American Forces Press Service
STUTTGART, Germany, May 8, 2012 – A new task force at U.S. European Command is helping other U.S. government agencies and their international counterparts confront trafficking in illicit goods and services that officials call a major national security threat to the United States.
Eucom stood up the Joint Interagency Counter Trafficking Center here in September to focus on trafficking in drugs, weapons, humans and other illicit commodities, as well as their financing, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Scraba, the center’s director, told American Forces Press Service.
Its role is to marshal military resources to support a whole-of-government approach to a skyrocketing problem that extends far beyond European borders.
“Europe has become the illicit trafficking intersection of the world,” Scraba said, a transit zone for illicit shipments originating not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East, Asia, and increasingly, South and Central America.
Scraba noted a variety of factors: Europe’s central location, a lucrative cocaine market that pays four to five times the U.S. street value, and increasing challenges traffickers face getting drugs across the southern U.S. border.
“So there is an incredible incentive for drug organizations to expand and open up new franchises in Europe,” Scraba said.
Compounding the challenge, he explained, is the fact that traffickers who once operated independently have aligned their efforts. They see the value of working together as they use the same organized networks to traffic their materials.
The result, Scraba said, is far more sophisticated criminal networks able to operate across national borders. Among the greatest concerns, he said, has been the convergence of drug and terror networks.
All of this contributes to corruption of legitimate governments as well as global financial and trade networks, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the Eucom commander, said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service. “It undermines fragile democracies. It has a real human cost.”
Scraba described the step-by-step process that occurs. “Trafficking feeds corruption. And if you have corruption, that leads to instability within the governing process of a country,” he said. “If you then have instability and corruption in the day-to-day governing of a country, then that spreads to regional instability. And regional instability … has the second- and third-order effects of impacting multiple regions, requiring a response by the international community.”
Particularly troubling, Stavridis recently told Congress, is the trafficking networks’ links to terrorism and insurgencies and their ability to undermine stability, security and sovereignty. The same networks that move narcotics, weapons and people also transport terrorist operatives, he said, and this trafficking, regardless of the commodity, bankrolls organized crime, terrorists and insurgents.
For example, drug trafficking through Europe has had a significant impact on security in Afghanistan. The Taliban made more than $150 million in 2009 alone through the sale of opium, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimated in its 2011 World Drug Report. That same year, the U.N. estimated that 75 to 80 metric tons of Afghan heroin reached Central and Western Europe, and another 90 metric tons transited through Central Asia to Russia.
Concerned about this growing threat, Stavridis took the lessons of U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South in Florida that he previously commanded to create Eucom’s smaller-scale operation from existing resources.
With fewer than 40 staff members, including representatives of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and other U.S. government agencies focused on trafficking, it serves as a “fusion organization” matrixed to other Defense Department and U.S. government agencies. This, Scraba said, leverages military capabilities to help them operate more effectively.
“We are the cog in the wheel” that reaches out to and helps connect the other spokes, he said. That runs from providing translators to monitor known trafficking networks and technology to help federal law enforcement officials to more efficiently inspect shipping containers to teaching police dogs to sniff out drugs or explosives.
Eucom shares intelligence and lessons the military has learned supporting U.S. interagency partners’ counternarcotics efforts in the United States, Scraba said. The command recently ran a conference for 14 partner nations, providing law enforcement communications training and sharing lessons learned in running an operations center.
“This gets at the center of gravity for why we exist: to support our U.S. agency efforts,” Scraba said.
“The bottom line,” he explained, “is that trafficking is a network of networks. And in order for us – the United States and international community – to have the best chance of disrupting and dismantling illicit trafficking, we, too, have to be a network of networks.
“That is the U.S. military, supporting the U.S. interagency and then collaborating with international organizations that share the same concern and have the same objectives with regards of disrupting and dismantling illicit trafficking,” he added.
Just eight months after it stood up, the new Eucom task force is getting a warm reception from interagency and international partners alike, who recognize the contribution it can make to their countertrafficking efforts.
All recognize the extent of the problem, Scraba said, and the need to work together to confront it.
“There is no question that it is a problem, and there is no question that this is a team sport and that it requires the international community working together to combat this,” he said.
That’s essential to disrupting trafficking and making Europe inhospitable to traffickers, he said. Americans should care that it succeeds, he added, because it’s a matter of “invest now, save later.”
“It is clear and documented that trafficking distorts economies. It erodes sovereignties. It corrupts democracies. It accelerates extremism. It weakens allies and feeds terrorism,” he said.
“All that adds up to a threat to the U.S. homeland,” he continued. “And that, from a national security perspective, is the ‘So what?’ as far as why trafficking is such a significant issue here in Europe.”