PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


Session One of a Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on Organized Crime in the Western Hemisphere: An Overlooked Threat?

Speakers: David Holiday, Program Officer, Latin America Program, Open Society Institute, William F. Wechsler, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats, and Lee S. Wolosky, Partner, Boies, Schiller & Flexner Llp; Former Director, Transnational Threats, National Security Council
Presider: Stanley S. Arkin, Chairman, The Arkin Group, LLC
Introductory Speaker: James M. Lindsay, Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
November 18, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations



JIM LINDSAY: I'm Jim Lindsay, director of studies and vice president here at the council. It's my great pleasure and honor to welcome you all here today to the Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on "Organized Crime in the Western Hemisphere: An Overlooked Threat."

We are holding today's symposium in collaboration with the Latin American Program and the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center. Dr. Andrew Selee, director of Latin American Program is here and I want to just thank you to Andrew and his organization for agreeing to cosponsor the symposium.

What I would like to do -- and it's of course always important to note that we can't do the sort of program we do here at the council without the support and generosity of a number of people who I'd like to just mention right here.

First is Rita Hauser. Rita Hauser is here in the front row. Rita has been a generous supporter of the council over the years and has given us a gift that makes it possible for us to engage in these sort of annual conferences where we reach out and collaborate with another think tank. And it's been an important contribution to the council. I want to say thank you very much, Rita.

Second -- today's event is made possible by the Tinker Foundation, which has supported our work in Latin America. And I believe Nancy Truitt is somewhere in the room, a senior adviser to the Tinker Foundation but perhaps I got it wrong.

Last, I want to thank the Robina Foundation which has underwritten the council's brand new initiative on international institutions and global governance, which has been an effort to try to look at international institutions as they exist at the beginning of the 21st century and try to devise more effective avenues for promoting multilateral cooperation.

What brings us here today for discussion is based on the observation that the illicit flow of goods, money, information and people is an increasing source of tension in relations between the developed countries and developing countries. Nowhere is this more true than in the Western hemisphere. Latin America is a major source of cocaine and many other illegal substances for the U.S. market, as well as for Europe. And the problems created by the drug trade increasingly coming to dominate U.S.-Hemispheric relations.

Within the hemisphere, Mexico has emerged as the newest power center for organized crime. A couple of decades ago Mexico was largely viewed as a transit country for illegal drugs from Colombia. Today, Mexican drug trafficking organizations now are a major player of their own. They are a major presence in source countries such as Bolivia and Colombia. They control supply routes through Central America and they control drug distribution rings here in the United States.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded in its "2008 National Drug Threat Assessment" that, and I quote, "Mexican drugs trafficking organizations now represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States."

It's also worth pointing out that the rise of Mexican drug trafficking organizations has been a major threat to democracy in Mexico and it's created a wide number of problems south of the border.

The reality is that the transnational nature of organized crime means that unilateral policies or policies that simply rely on doing something at the border will not work. Multilateral cooperation is essential.

Unfortunately, I think it's fair to say that the governments of the Western hemisphere have yet to develop adequate multilateral responses. We instead see a wealth of different and conflicting policy choice and drug traffickers have been able to exploit the lack of coordinated governmental response.

And that brings us to the subject of today's symposium. And the symposium essentially has three main goals: first is to try to assess the state of organized crime situation in the Western hemisphere and discuss its underlying causes.

Second, the symposium today is looking to analyze the local, national and regional strategies that have been pursued so far to identify those strategies that are counterproductive as well as those best practices that should be emulated and extended.

Third, the purpose of today's symposium is to generate concrete policy ideas for combating organized crime in the Western hemisphere.

And we're going to have three panels. The first panel will look at "Organized Crime and Transnational Threats" in the hemisphere, essentially an effort to explain or review the expansion of organized crime networks in the region.

Panel two is entitled "Local and National Policy Responses." Here we're going to move to discuss local and national experiences, policy responses, and the lessons learned in Colombia and Mexico.

And the third panel "Hemispheric and Multilateral Reponses" is going to review the national and regional policies of the United States toward organized crime.

One last thing that's probably the most important thing I have here to do today is to A, tell you that this is on the record -- people are speaking for the record -- and the most important thing actually is to say if you have one of these little devices, a Blackberry or a cell phone, anything that can go beep in the middle of, if you could turn it off or put it on mute, we would greatly appreciate it.

Once again, I want to thank you very much for coming here today. And now I'm going to turn it over to Stanley Arkin to introduce the first panel.

STANLEY S. ARKIN: Thank you. This is a very distinguished panel in that all of them have extraordinary experience which touches or thinks about organized crime without actually participating in it. And, by the way, there's no -- (inaudible) -- today.

DAVID HOLIDAY: Are you sure?

ARKIN: I hope not in your case. David Holiday, who has spent a very big piece of his life working on civil rights or decent living in Central America and he is now an officer of the Open Society Institute and in particular in Latin American focus.

Lee Wolosky -- I've known for years. He's a very fine lawyer. He works for David Boies. He does international cases. We even worked on one or two together. And he worked at the White House working with transnational risks and has a lot to say about organized crime. This is not because he works for a large law firm, but because he has insights that go beyond that in a scholarly way.

And Will Wechsler is a deputy under secretary at of our Department of Defense. We'll ask some interesting issues as to why we have the Department of Defense doing something we always think in this country the Department of Justice does or even worldwide.

And let me start by saying that organized crime is a very, very embracive two words. It can mean anything from the people down the street who form a neighborhood gang, Bloods, Crips, can be Hell's Angels and up to what we ordinarily in this country think of as organized crime -- it's always Italian which shows the extraordinary quality of this country and its melting pot qualities changed substantially so that the Italians are now being very much competed with by the Russians and the Vietnamese and the Hmong and virtually every other kind of nationality which forms its own organized crime of one kind or another.

We're focusing here, as Jim said, on organized crime in this hemisphere because I think largely the enormous narcotics problem and probably people problem. By that I mean, immigration and perhaps even people which are forced into particular kinds of occupations which we don't like or think are right.

Let me start by asking Lee Wolosky, a legal scholar, how you would define this kind of transnational organized crime and give us a bit of your insight as to how it was formed and functions.

LEE S. WOLOSKY: Sure. But let me answer not as a legal scholar, if I may, but as a policy person or a former policy person.

ARKIN: I agree.

WOLOSKY: I think that the primary characteristic of what we're talking about in this forum and what we should be talking about in this forum is whether or not a particular activity impacts national security or impacts the foreign policy objectives of the United States and therefore rises beyond a law enforcement problem to a problem that requires broader components of the U.S. government including the Department of Defense to have a role in resolving it.

And that is in fact how this issue sort of came about, international organized crime as a national security issue was first identified by President Clinton, who was fond of talking about initially something called the dark side of globalization. And Clinton would go around in the mid-'90s in the White House talking to its White House staff about all the bad things that attended the end of the Cold War all the bad collateral effects that came from the increased mobility --

ARKIN: Organized crime did precede President Clinton.

WOLOSKY: Absolutely.

ARKIN: Good.

WOLOSKY: But I think the point I would leave this group with -- and I'll stop here -- just to respond to your question is that I think organized crime as a national security problem did not precede President Clinton.

President Clinton was the first president to stand up in a speech that he gave at the United Nation, actually the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, and he said, international organized crime is a threat to the national security of the United States and I'm going to do a variety of things including signing a document called a presidential decision directive, PDD 42, which said as much and instructed his federal bureaucracy, not just law enforcement but other parts of the federal government to devise certain responses.

Now, it's true and appropriate for this forum that the very first action that was taken under this new presidential directive was a targeted campaign of really warfare against the Cali Cartel in Colombia because the president had identified international narcotics trafficking as being perhaps at that time the prototype or the archetype of international organized crime. But there followed from that a number of other groups and organizations that were targeted under that basic step.

ARKIN: But the Cali cartel, renowned as a narcotics cartel with all kinds of stories coming out about their culture, how they live together and recruited and impacts they've had on their country, Colombia, but were they an organized crime group just out to make money breaking some fundamental laws or did they also have a political quality to them? Were they allied with the FARC, say, for example, which made it more of a transnational problem?

WOLOSKY: Well, that's something that I think maybe one of our regional experts would want to speak to more than I would. But certainly I think that in Colombia under that basic framework we identified both independent and forces that were acting together that impacted the national security of the United States.

So not only did we go to war with the drug cartels under this framework but we proceeded to designate not only the FARC but the ELN and other groups that were destabilizing Colombia as foreign terrorist organizations.

And then we, again, under the same framework -- but again on the implementation I'll defer to others -- we launched Plan Colombia in 2000, which has had a very profound effect in stabilizing Colombia.

ARKIN: Just so we're complete in terms organized crime in Colombia, South America, in this hemisphere, narcotics may be the major business, but you would agree that money laundering which flows from that and obviously has an impact upon on our financial systems and then people movements, immigrants being extracted or placed in other countries and perhaps even slavery of some kinds is also a part of their business. That's true as well?

WOLOSKY: Absolutely. And many of the groups that we came to target were not only drug trafficking organizations but were alien smuggling operations, human trafficking organizations which typically trafficked women into prostitution. Arms trafficking organizations, organizations that we were concerned had the ability and willingness to traffic in radiological or radioactive and other types of materials. So yes, not just drugs but a lot of other bad stuff as well.

ARKIN: Now, is there anything perhaps I ought to ask you, David, which makes this kind of organized crime more a part of the at least ostensibly legitimate governments which exist in South America, Central America and Mexico? Is there a greater intertwining of organized crime in those countries than say there is in this country?

HOLIDAY: Sure. That's clearly been the case in Colombia and Mexico and increasingly in Central America especially Guatemala where this year we sort of learned about the para-politics scandal in Colombia in which the paramilitaries which are essentially drug trafficking organizations have bought off any number of congresspeople and other including the cousin of the president who's in jail currently.

In Mexico, there're sort of large -- there are different estimates about what sort of percentage of the territory is governed in a sense alternatively by drug traffickers from 8 percent to much higher.

But, yes, both the economy and the politics are extremely penetrated. In Guatemala there's -- for many years there's been talk of a parallel government, a parallel power that essentially is the sort of power behind the throne so electoral politics starts to mean less and less in these kinds of situations.

Can I go back and ask Lee, though, what is it about international organized crime that is a national security threat? Is it -- for example, with the drug traffickers -- is it the introduction of illicit drugs into a country?

ARKIN: We were leaving that for Will.

HOLIDAY: Okay. That's fine. Whoever. I don't want to -- but I'm left with that sort of what's our definition.

ARKIN: That's a great question.

HOLIDAY: And is there any international organized crime that is not a national security threat?

WOLOSKY: Do you want to answer that?


ARKIN: This is not counting Pancho Villa.

WECHSLER: Yes. There are certainly lots of crime and organized crime that goes on all around the world that's not a national security threat. We risk overwhelming our national security apparatus by expanding the definition too large.

But I'll give you some examples of some things that clearly are national security threats and are recognized as such and have been increasingly recognized as such over the last two decades of fairly linear progression across multiple administrations where we have very clear enemies of the United States, some of which we're fighting right now, that are funded by the proceeds of organized crime, organized crime that's a threat to the national security interests of the United States.

Where we have criminal organizations who are threatening the basic governance or are threatening the legitimacy of a state that is an ally or of great interest, particular interest to the United States, that is also a clear national security interest to the United States.

It is both of those areas where the work of the U.S. government expands beyond the traditional law enforcement agencies and involves the wider national security community.

ARKIN: Is there an aspect of our national justice agencies or Department of Justice, leave out our state prosecutorial agencies, but the FBI, Department of Justice being intrusive in these South American, Central American countries in terms of what we ask of them, in terms of what we expect of them? And I'm not talking just about renditions or extraditions.

WECHSLER: Well, there are a lot of lessons learned from the relatively powerful and underappreciated successes that we've had in Colombia over the last decade on the security side.

And one of the clear lessons learned is that you need to have clear, strong leadership in the country in question that's willing to cooperate with the United States as the one who lead these efforts -- that's we're going to have the sort of spine of steel that we've seen from Uribe -- and then willing to accept the help from our law enforcement organizations on terms that work for them.

When we find ourselves in situations where we don't have an adequate partner, then not only do you run into some of these questions that you just raised, but in the end of the day the work is not that effective.

ARKIN: But more to the point, we don't allow Mexican or Guatemalan or Brazilian law enforcement officers to roam around this country while they seek to penetrate our organized crime of which we have some for sure, whereas we have our people doing just that, whether they're flying airplanes that are on the ground.

WECHSLER: Everything that we would do in these areas would be with the -- if it's done effectively would be with the cooperation of the local government. The local government has to ask us to be there, has to want this kind of assistance. Typically, they've gotten there but they found that the enemy that they're against has vastly more resources than the state itself, has vastly more capabilities than the state itself.

And that's the challenge that they find themselves in and so then they look for resources -- when they choose to combat this threat they find themselves looking for resources outside their state. And when it works very well as it has over the last decade in Colombia, it is a methodical long-term plan of shared responsibility between not only the United States and the countries in question but the wider international community as well.

ARKIN: But aside from Colombia, wouldn't it be true that every Northern, South American country and every Central American country, save maybe Honduras today, has some resentment about American law enforcement officers coming in?

WECHSLER: Well, it's -- I don't know I would be so sweeping but I would say -- and I defer a lot --

ARKIN: And left out Colombia.

WECHSLER: I defer a lot of this to my colleagues in the Justice Department who work more directly. But what I would say is that where this works is where we are working in concert with the government in question. In some places in this hemisphere we're working in great concert. It's not just in Colombia but in others we're not at all. And when we're not, when you don't have that leadership, you end up finding the countries in a very challenging situation.

ARKIN: Dave, could you talk about why in the last 20 years -- I think some people said 10, 20 -- 20 years where we've recognized this is a serious problem and not before?

HOLIDAY: Well, to the extent that we're talking about drug trafficking I do think there is -- I wouldn't entirely root it in this but the 1988 U.N. Convention on Drugs, which sort of set a framework in which by definition any possession of illicit drugs should be criminalized. And I think that we've seen a lot of changes over the last 20 years. I'm going to speak in very broad strokes here so I hope I don't simplify it.

But when I look at the kinds of policies that have emanated from a sort of both a military and a criminal prosecution of the situation, I think you can see a lot of -- that we've often contributed to the problem more than we've helped.

In the U.S., the sort of the prison population has grown enormously due to the incarceration of often non-violent drug offenders. Prisons both in the United States and in Latin America have become factories for organized crime.

ARKIN: Just a minute. We know that the U.S. has more people per capita in jail than any country in the world.

HOLIDAY: That's right. And we often -- I would be interested to know, for example -- we don't know a lot about our counter-narcotics sort of treaties and agreements. They're often secret agreements. But I know that 10 years ago Ecuador -- we conditioned our counter-narcotics assistance on an increase in arrests, again, just blossoming their prison population in the current government, which is not considered an ally but is taking perhaps a different approach to how to deal with this kind of problem. So that's one thing.

The other issue is I think that Colombia has become because there was this ideological component, obviously a civil war in Colombia, and it became tied up with the drug war, that sort of came on to our radar.

Now, there are scholars who argue that a lot of, again, our policies of trying to attacking the FARC in particular and the ELN in Colombia -- the guerrilla organizations -- was counterproductive -- eradication policies which sort of pushed the local population into the hands of the guerrillas and increased their political capital because we were not prepared to offer alternative livelihoods.

And frankly, the problem is with a lot of these strategies, which we're sort of now importing to Mexico, is that the sort of direct confrontation with the drug cartels has not necessarily reduced the flow of drugs. And so it's hard for me to look at Colombia and say that there's a success there because organized crime, one of the -- when you're a clandestine or sort of underground organization it's much easier to adapt and the governments and the other forces are much slower to adapt. And we've seen sort of the emergence of smaller cartels. So it's not just the FARC that's doing drug trafficking but also these other cartels from former paramilitaries.

So I think -- I don't see that that has been successful at all. In the case of Mexico one can argue, as some have done -- Vanda Felbab-Brown from the Brookings Institution has written about this -- that sort of pushing to sort of confront the cartels increased the violence and instilled sort of -- the jury is still out as to whether that's going to somehow reduce violence in the long run, reduce the political power of the cartels. Certainly I think the sort of level of influence of cartels both in Colombia and Mexico is still pretty immense.

ARKIN: Is there any justice system south of the border -- certainly Canada has a justice system but it's quite small compared to ours -- is there any justice system south from the border including Central America, Mexico, South America which you can speak of respectfully?

HOLIDAY: Actually, the Colombian justice system isn't bad.

ARKIN: Except for Colombia.

HOLIDAY: And Chile I would say.

ARKIN: Chile?


ARKIN: Ever been in a Chilean jail?


ARKIN: Ever been in a Mexican jail?

HOLIDAY: I haven't been in either, no. But in terms of sort of respect for the rule of law and sort of independence of the judiciary I think there are -- probably I would say Chile. But Colombia, surprisingly, is not bad and that's again another interesting thing. It's not -- to the degree that there's been any sort of prosecution of organized crime I think you can attribute it more to police work and the judicial authorities and not to sort of military interventions. Military approaches tend to just spread the problem around.

The reason drugs are coming out of Venezuela now is because we've had some success in controlling the borders or the distribution from Colombia so it all goes now through Venezuela. Mexico is spilling over into Guatemala. So there's no -- we don't have a sort of an overall vision of how to sort of approach this problem.

WOLOSKY: Let me -- if I may --


WOLOSKY: Let me answer the question that you asked before which was how does it really affect the national security of the United States. I think I'll answer in then on-Western hemisphere context if that's okay just because first, I'm not an expert in the Western hemisphere, and secondly, because I recognize that there's a lot of debate around counter-narcotics policy specifically.

But I'll give you two examples that I think sort of crystallize it from the standpoint of the place that both Will and I sat in the Clinton administration and me for the first part of the Bush administration.

We discovered that there was a -- we asked ourselves the question, how is the Taliban in Afghanistan, when it was in place, supplying itself? How were they getting stuff in contravention of a variety of sanctions regimes?

We found that there was an illicit aviation network that had over 100 planes upgrading out of the former Russian military official who had commandeered hundreds of, or scores of planes, big planes, cargo planes that he was using out of bases all over the world. He was registering them in some jurisdictions. He was keeping them in other jurisdictions. He employed dozens of people, hundreds of people in furtherance of this illicit project.

Now, what he was bringing into Afghanistan for the Taliban and perhaps for others on those planes we presumed to be weapons. We presumed to be money. We presumed to be other material support that was necessary for the regime's survival. That became a problem that was sort of separate and distinct from the issue of how do we deal with al Qaeda. How do we deal with the Taliban? And became how do we deal with this aviation network? And that was a national security problem because we had a very clear interest in shutting off the Taliban's ability to survive.

Another problem -- when we were pursuing -- in the earlier phases of NATO expansion we found that many of the countries that were candidates for NATO membership were ones that had problems with international organized crime. And not only did they have problems with international organized crimes, specifically emanating from the former Soviet Union, but those organized crime bodies were embedded in the governance structure of the countries that were being proposed for NATO membership.

So the question became how do we assure the integrity of the command and control mechanism of NATO if and when NATO is expanded into some of these countries?

So these are clearly, I would say, problems that transcend law enforcement and they become problems that impact the foreign policy interest and the national security interest of the United States writ large. And they, therefore, require sort of all the folks from most part of the government, all the folks from other parts of the government to figure out how to address them and in cases where we believe that we can actually take down some of these organizations to actually put in place mechanisms to take them down.

ARKIN: Lee has touched upon the next subject, which I think we should go to which is what are the commonalities -- which is one question -- and then the connections -- the other question -- between these cartels? We're not talking about street organized crime, these international cartels, Mexican and others, to what we now dub terrorist groups. Will? And certainly the Taliban would be --

WECHSLER: Yes. I mean, in some cases they're one and the same. The FARC was designated as a terrorist organization and as a narcotics trafficking organization. Narcotics and other organized crime support many terrorist organizations. I'm heart pressed to think of a terrorist organization that does not use organized crime as a way to help fund and manage its logistics in one way or the other. Some are much more expert and have been doing this for a long time, organizations like Hezbollah.

When an organization establishes the infrastructure for trafficking, for moving things illicitly, those who desire to move things illicitly will make use of that infrastructure and we see that all around the world.

ARKIN: Yes, but are any of these organizations we call international criminal cartels, international crime, are they a major bank rolling or other support facility for things like al Qaeda?

WECHSLER: Again, most criminal organizations are out to make money first and foremost. There are some that have -- they're ideologically based organizations or territorial-based organizations that have other aspirations as well and use organized crime to further those. And there can be a wonderful debate about are they first and foremost a criminal organization or are they first and foremost an ideological organization or a terrorist organization.

But I think what's a powerful point to understand is once -- even if the criminal organizations have no ideological objectives, even if they have no wider objectives beyond making money, once they establish the infrastructure necessary to move things illicitly, what we tend to see is that that infrastructure is taken advantage of by other organizations that want to employ it for their own ends. It doesn't mean that they do it a tremendous amount -- different organizations do it to different degrees -- but we definitely see that.

ARKIN: Is that by force or agreement?

WECHSLER: It's by mutual benefit. If the criminal organization is looking to make money and someone provides them a way to do that, they will quite often take them up on that.

ARKIN: And what's different though in Afghanistan than it is in Mexico?

WECHSLER: It's very different.

ARKIN: And that difference is?

HOLIDAY: But just a question to you, Will. I know there's a concern about the sort of pipeline being used by other criminals or terrorists but are there any cases yet of al Qaeda using the drug cartels or the human smuggling networks from Mexico into the United States? Do we know?

WECHSLER: From Mexico in the United States or --

HOLIDAY: Yes. Yes. Yes.

WECHSLER: The question before was a global phenomenon.

HOLIDAY: No. No. I'm just --

WECHSLER: But Mexico to the United States, no.

HOLIDAY: We don't have one.

WECHSLER: We don't have that. I mean, there're a lot of overstatement that have been made in the last year about this dynamic of the threat from Mexico, the threat -- the problems in Mexico are quite serious, are big challenges and the president there is taking many very powerful steps against them. And the progress that's been made and the changes in the even U.S.-Mexican dynamic on this issue have been quite powerful in a relatively short period of time.

That all said, Mexico is not a failed state. It's not going to be a failed state. There's not this massive spillover of violence right across the border. I mean, you go to Ciudad Juarez which is one of the most dangerous places in the world and right across the border is El Paso which I think is the third most safe city in America of its size. All these things which are very much hyped in the press we don't see. There is wider --

ARKIN: You don't see -- (inaudible)?

WECHSLER: There are some. The wider implication that I was gong to say is not the spillover like directly across the border though there are some places where we -- but the wider spillover of Mexican criminal organizations, very far from the border that have a very powerful role to play in the criminality in the United States. That's what's been building up over longer periods of time.

There are places in the park system in California where industrial size marijuana production is being done by the Mexican drug cartels. I mean, this is -- it's that kind of spillover that's much more significant than the kind that gets more of the press of in a border town there being violence.

HOLIDAY: So it seems that while terrorist organizations may be able to take advantage of organized crime networks, do they really need -- I mean, except from getting certain kinds of good to, for example, to pose a direct national security threat to the U.S., do they need organized crime? The U.S. is so porous, its border are so porous it's so easy to sort of get into the U.S. And in fact, one of the characteristics of organized crime is this sort of blurring of the lines between legal and illegal. There's a lot of legal enterprises that are used by organized crime.

WECHSLER: The mechanisms, the skills, the models and then given the actual logistics are used by terrorist organizations all around the world. And we see it again and again and again.

ARKIN: In combination with criminal cartels.

WECHSLER: Absolutely.

WOLOSKY: Yes. That does happen. There is a robust network of groups that operate transnationally that seem to know how to find each other with such effectiveness that sometimes when we were in government, we wondered why we couldn't find them as quickly as they found each other.

But it is true that if you are a bad guy, whether you're a terrorist organization or another bad guy, and you need some specific thing, whether it's money moved, arms moved, you need a plane, you need something else, you need bad things moved, there are people that you can call and they'll do it and they do it for money.

I mean, you may have -- you know, Will pointed to the distinction between terrorist groups which typically, at least in the scholarship we say that they have ideological objectives, you know, international organized crime groups are purely monetary ones but they do know how to find each other. There's ample example of them finding each other.

And, you know, I think we spoke to some of the specific examples but they do find each other.

WECHSLER: Just very briefly -- one of the strategic improvements in our thinking as a government over the last 10 to 15 years has been a moving away from this siloed approach to thinking about these issues that there are these kinds of criminals and these kinds of terrorists and these kinds of organizations. The reality is that there's a nexus between all of them and when the nexus impacts our national security we have to change the way that we think about national security.

So in Afghanistan at the end of last year there was change in the rules of engagement for the drug trafficking organizations with ties to the insurgency to be a formal target of our military actions. In the previous ways of thinking, you would say there's insurgency and there's narcotrafficking. What we've learned is that, A, doesn't meet the facts, and B, hinders our ability to actually -- (inaudible).

ARKIN: Is there any evidence of the very powerful, well-organized Mexican and South American cartels sort of Sinaloa cartel being active in forming relationships in Europe or in East Asia or in Southeast Asia?

WECHSLER: Very much so. One of the dynamics that we see more recently is the narcotics that are coming out of South America, a lot of which are coming out of Venezuela and I would say that it's not just because of our success in Colombia --


WECHSLER: -- but there are some Venezuela specific issues that drive that -- going not only to the U.S. market but going to the European market. And when they look as businessmen to the European market they see that prices are higher. They see that demand has a way to go up for cocaine whereas it's relatively saturated and flat in the United States. And they see that the potential downside for action that is perhaps remote but quite catastrophic in the United States of being put in our jails and actually being caught is an extremely low probability in Europe. They just don't have the enforcement track record that we do.

So over the next decade, one would expect an increasing proportion of the cocaine trade to be going to Europe and to the Middle East where it's even more profitable to do so.

And one of the great challenges is that there are countries in the way in Western Africa that are already starting to and about to be swamped by this problem. The amount of resources that the cartels can throw at these countries will dwarf the amount of resources that these countries can, on their own, use to defend against this.

ARKIN: Well, just a particular issue which is: are the Mexican cartels with their extraordinary distribution systems helping the Afghanis distribute their opium harvest?

WECHSLER: I haven't seen anything along those lines. No. I mean, the vast majority of the opium harvest in Afghanistan goes to Europe not to the United States.

ARKIN: And therefore, the Mexicans wouldn't be necessarily involved with it.

WECHSLER: Yes. I haven't -- of all the problems that we have, that one I'd put away.

ARKIN: I guess my question was further which is -- is this country the pronged or sole customer of the Sinaloa cartel and other cartels based in Mexico and the North and South America?

WECHSLER: We consume 90 percent of all the cocaine that's coming up there. We -- as President Obama said when we went down to Mexico is that this is a co-responsibility for this. We have a co-responsibility for this problem.

And as you said earlier, you know, there was a day when the Mexicans were just a transit state, just a transit state. And this is a common dynamic that we see all around the world is that in a variety of country they choose not to address this issue because they see themselves as being just a transit state. I don't know of any country in the world that has ever remained just a transit state. They eventually become massive users. They become massive organized crime. You can't -- countries make mistakes when they don't address this problem at an earlier stage and they wait until it becomes a massive internal problem.

ARKIN: Have they become too powerful, Dave, to put down in Mexico? I know that you said there's not a failed government in Mexico. You said it three times. Not a failed government. So we'll just accept that as the rhythm. But is there power in that government to put down these cartels?

HOLIDAY: I wish I had the solution here.

ARKIN: I'm going to ask you in a while for one.

HOLIDAY: It's easy to sort of critique the current strategy, although we do have to see that play. I mean, I'm somewhat sympathetic to the use of -- to deploying the military in a country where the police are incredibly corrupt and have very little capacity for dealing with the cartels.

The question is what are you really trying to achieve because let's assume -- the best scenario -- that we are able to dismantle these cartels. Is that really a possibility? And if it's not -- and is a possibility as long as consumption remains the way it does in the U.S. and Europe of marijuana, cocaine, whatever? If it's not a possibility, then what should our goals be?

Now, the goal of Calderon is to sort of break up the cartels into small cartels. Okay. We've done that in Colombia -- cocaine continues to flow, influence in politics continues. So is that a good strategy? Is that going to actually kind of resolve the problem? It may lower the incidence of violence but it's not a very happy scenario.

ARKIN: Well, you've lead into my last set -- excuse me. Go ahead.

WECHSLER: I just want to say, measure of success here is critically important. If your measure of success is that there's no crime then there's no crime in the history of the world that will ever meet that measure of success.

The measure of success I would argue is first and foremost that this criminal activity does not oppose a national security threat to the United States or the country. That's the problem in Mexico is that it has risen to the point where there are ungoverned spaces.

In Colombia I think I have to make sure that I leave the audience with perhaps a different -- an alternative view point than the one that you suggested earlier.

You know, I was out of the government from the end of the Clinton administration until the beginning of the Obama administration. When I left, over two-thirds of the Colombian people believed that the FARC, that it was going to take Bogotá and was going to take over the whole government. When you look at it at the time, if you look at the areas that the Bogotá government actually controlled, you are not too far out of Bogotá.

The situation today is a night and day difference. When I come back into government it is amazing has been changed. Everything that you criticized is absolutely true as well. There is still a tremendous flow of narcotics going up.

This is not the kind of conflict where a statue comes down and everyone recognizes that as the victory point. This is a long, methodical process that has already taken over a decade since -- (inaudible) -- Colombia and it's going to take another decade to deal with the wider problems. There are human rights problems. There are continuing problems that go on.

But the security situation is a night and day difference down to the point that you made about the justice situation. You would never have said that about the Colombian justice system at the end of the last decade what you said about the Colombian justice system at the end of this decade.

And about what comes in -- you said about going for other alternatives and building up what they call the CCAI is designed to so exactly that and this is a Colombian effort, not ours -- it started about four or five years ago -- but it's had real demonstrable progress in building up the areas that have been taken in what we at the Pentagon would see as a classic counterinsurgency strategy to hold and then to build.

So there is no shortage of challenges for the Colombian government. The Colombian government would be the very first to talk about them. But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we don't realize how incredibly far they've come, not only to give them credit but as a lessons -- as part of the lessons learned for what we might think about in other context and in other places.

There is a road -- there is a path to go down. We're not in end zone yet but we've come a huge degree.

ARKIN: I'm going to ask each of you, before I open it up to our guests, what would you do if you had your will, Will, to change our policies or actions to diminish the threat to our country? And I am assuming right now -- the question assumes -- that these cartels are at the very height of their power. They have not become more limpid as time has gone on. They have become more dangerous-- the fact they don't even have free speech any longer in Northern Mexico.

WECHSLER: If I could wave a magic wand, of course, you'd get rid of the demand problem in the United States.

ARKIN: All you have to do is speak, no magic wands.

WECHSLER: You know, that's, of course, a critical element of everything that we do. The other things that I would suggest is amongst the lessons that we've learned in the Colombian context is that requires the government in question to have the critically strong and consistent leadership of a kind that is very rare all around the world. When we have it, we need to take advantage of it.

Secondly, we need a whole of government from the United States approach to these issues. The Department of Defense is not in any way, shape or form the lead agency on this. We are a supporting agency. We have some capabilities and skills that are appropriate for these jobs but other agencies have the authorities, have the skills that are vastly more important for these jobs. So we need a whole of government approach to this.

And then the one thing that we haven't done a good job --

ARKIN: Do we have that?

WECHSLER: We have had that in Colombia. That's part of the success story.

ARKIN: Aside from Colombia, do we have what you said, the whole government --

WECHSLER: We have not applied all the lessons of Colombia elsewhere yet. And the other thing that I would say that we didn't really do even well in Colombia is a wider regional approach because you end up getting the balloon effect where you're squeezing it in one place and then the drugs go someplace else.

I don't think that was -- my recollection from the '90s is there's actually a judgment that the region perhaps wasn't ready for that kind of regional approach. It might be ready for that kind of regional approach now and it's certainly necessary if we're going to address it more successfully.

ARKIN: Lee, if you were the anti-cartel czar -- like the pay czar -- what would you do?

WOLOSKY: Well, we may need such a czar because I want to underscore the point that Will made about viewing this problem from a government wide basis. I mean, in many ways our government is still set up to fight states and increasingly, as we know from 9/11, the challenges that we face emanate from non-state actors.

And much of the progress that's been made in the past eight years has really been in response to this specific terrorism threat, al Qaeda in particular, but it has not yet addressed these other very important challenges from non-state actors that are not strictly terrorist organizations.

And so I'm mostly being facetious about the need for another czar but the point is that -- you know, Will's point is very important. We need to devise a better approach that incorporates the different parts of our government to address these problems.

Additionally, we need stronger governance because the reason why we have these problems frequently is because of weak governance in certain states that do not have the ability to fight these organizations that take root on their soil.

ARKIN: Dave?

HOLIDAY: I don't disagree with anything that's been said.

ARKIN: Say more.

HOLIDAY: But I will say more. Well, first of all, I agree with the regional approach. The problem is is that -- actually, let me start back. I think there's some good things that the Obama administration has done that is different. There has been an effort to coordinate -- creating this International Organized Crime Task Force or something. The Defense Department is not a member of that. Every other agency in Washington is.

So even though it's an international organized crime -- so I'd be curious to understand why that is. But there's clearly sort of been turf battles and turf wars that have gone on that have inhibited the fight against organized crime.

The drug czar that has traditionally also tackled international issues has importantly kind of discarded the notion of a war on drugs -- because it's a war that you can't win I would suspect is one of the reasons -- and really started to focus more on prevention and treatment, death related drug issues and kind of breaking the ties between the drugs and crime.

And I think that's a very positive thing. I think on the international level, we haven't kind of come up with a new approach.

So to go to what we should do, I think the regional approach is important. Unfortunately, that regional approach is happening and the U.S. isn't part of it. The base agreement that the U.S. just signed with Colombia really irked a lot of the South American countries in particular.

And it's not just Chavez. It's Brazil and Chile and Argentina and they're all looking to some kind of cooperation that does include the U.S.

So the U.S. has a lot to offer and they have a big task in front of them if they're going to sort of engage with the rest of Latin America.

I also think that just as we're focusing on demand reduction and essentially decriminalization, as we sort of -- as we leave it to the states to look at medical marijuana laws or decide to move our resources not towards breaking up medical marijuana dispensaries and sort of different initiatives coming out of states to decriminalize, I think we need to allow that to go forward in Latin America as it is going forward because Will mentioned the sort of -- we are the principal producers of marijuana as it turns out that the Mexican drug trafficking organizations are controlling part of that market, the DEA says that 65 percent of the Mexican drug cartels' profits come from marijuana, not from cocaine.

So what happens to the business model of the cartels if we decriminalize, if we legalize?

Now, we can't do that, as Francisco Thoumi pointed out, until we change the international conventions. So that's another struggle.

But I think we have to look at a different paradigm for approaching this issue that's not -- and I totally agree in terms of improving governance and police and judicial apparatuses.

One other thing I would just say there, the U.S. seems to be exporting a lot of the RICO like kind of statutes in terms of wiretapping and special courts or asset forfeiture, that sort of thing.

Again, Colombia -- a lot of the wiretapping -- when you export these sort of tools to countries in which there's not great accountability, you run into problems and we have the case of Colombia this year where the intelligence service was found to be spending a lot of time fighting on human rights organizations, on opposition politicians including -- you know, there's wiretapped phone calls with U.S. Embassy personnel.

So I think those -- now, that kind of thing comes out because of the press often and not because of horizontal accountability institutions like the courts. So I think that's something we need to be concerned about. I think a lot of RICO kinds of procedures are useful but we need to be careful.

ARKIN: It leads me just to the last question I'm going to ask before I open it up which -- you talk about the press. There is no free press in Northern Mexico. You agree with that. That is to say --

HOLIDAY: Well, they're intimidated. Yes.

ARKIN: It's edited by bullets.

HOLIDAY: Yes. There's a lot of self-interest.

ARKIN: And we have just below us in Northern Mexico, we have lawlessness, thousands of killing. Is that a law enforcement problem, a governance problem? And what can we directly do about that aside from doing what we did earlier in the last century? Who rode across the border and captured Pancho Villa? But we can't do that now. There's U.N. What can you do about these major cartels?

HOLIDAY: You're asking me?

ARKIN: Send drones? No.

WECHSLER: No. What we can do is while understanding all of the tremendous differences between our experience in Colombia and the experience in Mexico and other places, but we can nevertheless look at the lessons that we've learned in this great success. Everything that's being written now about Mexico I recall reading almost word for word the same articles about Colombia a decade ago. Those articles aren't being written about Colombia because of the successes that we've had.

People forget that we didn't have President Uribe when Plan Colombia was started. We do have the advantage of having President Calderon in Mexico who has been very steadfast and very clear in his leadership on this issue. So we have a wonderful opportunity.

And now -- and the last administration started taking advantage with the Merida Initiative and the question will be what comes after for the longer term work that needs to be done because this is a long-term issue. This issue is not solved in a matter of months of or years but in a matter of decades.

ARKIN: I don't know if we solve what we do with these people in Northern Mexico but I'm sure some of the questions from you will help. If you stand, identify yourself, speak clearly and succinctly. The gentleman in the back there.

QUESTIONER: Hello? My name is -- (inaudible). I work for the (Royalton Group ?). Organized crime in the U.S. -- clearly, if what you're saying about the consumption of narcotics in the U.S. is as large as you point, how is it possible that it gets distributed so widely within the U.S.?

What are the networks that operate with a lot of impunity to carry out these tasks? And related to that is, is there also a similar network that distributes guns the other way and what are the -- is it so well organized in the United States that we don't even call it organized crime, we don't see it? Can you maybe touch on this point?

ARKIN: Lee, I think you should take it. It's a legal question.

WOLOSKY: Okay. Well, again, I'll dodge your question a little bit by saying that when we were in the government, when I was in the government and I think I can speak for Will too, although he's speaking for himself quite well, our function was really to stop at the water's edge.

In other words, to look out from the water's edge. We didn't involve ourselves -- I didn't involve myself as a government official in domestic law enforcement contexts.

So I have not a great deal of visibility on the local networks that are in many cases the end of a global network.

You know, I will say, though that just from my experience as a practicing lawyer, certainly the distribution mechanisms in this country for drugs and for guns are very diverse.

I mean, you have very well organized networks that are purely domestic in character, engaged in those activities. You have very fragmented and animistic participants engaged in those activities with really little connection to others either in this country or abroad. And you have groups in this country that are working very tightly with component parts that are upgrading outside of the United States.

ARKIN: Dave? Will? Dave? Just I think the distribution systems in this country may depend to some extent upon the Mexican cartels. You see evidence of that. We have a huge Mexican population, not just in the southwest but all through our Midwest. And certainly some of those people are engaged in helping in distribution.

Now, I don't know that that's a major problem which really is what exists just below the water, the Rio Grande, no questions. Rita.

QUESTIONER: Rita Hauser. Will, you particularly laud the success in Colombia but you kind of glossed over the paramilitaries, the abuses that took place in human rights which now we're seeing in Mexico as well, Uribe's attempts to perpetuate his rule which has just (thwarted ?) but maybe will succeed. So it's a more mixed picture than I think you have presented.

And I would like to ask at the same time of David how you see these kinds of things in Mexico.

There's an article in the current Atlantic, Joe Stahl (ph) which I happened to read last evening which describes the horrendous situation in Northern Mexico particularly the complete corruption of the military and the author concludes that several states in effect has been what he calls a coup that those states are no longer really under the effective control of Calderon.

And he asks the question whether or not Calderon's war on drugs which has taken some 14,000 lives and instituted a kind of mini-civil war was the right approach and worth the price?

ARKIN: That's a wonderful question. Will, you have Rita suggesting in a way -- she didn't use the words -- but Northern Mexico may be like a failed state. She didn't say it though.

WECHSLER: Let me -- first on Colombia. I did -- I'm sorry to leave the impression that there were no problems in Colombia. I tried to make the point I'll make again that civil rights, human rights issue have been a massive problem and will continue to be a significant problem for Colombia.

That's the kind of problem that you don't solve. It's a continuing process. Things have improved but there are still concerns and those concerns have been made clear by everyone in our government and also are recognized by the Colombian government.

The other areas that need to continue to challenge the Colombian government are continuing of the drug trafficking, again, the overall of volume of cocaine has not decreased the way that we would have wanted it to. And the movement from the FARC to the BACRIMs and the other criminal organizations including some with paramilitary ties -- we need to get on top of those as well.

I don't want to leave the impression that we are declaring success and that we're dancing in the end zone with Colombia. We still have a way to go. But I do want to recognize -- to continue the sports metaphor -- about how far we have come down the field. I think to fail to do that would be to miss a very powerful story that I believe is generally underappreciated and one that also has lessons for the wider discussion we've having in Mexico and in other places around the world.

ARKIN: Is Calderon becoming an Uribe in that regards? Rita was asking you, can the Mexican government cope with these huge cartels, heavily armed, who have corrupted the army, killed the police? What can they do to get back Northern Mexico?

WECHSLER: I think what Calderon says is that we've seen the results of not taking action which is this problem getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And a number of the steps that the Calderon administration has taken have been very, very well received by the population and by the United States. And we look forward to ways to be helpful as they desire. But as I said before, this only works when the countries in question want the United States' help. We can't force it on them. And, speaking for the Department of Defense, we are, again, a supporting role and there are other parts of the United States government that will provide the leadership for the work that we will be doing at the Mexican government's request. I personally thought that that Atlantic article was very, very much overstated for my taste.

ARKIN: Do you want to add to that, Dave?

HOLIDAY: Well, just the comparison between the paramilitaries in Colombia and the drug cartels in Mexico. And Shannon or Andrew have probably better data on this but my understanding from the Mexico Institute report earlier this year is that most of the violence is not civilian sort of bystanders.

Now, in Colombia, the paramilitaries early on functioned as a proxy army against the FARC and there were massacres. So that's a very different situation. You don't have that ideological component here and much of the violence is coming either between rival cartels or between the state -- you know, police, military. And there are obviously lots of civilian casualties but it's not quite the same.

In terms of -- I still don't -- maybe at the end of the day we'll have an answer to how to resolve the problems in Northern Mexico. But it is true that whatever we do, unless we have a different approach, we're just going to push it somewhere else.

You know, I spoke with the former prime minister of Haiti the other day and she was saying -- you know, concerned about the drug trafficking issue there and I said, well, actually, most of it's now going over Central America. But Secretary Clinton admitted to her, yes, to the extent we have success in Mexico, it's just going to go elsewhere.

So we have to look realistically at a situation where we can't sort of engage every small government in the hemisphere and sort of deploy sources. That's just not going to work. It's going to get pushed somewhere.

ARKIN: But it could be pushed a long way away? (Laughter.) The lady on the edge. I don't know your name.

HOLIDAY: Maggie.

QUESTIONER: Meg Crahan, Columbia University. In November of 2008, the attorney general of the state of Texas issued a report stating that approximately 20 percent of the human trafficking by cartels pass through or occurred in Texas. And he called upon the state legislature to adopt regulations in order to make the local authorities as well as the state authorities more empowered to deal with this problem. There's similar weakness both in Texas and California in terms of state banking regulation and elsewhere in terms of arms sales in the United States.

Absent state regulation to empower local and state authorities, what can the federal government do to deal with the presence of criminal cartels in a number of areas within states and municipalities?

ARKIN: So go to the lawyer first.

WOLOSKY: That's a very, very, very --

ARKIN: I surrender my credentials (willingly ?).

WOLOSKY: It's a very good question. Of course the federal government has prerogatives in both border control, human movement issues domestically and also with respect to the financial system.

But you have identified a very important issue at least in terms of the financial system which is where I've spent most of my time looking and working in the past decade or so because to the extent that local law enforcement and local regulators have primary frontline responsibility for enforcement in many respects they are -- as is implicit in your question -- woefully under-funded, under -- they don't have the skills to deal with problems that are truly international in scope. They don't know what they're looking for in many cases and they don't know how to address it.

You know, there's been a lot of work in this are in the past few years. A lot of the money, I believe, needs to come from the federal government. A lot of the training appropriately comes from the federal government whether it's in joint task forces or in other mechanisms. But it's a very important issue.

Ironically, there's sort of a flipside to it which is local government that want to play in the international arena and put in place rules the prohibition their pension funds from making investments in certain -- they try to conduct -- certain jurisdictions have tried to conduct an independent foreign policy by -- through regulation, by indicating what state entities and state instrumentalities can and cannot invest in -- different problem but a part of the same coin in the sense that we do have local law enforcement, local regulators on the financial side which still are under-resourced and frankly just do not yet have the tools to deal with problems that are international in scope.

ARKIN: I think also she may have been asking whether it would be feasible in this country to either close down or sternly regulate, severely regulate the sale of guns particularly in our southern states, or border states.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

WOLOSKY: Yes. Good luck on that.

ARKIN: What's that? Good luck.

WOLOSKY: Good luck on that.

ARKIN: The Second Amendment, I know.

WOLOSKY: The Second Amendment poses a bit of a problem.

ARKIN: Too many turkeys to shoot.


ARKIN: The gentleman over here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Samuel Logan. I'm with Southern Pulse. I'd like to continue on the human smuggling angle a bit. When we talk about organized crime a lot of the focus happens to be on drugs and guns these days. My understanding is that in Mexico, when you talk about movement of product, illicit product from south to north, humans are second only to the drugs.

So I couple that with the understanding that in countries like Honduras to June of this year and Ecuador and Colombia for a time they were very relaxed with visa restrictions allowing all sorts of people to come into their country with an easy stamp, three months, and on you go.

So my question is in terms of considering the policy that we're pushing beyond the edge of the water, should we -- when we talk about the Merida Initiative or some sort of continuation of play in Colombia -- should there be a strong component towards human smuggling? And should that component be or not be bundled or coupled with considerations for immigration and deportation policy? Thank you.

ARKIN: Does anybody volunteer? Good.

HOLIDAY: Yes. I think it should be coupled with immigration reform specifically and I was heartened to see that the Obama administration has not given up on that before -- they're going to push something forward.

I think the visa issue is one thing but, again, it's very clear that -- it feels clear to me -- that sort of efforts to seal the border, improve kind of transit in El Paso and California, sort of push things into Arizona, and all the reports, journalistic reports coming out of Mexico indicate that you can't cross the border anymore unless you pay the narcos.

So this is what we've done. This is what our policy has done. We've sort of -- again, you drive things underground and you empower criminal organizations. If we have a more open, rational policy which I think this administration would like to push for -- in fact President Bush was fairly rational on this as well, just couldn't get it through Congress -- then I think we have a chance of reversing that situation.

ARKIN: You think that narcos control immigration, that is to say illegal immigration to this country from the southern?

HOLIDAY: There's quite a few reports indicating that. If you go and hang out on these sort of border towns along Arizona you can't get into the desert unless you -- in the old days you might have paid the cops and now you have to pay the narcos who have the cops under their control.

ARKIN: I had the gentleman -- yes, sir. Then I'll get to you.

QUESTIONER: I'm Francisco Thoumi. I'm from the University of Texas. I'm a Colombian Americans. Will, I hope you're right. I don't think you are.

ARKIN: Who are you looking at when you say that?


ARKIN: Will.

QUESTIONER: So it's -- in the Uribe administration there were only 1.5 displaced persons national democratic security. I want to know who benefits from democratic security. Obviously they don't. Alvaro Uribe has institutionalized a lot of the state. He's concentrated power. You praise the justice system. There's a continuous clash between Alvaro Uribe and the justice system in Colombia.

As I say, I hope you are right. I don't think the situation is sustainable. There's been economic growth with no employment and the concentration of wealth has increased dramatically especially in the countryside. So the question is where is the success? We might have short-term success I hope in the future. I totally disagree with you on that. I don't think there is.

WECHSLER: What is -- perhaps you know. What's Uribe's latest approval rating inside Colombia?

QUESTIONER: Sixty-four percent. Alvaro Uribe is the best president for Colombia because Alvaro Uribe is paternalistic, authoritarian, messianic and he also interprets the law in a way that he brings the law -- (inaudible) -- is the spirit of the law without breaking the law. The problem is not Alvaro Uribe. The problem is Colombian society. And if we do not make reforms that are serious in Colombia, the country will go to pot with Alvaro Uribe as president.

ARKIN: Can you respond to that?

WECHSLER: We obviously have a different point of view. I'd only look at where Colombia was, where it is today and where the population of Colombia itself feels about the situation.

I would also note -- this is a little off topic but one thing that I didn't mention before is that Colombia is now in a position where it can help other countries. Again, it's an amazing thing to think about from the end of the last decade to this decade that they have made public offers to help in Afghanistan, made public efforts to help in training in a variety -- regionally in the Western hemisphere.

ARKIN: But not in Venezuela?

WECHSLER: Not in Venezuela.

ARKIN: I think you had your hand up first. I'll try to get everybody. We have about 10 minutes.

QUESTIONER: Lucy Komisar. I'm a journalist. The question is for Lee. I was interested in what you said about the Taliban had an illicit aviation network run by a former Russian military official and with bases around the world. Was that Viktor Bout?


QUESTIONER: Okay. So I understand that the U.S. used Viktor Bout's system -- was either to ferry materials to Afghanistan or Iraq. Isn't that true?

WOLOSKY: I read those reports.

QUESTIONER: So what does this say about the -- does one hand not know what the other is doing? What does it say about what the U.S. -- how serious it is in dealing with what was a huge threat? I mean, the Taliban now is perhaps our largest single security threat. And are there some other examples from Latin American that perhaps David could mention where we're doing the similar -- what seems to me -- actions that don't make a lot of sense?

ARKIN: Thank you. David?

HOLIDAY: I have to think about that.

WOLOSKY: I'm glad the question was addressed to you.

HOLIDAY: No. No. But I compare -- is there a Viktor Bout kind of scenario in Latin American and I have to think about.

ARKIN: We'll pass for a moment while you're thinking. Gentleman --

QUESTIONER: Is there an answer for the first part?

WOLOSKY: Well, it was that I read those reports. I mean, that happened. I don't know how that happened. That happened after I left the government. I think I'm on record saying that it boggles the mind how folks who were running the Iraq war could have used as a subcontractor, as I understand it on Pentagon contracts to deliver materials into Baghdad, someone who was years before running arms to the Taliban.

ARKIN: We have yet to have anybody though on our payroll distributing narcotics in this country. That's true, isn't it? (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Was the U.S. trying to shut it down? What happened?

ARKIN: Excuse me, Lucy. We have to have other people to ask. The gentlemen behind you.

WECHSLER: There's one thing: Viktor Bout is in jail right now in Thailand for those who don't know the end of this story, and it remains to be seen whether or not they will extradite.

ARKIN: You're talking about the -- (inaudible) -- in Mexico being extradited here?

WOLOSKY: No. No. Thailand.

WECHSLER: Viktor Bout is in jail. Viktor Bout is in Thailand, is in a Thai jail right now and we're awaiting extradition and it remains to be seen whether it will happen. And the Colombians sent a team over to Thailand to explain -- because it's actually involved -- the case involves the FARC -- to explain that the FARC is a terrorist organization and to help the case against Viktor Bout. This is one of many, many examples about -- again, as I was saying about these old stovepipes of issues -- they all come together these nexus, so all three stories that we were talking about come together right now in Thailand.

ARKIN: You mean silos?

WECHSLER: Silos. Sorry.

ARKIN: But your question is what, really?

QUESTIONER: Hi. Christopher Johnson, the RAND Corporation. I have just -- I just wanted to see if you guys could comment quickly -- you've been talking a bit about strategies sort of on the military side but I was wondering if you guys could comment on any sort of strategies the U.S. has sort of put in place to deal with some of the micro-problems of sort of recruitment and retention of the sort of the young male population in Latin America that have been heavily involved in --

ARKIN: David.

HOLIDAY: Well, I would say we have an active policy of deporting criminals, some of whom have grown up in the U.S. helping out with their reinsertion into Central American societies. Pretty mum about sort of incarceration policies of these -- in fact, we built prisons in El Salvador where gangs are essentially in control of the entire prison.

I don't think we have very good strategies at the moment. It feels like you're talking sort of at a street gang level or Mara Salvatrucha and that sort of thing. Sam Logan can talk a lot about that too.

But -- yes. I think as part of the Merida Initiative there is a component there of supporting crime prevention especially in Central America but it's quite small in comparison to probably what is needed.

ARKIN: I'm sorry. You were -- I'm trying to keep mental order of who put up their hands.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Good morning. (Brian O'Neill ?). I wanted to ask a question in this context of organized crime and threats bearing in mind what Will's reminded us a couple of times of not dealing with these issues in silos whether it's criminal or terrorist or national security interest.

What do we know about state sponsored activities in Venezuela, whether activities or funding out of the country or other countries but destabilizing democratic institutions for perpetuating or funding or encouraging undemocratic behaviors. Honduras comes to mind, Nicaragua comes to mind, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Looking forward, perhaps the election in Peru coming up and that perhaps the connection between the state of Venezuela and the state of Iran and even Hezbollah which I hear props up every once in a while in a Bolivian context or even a Peruvian context.

ARKIN: Will, that sounds like a national defense question.

WECHSLER: Yes. We obviously have very significant concerns and I think that the clearest statement of them is that the fact that Venezuela is decertified in the U.S. government system as being fundamentally non-cooperative in our efforts. That tends to happen when there are -- not the situation I was referring to before when folks are overwhelmed by a problem but when folks are part of the problem themselves.

ARKIN: Does that answer your question?

QUESTIONER: Perhaps there's much that you can say. (Laughter.)

HOLIDAY: I mean, I think that Venezuela gives a lot of aide to these other countries. But it's often going -- I don't know that it's related to organized crime as much as sort of propping up populist movements or -- now, in some cases though -- and Nicaragua is a very worrying case for me and I think to the extent that Chavez is propping up that regime which has become increasingly authoritarian if not already. I mean, they've sort of had a coup of their own by judicial decree. So I think that's concerning. How that plays into the organized crime issue, I'm not so sure yet.

ARKIN: Let's continue our menu of frustrations. In the back.

QUESTIONER: Paula Cling (ph) from Semana News magazine in Colombia. You all commented on the strong leadership of Uribe. I just wanted to know about post-Uribe like following on the gentleman's question about weak institutions that might be left behind, any vacuums he might leave behind like a post-Uribe Colombia.

ARKIN: I don't know whether to say we hope we get somebody as good as Uribe or as bad.

WECHSLER: I think that the main interest of the United States is to ensure that the working relationship that we developed is one that's between countries and will continue no matter what the situation I think when president -- I'll just defer to what President Obama said when he met with Uribe and commented clearly on the position of the United States government for a progress that follows constitutional norms.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Kara McDonald with the Council on Foreign Relations. We speak frequently of whole of government approaches and the need for not just military and political approaches but also socioeconomic approaches, the question about the young male population.

And, Will, you mentioned both the demand side as well as the supply side and the importance of that. To what degree in the U.S. government today is there an integration of the domestic policy discussion of addressing drug use in America, the demand problem, with the strategies in our foreign affairs and our national security apparatus to deal in a whole of government way?

And then very quickly. I'm wondering in the nexus between organized crime and other illicit activities, what evidence have we seen of the nexus between organized crime and proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies?

WECHSLER: I'd say that our drugs are -- Karl Krouski (ph) is very much focused on exactly what you're talking about about bringing both the supply and the demand side to the U.S. to work together. And from what I've seen, he's -- I've been impressed with his focus on all of this.

On the proliferation side, we definitely see criminal organizations involved in widespread weapons proliferation. On the nuclear side in particular we've seen -- there have been publicized reports but I'm probably not going to go past that.

WOLOSKY: I mean, on that last part I consider the A.Q. Khan network to have been an international criminal network in certain respects. It bore more of the indicia that international criminal groups bear in terms of how it stored and moved money, how it moved people around and things of that sort, how it used different jurisdictions to do that.

ARKIN: I don't know that it's appropriate to end this on the issue of the relationship between narcotics and nuclear weapons but the time says I have. So thank you all for coming. (Applause.)







More on This Topic