DEA Congressional Testimony
March 10, 2003

Statement of
James A. Woolley
Assistant Special Agent in Charge
Tucson District Office
Drug Enforcement Administration
Before the
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Government Reform
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources
March 10, 2003

Good morning, Chairman Souder and distinguished members of Congress. I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the role of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regarding the impact of drug trade along the Arizona/Mexico border. First off, Mr. Chairman, I would be remiss if I didn't preface my remarks by thanking both you and the Subcommittee for your unwavering support of the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration and our mission. Your examination of drug trade on our borders contributes to this work.

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 disrupt 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. DEA Phoenix Division is the lead Federal agency for enforcing the narcotics and controlled substance laws and regulations within the state of Arizona. Our mission here is to identify, target and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating within the state of Arizona and to support other DEA offices outside Arizona to further develop the investigations on their major targets. The Phoenix Division investigative priorities are cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, then other investigations.

Arizona has a unique role as both an importation and transportation area on the Southwest Border and a metropolitan distribution center. Arizona's various drug law enforcement efforts depend upon substantial cooperation between the Federal agencies and state and local jurisdictions to implement an effective overall enforcement program. The collaboration of State and Local Task Forces helps define responsibilities and improves the focus of investigative efforts in the law enforcement community.

Cartel leaders are combining their loads and working together to smuggle their narcotics. We see this on the Texas and Southern California borders with Mexico. The Sonoran/Arizona border has no distinct cartel that controls the smuggling activity. However, numerous Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (MDTOs) not seeking to compete with specific cartel territories consider Sonora instead.

The unique character of the Sonoran/Arizona border creates an important tier of "Gatekeeper" organizations along this border with corridors through Yuma, Lukeville, Nogales, Naco and Douglas. These "Gatekeepers" are smuggling organizations that specialize in exploiting their areas for the sole purpose of getting drugs across the border and into the Tucson or Phoenix areas. The "Gatekeepers" are characterized as generational local families extended across the Sonoran/Arizona border communities. They have used these generational ties to leverage even more corruption, create a transportation infrastructure. They maintain an intelligence apparatus along the border specifically targeting the Ports of Entry. These "Gatekeepers" have constructed and maintained tunnel systems under the border, engineered increasingly sophisticated vehicle traps, and they have successfully co-oped (or simply stolen from) car rental companies to supply rental sport utility vehicles for smuggling purposes.

Once the drugs are smuggled across the border they are taken to "stash houses" for distribution through the metropolitan areas of Tucson or Phoenix. Over the last year, cases have included distribution destinations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York among other Midwest and East Coast markets.

COOPERATION WITH INTERDICTION AGENCIES

As I previously mentioned, DEA is primarily an investigative agency - not an interdiction agency. But we are not alone in our efforts. 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. The DEA looks forward to collaboration with the newly created Department of Homeland Security. In addition, I'd like to highlight the collaboration of numerous partners at the Federal, state and local levels.

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; Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP), which includes 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; U.S. Coast Guard; BCBP; the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE); U.S. Secret Service; Federal Aviation Administration; U.S. Marshals Service; National Security Agency; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Internal Revenue Service; and the Department of the Interior. Although the immigration and customs functions were recently incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security, representatives from BCBP and BICE will retain their participation in EPIC.

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. EPIC also has its own internal database, which combined with the other agency databases, provides the single most responsive, direct conduit available for a tactical intelligence center supporting 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

The DEA considers one of its greatest assets the state and local task force it works with. Participating state and local agencies have a tremendous amount of input and are actually force multipliers, adding additional resources to DEA efforts. DEA participates in more than 210 Task Force groups and has over 1,900 task force officers on board 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 also are able to access DEA's Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Information System [NADDIS] for database checks. In the DEA Phoenix Division, we participate in state and local task forces in Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, Nogales, Sierra Vista and Flagstaff. 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 also are maximizing the use of technology to 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.

CONCLUSION

Drug trafficking organizations operating along the Arizona/Mexico Border continue to be one of the greatest threats to communities across this 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 dismantle the leadership of these criminal drug trafficking organizations. The combined investigations of the DEA and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies 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. We will continue to give this important border area the attention it deserves.

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 may have.