DoD Briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary Douglas from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va
BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Good afternoon and welcome. It's my privilege to introduce to you somebody that has not been to our briefing room before, Mr. Richard Douglas, who is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for counter-narcotics, counter-proliferation and global threats. He has offered some of his time to come down to talk about the department's role in counternarcotics -- the counternarcotics mission, and to give you an overview of what the department does to support that effort and to take some of your questions.
So with that, let me turn it over to you, and thank you for your time today.
MR. DOUGLAS: Good afternoon. Well, I'm Richard Douglas, the deputy assistant secretary for counternarcotics, counter-proliferation and global threats. My office oversees the department's role in countering narcotics trafficking and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the world.
Today, I would like to talk about the department's work with our combatant commanders, as well as with U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies and authorities to stop narcotics trafficking. Then I'll be happy to take any questions you might have.
So here's the key point: Our office's role is to make sure that the combatant commanders have the support that they need so they in turn can help responsible law enforcement authorities, both in the United States and abroad, to oppose narcotics trafficking. And we certainly face some sobering challenges in this task, so the department has some pretty robust authority, some pretty effective authorities, in order to bring to bear the competencies that it has in this struggle. And I'm going to give you some examples.
The department is authorized and competent to do detection and monitoring of narcotics traffickers, and in fact, this is a task that's explicitly committed to the department both in statute and in the National Drug Control Strategy. The department is authorized to do information sharing not only with U.S. law enforcement agencies but also with foreign authorities, which is a little unusual. And then the department is authorized to train and build capacity of U.S. and foreign authorities. And in the U.S., typically this would be the National Guard; overseas, this could be national police authorities or specific counternarcotics police, depending on the country.
So our strategy is to help our combatant commanders, most typically Southern Command and Central Command nowadays, to address the narcotics threat in what we have come to call three zones: first, the source zone -- in other words, where the narcotics are produced; second, the transit zone, the areas of the world where these things transit on their way from the source to, third, the arrival zone, which, in the case of the Western Hemisphere -- in our case, is the United States.
Let me talk about the source zone a little bit. In the Western Hemisphere, the primary threat, as we know, has been cocaine from the Andean Ridge, primarily from Colombia. And compared with a decade ago, Colombia has made enormous progress. We think that under President Uribe's leadership and with U.S. logistical training, equipment and infrastructure support, the Colombian government has reduced safe havens for narcoterrorists and increased its presence in remote areas that in the past have not been governed at all in some cases. It certainly has degraded narcoterrorist organizations and enabled efforts to reduce narcotics production.
So the Department of Defense, principally through Southern Command, is working to help the Colombian government assume responsibility to provide for itself the kind of support that the United States and the department have been providing to Colombia for a number of years.
The department is also working with foreign law enforcement agencies not only in Colombia but in other parts of the Western Hemisphere, too, to address transnational trafficking from the Western Hemisphere now to Europe and Africa, because we are finding that narcotics traffickers are able, in some cases, to not only transit the Gulf on their way to the United States but transit the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Africa and Europe.
So I'll talk a little bit about the transit zone now in our hemisphere. The foundation for Southern Command and DOD efforts in the Western Hemisphere transit zone, which generally is the Caribbean Sea and the Eastern Pacific, because that's where most of it comes up, is an organization in Key West called the Joint Interagency Task Force South.
Some of you may have heard of this place. It's called JIATF South for short, Joint Interagency Task Force South. It's located in Key West. And for us, it's really a model of interagency and international cooperation.
JIATF South is commanded by a U.S. Coast Guard admiral and in that sense underscores its importance to civilian law enforcement and the DOD role in supporting civilian law enforcement.
JIATF South coordinates assets such as radar, surface ships and aircraft that the department and other U.S. government agencies, such as Customs, as well as foreign governments, provide to detect and monitor illicit narcotic trafficking through our transit zone, not just in the gulf but also in the Eastern Pacific.
JIATF South shares information it develops through a system called CNIES, which means the Cooperating Nation Information Exchange System. CNIES terminals generally are in locations around the hemisphere. We have several in Mexico, for example, where we actually share radar tracks with the host government, so they can see where the ships and aircraft are coming as they leave South America.
We also have 12 foreign liaison officers located in Key West at JIATF South. So these foreign officers can help us with our interdiction efforts not only in the hemisphere but also in their countries of origin.
As I mentioned a little bit earlier, JIATF South is also beginning to work on transatlantic narcotics trafficking activity. As a result, we do have allied nations, such as Britain. We have Holland. We have France, some other countries that aren't necessarily located in our hemisphere.
Moving up the -- from the transit zone to Mexico and Central America, on land, Mexican drug trafficking organizations nowadays have made Mexico the leading transit country for cocaine and heroin consumed in the United States. It's also the leading -- Mexico is also the leading source country for marijuana and methamphetamine.
In fact, the gravity of this problem has led Mexican President Calderon to give high priority to Mexican counternarcotics efforts. And in our office, we're very eager to work more closely with Mexican authorities, as well as with Central American governments, to build the capacity to counter trafficking and transit through Mexico and Central America.
Moving north to the arrival zone, the United States, I'd like to talk first about National Guard counternarcotics support, because this is really the key component of what we do physically here in the United States. In fact, it's our primary tool for supporting counternarcotics efforts domestically.
The National Guard has been providing support to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies since 1989. And in fact, some of you, if you've ever crossed from Juarez, Mexico, into El Paso, Texas, you may well have seen uniformed National Guard personnel on the border conducting vehicle inspections, inbound, in some cases outbound.
The Guard's efforts have been crucial to interdiction of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, precursor chemicals and methamphetamines coming into the United States, and transshipment of illegal drugs through the United States.
So using department resources with the support of our office, the National Guard has, for example, helped identify domestic methamphetamine labs and has helped federal, state and local law enforcement agencies arrest narcotics manufacturers, traffickers and distributors.
And a very important thing that the Guard does, and you may well have seen some of these programs yourself around the country, they have outreach programs for young people to try to prevent use, and they generally go into junior high schools and high schools and that sort of thing.
So we want to talk a little bit now more broadly outside the Western Hemisphere. The same model -- the source, transit zone, arrival zone approach -- we use this in other parts of the world. And I'll talk about Afghanistan in this context.
Afghanistan, as we all know, is the source of most of the world's illicit opium, about 93 percent, and probably supplies almost all of the world's demand for illicit heroin. Worse, the Afghan narcotics trade hinders development of the Afghan economy and undermines development of Afghan democratic institutions by providing extremists, terrorists and government opponents with resources to oppose the central government.
In support of the U.S. government's five-pillar plan for Afghanistan -- and the five pillars are public information, alternative livelihoods, eradication, interdiction, and justice reform -- the department is working to increase the capacity of the government of Afghanistan as well as neighboring transit zone countries in Central Asia to stop narcotics trafficking. And specifically -- I'm going to give you some statistics about what we're doing in Afghanistan -- we're training and equipping a specialized Afghan interdiction unit that has Drug Enforcement Administration mentors to directly address trafficking.
We're developing an Afghan intelligence fusion cell, a communication system, a number of bases of operation, and an MI-17 helicopter squadron to support the Afghan interdiction unit. And the helicopter squadron is very important because of the need for air mobility in a country with extremely rugged terrain. We're also supporting a border management initiative in conjunction with the Department of State which will assist in hindering the flow of drugs leaving Afghanistan and importation of precursor chemicals needed to turn opium into heroin.
We're also providing tactical training for the Afghan border police. And we believe that in our experience this has already reduced casualties during confrontations with narcotraffickers at the border.
Now, we have other efforts under way in countries around Afghanistan, such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The idea is to do similar efforts to build capacity on the other side of the border so the Afghan and bordering authorities are able to cooperate and work better together. And we can talk a little bit about that too, if you'd like.
So I think I'm going to close with that. I've kind of given you a tour around the world of what our office does in very broad terms. And I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have.
Q Sir, can you talk a bit more about Afghanistan, and in particular what legal authority the U.S. -- or DOD, U.S. forces have there to interdict and possibly eradicate opium crops? What -- just to ask baldly, why can't U.S. forces just wipe them out? Why can't we just burn them up?
MR. DOUGLAS: Well, I think the first thing we should keep in mind is U.S. forces in Afghanistan respond to, in the main, counterterrorism concerns. And I think the Central Command and the Joint Staffs here can give you a much better explanation of how the two work together.
But the fact is, there is an order, there is authority for U.S. forces to cooperate with the Afghan authorities, and that's really what this is all about, it's giving the Afghans the capacity to fight this problem themselves. In appropriate circumstances, when, for example, there is support needed or in extremis support needed or certain types of air mobility needed in order to move people around the country -- and in fact, U.S. forces are already doing this. In fact, I think it's fair to say that the support we're getting from the U.S. combat forces for what our office is responsible for trying to achieve has been very good and it's getting better.
But at the end of the day, there are three components to the struggle against narcotics in Afghanistan. Primarily, and number one, the first priority is the Afghan government. And that's what we're about. We're doing our best to build capacity to allow them to undertake this mission on their own. We're doing it through building competent police forces that are well-trained and well-equipped with things like this aviation squadron I've mentioned, and thereby relieve the burden on the coalition, relieve the burden on ISAF and NATO, and pick up the burden themselves.
Second, ISAF is also now an important part of this picture, as they've come into Afghanistan in the last year. We think that we're also getting good cooperation from ISAF. I was in Afghanistan about three weeks ago and had a chance to meet with the ISAF commander's counternarcotics staff. I believe that they've established a good working relationship with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is essentially the mentoring force of the United States in Afghanistan. And I think ISAF is doing what it can within available resources and operational requirements in order to provide the support needed on the counternarcotics side.
And last but certainly by no means least, our combat forces in Afghanistan -- as I said, they have been, in my opinion, extremely helpful to the effort. They've done everything that I'm aware of that they've been asked to do by the Drug Enforcement Administration and by extension by the Afghan government. And I think that at the end of the day, when the Afghan government is itself in a better position to be able to pick up the load, it's going to take a lot of pressure off of our people, and I think that's really what we're hoping to see.
Q Just to quickly follow.
MR. DOUGLAS: Yes, sir.
Q Is it a matter of capacity on the Afghan -- or a lack of capacity on the part of the Afghan government? Or do you perceive perhaps a lack of will? Because it is, after all, a revenue-producing crop, however illicit it is, and there isn't a suitable substitute that could be fielded as a crop.
MR. DOUGLAS: Well, in my experience -- I visited Helmand province last year and went down and talked to the governor just during the eradication effort there. In my experience, I think that there is quite a bit of political will on the part of the Afghan government to deal with this problem. I think President Karzai has been very explicit about it. I think he understands it, understands the threat that it represents not only to the stability of his government but to Afghan -- but to the future of Afghanistan economically and as a society.
So granted, there are problems. I think there are situations where we've seen some questionable support for what we're trying to accomplish, but in the main, in my opinion, there's no question that institutionally the leadership is on board.
Yes, there is a lack of capacity. That's why we're there. One of the things we've been trying to do since our program started in Afghanistan about three years ago is to build that capacity that not only will allow them to sustain the pressure on the narcotics traffickers but also take pressure off of our people.
And I don't think there's any question about it, we've made a lot of progress in Afghanistan. We've got Afghan pilots flying Mi-17 helicopters now trying to support DEA missions, and, you know, it's -- we're still at the walking stage, but we're getting there quickly to where the Afghans themselves are going to be able to pick up a lot of these missions. We've got a long way to go. The challenges are there, but the fact is we're better off than we were three years ago when we started the program. And I think there's certainly great cause for optimism that the Afghans themselves, as we continue our training programs, are going to be able to deal with this mission.
MR. WHITMAN: Yes, sir.
Q You keep talking about the Afghans themselves dealing with it, but what happens in Afghanistan really creates a problem here and in the other destination countries.
So first of all, isn't it something that the United States should be willing to go ahead and do at least in the interim? And secondly, are you doing anything on the softer side of it in terms of finding and introducing alternative crops, convincing people not to grow the opium, and making it so that the first time they see the Afghan government isn't when they come to destroy their livelihood?
MR. DOUGLAS: Okay. Just to kind of start with the beginning of the question, a small technical point. Most of the opium and heroin leaving Afghanistan goes to Western Europe. So it sort of begs the question: Why are we there? Well, the answer is because we understand the importance of Afghanistan as a stable democracy with a government able to exercise governance over its own territory, because we've seen what happens when it's unable to do that.
The short answer to your question is yes, there is an effort. One of the five pillars that forms the broader strategy for Afghanistan is to find a way to introduce alternative livelihoods. That's really more of a State Department lead, but we at DOD are most definitely interested in it because we think it does have an impact on what we're doing, there's really not a lot of attenuation, and it certainly has a measurable impact.
But there's no question about it, I mean, one of the main pillars of the strategy is to find a way to wean the farmer off of opium poppy production, make it possible for that farmer to support his family without having to turn to an illicit crop, without having to depend on narcotics traffickers for loans to get seeds, and without having to, you know, live clandestinely in a way when I think polling has shown that they would much rather not have to do that.
So again, it takes time. The State Department I know is working very hard on the alternative livelihood program. We are a part of the bigger picture in formulating strategy. We've had good vision into what State is doing and AID and other programs. It's an international effort, it's not just the United States. We have a lot of support from Europe on alternative livelihood programs.
And I think everyone agrees that while certainly the counternarcotics and counterterrorism pieces of the overall picture are vastly important, without good solutions on alternative livelihoods and general economic development, it's going to be very difficult to achieve what we all want, and that is, at the end of the day, a free, stable, healthy Afghanistan that is not a national security threat.
Q Could you talk a little bit about the National Guard on the border with Mexico in basic numbers, what they're doing right now? And then also the fact, with so many Guard troops fighting in the global war on terrorism, do you have enough Guard to actually fight counterdrug in Mexico right now?
MR. DOUGLAS: Sure, I can talk about that. At this time we probably have about 2,500, and let me just say, the best place to get the absolutely precise numbers is the National Guard Bureau. But based on what we do in our program office and the kind of coming and going we have, we've got about 2,500 people down on the border now, and it's a mix of different state units -- Texas, New Mexico, California and Arizona I think have been down there most recently.
But in the first place, let me just change -- a little technical fix to the question, which is a good question. We don't have National Guard people in Mexico doing any kind of enforcement, so to speak. In fact, really the National Guard, their job is not to do law enforcement strictly speaking, their job is to support law enforcement. And what's happening on the border is just that -- we have people on the border working in all kinds of different capacities.
The key unifying theme, though, for what the Guard does down there is what they bring to the table must be militarily unique, it can't be something that law enforcement can do on its own. So there are many things that come to mind: intelligence, you know, information-gathering, certain kinds of aircraft with sensors that local law enforcement isn't able to do. In addition, they're doing engineering construction projects along the border -- a whole variety of things that generally the requests that they're able to fulfill sort of bubble up through local authorities on the border or through the various law enforcement agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, that sort of thing, you know, we need some help with this aspect or that aspect of border security. And as I said, we got about 2,500 people down there. These people are being funded out of the department's central transfer account for counternarcotics.
And if I can just kind of move to your question about the demand on the Guard, it's a very important question. And I know that General Blum at the Guard Bureau thinks about this, you know, 24/7. In fact, I spent some time with him about a week ago not only talking about our program, but just the general state of the Guard. And I had the opportunity to serve with the Guard quite a bit when I was in Iraq.
But I can tell you this, the people that are down on the border with us who are working in our National Guard state programs -- and we have state programs in every state -- they're volunteers, they love what they do. My last trip before I was mobilized and went to Iraq was to El Paso, Texas, where I met with the Texas State National Guard. Took an informal poll in the room, you know, "Who here has served in Iraq and Afghanistan?" Many hands went up. Many hands went up for other operations, too. And the thing about it, though, was you could feel the enthusiasm and the great desire of people to be there.
In our office, our mission is a very demanding mission, it's a very challenging mission, and it probably always will be as long as there's demand in the United States for narcotics. But we're extremely sensitive and careful about the demands that we place on the Guard because we're certainly aware, and I am personally aware of the demands that conflicts in Iraq place on these people and their families.
So again, we have a very good relationship with General Blum and the Guard Bureau. I think he would probably tell you the same thing.
If he doesn't, let me know, but -- and as I said, we're very sensitive to the demands on the Guard and the additional demands created by our mission.
But so far in my experience in this job, we haven't had any lapses or difficulties or inability to do our mission. In fact, I think it's just the opposite. The Guard recognizes that it's an important mission. They also recognize that it's a critically important training opportunity for Guard units that get involved with counterdrug work and have always been very enthusiastic about meeting these requirements.
Q Can you just kind of break down like what monopolizes your day or your week? What in your office -- is Afghanistan the biggest stuff that you guys are working on right now? Or is it Iraq, Mexico? How does it sort of break out as far as --
MR. DOUGLAS: Well, that's an interesting question.
Yeah, I think, in our office probably the three things that we spend the most time on, or that I spend the most time on, and if I can just throw a little commercial message in here. I mean, this is the best job in the Pentagon. I've got two portfolios, counternarcotics and counterproliferation, that absolutely must get done. And it's a nice feeling to come into work and know that we're really making a contribution that matters.
So you hit a couple of the big ones. Certainly Afghanistan, because of the fact that not only do we have a counternarcotics challenge there, and it is a big challenge -- we also have Americans engaged in combat and coalition forces engaged in combat. And me personally, I mean, that's a key priority for me. It's the number one priority. You know, having spent time in Iraq, and I kind of have a different perspective now on that.
So close behind of course is Colombia. Colombia is in many ways, although many challenges remain, a huge success story. The Colombians have done some incredible things in their relationship with the United States in the last five or six years. But the fact remains, we still have challenges there and we have to deal with them.
That's on the counternarcotics side. Over on the counterproliferation side, which is, I know, not the subject of this briefing, there's plenty to keep us occupied. And if I can just give you an example, it's -- returned recently from a meeting in Auckland, New Zealand on the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is one of the president's priorities.
And that's kind of how we spend our day, and it's an interesting mix. We've just reorganized our portfolios. Prior to the beginning of this year, prior to my deployment in Iraq, the portfolios were separate. I had only counternarcotics. And counterproliferation and counternarcotics were brought together in a reorganization here in policy at the beginning of this year. Because the objective is to find the good dynamics between those two areas and try to capitalize on them, and also to identify gaps that perhaps we could fill over time, and make it easier to deal with both threats.
Q So it's fair to say that Afghanistan monopolizes -- the narcotics problem in Afghanistan monopolizes a large -- or represents the largest narcotics problem that you face. Is that --
MR. DOUGLAS: Well, the number one narcotics problem we face is demand in the United States. I mean, let's face it, if we could get a handle on demand in the United States and Western Europe, then Colombia and Afghanistan might not loom so large. But -- you know, it's a small point to make, but I don't see it as monopolizing my time. I mean, it's what I'm here for and it's what I want to be doing, because at the end of the day I think if we're successful in what we're trying to do, it's going to be hugely important for the country, not only for us but for Afghanistan and other countries.
Q What's the financial nexus between narcotics and terrorism? Do you know how much money terrorist groups are making?
MR. DOUGLAS: Well, in general, generally speaking we know from --
Q Specifically -- (off mike).
MR. DOUGLAS: Well, we know from our experience in Colombia, for example, that FARC is essentially a drug trafficking organization. I mean, FARC's income is based on drug trafficking. And as far as actual numbers, I really -- I'm not trying to dodge your question, I'm just -- it's not possible to say with any real certainty, because FARC doesn't file a financial statement.
But we know that in the first three months of this year, around half a billion dollars worth of drugs and other material were interdicted or seized. You may recall in March a very large cocaine seizure off the coast of Panama by the Coast Guard valued at somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million. We saw a very large money laundering -- or money laundering operation in Mexico that was valued in the neighborhood of $200 million, and then another operation in Cali, Colombia, came in at about $80 million. So you're looking at half a billion dollars right there in value.
We know we're talking about large quantities. And it kind of goes back to the capacity-building issue. We knew here in the United States back in the '80s that many of our policemen in South Florida were outgunned by narcotics traffickers, and we took measures in our own country to try to better arm our police, to try to better arm public safety forces in order to deal with this threat.
In places like Colombia and places like Afghanistan, where at least in the case of Colombia we have an advanced infrastructure, at least a solid capacity to build on, we still need to help, we still need to make it possible for the public safety forces to deal with organizations that appear to have huge reservoirs of cash. And in the case of the FARC, to reiterate, we're talking about a drug trafficking organization that makes its money off of trafficking.
In the case of Afghanistan -- and the president said it in February -- the Taliban makes money off of drugs. The Taliban uses money to buy arms. The Taliban uses money to pay Afghans to attack their own government. I don't think there's any question that that nexus exists.
As far as actually getting a handle on how much, I wish I could be more specific for you. But perhaps ONDCP or the DEA might be able to provide you with a better estimate.
Q This figure there of how much opium -- how much of a share of the world's opium that the Afghans have produced --
MR. DOUGLAS: About 93 percent.
Q -- does DOD have a sense of how much opium is produced? Do you know roughly where those fields are? And what percentage of that capacity to produce that, do you think, or can you estimate, has been reduced over the past three years? And what do you need to get it done? More equipment? More resources?
MR. DOUGLAS: Well, as far as actually estimating how much poppy is under cultivation in Afghanistan, the State Department has for a number of years now looked very hard at trying to come up with a good estimate. And it's not easy. I mean, it's a vast distance. It's hard to find assets that can do that kind of -- you know, that can give you a precise look at exactly what's growing where. Afghanistan's a big country.
But I think it's fair to say that in reliance on the State Department and reliance on other organizations that are making some estimates about how much poppy's out there -- like the United Nations Office of Drug Control, that sort of thing -- I think our people have a fairly defensible idea of how much is out there.
As far as what we need in order to take care of it all, the combatant commander for us is, in a sense, the oracle on what it's going to take to deal with the threats in theater.
In the case of -- and this is generally speaking, okay? In the case of Afghanistan, we rely on the combatant commander. We also rely on law enforcement authorities, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, to tell us what we, DOD, need to do in order to give them the best support.
And I think we've been -- I think DEA is very good at estimating what it needs. DEA has some incredibly effective training teams that go out to Afghanistan; work with the Afghan police and the Afghan authorities, not only in Kabul but outside, in other parts of the country, to get a good handle on the scope of the challenge. Based on the input that we get from DEA, we think that we are -- have been pretty successful in providing them the wherewithal that they need in order to do their mission.
Now, that's not to say that their requirements are not going to increase over time. I mean, I would expect that as the Afghan public security forces grow and their capacity increases, there will at least be in the short or medium term some kind of increased requirements on DOD simply because there are more Afghan cops doing more in places where they need to go, whether it's for eradication or, you know, strictly traditional kinds of law enforcement operations.
But, to kind of summarize, I think that it's not really possible at this point to say if I had a hundred billion dollars more, I could take care of this problem in a week. I mean, there are so many variables -- Afghan capacity, Afghan ability to actually go out and do meaningful law enforcement operations, Afghan capacity to actually go out and do eradication operations. And I do understand from the State Department that they're doing much better this year than they did last year on eradication, manual eradication. So these are the kinds of variables that we look at.
But our charge -- my charge is to be as responsive as we possibly can within available resources to the combatant commander, to the DEA, and by extension -- well, the State Department also, and by extension, the Afghan authorities, to deal with the issue. Because at the end of the day, it's an Afghan fight. It's Afghanistan's future and it's Afghanistan's fight. And that's why we're there, we're there to try to help them pick up the burden as a government and shift some of the burden away from our people, and hopefully lick the problem.
Q It's an Afghan fight, but the Taliban is getting most its funding from the sale of this stuff.
MR. DOUGLAS: It is. The Taliban is getting a lot of funding.
STAFF: With that, we conclude today's briefing. Thank you for joining us.
MR. DOUGLAS: Sure.
STAFF: Thank you for coming today. If you have any other questions, please let us know.
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