William E. Ledwith
Office of International Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Oversight
May 16, 2000
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity
to appear today to speak briefly on the threats posed to federal law enforcement
officers. I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for its continued
support of the Drug Enforcement Administration and overall support of drug
Because DEA is the only single-mission federal agency dedicated to drug
law enforcement, the agency has, over the years, developed the ability
to direct resources and manpower to identify, target and dismantle drug
organizations headquartered overseas and within the United States. DEA's
strategy to successfully accomplish these goals is straightforward, requiring
that the agency's resources and manpower be focused on all three levels
of the drug trade: the international, national/regional and local levels.
Each of these categories represents a critical aspect of the drug continuum,
which affects communities across the nation.
The 9,000 dedicated men and women of the DEA are committed to improving
the quality of life of the citizens of the United States. The agency directs
and supports investigations against the highest levels of the international
drug trade, their surrogates operating within the United States, and those
traffickers whose violence and criminal activities destabilize towns and
cities across the country. These investigations are intelligence-driven
and frequently involve the cooperative efforts of numerous other law enforcement
Drug enforcement is an extremely hazardous occupation. This is due to
the fact that drug traffickers have no regard for civil order, justice,
or human life. Their goal is to amass large sums of money in order to maintain
their obscene and lavish life style, free from the boundaries or confines
of the law. U.S. law enforcement poses the greatest threat to the drug
traffickers ability to operate unabated. We have become the major stumbling
block to them and have, therefore, voluntarily become targets of their
criminal violence and ruthlessness. Nowhere has this violence become more
prevalent than along the Southwest border and in Mexico at the hands of
Mexican drug trafficking organizations.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations pose the greatest challenge to
law enforcement agencies in the United States. For years, we have watched
with concern as powerful organized crime syndicates based in Mexico began
to dominate the distribution of drugs throughout our country. Through the
dedicated efforts of Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies,
we now have a clear picture of how these drug lords direct the sale of
drugs within the U.S., how they collect their billions of dollars in drug
profits, and how they arrange for the assassination of witnesses in both
Mexico and the United States.
We have not only identified the drug lords themselves, but in most cases,
the key members of their command and control structure. The combined investigations
of DEA, FBI, the U.S. Customs Service and members of state and local police
departments, have resulted in the seizure of hundreds of tons of drugs,
hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds and the indictment of
virtually every one of the leading drug lords. However, despite the evidence
against these powerful drug traffickers, they have been able to evade arrest
and prosecution. The primary reason they have been able to avoid arrest
and continue to ship drugs into the United States is attributable to their
ability to intimidate witnesses, assassinate public officials and their
ability to corrupt many of the civilian law enforcement agencies in Mexico,
often at the command level.
The violence that is an essential part of the operations of these ruthless
and powerful organizations, has a deadly effect on innocent citizens and
law enforcement officers across the United States as well as those federal
law enforcement agents stationed in Mexico. The trafficker's willingness
to murder and intimidate witnesses, public officials as well as law enforcement
officers has allowed them to develop into the present day threat they have
For decades, a number of threats have been made against U.S. law enforcement
personnel stationed in Mexico by Mexican drug traffickers. Some of these
threats and assaults resulted in serious injury and death. One of the most
heinous acts of narco-terrorism against DEA was the 1985 kidnapping, torture
and murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena. On February 7, 1985,
Special Agent Enrique Camarena and Mexican Captain Alfredo Zavala, a DEA
confidential source of information, were kidnapped by Mexican drug traffickers
from two separate locations in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. On March 5,
1985, the bodies of S/A Camarena and Captain Zavala were found in plastic
bags lying in a field adjacent to a busy road. Tape recordings seized by
the Mexican military from a notorious Mexican drug trafficker, confirmed
that S/A Camarena had been brutally beaten and tortured while being interrogated
about his knowledge of Mexican drug traffickers and the identity of DEA
sources of information. Special Agent Camarena's brutal murder captured
worldwide attention and subsequently sparked an international investigation
in order to bring to justice those individuals responsible for his death.
The investigation ultimately revealed the involvement of corrupt Mexican
law enforcement elements, military and public officials, in the execution
of S/A Camarena's murder.
Just over a year later, DEA would again realize the ruthless and bold
tactics of Mexican drug traffickers and their corrupt counterparts. In
August of 1986, DEA Special Agent Victor Cortez and DEA informant Antonio
Garate-Bustamante were kidnapped in Guadalajara, Mexico by corrupt Mexican
police officers. S/A Cortez and Garate-Bustamante were interrogated, beaten
and tortured at a local Mexican police station for four hours. The corrupt
police officers, who were obviously acting on behalf of a Mexican drug
trafficking organization, attempted to learn the names and locations of
other DEA Agents, their families, and cooperating individuals who were
working with DEA personnel in country. S/A Cortez and Garate-Bustamante
were released only after the DEA Resident Agent in Charge arrived at the
police station and relentlessly demanded their release. Six individuals
were eventually arrested by Mexican authorities and charged with this heinous
act of narco-terrorism.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations routinely rely on violence as
an essential tool of the trade. Much of the drug-related violence which
has become commonplace in Mexico, has spilled over into the United States.
Many of these acts of violence have been aimed at U.S. law enforcement
personnel working along or in close proximity to the Southwest Border.
Drug traffickers believe that Mexico represents safe refuge from U.S. law
enforcement, regardless of their crime.
On June 30, 1994, DEA Special Agent Richard Fass of the Phoenix Field
Division, was killed by Mexican drug traffickers during an undercover operation
in Glendale, Arizona. The subsequent investigation revealed that Augustin
Vasquez-Mendoza, identified as the leader of this drug trafficking group,
orchestrated a plan to steal $160,000.00 from the undercover agent. During
the attempted rip-off, S/A Fass was murdered while attempting to defend
his life and the life of a DEA informant. Although four other members of
this organization were captured and prosecuted, Vasquez-Mendoza fled to
the mountainous region of Apatzingan, Michoacan, Mexico before he could
Mexican drug traffickers have adopted a strategy of taking increasingly
confrontational and defensive actions when moving drug loads across the
U.S./Mexico border. During 1998, a relatively new trend involving armed
attacks by Mexican traffickers on U.S. law enforcement officers continued
with fatal consequences. These armed encounters always developed during
the drug trafficker's attempts to avoid arrest while fleeing back to Mexico.
One such attack took place on June 3, 1998, along the Mexican border near
Nogales, Arizona. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Alexander Kirpnick and a fellow
agent were attempting to arrest five Mexican males who were transporting
marijuana north across the border when he was shot and killed.
Although drug related violence in Mexico has been historically commonplace,
within the last year, drug related violence has increased exponentially.
Daily newspaper articles have memorialized the recent rash of kidnappings
and executions of Government of Mexico (GOM) officials assigned to investigate
narcotic related crimes. Since January of 2000, numerous Mexican officials
assigned to anti narcotics operations have been murdered and several others
were seriously injured.
Of note, Tijuana Police Chief, Alfredo de la Torre-Marquez, was shot
and killed by two carloads of assassins on February 27, 2000. On March
23, 2000, former Director of Investigations for the Organized Crime Unit
(OCU), Cuauhtemoc Herrera-Suastegui, was shot in an ambush - one day before
he was set to testify before the Mexican Attorney General in an investigation
of the Carrillo-Fuentes Organization.
In perhaps the most heinous recent incident, on April 10, 2000 Mexican
Attorneys Jose Luis "Pepe" Patiño and Oscar Pompa, and Army Captain
Rafael Torres Bernal, who were working closely with DEA and FBI Special
Agents assigned to San Diego, were murdered. The three were en route from
San Diego to the PGR (Mexican Attorney General's Office) Headquarters in
Tijuana, Mexico. The three never arrived as planned. They were apparently
intercepted on the way, and brutally beaten to death. Their bodies were
discovered two days later. Investigations are underway on both sides of
the border to bring to justice the perpetrators of this savage act.
The trail of violence continues as evidenced by the ambush and subsequent
torture and murder of two Mexican law enforcement officials assigned to
a Border Task Force which occurred just days before this hearing.
DEA remains gravely concerned about the more recent threats and assaults
directed against U.S. Government personnel. Of particular concern was an
incident occurring in Matamoros, Mexico November 9, 1999. A DEA Special
Agent and an FBI Supervisory Special Agent were travelling in a vehicle,
while debriefing a Cooperating Source in Matamoros, Mexico. They were surrounded
and physically threatened by a Mexican drug trafficker and approximately
15 of his bodyguards, brandishing automatic weapons. The Tampaulipas State
Police Commander, who was aware of the situation as it was happening, did
nothing to assist the two agents. The traffickers demanded that the two
agents turn over the source - certainly to face death at the traffickers
hands. To their credit, the agents refused to turn over the source. During
the confrontation the trafficker ordered his henchmen to shoot the agents
and the source. However, displaying calm control of an explosive and deadly
situation, the two were able to talk their way out, and made their way
to safety in the United States.
Many of the threats or assaults on our personnel have been subsequent
to or while executing major enforcement operations. As an example, in January
of this year, the FBI advised DEA that the Amado Carillo-Fuentes Drug Trafficking
organization offered a $200,000.00 bounty to anyone who murdered any U.S.
law enforcement agent in Mexico or the U.S. In addition, in February of
this year, DEA was again advised by the FBI, that a major drug trafficker
identified as Juan Jose Esparragosa-Moreno, threatened retaliation against
U.S. law enforcement and/or facilities located within Mexico and along
the U.S. southwest border. The DEA regards these threats as extremely serious
and has taken immediate actions to ensure the safety of our personnel.
Mr. Chairman, the safety and security of DEA personnel and their families
is a priority within our agency. The DEA has, and will continue to utilize,
every means available to ensure their safety and security. We do, however,
remain extremely concerned regarding the Government of Mexico's ability
to effectively respond to these incidents in a timely manner. In addition,
in virtually every incident involving a narcoterroristic threat against
our agents or personnel in Mexico, Mexican Police officials, acting as
enforcers for drug traffickers, were involved. This fact alone speaks to
the continued ability of the heads of these criminal drug trafficking organizations
to corrupt Mexican law enforcement. However, we are encouraged regarding
the recent arrests of key members of the Amado Carillo-Fuentes drug trafficking
organization. We are hopeful that the recent events are a sign of renewed
commitment of our cooperative counter-drug investigations.
Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the brave men and women of the Drug Enforcement
Administration, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify
before the Subcommittee today. At this time I will be glad to answer any
questions you may have.