Press Conference in BogotaHenry A. Crumpton, U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism
John F. Maisto, U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS
March 23, 2006
Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you today. We are all engaged in a global campaign against terrorism. Terrorism threatens our democratic way of life, our freedom to live and prosper peacefully. The OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) is an outstanding, perhaps the best, example of a region pulling together to protect itself to endure the pursuit of democracy and economic freedom, all shared values among the OAS members. I am happy to be here today to discuss this with you and the U.S. Government’s participation and goals for CICTE’s Sixth Regular Session in Bogota.
I want to express our deepest thanks to Trinidad and Tobago for their chairmanship over the past year. CICTE, under Trinidad’s leadership, has continued to build upon its impressive record of enhancing hemispheric counterterrorism capacity, information-sharing and technical expertise. Trinidad continues to play a key role in the security of the Caribbean region and it will continue its CICTE contribution through its role in the Inter-American Tourism and Recreational Security Initiative in our Hemisphere.
The U.S. Government would like to express its full support to Colombia as the incoming CICTE Chair. Colombia is a staunch ally of the U.S. in the hemispheric fight against terrorism. Colombia has made excellent progress: the demobilization of the AUC; peace talks with the ELN; and military and law enforcement success against the FARC. Colombia’s steadfast efforts to secure the release of all hostages, including three American citizens, are a critical part of this war.
Colombia provides many important lessons for nations and governments that are combating the menaces of drugs, terrorism, and transnational crime. Thus, I would like to recognize the Colombian people, for their stamina, determination, and courage; and to thank the government of Colombia, under the leadership of President Alvaro Uribe, for its steadfast commitment to overcome these challenges. We stand with you.
Moreover, as President Uribe stressed yesterday, counterterrorism and counternarcotics policy must focus on the long-term social, economic, and political goals, to address the needs of all of our people.
We are honored to support Colombia’s leadership of CICTE in 2006.
I am pleased to lead the U.S. delegation here in CICTE VI. I am also pleased that our Permanent Representative to the OAS Ambassador John Maisto is here with me; and I certainly appreciate his invaluable support and guidance.
It is clear that the region has demonstrated an increased determination and political will to address terrorism as demonstrated through national acts and the work of the OAS’ Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, the only permanent regional multilateral organization focused exclusively on counterterrorism.
CICTE is an outstanding example of a region pulling together to protect itself, building bonds of understanding and trust, and ensuring the pursue of democracy and economic freedoms, all of which are shared values among OAS member states. The U.S. values relevant multilateralism and it is firmly committed to CICTE’s long term success, working with fellow democratic governments to defeat transnational terrorism and ensure the safety, prosperity, and well-being of all people in the hemisphere.
The Sixth session is providing the U.S. and the other 33 members an opportunity to address hemispheric cooperation in the comprehensive fight against terrorism.
In the coming decades the global war on terrorism, waged in a rapidly evolving global society, will defy our best predictions, despite our best intelligence efforts. We must therefore prepare for uncertainty by building bonds of understanding and trust through CICTE partnerships.
The U.S. strongly supports the mandate adopted in 2006 by CICTE to focus on travel document security. This will be a strong complement to the successful efforts last year to expand its mission beyond focusing on terrorism financing and enhancing border security to include addressing threats to transportation security, aviation and seaports, and also cyber-security.
The meeting will also give us an opportunity to reaffirm hemispheric recognition, as reflected in the UN, OAS, and CICTE conventions, protocols, and resolutions, that there is interdependence between terrorism and illicit transnational activities, such as trafficking in arms, asset laundering, organized crime, and drug trafficking, they all pose serious threats to our security. The U.S. federal indictment of 50 FARC leaders for narco-trafficking underscores that point.
We also encouraged CICTE and its members to continue to enhance collaboration with other OAS entities, international organizations, such as the UN, the G-8’s Roma-Lyon Group, and the Counterterrorism Action Group, and other organizations outside the hemisphere.
Voluntary contributions to CICTE are important, are its lifeblood, and we are supporting its Executive Secretariat and its capacity-building programs. We appreciate all of the voluntary contributions that member states have given to CICTE. We should strongly encourage all member states to contribute more, whether financially, seconding personnel, or with in-kind technical or other assistance.
The U.S. is committed to CICTE’s long-term success, and intends to provide it with approximately $1.8 million during 2006 to support port, land border and document security activities, and training for Custom’s officials. In addition to the $1.8 million, the U.S. will authorize the transfer of $454,000 to CICTE for a comprehensive airport security program. This brings the U.S. total contribution to $2.25 million, our largest contribution to CICTE. This represents an increase of $654,000 from last year.
Investment now in counterterrorism cooperation, prevention will pay significant future dividends in a secure homeland, safe trade, and expanded tourism throughout the entire hemisphere.
The U.S. is invested in CICTE’s future development and has great confidence in Colombia’s leadership as the next country chair.
Question: How much information does the U.S. government have about links between the FARC organization and international terrorist organizations such as al Qaida and Hamas, especially in light of a recent false passport ring which was disbanded here and which the Colombian authorities insist did have links to the Middle Eastern terrorist groups?
Ambassador Crumpton: We do not believe that any of the Middle East terrorist groups have operational cells in the Hemisphere or more accurately we are not aware of any operational cells that al Qaida and Hezbollah or Hamas might have. However, we do have information that these organizations raise money in this Hemisphere, they are tied into international, transnational criminal networks, and that poses a great threat. If you look at terrorist mobility around the world, they rely on these transnational criminal networks to acquire documents for them to move across borders, and also increasingly they use illegal activities to raise funds that enhance their mobilization. The narco-trafficking here in Colombia is an example of that. So, to answer your question there are links, not at an operational, tactical level but certainly tied into these transnational criminals that we talk about. And, that of course is one of the key objectives of the CICTE meeting this year: looking at terrorism and looking at transnational crime and seeing they overlap and then trying to work toward a comprehensive answer to those issues.
Question: Yesterday the U.S. Attorney General announced an indictment for 50 members of the FARC on charges of narco-trafficking. Many of those members of the FARC perhaps have hundreds or even thousands indictments in Colombia on charges of narco-trafficking, murder, massacre, terrorism, and they have not been detained. What makes the U.S. government think that with this step against 50 members they effectively will be arrested or smashed?
Ambassador Crumpton: Fist and foremost, this indictment underscores the very point that I just made about the nexus between terrorist organizations and transnational crime. You look at what the FARC and their leadership has done, they are the major suppliers of cocaine not just for this hemisphere but really for the world. So, I think that is the first point, it underscores the important links between terrorist groups and transnational criminal networks. Secondly, it highlights the type of cooperation required to reach this indictment. Bear in mind this is not based on rumor or unsubstantiated intelligence, these indictments are based on hard evidence. We are very confident that we can bring these people to justice. Now, the last point in terms of your question, we are also confident that in time working with international partners we will be able to bring them to justice, and our preference, of course, is to bring them to a U.S. court to stand trial. The mechanics, the operational aspects of how that happens that can vary across a multitude of options. But the key to all of this will be international cooperation.
Question: You mentioned the FARC is the largest narco-trafficking group and also the largest terrorist organization in Colombia. What would happen in the future if they accept to enter a peace process, if arrest warrants as well as requests for extradition are suspended as part of the peace talks, would U.S.-Colombia relations be affected?
Ambassador Crumpton: This is my first trip to Colombia. I have only been here for a couple of days. I have learned a lot in these two days. I have had extensive discussions with Colombian officials. The lesson I have learned first and foremost is the depth of our partnership, the strength of our partnership, the deep inter-dependence that we have across all aspects of statecraft looking at counterterrorism. How this evolves in terms of U.S. indictments, in terms of the Colombian peace initiatives? I cannot tell, I cannot predict what the future might hold except that I am sure that our relationship with Colombia will not only remain strong but will grow stronger. Again, I think, specific operational aspects of how this comes to the fore in terms of bringing these criminals to justice and in terms of securing a peace in Colombia, I am very confident that we can work through those specific issues. And it will have to be very specific, would be my guess, in terms of individuals, in terms of a the particular groups, but I am very hopeful.
Question: You mentioned that one of CICTE’s goals is to seek greater cooperation in counterterrorism regarding asset laundering, trafficking in arms. The Colombian government has said in private that it is also concerned with the co-responsibility of other nations. This co-responsibility exists for counternarcotics, shouldn’t it exist for counterterrorism? Do you think Colombia’s neighbors support its efforts against terrorism?
Ambassador Crumpton: We are encouraged by Colombia’s leadership. We are also encouraged by the growing awareness and political will of other countries in the region that this is a regional problem, in terms of narcotics and terrorism. That is where the challenges we face go. This is not just about Colombia; it really is about the region. It is a transnational problem and the only way to respond to that is through regional cooperation, which is why CICTE serves such an important role. Capabilities from country-to-country vary, understanding of the problems vary but through a mutual dialogue and through joint training, through building inter-link capacity like CICTE is trying to do in terms of hindering the mobility of terrorists, helps us move in the direction that we have to go in terms of this regional cooperation. Let me also note that we have a long way to go. There are some gaps, there is uneven understanding of the problem but we are determined to move forward with this partnership -- certainly with Colombia, but also with the other countries in the region. The enemy takes advantage of our national borders. The enemy knows where the borders are. We cannot allow the enemy to do that and that is what we are addressing in this conference, and also bilaterally in conversations with some of our partners.
Question: Could you describe or characterize the U.S. relationship with Venezuela when it comes to fighting terrorism.
Ambassador Crumpton: Again, expanding on the question I just noted, we think Venezuela has got an important role to play in the region in terms of counterterrorism. Colombia is engaging with Venezuela on some of the issues regarding the border, issues of common goals and common strategies. While we have clearly some disagreements with Venezuela, we are willing to engage with them, in fact we want to engage with them on this issue, because terrorism is going to impact not only Colombia, not only us, but the region, and perhaps even Venezuela. The FARC and others are criminal organizations, they do not adhere to the rule of law, any legitimate government will suffer from this, and I think the Venezuelans understand this. We look forward to working with them and working through some of our disagreements to achieve what I hope will be common regional goals.
Question: Over the past days Colombia and Ecuador have faced border conflicts as a result of guerillas crossing the frontier. Ecuador has protested Colombian Public Forces actions. What does the U.S. think about Ecuador’s position on Colombia’s efforts against terrorism, when once the guerrillas cross the border Colombia cannot do anything about it?
Ambassador Crumpton: I do not think we can say Colombia cannot do anything about it. I think Colombia is working with the Ecuadorean Government to resolve some of these outstanding issues. From the U.S. perspective we certainly support that bilateral effort. But for us to become directly involved, neither Colombia nor Ecuador has invited us, and we really prefer the two to work through those issues, and we are very hopeful that they can. We of course support both Colombia and Ecuador, and the countries in the region and their counterterrorism efforts. We will encourage more of this bilateral discussion to resolve these issues. Again, this is a challenge. The enemy takes advantage of the borders and the borders, as you know better than I, are often mountainous, with deep foliage, and there is a lack of infrastructure that reaches the border areas, and that is again one of the key objectives of CICTE -- to look at the security of borders, to look at documents, to look at transportation. So we hope to help Colombia, Ecuador and the region to resolve that.
Question: You said you hope the 52 FARC leaders will be brought to a U.S. court to stand trial on drug trafficking and terrorism charges. The difficulties of arresting them in Colombia are proven. In what way can the U.S. cooperate with Colombia to effectively make those arrests: providing intelligence, technical assistance or sending experts to help in pursuing terrorists?
Ambassador Crumpton: As you know we have an extensive bilateral program working with Colombia. In terms of military and just police assistance for this year it is about $400 million, including a variety of different programs: anti-kidnapping, intelligence collection, intelligence analysis. It also includes border security issues. We are looking at travel documents and how we can help each other in that regard, and a range of topics. But, also and perhaps most importantly, we are working together and we are learning form each other. Frankly, some of the lessons that my government is learning through this cooperation with Colombia we are able to use this in other parts of the world -- the Middle East and Central Asia. The bilateral cooperation here not only helps us in Colombia --not only helps Colombia -- but it helps our efforts around the world. Frankly, the array of different things we are doing is very extensive, and some of it is fairly sensitive. It is a robust, integrated, even intimate cooperation covering intelligence, law enforcement, even economic development -- a range of things. I must note also that when we think of counterterrorism it is not just about the military, police, perhaps most importantly it is about the enduring, liberal institutions that we have to strengthen and build. This is reflected in what Colombia is doing here. The funding -- you take one piece is military and multiply times three and it goes to social-economic programs in Colombia. That is an important lesson for us also. When we talk about counterterrorism it is not just about arrests, it is not just about military strikes, it is not just about intelligence. You have to do that, you have to stop the enemy from killing us and killing our people but you also have to address those enduring social, political, economic factors the enemy exploits. You have to build civic society; you have to establish the rule of law. You look at the progress Colombia has made starting with President Pastrana and now with President Uribe, it is remarkable, and not only can we learn from it, we can also reach out for inspiration. I have learned that in the last couple of days. That is probably more than you wanted to hear in response.
Ambassador Maisto: All the questions you have posed have to do with having more cooperation and CICTE is just one of the instruments of the OAS, and it is an example of multilateral cooperation which is relevant. What does relevant mean? Well, multilateralism is actually something that produces something concrete: cooperation. In what? Well, port security, airport security, cyber-security, how terrorism is financed, the security of documents, the need for information exchange, and understanding these. These are the things that are the daily life of governments, and all that we do bilaterally is complemented multilaterally. CICTE is precisely the instrument for a good part of this multilateral cooperation. There is a link between terrorism and narcotics. Wew know it, and you know it well in Colombia, and those indictments in the U.S. are valid legal proof that the elements which engage in narco-trafficking are the same people who are terrorists. The part I would like to underscore is the multilateralism which is relevant. The OAS is more than just a place where you have rhetorical speeches that come and go. It is a place where you deal with practical issues relating to the very complex life of our time: our fight against narcotics, trafficking in persons, human rights, the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights, which is the most respected in the world; missions that help countries that have problems: Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela for election monitoring; election monitoring in many countries in the hemisphere. That is really the new multilateralism of today and a very important element in which Colombia plays a highly important leadership role, and that is why we are pleased about our visit here in Bogota today.