DEA Congressional Testimony
April 08, 2003

Statement of
ROGELIO E. GUEVARA
CHIEF OF OPERATIONS
DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
HOUSE GOVERNMENT REFORM SUBCOMMITTEE ON
CRIMINAL JUSTICE, DRUG POLICY AND HUMAN RESOURCES

APRIL 8 , 2003

Executive Summary

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to emphasize the need for cooperation and coordination with our state and local counterparts in the enforcement of federal drug laws. As such, DEA maintains a strong ongoing commitment to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) addressing regional drug problems of concern.

DEA currently oversees and directly supervises 48 HIDTA-funded task forces located in DEA offices consisting of 527 Task Force Officers. Over 300 DEA Special Agents work within HIDTA initiatives to share and develop narcotics intelligence and pursue joint investigations. Many of these initiatives are initiated by DEA Program task forces.

DEA's commitment to the HIDTA program has resulted in significant HIDTA program successes in furtherance of the Department of Justice's Domestic Drug Enforcement Strategy. DEA will continue in our position as a leader in the HIDTA program by targeting, investigating, and dismantling the most notable drug trafficking organizations impacting the United States and by working with and utilizing resources of local and state agencies including:

  • Continued full participation within the HIDTA Program at all levels
  • Continued interaction with HIDTA area regional, national and international initiatives targeting the most significant drug trafficking organizations
  • Continued leadership roles in the HIDTA Investigative Support Centers

Chairman Souder and distinguished members of the subcommittee, it is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss the Office of National Drug Control Policy's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program established by Congress over a decade ago, as well as DEA's Witness Protection Programs. My name is Roger Guevara, and I am the Chief of Operations for DEA. On behalf of Acting Administrator John B. Brown, III, and myself, I want to thank this subcommittee for its unwavering support of the men and women of DEA and its mission.

The HIDTA program is a national strategy providing Federal assistance in coordinating law enforcement efforts of local, state and Federal entities in areas where major drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution flourish to such a degree that they have harmful effects on other parts of the country. Linking all of these efforts enhances the investigative results, considering the limitations of personnel and funding that every law enforcement entity face.

Let me begin by addressing the HIDTA program. The DEA views the HIDTA program as an integral partner in our mission to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. By leveraging the resources, manpower and equipment of numerous law enforcement entities we can -- and have -- achieved tremendous success. We see the benefit at the local level, but it can go much further than that. The purpose of the program is to provide much-needed funds and assistance to law enforcement entities within designated areas of the nation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of counterdrug efforts. We need to ensure that this focus remains.

Benefits of HIDTA Task Forces

I have benefited from seeing firsthand how a successful HIDTA-funded program operates. When Congress enacted legislation to create HIDTAs in 1990, one of the first five HIDTAs designated was Los Angeles. I was charged with oversight of the Southern California Drug Task Force, which was a HIDTA initiative, from 1997 to 1999. Still operating today, this task force continues to target and dismantle drug trafficking organizations responsible for violent crime, not only in Southern California, but in other parts of the United States as well.

In September 2000, I was promoted to Special Agent in Charge of the Caribbean Field Division in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Six years earlier, Congress had designated a HIDTA to cover Puerto Rico, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands. With this promotion came the responsibility of serving as vice-chair of the HIDTA Executive Board. Difficult decisions had to be made on which initiatives to undertake and how best to put funds to use, but our cooperation and collaborations did breed success, including the dismantling or disruption of many trafficking and money laundering organizations.


The HIDTA Program

Criteria for Establishment

In designating a new HIDTA, by statute the Director of ONDCP consults with the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, heads of national drug control agencies and the appropriate governors in considering the following criteria:

The extent to which -

  • The area is a center of illegal drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution;
  • State and local law enforcement agencies have committed resources to respond to the drug trafficking problem in the area, thereby indicating a determination to respond aggressively to the problem;
  • Drug-related activities in the area are having a harmful impact in other areas of the country; and
  • A significant increase in the allocation of Federal resources is necessary to respond adequately to drug-related activities in the area.

For HIDTA drug trafficking reduction efforts to remain viable, both present and future programs must take all of these criteria into consideration.

Leadership of HIDTA Executive Boards

In support of national ONDCP objectives, each HIDTA is required to consist of an Executive Board comprised of an equal number of federal and state/local law enforcement leaders. The HIDTA Executive Boards are chaired and vice-chaired by one state or local law enforcement official and one federal law enforcement official for one-year terms. ONDCP's policy further charges the Executive Boards with providing direction and oversight to ensure that HIDTA funds and resources are utilized in compliance with all program guidance and policies. The Executive Boards, in concert with the HIDTA Director, also are responsible for the development, implementation, and approval of the HIDTA strategy, initiatives, and budgets.

As with any entity of numerous participants, there are differing approaches to issues and initiatives. If the board is not weighted equally, there is the potential for initiatives from one group or another to be given disproportionate consideration. Even when the board achieves balance, stalemates or other issues may arise which can impact the effectiveness of the overall strategy under ONDCP's national objectives. DEA continues to urge that all HIDTA Executive Boards hold to the equal representation requirement mandated by ONDCP in order to yield maximum effectiveness. DEA pledges to undertake leadership positions whenever the opportunity arises.

HIDTA Investigative Support Centers

At the direction of ONDCP, each designated HIDTA has at least one intelligence element, usually called an Investigative Support Center (ISC). The HIDTA Program Guidance issued by ONDCP states that the mission of the HIDTA intelligence component is to provide accurate, detailed, and timely tactical investigative and strategic drug intelligence to HIDTA-supported task forces. This enables a more effective and efficient utilization of drug investigative resources. HIDTA ISCs serve as hubs for the sharing of drug intelligence among federal, state, and local law enforcement HIDTA-funded participating agencies

Every DEA field division has at least one HIDTA ISC in its area of responsibility and many have multiple HIDTA ISCs. The DEA field divisions participate in 30 of those 32 HIDTA ISCs. DEA has one Intelligence Supervisor assigned to 22 of the 32 ISCs and an additional 40 Intelligence Analysts assigned to HIDTA-funded task forces and ISCs. Further, DEA is represented on ONDCP's HIDTA intelligence committee which reviews and provides input on HIDTA Program Intelligence policy, technical/information sharing issues, and program direction.

The El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) also plays a critical role in support of the HIDTA funded task forces and the HIDTA ISCs. In November 1999, EPIC created a HIDTA Coordination Unit. The Unit now consists of one Unit Chief (currently from the FBI), two DEA analysts, one Customs analyst, and two support personnel. The mission of the unit is to serve as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information, respond to requests from the HIDTAs for information on seizures and subjects, and prepare ad hoc and recurring publications in support of the HIDTA ISC's regional threat assessments.

While the primary purpose of the ISC is to provide the aforementioned types of drug intelligence, the program is designed to remain flexible to respond to the particular needs of an area. Maintaining focus on the disruption and dismantlement of drug trafficking organizations is critical for all participants. Although the exception and not the rule, there have been instances where participants in HIDTA areas are supportive only of their own initiatives. If their initiative is not active, some withhold their support, while continuing to receive HIDTA monies. This inhibits the ability of the HIDTA ISC to focus on priority joint initiatives.

DEA's commitment to HIDTA shows in the assignment of nearly ten percent of our analytical resources to HIDTAs. We are in the process of issuing further guidance to our Special Agents in Charge emphasizing the continued involvement of DEA in the ISCs. But DEA can and should do more. We believe DEA can provide a leadership role, not in just some, but in all of the HIDTA ISCs. The experience, training, and technical skills of DEA intelligence supervisors is unequaled in the arena of drug law enforcement intelligence and can be of even greater benefit to the ISCs and the excellent work that they are already doing.


The DEA-HIDTA Partnership and Enforcement Successes

There are 18 DEA Field Divisions, plus the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), that participate in a total of 90 HIDTA-funded initiatives. Federal resource constraints require that DEA continue to pursue, even more than in previous years, the cooperative investigative efforts of other federal state and local law enforcement officers. This enhanced cooperation is manifested through continued participation in HIDTA initiatives. The size of the DEA involvement in HIDTA initiatives has grown annually to include 48 HIDTA-funded Task Forces staffed by 305 DEA Special Agents and 527 other law enforcement officers.

The real benefits of such state, local, and federal cooperation are yielded through taking systematic steps to identify entire organizations to be disrupted or dismantled, rather than by placing all resources into immediate arrests. These joint investigations may take months and even years. They also can be very fruitful. The following operations represent thousands of hours of united investigation through HIDTA initiatives.

"Operation X-Isle"

In July 2001, the DEA Miami HIDTA Task Force initiated an international investigation that identified a worldwide 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or Ecstasy) distribution network operating in Colombia, Israel, the Netherlands and the United States. This case subsequently identified a priority target (later designated a Consolidated Priority Organization Target, or CPOT) as one of the financier's of the MDMA network. This DEA HIDTA-funded task force coordinated federal, state, local and international enforcement efforts in Europe, South and North America. Title III intercepts, undercover operations and search warrants resulted in the seizure of approximately 2 million MDMA pills and more than $2 million. Nine of the organizational leaders were arrested in Spain, Colombia, and the United States. The investigation also determined that Israeli organized crime elements were financing the smuggling operation and obtaining the MDMA from the sources of supply in Holland. In January 2003, as a result of the international scope of this investigation, the authorities in Switzerland froze additional accounts of the organization totaling $1.5 million. The investigation is active and continuing.

"Operation White Terror"

In September 2001, the FBI initiated the undercover investigation in Houston, Texas. The target was attempting to obtain $25 million worth of East-bloc military weapons for the AUC, a Colombian terrorist organization, in exchange for cocaine and U.S. Currency. In April 2002, DEA Houston HIDTA Major Drug Squad (MDS) 6 became involved in the investigation. The case resulted in an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (or OCDETF) investigation. To date the investigation has revealed that the original Priority Drug Trafficking Organization (or PDTO) target has been a long-time member of an international drug trafficking organization, responsible for the importation of more than 50 tons of cocaine directly into the United States, into our country through Mexico, and to Europe. The undercover operation resulted in the arrest of four defendants in connection with the weapons deal, three of which occurred in Costa Rica, subsequent to undercover meetings coordinated by HIDTA MDS 6.

Houston HIDTA MDS 6 has coordinated international investigative and enforcement efforts in Spain, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica. In addition, the investigation has identified many current and historical international, federal, state and local investigations targeting members of the drug trafficking organization. HIDTA MDS 6 is coordinating accordingly with other law enforcement agencies to fully develop the drug conspiracy. This trafficking organization has been linked to two CPOT targets, Castano-Gil and Mejia-Munera. In November 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft announced the results of this initiative.


From Local to National Drug Strategies - the Benefits of the HIDTA Program

Our partnership with the HIDTA program serves a more strategic purpose as well. Local law enforcement officers make drug crime arrests. Investigations begin for DEA, including our HIDTA-funded task forces, when discovering the larger scope of these cases merits the consolidation of substantial federal, state and local resources. From these initiatives, we can be successful in targeting significant narcotics traffickers. I would like to highlight three major programs the Administration is emphasizing to make the greatest impact on America's drug enforcement efforts.

Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT)

In FY 2001, the Attorney General directed the Department of Justice to develop a single national list of major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. In response, DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the former U.S. Customs Service (now part of the Department of Homeland Security), with input from the intelligence community and other member agencies of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, identified 53 international command and control organizations representing the most significant drug organizations threatening the United States. The Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT) list represents the first time federal agencies have worked together to develop a single target list. This list, which will be updated regularly, reflects the most significant international narcotic supply and related money laundering organizations, poly-drug traffickers, clandestine drug manufacturers and producers, and major drug transporters supplying the United States.

In FY 2002, the Office of the National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) allocated $5.75 million in discretionary funds in support of HIDTA-funded initiatives targeting CPOTs. The project supported the President's National Drug Control Strategy, ensuring that the HIDTA program focused on the most significant drug trafficking organizations. DEA fully supports this ONDCP initiative in keeping with HIDTA's original mission to target the highest levels of drug trafficking groups.

Priority Drug Trafficking Organization (PDTO) Program

DEA runs a parallel course with its priority targeting, through the utilization of its Priority Drug Trafficking Organization (PDTO) Program, by identifying and targeting significant drug trafficking organizations.

DEA's PDTO program is more expansive than CPOT, since it also includes local and regional drug organizations significantly impacting the drug supply in its 21 nationwide field divisions. PDTO investigations utilize intelligence derived from on-going PDTO and related investigations to identify major drug trafficking organizations. The focus includes each organization's distribution network, structure and members in order to target the highest level of the organization. The objective of each PDTO investigation is to dismantle or disrupt the identified organization, arrest the organization's leaders, distributors, importers, and facilitators, and seize and forfeit all assets associated with the organization. DEA management has directed that all PDTO investigations be coordinated with DEA Field Divisions, the Special Operations Division (SOD), DEA's Country Offices, and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies (including HIDTAs), as appropriate.

DEA currently has 30 HIDTA-funded initiatives that are PDTO investigations. Eighteen of those also are established as Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigations.

Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF)

The greatest impact has been made when the full concentration of federal resources are brought to bear on these individuals and organizations through the efforts of the Department of Justice's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program functions through the investigative, intelligence, and support staffs of DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP), the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), as well as the efforts of the U.S. Attorneys, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and state and local law enforcement agencies. The goal of each OCDETF investigation is to determine connections to related investigations nationwide in order to identify and dismantle the entire structure of the drug trafficking organization (DTO). OCDETF investigations emphasize disrupting the financial dealings and dismantling the financial infrastructure that supports the DTO. DEA's State and Local Task Force and HIDTA-funded groups are engaged as partners with the OCDETF program and enforce the effectiveness and success of the OCDETF program.

Keeping True to the Mission

HIDTA initiatives should address the highest possible priorities of the drug threat. DEA seeks to ensure that HIDTA strategies, budgets, and initiatives are developed and implemented in the most efficient manner possible to combat the regional, as well as national, drug threat.

Yearly initiatives must be evaluated properly to ensure that they remain relevant.
Every DEA initiative, whether incorporated into a HIDTA-funded initiative or managed by itself, is inspected every year. In addition, DEA's Inspections Division scrutinizes HIDTA initiatives, in conjunction with regular field inspections, every three years. This oversight maintains the highest levels of quality control in keeping with the national objectives of DEA and ONDCP.

When initiatives are inspected, the impact on the HIDTA strategy is taken into account: Is information being shared with the ISCs? What interaction exists between other HIDTAs and non-HIDTA jurisdictions? What measurable outputs and outcomes are there?

In addition, ONDCP conducts its own reviews of HIDTA programs. These reviews can have tremendous benefits:

  • Increase accountability of fiscal measures
  • Aid in increasing cooperation among all participants of the program
  • Improve the productivity of the Executive Boards by identifying problems, rather than encountering stalemates.

Since DEA receives copies of these reviews, we attempt to address specific problems relating to DEA as soon as possible. Still, there must be a better process that can provide for more timely and regular reviews.

DEA's Task Force Program

In addition to participation in the HIDTA program, DEA has long operated its own State and local task force operations. In an effort to combat the growth of drug trafficking nationwide, the DEA State and Local Task Force (SLTF) Program continues to emphasize the need for cooperation and coordination with our state and local counterparts in the enforcement of federal drug laws. These SLTFs address drug problems of concern in the geographic regions where they operate.

The DEA SLTF concept began in the early 1970's and was formally established in 1986. This program provides numerous advantages to both the DEA and participating agencies. DEA is able to share resources and expertise with state and local law enforcement, thereby increasing investigative results. The SLTF Program also allows state and local officers to be federally deputized, thus extending their jurisdiction. State and local participating agencies receive equitable shares of forfeited drug assets. DEA pays for overtime ($9,801 maximum per officer/per year) and related expenses for those officers participating in program funded task forces.

The SLTF Program is a significant asset to DEA and America's efforts to curb drug trafficking and abuse. State and local agencies that participate in this program are actually force multipliers, which add additional resources to DEA. These law enforcement agencies participating in the SLTF program are partners with DEA and exert a tremendous amount of influence on and oversight of the daily task force operations. In DEA offices that have over three task force elements, some of the individual groups have state and local supervisors who report to DEA Assistant Special Agents in Charge (ASAC). In larger DEA Field Divisions, some SLTFs have state and local executives in positions equal to DEA ASACs overseeing the multiple Task Forces. In this capacity, state and local executives have direct input on how the SLTFs operate.

What DEA does in our SLTF program is very similar to our involvement in the HIDTA program. DEA Program and HIDTA-funded task forces share and develop narcotics intelligence and pursue joint investigations. Statistically, DEA SLTFs account for approximately 40 percent of all DEA case initiations and seizures. It is important to emphasize that there are no real operational differences between the types of cases conducted by DEA Task Forces, including DEA HIDTA-funded Task Forces, and DEA's regular enforcement groups. The SLTF concept utilizes federal, state and local expertise in the development of investigations, which normally lead to federal investigations on par with other DEA enforcement elements. DEA has always had a long-standing commitment to state and local partners and routinely works cooperative cases. The SLTF Program allows DEA to formalize this commitment, and target drug trafficking organizations with joint intelligence for improved resource commitment and management.

Witness Protection Initiatives

I now would like to discuss DEA's Witness Security Program and the Victim and Witness Assistance Program. DEA recognizes the necessity of cooperating witnesses and citizens who provide information that assist in our investigations. These are important programs.

Witness Security Program

In support of DEA's domestic and international enforcement objectives, DEA utilizes the Department of Justice's Federal Witness Security Program to provide protection for confidential sources, witnesses and/or associates and family members if the need arises. As the members of the Subcommittee are well aware, drug trafficking organizations often utilize various methods of intimidation and violence in furtherance of their agenda. DEA has long maintained a strong commitment to ensuring the safety of individuals who provide assistance in dismantling these criminal drug organizations.

Once the decision to utilize the WSP is made, DEA coordinates closely with the United States Attorney's Offices where the prosecutions occur, the Department's Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), Criminal Division, which is responsible for authorizing individuals into, and overseeing the WSP, and the United States Marshals Service, which administers the day-to-day operation of the WSP for those relocated in the community. In the cases requiring relocation of a witness, family members and/or associates, a risk assessment must be prepared to gauge whether the persons to be relocated pose a risk to the relocation community that outweighs the value of the witness's testimony. In relocation cases, either initially, or following a period of incarceration for some witnesses, DEA works with OEO to facilitate the initial administrative process and coordinates with the U.S. Marshals Service in producing the witnesses to be interviewed and evaluated by a Bureau of Prisons psychologist. This includes family members to be relocated. The process aims at determining the participants' suitability for the WSP and ensuring that the needs of the witness have been adequately addressed.

In addition, during the course of trial preparation, the United States Attorney's Office and DEA case agents frequently develop witnesses who have not previously been DEA confidential sources (CS) and therefore are not assigned CS numbers. The CS numbers must be supplied because of the potential for years of follow-up efforts for witnesses in the WSP. DEA documents all WSP participants as CSs for tracking purposes. All DEA documents use the true name of the witness, and only the U.S. Marshals Service has knowledge of assumed names provided for the purpose of security.

Victim and Witness Assistance Program

The first Federal victims' rights legislation was the Victim and Witness Protection
Act of 1982 (VWPA). Congress amended and expanded upon the provisions of the 1982 Act in subsequent legislation, primarily the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, the Victims Rights and Restitution Act of 1990, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and the Victim Rights Clarification Act of 1997.

In the VWPA, Congress made findings about the criminal justice system's treatment of crime victims. Congress recognized that, without the cooperation of victims and witnesses, the criminal justice system would cease to function. Yet, often those individuals were either ignored by the system or simply used as "tools" to identify and punish offenders. Congress found that all too often a victim suffers additional hardship as a result of contact with the system. The VWPA was enacted "to enhance and protect the necessary role of crime victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process; to ensure that the Federal Government does all that is possible within limits of available resources to assist victims and witnesses of crime without infringing on the constitutional rights of defendants; and, to provide a model for legislation for State and local governments."

As a result of victim rights legislation, the DEA Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) was implemented and is responsible for providing mandated training to domestic and international offices, basic agent classes, and management. We work to ensure that victims encountered in DEA investigations are identified and referred to an appropriate social service component. We also make employees aware of available victim services. Information distributed to the public and to victims of crime is available in multiple languages. Identified victims include, but are not limited to, Confidential Sources who are threatened or physically harmed, children abused and/or neglected, domestic violence victims, law enforcement threatened or physically harmed, individuals testifying before grand juries or trials who are threatened, harmed, or need assistance. VWAP works together with federal, state and local victim agencies and organizations throughout the country.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, HIDTA is a concept and not an agency. One of the biggest misperceptions about HIDTA is the issue of ownership. Many participants believe HIDTA is a Federal grant for their own use. However, HIDTA is a funding mechanism designed to support federal, state and local drug investigative efforts. This point must be recognized by participating agencies in order to pursue a consolidated regional and national enforcement objective, as opposed to a fragmented one.

The DEA believes the HIDTA program is a critical component in the Administration's drug enforcement efforts. Maintaining the focus on the HIDTA mission and emphasizing the most significant targets will go a long way in not only achieving the disruption and dismantling of national and international organizations, but also in keeping drugs off of local streets. DEA stands ready to take on any challenge and lead in America's fight to reduce drug trafficking and abuse.

Finally, DEA recognizes the importance of witnesses and citizens providing us with information that assist in our investigations. We will do everything we can to ensure their safety. I would be happy to answer any questions the subcommittee might have.