorney General had this to say about money laundering:
"Investigating and prosecuting money laundering....is more than a bloodless exercise in accounting. When we fight money laundering, we fight organized crime...we keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists. When we stop criminals from enjoying the fruits of their illicit activity, we serve the cause of freedom and justice. For law enforcement, there is no higher calling. And for the citizens we serve, there is no greater cause."
You have the Attorney General's attention, our vocal leadership, and vigorous support for OCDETF as you fight this important and good fight. I thank each of you for your commitment to public service, to drug enforcement and for all that you do. God bless you.