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May 15, 2001

The Transit Zone: Strategy and Balance


The Honorable Senator Charles Grassley
Chairman
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

Good afternoon. I want to welcome the witnesses to the hearing. I want to keep attention on the importance of interdiction as an element in our national strategy. This part of the counterdrug battle is sometimes forgotten. There seems to be constant attention on Colombia and Peru in South America. The Transit Zone is about the difficult task of interdiction and foreign investigations in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. I wish to first acknowledge the outstanding work by the men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Customs Service, the United States Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense.

I, like many Senators, am concerned about the whole drug issue. I want to be sure we have a well thought-out, balanced, effective strategy. I think we need to continually ask ourselves --- Are we doing the right things? Are we doing them well? What can we do better?

The amount of cocaine flowing to, and used by, the United States is overwhelming. The "go-fast" threat in the Transit Zone astounds me - an estimated 400 events a year - an average of more than one shipment effort every night, carrying cocaine and marijuana to our country.

I am interested in our current drug control strategy and how we balance the source, transit, and arrival zones as a system --- and not independent pieces or independent agencies. I am concerned about the aging aircraft and vessel fleets of both the Customs Service and the Coast Guard. I am also concerned about rumblings of Department of Defense desire to reduce their involvement coming out of their strategic review. I want to have a defense-in-depth versus a defense-in-doubt.

Finally, I wish to highlight the record setting maritime cocaine seizure, announced yesterday, of 13 metric tons of cocaine. I have been briefed on the significant role each agency here played, as well as support from the Department of Defense. I am very pleased with this success and proud of the agencies. This seizure reinforces to me again how large a threat exists in the Transit Zone, and the critical need for coherent efforts. I hope we can explore these concerns and those of other members today. I hope to hear more about a coherent strategy from the Administration.