Ambassador Michael Sheehan, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Testimony Before the House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Crime, Washington, DC, December 13, 2000
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the threat posed by the convergence of drugs, terrorism, and organized crime.
Let me start by paying tribute to your work on one of the U.S. Government's major counterterrorism laws in recent years, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.1 You and your staff, and Chairman Hyde of the full Committee, have played such an important role in enacting the 1996 legislation. That bill contains major provisions making it illegal to provide funding and other forms of material support for specific terrorist acts and to groups formally designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This has become a key aspect of our counterterrorism tools. Let me express my thanks for your strong effort. It is great to have such an advocate on the Hill.
Terrorism Is A Crime
Mr. Chairman, in looking at the broad picture of narcotics, terrorism, and international crime, we should start with the basic fact that terrorism itself is a crime, not a political statement. Hijacking aircraft, kidnapping innocent people, and bombing busses, buildings, or ships are all forms of a crime, which must be viewed separately from the so-called "cause" that prompts some people to commit this crime. This is a long-standing U.S. policy, one that is shared by the international community and demonstrated in a dozen international conventions and treaties.
Bad Neighborhoods Attract Bad People
Terrorists tend to live, operate, and derive support from the lawless corners of the world, including the jungles of Colombia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, to name a few. Narcotraffickers and drug producers, like international criminals, also seek out those corners of the world where their behavior will not be subject to government control or punishment. So it is not surprising that there is often an overlap between those that engage in terrorism and those engaged in other internationally unacceptable behavior.
Funding - Diversified Funding Sources
Many terrorist organizations have engaged in low-level local crime to finance their activities. Some groups, such as the now defunct German Red Army Faction raised money "the old fashioned way," such as robbing banks. The Kurdish terrorist group (PKK) engaged in extortion against Turkish Kurdish workers and businessmen. And groups throughout the world -- from Latin America to the Philippines -- have taken hostages to obtain ransom money from the victims' families or employers.
Historically, many terrorist groups, especially in the Middle East, looked to state sponsors of terrorism for funding. This source of funding has decreased significantly in the last couple of decades. With the exception of Iran -- which continues to actively support groups that seek to undermine the Middle East peace process -- terrorist states provide very limited funding to terrorist groups or individuals. Hizballah, the major international terrorist group operating in Lebanon, receives most of its financing from Iran. CIA Director George Tenant has testified before Congress that Iran remains the most active state sponsor of terrorism.
Given the overall decrease of state financial support, and in some cases because of the nature of their organization, terrorists have looked to alternative sources of funding, which have included narcotics production and trafficking. Some terrorists have developed loose mutually beneficial relationships with drug traffickers to support both the terrorists and drug traffickers' interests.
That said, I would caution against thinking that international terrorism generally is dependent upon funds from drug trafficking or international crime. There have been reports that some individuals involved in Middle East terrorism have profited from the drug trade through Lebanon. But most terrorist groups or their supporters are not dependent on drug revenues -- they usually have a "diversified portfolios" of fundraising. Sources include their ideological supporters, money siphoned off of legitimate and illegitimate charities, legitimate companies that are used to generate profits and transfer funds for terrorist groups, and ordinary crime, such as extortion and robbery.
Let me turn now to two cases in which drug trafficking does significantly impact terrorism, Colombia and Afghanistan. In both cases, there is a convergence of terrorists, drug producers and traffickers, and other criminal activity. Most importantly, there also is a lack of governmental control. This lack of control and rule of law is what allows these criminals to converge, and sometimes cooperate, in certain corners of the world.
Colombia - Convergence of Terrorism and Narco-Trafficking
Colombia is the strongest example of what is meant by the phrase "narco terrorism," and where the drug trade is a major factor. In the guerrilla and paramilitary controlled areas of Colombia, a cycle of terrorism and narco-trafficking has spiraled into a mutually dependent relationship. The terrorists and paramilitaries gain funding from the drug-traffickers who, in turn, look to these illegal armed groups for "protection."
Major actors include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), one of the world's deadliest terrorist organizations and the Colombia self defense forces, or AUC.
The FARC recently sought to establish a monopoly over the commercialization of cocaine base across Colombia. We have seen evidence that the FARC is now involved in the export of cocaine. In a November 29 statement, the Department's press spokesman, Richard Boucher, noted that since late 1999, Mexican and Colombian officials have exposed a major link between the Mexican drug cartel and the FARC. Evidence shows FARC guerrillas supplied cocaine to the cartel in exchange for cash and possibly weapons.
Meanwhile, the Colombian paramilitary groups are not only funding themselves, but trying to hit the FARC where it hurts by aggressively attempting to establish control over the prime coca and heroin-growing areas currently controlled by guerrillas. Paramilitary leader, Carlos Castano, frankly acknowledges that the narcotics trade provides the bulk of the paramilitaries' financing. Mr. Chairman, estimates of profits by the FARC and paramilitaries run into hundred of millions of dollars. But as I stated earlier, narco-trafficking is not the only source of income for terrorist groups. The FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) also generate income by kidnapping Colombians and foreigners.
During a recent trip to Colombia, I was taken aback by the "kidnapping industry" that has developed. Kidnapping has increased every year since 1990 to its current level of more than 3,000 persons a year -- half the world total. Since the early 1980's, the FARC has been responsible for kidnapping 30 Americans. Thirteen were either killed or remain unaccounted for, representing a 43% mortality rate. The FARC was responsible for taking three New Mission missionaries hostage in 1993, but has failed to account for their whereabouts. One American was kidnapped by the FARC in November. FARC spokesmen have consistently vowed to continue the practice of kidnapping, referring to it as a war tax on Colombia's elite.
The kidnapping problem has become so severe that local criminals are even now kidnapping people and transferring them to the FARC, which in turn extorts money -- and a profit for themselves -- from families and businesses.
These criminal activities help finance their attacks against the country's electric grid and oil pipeline, affecting local as well as American commercial interests. The paramilitaries have not only targeted Americans or American businesses; they also routinely kill scores of civilian non-combatants suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers.
Let me now turn to Afghanistan, a country that has been at the heart of our counterterrorism efforts throughout my tenure as Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
The Taliban's control over most of Afghanistan has resulted in a haven of lawlessness, in which terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals live with impunity. The Taliban naturally benefits from the resources brought in by these sources, and thus has little incentive to change their own or their "guests" behavior.
Afghanistan is different from Colombia in that it harbors terrorists with an international reach, including Usama bin Ladin, indicted for masterminding the attack our embassies in East Africa in 1998. While we do not have full information on who planned and carried out the attack on the USS Cole, we do know that numerous people immediately left Yemen for Afghanistan, the safehaven where they could hide out with little fear of Taliban intervention.
The list of terrorists that live in or have lived in, have trained in, are headquartered in, or financed from Afghanistan gets longer all the time. To name a few:
At the same time, in recent years, Afghanistan under the Taliban has become the world's largest producer of illicit opium, which is refined into heroin. The narcotics production and trafficking victimize the population of Afghanistan and attack the political stability of the entire region. To give an idea of the dimensions of the problem:
UN Security Council Resolution
The Taliban so far has refused to withdraw its support for Usama bin Ladin and hand him over to a place where he can be brought to justice. As a result, the United Nations Security Council a year ago imposed sanctions against the Taliban, including freezing assets and imposing an embargo on the Ariana Afghan Airlines, the Taliban-controlled air line.
Because the Taliban still have not complied with the Security Council Resolution 1267, a new Security Council resolution is being considered this week. I was in New York last week for consultations with our UN Mission and other Security Council members.
The new resolution would impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, hitting the regime -- not the people -- where it hurts. The resolution reiterates the demand that the Taliban turn over Usama bin Ladin so he can be brought to justice, and freezes bin Ladin's financial assets. The resolution also includes a measure to ban the export to Afghanistan of a precursor chemical, acetic anhydride, which is used to manufacture heroin. The international community agrees that this measure is essential because of the Taliban's refusal to put into deeds their empty promise to end opium production, which goes to support the regime and terrorists.
The Taliban's acquiescence to or support for poppy cultivation and narcotics manufacture and trade has further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis of the Afghan people. The explosion of poppy cultivation under the Taliban has reduced agricultural land available for food crops at the very time that Afghanistan is suffering the worst drought in a generation.
All of this underscores why the UN Security Council resolution is very important to counter this support for terrorists stemming from Afghanistan and why the resolution deserves to be passed.
The Wider Impact
Terrorists and drug traffickers rely heavily on a wide international network to keep them in business. This is why the impact of the threat of terrorism -- like the scourge of drugs -- is impacting a wider area, including the neighboring Central Asian Republics.
Terrorist groups in Central Asia have been profiting from the drug smuggling and using it to finance their purchase of weapons and other activities. Informed observers also suggest that one tactic employed is the staging of terrorist activities to divert security forces while drug shipments are being made elsewhere. In September, the Secretary of State formally designated a major group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This is one of the many steps that we are taking to counter this widening terrorist threat.
We are pursuing a number of initiatives to counter the international terrorist threats I discussed.
Mr. Chairman, in these efforts to counter terrorist fund raising, whether from narcotics, criminal activities or contributions, there are no magic solutions, easy legislative remedies, or other quick fixes.
We have to keep up the diplomatic and political pressure, bolster our allies' will and capability to help, and maintain strong diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement and training components. The key to this is strong political will and commitment. We appreciate Congress' continued support for these counterterrorism efforts.
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