USA — Pentagon Improves Counterdrug Oversight, Official Says

WASHINGTON — The Defense Depart­ment is improv­ing its glob­al coun­ter­drug efforts while also work­ing to pro­vide bet­ter busi­ness process­es in the office that over­sees those efforts, a Pen­ta­gon offi­cial said today.

William F. Weschler, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for coun­ternar­cotics and glob­al threats, spoke before the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Home­land Secu­ri­ty and Gov­ern­ment Affairs dur­ing a hear­ing about over­sight of con­trac­tors in the Defense and State depart­ments’ coun­ter­drug efforts. Weschler out­lined the Defense Department’s work in coun­ternar­cotics, but also acknowl­edged man­age­ment and over­sight prob­lems in the office.

In line with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ efforts to improve busi­ness process­es, Weschler said, he has worked to stream­line process­es and hire fed­er­al work­ers to replace con­trac­tors. “We are push­ing as rapid­ly as pos­si­ble to build up the staff and con­vert peo­ple from con­trac­tors to per­ma­nent, gov­ern­ment staff,” he said.

Weschler and David T. John­son, State’s assis­tant sec­re­tary for coun­ternar­cotics, described using the quick­est hir­ing tools at their dis­pos­al – employ­ing con­trac­tors with­out bid­ding – to get around cum­ber­some gov­ern­ment process­es.

“I could not wait for the per­son­nel office of the Depart­ment of Defense to give me the per­son­nel I need­ed to get the work done quick­ly,” Weschler said. Rebid­ding a con­tract, he said, would take even longer than the fed­er­al hir­ing process.

“We’ve tak­en a great num­ber of steps in the past year [to improve the process­es], and we’re not fin­ished,” he said.

Weschler described the drug trade as a nation­al secu­ri­ty issue for the Unit­ed States that includes Islam­ic rad­i­cal groups, as well as nar­coter­ror­ist groups such as the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia that oper­ate sophis­ti­cat­ed net­works that move not only weapons and drugs, but also peo­ple.

“A wealth of intel­li­gence report­ing has linked many [Islam­ic rad­i­cal group] mem­bers to both drug traf­fick­ing and alien smug­gling,” Weschler said. “The [Defense Depart­ment], through exten­sive­ly coor­di­nat­ed projects with fed­er­al law enforce­ment agen­cies, has devel­oped col­lab­o­ra­tive and effec­tive meth­ods for detect­ing and mon­i­tor­ing the move­ment of ille­gal drugs.”

Drug traf­fick­ing “is a present and grow­ing dan­ger” to U.S. secu­ri­ty, he said.

The mil­i­tary became involved in coun­ternar­cotics after Con­gress rec­og­nized its unique inter­dic­tion capa­bil­i­ties and equip­ment in the 1980s, Weschler said. Today, he added, the depart­ment builds and main­tains rela­tion­ships with coun­tries at risk of nar­coter­ror­ism.

“Ungoverned, under­gov­erned, mis­gov­erned and con­test­ed areas offer fer­tile ground for such groups to exploit gaps” to meet their objec­tives, he said. The department’s pri­ma­ry mis­sions in coun­ternar­cotics are to help U.S. and for­eign non­mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment agen­cies to stop drug traf­fick­ing through detect­ing, mon­i­tor­ing and shar­ing infor­ma­tion, and help­ing to build capac­i­ty in ungoverned spaces, Weschler said.

The Defense Department’s coun­ternar­cotics office works with com­bat­ant com­mands to adapt spe­cif­ic coun­ter­drug strate­gies for dif­fer­ent areas, Weschler said. The largest areas of oper­a­tion are with Mex­i­co through U.S. North­ern Com­mand, Colom­bia through U.S. South­ern Com­mand, and Afghanistan through U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)