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Remarks by Secretary Napolitano at the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces and Asset Forfeiture Program National Leadership Conference

Release Date: 
July 24, 2009

Washington, D.C.

Secretary Napolitano: Thank you very much, and thank you for the introduction. It's a delight to be here with so many of our partners and to stand as the Secretary of a department that I am so very, very proud of.

I know in particular Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has so much work with the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) across the country—and there are other parts of the department as well. You'll hear them as I speak about my talking points, but let me just say at the beginning that we are at a critical time in my view, and we have a critical opportunity—particularly with respect to the cartels that are based in Mexico—to achieve some progress in breaking them up and impeding the flow of weapons to them and stopping the flow of cash that they use.

We need our Department of Treasury partners in order to do that. We need our Department of Justice (DOJ) partners in order to do that—but we also need our partners from law enforcement in Mexico to do that, and as someone who has served in a border state, I am very familiar with the work of OCDETF. I can say without reservation that we have never had a stronger cooperative environment both within the United States among agencies—but also with Mexico to finally—to start squeezing the lifeblood out of these cartels who have existed for far too long. And so I think it's a great window—it's a great time to rededicate ourselves.

This could have an enormous impact on not just Mexico but on the United States. These cartels are funneling drugs into at least 200 communities now within the United States. They're funneling drugs to our neighborhoods; they're funneling drugs to our cities. They're funneling drugs all over, and they're getting paid for it, and the money is going back as bulk cash—and the whole process and the whole purpose of OCDETF is to get at these cartels and to use all the legal methods at our command with which to do so.

So I hope you will join me and join the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—as I know you have—but, you know—I know in OCDETF after a while—you know—you've been doing cases and—you know—it seems like you just keep doing case after case after case. I just want to say to—you know—this is a unique time. We have a unique opportunity—shame on us if we don't take advantage of it. And I believe when I stand before you—one year from now we will have—and we're going to see some concrete results. So thank you for that.

Now you might be asking yourself—what is the direct relationship of the Department of Homeland Security and OCDETF—and it's broad and huge and important. The Department of Homeland Security is broad and huge and important. The Department of Homeland Security is 210,000 employees. It's the third largest department of the federal government. It includes within it all of the immigration-related agencies: ICE, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It includes within it the U.S. Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

And that's just seven of the 22 component agencies that make up the Department of Homeland Security. We have units on intelligence and analysis. We have units on science and technology. We have units on policy helping us look forward and say—well, what are the next barriers that we need to cross in the fight for public safety and for public security? So we have a lot to offer and a lot to be gained by working with our federal partners—and that's why I like the OCDETF model so very, very much with Treasury, with Justice, and with others.

We support a broad range of projects. ICE, for example—is there anybody from ICE in the audience? No? Raise your hand. Give them a shout out—there you go. All right— now, that was not very enthusiastic. Come on. Let's go. Thank you very much.

But we have personnel in the OCDETF taskforces, including the New York Strike Force, the Boston Strike Force—I guess I should say Boston—strike force, Houston, Atlanta, the Panama Express in Tampa, and the Caribbean corridor. These are ideally located to start and to continue to work to siphon off the monies and assets that these drug trafficking cartels use. In addition, we have CBP, which, as you know—Customs and Border Protection—working with OCDETF on so many, many matters.

I'll get to some of those in a minute, but what you may not know is that the Coast Guard, which is a part of DHS, plays an active role with OCDETF. It's been a principal participating agency since 1982. It provides intelligence about the maritime smuggling of drugs entering the United States and has the unique capacity to conduct interdiction of drugs on the high seas and to locate those multi-ton quantities of coke and marijuana being transported aboard vessels and fast boats. So the Coast Guard gives us at DHS— particularly if coordinated with units like OCEDETF—the ability to deal with—in particular the Caribbean corridor—but the maritime environment in which drugs are smuggled.

I want to pause there. What we are seeing now in the data is that we are achieving success in making crossing of large loads in particular more difficult across the land border between the United States and Mexico. So we are seeing a corresponding increase in drugs attempting to enter the United States and get into our neighborhoods and communities and cities via the maritime environment, via submersibles via other vessels and the like. So the Coast Guard—I believe—is going to play an ever more important role in our joint efforts to get at these cartels.

In the Department of Homeland Security, we have an Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement (CNE). That office coordinates our multi-agency efforts that connect with different departments and with OCDETF units. We have within the department, as I mentioned, the Customs and Border Protection—and they too—with their expertise and their assets—provide help in OCDETF units across the country, or to OCDETF units across the country. And we are accelerating those efforts.

A particular area that we're accelerating in—as I said at the beginning of my remarks—is the effort on the Southwest border and the effort against the drug cartels. We have moved hundreds of Border Patrol agents to that border in addition to those who are already stationed there. We've deployed more technology along that border to help us pick up people and loads coming through. And we have implemented a southbound strategy, inspecting for the first time vehicles going into Mexico—looking—as I said earlier—for guns and bulk cash. We even have dog teams that have been moved to the Southwest border who are trained to sniff guns and bulk cash to help us with our efforts.

We have increased significantly our kind of—what I would say our OCDETF equivalent, which is our Border Enforcement Security Taskforces, known as BEST. These are investigative taskforces whose cases then get pivoted off to OCDETF and can be given OCDETF designation. They could share intelligence, interdict contraband, disrupt and dismantle cross-border smuggling organizations. We now have ten BEST teams on the border—on the Southwest border—two on the northern border and three at our seaports. And we will be constantly evaluating the yield from those BEST taskforces—and if we need to make adjustments and move them we can do that—or, indeed, add to them.

Through Operation Armas Cruzadas, ICE is working with the government of Mexico to investigate weapons seized by Mexican authorities in coordination with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Why are we doing this? We are doing this because we want to work to decrease the level of violence within Mexico, which has passed all reasonable bonds, and is still to some—is still going on—particularly in states like Chihuahua—and we also—in so doing—want to help develop more cases against the organizations themselves.

We have in the Department an experienced prosecutor—the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, Alan Bersin—who is leading and coordinating all of our efforts on the Southwest border, and we are working of course very closely across the federal family, DOJ, Treasury—to work and to get things done. Indeed, we're actually working also with the State Department because there's something called the Merida Initiative, which funds—which are funds Congress appropriated to be used in Mexico to improve or to work with law enforcement there, particularly civilian law enforcement, and improve the assets that they have with which to go after the cartels.

We have released a comprehensive Southwest border strategy. We released that jointly with DOJ, and with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). In other words, Attorney General Eric Holder and I—and also the director of ONDCP—Gil Kerlikowske—the drug czar, stood together in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and said this is what we have agreed to do—this is what we are going to do. Again—physical representation of the actual coordination and cooperation going on in Washington, D.C. —we need to make sure that that is going on in the field as well.

Finally, let me talk a little bit about how we are working to improve the number and quality of state and local fusion centers. These are centers where we co-locate—hopefully with federal agents, state and local together. They work best when the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) is also either co-located or nearby.

But the challenge for us is—how do we get information analysis from here to anywhere in the United States and get information and analysis back so that we're constantly working on data and information to target our efforts in order to build better cases. And since there are thousands and thousands of police in departments and sheriffs' offices around the country, the way we have decided to do it at the Department of Homeland Security is by more support to state and local fusion centers.

I don't know what states all of you come from, but I think it would be a good thing when you get back home to find out about your fusion center—find out what participation your office has with that fusion center, sit down with the head of it and think about ways that your OCDETF unit can work with the local, state and local fusion center—or indeed perhaps even place some personnel in it.

Because what we are going to get at—these battles cannot be won individually by any office or any agency or any department. They are won when we coordinate, use all of the assets that we have—which only serve to strengthen each other—and move forward on that basis. And I think over time—in particular—these fusion centers are going to be a key tool in our coordinated efforts against crime—particularly large-scale organized crime like drug trafficking organizations.

So the message—the takeaway is that DHS and OCDETF belong together. They can leverage with each other—particularly with ICE—but with our other departments as well, like the Coast Guard—like CBP. We are very committed to this effort. We have a very strong emphasis right now on the Southwest border and on Mexico and those Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO) — but we are doing so in part because this is a unique window of opportunity with the Calderon administration in Mexico to make real progress. We need you; we need your expertise; we need your efforts; and we thank you for your service.

Thank you all very much.

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