Home News Testimony Combating International Gangs Through the Merida Initiative
  • Kenneth W. Kaiser
  • Assistant Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Statement Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
  • Washington, DC
  • February 07, 2008

Good morning Chairman Engel, Ranking Member Burton, and members of the Subcommittee. I am pleased to be here today to discuss the FBI’s involvement in the Merida Initiative.

Modern gangs increasingly attempt to spread their influence and operate across state lines and international borders. Through years of experience in combating transnational organized criminal groups, the FBI understands it is imperative we work closely with our national and international law enforcement partners to disrupt the illegal activities of these transnational gangs and dismantle their violent criminal enterprises.

With this goal in mind, the FBI launched the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) National Gang Task Force (NGTF) in 2004 to coordinate and support local, state, federal, and international law enforcement operations and prosecutions. Since that time, the FBI has collaborated with law enforcement entities throughout Central America in an effort to improve our knowledge base, gather accurate and actionable intelligence, and improve communication and coordination.

The Merida Initiative

The Merida Initiative enhances the Bureau’s long standing efforts to enable Mexico and the countries of Central America to build their capacity to fight organized crime and drug trafficking, thus improving regional security and stability. With the significant support and funding of the Merida Initiative, which has allowed the FBI to sharpen its focus on cross-border collaboration, the Bureau is better equipped to investigate international criminal organizations such as the MS-13 and 18th Street Gangs. These expanding partnerships with our neighbors to the South have proven to be especially fruitful in the following two contexts.

Transnational Anti-Gang Task Force

The FBI’s NGTF created and implemented, with funding from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), the Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Task Force to assist in combating the growing threat posed by transnational gangs and drug cartels in Latin America. The TAG combines the expertise, resources, and jurisdiction of participating agencies involved in investigating and countering transnational criminal gang activity in the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. The objective of the TAG is to aggressively investigate, disrupt, and dismantle gangs whose activities rise to the level of criminal enterprises. Through information sharing and open communication with the participating countries, the TAG is in a position to acquire and disseminate valuable information previously unavailable to U.S. law enforcement agencies. For example, as a direct result of close collaboration with the Policia Nacional Civil of El Salvador, crucial leads for a gang-related homicide investigation in Miami were developed, and an individual arrested by U.S. authorities on immigration charges was identified as being wanted for multiple homicides in El Salvador. The TAG has extended the reach of U.S. law enforcement and set a foundation for effective two-way communication between participating countries.

Central American Fingerprint Exploitation Initiative

Another program specifically designed to enhance cooperation, communication, and intelligence sharing throughout Mexico and Central America is the Central American Fingerprint Exploitation Initiative (known as CAFÉ). CAFÉ was developed by the FBI to collect and store existing criminal biometric data and fingerprint records from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. Once acquired, biometric data and fingerprint records are incorporated into the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) database and made available to all U.S. local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. In addition, CAFÉ enables the participating countries to conduct digital fingerprint identification and analysis though the provision of hardware and training.

Since May 2006, the FBI has compared over 60,000 criminal fingerprints from Mexico, El Salvador, and Belize to U.S. fingerprint databases. Analysis has shown that almost ten percent of the individuals associated with these records have had contact with domestic law enforcement entities. Of the 50,000 fingerprint records from El Salvador for example, 4,300 records were positive matches in our databases. Sharing such information across our borders is crucial for effective transnational investigations.

Intelligence Sharing and Coordination

To maximize the benefit from the above discussed initiatives, the FBI has coordinated the implementation and administration of the following intelligence sharing vehicles.

Law Enforcement Online (LEO)

The FBI’s NGTF administers a LEO website providing user-friendly anytime and anywhere electronic communication which offers secure transmission of sensitive but unclassified global intelligence. The NGTF has a LEO Special Interest Group that allows authorized LEO subscribers to securely share information, view NGTF initiatives, support investigative operations, send/post notifications and alerts, exchange intelligence, review MS-13 global trends, view/download NGTF intelligence products and PowerPoint presentations, add subscriber comments/suggestions, review specialized training, obtain resources, have real time secure discussions, as well as many other functions. This website allows secure communication between the applicable law enforcement entities in the United States and the participating agencies in Central America.

Officer Exchange Program

The FBI has partnered with the Los Angeles City Mayor's Office, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office (LASO), the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and the Policia Nacional Civil (PNC) of El Salvador to develop an international exchange program designed to enhance information/intelligence sharing and encourage constructive discourse with regard to best practices in gang investigation and dismantlement.

Specifically, officers of the PNC gang unit, Centro Antipandillas Transnacional (CAT), will be assigned to LAPD and LASO for 30 days, participating in training and organized periods of observation with each agency. The schedule will include familiarization with community policing programs, youth recruitment prevention initiatives, gang enforcement and patrol, gang member identification and database configuration, and task force design and management.

National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC)

The FBI led NGIC is comprised of representatives from numerous law enforcement, intelligence, and defense agencies. As a result of its far reaching bandwidth, the NGIC is a critical tool for the sharing of information. Intelligence derived from the above discussed initiatives and programs is provided to NGIC for analysis and dissemination. In addition, NGIC officials input transnational gang member data into the Violent Gang Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF) to ensure the widest possible dissemination of intelligence concerning these violent gang members.

Among the primary consumers of NGIC generated intelligence is the Gang Targeting, Enforcement and Coordination Center (GangTECC), a multi-agency center co-located with NGIC designed to serve as a critical catalyst in a unified federal effort to disrupt and dismantle the most significant and violent gangs. Senior GangTECC investigators come from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). These investigators work together to achieve maximum impact at the national level against the most violent gangs in this country.

OCDETF Fusion Center

The FBI is a member of the OCDETF Fusion Center, which was developed to collect and analyze drug trafficking and related financial investigative information and to disseminate investigative leads throughout the FBI and to other OCDETF participants.

Conclusion

The Merida Initiative has fostered greater information sharing and collaboration between the United States, Mexico, and the countries of Central America. The programs discussed above, as well as others, will continue to provide a better understanding of the gang problem on a regional level. Combating violent crime and gangs is a priority of law enforcement throughout this hemisphere. By working together through these partnerships, we are creating a force multiplier to make use of combined resources in the most effective way possible.

Thank you Chairman Engel and members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to testify today concerning this important initiative. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

 
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