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Last Updated:2/15/02
Excerpt from briefing with "Drug Czar" John Walters, February 12, 2002

Office of the Press Secretary
February 12, 2002


MR. WALTERS: I'm John Walters, Director of Drug Control Policy. I'll be happy to answer any questions.

Q: When Plan Colombia was approved, there was a concern, especially in Colombia, but in other parts of Latin America, about the connection to fight insurgency and then fight against drugs. And now you're making the connection officially, you know. How do you plan to overcome the resistance to make this connection, especially in Colombia, but in Latin America in general?

MR. WALTERS: Well, I think the connection between the FARC, for example, and drug trafficking is a fact. And no one denies this. The State Department has identified the FARC as one of the more than 25 terrorist organizations around the world and it is one of the 12 of those that has been identified as associated with drug trafficking. That link exists. We've known about it for a while. Americans are more acutely aware of it now because of the threat of terrorism after September 11th.

What we have tried to do in the case of Colombia is be a reliable partner for the aims of the Colombian people and President Pastrana, as regards to drug control. We have focused our efforts on supporting alternative development, as well as building capacities, to go after the production, manufacture and transiting of drugs.

It certainly is a difficult environment. Certainly in Colombia, you have the extreme of the drug trade attacking government institutions on the left and right. I mean, you have the paramilitaries on the right, as well as the guerrillas on the left.

I will say that having come back into this issue after serving in 1989, I recognize people see the day-to-day frustrations. But I also would be remiss if I didn't say I think I've seen some significant progress that should not be forgotten.

In 1989, the cocaine business in Colombia had become so vertically integrated that the Medellin and Cali Cartel leadership were listed as some of the richest people in the world in Forbes Magazine. There were fears they could go anywhere in the world, bribe or kill anyone, and they'd become super criminals, super mafias. They had also spread the web of trafficking extensively into Bolivia and into Peru.

Coming back and looking at this, I am struck by how much the reduction in Bolivia and Peru has -- how much has been achieved over the last several years. We had a -- a lot of hard work in those countries in cooperation with the United States -- and the fact that the kind of super-criminals of the old days have been either brought and tried and arrested or are dead.

It was important, I think, to get at that enormously powerful superstructure of the old cocaine trade. We still have obviously a problem. There's been alliances with guerrillas and paramilitaries. But those organizations don't nearly have the power that you saw in the past. They are still a real challenge. The trade has collapsed back on Colombia where it had the most extensive infrastructure.

But when you look at that, and also -- I was able to visit Mexico since taking office -- the level of cooperation in Mexico is just enormously different from when I last served in government. The cooperation and collaboration on these efforts, as well as other efforts in terrorism, are quite remarkable from past history. So we have a challenge, but I do think we also have a period of opportunity and, if we look back, also some reason to see significant and genuine progress.

Q: Mr. Walters, I asked Ari at the briefing, he said you might give me a better answer.

MR. WALTERS: That sounds dangerous. (Laughter.)

Q: He said you had the information. There's been a major -- in relations with Latin America and the United States with this certification program. Every year Congress orders the State Department or White House to certify or decertify, or give them a pass on national security on the drug problem. But nobody has ever certified or decertified the United States. The Latin American countries keep saying, we may have a problem with the supply, but they have a problem with the demand. If we didn't have their demand, we wouldn't have these problems.

I understand your new plan is doing a lot, or at least it sounds great on paper, trying to stop the demand. What can you tell these governments in Latin America and the people, on the demand side, that your program is going to be effective, and not just lip service?

MR. WALTERS: I think it's also important for me to say that in my meetings with the President, as he talked to me prior to taking this job, but also subsequently, he views this not only as the single biggest domestic priority, as he said today, reducing demand, but he believes it is the absolute foundation of our working with other countries; that we do our part to reduce demand, and not ask them falsely to solve our problem by simply reducing supply.

Look, this is a kind of business. And we need to drive down supply and demand together, otherwise, an imbalance in the two will cause the one that has been reduced to be undermined by the one that has not. We need to drive down the problem and keep it down. That's our goal.

So we're trying to work together. And I think with the Latin American countries, it's at the President's initiative that we have suspended for one year the normal certification process. He's made the argument, and I think it's compelling, that we need to try to cooperate. This has been an irritant and an obstacle; we need to try to cooperate more boldly. So for one year, the Congress has allowed us to try and alternative here.

But lastly, on the issue of grading ourselves, no nation in the world provides more information about its drug problem than the United States. And with this strategy, we're taking the best of our information and focusing it directly on what we consider to be the center of the problem -- demand and drug use. We are committing -- and this is not -- I think it's important to note the President is committing in realistic ways a genuine and sustained reduction in drug use in the United States. We're stating it up front, and we're not giving you five years and ten-year goals, which nobody has a period of office of five years and ten years. We're giving you two-year and five-year goals.

That is, I think significant and an important measure. And I appreciate the fact that the President has been willing to do that as a way of showing while we hold ourselves accountable, we intend to make the programs we administer accountable, and we intend to be able to be held accountable by our partners not only in this country, but throughout the world.

Q: For a long time the U.S. has been asking the Mexican government to allow the DEA agents that are operating in Mexico to be armed, to be better protected. Do you believe -- are you still working on that? You may have something else that the Mexican government will be more willing about it?

MR. WALTERS: The discussions we've had with the Mexican government have to do with the diplomatic credentials that DEA has and whether or not they are given the same diplomatic status as FBI personnel or Customs personnel and so forth.

This is part of the longer, larger discussion of ways that we can cooperate. We understand that there has been friction in the past. There have been incidents in the past where there have been problems raised about, you know, respect and cooperation. What is, I think, most encouraging is that in this new environment, beginning with the relationship between President Fox and President Bush, there has been an effort to kind of remove those. I think that we are working more systematically to resolve some of those remaining issues, but we're not done yet.

Q: Do you think this is like a basic need in order to protect the lives of the DEA agents?

MR. WALTERS: I think it's partly a matter of simple consistency in personnel working here. But, again, the key here not to forget is that we're trying to work to make sure that neither of our countries becomes a safe haven for drug traffickers and violent drug offenders, and that the border is not used as a weapon by traffickers to shield themselves and to exploit the differences in jurisdiction.

And the most important thing is that both the United States and Mexico -- not only in drugs, but in terrorism -- are working to do that at the same time we're working to foster trade and other kinds of relations that we want to continue and broaden.

Q: Mr. Walters, do you have the latest number on the amount from the drug trade in the U.S. that is going to terrorist groups, number one, if there's any latest number? And also your strategy in getting that message out -- we obviously saw the ads during the Super Bowl. Will we see more ads? How much money in the President's budget is devoted to sort of getting that message out? And is there any sense that it works, that that message getting to even young people makes them say, you know, no drug use for me?

MR. WALTERS: Let me answer those questions as I remember them and not necessarily in the order you gave me. First of all, the ads you saw at the Super Bowl were in development for several months. When I took over at the office in early December, there had already been initial development done. We tested these ads more extensively than any ads done and there were 200-plus additional ads in the campaign over the last several years.

The focus group results of the tests showed some of the most powerful results reported by young people, young adults and parents, in telling us these would help them reconsider their attitude toward drug use in a positive direction. In addition, somewhat to our surprise, parents said this information was enormously helpful to them in talking to their children about drugs, in addition to all the other reasons they would give their kids for not using drugs. So, in a certain way, when I was faced with the decision of should we do this and should we do this at the largest audience possible for us, it was a question of, wouldn't it be irresponsible not to run these ads.

The Super Bowl gave us an enormous bargain in the size of the audience, the fact that it cuts across demographics, which we want to do with our advertising. And, in addition, it's one of the programs that's most watched by parents and children together. So we were given an opportunity. The media campaign is $180 million a year. This is a part of what we do in the campaign. The campaign is a part of what we do on prevention. But we think it's an enormously powerful tool. They will continue into the next quarter. We are doing some other ads at the same time. There are some for the Olympics. So they are not the only thing. But, essentially, the basic focus of the campaign series of ads you'll see in this period of time will be the ones on drugs and terrorism.

We also vetted these ads more extensively with both government agencies that have a role in law enforcement, national security and terrorism, and with outside experts. The web site associated with this, the, has detailed information about the relationships, the amounts of money, the organizations involved. The particular incidents referred to in each of the ads have a factual basis as on the program.

In addition, we have worked with Channel 1 to provide educational units into schools that would have been available in full to 8 million American students in the weeks following the Super Bowl.

So, yes, we intend to do this. It's not going to be the only thing we do. But the response has been quite overwhelming. Not only does the professional advertising industry give us enormously high marks for the quality and the power of the ads, but the comments we've seen from people out in the country have been quite gratifying in what they think is the effect on changing the attitude on drug use.

Q: And that's part of the $180 million, right? That's your total --

MR. WALTERS: The total probably for the next four to eight weeks that this will run with the creative costs, running -- remember -- well, you won't remember. The ad campaign has a one-for-one match. So whatever we buy, we get an equivalent amount of advertising. So we actually got -- we paid for two ads, but we got the equivalent of four in total advertising. And then the other ads, the print, there will be radio ads, there will also be other versions of this. So that whole campaign with the lessons and the web site will run about $10 million of the $180 million.

Q: Since September 11th, there's been some anecdotal evidence that monitoring the borders more closely has increased the number of drug seizures. There have also been fears that with the Coast Guard focusing as much on the ports, they're not seizing as much as they used to. Do you have any -- to ask another figures question -- do you have any actual data showing how -- whether seizures have increased or decreased since September 11th?

MR. WALTERS: It's been mixed. There isn't definitive information here. There's also been data that some of the traffickers had delayed movement across the border. There were reports of stockpiling on the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexican border for a while.

What we have seen so far is not definitive either way. But one of the big tasks that we face in the coming months -- and we've been working with Governor Ridge's office -- is integrating what we're doing with the homeland security effort. When we get better control of our borders, it helps us not only with our terrorism, but with drugs and drug trafficking. So this is an important contribution that will be seen somewhat in the homeland security activities. But we are integrating those in.

And, frankly, the most important thing, getting back to my comments about supply control, the most important thing in this area is intelligence and information-sharing with other governments and within U.S. agencies. If you stand on the border and you try to stop drugs at the border, it's like trying to hit a baseball with a bat when you're blindfolded. You may hit it once in a while, but it's going to be lucky. The key is to see the structures that are bringing the resources toward you, and to be able to exploit their vulnerabilities over that course.

So that's what we need to do, both for terrorism and for drugs. And when they're linked, obviously it's doubly important. But that's what we're going to try to do. We don't yet see a significant change in terms of border seizures. But we also don't have definitive word about the flow.

Q: Let me ask you a follow-up on that. Is there anywhere I can actually get data that says how much -- where the seizures have increased or decreased or whether --

MR. WALTERS: Yes, there's a report -- I think there's an unclassified version of the report that does interdiction flow. Why don't you -- I have some staff members here, we can get it to you.

Q: Getting back to the figures on terrorism and drug funding, drug use, what kind of -- can you provide some of those statistics, and how much of it -- especially considering that you look at things like Ecstasy and OxyContin and all those sort of growing -- the prescription drug problem, those are more home-grown things. How do you reconcile that with supporting terrorism when these are cooked up in people's houses and wherever, here?

MR. WALTERS: Well, again, keep in mind that we're talking about the fact that if you buy drugs, some of the money may go to terrorism. It's not true that Ecstacy doesn't have an international component. A lot of Ecstacy comes out of Europe, through Holland, and it has ties to various Middle Eastern groups. That's been demonstrated with a number of cases. Methamphetamine and even some of the other divergent of pseudoephedrine have international components that have been run across U.S. borders from both Canada and Mexico.

So while there are certainly are some drug production that takes place only in the United States, all drug production has the component of criminal activity with it. Many of those criminal organizations use violence, intimidation, witness murder, judge corruption, police murder, as a tool of the trade. In addition what the campaign points out is that organizations like the Taliban were documented before September 11th to get substantial resources from the opium trade; organizations like the FARC get hundreds of millions of dollars are the estimates from the drug trade. The paramilitaries, the AUC in Colombia gets hundreds of millions of dollars from the drug trade. And we know that the organizations that have been attacking law enforcement and judicial structures in Mexico get money from the drug trade.

So not every terrorist group, not all terrorist funding comes from drugs. But a substantial portion does. And what we're trying to do with the campaign is point out those consequences. So in addition to not using drugs because it's harmful to you and it's harmful for your family and community, it's also harmful for your country and for innocent people in other countries.

Q: But what about the statistics or figures, some kind of something number we can put our --

MR. WALTERS: We can provide that. It's on the web site for the numbers of -- in February, the site for the Taliban was $50 million. I don't know whether that's the number on the web site now. But we also have other -- we have the latest material from the intelligence and law enforcement community on the web site, so we can provide that.

Q: But in terms of a percentage of overall drug trade, what percentage of the money goes to terrorists, to put it in perspective? I mean, it's one thing to tell us this goes to Taliban, or wherever, but we have to know how much overall. I mean, it is a penny on a dollar, is it a penny on $1,000, or is it a dime on a dollar?

MR. WALTERS: I think the truth is, since we don't know exactly the budgets of all the terrorist organizations, and we don't know the -- they don't have to submit their budget to the White House press corps. But of the -- the Americans spend, we estimate, $66 billion on drugs. We know that hundreds of millions of those dollars go to organizations that have been identified as terrorist and drug-related. I can't tell you what percentage because that would require a level of knowledge we don't have. We can give you what we have.

Q: What's being spent on treatment now?

MR. WALTERS: I think the -- we're talking about going to $3.8 billion.

Q: Going to $3.8 billion?

MR. WALTERS: Yes. From I think it's -- it's an increase of $224 million over last year.

Q: Thank you very much.

MR. WALTERS: Thank you.

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