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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Rand Beers
Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Statement before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
Washington, DC, July 25, 2000

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Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Drug Caucus:

I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today on the growing threat of international production and trafficking in the synthetic drug ecstasy, known scientifically as MDMA or 3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Ecstasy is one of our largest synthetic drug trafficking concerns. U.S. seizures of ecstasy are up over 100% in the last year. Today, I will address the international dimension of this threat, focusing on production and trafficking from the Netherlands and on the role precursor chemical controls play in our response.

I would also like to underscore, Mr. Chairman, the Department's concern with what appears to be rapid and increasingly widespread use of this very dangerous drug in our society. Clearly a significant portion of the ecstasy pills being trafficked in the United States originate outside our borders, and it is therefore imperative that there is a solid international response to this threat. Law enforcement reporting shows that the majority of the ecstasy seized in the United States is imported from the Netherlands. Trafficking throughout Europe, however, is increasing, especially through Belgium, Germany, Spain, and Poland.

Unlike the other major illicit drugs of cocaine and heroin that command a significant share of the Department of State's international narcotics control attention, ecstasy does not originate as an illegally grown crop in remote, dangerous reaches of the developing world. As a synthetic drug, it is manufactured from chemicals that get diverted from their otherwise legitimate pharmaceutical or other commercial purposes into the criminal underground where chemists, operating in the security of relatively small "kitchen labs" can combine them into stocks of hundreds of thousands of pills, worth millions of dollars on the retail market. This presents both challenges and opportunities for our international efforts to combat this problem.

It now appears that Europe in general, and the Netherlands in specific, is the leading foreign source for the U.S. ecstasy market. Logistically, this makes a certain amount of sense since we are not dealing with illicit crops that need to be grown on large swaths of remote territory. Moreover, many of the chemicals that are used to produce ecstasy are manufactured in or readily available in Europe. Traffickers have been quick to exploit the increasing integration under the European Union and the resulting, steady disappearance of internal border controls. A borderless European Union, which is key to European unity and economic development, unfortunately also facilitates cross-border crime, including trafficking in ecstasy, its precursor chemicals, and other illegal drugs. Our own border checks need to be cognizant that freer flows of goods and people within the EU mean that a traveler from, say Portugal to the United States, could have easily traveled first from the Netherlands to Portugal with few internal EU controls.

The Netherlands' central role in this trade is underscored by the fact that some 35 synthetic drug production sites were discovered in the Netherlands in 1998, some 18 of them for the production of ecstasy. These labs were often small, mobile units, run by highly skilled chemists. Much of the Netherlands' ecstasy trade is spilling over increasingly into its neighbors. In the first nine months of 1999, German law enforcement officials reported seizing almost triple the number of ecstasy tablets they had seized during the same period in 1998. As with most other drugs, ecstasy does not necessarily follow a direct route from its origins to the United States. In the last six months, Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Canada have all made significant, even record-breaking, seizures of ecstasy en route to the United States.

Law enforcement reporting indicates that Israeli organized crime groups play a large role in trafficking synthetic drugs, especially ecstasy, from the Netherlands to the United States. These groups have been adept at evading law enforcement and aggressively expanding their role in the U.S. market. Recent large seizures and arrests of major Israeli traffickers by the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the United States underscore their role in this trade. The arrests, however, should also begin to diminish their influence in it. We must meanwhile be alert to warnings from the law enforcement community suggesting that Colombian and Mexican traffickers are poised to increase their involvement in the ecstasy trade.

I can assure you that the Dutch have placed a high priority on cooperating in the fight against ecstasy despite the disagreements we have with their policy to be more tolerant toward the use of marijuana. Indeed, the Netherlands is especially sensitive to its reputation as the world's largest producer of ecstasy. The Dutch public, through its media, is aware of this reputation and is placing increasing pressure on the government to remove it. Accordingly, the government is pursuing an active campaign against ecstasy. In 1997, the Netherlands established a special task force, the Unit Against Synthetic Drugs. This 3-year-old unit has better defined the problem of Dutch synthetic drug production and trafficking, and has succeeded in locating and dismantling more than 35 production sites.

We are meanwhile in close agreement with the Dutch on law enforcement issues and have an excellent relationship working with them to combat drug trafficking and the diversion of chemicals. For instance, to help the Dutch sustain their efforts against laboratories, DEA's offices in The Hague have continued to arrange for the training of Dutch investigators to participate in clandestine laboratory training in the United States. The Dutch are also moving to correct some of the problems that have contributed to what have been at times slow responses to our provisional arrest, mutual legal assistance, and extradition requests. We expect that recent structural changes made in the Ministry of Justice may improve internal Dutch coordination and thus their responsiveness to our requests. Just this past May, my deputy met with Steven van Hoogstraten, the Director of the International Criminal Affairs and Drugs Policy Department of the Dutch Ministry of Justice to review cooperation across a spectrum of issues. He made a commitment to continue to cooperate with the United States in combating heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and illicit and illegal pharmaceuticals, including ecstasy.

I would like to note, Mr. Chairman, that our response to ecstasy and the synthetic drug problem in general takes a broader approach than simply working through bilateral law enforcement or interdiction efforts as I have been describing so far. At the core of this effort is our sustained work through multilateral and other vehicles to control the diversion of precursor chemicals, the chemicals that are used to manufacture synthetic drugs.

The diversion of precursor chemicals is the sine qua non of the illicit synthetic drug trade. Diversion is facilitated by the widespread commerce in many of the chemicals required for illicit drug manufacture; most have extensive commercial applications and are available from many source countries. In the case of ecstasy, for instance, many of these precursors are popular in the flavoring and fragrance industries. Poland, Germany, India, and China are among the source countries for the chemicals that are diverted to the Netherlands and other ecstasy-producing centers. These chemicals can be diverted in many ways. For instance, they can be

Chemical diversion control is a proactive and straightforward strategy to deny traffickers the chemicals they must have to manufacture illicit drugs. The strategy involves the regulation of licit commerce in the chemicals most necessary to manufacture illicit drugs. The intent is to ensure that only transactions for which legitimate end uses have been established are permitted to proceed. Since it involves regulation of licit commerce, chemical control is a potentially cost effective strategy aimed at preventing illicit drugs from entering clandestine criminal channels.

The need for chemical controls has been internationally accepted. The 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances obligates signatories to control their chemical commerce to prevent diversion to illicit drug manufacture. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) monitors signatories' compliance with the UN Conventions. In recent years, the INCB has also taken on the role of assisting governments in monitoring chemical control shipments and adopting a surveillance list of chemicals that can be substituted in the process of developing amphetamine-type stimulants and other substances that are abused. The INCB, with the support of the UN International Drug Control Program (UNDCP), has also assisted governments in developing the proper chemical control regimes to monitor and track shipments to prevent diversion. The United States Government has provided earmarked contributions to UNDCP to ensure the success of these programs.

MDMA is included as a controlled substance under the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances and in 1992, we worked with our international colleagues to ensure that several of the chemicals used in the manufacture of MDMA were added to Table 1 of the 1988 UN Convention. Since then, we have continued to promote better controls of chemicals used in amphetamine-type stimulants. Specifically, a major U.S. initiative 2 years ago at the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session was the drafting and adoption of two action plans: one on chemical control and one on amphetamine-type stimulants to ensure implementation of the 1971 and 1988 UN conventions. To ensure effective follow-up to the UNGA Special Session Action Plans, we and DEA's Diversion Control Office (with the support of the INCB and UNDCP) have sponsored meetings in Shanghai and Tokyo. Moreover, we will continue to promote efforts to focus on the problem of ecstasy and other amphetamine-type stimulants through the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).

The UN parliamentary body on the drug issue, the CND, includes a focus on promoting international acceptance of chemical control and highlighting emerging control concerns. These meetings have been effective in ensuring that the chemicals used in the production of MDMA were added to the 1988 UN Convention and that further cooperative efforts are focused on international chemical controls. For example, this spring, the CND agreed to step up efforts to combat use of the Internet as a tool to disseminate information on producing synthetics. We will look to bring focus in the CND to ecstasy specifically.

In terms of other international cooperation, Europol has a "logo" project in which it identifies the logo marking of seized ecstasy and catalogues production, use, trafficking, and chemical profiles. Recently, Europol provided the U.S. (DEA) with copies of its CD-ROM catalogue of logos.

The U.S. and EU also have an agreement on drug precursors and chemical substances dating to June 1997. This agreement calls for consultation and information sharing on suspicious shipments of controlled chemicals substances and on export permits for substances listed on the annex to the agreement. The annex includes the precursor chemicals for ecstasy.

We continue, however, to face significant challenges in the chemical control arena. Because of its nature, many governments continue to consider chemical control a trade issue to be handled by trade ministries or agencies with a bias toward promoting, not regulating trade. This leads to a reluctance to share information they receive from domestic companies in the course of implementing national chemical control regimes. The challenge is to gain acceptance of multilateral mechanisms for the exchange of information necessary for the effective implementation of national chemical control regimes. The UN and the INCB have taken a lead role in this regard.

A key element of this will be greater recognition that chemical control is also a law enforcement strategy to be administered with the participation of law enforcement agencies to curb criminal activity. In this regard, we have a good relationship with the Dutch. They have excellent chemical diversion control laws in place, meeting the requirements of EU regulations and the 1988 UN Convention, to which they are a party. The Dutch work closely with the U.S. authorities on chemical control and diversion, including informal information sharing and formal sharing under the U.S.-EU Chemical Control Agreement.

In conclusion, as U.S. federal law enforcement agencies strengthen their efforts against trafficking in ecstasy and its precursor chemicals, the Department of State is pleased to cooperate by raising awareness in the UN and with our European counterparts, of the increasing threat of ecstasy. We will further coordinate and cooperate with U.S. law enforcement to develop and support effective and implementable international policies against the production and trafficking in ecstasy. In fact, this month, with the full support of my office and the Ambassador to the Netherlands, a U.S. Customs Service team is in The Hague to evaluate the need for more permanent representation in support of efforts to prevent trafficking in synthetics, including ecstasy. I look forward to additional cooperative efforts against ecstasy, both domestically and internationally.

And I thank you Mr. Chairman and your colleagues for your support of our international narcotics control efforts and for continuing to work to increase international awareness and commitment to fight the global drug threat.

[end of document]

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