Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Posted: 3:02 am EDT
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Last month, we’ve blogged about State/INL’s aerial eradication program in Colombia (see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?). We understand that there was a cable sent through the Dissent Channel concerning this subject. We also received an  allegation that the “OIG wouldn’t touch this issue last year.”   So we asked the Office of Inspector General and here is its official response:

There is no Department program or operation that the OIG is unwilling to review. In fact, the OIG inspected Embassy Bogota, Colombia in early 2011. That inspection discusses counter narcotics programs, drug production and trafficking in Colombia. Additional pertinent, recent reports include a Compliance Follow-up Review of Embassy Bogota, published in December 2008 (ISP-C-09-08A), and an Inspection of Embassy Bogota published in March 2006 (ISP-I-06-16A).

That 2011 OIG inspection report is a 64-page document;  the discussion on the counternarcotics program encompasses approximately four pages of that report.

We could not locate a recent OIG inspection/audit of the counternarcotics (CN) program in Colombia. By comparison,  there are multiple audits for the CN program in Afghanistan (see related items below). The CN program in Colombia predates the one in Afghanistan, so makes one ask questions. We’ve also asked State/OIG if there is any plan to put this program in the IG’s inspection or audit schedule anytime soon? Here is the response:

OIG develops its work plans based on a number of factors – including, a program’s risk profile, its relation to the Department’s management challenges, mandated work, congressional requests, OIG resources, etc. Our FY 2015 Work Plan and 2015 Office of Audits Strategic Work Plan are on our website. I wouldn’t be able to comment on any work, in addition to that listed in the plans, which may or may not be scheduled in the near future.

Below is an excerpt from the Embassy Bogota 2011 report (pdf):

Since 2001, Colombia’s estimated annual cocaine production potential has decreased by 61 percent, from 700 to 270 metric tons. The United States has made a major investment in helping Colombia address the narcotics problem. The United States provided more than $7.4 billion (approximately $5.9 billion from the Department of State (Department) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $1.5 billion from the Department of Defense for Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs from FYs 2000 through 2010.

Embassy Bogotá’s NAS is one of the largest in the world, with 134 employees and 664 contractors. The FY 2010 NAS budget for all programs was approximately $244 million, a significant decrease over a 3-year period from approximately $326 million in FY 2007.

That’s a lot of money and that 61% looks good but when was the last time this program was audited?

The only Audit of INL Programs in Colombia we could locate is one dated July 2000 and posted publicly online in 2004.  The audit says that “Despite spending over $100 million on the increased eradication efforts during FY 1997-99, the results of the spray program are uncertain.”

But this 2000 OIG audit is, of course, an ancient dog.

In any case, aerial eradication is discussed briefly under “Other Matter” in a 2010 USAID/OIG audit on the Alternative Development program in Colombia (pdf):

The UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], acting on the behalf of the Government of Colombia, delineates project boundaries and verifies, using a combination of satellite and ground monitoring, that the area is free of illicit crops. Despite these measures taken, beneficiaries do not have a guarantee that they will not be subject to aerial eradication. Officials from USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section acknowledge that occasionally, land that the Government of Colombia has certified as being illicit free and has come under the alternative development program has been subject to fumigation (eradication). The audit interviewed beneficiaries from two alternative development activities in the department of Putumayo who lost their licit agricultural crops because of aerial eradication efforts.

Beneficiaries are still at risk despite demonstrating that their land is illicit free because the different goals and objectives that the U.S. Government is trying to achieve under its three-tiered counternarcotics strategy (interdiction, eradication, and alternative development) do not always complement each other. For example, a key U.S. Government’s counternarcotics objective is to assist the Government of Colombia in its efforts to eliminate the cultivation of illicit drug crops. Under the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Office of Aviation supports the Colombian National Police’s efforts to eradicate coca through aerial fumigation. As part of those efforts, the Office of Aviation uses airborne digital cameras to photograph suspected coca fields. If coca is identified, these fields become targets for aerial fumigation.

According to officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section, the routes used for aerial fumigation are based on predetermined global positioning system coordinates. However, while in the air, if the pilot is able to visibly identify coca outside of the predetermined area, then a decision to eradicate can be made. Unfortunately, some licit crops share an appearance similar to that of the coca leaf, creating a possibility for human error in the decision to eradicate.

According to USAID/Colombia and Narcotics Affairs Section officials, there is a complaint process established for anyone who believes that their land has been fumigated erroneously. The complaint process can be lengthy, and if beneficiaries cannot provide the correct global positioning system coordinates of their land and the date of the alleged fumigation, any damages resulting from the fumigation can be difficult to prove. Adding to the challenge is that the effects of aerial fumigation are not immediately visible but appear days or weeks after the field was sprayed. If a complaint is successful, the beneficiary is compensated for the loss. However, it is doubtful that the beneficiary can truly recover the time and effort invested in the cultivation of the licit agricultural crops on the land. And having lost their investment once, the beneficiary may decide not to continue with the production of licit crops.

Officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Narcotics Affairs Section state that interagency coordination has improved and more sharing of information is helping to ensure that alternative development program beneficiaries are better identified and considered prior to instances of aerial fumigation. Nevertheless, the protection of these beneficiaries cannot be guaranteed.

 

In March 2014, the Congressional Research Service issued  a report (pdf) on International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses. Excerpt below:

Much of contemporary counternarcotics efforts in Colombia stem from a 1999 Colombian government strategy to address security and development issues, called Plan Colombia. It was intended to be a six-year plan, concluding in 2005, to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote economic and social development. The plan aimed to curb trafficking activity and reduce coca cultivation in Colombia by 50% over six years. In support of Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs, the U.S. government spent more than $8 billion in security and development assistance between FY2000 and FY2011, to include both civilian and military counterdrug support efforts.

Here is the part of the 2014 CRS report that talks about eradication:

Eradication is a long-standing but controversial U.S. policy regarding international drug control. As recently as 2008, the State Department had considered crop control the “most cost-effective means of cutting supply,” because drugs cannot enter the illegal trade if the crops were never planted, destroyed, or left unharvested. Without drug cultivation, the State Department’s rationale continued, “there would be no need for costly enforcement and interdiction operations.”

Proponents of eradication further argue that it is easier to locate and destroy crops in the field than to locate subsequently processed drugs on smuggling routes or on the streets of U.S. cities. Put differently, a kilogram of powder cocaine is far more difficult to detect than the 300 to 500 kilograms of coca leaf that are required to make that same kilogram. Also, because crops constitute the cheapest link in the narcotics chain, producers may devote fewer economic resources to prevent their detection than to conceal more expensive and refined forms of the drug product.

Opponents of expanded supply reduction policy generally question whether reduction of the foreign supply of narcotic drugs is achievable and whether it would have a meaningful impact on levels of illicit drug use in the United States. Manual eradication requires significant time and human resources, reportedly involving upward of 20 work-hours of effort to pull up and destroy one hectare of coca plants. Aerial application of herbicide is not legal or feasible in many countries and is expensive to implement where it is permitted. Aerial fumigation in Colombia has also raised allegations that the herbicide chemical used has caused negative human, animal, and environmental consequences.

Others question whether a global policy of simultaneous crop control is cost-effective or politically feasible because eradication efforts may also potentially result in negative political, economic, and social consequences for the producing country, especially in conflict or post- conflict environments.  Some argue that this has been the case with respect to eradication efforts in Afghanistan, where some U.S. officials have acknowledged that poppy eradication may have caused many poor Afghan farmers to ally with insurgents and other enemies of the Afghan government.  In 2009, Richard Holbrooke, who was the Obama Administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time, called Western eradication policies in Afghanistan “a failure” and stated that they have “wasted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.” Since 2009, the U.S. government has no long directly participated in eradication operations in Afghanistan.

Ok.

So help us out here.  What we can’t understand is how a program that costs American taxpayers over $8 billion in the last 11 years has no State/OIG audit trail?

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Related posts:

 

Related items: Counternarcotics (CN) Reports Afghanistan

Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counter-narcotics Assistance to Afghanistan | November 14, 2014} AUD-MERO-15-02 | View Report: aud-mero-15-02.pdf

Performance Evaluation of PAE Operations and Maintenance Support for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Counternarcotics Compounds in Afghanistan | March 04, 2011| MERO-I-11-02 | View Report: 157927.pdf

Status of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Programs in Afghanistan Performance Audit | December 23, 2009 | MERO-A-10-02
| View Report: 134183.pdf

Interagency Assessment of the Counternarcotic Program in Afghanistan July 2007 | August 03, 2007 |  ISP-I-07-34 | View Report: 90158.pdf

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs July 2005 | June 18, 2009 | ISP-I-05-14 | View Report: 125271.pdf

 

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2 responses

  1. Having worked in CN programs for INL for many years, I found that eradication of the drug crop makes perfect sense for the reasons you have cited above. Domestic political and economic problems can be minimized when the USG’s eradication and economic development programs are closely coordinated. In other words, geographic targets of eradication must simultaneously be targets of development in consultation with the affected communities. It worked in the NWFP of Pakistan in the late 1990s (where INL funded both eradication and development) and it seems to be working in Peru (where USAID and NAS work very closely together). And, it can work in Afghanistan or Colombia. However, INL needs people with CN expertise to implement CN programs. Direct INL and USAID oversight of projects is essential to avoid corruption and to ensure objectives are being met. The USG also must be committed to eradication from a political standpoint within the framework of our bilateral relations with countries where illicit drugs are grown.

    I was always told that the herbicide used for aerial fumigation is the same as what is in Round Up. If that is true, why are we still able to buy that product even though it causes cancer? In any case, an eradication program can succeed without aerial fumigation. We did not use it in Pakistan and do not use it in Peru.

    I do not want to see the U.S. awash in hard drugs. Reducing the supply of heroin and cocaine/crack will migrate against that by increasing the costs of these drugs to the public making them less accessible. I am quite sure there is a link between increased drug addiction and increased crime. We also need to consider the impact of addiction on economic productivity.

  2. Conveniently, these reports never discuss the fact that the supply of Colombian sourced cocaine has never been interrupted. That is to say that the U.S. market receives all the Colombian sourced cocaine it demands with the overflow going to other, riskier markets, year after year.

    The correlation between coca production and cocaine production has never been established. Coca production greatly exceeds the requirement for cocaine production. What has not been known is at what quantity coca eradication would start to affect cocaine production. Therefore, the quoted figures are interesting but not compelling. Lastly, the data itself is highly suspect as it feeds an “eradication-is-successful” agenda and I’m sure showed up in various EERs in the respective years.