January 5, 2006
The Honorable John Walters
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Executive Office of the President
Washington, DC 20503
Dear Director Walters:
The Transit Zone is a six million square mile area that encompasses Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Approximately seventy-five percent of all cocaine destined for the United States flows through Mexico, transported from South America by maritime conveyances such as go-fast boats and fishing vessels. Therefore, I am very concerned that the current availability of key interdiction assets in the transit zone has been steadily declining.
For example, Navy P-3 flying hours have decreased by nearly sixty percent over the past five years and the Netherlands withdrew their P-3s from the transit zone late last year. We have also experienced a decrease of 300 on-station ship days over the same time period. It is not surprising to me that JIATF-South told GAO that it has “detected less than one-third of all known maritime drug movements.” I expressed my concerns to James O’Gara recently as part of the questioning phase of his confirmation process, but was disheartened by the completely unacceptable response I received.
Mr. O’Gara responded that “it is correct to state that Navy P-3 hours have declined precipitously as a result of unforeseen wing fillet erosion problems. The good news is that we have received backfills of DoD AEW support in the form of AWACS supporting the Airbridge Denial mission, enabling us to release CBP P-3 MPA assets to operate in the transit zone. Additionally, CBP/AMO and the Coast Guard have both increased their MPA capability. We have been in discussions with the United Kingdom regarding their MPA capability, we receive support from the French Government, and we are working with other allies in the region to obtain MPA support as well. And such support is paying dividends, contributing the successive years of record seizures and removals of cocaine enroute to the United States—248 metric tons in 2004.”
I am very concerned the ONDCP is equating the increased seizures and disruptions of cocaine transportation through the Transit Zone as the sole measure of program success. If this is your sole measure of success then you do not fully understanding the long-term implications of these asset reductions. While cocaine seizures and disruptions in the transit zone have increased over two-thirds from calendar year 2000 to calendar year 2004, JIATF-South and other agency officials credited a number of factors that contributed to the increases. Officials told GAO that the successes in 2004 were due to a combination of better intelligence on cocaine movements that allow JIATF-South to target specific cocaine shipments; the introduction of armed helicopters increasing the capability to interdict cocaine shipments on go-fast boats; and increased cooperation from nations in the region, which has led to more efficient use of resources.
In addition, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised some very serious questions about our continued ability to sustain the current level of interdiction efforts in the Transit Zone. ONDCP, as the office in charge of coordinating our nation’s anti-drug efforts and resources, must establish measurable goals and adequate performance measures to ensure that we are addressing the decline in drug interdiction assets while still meeting our intended operational goals.
In the recently released report on the Transit Zone, GAO recommend that “the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security (1) plan for the likely decline in the future availability of ships and aircraft for Transit Zone interdiction operations; and (2) develop and coordinate performance measures, in conjunction with ONDCP, that take advantage of available data (such as the number of detections, seizures, and disruptions) to provide a basis for deciding how to deploy increasingly limited assets.” As the individual designated to evaluate, coordinate, and oversee both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies, I am requesting that you immediately issue a plan for how you will be addressing the above two GAO recommendations and a timeline for when they will be completed.
I am requesting that you provide your response to me by January 20, 2006. Please do not hesitate if you have questions regarding this request.
Charles E. Grassley