U.S. Customs Service
House Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Crime
April 3, 1997
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. I would like to begin by expressing my sincere appreciation for the Subcommittee's continuous support of the Customs Service.
It is my pleasure to appear before you today to discuss developments in narcotics interdiction at our Nation's borders and, in particular, our aggressive stance against drug smuggling here in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. To begin, one message that I have always attempted to convey during my tenure as Commissioner of the Customs Service, is that drug interdiction is at the forefront of Customs operational priorities.
Drug interdiction and the disruption and/or dismantling of drug smuggling organizations are a paramount goal, and every seizure Customs makes is progress towards that goal. In FY 1996, Customs cocaine seizures increased approximately 15 percent from the previous year, heroin seizures increased approximately 29 percent and marijuana and hashish seizures increased approximately 23 percent. Overall, Customs seized approximately one million pounds of narcotics -- more than all other Federal law enforcement agencies combined. This is a new milestone for the agency, and Customs has a primary role to play in carrying out the Administration's narcotics strategy.
In addition, Customs will have to address increasing workload requirements as the numbers of passengers and conveyances crossing our land borders or entering through our airports and seaports grow. In FY 1997, it is estimated that there will be 372 million land border passenger arrivals, 71 million air passenger arrivals, and 8 million sea passenger arrivals. Customs also estimates that 125 million vehicles, 713,000 aircraft, and 110,000 vessels will enter our ports. With this increase in trade and traffic, Customs must remain ever vigilant against drug smuggling attempts.
How Operation GATEWAY Evolved
We in Customs realize drug organizations will relentlessly continue to probe and exploit any weaknesses they can in order to smuggle drugs into the United States. When the Customs Service focused its efforts on the Southwest Border in 1995 with Operation Hard Line, we began to affect the cocaine trafficking routes along that Southwest Border. During 1995, cocaine seizures for Customs increased along the Southwest Border, due in large part to efforts with Operation Hard Line. At that time, estimates were running as high as two-thirds of the amount of cocaine was entering the U.S. coming across the Southwest Border.
However, the Customs Service made an impact, forcing the narcotic traffickers to look to other means of getting their product to market. In late 1995, Customs noticed an alarming trend: that the Caribbean area, specifically Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), was beginning to emerge as a vital strategic location for the introduction and transshipment of narcotics into the United States and Europe. In Puerto Rico, cocaine seizures during the last quarter of calendar year 1995 increased
29 percent: from 3,317 pounds to 4,268 pounds. The Puerto Rico area, according to Customs intelligence reports, had the highest rate of non-commercial maritime and airdrop smuggling activity of any Customs area. Detected smuggling activity alone occurred at least several times per week.
In October 1995, I requested that Customs management develop a comprehensive strategy to address the narcotics threat in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Over the next several months, a multi-functional team comprised of representatives from various offices in Headquarters and San Juan refined the strategy.
To accomplish this, Customs employed an approach called Strategic Problem Solving. Strategic Problem Solving is a continuation of the broad reinvention that the Customs Service has been implementing since October 1995. It is a creative, multi-discipline approach that endeavors to prevent or reduce enforcement violations in addition to enhancing our ability to detect and apprehend those who wilfully violate the law. We rely upon our internal experts to identify the problem areas and to develop the solutions to the problems.
From that series of meetings, the final plan for Operation GATEWAY was completed. Following a series of briefings in Puerto Rico and Washington to the Treasury Department, Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Office of Management and Budget, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other interested parties, Operation GATEWAY was initiated on March 1, 1996.
The GATEWAY Plan
The mission of Operation GATEWAY is to advance a complete and unified securing of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and their surrounding waters and airspace from narcotic smugglers. It is a cooperative plan that commits a sizable investment of funds, personnel, and equipment by Customs, with support from the government of Puerto Rico. It is part of the Customs Service overall plan to secure the Southern Tier of the United States, from San Juan to San Diego.
As stated in its strategy, the goals of Operation GATEWAY are as follows:
1. Disrupt the methods of operation of narcotics smugglers, exposing them to:
2. To permanently strengthen Customs anti-smuggling efforts in the Caribbean area, specifically in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
3. To provide for "one-stop" intelligence gathering and dissemination involving multi-discipline and inter-agency personnel.
In Fiscal Year 1996, Customs expended a total of $8.2 million on Operation GATEWAY. The sources came from the commitment of appropriated funds, reprogrammed 1995 funds, and COBRA funds. The Government of Puerto Rico also contributed a total of
$2.45 million that allowed Customs to increase staffing in Puerto Rico by a total of 57 positions. Customs also received an additional $680,000 from the Caribbean HIDTA which allowed Customs to begin the upgrading of communication and radar systems.
Support for GATEWAY has also come in the form of the assignment of temporary enforcement personnel details for Puerto Rico. In Customs efforts to increase enforcement efforts, 42 inspectors, 26 agents, 12 pilots and 17 marine enforcement officers have supplemented present staffing thus far for GATEWAY. In addition, 15 new part-time inspectors are now on the job and, in support of aviation operations, 18 additional pilots have been hired.
Operation GATEWAY in Fiscal Year 1997 promises a further advancement in its mission to secure Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and their surrounding waters and airspace from narcotic smugglers. Customs appropriations provided by Congress and approved by the President include an additional $28 million to Customs for Operation GATEWAY. Those funds, along with
$3.65 million provided by the Government of Puerto Rico, will be used for an additional 20 enforcement positions, 2 light helicopters, additional flight hours, increased vessel operations, high tech equipment, temporary enforcement personnel details and special operations, an upgraded intelligence facility, and cargo x-ray machines.
The philosophy underlying Operation GATEWAY is that good law enforcement is based upon intelligence, effective targeting, and deployment of available resources, not luck; it should use all of its resources in combination, not individually; it should require the trade community to play a critical part in both catching smugglers and in deterring them; and it should recognize that smuggling is an organized, international enterprise. It takes skill and ability to recognize problem areas and to take corrective action as expeditiously as possible.
Customs Narcotics Strategy
Customs goal is to prevent the smuggling of narcotics into the U.S. by creating an effective interdiction, intelligence, and investigation capability which also helps to disrupt and dismantle smuggling organizations. Proactively, Customs developed four objectives as part of its overall narcotics strategy. The purpose of these objectives is to provide to Customs enforcement officers the tools and systems they need to improve their ability to interdict narcotics. Through the various initiatives and programs which I will highlight, it is clear that Customs is making progress in its efforts to combat the illegal flow of drugs, especially here in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Customs first objective is the development, collection, analysis and dissemination of actionable intelligence throughout all levels of federal, state, and local narcotics enforcement agencies. Customs has been at the forefront in developing more useful intelligence, especially as it relates to interdiction along the southern tier of the United States.
Of particular importance are the newly developed and expanded multi-discipline intelligence groups known as Intelligence Collection and Analysis Teams (ICATs) that Customs initiated as part of Operation HARD LINE in August 1995 along the Southwest Border. The focus for these teams, which consist of inspectors, agents, and analysts, is to intensify source development, exploit local information and sources, and pursue expanded outreach programs. To date, the ICATs have been responsible for and/or contributed to the seizure of over 16,500 pounds of cocaine, 37,214 pounds of marijuana, and $4.5 million in currency. Here in San Juan, the ICAT was established in December 1996 under Operation GATEWAY.
Customs is also continuing to forge strong ties with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other intelligence collection agencies. Enhanced cooperation between agencies and quicker access to information has increased interdiction effectiveness, thereby benefiting all agencies involved. Recently, the FBI and DEA announced a major initiative for their domestic offices in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their strategy was designed to be fully complementary with the interdiction and investigative initiatives begun under Operation GATEWAY over a year ago and will be fully integrated through the Caribbean HIDTA based in San Juan.
A second objective of our narcotics strategy is the development and dissemination of information to trade and carrier communities to prevent the use of cargo containers and conveyances by smuggling organizations. One program which is helping Customs meet this objective is the Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition (BASC). In March 1996, BASC, a business-led, Customs-supported alliance, was created to eliminate the use of legitimate business shipments by narcotics traffickers to smuggle illicit drugs. BASC is currently being prototyped at the ports of San Diego, Miami, and Laredo. The Border Trade Alliance, Mattel and 32 other companies in San Diego, as well as Sara Lee and other businesses in Miami, have been working with Customs in developing the program. Mattel, setting an example for others, has already developed a comprehensive anti-drug program that has been incorporated into its daily business practices. BASC was recognized in the Vice President's report to the President on the National Performance Review as a shining example of how government and industry can work together.
Two other programs which Customs has employed are the Carrier
Initiative Program and the Land Border Carrier Initiative Program which enhance the movement of legitimate cargo while bolstering Customs enforcement posture. These programs encourage air, sea, and land border carriers to improve their security practices to prevent narcotics from getting onboard their conveyances. Participation in both programs is encouraging. As of January 1997, 105 air carriers, 2,870 sea carriers, and 800 land border carriers have agreed to participate. Over the last two fiscal years, participants in the Carrier Initiative Program have provided Customs with information that led to seizures totaling 18,437 pounds of narcotics, as well as initiating their own foreign interceptions totaling 59,181 pounds of narcotics. It is a program that involves many of the cruise lines and steamship companies that use the port of San Juan as a port of call. On March 5, representatives from airlines serving Puerto Rico and the Caribbean met with Customs representatives in Washington to discuss the program and the benefits of joining with Customs in preventing the use of their aircraft and cargo shipments by narcotics smugglers. We also highlighted the need for all the carriers to participate, since it is apparent that when some carriers increase their security, those carriers not members of the initiative become more susceptible to use by the traffickers, thereby increasing their risk of being penalized by Customs.
Customs third narcotics strategy objective is the development and introduction of technologies to identify smuggled narcotics and to force smuggling organizations to resort to higher risk methods. Customs recognizes that technology plays a significant role in our ability to remain effective while thwarting smuggling efforts between some of the ports by aircraft and boats. Customs employs a wide range of technological tools to protect our borders. Under Operation GATEWAY, many of these technological tools are being used in the air, marine, cargo, and passenger environments.
Over the years, Customs Air Program has proven to be a valuable asset in our Nation's campaign against drugs, supporting drug interdiction and enforcement efforts throughout the hemisphere while continuing to protect U.S. airways from being exploited by the drug trafficker.
This year, we look forward to further enhancing the effectiveness and quality of support provided by our Air Program through a variety of initiatives. By the end of Fiscal Year 1997, Customs will have integrated seven maritime search and surveillance-configured C-12 aircraft into our fleet. The majority of these aircraft will be deployed to our Aviation Branch here in Puerto Rico, with additional aircraft provided to our air branches in Miami and San Diego as well. They will provide much needed aerial support to marine interdiction and investigative efforts in those areas.
Also this year, funding was made available to retrofit two Navy P-3 aircraft to Airborne Early Warning (AEW) configuration for incorporation into our fleet. These aircraft, which we expect to be delivered during Fiscal Year 1999, will greatly enhance the level and flexibility of drug interdiction efforts throughout the hemisphere and in the Caribbean.
Embracing the philosophy that combining government resources makes good business sense, Customs has always made it a point to use our aircraft, when available, to support the efforts of other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies. Last year, Customs aircraft conducted almost 2,000 missions in support of these cooperative efforts.
In FY 1996, Customs also began to enhance its marine interdiction program. These modest enhancements resulted in significant seizures of cocaine and marijuana being smuggled into the U.S. by non-commercial vessels in the Caribbean as well as in South Florida, South Texas, and Southern California adjacent to the Southwest border. Under GATEWAY, the number of Customs vessels in Puerto Rico and the USVI are being increased from 14 to 21 with the purchase of seven new interceptor-style vessels with Operation GATEWAY FY 1997 funds, and 23 Marine Enforcement Officers are being added.
The first truck x-ray system continues to be successful at Otay Mesa, California. This prototype has contributed to the seizure of 17,765 pounds of drugs, most of which were concealed in false compartments and other hiding places in the vehicles, not in the cargo. Our second system is being installed right now at Calexico, California. Three more systems are being built for El Paso (Ysleta and the Bridge of the Americas) and Pharr, Texas, and are scheduled to be operational by October 1997. We expect to have three additional systems in operation by mid-1998. I am pleased to add that DOD has provided us with $6 million to purchase two of these systems for the Southwest Border.
In addition to this proven technology to examine trucks at a fixed site, we are currently operating our very first mobile truck x-ray system. This mobile system for examining trucks and cars was developed for us by DOD's Counterdrug Technology Development Program. Based on a very successful operational evaluation, we are continuing its operational deployment at selected ports along the Southwest Border through a cooperative arrangement with DOD and the National Guard. A second and more powerful mobile system will be delivered to DOD and then to Customs later this year.
This technology is currently being reviewed for its applicability at a sea cargo location. Once the final determination has been made as to the type of large-scale x-ray system that would be the most appropriate to use at a seaport container examination station, GATEWAY will install the equipment here in San Juan.
In support of examination technology, Customs has developed the Automated Targeting System (ATS). ATS is an expert, rule-based system with artificial intelligence principles. Commercial transactions will be run against approximately 300 rules developed by field personnel, inspectors, and analysts in order to separate high-risk shipments from legitimate ones. It is scheduled to be piloted in San Juan as well as in six other locations later this year.
Customs involvement in various multi-agency operations has helped us maximize our narcotics interdiction results and meet the fourth objective of our narcotics strategy -- the implementation of various proactive, reactive, and multi-agency covert and overt narcotics investigative programs. As a natural evolutionary by-product of Operation HARD LINE, Customs is increasing its investigative emphasis in staging and distribution cities such as Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Chicago, and New York. These efforts will do even more to disrupt the highly complex and sophisticated smuggling organizations that challenge our borders. These investigative efforts will also add to our body of knowledge, allowing Customs to interdict more at the border based on prior information. This full circle approach is what we call the "Investigative Bridge" and it seeks to go beyond border interdiction and capitalize on the intelligence and information developed through investigations of smuggling organizations. This information then feeds our border interdiction efforts resulting in additional seizures and the cycle begins again.
Two other effective vehicles for accomplishing this fourth objective are the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) sponsored by ONDCP and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) sponsored by the Department of Justice.
The HIDTA program identifies those geographic areas in the U.S. that are responsible for the majority of importation and/or distribution of much of the Nation's drug supply. These HIDTA areas have numerous multi-agency task forces focused on disrupting and dismantling the most significant organizations involved in drug trafficking and drug money laundering. Customs has played a major role in the Caribbean HIDTA program since its inception. Customs has actively supported Caribbean local law enforcement task forces and HIDTA operations and will continue to do so in the future. Customs also coordinates all GATEWAY activities with the Caribbean HIDTA, and the Executive Council for that HIDTA.
OCDETF investigations also target major narcotics organizations. Frequently, these investigations link organization cells that span across the entire United States as well as source and transit countries. Customs is actively involved with OCDETF (or the Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement Program, as it will be called in the future) having participated in 34 percent of OCDETF
investigations in Fiscal Year 1996. For Fiscal Year 1997, Customs has been allocated $26.7 million to fund 275 OCDETF positions.
Both programs provide an excellent opportunity for cooperation between law enforcement agencies at various levels and a more efficient use of limited resources, enabling law enforcement personnel to work smarter to obtain better results. Due to funding constraints in recent years, it has become imperative that, in house, Customs also works smarter by better allocating resources and personnel, increasing cooperation and coordination among cross-functional teams, and involving front-line personnel in developing solutions to address problems.
So, what has happened in that year since GATEWAY began? Last March, when I formally announced Operation GATEWAY in New York with the Governor of Puerto Rico, Dr. Pedro Rossello, we stood before a table piled high with over a ton of cocaine to illustrate our point on the vast amount of cocaine entering the U.S. through Puerto Rico. The cocaine had been seized in Newark from a container that had been shipped from South America, through the port of San Juan, and then on to Newark.
Under GATEWAY, Customs narcotic enforcement activities in Puerto Rico have increased dramatically as well. There has been a 131 percent increase in the examination of full inbound containers and an additional 242 Outbound containers have been examined.
GATEWAY has also resulted in the increase of examinations for the illegal exportation of currency from the island of Puerto Rico. Since the start of GATEWAY, there has been a 21% increase in the number of flights targeted for examination.
Another means of measuring effectiveness is by narcotic seizures. In comparing the first year of GATEWAY to the same period the previous year (March 1996 through February 1997 versus March 1995 through February 1996), cocaine seizures have risen 34 percent - from 23,324 pounds in the pre-GATEWAY period as compared to 31,265 pounds since GATEWAY began.
Two major special enforcement programs have been initiated with GATEWAY - one, called White Sail, involves 1-2 day blitzes of marinas throughout the island, and has been conducted 52 times in Puerto Rico and during several 3 day periods since September 1996 in the Virgin Islands. Operation White Sail is a multi-disciplined effort using Customs agents, inspectors, and intelligence research analysts. It was developed and implemented in order to conduct intensive examinations of both inbound and outbound small vessels. It is now an ongoing operation consisting of intensive 1-2 day blitzes. In addition to the principal objective of interdiction, the operation also measures the effectiveness of the Pleasure Boat Reporting System. Inspection results are being provided to the Customs Intelligence Unit and the HIDTA for intelligence gathering purposes.
The other enforcement program has resulted in the creation and deployment of five Immediate Response Teams or IRTs. Immediate Response Teams were formed when the first rotation of GATEWAY detailed Special Agents and Marine Enforcement Officers arrived last year. At times, the IRTs are supported by police officers from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Department of the Treasury (Hacienda), the Commonwealth's Department of Justice Special Investigations Bureau and the Puerto Rico Police Department/Forces of United Rapid Action. They are designed to provide us the ability to respond straightaway to reports of suspicious air or marine activity in and around the island of Puerto Rico and assist in the pursuit and apprehension of suspects and illegal narcotics.
Two intelligence projects have also been initiated as part of Operation GATEWAY. Project Landmark is a multi-agency task force composed of Customs special agents, with support from Regulatory Auditors, investigators, and police officers from the Common-wealth of Puerto Rico, Department of the Treasury (Hacienda), the Department of Justice (NIE) Special Investigations Bureau and the Puerto Rico Police Department/Forces of United Rapid Action (FURA). The Landmark approach allows us to identify and develop two essential elements of the strategy: sources of information within the marine industry will be cultivated which will enable us to target smuggling organizations; and, to provide intelligence necessary to legally monitor the movements of the smuggling organizations. This is being accomplished following established statutory procedures.
The other special intelligence project is called Project Columbus. Project Columbus is a suspect vessel and aircraft reporting system aimed at tracking and reporting the movement of suspect small vessels and private aircraft traveling throughout the Caribbean. This database, located at the Joint Intelligence Office (JIO) San Juan, Puerto Rico Office, classifies suspect private registered vessels and aircraft by their size, flag, crew and location, thereby creating a tracking system for the private registered vessels and aircraft traveling throughout the area.
Operation GATEWAY is designed to steer the smuggler into areas of operations that Customs will control. The programs subsequently developed by the Coast Guard with Operation Frontier Shield, and the recently announced FBI/DEA strategy build upon Operation GATEWAY's success.
Operation GATEWAY is the cornerstone of a multi-agency, multi-staged attack against smuggling, beginning with operations designed to address the air and maritime threat. Once that avenue is controlled, we hope to force smugglers into the cargo and passenger areas that would be enhanced with the tools and manpower to detect the incoming narcotics. This would all be complemented with aggressive investigative programs designed to focus on the most significant international criminal organizations whose corrupt influence impacts global trade, economic and financial systems.
Operation GATEWAY is just one part in our construction of a fence that will help check the exploitation of our country's entry points by the drug Mafias. When Operation GATEWAY is fully in place, the result should be the assertive denial of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a point to introduce narcotics into the United States.
Thank you again for this opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee. You have provided support to us in the past, and I look forward to a very productive future working with you.
I would be glad to answer any questions you may have at this time.