1811 Magazine — Summer 2011
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FLEOA Testifies On Agent Safety Issue In Mexico


On March 31, 2011, FLEOA National President Jon Adler testified before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Investigations, Management and Oversight. Adler's testimony addressed the officer safety issues relating to the tragic murder of hero ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico. During the hearing, Adler expressed the view that the State Department should ensure that all law enforcement officers assigned to Mexico (and other hostile foreign areas) receive full diplomatic protection and have the means to defend themselves. Agents/Officers assigned there as a temporary duty station should also have full diplomatic protection. Adler also concurred with Subcommittee Chairman McCaul that the Mexican cartels should be classified as foreign terrorist organizations - see Adler's full oral testimony below:

Good morning, Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Keating, distinguished members of the committee. On behalf of the 26,000 members of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I'm here to represent the members of the federal law enforcement community as well as the memory and the ultimate sacrifice of Special Agent Jaime Zapata as well as the heroic performance of Victor Avila. As evidenced by the hearing's title and the discussion early, yes, in Mexico there is a war. Make no mistake. There is clearly a war.

And that brings about, as a result of the brutal murder of Jaime Zapata and attack on Victor, it raises two important questions -- questions that my members would really like answers to, first question being -- and I know Director Alvarez did address this in part -- in light of what happened - - and this is a defining moment for us -- what risk assessment was performed to accurately and realistically measure the risks that U.S. agents assigned to Mexico confront every day? And second, what steps has our State Department taken to negotiate the means to protection, the means for our agents there to better protect themselves against the violent threats they face? Those are two critical questions that we would like the answer to, and I appeal to the committee for your sustained support. Early March -- March 3rd -- President Obama met with President Calderon and afterwards came out and made some statements that had a very significant impact on the morale of my membership. In particular, he recognized that the laws of Mexico prohibit us from carrying there. Understood. We respect the law of Mexico and we don't attempt to change their laws. However, he went on to say that we don't perform law enforcement activities there and seemingly minimized the risk we face by describing their role -- or our role -- there as advisory. Gentlemen, that is a minimization of the risks that we face.

We heard it from Director Alvarez. The threats are increasing. The risk is increasing. Jaime Zapata was not targeted for what he does. There is no need to debate the semantics of the specific activities they do there. Suffice to say, law enforcement activities entails more than simply putting handcuffs on a suspect. But to call them advisory -- gentlemen, they were targeted and attacked for who they are -- not for what they do, but for who they are as U.S. law enforcement officials. And, it's very important to understand that and not lose sight of that point.

We are imminently concerned on the topic of protection, and I understand the subtlety and sensitivity of some of these points. But more so, directing these issues towards the State Department -- and I condone Representative Gramm and his 33 colleagues that addressed a letter to Secretary Clinton to ask the question, "What are you doing by way of negotiation to exert this country's considerable leverage to ensure that our agents assigned there have the means to protect and defend themselves?" And we're waiting for an answer to that.

But what we're concerned about also is, as a part of this protection package, it's not just defensive driving. That's important. Evasive maneuvers is definitely important. I'm also concerned about diplomatic coverage. Are we sending agents there on temporary assignment with only partial diplomatic protection? And here's my point: My point is, they are no less at risk because they're only there temporarily. However, if one Of my agents is attacked and killed, like Jaime Zapata, do we have the legal means to demand extradition and prosecute the killers for what they've done?

And I want to be absolutely sure that if my members endure and embrace the risks to go over to Mexico and fight this war that they will have full diplomatic coverage and the peace of mind knowing that God forbid they make the ultimate sacrifice, and their killers are caught -- and I have every confidence we'll catch them -- that they will be brought back here, extradited, and prosecuted. And that's what we're asking. You know, Chairman, I applaud you for characterizing these organizations as they should be: narcoterrorists. It is an oversimplification to simply view these cartels as either a drug cartel or a human trafficking organization, gun trafficking, and even, obviously, with a terrorist angle. Here's the point: They obviously have demonstrated violent behavior. They've drawn upon Pablo Escobar's play book by way of their violent terrorist sort of tactics. We have to recognize that. There is both a profit motive as well as a political motive, and based on their behavior and their conduct we need to identify and characterize them for what they are. This is growing into another Afghanistan right on our border, and unfortunately, as much as I'd like to say, "Don't send my guys there if we can't protect them," we play a critical role there and we do need to be there.

And I can tell you, what Director Alvarez said is true. ICE is doing phenomenal work. So is the DEA and the FBI. They are critical to educating and working with our Mexican counterparts to ensure the proper components are there to sustain an integrated formidable approach to combat these narcoterrorist organizations. On behalf of my members I thank you all for the opportunity to appear here today. I welcome any and all questions.I will say one more thing in closing. Regarding all these statistics that were discussed in terms of the spillover -- which, by the way, it's not a spillover; it's a charge-through and it goes beyond the border and filters into all of our cities -- but I will say this: While the FBI stats may show that the overall statistics on violent crime may have gone down, violent crime committed against us, law enforcement officers, increased over 41 percent last year and is increasing beyond that this year with over 50 fatalities, 24 of which law enforcement officers were killed by gunfire.

So I ask to keep that in the back of your mind when you consider statistics. Crime against law enforcement is on the rise, and it's my job, representing the FLEOA members, to ensure that we're doing everything we can to better protect our law enforcement officers. Thank you.

MCCAUL: Thank you, Mr. Adler. Let me just say in follow-up to that that I completely agree with you that that targeting, now, of U.S. law enforcement is a game changer, both in Mexico and in the United States. And I also agree, we should not be putting our agents down into Mexico into a war zone without adequate protection and ability to defend themselves. And so we've asked ICE, we've asked State Department to provide this committee with what those adequate protections are. There is a classified briefing that we attended; for those members who have not attended, I would encourage you to do so on this issue as well.