David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Remarks at the Union League Club of Chicago
Chicago, IL
September 27, 2010

It’s great to be here with you today at the Union League Club of Chicago. Today, I want to discuss a persistent challenge to our foreign policy and national security priorities -- foreign corruption -- and what our government is doing to confront it and limit its effects on our communities.

As Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (referred to as INL), I oversee U.S. foreign assistance programs that seek to help countries strengthen their criminal justice systems, and to build the capacity they need to develop and sustain the rule of law.

I’m going to tell you a little bit about what we do, why we do it, and how we do it, before diving into the topic of foreign corruption head-on and discussing two countries with whom we work most actively.

The United States Government is committed to helping our partners around the world strengthen their systems of justice because we believe it is in our own selfish interests. For us, security under the rule of law means more than physical safety, it also means protecting citizens’ rights, and promoting equal justice for all people. We believe that these systems are the most effective tools to advance government transparency and limit opportunities for corruption and graft, and protect our own national security.

What’s more, we strongly believe in the importance of criminal justice sector assistance because much of that assistance is provided through a helping hand -- outreach and education – that pairs American and international experts with their counterparts in foreign police, judicial, legal and corrections programs for instruction, mentoring, advising, and capacity building.

Helping international partners further to develop the bedrock of civil society, safety and security, empowers them to deny safe haven to transnational crime and terrorism, and to provide an environment where laws can be enforced, rights protected, and sustainable development and business can proceed.

As community leaders and academics, you know as well as I do that in addition to our own national identity as American citizens, we have a global identify too (an online payment account, for example) that transcends borders.

Said more simply, each of us is a member of a larger global community thanks to commerce and technology. Many of our home-town communities are partnered with sister cities, counties, or States, around the world. This provides business opportunities and opportunities for cultural exchange. And even our elementary schools now videoconference with other classrooms across the globe to form a global classroom of sorts. Technology has opened doors to connect people like never before.

This borderless global community provides incredible advancements, including communications tools like e-mail and voice over internet protocol; online shopping and the world’s largest library of information on the World Wide Web; global business transactions and e-commerce; and greater mobility for international business and pleasure travel.

The internet also provides great opportunity for criminals to operate with some anonymity transnationally, which exposes our citizens and national interests to new vulnerabilities.

Our government’s responsibility to provide for public safety for citizens and protect American interests wherever they may be located, especially in the context of globalization, requires that we form and maintain strong law-enforcement relationships with our sovereign partners around the world.

As a result of our justice sector and capacity building assistance, our diplomatic partners can develop the resources, skill, and capacity to share with us critical national security information; coordinate with American judicial and legal authorities on matters concerning extraditions or judicial assistance; provide peer to peer partnerships with law enforcement around the world and to coordinate multinational investigations.

This is especially necessary when you consider the complexity and international nature of financial crimes. Criminals, be they drug traffickers, bank robbers, or corrupt officials, regularly move illicit funds by wire or internet accounts to wherever they can avoid detection or operate with impunity.

Although it is always complex, corruption can be broken down into petty corruption – graft by police, low level government officials, etc – and grand corruption – theft at high levels of often staggering amounts. In both cases, corruption can be a key tool to facilitate other serious criminal activities.

While petty corruption may not have a huge macroeconomic impact, it is particularly burdensome on the poor; and, since it occurs at the level of delivery of basic government services, it erodes citizens’ confidence in their government. This is particularly true when the official is one involved in the administration of justice – a cop, a judge, a prosecutor – those who are charged to uphold the law.

Grand corruption, on the other hand, can be large enough that it significantly hinders development of a country, such as progress in education, health, or infrastructure.

Grand corruption happens when a Minister of Education siphons off revenue or donor assistance, so that schools are not built or teachers are not paid. It can happen when the head of Public Works retires with a corruption – fueled nest egg to a foreign country as the roads crumble a few years after they are built – or are never built at all.

INL assistance provides our partners critical tools to prevent, detect, and prosecute both petty and grand corruption. We advise governments on how to adopt preventive measures, such as basic conflict of interest rules and systems to monitor the assets of public officials, and how to increase transparency and integrity in the justice system.

And because prevention must be coupled with enforcement, we train law enforcement partners in areas such as financial crime investigation, and we help set up specialized units to track and report suspicious transactions and signs of money laundering.

We also advise how legislatures can provide the legal framework that law enforcement and prosecutors need to detect criminal activity and prosecute it.

So, how much progress have we made? While enormous challenges remain, there is some good news to report. While corruption was, a very short time ago, a taboo subject, today we regularly help countries tackle their internal corruption problems. There is now international cooperation through frank and open channels of communication and an ever broadening community of government leaders standing up against corruption.

For a long time, action to combat corruption was stymied by those who voiced the cynical view that corruption was just a club used by the North to pummel the South, or who wanted to keep the argument focused on who was most to blame, to buy time and avoid reform.

To get beyond that unproductive dynamic, the State Department has successfully encouraged the global community to adopt and implement common standards against corruption.

For the first time the international community has largely agreed on standards, and the question becomes not what we should be doing -- but how well are we doing. How are we implementing our commitments and what help might willing countries need?

Two of the most prominent of these frameworks are the United Nations Convention against Corruption, or “UNCAC,” and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention.

The UNCAC has globalized the fight against corruption. Seven years since its conclusion in 2003, 146 countries are already parties. The UNCAC’s provisions on prevention, criminalization and law enforcement, international legal cooperation, and recovery of stolen assets are transforming the laws and institutions of the signatory nations.

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is a groundbreaking treaty that the U.S. negotiated to level the playing field for U.S. business.

In 1977, the United States enacted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, outlawing bribes by U.S. firms to public officials of other countries to win contracts or other business advantage.

The Anti-Bribery Convention, now signed by 38 countries representing the vast majority of international trade, obligates those countries – including major exporting economies in Western Europe and Asia -- to pass and enforce laws similar to the FCPA. Before the Anti-Bribery Convention, companies from those countries could legally bribe a foreign official to win a deal, and in many countries that was a tax-deductible expense.

In addition to these tools, on our own, the State Department has some direct authority to combat high level corruption and graft.

Since 2004, the State Department has had the authority to revoke or deny visas to the United States, for kleptocrats, government officials who use power to steal or exploit, those who bribe kleptocrats and even their dependents who benefit from their corruption.

When we allow these criminals into the U.S., we undercut reformers in their countries and we undermine the credibility of our own efforts to promote reform.

We exercise this authority judiciously as it does not require a court conviction and apply it as a last resort when other visa rules do not already exclude an applicant.

It is functionally a lifetime ban and has been a powerful policy tool that sends a strong message about U.S. commitment to identifying and containing corrupt officials. We have recently created a special unit to develop more of these cases and coordinate them with law enforcement efforts.

We also keep the pressure up by hitting kleptocrats where it hurts – in their pocketbooks. The State Department led the charge to include a section in the UN corruption treaty that provides novel tools to recover the proceeds of corruption. These are the millions or billions of dollars in bribes or embezzled funds that corrupt officials may stow in financial centers abroad.

Beyond the policy tools, INL manages a wide variety of anticorruption assistance programs around the world. Partnering with other U.S. government entities, with international organizations, and with Non-Governmental Organizations, we help develop modern criminal justice laws and train law enforcement officials to implement them.

To give you a flavor, we helped establish a Joint Investigative Unit in Albania, which brings top police and prosecutors together for the first time, resulting in a number of corruption cases involving high-level officials.

And that assistance has had a ripple effect: Albania’s neighbors have come to seek Albania’s advice and assistance to stand up similar units!

While I am always pleased to share innovative approaches and success stories, the situation is not always so cheerful.

In even the simplest situations, reform is frequently a matter of three steps forward and two back. In all cases, combating corruption can be a supremely complicated and politically fraught undertaking.

In the countries where we work, countering corruption is often intertwined with other priorities such as counternarcotics, counterterrorism, and building the elements of a functional political systems.

I would like to give you some specifics of our programs.

First, in Afghanistan, the issue of countering corruption is intimately tangled up with other important U.S. objectives.

As Senator John Kerry recently said, "Almost every analysis underscores the fact that the biggest single recruitment tool for the Taliban and the biggest single factor undermining (Afghan) Government support is corruption.”

The problem is huge. According to estimates of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, corruption costs Afghans $2.5 billion a year -- which is equivalent to 23% of the country's GDP. The average bribe is $160, in a country where per capita GDP is only $425 per year, and according to the survey, police, prosecutors, and judges were among those most frequently bribed.

At the same time, Afghanistan was the world’s largest cultivator of opium poppy in 2009, and produced 90 percent of the world’s opium.

Farmers choose to plant opium poppy because it is a profitable crop. The scale of the revenue generated by the opium trade in 2009, which UNODC estimates at $2.8 billion, is on the same scale as that of the cost of corruption.

That makes drugs and bribes the two largest income generators in Afghanistan, amounting to about half as much as the country's GDP.

In light of that, the U.S. has given substantial, focused support to combating corruption – alongside major counternarcotics efforts, general criminal justice reform efforts, and support to basic functions of public administration – all with an insurgency raging on.

Many of the tools and structures we take for granted in our criminal justice system did not exist in Afghanistan when we started our work, but they are now being formed.

We are working with Afghans to improve transparency and accountability within the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office; providing capacity to track cases in a unified fashion from arrest through resolution; and support hiring and salary reform in the justice sector to raise salaries across the board and reduce incentive for corruption.

What’s more, we have joined with America’s legal community to co-chair a Public Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, which provides training opportunities in the United States for Afghan legal professionals.

Because sometimes threats and pressure are more effective than bribery, we are also supporting the expansion of a judicial security unit in Afghanistan to protect the members of the special anticorruption tribunal as well as courts from intimidation during high level trials.

And we have helped to build the Major Crimes Task Force, an anti-corruption unit in the Attorney General’s Office, and a specialized court just to hear corruption cases.

We are also helping to develop the High Office on Oversight, which coordinates anticorruption policy and preventive measures and will have the teeth to enforce new Afghan laws.

As so much of the source of corruption is narcotics, complementing all this are initiatives to train specialized counternarcotics police; to promote alternative livelihoods to cultivation; to reduce demand through treatment; to educate the citizenry; and to reward provinces in which poppy cultivation has been significantly reduced or eliminated by funding development projects that the communities design themselves.

As part of our training of law enforcement, we are mindful of corruption. For example, we have developed three vetted units of the specialized narcotics police to investigate high-value targets. These personnel have to pass rigorous examinations, including background checks and polygraph screenings.

In Mexico, we face different challenges. The Mexican Government’s will is unquestionable. President Calderon and Mexico’s federal legislature have dedicated billions of dollars to build a capable security and judicial capacity.

But the challenges there, too, are undeniable. Organized crime groups, principally drug trafficking organizations, command enormous resources.

Mexican authorities have estimated that drug-trafficking gangs pay around $100 million a month in bribes to municipal police officers. And narcotraffickers often give state and local police in Mexico the choice of “plomo o plata” (lead or silver): accept a bribe or get killed for turning it down.

In response to these challenges, the United States collaborated with President Calderon in the Merida Initiative; one of its primary functions is to support the growth and professionalization of the federal police force, part of the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), and its efforts to disrupt the drug trafficking organizations and stem the related violence.

With our support, the Government of Mexico is building capacity and reliability in its new federal police force and working to extend its reach far outside of Mexico City.

Since 2009 U.S. Federal, State, and local law enforcement officers have been instrumental in training over 4,300 new Mexican Federal Police investigators. And we have helped support prosecutorial training in all 31 Mexican states and the federal district this year, focusing on the new judicial reforms.

Programs funded under the Merida Initiative have also provided non-intrusive inspection equipment and K-9 training, both of which are critical to Mexico’s developing narcotics seizure operations along our shared border. We have also provided extensive support to anti-corruption programs, including the enhancement of police applicant screening programs and the development of robust internal controls throughout the Government of Mexico.

It is true that since late 2006, Mexico has seen unprecedented levels of violence, especially along the shared border with the United States. Recent numbers indicate that over 22,000 people have been brutally murdered, and countless others wounded, kidnapped, extorted, or threatened.

But the reality also is that drug trafficking organizations are reacting to the pressure being applied by the Governments of Mexico and the United States.

The Government of Mexico’s increased capacity, and its demonstrated will to confront drug cartels shows hope for their future as well as ours. We will continue our work with the Government of Mexico, modifying our strategy and adapting to new trends as they emerge. But Mexico’s commitment to rooting out the criminal organizations, their corrupting influences, and ending the impunity to which they have become accustomed, will not change.

I’d like to offer a few reflections on how we can best confront these challenges.

First, we must continue to work to strengthen standards that are shared by a wide community of countries. To do this, the United States will continue to promote instruments like the UN Convention against Corruption and the UN Transnational Organized Crime Convention.

Second, our diplomatic efforts to enlist new partners internationally must continue. The more developing countries see their self-interest in fighting corruption, and become champions themselves, the more traction we’ll get.

The new partners can also be at the domestic level: my colleagues at the State Department have drawn upon a much wider range of partners in the U.S., not just the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, but also state and local police, corrections managers, judges and prosecutors, who can lend their expertise as we work with counterparts abroad.

Thanks to Mayor Daley and Superintendent Weis, the Chicago Police Department, has been particularly helpful to our efforts in Mexico, sending police trainers to assist their counterparts develop.

Finally, as the situations in Afghanistan and Mexico illustrate, we must continue to target our efforts holistically, addressing public attitudes, broader justice reforms, simple and complex crimes, together as connected elements.

Thanks for your attention to our national security challenges – for your interest to understand the problems we face, and your city’s willingness to help our international partners confront the challenges they face and develop the rule of law in their own communities.