About Caucus







March 21, 2000

A Review of the Annual Certification Process

The Honorable Senator Charles Grassley
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

I want to thank everyone for coming today. This hearing is to look at the certification decisions that the President forwarded to Congress on 1 March. This is an annual process required by law. Each March 1, the law requires the President to submit to Congress his assessment on international cooperation to control illegal drug production and transit. It also requires details on cooperation to combat money laundering and the sale of chemicals used to produce illegal drugs. In addition, it requires the submission to Congress of the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

This is the single most detailed drug report on international drug production and the efforts to combat it. The INCSR as it is called, gives us the factual base for understanding the current state of illegal drug production and international cooperation to stop it.

I believe the certification process is important. It is important to focus, at least once a year, the attention of Congress and the Administration on drug policy. It is important as a key element in protecting US national interests.

There are some basic principles we need to grasp. We don’t do drug policy as a luxury, as an add-on item. Most of the drugs consumed in this country are produced overseas and smuggled here. Those drugs kill thousands of Americans and endanger many more every year. This is something, I believe, that we need to fight. We need other countries engaged in that fight. We have a moral obligation to fulfill our responsibilities to ensure the general welfare. The lives of our young people and safety of our schools and streets are at issue. Certification is not some abstract policy for a bunch of Washington bureaucrats to play with. It’s about taking drugs seriously and doing something serious about them. Here and abroad.

This is something that we all need to be engaged in and working together on. The drugs we’re talking about are in every town and virtually every rural community in Iowa and on Main Street, USA. They got there because some drug thug is pushing them. And in most cases the fields and labs for making the drugs are overseas.

There is a lot of misunderstanding these days about the certification process and the law that requires it. Much of that misunderstanding, I believe, has been created by officials of this Administration. There also seems to be a willfulness in some quarters to ignore the law on this matter or to try to game it rather than obey it. I find this troubling. The language of the law is not a secret. The intent behind it is not mysterious. The requirements are not beyond understanding. The expectations for it are not beyond accomplishment.

Congress, in a bi-partisan consensus, created the certification process in the mid 1980s for a clear reason to accomplish a clear set of goals. The country was in the midst of a major drug epidemic. The public was deeply concerned about it. Congress shared that concern and recognized that all of the major illegal drugs consumed here were produced overseas. Those illegal drugs were grown--illegally--in other countries. They were processed--illegally--in those countries. They were smuggled out of those countries--illegally. And they were--illegally--smuggled into the United States. Drug traffickers broke local laws in the countries of origin, internationally, and in the US. That did not bother them.

It was also clear that many of the producing and transit countries for those drugs did not much care either. Corruption and intimidation of local officials accounted for part of this indifference. But in many cases local authorities were content to ignore local drug production. Doing this required ignoring or not enforcing local laws, international agreements, and bilateral agreements with the United States. That was and is not acceptable.

In the meantime, those drugs were killing Americans and creating a major social problem. I am fully aware that demand here helped drive overseas production. But whatever the relationship was or is between supply and demand--and it is not a simple one--US policy could not then and cannot now ignore the domestic consequences of international drug production and transit. Hence the certification legislation.

That law did several very simple things. It declared international drug production and transit a major foreign policy concern. It required the Administration to identify major drug producing and transit countries who were part of the problem. It required the Administration to report on those countries and their efforts to join with the US or international programs to combat illegal drugs.

It then required the Administration to certify whether countries involved in the illegal drug trade were doing everything reasonably possible and free of corruption to combat this trade. If not, it required decertification and sanctions, though most of those sanctions were toothless. The only truly meaningful sanction was the willingness of the United States to use its international leadership to brand as pariahs those countries that willfully failed to cooperate. In today’s world, despite many changes, this country taking something seriously still counts. We ought to be making sure we’re still standing up to be counted.

Although the State Department opposed the idea initially, every single INCSR in the last several years has acknowledged the critical importance of the certification process in winning cooperation. Of fostering it where it did not exist. Of shoring it up where it did. Of setting a standard for international cooperation.

Of course, not many foreign governments liked the process. But then, they wouldn’t. And they still worked with us. More recently, however, some in the Administration have helped to create the impression here and abroad that the certification process is not helpful. Senior officials of this Administration have attacked the process overseas. They have supported efforts to circumvent it. They have endorsed efforts to gut it. They have played games with it. Last year, the Administration dropped Iran and Syria from the major’s list. They did this without prior consultation with Congress and they resorted to flimsy legal gimmicks and sleight of hand with the facts in order to pull this off. I don’t know why it is that such rogue states and enemies of this country seem to get such special treatment.

Similarly, North Korea, long reputed to be deeply involved in drug trafficking, has avoided serious scrutiny. A game of Catch-22 is played. The Administration did not report on North Korea until Congress required it. And despite the fact that the President assured Congress that North Korea would be the subject of a closer watch, this year’s drug report reads almost the same as last years. When my staff asked a senior intelligence official how these numbers were arrived at that were being reported on he didn’t know the answer. The answer turns out to be that they are the same because no one took a harder look.

Here is the Catch-22 in play: In order to know the answers you have to ask the questions. You can’t report on the scale of opium production unless you look and no one is looking to see what the scale might be. Meanwhile Korean diplomats are caught smuggling. Fishing vessels are seized with drugs. And numerous defectors consistently report high levels of drug production and high level official involvement in it. So, the Administration can’t tell us the answer because they aren’t taking the steps to find it.

Even the annual drug report notes that North Korea is meeting much of its domestic, medical opiate needs from domestic production. This is in part because North Korea does not have the money to buy medical supplies or feed its people. So it grows its own. It does not take a rocket scientist to put that fact together with the consistent reports of opium production to conclude that North Korea ought to be put on the major’s list for production alone. To qualify for the major’s list, they only need to grow 1000 hectares of opium. The Administration cannot find any hectares because they are not looking for it. Convenient.

The Administration uses another sleight of hand to game the process. Countries that are major transit or producing countries for illegal drugs are dropped from or not added to the list. That means such “friends” of the US as Iran and North Korea get special treatment. In the Administration’s view, if the drugs aren’t coming to the US, then it isn’t our concern. But as the drug report itself notes, illegal drug production is part of an international business. The players share ideas, share routes, trade drugs, launder each other’s money, and provide various forms of assistance.

It was never the intent of Congress nor was it understood by previous Administrations that major drug producing or transit countries could escape scrutiny on a technicality. The intent of the legislation was clear: To make international trafficking in illegal drugs a major US national security concern. And more than a concern, to make it the subject of serious action. This ought to be something were we see more cooperation and more serious commitment from the Administration. That is why I find the gamesmanship on this issue so disappointing.