The opioid epidemic continues to dominate headlines within the state and throughout the region. Powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and its derivatives, led to the overdose deaths of 70 individuals in Washington State during 2016 – more than twice the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the previous year. Although much of Washington’s focus is on curbing the opioid crisis, methamphetamine remains a critical threat in the Pacific Northwest. The regulation of recreational and medicinal marijuana continues to pose new challenges for law enforcement even as use of the drug in Washington State has been legal for several years.
(U//LES) EPIC Bulletin: Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) Continue to Profit from Marijuana Sales in Legalized Markets
In January 2016, EPIC published Intelligence Note 02303-16a, this product provided analysis of data provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and open source reporting that indicated Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) continued to operate and profit from marijuana sales in legalized U.S. marijuana markets. EPIC research further showed that legalization of marijuana in some U.S. markets had not adversely impacted TCO profitability in marijuana markets, and that the effort of legalization had conversely brought new opportunities for illicit profits from marijuana sales. As of January 2017, EPIC research indicates that TCOs continue to exploit legalized marijuana markets in the United States.
Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) pose the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them. These Mexican poly-drug organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks. They control drug trafficking across the Southwest Border and are moving to expand their share, particularly in the heroin and methamphetamine markets.
DEA continues to identify eight major cartels currently operating in Mexico: Sinaloa, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (New Generation Jalisco Cartel or CJNG), Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO), Los Zetas, Gulf, Juarez/La Linea, La Familia Michoacana (LFM), and Los Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar or LCT); however, leadership losses for LFM and LCT over the last year have significantly degraded their operational capabilities and organizational cohesion. The attached graphic illustrates fluctuations in the areas of dominant control for Mexico’s major DTOs, most notably the significant expansion of CJNG.
Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer and cultivator of opium poppies; it produces almost three quarters of the world’s illicit opium. While a significant amount of the opium produced in Afghanistan is trafficked out of the country, in 2009 it was estimated that almost 10 per cent of Afghans aged between 15 and 64 were drug users.
A total area of over 62,000 hectare of opium poppy cultivation took place in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Myanmar and Thailand in 2013. In order to assess the scope of opium poppy cultivation and opium production in the region, UNODC has been conducting opium surveys in cooperation with the Government of Lao PDR since 1992 and the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (GOUM) since 2002, while Thailand established its own monitoring system. This report contains the results of the 2013 UNODC-supported opium poppy cultivation surveys in Lao PDR and Myanmar. In addition, the results from the opium poppy surveys implemented by the Government of Thailand are presented in this regional overview.
In a restricted report issued in May, the DEA detailed the most recent findings from its heroin monitoring program, assessing the period from 2006 -2011. The report finds that heroin in the U.S. generally comes from two different places: South America and Mexico. If you live east of the Mississippi River, chances are that the heroin you’re buying is from South America. Heroin purchased on the West Coast is almost certainly trafficked from Mexico. Some heroin from Southwest Asia does make it to the U.S. However, the amount is minimal compared to other sources and the quality is relatively poor.
This report presents data and conclusions from the Heroin Domestic Monitor Program (HDMP) conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for calendar year (CY) 2011. The HDMP provides data on the price, purity, and geographic source of heroin sold at the retail level in 27 U.S. cities. The data contained in this report are based on actual undercover heroin purchases made by the DEA and its law enforcement partners on the streets of these cities.
Afghanistan cultivates, produces and process narcotics that are a threat to the region and worldwide. However, the international community also needs to understand that Afghanistan itself is a victim of this phenomenon. The existence of hundreds of thousands of problem drug users, as well as decades of civil war, terrorism and instability are all related to the existence of narcotics in the country. According to the findings of this survey, the total area under cultivation was estimated at 154,000 hectares, an 18 per cent increase from the previous year. Comparisons of the gross and net values with Afghan’s licit GDP for 2012 also serve to highlight the opium economy’s impact on the country. In 2012, net opium exports were worth some 10 per cent of licit GDP, while the farmgate value of the opium needed to produce those exports alone was equivalent to 4 per cent of licit GDP. On the basis of shared responsibility and the special session of the United Nation’s General assembly in 1998, the international community needs to take a balanced approach by addressing both the supply and the demand side equally. In addition, more attention needs to be paid to reduce demand and the smuggling of precursors as well as provide further support to the Government of Afghanistan.
Recent FBI intelligence from multiple FBI HUMINT sources indicates a shift in Los Zetas recruiting methods and reliance on non-traditional associates. Past, accurate FBI reporting indicated Los Zetas previously focused its recruitment on members with prior specialized training, such as ex-military and ex-law enforcement officers, and not on US-based gangs or US persons in order to maintain a highly-disciplined and structured hierarchy. This hierarchy, which resembled a military-style command and control structure, facilitated drug trafficking operations and maintained lines of authority. However, current FBI reporting indicates that Los Zetas is recruiting and relying on non-traditional, non-military trained associates—US-based prison and street gangs and non-Mexican nationals—to perform drug trafficking and support operations in Mexico and in the United States.
To examine the current money laundering and terrorist financing threats associated with correspondent banking, the Subcommittee selected HSBC as a case study. HSBC is one of the largest financial institutions in the world, with over $2.5 trillion in assets, 89 million customers, 300,000 employees, and 2011 profits of nearly $22 billion. HSBC, whose initials originally stood for Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, now has operations in over 80 countries, with hundreds of affiliates spanning the globe. Its parent corporation, HSBC Holdings plc, called “HSBC Group,” is headquartered in London, and its Chief Executive Officer is located in Hong Kong.
Despite the eradication of opium poppy by Governor-led Eradication (GLE) having increased by 154% in comparison to its 2011 level (9,672 hectares eradicated in 2012), the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 154,000 hectares (125,000 – 189,000) in 2012. While that represents a 18% increase in cultivation, potential opium production was estimated at 3,700 tons (2,800 – 4,200 tons) in 2012, a 36% decrease from the previous year. This was due to a decrease in opium yield caused by a combination of a disease of the opium poppy and adverse weather conditions, particularly in the Eastern, Western and Southern regions of the country.
A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime research report from October 2011 that “attempts to shed light on the total amounts likely to be laundered across the globe, as well as the potential attractiveness of various locations to those who launder money” and “examine the magnitude of illicit funds generated by drug trafficking and organized crime.”
Despite the continuous counter-narcotics efforts of the international community and the Afghan government throughout the past decade, Agence France-Presse wrote in April 2012 that Afghanistan continues to be a major contributor to the global drug supply. Approximately 90% of the world’s opium, most of which is processed into heroin, originates in Afghan fields. While potential opium production in Afghanistan peaked in 2007, poppy cultivation has recently risen. For instance, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) marked a 61% increase in the potential opium production between 2010 and 2011. A separate UNODC report from 2010 states that drugs and bribes are equivalent to approximately a quarter of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The purpose of this assessment is to explore the expansion and influence of US-based gangs abroad and their illicit operations and associations with foreign criminal organizations. For the purpose of this assessment, the term “gang” encompasses both street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs. In addition to FBI and open source reporting, the following law enforcement agencies from the United States, Canada, Central America, the Netherlands, and United Kingdom were surveyed to obtain data for the assessment.
The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) assesses with high confidence that in 2009, Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) were operating in the United States in at least 1,286 cities spanning all nine Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) regions, based on law enforcement reporting. Moreover, NDIC assesses with high confidence that Mexican DTOs in at least 143 of these U.S. cities were linked to a specific Mexican Cartel or DTO based in Mexico—the Sinaloa Cartel (at least 75 cities), the Gulf Cartel/Los Zetas (at least 37 cities), the Juárez Cartel (at least 33 cities), the Beltrán-Leyva DTO (at least 30 cities), La Familia Michoacán (at least 27 cities), or the Tijuana Cartel (at least 21 cities). NDIC assesses with high confidence that Mexican DTOs will further expand their drug trafficking operations in the United States in the near term, particularly in the New England, New York/New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic, and Florida/Caribbean Regions. NDIC also believes that Mexican DTOs will maintain the present high level of availability for heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine because the conditions in Mexico and in the United States that enabled and motivated the DTOs to increase production and availability of those drugs have not significantly changed.
Los Angeles Joint Drug Intelligence Group Intelligence Bulletin on Diverted Pharmaceuticals & Gang Distribution from March 2010.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Laredo Sector Intelligence Unit seizure of $1,757,665 of marijuana hidden in a cloned school bus from October 2009.
The intent of the Houston HIDTA Threat Assessment, produced by the Houston Intelligence Support Center (HISC), is to identify the potential impact of drug trafficking trends within the Houston HIDTA and to deliver accurate and timely strategic intelligence to assist law enforcement agencies in the development of drug enforcement strategies.
A 2010 assessment of pharmaceutical abuse released by the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous provides significant detail about the extent and human toll of prescription medication and “doctor shopping” in Houston and southeast Texas. The bulletin was reported on by major media sources, including the Houston Chronicle, but the report was never released publicly. As far back as 2007, southeast Texas has been referred to as a “mecca” for prescription drug abuse. In October 2007, the Houston Chronicle reported that the amount of Xanax seized by Houston Police had more than quadrupled from the previous year. That same year, narcotics investigators with the Houston Police Department seized 215,946 grams of hydrocodone, an increase of more than twenty-three times from the 9,030 grams seized in all 2005. By 2010, the Houston Chronicle estimated that since 2006 more than 1,300 people had died in Harris County due to the abuse of prescription medication.
(U//LES) Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Overview of Pharmaceutical Abuse and Diversion
The threat of pharmaceutical drug abuse and diversion in the Houston HIDTA has been dangerously high and increasing for the past several years. Drug investigators report that it is becoming more widespread, addicting abusers from middle school to middle age. Perhaps the most concerning threat related to pharmaceutical abuse is the alarmingly high potential for overdose or accidental death from controlled prescription drugs. In Harris County alone, from 2006 through 2008 pharmaceuticals were present in over 66% of the 1533 cases of toxicity-related deaths.1 In 2009, over 78% involved pharmaceuticals. Not only is diversion a deadly problem, it is incredibly profitable. Pain management clinic owners gross an average of $4,000-$5,000 per day at each location. A successful owner running multiple clinics can easily make $75,000 a week from only three operations, getting paid entirely in cash.
See also: More Photos of US/NATO Troops Patrolling Opium Poppy Fields in Afghanistan US/NATO Troops Patrolling Opium Poppy Fields in Afghanistan
Over the last few years, it has become more commonplace to see military-type weaponry such as grenades and assault rifles utilized by Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Increasingly, many of the reported hand grenade seizures in United States are illegal, improvised grenades destined for Mexico and the DTOs. These devices have become a weapon of choice for Mexican DTOs because they are cheap, the components are relatively easy to obtain and manufacture, are easily concealable, and can kill or injure large numbers of people indiscriminately. Reports have indicated that grenade attacks originated mostly in southern Mexico around the beginning of President Felipe Calderon’s presidency in 2006, and have steadily spread northward as the conflicts between rival DTO cartels, and Mexican government’s enforcement efforts have intensified in the northern Mexican Border States.