Drug Trafficking Threatens National Security, Official Says

DOD AFPSby Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – Narcotics trafficking, because of its links to other forms of transnational organized crime, has become a major national security challenge that demands continued close collaboration among the Defense Department and its interagency and international partners, a senior defense official told Congress yesterday.

“A network of adversaries requires a network to defeat it,” William F. Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics and global threats, told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

Wechsler joined State Department and Drug Enforcement Administration officials at the caucus session to discuss broad federal cooperation under the umbrella of the national drug control strategy and national strategy to combat transnational crime.

The Defense Department supports law enforcement in three major ways, Wechsler explained: detecting and monitoring drug trafficking; sharing information, intelligence and analytic support; and helping countries build their own capacity to confront drug trafficking and related forms of transnational organized crime.

In addition, all six geographic combatant commands incorporate elements of the DOD counternarcotics program into their theater campaign plans, he said.

DOD, working through the combatant commands, military departments and defense agencies, provides “unique military platforms, personnel, systems and capabilities that support federal law enforcement agencies and foreign security forces involved in counternarcotics missions,” Wechsler told the panel.

These efforts, in concert with U.S. law enforcement officials, also target terrorist groups worldwide that use narcotics trafficking to support terrorist activities, he said.

Noting the U.S. government’s long history of helping to stem the flow of illicit drugs into the United States, Wechsler reported growing recognition that the focus must expand to encompass the broader challenge of transnational organized crime.

That concept is embodied in the national strategy to combat transnational organized crime, released in July. Wechsler called the strategy “a significant step forward” that recognizes transnational crime as a national security threat and seeks to galvanize every available tool to confront it.

“What we now see around the world are loose criminal networks that have diversified their illicit activities and also may have connections with other hostile actors, including terrorist groups, insurgencies and elements of rogue or hostile states,” he said in his written testimony. As a result, he said, “these networked adversaries are able to have greater impact on the global security environment than in previous times.”

Meanwhile, these networks are expected to evolve to exploit gaps in the global economy and in the defenses against them, he said.

The U.S. government’s effectiveness in countering these hostile actors depends largely on its ability to operate as a network, Wechsler said, incorporating all its national security and law enforcement capabilities.

For the Defense Department, that will require continual adaptation to deal with the problem, he told the panel.

“Just as the Department of Defense has long sought to understand how hostile states support the armies that may confront us, we now have to understand how nonstate adversaries use narcotics trafficking and other types of crime to finance their terrorist and insurgent activities,” he said.

This understanding, he said, will be needed to support what’s expected to be a long-term challenge.

“For the foreseeable future,” he said, “drug trafficking will continue to be the world’s most lucrative criminal enterprise and therefore, the one with the greatest ability to fund terrorists, insurgents and other threats to our national security.”

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