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Adm. Tidd prepared remarks: Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America

June 16, 2017


Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America

U.S. Southern Command headquarters, Miami | June 16, 2017

Scene Setter for Session 1: "Combatting Organized Crime and Regional Security Cooperation"

Good morning. Secretary Kelly, President Morales, President Hernandez, Vice President Ortiz, Minister Videgaray, ministers and European Union representatives, regional leaders: let's start this morning's scene-setter by turning back the clock.

It's the summer of 2016, and the Department Of Homeland Security's Operation Citadel is about to achieve another success.

A criminal network is about to be taken down. This network is based in Guatemala, but has tentacles all over the world. And this network is very, very good at what it does: smuggling people from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East through South America and Central America and into the United States. This network has been operating for years, and it's moved thousands of people, compromising our collective sovereignty by undermining the integrity of our borders along the way.

The work is hard, and the logistics are challenging, but multiple corrupt government officials help move things along. Like the criminals they support, these officials are about to be held accountable for their actions.

The dismantlement of this network began with a tip from the Homeland Security Investigations Attache Office in Merida, Mexico.

It ended with the Guatemalan, Panama, Salvadoran, Honduran, Costa Rican and Colombian police coordinating the arrest of 41 individuals across the Americas.

  • The 15-month investigation involved multiple U.S. agencies – ICE, HSI, and CBP agents on the frontlines, with support from the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, and partnerships with multiple agencies from the nations represented here today.
  • Together we followed this network through its nodes and relationships, through its complicated dealings and interactions, through its expansive financial movements.
  • Together we uncovered a web of nefarious actors and activities that spanned the globe, crossed different domains, and impacted multiple countries in different ways.
  • Together, we targeted different functions, pathways, and capabilities of this network.
  • Together we linked domestic and international law enforcement investigations and operations with prosecutions in the US and across the Americas.

This is what success against criminal networks looks like: it's shared success. It's all of us working as one team, across time and space and geography. Coordinated and integrated. Coming at the problem from all angles. United in our resolve. Bringing our different strengths to bear. Supporting one another.

Right about now, you're probably wondering why a guy in a military uniform is talking about a law enforcement operation. You may be thinking it's because this is his conference center, so Secretary Kelly had to give him a chance to say something ... And while that may be true, that isn't why I want to highlight this particular vignette.

Now it's true that Operation Citadel is a law enforcement operation, but it's more than that, because the threat posed by criminal networks blurs the lines. This threat blurs the lines between law enforcement and national defense, between the global and the local, between legitimate trade and illicit activity.

  • It's a development problem, a national security problem, a law enforcement problem, and an economic problem.
  • It's a public health and safety problem that costs each of our countries tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in lost revenue.
  • It's a governance problem that undermines the very core of our democracies.

It's a problem of networks. And this problem means two things.

First, just like the threats we're facing, we have to be networked. This means we can't just do only one thing, at just a single moment in time.

  • We can't just pressure the financial, infrastructure, and leadership sub-networks of transnational criminal organizations.
  • We have to also provide targeted training and capacity building of vetted units, so that our partner nations can identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal networks during real-time, cross border operations.
  • Each of us has an obligation to develop and share both information and intelligence with one another, as fast as we can produce it.
  • We have to constantly seek out new opportunities to work together.  We have to learn from one another and we have to trust one another.
  • In other words, we have to think, and act, like a network.

The good news is, we're building that network right now. Here in this room, and in every engagement we conduct, through every program we execute, we're building it.

That network is comprised of national police and attorney generals, border and customs agents, financial forensics analysts and prosecutors, military officers and intelligence analysts.

At this very moment, there are courageous men and women from the United States, Colombia, Mexico, and Panama out there in the field, in classrooms, providing real-world counter network training to their counterparts.

  • How to spot signs of illicit finance and money laundering, and how to employ good investigate techniques.
  • How to use biometrics programs and electronic travel document systems.
  • How to conduct effective border and maritime interdictions, how to do network analysis, and the mastery of digital media exploitation.
  • How to conduct checkpoint operations, how to build a targeting package.
  • And their students are going to take that training, and they're going to use it to great effect.

But that brings me to my other point. This is no time to rest on our laurels, to pat ourselves on the back and say we've got this all figured out. Because we don't. Everything we do (or don't do) causes criminal networks to react, to learn, and to adapt.

So in the example I just told you about, where we took down this human smuggling network, that's a significant success.  There's a lot to be proud of.  41 bad guys are sitting in jails across the region right now.

But here's the thing: 41 new bad guys have probably taken their place.  There's always more work to be done. So now we have to ask ourselves, how do we, as a network, keep adapting, keep learning, keep improving? I definitely don't have all the answers, but here are a few ideas.

Imagine if we do all the things I just described--the multinational and multiagency coordination, the synchronization of capacity building and cross-border operations, the real-time sharing of information. Imagine if we did all that, but we also synchronized our land-based efforts with our maritime interdiction operations, so that criminal networks were being pressured from all sides.

Imagine if we established new forums to share information with one another, and improved how we "see" the environment and our efforts within it, and if we used that common awareness to act rapidly and cohesively.

Imagine if we fully integrated our tactical operations and activities with the strategic efforts of our development, private sector, and NGO partners -- so that as we tear networks apart, we're also building something up. Something enduring -- a viable alternative to criminal influence, lasting prosperity and opportunity for our citizens.

This is why we're really here today--because we all know that security and prosperity don't just go hand in hand.  They're part of the same network.

Let's do everything we can to make our network stronger, more resilient, and more powerful than any criminal network can ever hope to be.

Let's really network prosperity and security.

Thank you.