Transnational organized crime is a billion-dollar business that transcends geographical boundaries and threatens global stability. Every year, millions of lives are affected by transnational criminal organizations, including through drug overdose and use, violence, firearm deaths, and human trafficking and smuggling. Addressing the core causes and sources of transnational criminal activities is an urgent priority for our country and the Biden Administration. Today, President Biden is taking decisive action to detect, disrupt, and reduce the power of transnational criminal organizations and protect the American people with two executive orders (E.O.s) on transnational organized crime and illicit drugs.
Transnational criminal organizations are trafficking opioids into U.S. neighborhoods and communities, fueling both the drug overdose epidemic and drug-related violence. Transnational criminal organizations trafficking synthetic opioids, most notably fentanyl, have fueled drug overdoses across the United States, taking one American life approximately every five minutes. Tragically, more than 100,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses in the 12 months leading up to April 2021, representing a 28% increase over the same period last year.
The two executive orders, Establishing the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime and Imposing Sanctions on Foreign Persons Involved in the Global Illicit Drug Trade will help to counter the threat posed by transnational criminal organizations to American communities. The Administration is formally establishing the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime, bringing together six key departments and agencies involved in counter-transnational organized crime efforts to ensure that the U.S. Government effectively leverages all appropriate tools to counter the threats posed by transnational criminal organizations. And, because the structure and tactics of drug trafficking organizations have changed, the Administration is modernizing and expanding the U.S. Government’s ability to target these organizations, their enablers, and financial facilitators through sanctions and other related actions through a new executive order. Pursuant to this new authority, the Department of the Treasury will designate 25 targets, including 10 individuals and 15 entities, across the globe that have been involved in activities or transactions contributing to the international proliferation of illicit drugs. Complementary actions by the Department of State through its Narcotics Rewards Program will assist in identifying and bringing to justice major violators of U.S. narcotics laws responsible for bringing illicit drugs into the United States.
The U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime (USCTOC): Combatting transnational organized crime requires the broad skills and expertise of the entire Federal government be brought to bear. The new USCTOC includes Cabinet-level representation from the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It will coordinate government-wide lines of effort to counter transnational organized crime, and restructure and enhance the U.S. Government’s Threat Mitigation Working Group (TMWG), which was previously tasked with supporting counter-transnational organized crime efforts under Executive Order (E.O.) 13773 of February 9, 2017 (Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking).
The Strategic Division, the operational arm of the USCTOC, is charged with developing whole-of-government plans to address the top transnational organized crime threats. The Strategic Division will draw on law enforcement and Intelligence Community information to develop comprehensive strategic plans to drive operations, initiatives, and actions across the government. This integrated approach is especially critical in today’s operating environment, where transnational criminal organizations have become more geographically diverse and organizationally diffuse, utilizing a wide range of illicit means to accomplish their goals.
Additionally, this E.O. directs the U.S. Government to enhance efforts to counter transnational organized crime by:
- Employing authorized intelligence and operational capabilities in an integrated manner to target, disrupt, and degrade criminal networks that pose the greatest threat to U.S. national security interests;
- Fostering collaboration with private entities and international, multilateral, and bilateral organizations to combat transnational organized crime, while also strengthening cooperation and advancing efforts to build capacity in partner nations to reduce transnational criminal activity;
- Improving information sharing between law enforcement and the Intelligence Community to enhance strategic analysis of, and efforts to combat, transnational criminal networks and their activities, while also preserving the ability to hold transnational criminal actors accountable;
- Expanding tools and capabilities to combat illicit finance, which underpins transnational organized criminal activities; and
- Developing and deploying new technologies to identify and disrupt existing and newly emerging transnational organized criminal threats.
Modernizing and expanding the U.S. Government’s ability to target drug trafficking organizations, their enablers, and financial facilitators through sanctions: Drug trafficking organizations are among the most significant and well-resourced transnational criminal threats facing the United States as well as key allies and partners. These organizations often operate like international conglomerates, with their growing infiltration of commercial and economic activity fundamentally threatening free markets and financial systems critical to the stability and efficiency of the global economy. Their activities include large-scale corruption and violence, which undermine the rule of law and imperil democratic government. While in the past these organizations generally had more hierarchical kingpin-style structures, with clearly identified leaders and chains of command, they have become increasingly diffuse and decentralized. Financial facilitators and enablers who advance the malign aims of drug traffickers often no longer have even informal associations with the leadership of drug trafficking networks.
As the landscape of illicit drug trafficking evolves, the U.S. Government must evolve in its approach to address the wide-range of actors furthering this dynamic threat. To counter this threat to communities across America, the United States is expanding and modernizing its capabilities to use every suitable tool to protect the American people from threats posed by the global illicit drug trade. The new Executive Order, Imposing Sanctions on Foreign Persons Involved in the Global Illicit Drug Trade, expands the U.S. Government’s capabilities to target the wide range of actors involved in the illicit drug trade through sanctions and other related actions. This E.O. builds on two decades of deliberate and impactful sanctions imposed pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and also implements, in part, the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.
With this new E.O., the U.S. Government will be better poised to disrupt the global supply chain and financial networks that enable synthetic opioids and precursors chemicals to reach U.S. markets and harm American communities. This new authority will allow the United States to better target and disrupt those across the drug ecosystem and to safeguard the U.S. financial system from use and abuse by those involved in the illicit drug trade. President Biden has prioritized addressing the overdose epidemic and substance use disorders, and, in April 2021 the Office of National Drug Control Policy released the Administration’s First Year Drug Policy Priorities, which focuses on reducing the supply of illicit substances, while building a stronger, evidence-based infrastructure to meet public health needs.
Taken together, the creation of the USCTOC and the strengthened ability to target those facilitating the flow of and proceeds from illicit drugs under the new sanctions authority described here will enhance the U.S. Government’s ability to detect, disrupt, and reduce the power of transnational criminal organizations and to protect the American people.