View Header


                      Office of the Press Secretary
                            (Miami, Florida) 
For Immediate Release                                  December 11, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                        GENERAL BARRY MCCAFFREY
                             Radisson Hotel
                             Miami, Florida            

1:42 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Before I brief I wanted to ask General McCaffrey to come up to talk about the event today. His time is tight. He's got to take off in about 10 minutes, so with no further ado, General McCaffrey.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: With your permission, let me just point to two documents that hopefully we'll pass out -- one of them is some fact sheets on interdiction efforts in the Caribbean, Central and South America numbers, what the maritime and air effort is by the U.S. Armed Forces -- the Coast Guard; these three high-intensity drug-trafficking areas in South Florida -- Virgin Island, Puerto Rico and now the Gulf Coast. We just started a third HIDTA, the Gulf Coast HIDTA.

There's another document passed out that may be of interest -- first time we've used it. I was, because I'm involved in a giant budget struggle in Washington I wanted to try and get a report card, what do we claim we've accomplished with the National Drug Strategy with the $16 billion we got last year. So my team pulled together in the five goals of the National Drug Strategy what we say we think we've accomplished.

The purpose of the President's trip this morning -- we were obviously thrilled with it -- was to go to a Coast Guard support center and to talk to not only the men and women of the Coast Guard -- he spent a half hour on a cutter and tried to get some anecdotal feedback on what life is like in the Caribbean interdiction operation -- one that I might add has been phenomenally successful in the last year. They've been able to seize an increase of 300 percent more cocaine. Drug arrests were up in the Caribbean by 1,000 percent.

So he wanted to go to the Coast Guard, but at the same time we pulled together the whole interdiction team. I brought in the representatives of our task force in San Francisco which looks out, down the eastern Pacific; the task force in Panama, an Air Force general, and the task force in Key West which watches the Caribbean. We had them all in there. I brought in the Army general and joint task force from El Paso, and then representatives from all three of these high-intensity drug trafficking areas. We had the President talk to them and try to get a feel for what they're up to and to underscore that one of the five goals is protect our air, land and sea borders.

And you can't solve the problem with interdiction, but if you don't do a decent interdiction effort, prevention and treatment are much harder to pull off. So that was the notion.

Are there any questions?

Q Could you tell us exactly what Coast Guard and its partners means in this -- about these statistics? And also, when you say that arrests have been increased by 1,000 percent, what numbers are we talking about?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: We have one -- and hopefully it's working -- we now have one agency counting drug seizures and counting arrests, and so we're going to try and make sure we follow our own data and don't misunderstand what it's telling us. So it's very hard to give credit for a 1,000-kilogram drug seizure to an agency. The Coast Guard is in the lead, obviously, of the at-sea interdiction effort. But that statement is meant to underscore that they couldn't possibly have seized the drugs without Air Force ground base radar stations in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia; without Navy P-3 flights; without Sig-In support out of the NSA. There's a whole series of people.

There's two remote, over the horizon radars -- on in Texas and one in Virginia, that are actually keyed to cuing all this information. So when that young Coast Guard officer, Lt. Megan Britton, pulls up alongside a trawler at sea and boards her, there were a lot of us involved in it -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all the way from Bolivia on up to the Canadian border.

Now, the second thing is, the numbers. I'll get you -- Rob Housman -- I'm going to have to leave in about two minutes -- can respond to any of your questions. The lead agency on arresting people is the DEA and local law enforcement. They're the key to taking down international crime gangs, not the Coast Guard. But the Coast Guard I think has more than 100 arrests at sea this year. And if I remember the number right, it's more than 39 ships boarded and drugs seized at sea. Tremendous increase.

Basically -- by the way, what we think is happening now is they've stopped in a fundamental way using Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as one of the principal drug-smuggling routes into the United States. They're now moving to fast boats out of Colombia, the north coast, trying to get these 50-knot-per-hour fast boats with a ton of cocaine, and run them into Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the coast of Mexico. And I might add, as you might expect, we're now following them to try and thwart that also, with pretty good success.

But the one today, what they were really talking about is how well we've done in the two key passes, in Haiti and Puerto Rico -- the eastern Caribbean. We've really clamped down on them and now we're after them in the western Caribbean.

Q Do you know, General, how much illegal narcotics are making their way into the United States now?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Let me give you -- I should have had this as a handout -- an unclassified cocaine flow chart. And I'll have that to you today. It's a pretty good piece of work. We've been working on it for a year. The number I would suggest to you -- we have two different methodologies at work. I don't want to bore you with the details -- it's my belief we've got about 300 metric tons of cocaine coming into the country, probably about 10 metric tons of heroine, and a lot of other drugs -- meth amphetamines, who knows -- half of it is made in the U.S., half of it made in Mexico. And the seizure rates we've got are proportionate to that effort.

But the whole drug thing is dynamic. For example, heroine has changed in a very fundamental way in the last three years. Now, last year, for the first time in the country's history, 62 percent of our heroine seizures were Colombian heroine as opposed to Burmese Golden Triangle heroine.

We'll pass out a copy of this -- Rob just quick handed me some numbers. Vessels seized was 30, with drug seizures -- this is Operation Frontier Shield -- 31,000 pounds plus of drugs. The Coast Guard has done real well this past year, but everybody was involved in it.

Any other thoughts?

Q Sir, what do you attribute this recorded drop in overall drug use in cocaine, crack -- why do you think this is apparently happening?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: There's a longer view and a shorter view. And by the way, what's not in there is the shorter view. We've got two major drug problems; one is we've got 4 million Americans chronically using, compulsively using illegal drugs -- hardcore addicted. The biggest number of those are cocaine addicts -- 3.6 million, 4 million. And so it's still out there, and that's a problem.

Now, the second problem is our children are using drugs in increasing numbers. Last year, for the first time in five years, it went down. We're a little bit tentative on claiming we've turned the corner, but clearly last year it started down.

Now, the longer run now, you look at it and cocaine use is down by 70-plus percent. The numbers we use are 6 million Americans down to 1.7 million Americans. And a proportionate -- a tremendous drop in marijuana use. A lot of the reason was by about the late '70s America got disgusted with the impact of drug abuse in our society. The police forces were screwed up, the university faculties were stoned, the Armed Forces was marginally able to do its job, because of drug abuse. And so one of the things you saw was more than 4,000 antidrug coalitions sprang up all over America and tremendous focus by the news media on the problem.

And it worked. It dropped drug abuse in America, we say from 26 million Americans down to well under 13 million. Then we stopped talking about it, we got bored with the issue, I use 1990 as the year. And you can chart TV hours of coverage, news media, lines of print. And, oh, by the way, a new generation came along -- that was the biggest deal -- a new generation of kids arrived and they hadn't seen all this damage of the '70s. And it started back up again. So I think that's what happened.

By the way, we saw the same thing at the beginning of the century -- 1900 and 1920. We saw the same thing in the 1870s, 1880s, after the Civil War. Drug abuse rises up, people get disgusted, it's wrecking their workplace, their homes, crimes -- and they start reacting.

So what we're up to now, the heart and soul of this strategy is there is 6 percent of the population using drugs right now. We say in 10 years, drop it to 2 percent or over. Cut it to the lowest use rate in recorded American history and do it in 10 years.

Q This might be in the handout; I haven't had a chance to read it yet. The President said it's a banner year. What's a banner year? Is it the most drugs ever seized? It's just a lot of drugs?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: I think it was the best year ever for the Coast Guard, hands down. It's certainly the most organized we've ever been. We finally got a system where we think we're pulling together, so we're pretty optimistic. But there's a lot more to do.

The drug threat can't be solved with interdiction, but -- I just spent two hours yesterday with Erskine Bowles, the White House Chief of Staff; I talked to the President about it again today; my orders are, by the State of the Union speech to have a concept ready to share -- he's already talked to the Speaker of the House about it -- on the southwest border initiative. We're going to try and stop drug smuggling into the United States across the Mexican-U.S. border in the next five years -- substantially stop it -- while still allowing our second biggest trading partner to continue economic cooperation.

And we think that's achievable. But that's what we're working on right now. The Coast Guard, the Caribbean effort, the air bridge from Peru up into Colombia -- we have clamped down on that -- we, meaning Peruvians, Colombians, U.S. Air Force, Navy, CIA is involved in it. We're doing pretty good at some aspects to it.

Q Is that five-year commitment new?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: It will be when the President announces it.

Q What are your initial thoughts on how that can be accomplished? That's a tremendous feat.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, what we've been saying is -- you know, you look at this border -- the biggest open border in the world is the U.S and Mexico, and the numbers are staggering. There's nothing like it anywhere on the face of the Earth. It's 260 million people a year; it's 82 million cars, 3.5 million trucks, 340,000 rail cars. I mean this is big doings. Bigger -- more trade with Mexico than Japan.

And if you got to one of the 39 places on the border where that traffic is coming back and forth, you watch 10 miles of trucks backed up in Mexico. Now, we've got 20,000 men and women in the Customs Service who are trying to stop these drugs with hand-held mirrors and hand-held technology. But we've tested a couple of devices -- one at Ota, Mesa California, the other one at Calexico. We took some X ray machines designed to look through Soviet ICBM shipping containers -- part of the START I regime. We said let's use them on trucks, let's use them on rail cars. They work. They absolutely work.

You can see 20 kilograms of cocaine inside lead in the battery container or in sealed, welded into walls of the truck, or suspended by wires in a load of wet concrete. And so what we said is we've got to proliferate this stuff and we've got to go to the 39 ports of entry, we've got to allow trucks to come across, we've got to improve the intelligence system so it supports Customs and border patrol.

Janet Reno and George Tennant and the CIA Director and I are now finished phase one of our intelligence review, and we're going to sit down and listen to the results in the next six months. They're going to say, how do we get this sophisticated Intel system to provide usable stuff to Customs officers, border patrol, and DEA. I mean, it's already working, but we need to give them intercept information. My guess is give us five years of hard work, get technology in the hands of the Customs Service, do fencing and censor technology and an adequate border patrol, and we can make it so difficult to smuggle these incredibly lethal cargoes across the border that they'll go to sea. And we want them out at sea, not wrecking the U.S.-Mexican civil population with corruption and violence. And, by the way, we're going to follow them to sea, too.

I better run. Yes, sir?

Q Before you do, General, describe the budget fight. What's happening with that?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Scarce dollars. You've got to make a good case for what you're up to. I went down and presented a one hour argument to Congressman Bob Livingston, House Appropriations Chairman, about the '99 budget. And I've been over and I talked to the OMB, Bob Rubin, Frank Raines, Erskine Bowles, to make the case to pay for a national strategy that will drop drug abuse by 50 percent in the next 10 years.

Today the President announced -- we were flat thrilled -- announced $72 million increase in the DOD budget. DOD is only a modest supporting element in the national drug strategy, but I'm enormously grateful for Secretary Cohen's support in increasing his budget, this '99 budget going to OMB.

I think we're on the right track, bottom line. But you've got to make the case for dollars or you can't get them out of --

Q Is that DOD money -- does some of it get to the Coast Guard or is that completely separate?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: No. The Department of Transportation funds the Coast Guard. That $72 million increase is going to go to Caribbean interdiction, Mexican's countersmuggling operations in Mexico, the Andean Ridge Strategy -- Peru, Bolivia, Colombia -- and then, finally, the Caribbean initiative. We went down with the President to Barbados and had a Summit of the Caribbean. So now we're going to go back and fund some initiatives to support these 18 binational agreements we've done in the last two years now with Caribbean-based nations. So we're really grateful for Secretary Cohen's support and leadership on this.

But everyone is involved -- $17.4 billion is what I asked OMB for.

Okay. Thanks very much.

END 2:00 P.M. EST