Criminals in enterprises such as human trafficking, money laundering, and drug trafficking are operating increasingly on a global scale. An organization may start in South Asia, and its financier may be based in Indonesia, with transportation and logistics people scattered through the Middle East and South America, and they may be working their way up the isthmus of Central America.
In July, 2011, President Obama rolled out a new strategy called the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime (http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/nsc/transnational-crime). The strategy seeks to attack transnational organized crime and create conditions so that it cannot flourish.
James Chaparro, who offered this scenario to demonstrate the complexity of the threat, is working with partners in the U.S. government and abroad to help implement the President's strategy through an innovative ICE-led effort called Illicit Pathways Attack Strategy (IPAS)(http://www.ice.gov/ipas/).
"We in ICE really saw an opportunity to leverage our broad authorities, our huge international footprint, and our outstanding relationships with foreign governments and other U.S. federal agencies to take a proactive approach to combat transnational crime," said Chaparro, Assistant Director for Intelligence, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The IPAS directly supports the President's strategy. It is designed to attack transnational organized crime along its entire continuum while at the same time address systemic vulnerabilities that allow these illicit networks to operate. The IPAS has four strategic objectives:
When ICE put IPAS into motion last year, it focused on human trafficking and smuggling. Victims pay to be transported to the U.S. border and moved into the country illegally. Some face brutal forms of servitude, such as prostitution and forced labor, to repay debts. As ICE moves the IPAS approach forward, it is broadening the scope of the strategy to include other forms of global crime, based on the agency's process of prioritizing threats. In an interview with Inside Homeland Security, Assistant Director Chaparro discussed how he applies the four strategic objectives to create networks to fight transnational crime.
"There's a million different criminal groups out there operating all around the globe. Which ones present the biggest threats to our security, and how do we prioritize our work against them?"
During the interview, Assistant Director Chaparro often spoke in questions to illustrate processes of investigation and enforcement. He said that, with regard to fighting human trafficking and smuggling, prioritizing was a new step in the methodology. Combatting the far-flung reach of transnational organized crime would require a network of partners within ICE and other U.S. agencies, along with partners in other nations. Assembling this network would not be possible unless the targets were meaningful for all concerned, he said. "It is all about partnership," said Assistant Director Chaparro.
"If we don't have a good methodology, if we don't get buy-in from our partners that these are the top targets, we're not going to get the interagency engagement that we need, and ultimately we will not be successful," Assistant Director Chaparro said.
The first steps in prioritizing are to consult a host of U.S. agencies and assemble intelligence on numerous transnational criminal organizations. Contributing agencies include the departments of State and Defense, the law enforcement and intelligence communities, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents within ICE.
For each criminal organization, officials work through a methodical, repeatable process to develop criteria to assess threats. Assistant Director Chaparro listed some of the essential questions to assess the magnitude of threat posed by a human smuggling organization:
"Then we assign a ranking or score for each one of those attributes based on the intelligence received," Assistant Director Chaparro said. At the end of this process, officials decide which organizations to target based on an objective assessment.
To accomplish this objective, officials must examine the systemic vulnerabilities in the illicit pathways that they have identified. If human smugglers are using a certain city as a pathway for transporting people, special agents must understand the reasons why criminals prefer that city more than any other around the world.
"This is where intelligence fits in," Assistant Director Chaparro said. He posed several key questions:
"Once we understand these vulnerabilities, we can then work with our substantial overseas footprint to address them," he said. These resources include not only ICE personnel but also such agencies as the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL). They can offer the host country training and consultation on a broad palette of issues, such as training for law enforcement and border security officials, improvements in document security, and suggestions for model legislation to shore up weaknesses in laws. In addition, officials in the host nation will receive support from overseas embedded HSI special agents. These efforts to strengthen the capacity of a nation's government to deal with transnational crime are essential to achieving a lasting impact, Assistant Director Chaparro said.
This objective comes into play at the beginning in prioritizing threats, and it continues in the form of sharing intelligence across agencies and across governments in the efforts to identify, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations. And equally important, ICE works closely with its interagency partners to bring a full range of capabilities against the illicit criminal networks. Assistant Director Chaparro described the role of intelligence, starting with the necessary questions:
"Who are the logistics people? Who are their money people? Who are the ones doing the recruiting of the aliens? Who are the ones who are doing the transporting? What legitimate businesses may be involved, either wittingly or unwittingly, in the transportation? We begin to paint a whole picture of the organization, so that when we get ready to take enforcement action, we're not just taking off the heads of the organization, but we're really taking the thing apart from top to bottom, and going for a total dismantlement of the organization." Assistant Director Chaparro said that when you fully understand the nature and scope of the criminal networks, you better understand how to attack them.
ICE has personnel in approximately 71 offices in 47 countries, providing a full-time presence with host-country law enforcement, border officials and customs authorities. In each nation, a State Department country team amplifies this presence with attachés serving as representatives of the U.S. government as a whole and also for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE. This presence includes an on-the-ground relationship-building effort of HSI special agents working closely with foreign law enforcement agencies, and through a robust network of specialized vetted units known as Transnational Criminal Investigative Units (TCIU). In addition, HSI brings personnel from host countries to the United States to train, in the language of the host nation, at the DHS Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, GA.
"It's not just getting people together for training, but it's really building those trusted relationships, getting to know the people," Assistant Director Chaparro said. "And our special agents overseas work day in and day out with the TCIUs to make sure we're meeting their needs." As trust builds through these relationships, U.S. and host-nation authorities begin to share information more readily, and the fight against transnational organized crime moves forward.
"I think we have willing partners in those regards," Assistant Director Chaparro said. "They don't want these drug organizations or human smuggling organizations or any crime group operating in their community. Public safety is a top priority for all of us and that is what makes these partnerships work."
In the first six months of IPAS, many officials across DHS responded enthusiastically to the IPAS message, Assistant Director Chaparro said—so much so that ICE has planned two new focus areas for the strategy: illicit finance and counterproliferation.
"One of the ways to go after organizations is to cut off the money," he said. In the same way that the strategy was applied to human smuggling, the effort to attack illicit finance involves identifying the vulnerabilities that transnational criminals are exploiting. The investigation broadens beyond conventional money laundering to include emerging threats such as trade based money laundering, stored-value cards, and other sophisticated methods to launder illicit proceeds of crime. ICE has an aggressive counterproliferation program. The IPAS approach leverages the broad scope of ICE's authorities to prevent terrorist groups and hostile nations from illegally obtaining U.S. military products and sensitive technology, including weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
"As the strategy catches hold, I think there's no stopping us. My concern is we're running so fast," Assistant Director Chaparro said. "There are so many people who want to engage in what we're doing."
Building international relationships for intelligence and law enforcement often begins with small steps. Such was the case in Ecuador, Assistant Director Chaparro said.
The small steps led to big results with the arrest of three terror-related figures.
"We saw Ecuador as a hub for human smuggling, for various reasons, and we began working with them, first in small ways," Assistant Director Chaparro said. "We had an exceptionally talented attaché in Quito named Gabriel Garcia. Special Agent Garcia is a native Spanish speaker who really understood the culture and was very good at dealing with very senior-level officials in the government, as well as the local cops."
This highly respected attaché helped build the Transnational Investigative Unit in Ecuador, which led to improved trust and increasingly effective operations. Using U.S. and Ecuadoran resources, agents infiltrated a human smuggling organization that had agreed to smuggle people who they thought were terrorists into the United States, Assistant Director Chaparro said.
The operation led to the arrest of three Pakistani citizens in Miami on March 13, 2011. On September 12, 2011, they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), often referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, a designated foreign terrorist organization.
An ICE news release, citing court documents, provided details of the case. The documents indicate that law enforcement agents directed confidential sources to ask the defendants, who were residing in Ecuador at the time, for their assistance in smuggling a fictitious person from Pakistan to the United States. The defendants were told that the person to be smuggled was a member of the TTP who was blacklisted in Pakistan, according to the news release.
According to the court documents, the defendants agreed to move this person from Pakistan into the United States, despite his purported affiliation with the TTP, the news release recounted. One of the Pakistanis, according to the court documents, told the confidential sources that it was "not their concern" what the men "want to do in the United States—hard labor, sweep floor, wash dishes in a hotel, or blow up. That will be up to them." The defendants accepted payment from the confidential sources for the smuggling operation and procured a false Pakistani passport for the purported TTP member, the news release said.
The arrest of the three Pakistanis was the result of building trust through long-term relationships, Assistant Director Chaparro said. "We started small and built it into something that worked out to be phenomenal," he said. "And the work continues. That's just one particular instance."