William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Lisbon, Portugal
May 17, 2011

Distinguished Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal, Dr. Joao Cravinho, Mme. Director-General of the DG for Justice of the European Commission, Dr. Francoise Le Bail, Distinguished Minister of Justice of the Republic of Cape Verde, Dr. Jose Lopes Correia, Mme. Coordinator for Anti-Trafficking of the DG for Home Affairs European Commission, Dr. Myria Vassiliadou, Mr. Deputy Director for Treaty Affairs UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Dr. John Sandage, Representatives of more than 20 different organizations and governments assembled here this morning in Lisbon, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning and welcome to the symposium.

I arrived, Ladies and Gentlemen, charged with a message from my government and I ask you to allow me to read it to you:

The White House, Washington

April 28th 2011

I send greetings to all those attending the transatlantic symposium on dismantling transnational illicit networks. Over the past two decades transnational crime has transformed in size, scope and impact posing a significant threat to national and international security. Through bribery, corruption and illicit trafficking, transnational crime has subverted government institutions, destabilized regions, penetrated legitimate financial systems and claimed countless lives. Terrorists increasingly turned to crime and criminal networks for funding. The convergence of these transnational threats has explosive and destabilizing effects on governments, citizens’ safety, economic growth and the rule of law, especially in fragile states with economies and institutions in transition.

Combating the lethal nexus of transnational crime, drug trafficking and terrorism requires a multilateral approach. This conference is an opportunity for us to begin this important work together.

I want to thank the representatives of the European Union, not only for co-hosting this event but also for your enduring cooperation, trust and friendship. Thank you to our partners who traveled long distances, from points in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa, as well as representatives from multilateral organizations. I wish you all the best for a productive meeting.


Barack H. Obama

Ladies and Gentlemen, this symposium is not starting from point zero. We have more than forty years of collective experience dealing with, and attacking, the threats of counternarcotics and transnational organized crime. We have learned some lessons; we are not stupid. We have learned that the transnational criminal organizations no longer operate on the basis of individual countries; they are global in nature. We have learned that they are not stationary; they change their routes, their networks, their strategies and their tactics, often in response to us. We have learned that they are no longer tightly vertical organizations, but rather have become large groupings of small, loose, nimble networks capable of moving swiftly to pursue opportunity and advantage. We have learned that they are compartmentalized, that taking down one member of the organization does not expose the entire organization. We have learned that they have excellent technology often better than our own. We have learned that they use corruptible individuals and officials and specialists in financial matters to serve as facilitators to give them access to legitimate business opportunities. And we have learned that they are violent and ruthless far more so than in years in the past.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is one lesson that we have learned thousands of years ago. We must know our adversary and we must know how he operates. If we do not, we are condemned to repeat the errors of the past and fail in our mission to protect our communities, our nations and our people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am and have been for most of my thirty two years of diplomacy a specialist in my own hemisphere, the Americas. And I have spent much of the past twenty years dealing with the drug and organized crime issue. I entered my nation’s diplomatic service in 1979. If you were to have asked me in the 1980s how I assess the current threat of narcotics to my nation I would have offer the following analysis.

Maestro, do we have the first map please?

I see no map so I shall describe it for you.

Ah! Ah!

A very simple process, Ladies and Gentlemen. Most of the illicit product beginning in the Andean ridge of South America, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, transiting north through the Caribbean and entering North America through the southeast coast of the United States of America. And we developed a tactical approach to that particular problem set. Heavy on monitoring, reconnaissance and interdiction in the Caribbean. Did it have an impact?

May I have map number 2 please?

Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, it did. If you take a look at this map you will see that the arrow driving through the Caribbean is smaller. You will see a much larger and thicker arrow that moves up through the Eastern Pacific, Central America and Mexico and, for the first time, a small arrow that moves northeast across the Atlantic into Europe.

We developed a response for this as well, Ladies and Gentlemen, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Driven by forward thinking and courageous governments in the Republic of Colombia, it was called Plan Colombia and its purpose was to cut off this movement at its source.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you that the strategy was very successful. But let us not forget that drug traffickers are not stupid they do respond to our tactics and our strategy. And so, if I were to ask for our assessment of trafficking movements today in 2011 my map would look more like this.



And what you see now is a far more complicated picture. But it shows one thing very clearly: traffickers are no longer moving their product solely on a north-south axis. You are now seeing mini-arrows that are crossing the Atlantic in order to find new and different markets in this hemisphere. And Ladies and Gentlemen, I suggest that this map, these arrows, depict why we are here today. This is our mission: to attack and develop a strategy to address this map.

Twenty years ago, this symposium would have made no sense. Because everyone in this room would have said we do not see a transatlantic threat why do we meet to discuss dismantling transatlantic networks? I suggest to you today, in 2011, that transatlantic threat may be the most serious international criminal threat we confront today and will confront over the next 5 years. And Ladies and Gentlemen, this is no longer a matter for the Americas, North and South America; this is now a threat that involves four different continents: the two Americas, Africa and Europe.

Our challenge is very simple in concept; we are building the infrastructure on both sides of the Atlantic that will create the tools that will allow us to do our job. Simply stated and building on the title of this symposium: we are building networks to fight networks.

In many ways, Ladies and Gentlemen, we already know what we have to do. We have learned these lessons over the past forty years. We must build capacity and institutions. An operation, if successfully conducted, gives you a result for a day. Building capacity and institutions produces results for a generation. We must invest in our criminal justice sector across the spectrum from basic policing to investigators, prosecutors, courts and correction system. We must invest in information sharing across borders and frontiers because we know it works when information is shared between governments and between law enforcement organizations. We must build the political will of governments with regional partnerships. We must root out corruption in all of our governments through processes of transparency and accountability. We must strengthen our individual nations border controls because a border for an international criminal organization represents an opportunity. We must follow the money because international criminal organizations do their work as a business; they do it to earn money we therefore must find a way to separate them from their money. We must pass laws and ratify treaties and conventions that will give us the legal architecture that permit us to combat and eventually defeat these transnational organizations. And finally, we must think long term. It took us, Ladies and Gentlemen, fifty years to get into this mess; it is going to take us more than a few months or years to get out of it. We probably must think in terms of a generation.

The good news, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that we do not walk this path for the first time. Others have walked it before us. And we must remember the sacrifices that thousands have made before us. We must remember when Commissioner Rosas, the Head of the Federal Police of Mexico, deploys his forces in certain cities in Mexico today. He realizes that hundreds of his personnel may well sacrifice their lives. They do so voluntarily and willingly to defend their communities. But we owe it to them that they not do it in vain.

In the 1990s, when the National Director of the Colombian National Police deployed his police officials he lost thousands. May I repeat that number? Thousands of national police. More than a thousand in the city of Medellin alone.

We know, Ladies and Gentlemen, when this effort against organized crime succeeds. It succeeds when the people of a nation finally decide: enough; we have had enough! We want a better world for our children and our grandchildren and we are willing to make a sacrifice to get there.

This I submit is what people of Colombia decided more than ten years ago and this I submit is what the people of Mexico have decided just now.

Tomorrow, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will lead a U.S. Government delegation to West Africa. There we will open a dialogue with several governments in the region. And we will say to them, in essence, we are not here to compel cooperation or to tell you how to attack these problems. We are here to offer our support and our cooperation. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is also why we are here at this symposium this morning.

I suggest to you all that our objective is the same. We wish to build a better future for us and our children and our grandchildren. We wish to learn how and where we can cooperate most effectively. We wish to learn from one another the best tactics and the best technology to apply to this problem.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you a very successful symposium and a far better future in the years ahead.

I thank you very much.