Harold D. Wankel
Chief of Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice
House Judiciary Committee
Drug Control Along the Southwest Border
Dirksen Senate Office Building
July 31, 1996
Chairman Hatch, Senator Biden: I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today to discuss the challenges that the Drug Enforcement Administration is facing today along the Southwest Border of the United States. Before I begin my formal testimony, I want to express DEA's appreciation for the support the Committee has given us over the years, enabling us to work effectively against the world's most sophisticated drug traffickers.
This morning, I would like to describe the drug trafficking situation which impacts on the Southwest Border, give you an insight into the workings of the major organizations in Colombia and Mexico, and provide you with information on what DEA is doing to address the serious problems affecting the entire region.
The Southwest Border has become the focal point of drug trafficking into the United States. The 2,000-mile Southwest border provides many opportunities for criminals to smuggle the majority of the cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States, and facilitate crimes such as alien smuggling and other illegal activities. Much of the land along the border is desolate and sparsely populated, and law enforcement faces formidable challenges in every state sharing the Southwest Border. Murders, crime and violence have become a reality in most communities in the Southwest United Sates, and the vast majority of these crimes are drug related.
Within the past decade, drug traffickers shifted their major operations from South Florida, which had become the epicenter of drug interdiction activities during the 1980s, to Mexico. Drug traffickers in Mexico have had a long history of polydrug smuggling, and their well-established trafficking routes and connections provided a ready alternative for the Colombian drug lords responsible for the world's cocaine supply--who were seeking safer routes into the United States. The Cali traffickers employed transporters from Mexico to ship cocaine into the United States, and in so doing, cemented the partnership between the Cali traffickers and their Mexican counterparts. More recently, the organized Colombian traffickers began paying drug traffickers in Mexico in kilos of cocaine, in lieu of cash. Additionally, with turmoil in the Cali drug organization resulting from the arrests and incarceration of six of the seven top Cali leaders, traffickers from Mexico have become a force in their own right. Traffickers from Mexico have also emerged as the pre-eminent force in methamphetamine production and trafficking, further exacerbating the already serious crime problem along our Southwest Border.
DEA's major responsibility, in this nation and in our offices overseas, is to target and investigate the world's most notorious drug traffickers. That is our primary job in DEA offices along the Southwest Border. Today's well-financed and sophisticated international narcotics traffickers are a new breed of organized crime. Most Americans do not view drug traffickers as organized crime figures, because most Americans do not have an insight into the day- to-day operations of these ruthless drug organizations and do not see how wealthy, influential and well organized these organizations are.
The Mexican Federation
The problems we are experiencing along the Southwest Border are directly attributable to Mexico's major traffickers and their Colombian bosses. The drug traffickers who are intimidating ranchers, or terrorizing communities are on the payroll of the Cali organizations and the Mexican Federation. The major figures in these organizations are DEA's targets.
There are four major groups from Mexico operating in the Mexican Federation. Make no mistake about it: despite the fact that these traffickers are not household names in the United States, these individuals are major organized crime figures who run sophisticated drug trafficking operations in Mexico and our country.
The Tijuana organization is headed by the Arellano-Felix brothers: Benjamin, Francisco and Ramon. This group is headquartered in Tijuana, Baja California Norte and controls smuggling into California. This is the most violent of the Mexican organizations, and has been connected by Mexican officials to the killing of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas-Ocampo at the Guadalajara airport in 1993. During 1994, this group was engaged in a turf war over methamphetamine territory in San Diego, and 26 homicides were committed during one summer as rivals battled for control. Benjamin Arellano Felix was indicted on May 2, 1989 in San Diego on charges of maintaining a continuing criminal enterprise which involved the importation and distribution of cocaine. Francisco Arellano Felix, his brother, was indicted in San Diego for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Both remain in Mexico at this time.
The Sonora cartel is headed by Miguel Caro Quintero, and operates out of Hermosillo, Agua Prieta, Guadalajara and Culican as well as the Mexican states of San Luis Path, Sinaloa, and Sonora. Rafael, Miguel's brother, is in jail in Mexico for his role in the killing of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena in 1985. The Sonora Cartel has direct links to the Colombian syndicates and operates routes into California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada. Miguel Caro Quintero was indicted in Arizona for shipping two tons of cocaine from Mexico to Arizona, and he has been indicted twice In Colorado. He continues to be a fugitive.
The Juarez cartel is headed by Amado Carillo Fuentes, currently the most powerful figure in the Mexican drug trade. His organization is linked to the Rodriguez Orejuela organization in Cali, and his family has ties to the Ochoa brothers in Medellin, Colombia. For many years, this organization ran transportation services for the Cali cocaine traffickers and used aircraft, including 727's, to fly drugs from Colombia to Mexico. He also used to move drugs from regional bases in Guadalajara, Hermosillo, and Torreon. Carillo Fuentes has been indicted in Dallas and Miami, and has been a fugitive for eight years.
The Gulf Group was headed by Juan Garcia Abrego and based in Matamoros, Tamualipas Sate. It distributes cocaine in the United States as far north as Michigan, New Jersey and New York. DEA has reports that this organization smuggled in excess of 30 tons of cocaine into the United States. Humberto Garcia Abrego, Juan's brother, was arrested in June 1994 by Mexican authorities. Juan Garcia Abrego, one of the FBI's most wanted, was arrested this past January and expelled to the United States to face charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and the management of a continuing criminal enterprise.
These organizations, and their principal leaders, are responsible for the degradation in the quality of life in so many American communities in the southwestern region of the United Stages.
DEA 's Response
DEA has focused resources and attention on the Southwest Border during the past two years, and we are working closely with the FBI, the U.S. Attorneys' offices, the Criminal Division in the Department of Justice, the Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service and state and local authorities under the mantle of the Southwest Border Initiative. By combining the resources of a number of departments and law enforcement agencies, this multi-agency enforcement effort is simultaneously targeting the Mexican trafficking organizations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Through intelligence and enforcement operations, the Southwest Border Initiative directs and support major investigations and operations that target the highest levels of the major drug trafficking organizations operating along the Southwest Border.
Within DEA and the FBI, cooperation in the border area has increased tremendously in the past 18 months. For example, joint enforcement groups have been created in a number of cities in Texas, and intelligence groups that include DEA, the FBI and military analysts have been established.
The Southwest Border Initiative helps reduce corruption, violence, and alien smuggling associated with drug trafficking activities carried out along the border. This project, along with the binational task forces in Monterrey, Juarez, and Tijuana, along with specially trained Mexican law enforcement units will provide a solid base for effective law enforcement operations aimed against the major international traffickers.
DEA's increased investigative activity directed toward theses multi- national criminal organizations operating along the border focuses on disrupting and dismantling operations. These offices assist and support our domestic operations by sharing intelligence and pursuing investigative leads. They not only interact with offices along the border but also with DEA offices as far removed as New York and Chicago where investigations involving these international criminal organizations are being conducted.
Operation Zorro II
One of the most significant results of the Southwest Border Initiative to date has been the culmination of a major case known as Zorro II. This multi-agency case clearly indicated to us that drug trafficking in the United States is dominated by groups operating out of Colombia and Mexico. The international drug syndicates employed thousands of people from Colombia, Mexico and the United States to transport and distribute drugs to large cities and small communities across the country.
Zorro II is particularly important because for the first time we dismantled not only the U.S. infrastructure of a Colombian organization producing the cocaine, but we also dismantled the organization from Mexico responsible for the transportation of cocaine. During the course of this investigation over eight months, law enforcement officers coordinated and shared information gleaned from more than 90 court-ordered wiretaps. As a result of this operation, 156 people were arrested, and over $17 million and 5,600 kilos of cocaine were seized.
On a larger scale, DEA, the FBI, and U.S. Customs Service working through our representatives at the Embassy in Mexico City, share drug and drug-related law enforcement information with our counterparts in Mexico on a regular basis utilizing CENDRO, the Mexican center for handling drug intelligence.
FBI drug agents are working together with DEA agents in the Mexico City Embassy, thus enhancing cooperation and sharing of drug law enforcement intelligence between the two agencies and our Mexican counterparts.
The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) between the U.S. and Mexico has functioned satisfactorily in most areas of evidence exchange. The MLAT enables each country to obtain evidence from the other in a form admissible in the respective courts. This streamlined process permits swifter exchange of evidence than is possible through other mechanisms of international evidence sharing.
Since February 1995, senior representatives from Mexican law enforcement meet in regular plenary sessions with U.S. law enforcement officials to address issues in the areas of counternarcotics, fugitives/legal issues, money laundering,-chemical control, white collar crime/fraud, and prisoner transfer, among others. These meetings and the ongoing dialogue that results, enhance cooperative efforts and initiatives along the Southwest border.
Mr. Chairman, the Drug Enforcement Administration remains
committed to targeting the highest levels of the drug trade
internationally and domestically. To that end, and with the
specific problems of the Southwest Border in mind, DEA's Fiscal
Year 1997 budget contains a request for an additional 54 Special
Agents to be stationed along the Southwest Border. We believe
that this enhancement, and other items in our budget, will enable
us to continue our critical work along the border, and improve
the quality of life for Americans across the nation.