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Diplomacy in Action

Closing Remarks to Global Shield Seminar

David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Remarks to the World Customs Organization
Brussels, Belgium
October 8, 2010


Good morning. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in the final day of such an important week of collaboration among customs and law enforcement officials from around the world. This event, hosted by the World Customs Organization, as well as the broader initiative we are undertaking over the next six months under “Operation Global Shield,” are unique, critical first steps to combat a threat that has been allowed to exist unabated across our territories for far too long: the illicit diversion and trafficking of explosives precursors.

I would like particularly to express my gratitude to the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Kunio Mikuriya, for hosting this important launch event for Operation Global Shield. And I am also thankful to the representatives of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Criminal Police Association (INTERPOL). They all helped pull together this impressive gathering and integrated the knowledge bases of all three organizations to develop a concrete agenda.

Transnational drug and criminal enterprises directly threaten the national security of the United States, as well as the stability and security of our neighbors and partners. It also goes without saying that the customs and border security communities participating in “Global Shield” this week are the front lines of our collective defense against transnational crime, terrorism, and illicit trafficking. On behalf of the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, or INL, which I lead, please allow me to express my admiration for the work you do each day, as well as for your response to this important issue.


Today, I’d like to give some background on how the U.S. Department of State views the problem of explosives precursors and transnational crime, and highlight a few valuable tools to combat these threats in the months and years ahead. Before I do that, however, I would like to provide a little background on INL and our role in this fight. As the lead bureau at the State Department for international counternarcotics, law enforcement cooperation, and criminal justice sector reform, we operate in over 70 countries and employ about 4,000 people around the world. We work extensively with our U.S. government colleagues from other agencies with particular expertise on border security, narcotics, threat finance, and law enforcement, as well as partners in our state and municipal governments and the American private sector, academic, corporate and non-profit.

This full-spectrum approach to criminal justice reform and capacity building is relatively new for INL. From the time of our creation in the late 1970s throughout most of the 1990s, our primary mission was to combat the flow of drugs emerging from Latin America. However, our role has changed dramatically in response to the evolving nature of transnational criminal enterprises that challenge U.S. national security and the stability and security of our partners. INL funding helps foreign governments – both bilaterally and through multilateral partners – to strengthen a wide array of critical counternarcotics, criminal justice, and law enforcement capacities. And in turn, the United States benefits from the collective fight we all wage against organized crime, from stronger partners with more effective legal and criminal justice systems, and from the wide array of tools at the international community’s disposal that help us combat corruption and criminal activity.


Today, we know that criminal enterprises rarely specialize in one area of illicit behavior, but instead are, at their core, businesses. Like other businesses, criminal enterprises will adapt to perceived market niches in pursuit of profits. Illicit drug and criminal networks have also proven to be significant funding sources for terrorism. This connection is particularly clear in Afghanistan, where the diversion of explosives precursors, such as ammonium nitrate, from licit markets is a key tool for insurgents working to kill Afghan, as well as U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, particularly through the cowardly use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (IEDs), camouflaged roadside and ground IEDs, and suicide attacks.

This deadly intimidation campaign isn’t just targeted at Afghan and international combat forces, but rather it is a direct assault on innocent Afghan civilians. As the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, has said, the insurgency’s use of IEDs – dependant largely on the diversion and trafficking of chemical precursors in the region – has generated a “widespread perception of Afghan civilians that they are becoming more and more the primary target in this period of conflict.”

Despite the Afghan government’s decision last year to ban ammonium nitrate fertilizers from Afghanistan, we know that anti-government elements are employing larger and more sophisticated IEDs than ever before. According to the UN, during the first six months of this year, almost 6,000 IEDs killed 557 Afghan civilians and injured 1,137 people. IEDs alone accounted for 29 percent of all civilian deaths in that time span, including 74 children – a 155 percent increase in IED-related deaths of children compared to the same period in 2009. In fact, according to the UN, 76 percent of all casualties during the first six months of 2010 were civilian deaths resulting from anti-government attacks.

Insurgent groups in Afghanistan – particularly the Taliban – seek to intimidate, injure, and murder civilians to challenge the Afghan government and intimidate the international community; this is all the more reason why our efforts here this week to target the illicit diversion and trafficking of precursors in the region is so critical to our common objectives in Afghanistan.

But this threat is not specific to Afghanistan – IEDs are the most prevalent tactic utilized by terrorists worldwide, and their use is escalating rapidly. Explosives precursors, such as ammonium nitrate, are common products for sale in the licit market, and are easily diverted by criminals seeking easy profit and then shipped via traditional commercial means to be used for terrorist purposes. Terrorist training manuals easily detail how to produce explosives with common precursor chemicals, demonstrating the ease by which bombs can be manufactured by an everyday person with a basic knowledge of chemistry. According to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, in 2008, approximately 11,800 terrorist attacks killed or injured 54,000 people worldwide – this compares to 423 attacks that killed or injured around 1,200 people only eight years prior. As we know, IEDs have been used around the world for decades, not only in Afghanistan, but also Australia, Algeria, Canada, China, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Thailand, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – just to name a few.

According to open source reporting compiled by the HMS Triton Report – used by the U.S. Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to examine trends in global IED usage – an average of 245 explosions occurred per month around the world during the first six months of this year and were attributed to vehicle-borne, roadside, victim-operated, person-borne, or radio-controlled improvised explosive devices.


This symbiotic relationship between criminality, illicit trafficking, and terrorism is one we all encounter in the world of customs, counternarcotics, and law enforcement. It knows no borders and thrives on our inability to reach across them ourselves.

In a globalized world, the false ideological masks of terrorist groups funded by and benefiting from criminal activity, no longer maintain an illusion of a righteousness of purpose, religion, or creed. Most criminal networks today focus on financial opportunity, and in that pursuit, often become closely linked to – or directly participate in – multiple forms of criminal behavior, including the trafficking and smuggling of persons and contraband; trafficking in both illegal narcotics and diverted or fake prescription drugs; intellectual property theft; trafficking in small arms; cybercrime; money laundering; identity theft; and – the reason we are here today – diversion of chemicals used in everyday life for use in explosives or narcotics production.

The convergence of these threats can cost our economies jobs and tax revenue, endanger the lives and welfare of our families and communities, undermine law enforcement countermeasures, weaken the rule of law, and fuel violence and corruption. Over the past few years, the international community has made important strides in combating state-sponsored terrorism and reducing official support for terrorist organizations. However, we must also recognize that graft, the absence of knowledge, and a lack of proper training and resources at our customs and border posts can also enable insurgency and terrorism.


Indeed, no state is immune from the harms of international crime, and no state acting by itself can effectively counter criminal networks that ignore our borders with impunity. 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 work together to secure our borders so we can fight insurgent and terrorist groups who utilize criminal behavior to pursue their goals.

Luckily, one thing I have learned from this job is that law enforcement officials – like you – can often do what politicians and diplomats cannot. You have the power to reach across borders to your counterparts and “operationalize” a good idea, moving beyond dialogue to true collaboration. In order to build a robust system of cooperation against the flow of precursor trafficking, we must improve our ability to share information across borders to predict, detect, and respond to the diversion of chemicals from licit markets; strengthen law enforcement capacity to sustain anti-trafficking skill sets in the long term; and finally, develop and utilize domestic and international legal frameworks to prosecute criminals who are supporting terrorist activity for profit. Essentially, this means listening to each other and pooling our respective knowledge; building institutional memory and capacity to sustain cross-border cooperation in the future; and taking steps so that these criminals and terrorists are stopped, prosecuted and incarcerated.

Information Sharing and Joint Seizures

Listening to each other, of course, is not only the first of these challenges, but often the most difficult. Sharing sensitive information – and acting upon it – takes time and practice, as it requires immense trust in our partners and their ability to maintain confidentiality and properly utilize sensitive information. I am especially pleased to note the participation in this week’s conference by Port Control Unit representatives from the joint UNODC and WCO Container Control Program. Established in 2003, the Container Control Program is a true example of two multilateral organizations combining the best of their expertise to promote exactly this concept: shared information and cross-border law enforcement cooperation.

Containerized trafficking of illicit goods – whether drugs, contraband, weapons, or precursor chemicals – is an often-overlooked channel for criminals to utilize the legal commercial supply chain for illicit profit. Working together, and drawing on the actual experiences of Container Control Program trainees, UNODC and WCO provide training and equipment at selected ports to draw upon shared customs information to detect high-risk containers likely to be used by terrorist and criminal organizations. In addition, the Container Control Program supports direct cooperation among national authorities, creating dedicated partner teams of customs and police personnel that otherwise might pursue parallel – and ultimately less successful – tracks to combat illicit drug and precursor flows.

Today, the Container Control Program is operational in eight countries, and delivering important results. As just one example, in Pakistan, the Port Control Unit in Karachi has done a phenomenal job, making the world’s largest seizure to date of acetic anhydride in March 2010 – almost 16 metric tons (MT). This skill set is not specific to counternarcotics, but rather cuts across all forms of illicit trafficking. The Container Control Program’s trainees have worked with customs and police officials around the world to seize over 37 MT of cocaine, 2 MT of opiates, 769 MT of precursor chemicals, 18 MT of cannabis, and over 294 containers of illicit goods, including smuggled timber, endangered species, counterfeit products, stolen vehicles, high value property, and cigarettes and alcohol. Using a model like this, imagine what we can do when customs and police officials work together to combat the flow of explosive precursors.

Sustainable Law Enforcement Capacity

But while making initial detection and seizures is important, we know that it is not sufficient – we need to also sustain that commitment to pursue ongoing collaboration in the future. The process that you have begun today under “Operation Global Shield” addresses the need for medium- and long-term engagement, not just short-term interactions that lead to an isolated seizure.

When illicit consignments are encountered, we must also initiate investigations to dismantle the criminal networks behind them, and we must target the funds used to facilitate these criminal acts. This involves both donor country and recipient country investment in proper inspection equipment, a commitment to retain trained officials in their position for enough to gain practical experience and transfer lessons learned to colleagues, as well as a willingness to work within and between national authorities so we have maximum impact when dismantling a criminal or terrorist network.

The United States is committed to working with foreign governments to build sustainable capacity in law enforcement beyond the first step of a successful interdiction operation. “Global Shield” is an excellent, groundbreaking framework under which we can work together towards this end.

Legal and Judicial Cooperation

Lastly, we must carry what we have learned from seizures and investigations forward into judicial action. In the diplomatic and legal communities, we have worked to establish a near-global toolbox for law enforcement officials to combat organized crime through implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its three protocols, as well as the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). These treaties now form a “multilateral backbone” of cross-border cooperation against transnational organized crime, and they can also be useful in our fight against explosives trafficking. In particular, the UNTOC – which has been ratified or acceded to by 154 states – provides a set of tools allowing for confiscation, extradition, mutual legal assistance, joint investigations, and special investigative techniques that allow us party to increase our collective ability to investigate and prosecute organized crime.

For its part, the United States has used the UNTOC as the legal basis for joint international work in more than 25 cases. It has allowed us to seek mutual legal assistance for bank records, internet service provider documents, witness interviews, searches of property, asset seizures, and surveillance of suspects. Beyond collective action, it is critical that states independently prosecute illicit behavior and resist becoming a safe haven for criminal activity. In the end, we must all ask ourselves – and each other – how we can apply the legal tools at our disposal, such as the UNTOC, to reduce the advantage that organized crime gains by crossing our borders. Making seizures, building cases, and developing international treaties to address cross-border trafficking are for naught if our prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials do not carry forward an interdiction operation all the way through the judicial system. This is especially true in the world of explosive precursor trafficking, where lives are at stake.

Combating criminal networks that illegally smuggle chemicals used in IEDs, and, in turn, profit at the expense of our families and communities, means taking the extra step so that they know their illegal behavior will be detected, stopped, exposed to the world, and punished. As President Obama has underscored, “in recent years, the world has seen a convergence of transnational threats and networks, which are more dangerous and destabilizing than ever... This can undermine stability and security, fuel violence and corruption, weaken the rule of law, and subvert legitimate economies.”

In order to successfully combat transnational criminal enterprises – especially those that profit from trafficking in explosive precursors – we must work together, commit to a long-term partnership, and apply the rule of law consistently and fairly. I commend this week’s participants on your work this week under “Operation Global Shield.” I hope it is only the beginning of a very successful partnership. There is no silver bullet to combating cross-border crime, but as you know better than I, the costs are too great if we fail.

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