26 Mar 2011

U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske: Alternative crops in Afghanistan can lead to significant reduction in drug production

U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske has visited Moscow for talks with Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) Director Viktor Ivanov within the framework of Russian-U.S. presidential anti-drug working group and has given an interview to Interfax in the wake of the meeting.

Question: Mr. Kerlikowske, has the working group that you co-chair together with Mr. Ivanov brought any practical result?

Answer: I mean in a year and a half, and I look it at all the commissions, we’re put together, when President Obama was getting ready to come over here, we were the first ones to meet, the first ones to put tangible ideas on the table. I think Afghanistan is at least one kind of results: the increases in the number of FSKN personnel there, the training opportunities that FSKN has offered to Afghanis at Domodedovo and trilateral operations that the Afghan counter narcotics police, FSKN, and the DEA carried out.
I think the other results from two police law enforcement executives, who head this commission, is this focus on public health and education.

Q.: Talking about the joint group what are the nearest aims?

A.: Improvement of financial tracing, these criminal enterprises and developed systems to deal with changes in money, how money is transferred moved, accounted for etc, and we have to have enforcement mechanisms and tracing mechanisms. It’s important that you arrest kingpins, it is important that you seize drugs, but it is also very that you choke off the money. That’s I think is a great step forward. The other steps are, as we were talking to the students today, our making sure that young people do not become involved in drugs to the best of our ability, will pay huge dividends to both countries.

Q.: In general, what are the purposes Russia is pursuing in combating drug trafficking? Probably, you could advise something.

A.: Actually, I think we’ve learnt a lot from each other, and I don’t think there is in my career a meeting with a lot of executives over a long time before this traveling was made, I actually don’t think there is anyone that I met that is more I guess what we would say in America right now is more forward-leaning or more thinking-broadly about the drug problem than Director Ivanov. You know, you read his book, he talks about there is no police solution to our problem, the same kind of quotes that President Medvedev has made. I don’t think people would have just naturally assume that one would be in a position of the head of FSKN. So, I think it is healthy for both of us.

Q.: Many experts say that threats concerning drug trafficking for the U.S. and for Russia are quite different, for instance for the U.S. it’s cocaine from Latin America and for Russia it is first of all heroin from Afghanistan. How can our countries cooperate with all those different threats?

A.: You know, the threat has changed or continues to change on a fairly rapid basis. Because if we were to go back and look at our threat just within the last few years about cocaine, it would have been from Latin America, through Mexico into the U.S., now the cocaine issue is across the Caribbean, the Atlantic into West Africa, into Europe, the UK and certainly Russia. That changes pretty dramatically. I think that the fact that Mexican cartels are, it’s been well-documented, it certainly not in confidential sources, that those cartels have tentacles in Spain, in Europe, certainly in North America – Canada and the U.S. So, looking at the treat from a world perspective rather than our individual problems I think makes sense.

Q.: You mentioned the problem of drug-trafficking through the Mexican border, in case of Russia, do you think it is possible to combat drug-trafficking given that Russia has visa-free regimes with the Central Asian countries?

A.: I think the work that we have been doing with the Quad - the four countries - in trying to better share information and work with [] probably are important steps, they need of course to mature, they need to become more robust, and I think it’s everyone’s intention. And of course customs and borders security issues: whether our south-west border is almost 2,000 miles that Russia’s border is. We all recognize that reducing the demands for use within our own countries, if we can do it, will have a greater impact than all of the border improvements. Not that they are not important, but still we have to reduce our own demand. And so does Russia.

Q.: In your opinion what are the possible ways to decrease demand for drugs in both of countries?

A.: We’ve seen success in our what we call drug-free coalitions, so for a very small amount of money we fund 700 of these around the country, and they are organized by oftentimes someone in the school system, and it is a coalition of law enforcement faith-based groups, neighborhood groups and etc. They work very hard to reduce underage drinking and drug-use in a preventive atmosphere. The research and evaluation of these drug-free coalitions is very positive. The second positive thing that we do, we have a media campaign, we call it Youth Anti-drug Media Campaign, and the initial evaluations of that campaign, which is often spread through social media not as much in the old traditional media, show that young people who have been exposed to those ads about being about being in control of their lives, not about do not do marijuana, do not do this, do not do that, but being in control of their lives, the evaluation shows that they are more resistant to using drugs that young people who have not been exposed to those ads. And that is only a short-term, and you know we do not know how, what the long-term effect of those is. I would at least take it as a positive step.

Q.: Russia has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. and other coalition countries do not do enough to combat poppy fields in Afghanistan, why is it so?

A.: Well, I think there are two things. One I think that often times what happened over now 15 years in Columbia is seen as the model or template for every other country, including Mexico. And all those countries are very different. The countries have their own sovereignty, so we don’t impose things like eradication. It has to be led and developed by any individual country. And clearly President Karzai has chosen not to do widespread eradication, but they still of course have got led their own eradication which has been successful, and there’re poppy-free provinces. There’s still an awful lot of work being done by a number of coalition groups on developing alternative crops, which in turn can have a significant reduction. And if the eradication decisions change in the future [] the coalition would support what the government of Afghanistan would wish to do.

Q.: You mentioned social media are those social media, social network s are used by drug dealers? How can this be combated that?

A.: Well, in the U.S. particularly, with the First Amendment and free speech issues, if they are not engaged in some illegal conduct and there are not involved in messages in which drugs are glorified, there is nothing legally can be done about those. If technology is being used for instance to sell pharmaceuticals or synthetic drugs that are illegal, those technologies can be seized and people can be charged with crimes.