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Excerpts from Transcript: Hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on "Worldwide Threats to National Security," February 7, 2001

Wednesday, 7 February 2001



With regard to narcotics, Mr. Chairman, the growing diversification of trafficking organizations, with smaller groups interacting with one another to transfer cocaine from source to market, and the diversification of routes and methods pose major challenges to our counter-drug programs. Colombia, Bolivia and Peru continue to supply all the cocaine consumed worldwide, including the United States. Coca cultivation is down significantly in Bolivia and Peru. Colombia is the linchpin of the global cocaine industry, as it is home to the largest coca-growing, coca-processing and trafficking operations in the world.

With regard to heroin, nearly all of the world's opium production is concentrated in Afghanistan and Burma. Production in Afghanistan has been exploding, accounting for 72 percent of illicit global opium production in the year 2000.

The drug threat is increasingly intertwined with other threats. For example, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which allows bin Laden and other terrorists to operate on its territory, encourages and profits from the drug trade. Some Islamic extremists view drug trafficking as a weapon against the West and a source of revenue to fund their operations.

No country has become more vulnerable to the ramifications of the drug trade than Colombia. President Pastrana is using the additional resources available to him under Plan Colombia to launch a major anti- drug effort that features measures to curb expanding coca cultivation. He is also cooperating with the United States on other important bilateral counternarcotics initiatives such as extradition.

The key impediment to President Pastrana's progress on drugs is the challenge from Colombia's largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or the FARC, which earns millions of dollars from taxation and other involvement in drug trade. Founded more than 35 years ago, it is committed to land reform, the FARC has developed into a well-funded, capable fighting force known more for its brutal tactics than its Marxist-Leninist-influenced political program. The FARC vehemently opposes Plan Colombia for obvious reasons. It has gone so far as to threaten to walk away from the peace process with Bogota to protest the plan. It appears prepared to oppose the plan with force. The FARC, for example, could push back on Pastrana by stepping up attacks against spray and interdiction operations. U.S. involvement is also a key FARC worry. Indeed, in early October, FARC leaders declared that U.S. soldiers located in combat areas are legitimate military targets.

The country's other major insurgent group, the National Liberation Army or the ELN, is also contribution to mounting instability. Together with the FARC, the ELN has stepped up its attacks on Colombia's economic infrastructure. This has soured the country's investment climate and complicated government efforts to promote economic recovery following a major recession in 1999. Moreover, the insurgent violence has fueled the rapid growth of illegal paramilitary groups, which are increasingly vying with the FARC and the ELN for control over drug-growing zones and other strategic areas of rural Colombia. Like the FARC, paramilitaries rely heavily on narcotics revenue, and have intensified their attacks against non-combatants in recent months. Paramilitary massacres and insurgent kidnappings are likely to increase this year as both groups move to strengthen their financial operations and expand their areas of influence.


A few months ago I joined Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and went to Colombia and met with President Pastrana -- my first trip to South America. And I don't profess to be an expert, but I was overwhelmed by what I found there. And I think you've described it very well in your opening statement, of the basically imminent breakdown of control in the country, a country where helicopter rides over coca production just see endless acreage ultimately destined for the United States primarily and partially for Europe.

Interesting to me, though, that when we started on Plan Colombia how lukewarm the rest of South America was about that idea. How do you explain that?

MR. TENET: Part of it's us, part of it's our involvement. But the truth is, they're going to be a lot -- they're going to pay a lot more attention because of the spillover, the potential spillover out of Colombia. As you -- if, as we make progress against the FARC and the drug trafficking organizations, which is our primary motivation, it's going to spill over into those countries. So getting the regional partners to step up and understand that they have a vested interest in also paying attention to this is going to be very important because this amoeba will just migrate, migrate out as you do this. And while production numbers of cocaine for Peru and Bolivia are down this year compared to Colombia -- Colombia is still rising -- those countries are not immune from a resuscitation of all that, notwithstanding the important work that they've done in trying to stop the drug flow. But these cartels and the money involved will simply move into these other places. So there's got to be regional support for Pastrana because they're all going to face it.

SEN. DURBIN: Do you -- a sense I felt that one of the major issues was whether the Colombian Army was professional enough to do the job. And the police force had a very good reputation, the Army did, but its leader had just left and I wonder, Admiral Wilson or director, if you could comment on that.

ADM. WILSON: Senator, I think that the Colombian Army is making improvements. But they do have severe weaknesses in mobility, in command and control, in intelligence against what we all know to be an extraordinarily difficult problem, which is an insurgency. And so while they're making progress and they can protect the cities, being able to control the countryside is greatly -- is very difficult.

SEN. DURBIN: Mr. Chairman, I can't see the lights from where I'm sitting. If my time's up, please let me know.

SEN. SHELBY: It was up.

SEN. DURBIN: Thank you very much.

SEN. SHELBY: Senator Levin.

SEN. LEVIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Just on Colombia first. Do we believe that the army, or elements of the army have, in effect, quietly, behind-the-scenes, allied themselves with the private forces of the cartels to combat the growing strength of that insurgency? Are they still doing it?

MR. TENET: Well, we know historically there have been linkages between the army and paramilitaries.

SEN. LEVIN: Do they exist now?

MR. TENET: You know, I'll have to get you an answer. I mean, we still look at that very carefully but I don't know. I can't -- off the top of my head, Senator, it is something that we are concerned with.


Lastly, Colombia. Could you give just a little bit more of a statement to the uninitiated, like myself. I haven't been down there; I'm going. But it seems to me like it's hard to differentiate between the drug war and a political war. Do we have -- have we had long enough of an opportunity yet to assess the Plan Colombia, its chances of working, the FARC versus the ELN?

MR. TENET: Right.

SEN. THOMPSON: It's a very confusing situation, it looks to me like. It looks -- you know, what is our goal, and how do we define victory down there?

MR. TENET: Well, in a few groups -- and we'd be pleased to talk to you before you go, give you an extensive presentation. There's no short-term fix to this problem. This is a long-term problem that we're dealing with. It is complicated, as you note, by the FARC migrating from taking rake-offs from drugs to actually becoming a drug trafficker in and of itself. So that you've identified a very difficult issue, the difference between a counternarcotics mission and a counterinsurgency mission. That is a difficult distinction that we have to consciously stay on the line of the counternarcotics piece.

Tom talked to you about some of the limitations that the Colombian military has. All I can say here is I think it's a little bit early to make judgments about where we're going to be a year or two from now. I think it's going to take a while to understand this. It is true that the FARC and the ELN control vast amounts of territory that the Colombian government has never controlled, largely rural Colombia. And the population distinctions are obvious when you look on the map. But this is going to be complicated, and it's going to take some patience.

The other piece of this that we can't lose sight of the fact is that Colombia -- the processing of cocaine that's flowing into this country is a direct result of our inability to stop that drug trade in Colombia. And it is a poison that continues to come at us. So you've got a chicken and egg question here. You're going to watch this thing go down or you can engage and see -- although there are difficult issues. I talked about the paramilitaries. I talked about there are human rights issues we have to keep our eyes on here. There are issues with regard to the Colombian military capabilities and there are issues with regard to our relentlessly focusing on the counternarcotics mission. That's our job. And the fungibility of those two things.

So this is a difficult and dynamic environment where Pastrana has decided and he's got his whole peace process and whole set of other issues we need to talk about. But there's nothing easy about this. Nothing easy about this.

SEN. THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. SHELBY: Director Tenet, you know that Senator Hollings and I were just in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. And I can tell you, going to Colombia was sobering because we both, as members of the Appropriations Committee and the Senate, had supported the Colombia plan, the initiative there. But I've talked to Senator Graham and others on this committee about that. It seems to me, just being there for a while, that perhaps they've lost their fight to control their own country. They have lost, as you well know and just described, much of their territory, and not just in the rural areas but, you know, every -- people are scared. They're scared to speak out in a legislative body. You just about have anarchy there.

And it concerns me, and I've told the defense minister and I told the other people there that, you know, they can't expect us to do their fighting for them. We can help them, but they first have got to have a purpose, to control their own country. And I don't believe they have it today.

On another question, President Clinton pardoned former Director of the CIA John Deutch while he was negotiating a plea with the Justice Department on the mishandling of classified information.

Now that he's been pardoned, do you have any plans, Director Tenet, to reinstate his clearances?


SEN. SHELBY: Thank you. We'll see you at 2:30 this afternoon.

MR. TENET: Thank you, sir.

SEN. SHELBY: Thank you for coming.

(Sounds gavel.)

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