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Last Updated:5/2/01
Testimony of Donnie R. Marshall, Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration, May 1, 2001
Remarks by
Donnie R. Marshall
Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration

Before The Committee on Government Reform
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources

"U.S. Air Interdiction Efforts in South America
After the Peru Incident"

May 1, 2001

Good Afternoon, Chairman Souder and distinguished members of the subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee today to discuss the very timely and important topic of U.S. air interdiction efforts in South America. The loss of life resulting from the April 20th incident in Peru is indeed tragic, and I join all of you in honoring the memories of those who perished. I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives, as they are undoubtedly struggling through some very difficult times in the aftermath of this incident. Like many of our domestic and foreign law enforcement counterparts, the courageous men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to combat global drug trafficking. On behalf of everyone in DEA, I would like to express my appreciation to the subcommittee for your consistent support of our agency, and for all of drug law enforcement.

I would like to talk to you today about three topics concerning our nation's overall drug interdiction efforts. First, it is important to specify that DEA carries out its primary function as an investigative law enforcement agency to confront and dismantle the world's most sophisticated drug trafficking organizations. Second, I will provide an account of how we at the DEA attempt to use a seamless cycle of investigations, law enforcement intelligence, and interdiction in order to dismantle these criminal syndicates. And third, I will explain how DEA's efforts relate to the specific function of drug interdiction, which is a critical component of putting these criminals out of business.

In DEA, we have crafted our strategic plan to enhance our ability to conduct investigations that serve to provide maximum impact with respect to disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations. Clearly, drug trafficking is an international business that affects each and every one of us on a daily basis. Decisions made in Bogota or Mexico City have a direct and immediate impact on what occurs in our major cities across the United States.

The international drug syndicates that control drug trafficking today from the source zone, through the transit zones, and into the United States, are intricately interconnected. The Caribbean corridor, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas, has long been a favorite smuggling route used by the Colombian-based crime groups. These traffickers, with their vast resources, often have access to highly sophisticated technology. They use sophisticated cellular phone cloning technology. They steal numbers that are already assigned to legitimate users, use them for a short period of time -- usually less than a week -- then move on to new numbers. The sophisticated operations of these traffickers show that, without question, they comprise vast, highly coordinated international enterprises.

This brings me to my second point -- how the DEA builds cases against these criminals. In short, we employ a coordinated and international approach, just as the drug traffickers themselves are doing. As I mentioned earlier, this process involves the implementation of a seamless cycle that allows investigative, law enforcement intelligence, and interdiction functions to feed off of each other, creating a synergistic effect that benefits our overall drug law enforcement efforts. This process is not linear in nature, and does not have as its primary end product the interdiction of shipments of illegal drugs; rather, we focus on permanently removing the organizations that produce and distribute these drugs.

Operation Journey provides us with an outstanding example highlighting the value of the seamless integration of law enforcement intelligence information leading to interdiction, arrests, and prosecutions. Operation Journey targeted Ivan De La Vega from Baranquilla, Colombia. The De La Vega organization transported multi-ton shipments of Colombian cocaine overland into Venezuela, where it was stored until loaded on oceangoing merchant vessels. DEA law enforcement intelligence was vital in providing leads to JIATF-East interdiction assets about suspect merchant ships, resulting in the seizure of more than 12 tons of cocaine. Using the full array of evidence derived from these seizures, federal criminal indictments were obtained in Miami, Florida, for De La Vega and his organization. De La Vega and more than forty others were arrested throughout Colombia, Venezuela, Europe, and the United States. De La Vega was ultimately expelled from Venezuela to Miami to face charges against him there.

The bottom line is that, by targeting the syndicates' communications and infrastructure with our investigative efforts, we frequently acquire quality law enforcement intelligence about their workings. Through the hard work and dedication of DEA employees worldwide, and other police investigators and prosecutors with whom we work, we find out the who, what, where, when, and how of illicit drug businesses whose activities ultimately impact upon communities across our nation. This information is used to target and ultimately neutralize major drug trafficking organizations -- regardless of where they are -- that erode the quality of life here in the United States.

In order to accomplish this objective, we compile the law enforcement intelligence into a threat assessment that gives us a more detailed picture of the situation. The next step is to use this information to support the interdiction of drug shipments, which is traditionally handled by U.S. Customs, the U.S. Coast Guard, and selected support components of the Department of Defense. These seizures then feed into our investigations and law enforcement intelligence initiatives, allowing us to indict and arrest these criminals pursuant to domestic prosecutions.

As you are aware, DEA operations are both comprehensive and global in scope. I would like to first address DEA Airwing operations overseas, as this topic is most relevant to the focus of today's hearing. The DEA Airwing has general aviation aircraft permanently assigned at many overseas offices. In Peru, for example, there are two assigned aircraft, a Beechcraft KingAir 350 and a Beechcraft 1900. The pilots are DEA Special Agents and the aircraft bear a U.S. registration number. These aircraft are in country with the full knowledge of the U.S. Embassy mid host country officials. In addition, DEA pilots follow host nation aviation regulations, such as the filing of flight plans.

Aircraft from the DEA Airwing support operational missions, as required by the DEA Country Attache and the Ambassador. The missions include the transportation from city to city of Special Agents, host country police, prosecutors, and equipment needed to conduct investigations and operations. On occasion, aircraft are used to pinpoint the exact location of clandestine laboratories, drug storage sites, and illegal airstrips.

During the course of these missions, photographs of suspect sites may be taken using hand-held 35mm cameras. The DEA Airwing has one aircraft specially designed to take overhead large-format photographic imagery. However, this aircraft is U.S.-based, and not outfitted with classified or sensitive equipment.

Pursuant to international drug control efforts, some components of the U.S. Government conduct joint coordinated operations with a Government of Peru air interdiction program involving the Peruvian Police (PNP) and Peruvian Air Force (FAP). The program is designed to identify and track suspect drug planes used in the transport of cocaine HCI and base from Peru to neighboring border countries of Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia. DEA does not conduct operations in direct support of this initiative. That said, elements of the American Embassy Country Team, including the DEA Lima Country Office, have indirectly supported this program by supplying law enforcement intelligence and coordinating land-based enforcement efforts, such as roadblocks and truckstops to intercept precursor chemicals, during joint enforcement operations in the jungle regions of Peru.

There are several other programs in which DEA agents participate in a coordinating and/or advisory capacity. The Riverine Program is a U.S.-sponsored multi-agency effort initiated in late 1997. The program is designed to develop a Peruvian law enforcement force (Peruvian National Police and Peruvian Coast Guard) capable of efficient control and interdiction on Peru's rivers and waterways. Participating U.S. agencies from within the U.S. Embassy in Lima include the Military Assistance mid Advisory Group (MAAG), the Narcotic Affairs Section (NAS) and DEA. In summary, the MAAG and NAS units are responsible for training, equipment, and infrastructure support. DEA personnel are responsible for assisting in the collection of law enforcement intelligence, and serve as observers and/or advisors during the execution of operations and investigations.

In support of this program, the DEA Lima Country Office, on a consistent basis, deploys agents to both Iquitos and Pucallpa, the two main "hubs" of the Riverine Program. While on temporary duty, DEA agents work hand-in-hand with their PNP counterparts in the collection of information, recruitment and development of sources, and the planning and execution of operations designed to interdict drugs and arrest violators. Additional duties include the coordination and liaison activities with representatives of the other participating U.S. agencies in matters of equipment and/or training.

In addition to the Airbridge and Riverine interdiction programs, DEA personnel participate in Operation Paradox, which is a Lima Country Team initiative designed to focus both USG and GOP resources (personnel, equipment and funding) in the coca growing zones, specifically the Huallaga and Apurimac/Ene Valleys. To maximize success, the plan calls for the integrated efforts of interdiction, eradication, alternative development, and public information to attack cocaine trafficking at its source. Again, DEA's role and focus remain on the law enforcement investigative side of these efforts.

DEA personnel in Peru also participate in Operation Excess Baggage and Operation Stand By, which are programs designed to interdict drugs being transported by commercial air or maritime vessels. The airport program focuses on passengers and cargo, while the seaport program concentrates on commercial shipments of cargo. These actions are performed by both the Peruvian Customs and the Peruvian National Police, with DEA providing financial, training, equipment and law enforcement intelligence support. DEA becomes involved in international investigations stemming from these programs in order to develop these cases to their full potential. Consequently, the scope, strength, and magnitude of drug trafficking prosecutions in the United States are greatly enhanced.

In addition to our international programs, activities in domestic DEA offices also enhance overall interdiction efforts. Operation Emerald Clipper (EC) is a special enforcement program initiated by the DEA Phoenix Division in 1991. The program focuses exclusively on disrupting the air transportation capabilities of major drug trafficking groups in Latin America. DEA seeks to disrupt the infrastructure of these organizations by denying the traffickers' access, by use of asset forfeiture and other efforts, to one of their most vital tools -- aircraft.

EC monitors brokers and companies that cater to trafficker needs, monitors suspect sales and seizes aircraft for forfeiture prior to export, reports trends in the use of preferred narco-aircraft, coordinates investigations with foreign DEA offices and their host nation counterparts to identify owners of seized or suspect aircraft, and deploys teams to source countries to conduct training and assist in on-site inspections of suspect aircraft.

EC investigations have resulted in the identification of numerous sham aviation companies, aircraft, and individuals involved in the cocaine industry in Latin America. To date, this program has led to the seizure for forfeiture of approximately 160 planes valued at over $200 million that were owned or otherwise used by major drug organizations in Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. EC has significantly denied Colombian trafficking organizations access to the U.S. aircraft market; no turboprop aircraft have been exported to Colombia from the U.S. in over three years. Most significantly, EC actions have caused law enforcement agencies in Latin America to focus more attention on the essential role that aircraft play in the Andean cocaine industry and international transportation of cocaine.

The seizures that are effected during interdiction efforts, like the ones previously described, not only result in the arrest of criminals and the seizure of drug evidence. These efforts also generate new law enforcement intelligence, and increase the timeliness and comprehensive quality of existing investigations. This is arguably the most important step of the entire process because the documents, electronic records, and telecommunications information seized during interdiction operations are subsequently analyzed by the DEA, and ultimately provide invaluable data on the structure and function of a given criminal organization. We can weave this information -- even from seemingly unconnected seizures -- together and turn it into more interdictions, more investigations, and more arrests and imprisonments. The ultimate effect is that together with our domestic and foreign law enforcement counterparts, we are systematically working to remove the leadership and to destroy organizational cohesion of these major drug trafficking groups. Consequently, the impact of every foreign and international interdiction and investigative effort reverberates directly back to the heartland of America in the form of enhanced investigative, law enforcement intelligence, and interdiction capabilities.

In some ways the process that I have discussed is similar to a jigsaw puzzle. In the end, however, that analogy breaks down, because once you complete a jigsaw puzzle, the picture never changes. In the drug trade, it changes all the time. Drug traffickers are adaptable, reacting to our interdiction successes by shifting routes, changing modes of transportation, or even the type of drug. Our job is to keep up with the changing picture, and we do that job by continuously feeding the seamless process of investigative, law enforcement intelligence, and interdiction activities that constitute the conceptual basis for DEA's role as the world's premier drug law enforcement agency. Each of these elements is a vital component in our effort to combat the scourge of the drug trade that plagues our nation. Through our international and domestic programs, the brave men and women of DEA will use every available law enforcement tool to confront and neutralize drug traffickers across the globe. The ultimate beneficiaries of our efforts are the American people, in the towns and cities across the United States, who deserve nothing less.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee today. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have at the appropriate time.

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