DEA Congressional Testimony
February 25, 2002

Statement by:

Sandalio Gonzalez
Special Agent in Charge
El Paso Field Division
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Before the:

State of Texas House of Representatives
Committee on State, Federal, and International Relations

Date: February 25, 2002

Good morning, Chairman Hunter and distinguished members of the Committee. I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the role of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) along the U.S./Mexico border in conjunction with other law enforcement entities.

As a single mission component of the Department of Justice, the DEA is the world's premier drug law enforcement agency. In addition to its domestic presence, the DEA maintains over 400 personnel in 56 countries to support global investigations and drug intelligence activities. DEA employees across the globe implement a policy of interagency teamwork, which is the bedrock of our longstanding tradition of cooperation.

It is important to remember that DEA is an investigative law enforcement agency whose primary duty is to confront and dismantle the world's most sophisticated drug distribution organizations. For us, the interdiction of drugs is often the beginning of an investigation rather than the end. We share our information with the federal interdiction agencies such as the U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Coast Guard in order to support the interception of illegal drug shipments.

The drug threat presented by the U.S./Mexico Border is fairly consistent with the national drug threat and, to a certain extent, defines the overall menace against our nation. Clearly, the most distinguishable problem is the transformation and emergence of Mexican based trafficking organizations. Previously limited to marijuana and Mexican heroin smuggling, Mexican based groups have expanded and profited by maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with Colombian cocaine traffickers. In response to these threats, DEA works diligently to maintain strong relationships with all law enforcement agencies-local, state, federal, and international-through intelligence sharing programs, training programs, and numerous other initiatives that I will discuss later. Sharing information with other law enforcement agencies is a vital responsibility of DEA. It is the only way that we can effectively combat illegal narcotics.

SOUTHWEST BORDER INITIATIVE

One of DEA's main functions is to coordinate drug investigations that take place along America's 2,000-mile border with Mexico; this is an effort that involves thousands of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers. Mexican drug groups have become the world's preeminent drug traffickers, and they tend to be characterized by organizational complexity and a high propensity for violence. To counter this threat, federal drug law enforcement has aggressively pursued drug trafficking along the U.S./Mexico border. The DEA, the FBI, the USCS, the U.S. Border Patrol, United States Attorneys, and state and local law enforcement agencies continue to work together to reduce the amount of illicit drugs entering the United States through the U.S./Mexico Border. Our strategy is to attack major Mexican based trafficking organizations on both sides of the border simultaneously by employing enhanced intelligence and enforcement initiatives and cooperative efforts with the Government of Mexico.

INTELLIGENCE OPERATIONS

Today, the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) serves as the principal national tactical intelligence center for drug law enforcement. EPIC is multidimensional in its approach to intelligence sharing. It has a research and analysis section as well as a tactical operations section to support foreign and domestic intelligence and operational needs in the field. It is staffed by representatives from the DEA, FBI, USCS, USCG, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, the National Security Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of the Interior. There is also a representative from the State of Texas Department of Public Safety.

EPIC manages a highly effective Watch Program, manned by Special Agents, investigative assistants and intelligence analysts to provide timely tactical intelligence to the field. The Watch Program is able to bring together in one place, the databases of every one of its participating agencies. Further, EPIC also has its own internal database that, combined with the other agency databases, provides the single most responsive, direct conduit available for a tactical intelligence center in support of every law enforcement agency in the nation.

HIGH INTENSITY DRUG TRAFFICKING AREA (HIDTA) TASK FORCES

Another example of how DEA interrelates with other agencies along the border is through our participation in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. HIDTAs are sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and their goal is to reduce drug trafficking activities in the most critical areas of the country, thereby lessening the impact of these areas on other regions of the country. The HIDTA program develops partnerships between federal, state, and local drug control agencies in designated regions by creating enforcement task forces and investigative support centers with which they can synchronize their efforts.

The HIDTA we belong to in this area is the Southwest Border HIDTA, which is comprised of five partnerships along the U.S./Mexico Border. These HIDTA Southwest Border Partnerships are located in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, and South Texas. They address important local issues such as methamphetamine trafficking, commercial interdiction, and intelligence collection.

OTHER TASK FORCE GROUPS

DEA has over 100 Task Force groups and over 1,400 task force officers nationwide. State and local law enforcement officers are assigned to these groups on a permanent basis. DEA Supervisory Special Agents working alongside supervisory level officers from state and local organizations manage them. The Task Force groups facilitate information sharing through the interaction of task force officers and DEA agents; task force officers are also able to access DEA's Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Information System [NADDIS] for database checks. In the DEA El Paso Field Division, which covers West Texas and New Mexico, we participate in state and local task forces in El Paso, Midland, Alpine, Las Cruces, and Albuquerque. State and local officers assigned to these task forces are deputized as federal law enforcement officers, enabling them to follow leads and conduct investigations nationwide.

We are also maximizing the use of technology combat drug trafficking organizations. The DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) is a comprehensive enforcement operation designed specifically to coordinate multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional, and multi-national Title III investigations against the command and control elements of major drug trafficking organizations operating domestically and abroad. The investigative resources of SOD support a variety of multi-jurisdictional drug enforcement investigations associated with the Southwest Border, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

DEA participates at the federal level in Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), which combine the resources of many agencies to provide a comprehensive approach against criminal organizations. Participating state and local agencies receive information from federal agencies that are involved in individual OCDETF investigations.

In addition, DEA's Mobile Enforcement Teams (MET) are traveling teams that deploy to a specific area at the request of that area's law enforcement officials. These teams affect target communities by using local law enforcement information and building additional intelligence to bring about narcotics arrests, drug seizures, and asset forfeitures. DEA's success in this arena depends upon the assistance and information we receive from local law enforcement. The best example of the success of this program was the recent deployment of the MET in this city, which resulted in over 60 arrests of violent gang members, all done in close coordination with the Police and Sheriff's departments.

DEA is also working to better coordinate its logistical operations with other federal agencies, including INS and FBI, along the U.S./Mexico Border, and to pursue co-location of offices wherever practical. For example, here in El Paso we occupy the same building with the FBI, and we have an informal exchange program where DEA agents work in FBI groups and vice versa. We also have a DEA agent assigned to U.S. Customs, and a Customs agent works in our office. And most important, several U.S. Border Patrol agents as well as El Paso Police and Sheriff's detectives are assigned full time to the DEA Division Office.

CONCLUSION

Drug trafficking organizations operating along the U.S./Mexico Border, which are controlled by Mexican based kingpins, continue to be one of the greatest threats to communities across this great nation. The power and influence of these organizations is pervasive, and continues to expand to new markets across the United States.

The DEA is deeply committed to intensifying our efforts to identify, target, arrest, and incapacitate the leadership of these criminal drug trafficking organizations. The combined investigations of the DEA, FBI, USCS, USBP, and members of other federal, state, and local police departments continue to result in the seizure of hundreds of tons of drugs, hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds, the indictments of significant drug traffickers, and the dismantling of the command and control elements of their organizations.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee today. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the Committee may have at the appropriate time.

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