William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Remarks at the RAND Corporation
Santa Monica, CA
July 26, 2012

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Californians and southern Californians, good morning. It is a pleasure to be both here in Santa Monica and the Los Angeles area as well as southern California. It is not easy for a native son of west Texas to say that. But it is a pleasure to be here and to see you all. May I open with a very sincere word of thanks to the RAND Corporation for hosting this event and to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council for supporting this event. May I offer my own words of appreciation as well to the representatives of the senior senator from the state of California, Senator Feinstein, who, from my perspective, even more importantly, chairs the Senate Drug Caucus. She is a partner, an ally, and a friend on much of what we are trying to accomplish in our efforts overseas.

A word of thanks as well to all of the representatives of the Los Angeles Area Congressional Delegation, massive that it is. I am grateful for both your presence and the support of your members in the House of Representatives in the United States Congress. And somewhere in this room may be an old ally and friend from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Robyn Wapner, who may or may not have joined us from the bustling borough of San Diego, located, as you well know, a good 50 miles or so away.

Ladies and gentlemen, once upon a time there was a country located somewhere in the North American continent, and sometime around 1970, this country found itself confronting a major drug crisis. And it responded, first by creating a couple of domestic organizations – one law enforcement organization, which they chose to call the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA; and a second office of a National Drug Control Policy Director, who came to be known as the drug czar of the United States of America.

At the same time, the United States Congress and the Article II branch of government, the President, concluded that they needed to have an arm that stretched overseas to deal with the international and foreign aspects of this problem. In their wisdom, they placed it in the Department of State and thus was born a bureau that, at that time, was called the Bureau of International Narcotics Matters, or INM. And for the first 20 years or so of its existence, it focused almost exclusively on the flow of cocaine and coca-based products from the Andean Ridge region of South America to the United States of America.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, as sometimes happens, things changed, and the world of 2012 is not exactly the same as the world of 1972. Among other things, our name has changed. We are no longer the Bureau of International Narcotics Matters. We’re now the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. By so doing, we recognize the fact that it’s not just cocaine that we deal with on the drug front. It’s also heroin, methamphetamine, some versions of marijuana, pharmaceutical drugs that are licitly produced but illicitly used. We are also dealing with problems and crises such as trafficking in persons, gangs with their headquarters overseas, the movement and flow of firearms and explosives, cybercrime, crime involving intellectual property, terrorism, and the general requirement to support the development of rule of law institutions throughout the world.

“All right,” all of you are saying, “Brownfield, we hear your words. Why does that matter to us here in Los Angeles?” Let me rephrase that question and see what sort of answer you yourselves might reach. Does it matter here in the Los Angeles area that Colombian and Mexican narcotics are flowing in the direction of North America and entering the United States along its southwest border? Do Central American gangs with headquarters in El Salvador but large branch offices on the streets of Los Angeles with names like Calle Dieciocho, 18th Street, or Mara Trucha Salvador? Do they matter to the citizens of the LA metropolitan area?

Does it matter to you that criminal organizations are trafficking humans from Southeast Asia to the southwest coast of the United States of America, the flow of firearms and explosives to or from the United States and Mexico? Does it bother you or matter to you, the enforcement of intellectual property rights, movies, cassettes, and other bits of intellectual property? Does it matter to you that cybercriminals are able to reach out from a location perhaps in East Asia and directly affect and impact what you are able to do on your computer?

Ladies and gentlemen, I leave the answers to those questions to you. But in my opinion, what happens out there does, in fact, have a direct and immediate impact on what happens to you right here in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a global world, and this is no longer just something that we say in order to fill space in our columns; it is a reality. And for the most part, the globalization of the world is a good thing. It’s good for the economies of the 192 countries represented in the United Nations – more commerce, more trade. It’s good for academic discourse and exchange. It’s good for communications and the ability of a person here in Los Angeles to communicate in real time with somebody located in Russia or, in my case, with the United States Ambassador to Thailand who provides me at least 20 bits of guidance a day since she has been married to me for the last 30 years.

In short, it is a good thing. That said, it is also an enormous opportunity for large, multibillion dollar criminal enterprises who, in essence, say if we can figure out how to use globalization to our advantage, they can as well. And their advantage is not necessarily the same as our advantage.

I suggest to you that we have learned some fundamental lessons since my bureau was created in 1972. First, this international law enforcement and crime issue is not just a U.S. problem. It is a problem that affects every nation in the world. Second, as we address this crisis and this problem, it is not just a federal government issue. It involves every single state and territory and county and city in the United States of America, and I mean every one. Whether you live in Fairbanks, Alaska or Honolulu, Hawaii, you are impacted directly by what happens in terms of organized crime overseas.

And finally, I submit to you, we have learned that this is not just a law enforcement and police problem; it is also training and education. It is economic and social development. It is healthcare and legal reform and efforts to combat corruption, the great force multiplier of any criminal enterprise. It is also prosecutors and courts and it is correction systems and detention systems as well.

In order to address these problems, I submit that in the year 2012, 12 years into this century, we need a vision that is coherent, which is to say it makes sense to everyone. It is comprehensive; it addresses all aspects of the problem. It is realistic; it is based upon budgetary and political realities that, in fact, are realistic. It is flexible, accepting the reality that no plan is perfect and you are going to have to adjust it and change it as you go along. And finally, it is long term. There is no plan to address this issue that is going to give you a solution by tomorrow morning. As I say ad nauseam, it took us many, many years to get into this mess; it is going to take us a good number of years to get out of it.

I offer some core principles and then I will stop and throw the floor open to you. First principle – drugs. It is not just about drugs, but ladies and gentlemen, illicit drugs are the financial oil that drives this machine. Whether you are an insurgent, a terrorist, or a traditional economic criminal, the international illicit drug flow is providing the overwhelming majority of your revenue and your finances.

Second principle – focus on the criminal organizations. It is not our task to punish the subsistence farmer who chooses to grow coca or opium poppy; it is not our task to throw in jail everyone who chooses to violate the law through consumption or possession. It is, I submit to you, our task to take down the large, multinational, multibillion dollar criminal enterprises whose sole function in life is to earn huge blobs of money by participating in these criminal activities.

Third principle – corruption must be part of our effort. It is the key vulnerability. No criminal enterprise can function at a high level for very long without penetrating and corrupting government institutions. And I don’t care what country you’re in. I would include the United States of America in this category. We have to incorporate into our strategy efforts to address government corruption wherever it may be found.

Fourth principle – it is not just police; it is the entire rule of law continuum. And the way I describe this continuum is it starts at one extreme with basic community policing, works its way through investigators and investigation, prosecutors, courts, and judges, and finally, often forgotten, the corrections system. My own suggestion to you is if we fail to address any single element, we have left a giant target of opportunity for the criminal enterprise and organization to take advantage of.

Fifth principle – it’s not just equipment and arms; it’s also training, education, capacity building, and social and economic development. If they are not all incorporated into the strategy, the strategy will not succeed.

Sixth, we do have experts; we do have advisors. Their function is to add value to the host government. To use an expression that we have often used for the last 30 or 40 years, we can’t want it more than they do. If the host government is not prepared to dedicate its own personnel, its own resources, its own funding to this effort, we cannot be a substitute for that. Yes, we have expertise; yes, we have advisors; and yes, we can provide resources. But it must reinforce, not replace, the effort of the host government.

Seventh, we will do direct operational support at times, but it should be as rare as is humanly possible. It is not a good thing, ladies and gentlemen, for the United States Government to be conducting law enforcement operations in another country. It may be legal; it may be the most effective way to get the job done; it may even be welcome by the vast majority of the population in that country. But we do not want to be the operators overseas. We want to give training and capacity building; we want to give resources; we want to give equipment; we want to give intelligence. But at the end of the day, if you’re in country X, it should be the police of country X doing the actual law enforcement, not us, just as we would have the right to be mildly miffed were we to discover police officials from some other country arresting American citizens, criminals though they may be, for activities committed in the United States of America. I could understand our mild annoyance with that concept. We should attempt to understand that same principle when it is applied overseas.

And last and finally, my eighth principle – partners, partners, partners. If we find that we are the only ones sufficiently concerned about and engaged in an issue, that no other country in the world has expressed a concern about it, we just might be wrong on this point, and we had better hit the pause button, take a step back, and ask ourselves why is no other country on the planet concerned about this matter. If we find ourselves in that situation, there may be an answer to that question. We are, for example – we have two immediate neighbors who share enormous borders with us, and I could conceive of a situation in which we would have a direct and immediate American interest in a matter involving Mexico to the south, Canada to the north that is not shared by any other country on the planet. Okay, I might accept it under those two very exceptional circumstances. But beyond that, I would say the burden is on me to prove to you, to the media, to the Article I branch of government pursuit to the United States Constitution why it is that we should be putting our resources into a program in a country where no other government has expressed a view or a concern.

Now, how have those eight principles played out? Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll offer you a list of initiatives that have been developed either by the current Administration, strongly supported by the United States Congress, both houses and both parties, as well as by, in some cases, a prior administration continued on by this Administration.

With Mexico, we have the Merida Initiative since the year 2008. Central America is CARSI, which stands for the Central America Regional Security Initiative. In the Caribbean, we have the CBSI, Caribbean Basin and Security Initiative; Colombia’s still rather old but famous Plan Colombia. Outside of the Western hemisphere, in Western Africa, the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative. Between Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics, we have the Central Asia Counternarcotics Initiative or CACI. And we are, in fact, even today, probing and exploring some form of initiative with Burma as our engagement with that country gradually develops.

Now, that’s eight different initiatives, ladies and gentlemen. Are they going to solve this problem? No, they are not. No single initiative is going to solve the challenge of drugs and international crime. All of them together will not solve all of those problems. They are part of a larger whole. And at the end of the day, year, decade, or century, if we have developed our initiatives correctly, if we pursue them in an intelligent manner, they will eventually deliver a better climate in terms of crime and drugs, not just for the United States of America but perhaps for the rest of the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are some out there – which obviously does not include anyone in this room – who take a pessimistic attitude to what I do for a living, who’ve reached the conclusion that we have not solved this problem over more than 40 years, we’re not going to solve it, let us simply accept that and make an accommodation to these large-scale, international, multibillion dollar criminal enterprises. I respect everyone’s right to their opinion. I, too, have read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. And in fact, I can even understand how one reaches that conclusion.

I am, however, not such a pessimist. While I am not a Pollyanna optimist, I offer you one personal experience to suggest why I think pessimism can sometimes bring you to the wrong conclusion. I reached, as the good Dr. Kilmer mentioned, my last ambassadorship to Colombia in August of 2007. When I arrived, three U.S. citizens were being held hostage by the FARC in the jungles of Colombia. We thought jungles; actually we did not have a clue where they were located. As I began to talk to people about how to address this issue, I would suggest that between 95 and 96 percent of the people I talked to basically said it is hopeless; we’re never going to get them out; they will be returned when the FARC chooses to return them, and we see no evidence that they are planning to do that now.

Approximately 12 months later, specifically on the 2nd of July, 2008, I stood at the bottom of the steps of an aircraft and welcomed those three American former hostages and 12 other Colombian former hostages to freedom. And that, as I stood there, actually got me thinking about the danger of driving your decision making based upon kind of the most pessimistic possible outcome and assessment.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not promise you paradise. I do not promise you perfection by weeks end. But I do offer the final – and this final closing thought, and that is never in the history of the human race, since Ug and Thug first agreed 40,000 years ago to share a cave and establish some sort of community, never has a criminal enterprise been able to succeed against the consensus, will, and desire of a society and a community determined not to let them succeed. And I am hopeful that by the time you invite me back here again in two or three years’ time you’ll be a in a position to say to me, “Brownfield, you haven’t yet delivered everything you were supposed to deliver, but things do look better on this front than they did when you were here in 2012.”

I thank you, and I look forward to any questions or suggestions you might wish to offer me.

MODERATOR: We’ll have time for a few questions, so just wait, I’ll bring the microphone right to you.

QUESTION: Good morning, Ambassador Brownfield. I’m Terry McCarthy. I’m the newly installed president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, and we’re supporting this event. We’re very glad you could talk to us. We have some of our members here this morning.

I, too, am an optimist, and it’s nice to hear your optimistic take on this. But I’m wondering, how do you see the move – which seems to be spreading through Latin America – to legalize narcotics? A lot of countries seem to have turned up their hands and said we can’t get a handle on this; the costs and crime are too great; why don’t we just legalize this. And I’m wondering, does that eventually impact policy here in the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Thank God. I had to wait until the first question to address the legalization issue. Listen, let me start – because this is always a safe place for a U.S. Government official to start – let me start by quoting the President of the United States of America, who said in the city of Cartagena, Colombia, famed for other reasons perhaps last April – but in fact, we forget that there was a summit that occurred and that during that summit the President of the United States of America said publicly, “We understand the arguments about legalization. We welcome the debate, but in the United States of America, we have done our own assessment and evaluation and we believe it will not work for us.”

Now, let me parse those words and suggest to you how I, Bill Brownfield, have chosen to interpret that and use that as the means to answer your question. First, I submit that the President was signaling, correctly, that every country in the world – not just in the Western hemisphere, but throughout the world – will determine its own domestic and national drug policy. It is not for the United States of America to tell any other country what its rules, laws, policies, and regulations are in terms of sale, possession, or consumption of drugs. Every nation is sovereign. I agree with that completely.

Second, I believe what he – what his words would suggest is that those who are suggesting that legalization is a simple, silver-bullet solution to this problem – legalize it and all the problem is done – are in error, that it’s simply – it is far too complicated a problem that has social and health and economic and law enforcement and security and political connotations to suggest that we were so stupid 50 years that we did not realize that by simply legalizing all these problems would go away. And if that is what the President was thinking when he said, “We have done our own assessment and evaluation and concluded it will not work for us,” then I agree with that as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is – my own view is that every 10 years or so this debate builds up, and I think it is a very valid debate. I believe it would be very, very foolish for anyone to believe that there is consensus on this matter. Even within the south – the Latin American countries, there are some who are absolutely adamantly opposed, as in we – if anything, we’re going to strengthen our rules and laws against consumption and possession, and others who have pretty clearly signaled an openness to this. One has, in fact, permitted the expansion of the growth and cultivation of coca. This country is Bolivia. And in fact, as a consequence thereof, their large neighbor to the east, Brazil, is now confronting, perhaps at this stage, the worst crack cocaine crisis that any country in the Western Hemisphere is approaching. I am aware that I am in the state of California. I am aware that this is one of a number of states in the union that is experimenting on a state basis with some elements of this issue.

But let us all remind ourselves the wise, wise people of California and the legislature that they have elected have not offered up, suggested, approved, or even debated a complete legalization of illicit drugs. And my own personal belief is of course we should be learning from experience. We have been at this for nearly 50 years. There are areas in our laws, our regulations, our policies, and our strategies where we should fine-tune, adjust, or modify. It should be based upon scientific and quantifiable data that allow us to reach logical conclusions, and it should not be based upon some sort of hope or pipe dream that if we do this one legal adjustment, this problem is going to go away. If I truly believed that, I would be leading the team of the legalizers. I do not believe it, and that is why, in my opinion, this healthy, positive, and useful debate will continue.

MODERATOR: Another question?

QUESTION: Yeah. Ken Reliticin (ph), the World Affairs Council as well. Some might say that marijuana is a special case, but I’ll move onto – my other question is: There’s been some studies that indicate that the war on drugs has been adverse to the health consequences of AIDS. In other words, in those countries where enforcement has been taken over the treatment issue, AIDS has increased, particularly among IV drug users, particularly in Russia, and in those countries that treated it differently, as in Brazil, IV drug transmission of AIDS has gone down significantly, almost to zero. Is that something that you’ve considered?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Yeah. First, by the way, I agree with those who criticize the war on drugs, which is why I agreed with President Clinton’s decision in 1993 to cease talking about it as a war on drugs, because it’s not a war. It is a far more complicated and comprehensive approach than that of a simple war, and I agree with all those who have argued, which includes the entire United States Government for the last 19 years, that it’s not a war on drugs.

Now, the logic of the criticism that by, in essence, focusing so much on the drug problem, you are taking resources away that could otherwise be used for other matters such as AIDS prevention or treatment. I see the logic of the argument. I suppose you could apply that to anything, however. You could say national defense, it has caused greater AIDS problems because if we had spent less money on national defense and more on AIDS treatment and prevention, there would be less AIDS. Or social and economic development, if we spent less on social and economic development and more on AIDS treatment and prevention, then there would be less AIDS.

In other words, at the end of the day, we, as societies, as nations, as peoples, through our elected representatives and, in practically every case, the legislature that determines what the laws and policies will be, are making those tradeoffs. I mean, that, in essence, is why we elect members of Congress. That is why we elect a president and a vice president who, in turn, have their senior officials confirmed by the United States Congress or Senate in the case of our Constitution, and that is, in essence, to take this rather large quantity of issues that we as a nation, as a government, as a people must deal with and determine where we will prioritize how many – how much in the way of resources we will put into each issue, each concern, each problem and reach some sort of balance that, I suppose in the worst-case scenario, has everyone roughly equally dissatisfied.

If you were to ask me if we were to put a vast amount of additional resources into AIDS prevention and treatment, would that, in fact, vastly improve AIDS prevention and treatment? I would say yes. But then the tradeoff we have to assess is where do we take it from in order to put it into AIDS? Everyone has a right to his or her own view and opinion on that. At the end of the day, I submit that that determination is made in accordance with Articles 1 and 2 of the United States Constitution, the Article 2 branch, the executive branch, making proposals to the Article 1 branch, the Congress, which in turn determines how much funding will be made available for these individual programs. And when there is confusion or disagreement between the Article 1 and Article 2 branches, then the Article 3 branch will determine if there is a constitutional answer to the question. That’s not a very satisfactory response to you, but it’s the best I can do given the realities that I think we are having to deal with on this matter.

MODERATOR: Unfortunately, we have time for one last question before the ambassador has to head off.

QUESTION: Thank you. I am Dr. James Favin (ph). I’ve been in the anti-trafficking and anti-terrorism for five years. As a major in the U.S. Army, I’ve had to be responsible for locating resources and fighting the fight that’s worth fighting. Would it be appropriate to bifurcate this issue and have the softer drugs such as marijuana be legalized and sold in pharmacies and go after the real hard drugs, which would help on the allocation of resources?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Ha. You started with legalization, and you’re going to close with legalization. But that’s all right. I was not so stupid as not to realize that I was going to deal with this issue when I volunteered and, in fact, even asked for the opportunity to appear before you today. First, I’m going to address one issue that you kind of implied. It was not in any way related to your question, but I’m going to say it anyway because you did kind of bring in counterterrorism as well as counternarcotics. And may I suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, that these are two different issues? I, for example, am not the Assistant Secretary of State responsible for counterterrorism. We have another one. He’s called the Assistant Secretary of State for Counterterrorism. His name is Danny – I’d better call him Daniel Benjamin, and he does a very fine job.

But if you were to ask me: Do Bouncing Bill Brownfield and Daniel Benjamin talk a great deal because there is a substantial amount of overlap between the counterterrorism challenge and the counternarcotics challenge? The answer is: Yes, for the very simple reason that I was suggesting to you earlier on. And that is drugs and illicit drugs finance a tremendous amount of the terrorist activity in the world today. If any of you believe that the Taliban in Afghanistan or Pakistan would be the same institution that it is today without the revenue from drugs, I’ve got to tell you, I mean, you’re welcome to your opinion – I think you’d be bonkers – it’s 90 percent of their income.

If you were to tell me that you could address the matter of the Colombian FARC, the – in Spanish, it’s the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – if you were able to address them without dealing with their role as being conceivably the world’s largest cocaine trafficker, I’d say, no, you can’t do it. Not all terrorist organizations are narcotics trafficking organizations. And not all narcotics trafficking organizations are terrorist organizations. That is why these are separate issues. But they are connected; and we must not forget that, or we run the risk of making some really fundamental and, therefore, exceptionally dangerous mistakes.

Now, to get to the question that you really did ask me, and that is the separation, if you will, of how we deal with so-called hard drugs and how we deal with so-called soft drugs. My formal and official answer to you is: That is a matter of domestic policy, law, and legislation. The “I” in my title [i.e. “INL”] stands for international, which means I deal with it overseas, not in the United States of America, and it is up to the 50 legislatures of the states of the United States of America plus six territories plus the District of Columbia and the United States Congress to answer that question. If you were to ask me: Does this fall into the category of the areas that I said to you earlier where we should be open to considering, probing, modifying, adjusting, fine-tuning our policies, our rules and regulations? Sure it does.

But please do not over-interpret what I just said. I do not support the legalization of so-called soft drugs. I do understand how any of the 312 million citizens of the United States of America, of which I am one, with the same right to an opinion as anyone else, I can understand how we are trying to wrestle with the differences in certain types of illicit drugs and how we can adjust our policies relating to one as opposed to the other. I think that is a legitimate area for discourse and discussion. I believe it is unrealistic to conclude that what this discourse will lead us to is a decision to take kind of half of the drugs that are currently on DEA’s proscribed substances list and say, “These are all now completely legalized.” I’m not even sure, to be honest with you, what completely legalized means. Does it mean you no longer have to have any license or registration in order to sell it? Does it mean you get to sell to anyone – a 6 year-old kid, a 14 year-old kid, a 20 and one half year-old young man? I do not know what that means. I do not know what it means in terms of liability. If you have used a so-called soft drug, and then while under the influence, mow down a half-dozen pedestrians and kill them all, does this mean that only you are responsible, the person that sold you the product is responsible?

In other words, this is the sort of thing that I believe we need to have dialogue about. I find it difficult – I almost said frustrating, but I would never be frustrated – I find it difficult to have a dialogue that is dominated by the two extremes – one extreme that says never, in a trillion years, we will not cede so much as a millimeter of space on this issue, and the other extreme which says legalize it all. Let’s just close our eyes and pretend that it has no impact on us whatsoever. Surprisingly enough, when those two sides are dominating the debate, the debate tends to be a tiny bit sterile. It would be very much my hope that in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, that big blob of the thinking public that probably constitutes some 60 to 80 percent of us might actually address this issue in a somewhat careful, objective, scientific, open-minded manner, and it would not surprise me at all if that resulted in some adjustments or fine-tunings.

But please remember – and I will close with this – Brownfield’s first law: it ain’t going to solve the drug problem. That requires a long-term, comprehensive, coherent, flexible strategy that will approach all elements of the problem, and accept that since it took us several generations to get into it, it’s probably going to take us several generations to get out.