Gen. John Kelly: 'Astronomical Sums' of U.S. Drug Money Funding Global Criminal Network

By Susan Jones | March 21, 2013 | 9:55 AM EDT

Gen. John Kelly heads the U.S. Southern Command (Photo courtesy of U.S. Marines)

( - U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command, told a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday about the "dark side of globalization," where an interconnected, unregulated, criminal network with unlimited amounts of money, much of it from the U.S., can move drugs, weapons and people from continent to continent and country to country.

Kelly said Americans' appetite for illegal drugs is a key ingredient:

"So all I know is that the network that we deal with is very sophisticated, and anything can move on it. You know, people, drugs, anything that money (can buy) -- and it works both ways.

"I mean, the amount of money that comes out of the United States because of our abuse of drugs is astronomical sums. I mean, pallets of money that has to be laundered. Some of it's laundered effectively in the United States. Some of it comes down to various Latin American countries. But it comes out literally in pallets.

"So the network goes both ways. And for a buck, anything can get on the network."

The Marine Corps general said because the U.S. understands the network and "how stuff moves," the criminals have been forced to come up with new and expensive ways to transport drugs, including completely submersible submarines, which can "go 6,800 miles...on a tank of gas."

Kelly had described the network a few hours earlier in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, calling it a national security threat:

"I'd like to sketch an image of illicit trafficking operations in our hemisphere to illustrate the magnitude of this problem," Kelly told the panel.

"Picture an interconnected system of arteries that traverse the entire Western Hemisphere, stretching across the Atlantic and Pacific, through the Caribbean, and up and down North, South, and Central America. Complex, sophisticated networks use this vast system of illicit pathways to move tons of drugs, thousands of people, and countless weapons into and out of the United States, Europe, and Africa with an efficiency, payload, and gross profit any global transportation company would envy.

"In return, billions of dollars flood back into the hands of these criminal enterprises, enabling the purchase of military-grade weapons, ammunition, and state-of-the- art technology to counter law enforcement. This profit also allows these groups to buy the support or silence of local communities through which these arteries flourish, spreading corruption and fear and undermining support for legitimate governments."

Kelly said the criminal networks are "ruthless adversaries" of U.S. partner nations, especially those in Central America.

"These networks conduct assassinations, executions, and massacres, and with their enormous revenues and advanced weaponry, they can outspend and outgun many governments. Some groups have similar and in some cases, superior training to regional law enforcement units. Through intimidation and sheer force, these criminal organizations virtually control some areas.

"In my view, the proximity of the U.S. homeland to criminally-governed spaces is a vulnerability with direct implications for U.S. national security."

Kelly said the networks' criminal expertise and ability to move people, drugs and money "are skills that can be exploited by a variety of malign actors, including terrorists."

He told the committee the Coast Guard needs more "assets" to disrupt the flow of drugs:

"Every ship I lose, you can add 20 tons to 25 tons (of drugs) that will get through...Go to no ships, 200 tons get through. Go to one ship, 175 tons gets through. You know, it's almost a scientific thing."