ICYMI: Sen. Kelly Chairs Senate Hearing on Security Cooperation in Western Hemisphere, Examines Flow of Fentanyl into Arizona  

In case you missed it, this week, Navy combat veteran and Arizona Senator Mark Kelly chaired the first open hearing in 2022 of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, which focused on strategic competition and security cooperation in the Western Hemisphere. 

In his opening remarks, Kelly emphasized the growing challenges facing the Western Hemisphere surrounding organized crime, instability, the undermining of democratic institutions, and corruption, as well as how we can best leverage longstanding U.S. security relationships in the region. Kelly went on to raise the record-high flow of fentanyl into Arizona in 2021, and asked witnesses about the role of the Department of Defense in combating this drug trafficking that is harming Arizonans. 

“We are seeing this in Arizona, where fentanyl seizures at or near the border continue to rise, putting a greater strain on local law enforcement that is also stretched by the migrant crisis,” Kelly said to Department of Defense witnesses.  

Kelly also highlighted strategic competition in the region. He invited witnesses to address attempts by China and Russia to leverage instability created by the illicit drug trade and expand their influence in the Western Hemisphere, and what the DoD is doing to combat that.

Kelly addresses the subcommittee and witnesses on Wednesday.

You can read a transcript of Sen. Kelly’s first exchange with witnesses below or watch the video HERE.

Kelly: The DNI’s [Director of National Intelligence] latest Annual Threat Assessment report, issued in February of this year, highlighted that the threat from illicit drugs, particularly synthetic drugs, has reached record levels, with more than 100,000 U.S. drug-overdose deaths annually for the first time.   

In Arizona, the DEA has said that they seized a record amount of fentanyl in 2021, with the primary source being the Sinaloa Cartel. This has taken the lives of many Arizonans and put a strain on local law enforcement. Secretary Dalton, do you agree that the threat from illicit drug trafficking is a national security threat and that the Department of Defense has an important role to play in addressing that threat? 

Dalton: Thank you very much for the question. And yes, I do agree that this is a national security threat that we must be committed to addressing. It is a tragedy…the alarming rate of hundreds of thousands of Americans that are being affected by the illicit drug trade in states across America. And so DOD is committed to the important role that we play in detection and monitoring, in intelligence cooperation in the broader region, as well as through our security cooperation efforts, to try to address this phenomenon upstream, working closely with partners in the region and with our interagency partners, and then also in the Homeland in support of DHS, DOJ, DEA and other relevant civilian-led authorities. We are absolutely committed to this mission and it is a national security challenge.

Kelly: I imagine the Chinese and the Russians are looking at this as a big opportunity for them. Is it your assessment that our near-peer competitors like China and Russia are taking advantage of this instability created by this illicit drug trade and they’re using this to expand their influence in the Western Hemisphere?

Dalton: Mr. Chairman, thank you for pointing out this important nexus, you know, as we look at the threats in the region and what our strategic competitors are doing and how they opportunistically may seek to ride upon other drivers of instability. I think this nexus is going to be increasingly important to watch, which is why we have dedicated elements within Southern Command within the broader department to track the behavior of our strategic competitors and what the inter-relationships might be with some of the transnational criminal organizations and would be happy to follow up through classified channels to share more. 

Kelly: Thank you. Mr. Saenz. The Department of Defense’s budget for drug interdiction and counterdrug activities as approved by the Omnibus for fiscal year 2022 is over 800 million dollars. And two thirds of that is focused on the Western Hemisphere and the US Homeland. So, Mr. Saenz, how effective would you say the Department’s counterdrug activities have been in cutting off the flow of illicit drugs into our country?

Saenz: Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for that question, and this opportunity to be with all of you today. So I think that the Department of Defense’s activities in conjunction with all of our partners, both interagency and international partners, work well together to help stem the flow of drugs into the United States, given our authorities and the funding provided by Congress. I think that the authorities that are provided by Congress are really what shape what we are able to do, and I’d like to thank all the members of Congress and members of the Senate and the members of this subcommittee for those authorities to help assist us in shaping how we provide our part of interagency international effort to stem the flow of drugs. 

Kelly: Can you give an assessment of its effectiveness? Is there any kind of metric you use, any way to measure the effectiveness of the 800 million dollar budget for where most of that goes to the Western Hemisphere and the US Homeland? 

Saenz: So thank you for that, this opportunity to clarify. So our budget that we provide, that 800 million, is divided into several different areas. Part of that is for our own demand reduction activities within the Department of Defense. Some of that is for our primary Mission, which is detection and monitoring, and part of that is for the support that we provide through intelligence and logistics support, and then a large portion is the support we provide through the National Guard and supporting local, state, and federal law enforcement. Each one of those categories has different metrics in areas that we look at for how we are providing that support in conjunction with our law enforcement partners. So in those various areas, we do have metrics that we look at to see how we’re providing that support and in general those metrics show that the support that we provide is effective and points out ways where we can become more effective and efficient with the funds that are provided.