DEA Congressional Testimony

Statement by:
Thomas A. Constantine
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice

Before the:
House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary, and related Agencies

FY 1997 Appropriations

Rayburn House Office Building
Room 2358
Washington, D.C.

May 1, 1996

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.

Chairman Rogers, Congressman Mollohan and Members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the President's FY 1997 request for funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration. I appreciate having the opportunity to articulate DEA's needs for the coming year, and to update the Subcommittee on recent developments in narcotics control, both domestically and overseas.

In the Subcommittee's review of the DEA's domestic and international drug control programs during this hearing, I hope to leave you with one important point: the drug trafficking situation in the United States is a seamless continuum which cannot be separated easily into domestic and international components. For every vial of crack that is sold on street comers in our major cities, there is a drug lord in some foreign country who is responsible for producing and trafficking that cocaine. The DEA is addressing both ends of the continuum through sophisticated law enforcement programs which target both the drug lord and the major drug dealers who operate in the United States.

But the DEA cannot accomplish its' goals without the help of Congress. We are appreciative of the assistance that Congress has given us over the years by way of funding, manpower and the authorities we need to get the job done. Under your leadership, Mr. Chairman, and before that, under the leadership of Mr. Mollohan, this subcommittee has been extraordinarily supportive to the men and women of the DEA and we appreciate that a great deal. Without the assistance of the subcommittee, the DEA would not have been able to hire additional Special Agents who are critical to the mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

DEA's Goals

The problems of crime and drugs in the United States affect every American, wherever they may live. We are faced with the reality that American life has changed over the past four decades. The world was a safer place in previous years. There were certainly numerous problems in those days, but we were able to leave our door unlocked overnight and we were not afraid to let our kids walk to the comer store without fear of becoming an innocent victim of a drive-by shooting. We could look forward to a better life for our children. There is no doubt in my mind that the presence of illegal drugs and drug traffickers within our society, and the attendant violence that accompanies them, has been the dominant factor in this decrease in our quality of life.

We estimate that one half of all homicides and one third of all violent crimes are drug- related. Since 1960, violence and crime in the United States have increased 400%, a rate nine times faster than the growth of America's population. The difference in the murder rate between then and now is dramatic: in 1960, 9,140 Americans were murdered. In 1993, 24,526 murders took place. Since 1977, 400,000 murders have taken place on city streets and in rural areas of America. In 1993, violent crime in the United States was estimated to have cost the nation about $426 billion.

These are sobering facts, but there are other aspects of the crime problem which are also troubling. As I discussed with the Subcommittee previously, there is a coming storm of juvenile crime that experts predict will be more violent and random than any crime problem we have yet seen. In what we call the "echo of the baby boom" the number of males aged 14-17 will increase by 23% by the year 2005. In and of itself, this fact is significant, but when it is coupled with the recent alarming increases in drug abuse among young people, I believe we may have a prescription for disaster in the years ahead --- unless we act quickly

Last year an elderly woman wrote to our office in Washington D.C. and said she lives near an open air drug market and daily lives in fear of the gangs and drug dealers. She wrote "I am afraid to walk in my neighborhood ... I worry about my safety alot". A depressed 15 year old girl in Summerton, South Carolina wrote the President complaining about the open air drug market in that small town where people were routinely beaten and robbed. She voiced her concern about her siblings who were on drugs and about her ability to fulfill her own dreams and goals. These are the people for whom the DEA is working. These are the Americans who are trying to live the dream but are caught in a nightmare.

DEA is addressing these problems by attacking drug trafficking internationally and domestically, on three fronts:

1. International drug syndicates who control drug trafficking in source countries and smuggle their poison into the United States.

2. The U.S.-based cells of these syndicates who are responsible for the nationwide distribution of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and the collection of drug proceeds.

3. Organized drug gangs and violent drug traffickers who operate both nationally and within communities across the United States.

In order for the DEA to accomplish these three goals effectively, we are seeking a budget which totals $1.009 billion, consisting of the following components; $818,038,000 for salaries and expenses; $138,000,000 for state and local programs to fight violent crime through the Violent Crime Reduction Trust Fund; and $52,824,000 through the Diversion Control Fee Account. Contained within this budget is funding for a number of important initiatives to address the range of challenges DEA is facing as we work to reduce the supply of drugs in the United States.

Attacking Major International Drug Syndicates

When I appeared before the Subcommittee last year, we discussed the law enforcement challenges which faced the DEA and many federal, state and local law enforcement organizations around the country. At that time, I told the Subcommittee that our nation was facing a significant threat from well-established, well-financed and well-equipped organized crime syndicates who were directing the violent crime situation in the United States from their headquarters abroad. For the first time in our history, law enforcement organizations in this nation are dealing on a daily basis with the actions of major international criminals, which manifest themselves on our streets in the form of drug- dealing and violent crimes related to drugs.

The most notorious of these international drug mafias is the Colombian Mafia, which operates out of Cali. For many years, these drug lords were untouched by law enforcement, and had negatively affected many of the institutions of Colombian society. The Cali. Mafia amassed a fortune from annual profits exceeding $7 billion, and had at their disposal a communications and intelligence network which rivaled those of some smaller nations.

The drug mafias have a very long reach and are capable of insinuating their drugs and violence into every city and town in the United States. Despite the fact that they are headquartered in Colombia, mafia leaders have ordered executions in our cities and towns. The assassination of Manuel de Dios, a prominent journalist in New York was ordered by Cali. chieftain, Jose Santa-Cruz Londono in March of 1992. Last summer, good police work resulted in the apprehension of a Colombian hit team in Memphis, Tennessee. This team was sent to the United States to collect on a drug debt, with orders to kill if the debt were not repaid. These incidents clearly illustrate the mafia's long reach.

For several years, the DEA has worked quietly and diligently to bring about the demise of the criminal organizations that truly represent the most sophisticated organized crime element that has ever threatened our society. We stressed cooperation and coordination with our counterparts in the Colombian police every step of the way.

When I appeared before the Subcommittee last spring, I could not have predicted that by this year's hearing, six of the seven top leaders of the Cali. Mafia would have been arrested. The arrests of The Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Santa Cruz Londono and other major Colombian traffickers represent a real turning point in our international efforts to dismantle the global organized crime syndicates which are responsible for the vast majority of the drugs on the streets of the United States. This clearly exemplifies what can be accomplished when a cooperative and concerted law enforcement action attacks an international crime syndicate, even one as powerful as the Cali. Mafia.

Although the Cali. Mafia leaders are in jail, major traffickers from Colombia continue to be a significant threat to us. We cannot say with any certainty that their operations have ceased, and we do not yet know what the long-term impact of their arrests will be. We also must remain alert to the danger posed by international drug organizations based in Mexico who are a growing factor in the importation of illegal drugs in the United States. These organized crime syndicates have the potential to usurp the Colombian mafia's position should the current enforcement actions in Colombia severely affect their structure and reduce their capabilities. They are already becoming a dominant factor in drug distributions in the United States.

Attacking Drug Transportation and Distribution Networks

Drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico have long been involved with the smuggling of drugs into the United States. Beginning several decades ago they have been involved in heroin and marijuana trafficking. In the 1980's the Colombian Mafia began to use the services of the Mexican based organizations to act as their transportation agent to smuggle cocaine into the United States. The Mexican groups soon moved to a position where they could, and did, demand 50% of each shipment of cocaine which they then sold through their own narcotics distribution system in the United States. They have become a matter of growing concern in the southwest border area of the United States and the impact of their activities is now being felt in communities across the United States.

Four major organizations comprise the Mexican Federation: The Tijuana Organization; the Sonora Cartel; the Juarez Cartel; and the Gulf Group. Members of these organizations are powerful, violent drug traffickers who have been involved over the years in marijuana, heroin, cocaine trafficking and now methamphetamine production and trafficking. These powerful and influential drug traffickers have a long history of adaptability and versatility. Their involvement in the methamphetamine trade is currently an area of grave concern to law enforcement officials across the nation.

Methamphetamine is becoming the drug of choice in many western U.S. communities, surpassing cocaine. Methamphetamine, or "speed" as it is commonly known, has traditionally been produced and trafficked by outlaw motorcycle gangs. For a long time, the meth problem was mainly a concern in California, where the majority of labs were located. Within the past two years, the increase in methamphetamine deaths in cities such as Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco is alarming. Of equal concern is the spread of methamphetamine to other areas of the country: the Midwest, particularly in Nebraska, Iowa, and Southeast states such as Georgia and Tennessee. Methamphetamine trafficking and use have been associated with violence. Many graphic examples exist, such as in the summer of 1993 when 26 people were killed in San Diego during gang wars over methamphetamine turf and late last year, three children were killed when their mother accidently blew up her home while manufacturing methamphetamine. According to law enforcement officials in Iowa, methamphetamine use is the number one cause of domestic violence in the state.

The emergence of Mexican traffickers as the dominant force in current methamphetamine production is troubling. We estimate now that close to eighty percent of the methamphetamine available in the United States is either produced in Mexico and transported to the United States, or is manufactured in the United States by Mexican traffickers. For Mexican traffickers, the benefits of involvement in methamphetamine are evident; they can control the entire process from beginning to end --- production, trafficking and distribution --- and they do not need to rely on peasants in Peru or Bolivia as the source of cocaine. Traffickers from Mexico obtain the necessary chemicals for methamphetamine production from sources as diverse as China, the Czech Republic and India, and they use their years of polydrug smuggling experience to traffic methamphetamine into California and other parts of the United States.

The DEA's Response and Budget Request::

Seventy percent of all of the cocaine entering the United States comes through Mexico, and the methamphetamine trade is virtually controlled by traffickers operating in Mexico. The two thousand mile border with the United States poses both challenges and opportunities. The challenges are obvious: the border is porous and well-established drug trafficking organizations along both sides of the border have operated with ease over the years. But opportunities also exist. Through the Southwest Border Strategy, the FBI and DEA, working with state and local enforcement agencies, target Mexican trafficking organizations throughout the Southwest border region. The Criminal Division's Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section is facilitating the coordination of these investigations, operations and prosecutions, in consultation with the Division's Public Integrity Section and the DEA/FBI Special Operations Division.

This strategy is anchored by the extensive use of Title III intercepts to identify investigate and prosecute members of the Mexican drug syndicates. We plan to increase our effectiveness in identifying and dismantling trafficking organizations operating inside Mexico and in the United States by targeting their command, control and communications operations. We have also made some progress with the Government of Mexico and hope to build on the agreements which resulted from General McCaffrey's recent visit.

The Dea's Fiscal Year 1997 budget requests funding to expand the Southwest Border Strategy.

We are requesting 121 positions, of which 54 are Special Agents and $24.9 million. Positions and funding requested will allow the DEA to obtain necessary contract linguists, and apply Special Agent resources to support the interagency effort to stop the flow of illegal drugs coming into the United States from Mexico. With methamphetamine trafficking and violence increasing in cities along the border, it is imperative that the DEA and other agencies work cooperatively to identify and target major traffickers and their command, control, and communications structures.

For years, federal, state and local law enforcement have faced challenges from criminals who are well-equipped and well-financed, sometimes even outpacing the capabilities of law enforcement to make gains against them. The traffickers in Cali Colombia had at their disposal an arsenal of technology which was used to gather intelligence, keep track of cocaine supplies and cash, and intimidate individuals coming forward with information. The Mexican Federation, the apparent successors to the Cali mafia, are developing similar capabilities. But the technological edge is not limited to international traffickers. Many sophisticated traffickers operating in the United States depend on networks of cellular phones, pagers, faxes and encrypted computers.

Every day, federal law enforcement agents are faced with challenges posed by rapidly changing technology. Digital systems, encrypted computers, personal telephone numbers that move with individuals across the nation, and the vast amount of information that is disseminated through the Internet challenge law enforcement to stay ahead of the technology curve.

In the Fiscal Year 1997 budget request, the DEA is seeking $12 million for communications enhancements. This total includes $9 million for wireless radio replacement and $3 million for advanced digital telephony equipment to enable the DEA to keep pace with changing communications technology. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has mandated that all federal government communication equipment must be converted to new frequencies. It is incumbent upon the DEA to replace wireless radio communications in an orderly fashion. The funding for digital telephony is necessary to enable the DEA to procure new digital intercept equipment for use in investigations of sophisticated international and domestic drug traffickers.

$3.9 million is requested to purchase video surveillance and electronic tracking equipment to be used during complex investigations. This equipment will allow the DEA to more efficiently and safely surveildrug criminals and observe criminal activity from a protected location. Certain equipment will also enable DEA agents to obtain uninterrupted, worldwide tracking capability as they conduct investigations on increasingly mobile and ruthless drug traffickers.

In order to meet the challenges of the shifting international drug traffic, the DEA is also requesting 3 positions (2 Special Agents) and $632,000 to open an office in Pretoria, South Africa. This nation has become a critical link in the international cocaine and heroin trade destined for Europe and the United States. The DEA currently covers drug trafficking in the region from its office in Cairo, Egypt, which is far removed from the South African drug transshipment corridor. In January 1996, I personally traveled to Pretoria to assess the overall nature of the drug trafficking situation and determine if the need existed for a DEA presence in the region. After a thorough review of area drug trafficking trends, it was clear that without the requested resources, the role of South Africa would continue to expand in the overall international drug trafficking equation. Both the South African Government and the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria strongly support the opening of a DEA office in country.

Attacking Violent Drug Organizations in the United States

When many Americans express frustration about the problems of drug trafficking and violent crime in their communities, they focus their attention on what is visible to them: the crack dealer on the corner, or the carjacker on the evening news. Many Americans do not immediately associate these criminal activities as an extension of the international drug syndicates operating overseas. These international mafias employ thousands of surrogates within the United States to distribute and sell drugs in American cities and towns, and many times they are gang members who are associated with nationally-known and prominent gangs such as the Bloods, Crips or Latin Kings.

Drug Trafficking and drug abuse have been problems in major cities for many years, and they have paid the price associated with these problems. The costs of substance abuse in New York City alone is estimated to be over $20 billion a year, or 21 cents of every tax dollar in the city. However, drug trafficking is not limited to America's big cities; in fact, rural America is suffering from many of the same drug-related problems that have turned several urban areas into virtual war zones.

The toll that drugs takes on small communities across America is huge. In the April 22 edition of U.S. News and World Report, reporter Victoria Pope paints a haunting picture of what crack has done to the small community of Sandy Level, Virginia. In graphic terms, she describes the degradation of Sandy Level's residents at the hands of crack dealers, and portrays what has happened to the once proud community of 800 founded over a hundred years ago by freed slaves.

Crack dealers have turned Sandy Level into an enforcement nightmare, and the local police are ill-equipped to deal with the problems they are facing. Local police routinely face drug traffickers armed with Tech 9 semi-automatic weapons, and local residents cannot rely on the police to take any effective actions against the drug traffickers.. Residents are afraid to report crimes or drug trafficking activity because dealers retaliate against anyone who threatens their livelihood.

Despite the residents' disillusionment, we know that crime problems can and have been solved through consistent, targeted enforcement actions in cities and rural areas around the country. The dramatic declines in crime rates in cities such as New York and Houston are the result of a determined law enforcement effort, which in essence, gives criminals no quarter. For example in 1995, New York registered its steepest decline in the crime rate in 23 years. The rate of violent crime in New York is now at its lowest point since the early 1970's and the homicide total dropped from 2,245 in 1990 to 1,182 last year. This was accomplished through law enforcement actions that targeted criminals at all levels, including those whose actions resulted in a serious decline in the quality of life in New York. By their vigorous enforcement actions and the willingness to provide prisons to incarcerate these criminals, progress is now being made.

By addressing quality of life issues---by going after the drug dealers, prostitutes and panhandlers, for example, the police have been able to send a clear message that no crime will escape the attention of law enforcement. The esteemed sociologist James Q. Wilson has written about the "broken window" theory: if we tolerate the small degradations of life, we slowly begin to accept the major erosion of our social values and conditions.

The DEA subscribes to the philosophy that we have two obligations to the American people: to improve the quality of life by removing violent drug dealers from their communities, and to immobilize the world's most notorious drug traffickers complex investigations.

DEA 's Response and Budget Request: Since drugs and violence have become such a part of the American landscape, state and local law enforcement agencies frequently do not have adequate resources and manpower to attack organized drug groups with ties to national gang orgnizations, or international drug syndicates. Residents in many communities are also hesitant to come forward with information on drug-related violence or homicides because they are intimidated or have been threatened.

The U.S. News and World Report article mentions the Drug Enforcement Administration's Mobile Enforcement Team Program (MET), which provided help to a nearby town facing a similar situation in rural Virginia. In this article, we are described as "the cavalry" which may be an overstatement of our ability to rescue a town from drugs and violence, but it is an accurate description of how we see our role --- to help state and local officials deal with a problem that often cannot be successfully addressed through local resources. As was portrayed in Sandy Level, violent drug gangs take over communities or sections of communities and are the primary factor in the escalation of violence in those areas. Local agencies do not always have suffcient resources to target these gangs for their drug trafficking activities.

The DEA has established Mobile Enforcement Teams (MET), comprised of specially trained agents, that can be deployed to America's communities at the request of local authorities. The DEA METs work with local authorities to dismantle these drug organizations and arrest the criminals who are perpetrating this senseless violence. By removing them from the community it is demonstrated that these predators can be held accountable for their crimes and that cooperative efforts between federal, state and local agencies can work in a positive fashion to return control of the communities to the citizens.

Through March 1st this year, the DEA Met teams have been deployed to 75 locations across the country. From communities as diverse as Denver, Colorado; Selma, Alabama and Galveston County, Texas, they have taken enforcement action that has resulted in the arrest of over 1500 drug dealers and are credited by local chiefs and Sheriffs with being a positive factor in reducing crimes of violence in their communities.

The Fiscal Year 1997 Budget request includes 93 positions, of which 60 are Special Agents and $5.9 million to ensure that a working Mobile Enforcement Team, comprised of 10-12 Special Agents, is available in each of the 20 field divisions across the nation. The sixty additional agents are requested to assist state and local law enforcement officials who request presence of MET teams to target violent drug traffickers in their communities.

Other DEA Programs and Budget Requests: The DEA's greatest asset is our workforce. The men and women of DEA are dedicated and creative public servants who are doing a very diffcult job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The sophistication of the international drug traffic, and the intense demands placed on DEA Special Agents and support staff working in communities across the nation require that DEA have a work orce that is capable of meeting the inherent demands of the job. DEA agents, facing sophisticated adversaries, must be well equipped and able to adjust priorities based on changing drug trafficking trends and new opportunities for progress.

For several years, the DEA's infrastructure needs have gone unmet because of increased personnel and operating expenses, including increases in spending for communications and utilities. During the past few years, spending on vehicles, aircraft and laboratories has been minimal. The DEA has also had difficulty meeting the costs of moving DEA's workforce to new posts of duty, something which is necessary to ensure agent safety and meet new enforcement priorities. The following budget requests address some of the critical needs faced by DEA Agents and support staff:

Permanent Change of Station Funding: $15.1 million: In order to maintain the safety and integrity of the DEA Special Agent workforce ensuring a rational career development system, the DEA must have adequate resources to transfer Special Agents from one division to another. With changing enforcement priorities dictated by shifts in drug trafficking routes and methods, it is critical for the agency to be able to quickly move personnel to meet these challenges. For years, the DEA has not been able to meet the requirements necessary to ensure that DEA personnel are rotated regularly and provided with the necessary career development.

Computer Equipment: $24.1 million. As Dea's workforce and demands have grown, it is increasingly important to provide reliable and efficient systems for data processing which will enhance the ability of agents to file and retrieve data quickly The Dea's new, secure computer system allows agents to electronically store and retrieve information which is time-sensitive. Funding provided in 1997 will continue the installation of this computer system to additional DEA field offces, and allow the DEA to: analyze information quickly and communicate with other law enforcement agencies; maintain adequate computer equipment replacements; and purchase new equipment, including laptop computers for field agents and investigators.

Vehicle Fleet: $6.7 million. DEA is requesting the funding necessary to replace a portion of the agency's aging vehicle fleet by establishing a cost effective vehicle replacement cycle. For years, DEA has not been able to attend to its vehicle fleet needs because of the growth of urgent and competing enforcement priorities. We have instituted new procedures and cost controls to reduce the average cost per vehicle while continuing to maintain an diversified and well-equipped fleet of law enforcement vehicles.

Without the requested enhancement, by 1997, 41 percent of the agency's vehicle fleet will have logged over 70,000 miles. To avoid an over-aged vehicle fleet, the DEA needs to replace roughly 800 vehicles per year. With the requested enhancement, the DEA will effectively meet this criteria, and bring the portion of vehicles over 70,000 miles down to 15 percent by the year 2000. Providing for these vehicles is critical to both the complex drug trafficking investigations conducted by DEA and the overall safety of the agency's Special Agent personnel.

Aircraft Replacement: $2 million. By 1997, the average age of Dea's air fleet will be 18 years of age. The older an aircraft is, the more costly it is to operate and the less productive it becomes because of increased down-time. According to DEA flight statistics, single-engine fixed-wing aircraft greater than 10 years old fly an average of 138 hours less per year and cost an average of $248 per hour more to operate due to increased maintenance costs. In order to improve upon the overall condition and effectiveness of the agency's aircraft fleet, a total of $2 million is requested by the DEA to establish an adequate aircraft replacement base.

Laboratorv Restoration: $7 million: Five DEA laboratories are deteriorating and in need of complete reconstruction. The DEA laboratory system has received praise and respect from state and local counterparts who depend upon the work of these laboratories. Many labs were constructed in the 1 1970s, and since then, a growing workload and increasingly strict health and safety standards have made some of the laboratories unsafe. The Southwest Lab (San Diego), the Mid-Atlantic Lab (Washington, DC), the Southeast Lab (Miami), the Special Testing and Research Lab (McLean, Virginia) and the Western Lab (San Francisco) are in need of reconstruction. Failure to improve these labs could adversely affect the Dea's ability to provide timely, effective support to law enforcement operations.

Adjustments to Base: $49.4 million: In addition to the requested enhancements, $49.4 million is provided in base program adjustments. These adjustments include pay raises, inflation, annualization, and mandated operating expenditures. Typically, appropriations realized fail to totally cover these expenses and infrastructure support programs continue to erode.

Diversion Programs: $4.3 million and 3 positions: Another important role for DEA is to prevent the diversion of licit drugs into the illicit market, and to maintain controls on these substances and on chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine. With the increased use of methamphetamine among many segments of American society, the DEA must work closely with wholesalers and retailers to prevent the illicit use of chemicals and pharmaceuticals essential to drug production.

The Dea's 1997 Congressional Budget request includes a total of three positions and $4.3 million, through the Drug Diversion Control Fee Account (DDCFA), to improve the management of the DEA Diversion Control Program, and provide improved services to program registrants (including physicians, nurse practitioners, drug manufacturers, and distributors). These enhancements will work to establish a National Forensic Laboratory Information System; establish additional diversion investigative units to assist state and local law enforcement; replace obsolete computer equipment; revise and improve the Controlled Substances Act System Data Base; and provide for additional financial/technical support.


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, the DEA appreciates the support that we have received over the years from Congress. We are working on the front lines, within the United States and in over 50 countries around the world to dismantle major trafficking organizations and help communities eliminate violent drug traffickers.

I will be happy to answer any questions you might have or elaborate on any matter discussed in my testimony.

Travel back to the DRCNet Response to the DEA Home Page

Travel back to the DRCNet Response to the DEA Congressional Testimony List