FILE ID:97071705.LAR

(Senator says government has evidence)  (720)
By Bruce Carey
USIA Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Hemispheric narcotics cartels are seeking to kill U.S.
officials who have been part of the mounting counterdrug effort,
charges Senator Paul Coverdell.

Coverdell chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the
Western Hemisphere, which heard testimony July 16 that he said
supports the theory of deliberate attempts by international criminals
to murder U.S. officials.

"I have recently acquired evidence ... showing that our government
believes foreign cartels are targeting American officials for
assassination," he said.

"In recent months, violence has erupted ... on our Southern border as
brazen drug traffickers have attacked U.S. officials that stood in
their way," he declared. "Our federal government has information that
these incidents are attempts by drug cartels to murder U.S. officials
in retaliation for our counterdrug efforts.

"A copy of an administration memo which I have received clearly states
that a major Mexican drug mafia is looking for revenge, because of
recent arrests of ring members by the FBI. It adds that recent attacks
on U.S. officials 'have allegedly been in part at the orders of this
cartel,'" said the senator.

Coverdell quoted an administration source as saying that this drug
mafia is "actively searching" for operatives to murder U.S. Border
Patrol and drug enforcement agents. In addition, reports have
circulated that Mexico's drug mafias are willing to pay $10,000 for
the home addresses of Border Patrol agents, he said.

"For years it has been clear that we are losing the war on drugs. But
the disturbing testimony today shows that we in the Congress and the
American people cannot accept the status quo as drug mafias openly
target U.S. officials for assassination."

Assaults on U.S. border agents rose more than 45 percent during
1995-96 and are accelerating this year, with over 70 cases reported
thus far. "The cases illustrate that these are not mere common
criminals taking pot shots at our officers, but groups organized and
equipped like elite armies with night vision goggles, military
tactics, and semiautomatic weapons," Coverdell said.

Coverdell quoted the chief Border Patrol agent in San Diego as saying
that this "escalation of violence is a grave concern to me and my
agents." The senator detailed several cases:

-- a gunman in Mexico fired several shots across the border at San
Diego May 17, injuring an agent in the eye and shoulder;

-- border agents engaged in a firefight with smugglers near the border
May 23;

-- a Border Patrol agent's car was fired on 20 times or more before
traffickers escaped back across the border near Naco, Arizona May 29,
leaving behind a combat-style AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, two vehicles,
and 1,235 kilograms of drugs worth $2.7 million;

-- in addition to attacks on U.S. officials, smugglers have also
terrorized ranchers in areas such as Eagle Pass, Texas, with armed
excursions onto their property, and some ranchers have sold their
homes and have been reluctant to testify to Congress.

"Sadly, we have seen endless examples of how, when left unchecked,
these acts of narco-terrorism can devastate societies in our
hemispheric neighbors," especially Mexico and Colombia, said
Coverdell. "The desperate situation facing many of the citizens in
these countries should serve as a grim warning to the United States as
well as deepen our commitment to helping the legitimate forces in
these nations fight this plague which undermines all of our other
foreign policy objectives," he added.

"Today's hearing should serve as a wake-up call and a demand that we
take new action against the reign of terror unleashed by the drug
mafias and confront the insidious new methods and corruption they are
using to penetrate our borders," Coverdell warned.

"We must recognize the true impact narcoterror has had in America and
throughout our hemisphere and organize our intelligence efforts to
address this threat to our children. We must refuse to accept the
corrosive corruption which can spread like a cancer across our border
and aggressively punish those who help spread the plague of drugs.
Finally, we must fight every new method that drug mafias pursue to
pump narcotics into our homes and schools," he said.