White House replies to alleged unmatching figures on cocaine trafficking
After the release of Narcoleaks' article on world production and seizures of cocaine, the White House marked the whistleblower's analysis as "flawed". Yet, figures speak for themselves.
by Narcoleaks | December 7, 2011
Obama, we have a problem. Cocaine seized worldwide in 2011 has surpassed the world production estimate provided by the U.S. Through the end of November, over 734 metric tons have been intercepted on drug routes worldwide this year, but the American Department of State maintains that the world production sums up to just 700 metric tons. This seeming contradiction is going to keep growing until the end of this year. We estimate that by December 31 about 744-794 metric tons of cocaine are going to be seized. It would be as if a farmer says that he has ten chickens, and then a fox eats him 12. And the farmer still manages to sell chickens at the market anyway. Apparently someone’s math is wrong. We at Narcoleaks believe that this is not just a trivial mistake.
Even the official figures don’t add up. According to the latest official statements by UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the U.S. authorities and the Colombian government, Peru has taken Colombia's place as the world's largest producer of cocaine. The claim was proved wrong by the data on drug seizures. In 2011, about 80% of seized cocaine and of which the production country was known and disclosed, originated from Colombia, less than 10% from Peru. The official data on Colombia are even more impressive. The latest estimate provided by the U.S. authorities on the annual production of cocaine in Colombia refers to 290 metric tons. As of today, though, the seizure operations of Colombian cocaine carried out in different countries have totaled 351.8 metric tons of cocaine, i.e. 121.3% of Colombia’s annual production according to the U.S. Department of State’s estimates.
Ironically, the Policia Nacional de Colombia itself drew the line on the whole affair with an official statement. On 14 October, the Colombian police found in the department of Meta a maxi cristalizadero (a cocaine processing lab) with about 6 metric tons of cocaine, the capacity to produce 500 to 800 kilos of cocaine per day, i.e. between 182 and 292 metric tons of cocaine per year1. If we take the 290 t annual production estimated by the US State Department to be true, it means that Colombia has only one cocaine laboratory. This would be utterly preposterous. In Colombia, about 250-300 operating cristalizaderos, with startling productive capacity, are found and destroyed every year, but these represent only a part of the existing ones.
A formidable blow to the U.S. Department of State’s estimates came a few days ago, and it was “friendly fire”. According to an official bulletin by the U.S. Coast Guard issued on December 12, of the 771 metric tons of cocaine known to be bound for the U.S. in 2011, more than 85 percent was transported on the high seas. This proved wrong the data released by the Department of State and by the UN, according to which cocaine trafficking towards the U.S. went down to 200 tons in the last few years.
The embarassing contradictions are visible to anyone, and you don’t need to go through any leaked cable to spot them. Narcoleaks’ analyses are the result of a daily media monitoring project carried out by a group of Italian journalists and researchers, in collaboration with the Italian press agency Redattore Sociale. Over 100 media and institutional sources have been monitored on a daily basis since last January. More than 4,700 anti-drug operations which led to seize huge quantities of cocaine have been recorded. An average of 14 major operations per day, and of 2 metric tons of cocaine seized worldwide every day. Narcoleaks’ data mining and collection process is very meticulous, it doesn’t omit the details of any seizure operation, in order to avoid duplicate entries and to catch the different dynamics. Narcoleaks kept track only of those seizure operations for which an high purity level of cocaine was certain.
“We don’t publish secrets. We collect evidence”, is Narcoleaks’ motto. We don’t commit any offence, we don’t reveal State secrets, we did never even think of getting any top secret file. Our strength lies in the evidence and in getting the overall picture, that unfortunately is frequently missing for issues like the international trade of cocaine. Too often the international media trust blindly the data provided by governmental institutions, without verifying what is stated on their annual reports. It is unpleasant, moreover, to know that within the major investigative bodies and in the main international summits on counter-trafficking policies, people are fully aware of ‘cooked’ data, but that nobody is brave enough to make these facts come out. Interests are huge, ways to conceal the reality are sophisticated, but the truth will out. One mistake is sufficient to foul up even the most tested out space mission.
President Obama, we know that you are well aware of the issues that we have addressed here. When you still were senator for Illinois, you were in the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SFRC). In December 2005, under President George W. Bush, the Committee examined in detail the issue of the fight against drug trafficking, producing the official report “Plan Colombia: Elements for success”3. The report stated: “The lack of reliable evidence of well-documented progress in the war against drugs and neutralizing paramilitaries is disappointing considering the billions of dollars the U.S. Congress has appropriated to finance drug interdiction and eradication since 2000.
In 2005 coca eradication broke the 136,000 hectare record and destroyed the equivalent of 160 metric tons of cocaine; and though cocaine seized in 2004 almost tripled to 325 metric tons of cocaine, and is expected to be larger for 2005, Colombia continues to provide about 90 percent of the cocaine available in the U.S., in spite of the appropriated funds being earmarked for Department of State programs in Colombia to fight drug trafficking and terrorism through Plan Colombia”. Among the other recommendations, the report called for the following measures: “It is strongly advised that the USG, particularly the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, develop and coordinate reliable performance metrics to accurately measure the flow of cocaine into the United States. Once this is done, all parties will have accurate metrics on success or failure”.
This said, we would like to address to the President of the United States Barack Obama, to the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and to the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske, the following questions:
1. How is it possible that, according to your official data, the quantity of cocaine seized is higher than the estimate of cocaine produced?
2. How is it possible that the U.S. Department of State maintains that the world production of cocaine amounts to 700 metric tons, if according to the U.S. Coast Guard the only U.S. bound cocaine trafficking from South America equals already 771 metric tons?
3. How is it possible that different U.S. authorities are in direct contradiction with each other?
4. Why do they continue to claim that cocaine production in Colombia has dropped when all the available data say otherwise?
5. In light of these contradictions, are all the billions of dollars spent to fund Plan Colombia justified?
To the above article the White House replied with the following press release:
Cocaine Seizures Outstripping Production? Not Exactly
by Terry Zobeck, the White House | December 7, 2011
An analysis released today by Narcoleaks makes the claim that cocaine seized worldwide in 2011 has surpassed our estimates of world production. Their analysis is systematically flawed. Here’s why:
1 - Seized cocaine is diluted, which means you can’t compare seizures to production estimates.
Our estimates of production are expressed in terms of “pure” cocaine; this permits us to make comparisons over time. Drug traffickers dilute cocaine by deliberately "cutting" the cocaine with other substances to increase its bulk at various stages of its distribution from South America to the United States. What this means is that a kilogram of cocaine product seized in Los Angeles does not contain the same amount of actual pure cocaine hydrochloride as a kilogram of cocaine seized by the Coast Guard on the high seas. Cocaine also continues to be diluted the further it goes in the supply chain (producer, exporter, wholesaler, retailer, etc.)
Even cocaine seized in transit to the U.S. by the Coast Guard has been diluted. Our forensic analysis shows that the average purity of cocaine seized on the high seas alone (before it even reaches U.S. streets) is 75 percent and dropping. Moreover, our analysis of seized cocaine leaving South America in recent years show that approximately 85 percent of cocaine seizures are being cut with levamisole, a veterinary deworming medicine.
As a result, it is comparing apples to oranges to compare potential production amounts with amounts seized.
2 - Drug traffickers work in the shadows and make accounting very difficult.
Our estimates of cocaine produced in Colombia are just that – estimates. Unlike producers of legitimate products, drug traffickers do not provide annual reports on production capacity and sales (although we wish they would!). Most data--including potential cocaine production, seizures, availability, and consumption--have to be estimated. The estimation procedures for each step are associated with varying degrees of uncertainty. For example, our estimate of potential cocaine production of about 700 metric tons (of pure cocaine or about 850 metric tons of export quality cocaine) is actually the midpoint of a range--there may have been more or less actually produced.
3 - Cocaine moving through the transit zone contains drugs from the previous year, so you can’t compare year to year.
The “cocaine pipeline” doesn't work on a simple annual basis. Cocaine that is being consumed in the United States today may have been produced up to as much as two years ago in South America (the problem is compounded when it is understood that production in Colombia in previous years was greater than this year). So the estimate of cocaine moving to the U.S. at any given time is a mixture of the amount produced over two years; so attempting to do a precise year-on-year accounting is impossible.
So what do we know? Today, thanks to a variety of actions throughout the hemisphere, a wide array of data show that the U.S. cocaine market is under significant stress.
Narcoleaks replied to the White House's statements with the following words:
The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s insufficient responses to Narcoleaks’ analysis
by Narcoleaks | December 8, 2011
The reply from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to our analysis on international cocaine trafficking is highly insufficient and does not clarify the doubts that were raised.
Throughout 2011 Narcoleaks has monitored and recorded data on only major cocaine seizures, disregarding those below 20 pounds, in order to prevent the inclusion of cocaine that had been highly “cut” with other substances. Therefore, the example of cut cocaine circulating in the streets of Los Angeles is inappropriate. As for the 75 percent purity level of the cocaine amounts seized by the U.S. Coast Guard, we would like to emphasize that of the nearly 5,000 seizure operations tracked by Narcoleaks during the whole year, information from government sources, and in numerous cases from the authorities of various nations who also perform forensic analysis rather than media sources, have indicated percentages of purity significantly higher than U.S. authorities would have found.
With the above said, we feel it is imperative to point out that, even if the asserted 75 percent purity level is assumed in calculations, the discrepancies in the U.S. official data does not change in substance:
1. If we consider that the 700 metric tons of world production estimated by the Office of National Drug Control Policy correspond to 850 metric tons of export quality cocaine for wholesale, then there is an apparent disproportion with worldwide seizures of pure cocaine (or at least 75 percent pure cocaine, as the ONDCP affirmed based on measurements), which this year will be considerably higher than 740 metric tons. This implies a world production that significantly exceeds the estimate provided by the U.S. Department of State.
2. Narcoleaks believes that it is unacceptable to provide an explanation of this disproportion by claiming that circulating cocaine at any given time is a mixture of the amount produced during the year and of cocaine produced and stockpiled over previous years. This “stockpile theory” is completely unfounded, due to two basic reasons: a) major seizures almost always involve cocaine in circulation and almost never of stockpiled cocaine supply; b) for many years the U.S. military has estimated that the annual flow of cocaine en route to be circulated in the U.S. is significantly higher than the world production estimate of cocaine released by the U.S. Department of State. For example, General Douglas M. Fraser’s estimate of world cocaine flow in 2008 was between 1,200 and 1,400 metric tons, while the U.S. State Department’s estimate of world production was 695 metric tons of 100 percent pure cocaine. Cocaine is produced to be circulated, not stockpiled.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy has now acknowledged to the international community that all the drug trafficking parameters – production, seizures, availability, and consumption – are uncertain by definition. As for the production estimate it also acknowledged that it is possible, at most, to indicate a rather wide range. But nevertheless it has been categorically declaring for months to international media that Peru has surpassed Colombia in potential pure cocaine production, by a few tens of metric tons. Isn’t there a contradiction?
Despite the ONDCP’s attempt to reply to our first question, the other four remain unaddressed:
1. How is it possible that the U.S. Department of State maintains that the world production of cocaine amounts to 700 metric tons, if according to the U.S. Coast Guard the only U.S. bound cocaine trafficking from South America equals already 771 metric tons?
2. How is it possible that different U.S. authorities are in direct contradiction with each other?
3. Why do they continue to claim that cocaine production in Colombia has dropped when all the available data say otherwise?
4. In light of these contradictions, are all the billions of dollars spent to fund Plan Colombia justified?
We remain available for any objection or request for clarification. It will be our responsibility to address more in depth all the issues that we have touched upon only on this occasion. It is the responsibility of each one of us to the international community, in particular to the young, for a future without drugs or, at least, with the least possible drugs available.