1997 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

Federal Law Enforcement
Counter-Narcotics Efforts in the Caribbean
Statement of
Louis J. Freeh, Director,
Federal Bureau of Investigation
House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Crime

Washington, D. C.
April 3, 1997

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recognizes the need for a firm commitment of Federal resources in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I have visited Puerto Rico and met with the Governor's office several times, most recently this past December. Additionally, our Special Agent in Charge in San Juan has a continual dialogue with the Governor and his staff. I have been pleased with the interest and commitment to cooperation that officials in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have demonstrated. In particular, the degree of cooperation between the FBI and the Police of Puerto Rico (POPR) is superlative. The current superintendent of the POPR is a former FBI Agent, a situation which enhances our communication with this arm of justice. The POPR has permanently assigned 28 officers to four different FBI squads: a Safe Street/Violent Crimes/Fugitive Task Force, a Safe Street Task Force concentrating on gang violence and carjackings, a drug squad, and the Intelligence Coordination Center, which I will discuss in more detail later in my statement.

This relationship with the POPR has been developed through many years of cooperation which the FBI hopes to replicate in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Currently, the U.S. Virgin Islands Police have assigned five officers to a Safe Street Task Force in St. Thomas. The daily interactions of these officers with our own agents should further our working relationship with the U.S. Virgin Islands Police. In the future, we hope to build upon this effort and expand our collaborative efforts. In addition to these two important law enforcement organizations, the FBI also works closely with Puerto Rico's Negociado de Investigacions Especiales (NIE). The NIE is the Puerto Rican Department of Justice's investigative arm for violations of state laws, and the Director of the NIE is a detailed FBI agent. The placement of an FBI agent in this position enhances joint efforts on investigations and facilitates NIE request's for assistance on specific cases.

These relationships have been critical to our successes thus far; however, the business of drug trafficking has exploded far more rapidly than we have been able to respond. Consequently, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are implementing a strategy to expand our presence and increase cooperation with the local law enforcement officials in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Island initiative has the full support of Attorney General Janet Reno and General Barry McCaffery, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In particular, I would like to express my thanks to General McCaffery for the leadership he has shown in fighting drug trafficking and support he has given both the FBI and DEA for this initiative.

Within the last decade, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have emerged as the hub for Eastern Caribbean drug trafficking. The estimates of cocaine smuggled monthly into Puerto Rico vary between seven and 12.8 metric tons. Estimates indicate that nearly 80 percent of this total may be shipped to the United States -- accounting for between 17 and 33 percent of the total amount of cocaine smuggled into our country. This increase in drug activity in the Eastern Caribbean has been accompanied by a rise in related crimes -- money laundering, public corruption, and a variety of violent crimes.

Although Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are surrounded by the ocean, their crime problems do not stop at their shores. The crime in existence in these areas contributes to crime in the continental United States. The root cause of the region's crime problem is Colombian and Colombian-sponsored drug trafficking organizations. These organizations are working in concert and using Puerto Rico as a vehicle to smuggle their wares into the United States. Puerto Rican street gangs, which control most of the island's 300 plus housing projects, engage in violent crime to protect their drug territories. A large Dominican illegal alien population further supports both alien and drug smuggling operations. This use of Puerto Rico as a transshipment point has furthered the Dominican Criminal Enterprises' ability to control much of the retail drug distribution activity in the northeastern United States.

In the past, United States Government (USG) Agencies focused on different aspects of this crime problem. The FBI has focused upon the elimination of the criminal enterprises which orchestrate much of the drug trafficking, money laundering and other crimes. While other USG Agencies might place an emphasis upon interdiction, the FBI emphasizes intelligence gathering to identify and prioritize the target organizations and then to infiltrate the organizations with high level sources. Through our investigations, we have been able to disrupt the organizations key operations and dismantle their infrastructures. But, we have not been working in a vacuum. We routinely refer specific and detailed information concerning drug transshipments to other US Government agencies, including the DEA, United States Customs Service (USCS), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). In fiscal year 1996, for instance, the FBI was able to provide detailed information to our law enforcement partners which led to 12 motor vessel boardings and the seizure of over 25 metric tons of cocaine.

However, the lack of an overall strategy among Department of Justice (DOJ) agencies led, at times, to duplication of efforts and inefficiency. Therefore, Attorney General Reno directed the FBI and the DEA to conduct an overall crime assessment and provide recommendations on how best to address, in a comprehensive manner, the problems of rapidly rising crime in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. After a two-week study in January 1996, the joint team concluded that the increased use of the Eastern Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for the transshipment of drugs, as well as the local distribution of drugs, is at the heart of the crime problem. Consequently, this joint team recommended a comprehensive strategy to combat this problem in a coherent and coordinated fashion.

This strategy does not duplicate the existing High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) structure. Rather, it builds upon this existing structure and adapts it to fit the DOJ's jurisdictions. This DOJ agency initiative is also designed to complement U.S. Customs Operation Gateway, and USCG Operation Frontier Shield. This initiative calls for six distinct cooperative efforts in Puerto Rico: Regional Enforcement Teams, HIDTA Trafficking Enforcement Teams, an Illegal Alien Enforcement Team, a Fugitive Task Force, two Drug Smuggling Investigative Teams, and an Intelligence Coordination Center. These teams are not all new entities; most build upon an existing structure or team. This strategy calls for expanding the size and jurisdiction of these teams through the assignment of law enforcement officials from multiple agencies. When this initiative is fully operational, the U.S. Virgin Islands Safe Street Task Force will also be expanded with personnel from other USG agencies. The FBI has also assigned an agent to the Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands HIDTA-funded drug initiative and will be assigning another agent in the future. Altogether, the FBI will be reassigning 61 agents and 42 support personnel and dedicating approximately $13 million to implement our portion of this Puerto Rican initiative.

Because of the island's geography, the FBI has had difficulties effectively covering the entire island from our office in San Juan. Developing contacts and cultivating sources for intelligence gathering is difficult to accomplish from distant locations. The four Regional Enforcement Teams (RETs) being created will alleviate this situation. They will be located at new Resident Agency offices in Aguadilla, Ponce, and Fajardo, as well as San Juan. When fully operational, each RET will be comprised of law enforcement officers of the FBI, DEA, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and the Police of Puerto Rico (POPR). By the end of FY 1998, the FBI will have assigned 18 agents to each RET; the POPR will also be assigning 18 officers per team. Working together, these teams will be able to draw upon the resources of their own agencies, while cooperatively battling criminal activity located in their region. The teams will address the violent criminal activity conducted by street gangs operating in these four targeted areas of Puerto Rico, as well as drug-related public corruption, illegal immigration and alien smuggling activities. In addition, a constant federal law enforcement presence should serve as a deterrent to existing criminal enterprises in these regions and will demonstrate the USG's commitment to eradicating these problems. We hope to have temporary facilities for the RETs open by the end of the summer.

In addition to these RETs, this plan recommends the formation of two additional HIDTA Trafficking Enforcement Teams within the existing San Juan HIDTA structure. These squads, consisting of a combination of FBI and DEA agents, have been formed and are operational. The Joint Fugitive Task Force with the USMS is also operational. This Task Force is being integrated into this strategy and places an emphasis on the identification of fugitive aliens who are operating in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

To address transhipment activities, the FBI has already assigned two agents to the DEA's existing airport drug smuggling detail, creating a Drug Smuggling Investigative Team. We also plan to create a second Drug Smuggling Investigative Team focusing on drug smuggling through the seaport. Both of these efforts will continue to be coordinated with existing USCS efforts. In the future, the FBI will also be joining forces with the INS to form an Illegal Alien Enforcement Team.

While working together on the same squads will help with day-to-day communication problems, we have recognized that overall communication coordination must occur. To address this need for close coordination and intelligence sharing, all DOJ enforcement efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, HIDTA related or not, will be coordinated through an Intelligence Coordination Center (ICC), building upon the existing HIDTA-funded ICC. This expanded ICC will provide the link through which all agencies can share information and data bases. It will serve as an all source fusion, de-confliction and analytical support center for all law enforcement agencies. To ensure the proficiency of all personnel using the ICC, the FBI and DEA will be providing training to other ICC agencies in the use of data bases and analytical skills.

One particular issue which faces the U.S. when conducting investigations in Puerto Rico regards privacy and the use of wiretapping as an investigative tool. As you know, Puerto Rico's Constitution prohibits the use of wiretapping. Consequently, local law enforcement cannot use this tool. However, this provision does not apply to Federal law enforcement organizations acting pursuant to the Federal wiretap provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control Act.

The problems in the Caribbean, however, are not limited to Puerto Rico. A large influence in the criminal world of Puerto Rico, and the United States, is being played by Dominican Criminal Enterprises (DCEs). The DCEs have emerged as a significant threat to the United States because of their ability to transport large quantities of Colombian cocaine and heroin; their emergence as both wholesale and retail drug distributors along the eastern seaboard; and their propensity to use violent criminal activity such as murder, extortion, armed robbery, arson, home invasions, kidnapings, carjackings and drive-by shooting to further their criminal activity. During the nineties, DCEs evolved from street level drug distribution organizations to violent criminal enterprises which now dominate multiple facets of the cocaine and heroin markets in several cities, including New York, New Haven, Philadelphia and Buffalo. Colombian drug traffickers use Dominican transportation organizations to receive airdrops or off-load drug shipments from vessels and then transport the drugs, primarily through Puerto Rico, to the U.S. mainland. DCEs are used because of their expertise in smuggling illegal aliens and contraband into the United States as well as their willingness to violate the law. Colombian drug traffickers pay Dominican transhippers 20 percent of the cocaine transported, as opposed to the 50 percent paid to Mexican transhippers. This arrangement provides an attractive financial incentive and alternative for Colombians to utilize Dominican transportation organizations. We are continuing to work closely in appropriate interagency forums with our colleagues in the Intelligence community to help identify and prioritize our activities against the most important Colombian-Caribbean narcotics trafficking connections.

Another critical problem facing the United States regarding the Dominican Criminal Enterprises is money laundering. U.S. law enforcement officials are not able to prosecute individuals transporting large sums of U.S. currency into the U.S. who claim it is from legitimate means without establishing a clear nexus to drug trafficking. Realizing the gravity of this situation, and the growing role DCEs are playing in the drug and crime problems of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S., the FBI is undertaking an internal assessment to develop a comprehensive investigative strategy aimed at reducing the level of drug trafficking violence associated with DCEs.

As a result of our collective efforts in Puerto Rico, the Attorney General has requested that an overall Caribbean Strategy be developed to complement the Puerto Rican Initiative. Initial meetings have occurred, and we hope this process will be completed by the summer. Currently, the FBI's efforts throughout the Caribbean are handled through our Resident Agency offices located in St. Thomas and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as a Legal Attache office in Bridgetown, Barbados. The Bridgetown office has responsibility for thirty-seven islands comprising nine independent nations, three British dependent territories and three French territories and is committed to developing sound working relationships with the respective governments. In fact, the Legal Attache in Bridgetown played a pivotal role in the negotiation and adoption of seven new Extradition Treaties and six new Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties in the past two years.

The FBI will also be offering three law enforcement training courses and two practical case training initiatives in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic has also been selected as a pilot country for the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Pilot Project funded through the Department of State. The FBI has proposed to allow access to the stolen vehicle files of NCIC by certain foreign law enforcement agencies through the existing INTERPOL computer system in order to expedite the recovery of stolen vehicles. Through our training courses, and the NCIC Pilot Project, we are attempting to foster better relationships with our fellow law enforcement officers, while at the same time giving them better tools to combat crime in their own homelands.

However, these efforts are not enough. The future Caribbean Strategy should enable the USG to more effectively investigate, prosecute and convict perpetrators of drug trafficking, illegal alien smuggling, money laundering and violent crimes in this region. I have been particularly pleased with the success of the cooperative efforts so far and believe that only through these types of initiatives -- where we all work together and share information and resources -- that we will be successful in combating this problem.