Remarks at White House Release of Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
11:05 A.M. EDT
MR. BRENNAN: Good morning, everyone. My name is John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security. And I am pleased to welcome you here this morning for our announcement of the Obama administration’s new Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.
Just over a year ago, we released President Obama’s National Security Strategy. That strategy commits this administration to the pursuit of four enduring national interests: security, prosperity, respect for universal values, and the shaping of an international order that can meet the challenges of the 21st century. One of the most significant of those challenges is the expanding size, scope, and influence of transnational organized crime and its impact on U.S. and international security and governance.
This morning we want to discuss the threat of transnational organized crime and how this administration is working aggressively to combat it. We’re fortunate to be joined by leaders in this effort from across the federal government:
Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano; Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns; Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen; Deputy Administrator of USAID Don Steinberg; and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske.
We also have in the audience leaders of many of the U.S. departments and agencies that will be instrumental in carrying out this new strategy. We are joined by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Muller, as well as representatives from the Department of Defense, Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the United States Secret Service, as well as the intelligence community.
And we also have members of the diplomatic corps as well as representatives of state and local law enforcement organizations, academia, industry, congressional committees, and nongovernmental and civil society organizations, including those who dedicate themselves to protecting the victims of transnational threats. Thank you for the vital work you do every day as well as for being here today.
In December 2010, the United States government completed a comprehensive intelligence assessment of international crime. That assessment concluded that in the previous 15 years. transnational criminal networks have forged new and powerful alliances and are engaged in an unprecedented range of illicit activities that are destabilizing to nations and populations around the globe.
Transnational criminal networks are striking alliances with corrupt elements of national governments -- including intelligence and security personnel -- and they use the power and influence of those elements to further their criminal activities.
Transnational crime threatens the world economy. The sophistication and business savvy of these criminals permit them to enter markets and undermine legitimate competition and market integrity, which can damage and distort financial systems and legitimate competitiveness. Transnational criminals also are stealing intellectual property, which is not only bad for business but can be deadly, especially in the cases of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
Terrorists and insurgents also are increasingly turning to crime and criminal networks for funding and logistics, including kidnap for ransom to generate funding. Drug trafficking organizations feed off the global demand for illicit drugs, which fuels the power, impunity and violence of criminal organizations internationally. And human smuggling and trafficking-in-person networks are a worldwide scourge growing ever more violent and lucrative, exploiting the most vulnerable among us, especially women and children.
This is the threat that our strategy aims to address. Our strategy is clear in purpose and intent. In the words of the message accompanying the strategy from President Obama: “This strategy is organized around a single, unifying principle: To build, balance, and integrate the tools of American power to combat transnational organized crime and related threats to our national security -- and urge our partners to do the same.”
Now, our strategy sets out five overarching objectives.
First, protect Americans and our partners from the harm, violence, and exploitation perpetrated by transnational criminal networks.
Second, help partner countries strengthen governance and transparency, break the corruptive power of transnational criminal networks, and sever state-crime alliances.
Third, break the economic power of transnational criminal networks and protect strategic markets and the U.S. financial system from criminal penetration and abuse.
Fourth, defeat criminal networks that pose the greatest threat to national security by targeting their infrastructures, depriving them of their enabling means, and preventing the criminal facilitation of terrorist activities.
And fifth, build international consensus, multilateral cooperation, and public-private partnerships to defeat transnational organized crime.
To this end, our strategy sets out 56 specific priority actions in several key areas. We start here at home by taking a hard look at what actions the United States can take within its own borders -- such as reducing illegal drug use, taking swift action against corruption, and severing the illicit flow of money and weapons across the Southwest border -- to lessen the threat and impact of transnational crime domestically as well as on our foreign partners. This sense of shared responsibility is a theme that is woven throughout our strategy.
In implementing this strategy, President Obama is determined to use every tool at his disposal. Indeed, our strategy is accompanied by several new initiatives, including a series of important legislative proposals and a rewards program to help capture the world’s top transnational crime figures. Yesterday President Obama signed an executive order designed to block all assets and property under U.S. jurisdiction of designated major transnational organized crime organizations that threaten the critical interests of the United States.
Yesterday, the President also signed a new proclamation barring admission to the United States of persons designated under this executive order and other comparable programs. The proclamation also provides additional legal authority for barring admission to the United States of persons subject to United Nations Security Council travel bans.
So, again, on behalf of President Obama, thank you for being here today and thank you for your continued partnership.
And now it is my pleasure to introduce the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.
ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Good morning. And thank you, John. It’s a privilege to join with you and with so many other key leaders and crucial partners as we unveil a cutting-edge, comprehensive strategy that will take our nation’s fight against transnational organized crime to the next level.
Now, of course, the problem of transnational organized crime and their networks is not new. But after a wide-ranging, year-long review -- the first study of its kind in more than 15 years -- our understanding of what exactly we’re up against has never been more complete or more clear. And our efforts to prevent and to combat transnational organized crime have never been more urgent.
In recent years, the Justice Department has strengthened our fight against these criminal organizations and expanded on our successful counternarcotics work. By establishing the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, or IOC-2, as we call it, we are now coordinating the efforts of nine federal law enforcement agencies in combating transnational organized crime networks. We’ve also tapped the leaders of these agencies to serve on the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Council. And, to bring additional resources to bear, we recently merged the organized crime and gang sections within the Department’s Criminal Division.
Each of these steps will help to advance the new strategy that we are announcing today. They also reflect the fact that addressing transnational organized crime is no longer just a law enforcement issue. It is a problem that demands the attention -- and the assistance -- of a broad spectrum of partners. With this new strategy, leaders across government and law enforcement are signaling our commitment to combat transnational organized crime by sharing information and expertise as never before -- by paving the way for broad international cooperation and by developing legislative solutions that we need to address 21st-century threats.
Now, one of the centerpieces of this strategy is a series of legislative proposals designed to enhance the tools that the Justice Department -- and our law enforcement partners -- can bring to bear in the fight against transnational organized crime. These proposals will help to ensure that our statutory landscape is up to date, and that prosecutors and investigators have the capacity to keep pace with the unprecedented threats posed by criminal enterprises that target the United States -- including those that operate beyond our borders.
These essential legislative updates would improve our ability to break the financial backbone of criminal organizations by extending the reach of anti-money laundering provisions. They also would enhance our ability to identify and to respond to the most common and evolving tactics and methods of communication that criminal organizations use to conceal their illicit operations and their profits -- which, too often, are used to bankroll drug trafficking and even terrorist activity.
By modernizing current racketeering laws and expanding their reach to cover new forms of crime, we will enhance our ability to advance cases against transnational organizations crime groups that engage in diverse criminal activities, including illegal weapons trafficking, health care and securities fraud, and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And because we know that many of these organizations have long been involved in counterfeiting, the White House Office of the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator has developed a series of proposals that seek to address the most egregious intellectual property crimes committed by criminal enterprises -- including illegal activities that threaten our nation’s infrastructure, and the health and safety of our fellow citizens.
Now, I have every confidence that the implementation of this new strategy and the advancement of our legislative proposals will strengthen cooperation among relevant authorities, advance our fight against organized crime networks no matter where they operate, and allow us to build on the record of progress that has been achieved in recent years.
Once again, I’d like to thank my colleagues across this administration for their commitment to the goals and the responsibilities that we share. I look forward to working with them, as well as with leaders in Congress, to ensure that prosecutors and investigators have access to the tools that they need to protect the American people. I’m grateful to count each one of you as partners, and I’m proud to stand with all of them. I look forward to what we will accomplish together in the days ahead.
And now I’m pleased to turn things over to a dedicated leader in this work and my good friend, Secretary Janet Napolitano.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Thank you, Eric. I am also glad to be here today with my colleagues and with those in the audience who also do this important work. And I am going to address the Department of Homeland Security’s role in this new strategy.
Combating transnational organized crime is an integral part of the Department of Homeland Security, with thousands of men and women in the department doing this work every day. It’s especially relevant to the work we’ve been doing along the Southwest border, where the transnational organized criminal activity of drug cartels is a major concern.
This administration has dedicated an unprecedented amount of resources to disrupt and dismantle the drug cartels who smuggle illegal substances as well as human beings across our borders. We have dedicated historic levels of manpower, technology, and infrastructure to this task, and it has had clear effects.
Over the past two and a half years, CBP and ICE have seized 75 percent more currency, 31 percent more drugs, and 64 percent more weapons along the Southwest border as compared to the prior two and a half years. This is important progress, and we want to continue to build on it. The new Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime offers a road map for how we can move forward together to coordinate and strengthen the good work that has been so critical to our success thus far and that will lead to additional progress in the future.
For example, the strategy emphasizes the use of specialized intelligence centers to coordinate the collection and analysis of intelligence regarding various aspects of the threat of transnational crime.
In November, the administration established the Border Intelligence Fusion Center of the El Paso Intelligence Center, which provides U.S. law enforcement, border enforcement and investigative agencies with the intelligence necessary to aid in their work along the Southwest border. The strategy makes clear the importance of this kind of approach and lays out how we can expand on it.
The strategy also emphasizes international partnerships, which are essential to combating what is fundamentally a transnational problem. In support of the strategy, ICE is implementing a new "Illicit Pathways Attack Strategy," to prioritize and integrate its authorities and resources in a focused and comprehensive manner to attack criminal organizations along the entire pathway, the entire continuum of crime, both at home and abroad. ICE will work with its federal, state, local and foreign partners to expand task force models overseas that support cooperation and coordination. It’s already proven successful through BEST teams.
The strategy also supports an integrated approach to criminal investigations that make sure when a criminal organization is investigated, our approach is a comprehensive one -- one that incorporates financial, weapons, and corruption investigations. The United States Secret Service has played a major role, using partnerships to protect the nation’s financial infrastructure through the Electronic Crimes Task Force and the Financial Crimes Task Force. In fiscal year 2010, the Secret Service arrested over 8,000 suspects for counterfeiting and financial fraud, with a fraud loss well over $500 million.
This strategy lays out an important path forward that builds upon our progress in combating transnational organized crime, both in terms of the Southwest border and in terms of the other threats we face. Together and with this strategy as our guide, we will continue the historic progress we've seen over the past two and a half years.
And now I’d like to welcome another one of our partners to the podium, the Under Secretary of State, William Burns.
UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE BURNS: Thank you very much. And good morning. The Department of State is very proud to be a part of this outstanding interagency effort. We are strongly committed to continued close coordination in implementing the President's Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.
Organized crime, in its many forms, is a threat to decent, hardworking people across the world. It empowers warlords, criminals, and corrupt officials. It erodes stability, security and good governance. It undermines legitimate economic activity and the rule of law. It undermines the integrity of vital governmental institutions meant to protect peace and security. It costs economies tax revenue and promotes a culture of impunity. It undercuts our fight against poverty and slows sustainable development.
Societies have faced criminal threats throughout human history. Today, however, we face them in a globalized, networked world. Terrorists and insurgent groups are turning to partnerships of convenience with criminal networks. Global markets for drugs fund the weapons of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the FARC in Colombia. Supplies of illegal Latin American drugs are making their way across West Africa. In the tri-border area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, individuals with connections to violent extremist groups have been active in drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, and money laundering.
The President’s strategy will build and integrate the tools of American power to combat transnational organized crime, while also recognizing that we cannot do it alone. The United States must continue to play a strong leadership role, together with committed partners, in mobilizing international resources to address emerging threats.
Today, the State Department supports a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global initiatives to enhance the law enforcement capacity of foreign governments. We are developing innovative partnerships with governments, like the Central Asia Counter-narcotics Initiative, the West Africa Citizen Security Initiative, and the Central America Regional Security Initiative to coordinate investigations, support prosecutions, and build our collective capacity to identify, disrupt, and dismantle transnational organized crime groups.
We are working with the G8, the G20, the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the African Union, and the OAS to strengthen law enforcement, judicial, legal, and correctional institutions. We are intensifying our efforts to build international consensus and improve multilateral cooperation to combat transnational crime, and are promoting more effective public-private partnerships, such as our partnership with the pharmaceutical industry to fight corruption and illicit trade of dangerous counterfeit medicines that harm our communities.
History teaches us that cooperation against organized crime can bring transformative change. Ten years ago, large parts of Colombia were controlled by terrorist and criminal organizations. But through collective action by the United States and Colombia, the Colombian people reclaimed their territory, their security and their future. Today, Colombia’s police train other forces across the region and around the world. And through the Merida Initiative, the U.S. is partnering with Mexico to strengthen its law enforcement, judiciary and correctional institutions and bring security to communities south of our own border.
The strategy unveiled today includes two important new tools for the Department of State to combat transnational organized crime –- a presidential proclamation and a new proposed program on Transnational Organized Crime Rewards.
First, the proclamation will bar admission to the United States of persons designated under a new executive order that establishes a sanctions program to block the property of significant transnational criminal organizations that threaten U.S. security, foreign policy, or our economy. The proclamation also provides additional legal authority for barring admission to the United States of persons subject to United Nations Security Council travel bans.
Second, the new program on Transnational Organized Crime Rewards will build on the success of our Narcotics Rewards program to encourage cooperation in bringing the most dangerous transnational criminal leaders to justice through cash rewards leading to their arrest or conviction.
We will use these measures to continue to put criminals and corrupt officials on notice that their crimes will have a serious consequence. We will deny them safe haven and dismantle their criminal infrastructure.
Secretary Clinton has often spoke of the need to build what she calls a “global architecture of cooperation” to solve the problems that no one country can solve alone. Certainly, this is true of the challenge before us. Transnational organized crime is a threat that endangers communities across the world, including our own. The State Department remains determined, working closely with all of our interagency partners, to translate common interest into common action that makes us all safer.
And now it’s a pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague, the Under Secretary of the Treasury, David Cohen.
UNDER SECRETARY OF TREASURY COHEN: Thank you, Bill. And good morning. It is my great privilege to be here today to help unveil the President's Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.
As we all know, the United States and many other countries have prospered greatly from globalization and financial integration. But there is also a dark side to globalization. While the world now seems smaller, and commerce and transactions have become freer and faster, transnational criminal organizations have exploited these advancements to expand their operations and influence, and to evade justice. As our global economy and financial systems have grown more sophisticated and inter-dependent, they've also become more vulnerable to criminal organizations and their illicit financial activities.
One of the Treasury Department's core duties is to safeguard and protect the U.S. economy and financial system from abuse by all those who would seek to harm it, manipulate it, or undermine its integrity, including transnational criminal organizations. This is the foundation of Treasury's national security mission. To fulfill this mission, Treasury pursues a multifaceted strategy, including efforts the identify and address vulnerabilities in the financial system, and leverage financial information and intelligence to take targeted and powerful action against those who threaten our financial system and economy.
The strategy we are announcing today will provide new impetus and new tools for the Treasury Department's efforts. One key part of the strategy is an executive order that President Obama just signed that provides new powers to attack the threat that significant transnational criminal organizations pose to our national security, foreign policy, and economy.
The Treasury Department is employing these new powers by implementing sanctions today against four significant transnational criminal organizations. First, the Brothers' Circle, also as the Moscow Center, which is a multiethnic criminal group composed of leaders and senior members of several criminal organizations largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union. Many Brothers' Circle's members share a common ideology based on the thief-in-law tradition, which seeks to spread their brand of criminal influence around the world.
Second, the Camorra, which is a very large Italian organized crime group earning roughly $25 billion each year from illicit activities. It operates internationally and engages in serious criminal activity, such as counterfeiting, smuggling pirated goods, and drug trafficking.
Third, the Yakuza of Japan, with an estimated 80,000 members, engages in serious criminal activities, including narcotics and weapons trafficking, and a variety of white-collar crimes. The Yakuza uses front companies to hide illicit proceeds within legitimate industries, including construction, real estate, and finance.
And finally, an already designated drug kingpin organization, Los Zetas, is an extremely violent transnational criminal organization based in Mexico. Los Zetas transports large amounts of illegal narcotics through Mexico into the United States and is responsible for numerous murders, both in Mexico and in the United States, including members of U.S. law enforcement.
Sophisticated transnational criminal organizations like these engage in a wide variety of serious criminal revenue-generating activity. Their integration into the financial and commercial system makes them ideal targets for economic and financial sanctions. With the new executive order, Treasury has the authority to go after the economic power of transnational criminal networks and those individuals and entities who work with them, enable them, and support them, by freezing any assets they may have within the United States, prohibiting any transactions through the U.S. financial system, and making it a crime for any U.S. person to engage in any transactions with them.
In addition to the new executive order, the President's strategy also includes a commitment to work with Congress to adopt legislation that would require disclosure of beneficial ownership information in the company formation process. If enacted, this legislation would facilitate transparency of the financial system and enhance the effectiveness of our new executive order by making it more difficult for criminal organizations to hide behind front companies and shell corporations.
I'd like to express my gratitude to John Brennan for driving this initiative, and to our colleagues across the government who played critical roles in the development of this executive order and who will be key partners as we go forward. Transnational criminal organizations are principally motivated by financial gain. That is a major vulnerability that the new executive order and the broader strategy will allow us to exploit, striking at the heart of their economic power.
And with that, I'd like to turn it over to my friend, Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg.
USAID DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR STEINBERG: Thank you. The U.S. Agency for Intelligence Development is proud to use its efforts to promote global development and to build stable societies around the world in support of this Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.
This past September, President Obama offered the first-ever presidential policy directive on development. This forward-looking policy statement makes clear that international development is in our national interest. It’s in our economic interest because it creates exports and jobs for Americans. It aligns with our value structure in that we seek a world that is peaceful, that is prosperous and democratic. But most relevant to today, international development promotes our national security as well.
Transnational organized crime affects nearly every country, but fragile, poor and conflict-affected states are most vulnerable and most victimized by organized crime, in particular as sites for trafficking in persons, drugs and weapons. Such activities threaten the social, political and economic security of the most vulnerable members of developing societies, and they threaten us.
Organized crime is a cancer that eats from within at the credibility and legitimacy of national governments. It deprives nations of much needed investment. It squeezes out legitimate businesses from access to key markets, and it increases the cost of development to all of the citizens of those nations. Helping developing countries protect themselves from organized crime will make the world a safer place and it will protect Americans as well.
At USAID, we’re addressing this challenge through a comprehensive approach to strengthen the capacity of governments, businesses and civil society institutions to resist the corrupting influence of organized criminal enterprises. This involved a multi-pronged approach to assist law enforcement, to promote judicial reform, to encourage transparency and oversight, to combat corruption and to strengthen social fabric.
For example, USAID, the State Department and the Department of Justice have been applying this approach in Latin America through the Merida Initiative, through the Central American Regional Security Initiative, and other regional and bilateral assistance programs.
There’s a long way to go, but far the results have been promising. Our work in Latin America has helped reduce crime and violence in hot spots, generated scalable programs to promote resilient communities and regions, and promoted concrete actions for anticorruption, and transparency in national, state and local governments.
Similarly, USAID’s efforts to combat human trafficking are grounded in a multidimensional framework -- protection, prevention, prosecution and partnership. These programs, including education and economic growth assistance efforts, help create an environment in which trafficking cannot survive.
Trafficking is not only a crime and a human rights abuse, but also a development problem, exacerbated by poverty, lack of access to education and employment, ethnic and gender discrimination, weak rule of law and conflict. These are the same challenges USAID addresses every day in its global mission.
Coordinating with a broad range of stakeholders, we’ve provided $160 million in over 70 countries to combat human trafficking over the past decade, and we’re ramping up these efforts through a intergovernmental approach under our new Center for Democracy Human Rights and Governance.
In conclusion, transnational organized crime destroys the institutional frameworks in which it operates. As part of a whole of government approach, USAID welcomes the launch of today’s comprehensive strategy and is proud to play our role in combating transnational organized crime.
Now, I’d like to introduce Gil Kerlikowske from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to take us home.
DIRECTOR KERLIKOWSKE: Thanks, Don.
Well, first let me thank the team that put all this together. It’s an incredible team, unbelievably talented people in these agencies that contributed to the strategy, and they're also working every single day to protect the people in this country. And I thank them for their hard work and certainly their patriotism.
The strategy builds on work that's been done over many years. It includes steps taken under previous presidential administrations. And we’re delighted to see some people here, former officials that are here in the audience today. It’s also benefited from the work of experts across the nation and around the globe in law enforcement and industry, think tanks, NGOs, civil society organizations.
Well, we have a lot of work to do together. And I look forward to working with John Brennan; I look forward to working with my interagency colleagues in overseeing the implementation of the strategy.
We also recognize the major role that drugs play in funding transnational crime, and criminal groups around the globe that are involved in drug trafficking generate over $320 billion in annual revenue -- and that's according to the United Nations.
Globalization, expanding transportation networks, rapidly improving communications technology enable these groups to diversify into these illicit businesses.
We know that our response has to include new tools and stronger international cooperation, but also a great interagency partnership. We have to commit ourselves to reducing the use of illegal drugs here at home. As others have said, it’s a shared responsibility. It threatens public health and it supports criminal activity not only within the United States but within the borders of other countries throughout the world.
The administration is committed to reducing that U.S. demand for drugs. And on July 11th, I released the administration's National Drug Control Strategy for 2011, and that complements this strategy being released today, the Transnational Organized Crime Strategy -- coordinates unprecedented government-wide efforts in public health and education to reduce drug use and its consequences.
The administration's new strategy emphasizes community-based prevention programs, the integration of drug treatment into the health care systems, innovations in the criminal justice system that break the cycle of drug use and crime, and international partnerships to, again, disrupt transnational drug trafficking organizations.
The National Drug Control Strategy also emphasizes working with our international partners to reduce illicit drug use in their own countries, which is a problem that often accompanies and then, of course, enables transnational organized crime.
Well, state and local law enforcement also play an incredibly vital role in combating transnational crime. And it’s great to see some of my former colleagues from law enforcement that are joining us today, and I thank them for coming. And as a former police chief and a career law enforcement officer, I know firsthand that transnational criminal networks don't recognize any borders.
Our citizens are directly impacted not only by international drug trafficking groups, but by foreign fraud schemes, counterfeit products, counterfeit prescription drugs, violent acts carried out by transnational groups within our nation.
In this strategy, the first chapter is called “Start at Home,” and it calls on federal agencies to expand cooperation with state and local agencies and to ensure that information they need to protect their citizens is rapidly disseminated. In turn, the federal agencies clearly recognize the information and expertise possessed at the state and local level, whether it is shared through task forces, whether it’s through the interagency information fusion centers, or other mechanisms.
Well, in order to address the national security threat posed by transnational organized crime, we need to build this new framework for cooperation at home and around the globe. And this strategy is a critical first step toward that important goal. We have a lot of work to do in implementing the strategy, working with Congress to enact the legislative proposals that were announced today.
On behalf of the White House, thank you very much attending today’s event. (Applause.)
END 11:43 A.M. EDT