Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI),Chairman of Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, today held an oversight hearing on the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Sensenbrenner’s questions to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, including the DEA’s involvement in Fast and Furious and the Colombian prostitution scandal:
Congressman Sensenbrenner, Chairman of Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, delivered this opening statement at today's hearing:
I would like to welcome Administrator Leonhart and thank her for testifying before the Subcommittee this morning. We all appreciate the DEA’s efforts and the great strides it has made to combat the increasingly dangerous drug trade.
The Administrator’s testimony comes at a timely moment as the war on drugs approaches a potential crossroad. On July 1, Mexico will elect a new President. By all accounts, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is the heir apparent to the Presidency.
The PRI governed Mexico for 71 years until 2000. While in power, the PRI minimized violence by turning a blind eye to the cartels. The current President, Felipe Calderon, has changed that strategy and aggressively confronted organized crime.
As you mentioned in your testimony, the key to the DEA’s success along the Southwest border is our relationship with the government of Mexico. You characterized that relationship as at an “all-time high,” but I worry that the relationship could be at a high water mark with the impending change in power.
Mr. Nieto does not emphasize stopping drug shipments or capturing kingpins. He recently told the New York Times that, while Mexico would continue to work with the United States, it should not “subordinate to the strategies of other countries.” He further emphasized that his priority would be a reduction in violence, not a dismantling of criminal organizations.
By all accounts, this sounds like a reversion to the PRI policies of old.
We, of course, have no vote in the upcoming Mexican election and our only hope for the outcome is that it is free and fair, but we do have a deep-seated interest in minimizing drug trafficking and organized crime south of our border. I believe that these goals are also in Mexico’s long-term interest and I urge you to press this truth with the incoming Mexican President regardless of who it is.
I would also like to raise a few troubling incidents within the DEA. The DEA has long been a model in the law enforcement community. But today, I need answers about recent events that are both troubling and unacceptable. If not addressed swiftly and effectively, I fear these events will become a stain on the DEA’s reputation and could ultimately undermine its mission.
The Secret Service has been the focal point of the Cartagena prostitution scandal, but I understand that at least 3 DEA agents also hired prostitutes during the preparation for the President’s visit to Colombia. I further understand that this was not an isolated event for the DEA.
The Secret Service moved quickly to address the scandal and has already removed 8 of the 12 implicated employees from their jobs. Another is in the process of losing his security clearance. To my knowledge, the DEA has not taken similar action.
Similarly, while the ATF was the major actor in Fast and Furious, the DEA was also involved. Tony Coulson, the DEA’s agent in charge of Southern Arizona during Fast and Furious, said that many DEA field agents knew that ATF was walking guns to Mexico, but supervisors told the agents to back off when they objected.
Mr. Coulson claims he raised objections to then-DEA chief Elizabeth Kempshall and was told it was taken care of. After attending a meeting with ATF agent in charge Bill Newell, Coulson said he “knew [Fast and Furious] was not some sort of benign, pie-in-the-sky publicity stunt. Guns were actually getting in the hands of criminals.”
As with the Colombian prostitution, I am not aware of any investigation or discipline from within the DEA.
Most recently, this April, a DEA office in San Diego literally forgot about a 23-year-old in a holding cell. DEA agents arrested Daniel Chong during a raid on a party in the San Diego area where there were illegal drugs. After questioning him, agents apparently told Mr. Chong that he would not be charged before they placed him back in a holding cell.
The agents then forgot he was there. Mr. Chong remained locked in the holding cell for five days with no access to food, water or a toilet. He said he heard voices and yelled for help, but no one heard him. After 48 hours, he started hallucinating, and to survive, drank his own urine. At some point during his neglect, he broke his glasses and attempted to kill himself.
It goes without saying that this incident is unacceptable. I look forward to hearing what steps the DEA is taking to address each of the incidents discussed above and to ensure that nothing similar happens in the future. I hope these events are anomalies in the DEA’s record and not an indication of things to come.