Clues show DEA trained agents in Cuba

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The Drug Enforcement Administration may have provided training to Cuban drug agents in 2017, records show.
The DEA reported spending $752 on a course for two unidentified people in Cuba.

This course supplements instruction provided during the SIU Basic Course and provides additional instruction on several aspects of conducting a judicial wire intercept investigation. These include undercover operations, advanced operational planning, tactical entries, confidential Source management, and money laundering.

Records show the training took place in Cuba, but don’t specify that it was for Cuban agents.

SIU stands for Sensitive Investigative Unit. The SIU basic course is aimed at preparing foreign drug agents “to engage in complex international conspiracy investigations.”

DEA’s website states:

This course is five weeks in length and is a requirement in order to be part of the Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU) Program. During their stay at the DEA Academy, SIU officers receive much of the same training given to DEA Basic Agents. Courses include Surveillance, Raids, Drug Identification, Clandestine Laboratories, Interview and Interrogation, Evidence Handling, Defensive Tactics, Pen-Link, and First Aid. Emphasis is placed on Conspiracy and Wiretap investigations. At the end of the course students are taken to the New York Field Division to meet with agents and to experience, first hand, how DEA operates in the United States. Upon conclusion of the course, graduates go on to serve in special vetted SIU Teams in Ghana, Afghanistan, Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay.

The DEA course taught in Cuba was marked “SIU 5 Advanced Course.”

Cuba signed a counternarcotics agreement with the U.S. in July 2016. According to the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ 2017 report:

The U.S. Embassy maintains a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) liaison to coordinate with Cuban law enforcement. USCG and Cuban authorities share tactical information related to vessels transiting Cuban territorial waters suspected of trafficking and coordinate responses. In addition, direct communications were formally established between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and their Cuban counterparts within the Ministry of the Interior’s National Anti-Drug Directorate (DNA) in July. Cuba also shares real-time tactical information with the Bahamas, Mexico, and Jamaica.
Cuba has assisted in U.S. judicial proceedings by providing documentation, witnesses, and background for cases in U.S. state and federal courts. The United States and Cuba continue to hold semi-annual expanded bilateral discussions on law enforcement and counternarcotics cooperation. Enhanced communication and cooperation between the United States, international partners, and Cuba, particularly in terms of real-time information-sharing, may lead to increased interdictions and disruptions of illegal drug trafficking.

The U.S. and Cuba have cooperated on counternarcotics issues despite political disputes between the two countries. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, which opposes U.S. policy toward Cuba:

Even the darkest periods of U.S.-Cuban relations have seen modest levels of cooperation in areas where both countries have had strong mutual interests, despite deep political and ideological differences.
During Obama’s last year in office, his administration tried to ensure that specific agreements in U.S.-Cuban relations were well enough established that they would be “irreversible…”
However, when it comes to U.S.-Cuba cooperation on security, the Trump administration has put this irreversibility to the test.
The White House has launched a broad Cuba policy review, in which cabinet secretaries solicited input from relevant agencies, and made recommendations to the White House about what, if any changes should take place in U.S. policy toward Cuba.
On the Cuban side, support for continuing cooperation has been strong and visible. In 2017, Cuban authorities gave a series of interviews to the U.S. press about counter-drug cooperation. They took the press on a tour of their cyber-crime facilities, and officials from the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, who rarely speak to the foreign press, talked about the value of security-related cooperation.

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs says Cuba is “not a major consumer, producer, or transit point of illicit narcotics.”
The bureau states:

Cuba’s domestic production and consumption remain low due to active policing, strict sentencing, and nationwide prevention and public information programs. Cuba’s intensive security presence and interdiction efforts have kept supply down and prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold. Cuba concentrates supply reduction efforts by preventing smuggling through territorial waters, rapidly collecting wash-ups, and conducting thorough airport searches. Cuba dedicates significant resources to prevent illegal drugs and their use from spreading, and regional traffickers typically avoid Cuba.

Cuba has 40 bilateral counternarcotics agreements. Cuban police officers have traveled to Nicaragua for anti-drug training, according to the State Department.

In April, under the framework of the Central American Integration System, the Nicaraguan National Police held the ninth edition of an anti-drug course for 32 police officers from Belize, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua.

Members of the Russian armed forces have trained drug agents in Nicaragua, according to press reports.

Here’s an old photo from a counternarcotics exercise in Baja California, Mexico.

The DEA’s SIU program has faced controversy, including a critical Inspector General’s audit in 2007 and a new investigation announced in September. On Sept. 19, ProPublica reported that the Justice Department’s inspector general planned to investigate the SIU program’s links “to violent drug cartel attacks in Mexico that have left dozens, possibly hundreds, of people dead or missing.”
ProPublica said:

In a letter to senior congressional Democrats, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that an internal review had flagged the DEA’s Sensitive Investigative Units program as “an area of high risk.” His office, he wrote, would examine the drug agency’s management of the program and whether internal controls are in place to ensure that “DEA operations, information and personnel are protected from compromise.”
Under the program, the DEA vets and trains teams of Mexican federal police officers, known as SIUs, that conduct DEA-led operations in Mexico. Last year, ProPublica and National Geographic reported that at least two such operations were compromised and triggered deadly spasms of violence, including one that occurred less than an hour’s drive away from the Mexican border with Texas.

DrugEnforcementEdu.org says the DEA has nearly 1,000 SIU personnel in 10 foreign countries. It does not mention Cuba.
The site states:

SIU teams primarily act in two arenas. They may conduct missions without cooperation from local authorities or they may institute strict vetting procedures to ensure that local collaborators are trustworthy. These security procedures have helped ensure the efficacy of international investigations and the safety of DEA personnel working abroad.

SIU team jobs require members to master the following skills:

  • Operate encryption programs and technology to transmit information
  • Use strict communication protocols in questionable settings
  • Evaluate potential collaborators and train them
  • Conduct clandestine investigations and missions abroad
  • Investigate the backgrounds of local translators
  • Maintain constant awareness when traveling or entering unsafe environments

Nov. 16 Postscript:
Spending records show that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent $333 for firearms training in Cuba in 2010.
The records don’t specify who was trained. The expense description reads:

ATF eTrace Program/Basic Firearms and Explosives Identification and Tracing Course; The systematic process of tracking a recovered crime guns history from its source (manufacturer/importer) through the chain of distribution (wholesaler/retailer) to the first unlicensed purchaser of the firearm.

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