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In Fight Against International Drug Trafficking, Congress has Many Issues to Grapple with

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The “global illegal drug trade represents a multi-dimensional challenge that has implications for US national interests,” especially its ability to “undermine political and regional stability and bolster the role and capabilities of transnational criminal organizations in the drug trade.” Consequently, there are numerous national security related “emerging questions” in the continuing debate over US drug policy that Congress needs to address, a new federal report concluded.


Among the key issues that Congress may continue to exercise its oversight and assist in assessing existing US international drug policy include examining the ways counternarcotics strategies are facilitating or driving recent increases in drug trafficking-related violence, said the Congressional Research Service Report (CRS), International Drug Control Policy: Background and US Responses, by Liana Sun Wyler, a CRS analyst in international crime and narcotics.


Additionally, the report said Congress might need to explore whether “spikes in drug-related violence [are] common or inevitable consequences of heightened counternarcotics operations,” and, exploring “what ways might governments mitigate or dampen current and potentially future increases in drug-related violence.”


Other issues for Congress outlined in the report are:

  • How do counternarcotics policies interact with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and anti-money laundering priorities, particularly in countries such as Afghanistan, where the US government may have an interest in all three issues?
  • What role should the Department of Defense play in providing foreign counternarcotics assistance?
  • How might international regulatory and legal constraints limit the reach of US counternarcotics policy and potentially offer drug syndicates foreign safe havens and
  • What legislative options might be available to prevent such legal safe havens from existing?


The report said “Key regions of concern include Latin America and Afghanistan, which are focal points in US efforts to combat the production and transit of cocaine and heroin, respectively.”


With regard to dismantling transnational drug networks, the CRS report said “Key US foreign policy tools available for targeting major drug traffickers and their illicit networks include establishing extradition agreements with foreign countries, freezing and blocking foreign criminal assets within US jurisdiction, and building foreign capacity to investigate, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate drug traffickers domestically.”


“Some anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that the threat of extradition has affected the behavior of foreign drug trafficking organizations” such as Colombian narco-traffickers who reportedly have “distanced themselves from overt drug distribution activities” that could be used “as evidence to trigger extradition.” But, the report noted, “this counterdrug tool remains controversial and is not universally supported.”


While a cornerstone of US counter-narcotics trafficking has been its targeting the illicit proceeds of narco-traffickers using a plethora of anti-money laundering and other mechanisms to seize drug traffickers’ assets and resources, the CRS report pointed out that “Skeptics of the use of anti-money laundering efforts to combat drug trafficking argue that tracking illicit financial transactions may be more difficult and may yield less success than other counterdrug tools.”


“The same types of money laundering methods — bulk cash smuggling, trade-based money laundering, and others — that the State Department identified as issues of concern more than a decade ago remain among the most used forms of money laundering today,” the report stated. “Further, emerging challenges include the growing volume of financial transactions, especially the volume of international electronic transfers, and the movement of illegal money laundering outside formal banking channels, including through ‘hawala’-type chains of transnational money brokers and through the use of stored-value cards.”


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Spreading the word about the dangers of methamphetamine.

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