DEA Congressional Testimony
December 12, 2002


Statement of
Rogelio E. Guevara
Chief of Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
Before
House Committee on Government Reform

Executive Summary

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) employs a global approach in attacking international heroin trafficking organizations that bring misery to America's cities and citizens. DEA's strong presence around the world enables the agency to focus its resources on the most substantial of these organizations.

Colombia and the Andean region countries face dramatic new challenges in combating heroin trafficking groups. In order to foster a comprehensive and strategic approach to the South American heroin problem, DEA will continue to invest considerable time and resources in the close partnerships the agency is developing with its counterparts in the region.

DEA will reach its goal of targeting, investigating, and destroying heroin trafficking groups having the greatest impact on the United States by utilizing a number of intelligence and enforcement strategies, including:

  • Working with host-nation counterparts to target and dismantle the South American heroin trafficking organizations with the most significant impact on the United States
  • Proactively collecting, analyzing and distributing vital intelligence information to the domestic and international law enforcement community
  • Establishing the Colombian Heroin Task Force to coordinate all heroin investigations within Colombia with other South American countries and DEA offices elsewhere
  • Coordinating with local, state, and federal law enforcement entities to combat groups who operate illicit heroin enterprises

Chairman Burton and distinguished members of the committee, it is a pleasure for me to appear before you for the first time in my capacity as the Chief of Operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Before I begin Mr. Chairman, I would like to take a moment to thank you, on behalf of Administrator Hutchinson and the men and women of the DEA, for your continued support of both our international and domestic efforts to combat heroin and other drug trafficking organizations. I look forward to a productive and cooperative relationship with the committee on this most important issue.

I appear before you today to testify about the high-purity, low-price Colombian heroin that has come to dominate the heroin market in the Eastern United States. Although abuse of cocaine and marijuana are far more prevalent than heroin abuse, heroin's highly addictive nature, and recent increases in its potency and availability make it one of the more significant challenges we in the law enforcement community face. DEA has directed significant enforcement and intelligence assets to identify, investigate, and dismantle Colombian heroin trafficking organizations, and will continue to do so in the coming months and years.

U.S. HEROIN USE

Regional Distribution:

Heroin from all major source areas is generally available throughout the entire United States. However, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center's National Drug Assessment 2002, there are two distinct geographic heroin markets in the United States, divided roughly by the Mississippi River. East of the Mississippi, high-purity white powdered heroin from Colombia is predominately available. West of the Mississippi, Mexican heroin, usually in the form of black tar, is the most common type. It is important to note that both forms of heroin can be found east and west of the Mississippi, but quantities of each kind are limited where the other type is prevalent.

National DAWN and ED Statistics

The increase in availability of highly pure, relatively inexpensive Colombian heroin over the last decade has contributed to significantly greater levels of heroin use nationwide. The number of heroin users in the U.S. has increased substantially since the early 1990s, going from an estimated hard-core heroin user population of 630, 000 in 1992, to a current population of regular users numbering approximately 977,000. The U.S. has an additional 514,000 occasional heroin users. Cumulatively, U.S. users consume 13-18 metric tons of heroin per year.

According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, approximately 3.1 million Americans age 12 or older had tried heroin at least once in their lifetimes, 456,000 used heroin in the last year, and 123,000 reported using heroin during the month prior to the survey. Also according to the same survey, an estimated 76,321,000 Americans tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes, and 27,788,000 Americans tried cocaine at least once. These statistics place heroin among the top three drugs of abuse in the country.

Similarly, heroin was the third most frequently reported drug in emergency department (ED) visits, and the second most frequently mentioned drug (behind cocaine) involved in drug related deaths between 1996 and 1999, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). In the case of heroin ED rates, 10 out of 21 metropolitan areas in the United States had ED visit rates more than double the national rate, and four cities -- Newark, Chicago, Baltimore, and San Francisco -- had ED visit rates more than four times the national average.

Domestic Arrests and Seizures

A number of factors determine the significance of the threat each type of drug trafficking poses to the United States. From an international perspective, these include the organizational strengths and adaptability of criminal organizations, their impact on the national security of the U.S. and its allies, the violence associated with drug distribution, and the flow of illicit funds that undermines the economic policies of nations. Public health and safety issues that arise from the production of illicit drugs, the drain on law enforcement resources, and the deleterious effects of drugs on individuals are but a few of the factors to be considered when calculating the domestic threat to the United States.

In calendar year 2001, DEA initiated 1,929 heroin cases, including 55 Priority Target cases, arrested 3,026 heroin defendants and seized 753 kilograms of heroin. In contrast, DEA initiated 8,177 cocaine cases, arrested 12,874 cocaine defendants, and seized 58,808 kilograms of cocaine. Most DEA field divisions continue to identify cocaine as the primary illicit drug of concern, based upon abuse indicators, the violence associated with the trade, and/or the volume of drug movement. However, as Colombian heroin purity levels have skyrocketed and the price of heroin has decreased, DEA has reorganized and dedicated new enforcement resources at the domestic and international level to address this ever-changing problem.

CHANGES IN THE HEROIN TRADE

Shift from Asian to South American Heroin

In the 1980s and 1990s, Southeast and Southwest Asian traffickers dominated the heroin trade, with the majority of heroin entering the market originating in Burma and Afghanistan. As early as 1977, DEA had received sporadic, anecdotal reports of opium poppy cultivation in the Valle del Cauca Department in southwest Colombia, but those reports remained unconfirmed until 1984.

In May of 1984, the CNP located and destroyed 35,000 opium plants at seven separate sites north of Villavicencio in Meta Department. In August of 1988, 450,000 opium plants were located and destroyed in Tolima Department, Colombia. Although the discovery of these opium fields was significant, the estimated size of Colombia's potential opium production paled in comparison to the important opium growing areas in Southwest and Southeast Asia.

SOUTH AMERICAN (COLOMBIAN) HEROIN

Trafficking Organizations

By the early 1990s, opium poppy cultivation in Colombia was expanding rapidly. In recent years, poppy cultivation and heroin production have become an integral part of the Colombian drug trade, and are dominated by independent trafficking groups that operate outside the control of the major cocaine organizations. Colombian heroin traffickers have established themselves as major sources of supply in the Northeastern United States, the largest heroin market in this country.

Connection to Terrorism

There is no dominant "heroin kingpin" in Colombia, as independent Colombian trafficking groups dominate the South American heroin trade. Uncorroborated DEA intelligence information from a number of sources has implicated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the Colombian heroin trade. Specifically, intelligence information indicates the FARC, which is a State Department designated foreign terrorist organization, charges a "tax fee" from heroin traffickers who obtain heroin from areas under FARC control. The FARC is also suspected of charging a tax to farmers who cultivate poppy plants in areas they control.

In addition to the FARC, Colombia's other terrorist organizations, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), are also believed to be engaged in the drug trade to support their terrorist agendas. The FARC and AUC derive roughly seventy percent of their operating revenues from narcotics trafficking. While the ELN derives some of its revenue from narcotics trafficking, the amount is significantly less.

While we are on the subject of terrorist organizations involved in the Colombian heroin trade, let me take a minute to express DEA's support of Secretary Powell's recently expressed commitment to continue assisting the Government of Colombia in its fight against drug traffickers and narco-terrorists. As Administrator Hutchinson has stated repeatedly, the fight against international drug trafficking organizations is a crucial element in conducting the war on terror. We are confident that this war can be won and will continue to do our part by targeting and dismantling those groups that fund terrorist organizations using ill-gotten gains from the drug trade.

Trafficking Routes

In the early 1990's, the bulk of the South American heroin smuggled into the United States was transported via couriers on direct commercial flights from Colombia to the international airports in Miami and New York City. Most of the couriers arrested in Miami were en route to New York City, and their most common method of smuggling was ingestion of small quantities of heroin (1 kilogram or less) wrapped in latex. Heroin was also concealed inside hollowed-out shoes and luggage, in the lining of clothes, and inside personal items.

Since the mid-1990s, Colombian heroin traffickers have diversified their methods of operation. Couriers still come into Miami, New York City, San Juan, and other U.S. airports on direct commercial flights from Colombia. Increasingly, however, Colombian traffickers are smuggling heroin from Colombia into the United States through such countries as Argentina, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Venezuela and several countries in Central America and the Caribbean. In addition, heroin traffickers have begun to send bulk shipments of heroin to the U.S. using cargo planes, container ships, and go-fast vessels. Seizures of 15 to 30 kilograms of heroin are now common, and seizures of up to 50 kilograms of heroin occur, but less frequently.

Cultivation & Production Trends

By global standards, Colombia produces relatively little heroin-less than five percent of the world's total estimated production in 2001. However, since the early 1990s, opium poppy cultivation in Colombia has rapidly expanded and has continued to rise steadily. For example, in 1998, Colombia produced about 2.7 metric tons of heroin, but in 2001, Colombia cultivated approximately 6,540 hectares of opium poppy, translating into 4.3 metric tons of pure heroin. This figure is only a fraction of the estimated heroin produced by South Asian Countries in 2001- Burma potentially produced 72 metric tons of heroin and Afghanistan produced 7 metric tons of heroin. Similarly, this figure pales by comparison to the estimated 169,800 hectares of coca cultivated in Colombia resulting in the production of 730 metric tons of cocaine during the same period. Nonetheless, Colombian heroin's potency and availability on the U.S. Market renders it a significant threat.

Operation Breakthrough

The DEA initiated Operation Breakthrough in 1993 to provide policy makers and the counter drug intelligence community with the scientific data required to more accurately estimate potential cocaine and heroin production in Colombia. On the heroin side, Operation Breakthrough's efficiency studies documented that Colombian opiate processors are about 67% efficient in their overall process of converting opium latex into heroin. Considering that the typical Colombian heroin processor requires 24 kilograms of opium latex to produce one kilogram of 100 % pure heroin, with approximately 6,540 hectares of opium poppy under annual cultivation in 2001, Colombia potentially produced 104 metric tons of opium latex. At a 24:1 conversion ratio, this means Colombia potentially produced 4.3 metric tons of 100% pure heroin in 2001. DEA analysis indicates that wholesale-level Colombian heroin seized by the U.S. Customs Service in 2001 had an average purity of 84.5%. Accordingly, 4.3 metric tons of 100% pure heroin translates into 5.1 metric tons of "export quality" heroin.

see above text for desciption

Heroin Signature Program

One key indicator of relative heroin availability in the United States is the DEA Heroin Signature Program (HSP). The HSP identifies and quantifies the chemical characteristics and secondary components of heroin seized at U.S. ports of entry, as well as random samples of domestic purchases and seizures. Heroin exhibits are classified according to the process by which they were manufactured, which, in turn, enables DEA analysts to match exhibits to specific geographic source regions

In 2001, 56 percent of the heroin seized by Federal authorities and analyzed under the HSP was identified as South American (Colombian). Likewise, 30 percent was identified as Mexican, 7 percent as Southwest Asian, and 7 percent as Southeast Asian. Although HSP results should not be equated with market share, it is one indicator of relative availability over time. South American heroin has accounted for the majority of the heroin analyzed under the program for the past seven consecutive years.

MEETING THE THREAT

South American Regional Operational Initiatives

DEA has undertaken a number of targeted enforcement activities in an effort to combat the threat posed by Colombian heroin. In conjunction with the Colombian National Police (CNP) and other South American countries, DEA launched the regional enforcement initiative, Operation Plataforma, in April 2001. This initiative was carried out from April 15, 2001 until June 15, 2001 and culminated in the seizure of 144 kilograms of heroin and the arrest of 85 defendants in Colombia, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador. A second phase of Operation Plataforma began in November 2001 and has been similarly successful in yielding a number of arrests and the seizure of multi-kilogram quantities of heroin. Due to the significance of this threat and the success of Operation Plataforma, the participating countries decided to continue the operation on a permanent basis.

Heroin Task Force

Additionally, DEA and the CNP have created a Heroin Task Force to coordinate heroin investigations within Colombia with other South American countries and DEA foreign and domestic offices. At full strength, the Task Force will be comprised of 40 officers working from five off-site locations throughout Colombia. To facilitate the formation of the Colombian Heroin Task Force, DEA has dedicated additional manpower resources to Colombia, with the full backing of the Administration and support of Congress. The Bogota Country Office was recently authorized to increase its staff by nine Special Agents, two Intelligence Analysts and two administrative positions, to better coordinate its efforts with the Task Force. With the full complement of Special Agent personnel in Colombia, it will staff the largest number of DEA agents in South America.

The Heroin Task Force will concentrate its efforts on targeting South American heroin trafficking organizations, especially those with regional and international implications. Intelligence derived from the Task Force will support in-country interdiction of chemicals and other materials used to produce heroin and the establishment of drug intelligence information exchange systems between CNP, Colombian Military and other Andean Countries. For example, information obtained from the Task Force is expected to dovetail into other enforcement initiatives such as Operation Seis Fronteras, a chemical control program targeting organizations diverting heroin and cocaine precursor chemicals.

Effective multi-national enforcement initiatives led by DEA have already resulted in significant seizures of heroin outside of U.S. borders. DEA reporting indicates that since 1997 heroin seizures have increased by 1,100% in Venezuela, 1,000% in Ecuador, 500% in Panama and 300% in Colombia. The following chart highlights the increase in heroin seizures in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador since 1997:

see above text for description

Airport Interdiction Programs

DEA also actively assists host nation counterparts in airport interdiction programs throughout South America. The Airport Interdiction Program in Bogota is particularly successful, generating substantial enforcement successes and intelligence collection. This program combines intelligence information gleaned from Heroin Task Force investigations and basic interdiction techniques to identify suspected couriers of heroin. The U.S. State Department's purchase of an onsite x-ray machine has greatly increased the seizure of heroin from couriers who have internally ingested heroin in capsule form. The use of drug detection dogs provides another layer of protection against the use of the airport to transport heroin to the United States. Our Airport Interdiction program has resulted in the seizure of 217 kilograms of heroin this year.

Specific Operational Enforcement Successes

Operation Matador

DEA and the CNP initiated Operation Matador to target a heroin trafficking organization, headed by Rene ROBLEDO-Roman, which is responsible for transporting multi-kilogram quantities of heroin from Bogota to the United States. The organization utilized couriers to transport heroin overland from Bogota to border towns located near Venezuela and Ecuador. Once in Caracas, Quito and/or Guayaquil, the heroin was transported via commercial air to Mexico City, Mexico, and subsequently to McAllen, Texas, for distribution in New York.

On November 19, 2001, the CNP arrested ROBLEDO and 26 key members of his organization and seized 38 kilograms of heroin. Additionally, DEA offices in Texas, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island arrested 28 defendants and seized an additional 38 kilograms of heroin, as a result of this enforcement action.

Operation Juliet

During Operation Juliet, the DEA and the CNP Heroin Task Force targeted the heroin and cocaine trafficking activities of the Jose Jairo GARCIA-Giraldo organization. This organization is based in Pereira, Colombia, and coordinates the shipment of multi-kilogram quantities of heroin and cocaine from Colombia to the United States. The shipments are transported by couriers into the United States by internal ingestion and/or through concealment in the lining of clothing and suitcases. The shipments transit Ecuador, Venezuela and Guatemala, as well as Miami, Florida and Houston, Texas, before arriving in New York. From New York, the shipments are distributed to Boston and Philadelphia.

On June 12, 2002, DEA and the CNP concluded Operation Juliet with the arrest of 21 defendants in Colombia, four defendants in New York, and one defendant in Philadelphia. The CNP Task Force also seized 12 kilograms of heroin, 2 kilograms of cocaine, approximately $100,000 in U.S. and Colombian currency and nine luxury automobiles. The CNP Task Force seized a heroin-packing house in Pereira that was utilized to conceal the heroin.

Operation U-Turn

During Operation U-Turn, the DEA and CNP targeted the international heroin-distribution organization headed by Luis Alfonso CORTEZ-Mejia. This organization, based out of Bogota and Pereira, Colombia, was responsible for sending multi-kilograms of heroin to the United States by utilizing flight attendants that work for Avianca Airlines.

On September 18, 2002 the CNP culminated this investigation by executing 11 search warrants and arresting seven individuals in Pereira and Bogota. Prior to the take down operation in Colombia, the New York Division arrested 11 defendants and seized 21 kilograms of heroin, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine and $220,000 in currency.

These enforcement activities have netted good results, which can only improve as additional resources are deployed and cooperation with our counterparts at home and abroad is strengthened.

CONCLUSION

Heroin trafficking organizations will continue to challenge the flexibility and resilience of both domestic and international law enforcement agencies. The DEA remains committed to identifying, investigating, and destroying organizations and terrorist groups involved in the heroin trade, and will continue to work with our law enforcement partners around the world to improve our cooperative enforcement efforts and achieve those goals.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee today. I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have at the appropriate time.

 

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