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Diplomacy in Action

Fighting Networks with Networks: Partnership and Shared Responsibility on Combating Transnational Crime

David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Keynote Address at the Trans-Pacific Symposium on Dismantling Transnational Illicit Networks
Honolulu, Hawaii
November 10, 2009



Thank you U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni (District of Hawaii) for your service and commitment on behalf of the issues that have brought us together in this setting.

Your Excellencies, Secretary General Noble (Interpol), Assistant Secretary Alikhan (DHS Policy Development), Director General Soh (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau of Singapore), distinguished delegates, on behalf of President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and the U.S. Department of State, we welcome you and applaud your participation at this important conference.

I would also like to thank U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and our international partners, for their leadership in helping to organize this symposium.

Let me take a moment and also recognize the U.S Pacific Command (PACOM) and the Joint Interagency Task Force –West (JIATF-W) for their extraordinary efforts in combating many of today’s transnational threats across the Pacific, and for working with committed partners to preserve the security, stability, and freedom upon which enduring prosperity in the region depends. I would like to applaud the leadership of both Admiral Willard and Rear Admiral Ratti for their efforts to work with the international community to confront the security challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

The Growing Threat Posed by Transnational Illicit Networks

We meet to confront security threats that until relatively recently, would not have ranked high on the international community’s foreign policy agenda. Threats such as international arms and narcotics trafficking, transnational organized crime, and terrorism have taken front stage, and we often see a convergence of these threats. The international community has acted to deal with these threats, and we will make further proposals to explore them over the coming days.

Illicit activities of violent criminal networks increasingly cross borders and impact our mutual security and economic health. Enterprising illicit actors are smuggling billions of dollars of illegal goods into our jurisdictions – from trafficking in drugs, guns, and humans, to smuggling counterfeit medicines and pirated software –costing our economies jobs and tax revenue and endangering the welfare and safety of our families and communities.

President Obama supports making the fight against transnational crime, corruption, and illicit threats a priority in our regional security cooperation. As President Obama has noted in his message to delegates at this symposium, we are indeed experiencing a “dangerous convergence of transnational threats”. Let me read the President’s full message:

Threat Convergence and the Destabilizing Impact of Bi-Directional East-West Illicit Flows to Regional Prosperity

All economies are dependent upon global trade and a consistent, rules-based trade regime. Around the world, however, the global markets and financial systems are being undermined by transnational organized crime. This in turn weakens the rule of law, democracy, and economic development efforts globally.

In some regions such as South America, Central America, and Southeast Asia, converging criminal networks are directly cooperating with each other to advance their illicit enterprises. In what has been referred to as the crime-terror nexus, international crime networks provide specialized services to terrorists – such as weapons or facilitating illicit travel – in exchange for payment. The interwoven strands of criminal transactions make it nearly impossible to target these threats in isolation.

A more direct threat – and one that probably all communities in all of our jurisdictions face to some degree –is the destructive operations of drug trafficking organizations. Transnational drug enterprises are just that – enterprises. Like legitimate businesses, they are constantly in search of higher profits and new business opportunities and they are closely linked to other transnational crime groups.

Perhaps the most worrying feature of the transnational drug traffickers is the speed with which they have adapted to today’s globalized economy. They are cutting-edge organizations – sophisticated, well-funded, committed, and violent. Their weapons and other equipment – communications, encryption, and surveillance – are often better than the equipment available to law enforcement officials charged with bringing them to justice. These criminal groups also are increasingly expert at seeking out safe-havens where they can live and operate without interference from the law, effectively co-opting the host government.

Of course, the cross-border threats we are discussing this week in Honolulu do not nicely stay confined to the borders in our regions. The threats and illicit networks we are discussing also transit to Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world.

There is growing concern that Mexican cartels have branched out and are now operating in parts of Asia and on the ground in West Africa. Similarly, Asian organized criminal groups are increasing their operations in Central America and other parts of the world. Law enforcement remains weak in some jurisdictions, while others offer safe havens where traffickers can operate with impunity.

Leveling the Playing Field: Global Partnerships

Fighting transnational crime and dismantling illicit networks is not something that any one government can do alone. We must work together closely at the bilateral, sub-regional, regional and global level.

For many years the United States has partnered with the Government of Colombia to disrupt cocaine operations, and restore public security and rule of law. And throughout the region the US has provided support to strengthen the ability of both source and transit countries to investigate and prosecute major drug trafficking organizations.

The United States has developed an innovative new partnership with the Governments of Mexico, the Central American countries, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic under the Merida Initiative. The aim of the Merida Initiative is to enable greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges as they share best practices and expand bilateral cooperation in tracking criminals, drugs, arms, and money. Numerous U.S. Government agencies – many who are here with us today – cooperate to support this initiative, including the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, the Department of The Treasury, and the Department of Defense.

In Asia, we are working with partner governments to combat numerous transnational threats as well. We are working collaboratively with the Indonesian government to help develop effective, democratic, civilian-led and skilled law enforcement and justice sector institutions. We work closely with the Indonesian National Police building capacity in combating maritime threats, responding to natural disasters and emergencies, and disrupting cross-border trafficking of illicit goods. We have also partnered with the Attorney General’s Office to build capacity for prosecuting cases related to terrorism, corruption, and environmental crimes.

In the Philippines, we have trained thousands of police, including in the conflict-affected region of Mindanao, where effective civilian law enforcement capability is a key effort in alleviating the root causes of insurgency. We have worked with the Philippine National Police to create ten model police stations across the country and to improve the maritime police capabilities in Palawan. We have just begun the second iteration of this program, which will create one model police station in each of the country’s seventeen administrative regions. We also support rule of law programs in the Philippines and Timor Leste that build judicial capacity to prosecute transnational crimes and fight corruption. And in mainland Southeast Asia, we work closely with the Thai and Lao governments to improve law enforcement cooperation and reduce the demand for illicit drugs.

The State Department supports a comprehensive range of bilateral, regional, and global initiatives and assistance programs to build up the law enforcement capacity of foreign governments so they can confront these threats. This includes enabling foreign governments to strike directly at trafficking organizations by disrupting their operations, arresting and imprisoning their leaders, and seizing their assets. It also includes destroying drug crops at their source and helping wean growers away from drug farming through alternative livelihood and more general economic development.

My Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement works to enhance international cooperation and coordination among states. We coordinate with international organizations and groups, such as the United Nations, APEC, ASEAN, the Organization of American States (OAS), the G-8, the European Union, INTERPOL, and the Financial Action Task Force and its regional sub-groups, and with foreign governments to set international counterdrug and anti-crime standards, close off safe-havens to criminal groups, pool skills and resources, and improve cross-border cooperation.

Within the past decade, our countries, working together, have succeeded in globalizing the fight against transnational organized crime, as well as the fight against corruption which undermines governmental institutions and societies and spans the range of national and intergovernmental endeavors. The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its Protocols, which for the first time require criminalization of a broad range of activities by crime groups, and the UN Convention against Corruption, which requires the criminalization of bribery and other corrupt conduct and the taking of preventive measures, also establish a broad, near global framework for intergovernmental legal cooperation.

These instruments have already been used numerous times by governments to enable and facilitate extraditions and mutual legal assistance to reduce the advantage to organized crime gains by operating across borders. Our region should lead the way in ratifications and accessions. By fully implementing both the UNTOC and the UNCAC, jurisdictions will demonstrate that they are committed to staying ahead of the criminals by utilizing the incredible breadth of these Conventions, and to help strengthen and facilitate international cooperation on extradition, mutual legal assistance, transfer of sentenced persons, joint investigations and special investigative techniques.

The Way Forward: Unity of Effort

Let’s be clear. Today, we face enormous challenges in countering the increasing power of transnational drug and crime groups that are threatening our communities. As Secretary Clinton has underscored on numerous occasions, no economy alone can combat today’s transnational threats.

The problem is too large for any one of our governments. Rather it will require that we and other governments work together closely at the bilateral, sub-regional, regional and global level.

Together, the United States joins our partners across the Pacific, and globally, to take the fight directly to these threats, dismantle their networks, unravel the illicit financial nodes that sustain a web of criminality and corruption, develop strong law enforcement and security multi-disciplinary threat mitigation capabilities, and enhance our cooperation through public-private partnerships.

The United States is committed to working with your governments, and our international partners, to meet this challenge.

Enjoy the Conference and the rest of your stay in lovely Hawaii.

Thank you.

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