Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities regarding implementation of the National Defense Strategy in the Southcom area of responsibility, July 9, 2019.
Okay, welcome everybody. The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee meets today to receive testimony from Admiral Craig Faller, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, or as we call it SOUTHCOM. Our focus will be on the evolving security situation in this theater as well as SOUTHCOM’s efforts to implement the National Defense Strategy. Welcome, to the Admiral. Thank you very much for being here sir. I certainly appreciate it. Today’s hearing is a continuation of the subcommittee’s efforts to provide oversight over National Defense Strategy implementation. This is an important component of our efforts to ensure our military is appropriately resourced, equipped, and postured to defend the nation against a growing array of threats. While much attention has been on countering China and Russia in their traditional spheres of influence in Europe and across the Indo-Pacific region, this subcommittee has been particularly focused on how those nations are increasingly challenging U.S. National Security interests, not just within their own geographic boundaries, but elsewhere around the world. Last year the subcommittee held a hearing with leading experts to discuss China’s expanding presence in Africa, and the implications for our interests and those of our partners. It was made clear during the hearing that China is undertaking a comprehensive and long-term approach to bolstering its global access and influence, oftentimes with the goal of undermining the United States of America. The situation in the Western Hemisphere is no different. Admiral Faller, you highlighted in testimony earlier this year, that China has accelerated expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative in the Western Hemisphere at a pace that may one day overshadow its expansion in Southeast Asia and Africa. China’s strategic engagement in the SOUTHCOM region bolsters China’s geopolitical network at the expense U.S. Security Interests and regional stability. China’s efforts to back oppressive governments such as the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and to pump loans into local economies at unpayable interest rates, reveal China’s interest in spreading influence and consolidating power. As a result, Latin America has become a fixture for China’s ambitions, utilizing economic coercion to grow support for Chinese foreign policy objectives, including. And the exclusion of the U.S. and Canada from regional discourse. Trade and economic ties between the United States and Latin America are changing, with China recently surpassing the United States as the main destination for exports from several Latin American countries. China is also deepening military and technological ties in the region. For example, we have seen deepened space-related cooperation in Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina. China has increased arms sales in a manner that violates U.S. and EU restrictions and hinders our ability to integrate with our strategic partners. Meanwhile, Russia is also working to expand its influence in the region. The Putin regime seeks to erode U.S. influence in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility, and has doubled down on its efforts to prop up corrupt authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, through economic and military assistance. For many years Putin has viewed Latin America as a natural link in the chain, making up a multipolar world. And recent port visits by Russian Navy vessels and the deployment of a long-range bomber to the region, highlight Russia’s efforts to strengthen its global reach in a new age of great power competition. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, the Admiral Gorshkov, one of Russia’s most advanced warships was docked in Havana Harbor. Finally, drivers of migration, including violence, corruption, and poverty play significant strain on regional governments and can engender regional instability, impacting not only the southern border of the United States, but providing additional flashpoints for China and Russia to exploit at the expense of American soft power. All of this demonstrates clearly that the Western Hemisphere should be viewed as an important front in our efforts to compete with China and Russia, and implement the NDS. I look forward to your input, and your candid assessment of the evolving security dynamics in this region, describe how the NDS information is important, and how you’ll allocate SOUTHCOM’s limited resources, as well as identify any challenges that may impair your ability to accomplish your mission. And thank you again, Admiral, for joining us today, and I look forward to the discussion. I’ll now turn it over to Senator Peters, our ranking member, for your opening statement.
Well I think you, Madam Chair, and thank you for holding this hearing at a very critical time. Events in Latin America are often overshadowed by the crisis in the Middle East and Asia, but stability in SOUTHCOM AR is clearly critical to our national security. I want to thank our witness, Admiral Faller, for his service and for appearing here today to testify on the implementation of the National Defense Strategy in the Southern Command Area of Responsibility. It’s clear that Russia and China have significantly increased their presence and their influence in the SOUTHCOM AR. Chinese investment has reached unprecedented levels and Beijing has invested billions of dollars in Latin America as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. China often engages in predatory lending practices that create debt traps for small countries, and allow Beijing to yield outsized influence in these countries. The projects are often economically unsustainable, and many countries throughout the world have found themselves billions of dollars in debt with no way to repay Beijing. Russia’s economic influence in Latin America is much smaller than China’s, but its intentions are much more pernicious. Russia’s propaganda machine has been active in Latin America with efforts to raise doubts about the democratic process, and to sow discord in the region. Russia’s state-controlled Spanish-language television station spreads misinformation throughout the region, and seeks to undermine U.S. influence in the region. Russia has also used cyberattacks to attack democratic institutions. The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported, for example, that there have been 50,000 cyber attacks against Columbia’s National Voter Registry during the 2018 legislative elections. We have also seen Russia covertly deploy Kremlin-linked paramilitary groups to Latin America, repeating the pattern of using these forces to advance their strategic interest abroad without having to admit that they’ve deployed any military personnel to a specific country. Russia’s intervention in Venezuela have propped up the disastrous Maduro regime, and help deny the transition to the power of Interim President Guaido. This fits a pattern of increasingly aggressive Russian seeking to use all of the tools in its playbook, to undermine the appeal of the democratic process and keep Russian aligned regimes in power. And while Russian and Chinese influence in Latin America is destabilizing to the region, I think it’s also important to spend a few minutes on the most pressing threat to democracy in the Western Hemisphere, and that is corruption. Corruption is the root cause of mass migration, instability and impunity in Central America, and the trafficking of illicit narcotics into our country. Unless our strategy focuses on solving the root causes of corruption, then no amount of security assistance dollars to Latin American partners will be effective. That is why I’m quite concerned that the Trump Administration has recently decided to cut off all non-defense USAID, and state assistance to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, while allowing defense assistance to these countries to continue. President Trump’s stated rationale to punish these countries for the migrant crisis is ill-considered, and totally counterproductive to reducing forced migration numbers. Ultimately it undermines our National Security in the region. Unless we support civil societies in these countries and help improve the economic conditions, we will never get a handle on the illicit drugs that flow through these Northern Triangle countries and into the United States. One final note, and I think it’s critical for us to discuss, is that corruption in Central and South America not only destabilizes the region, but it also provides China and Russia with a foothold into these countries as well. Corrupt governments are more likely to take loans from China, that allow them to skim billions off of the top, and leave their treasuries empty. Russia is able to sell arms to corrupt governments that oppress their civilian populations and violate their human rights. The more we focus on combating corruption, the more successful we will be in implementing the National Defense Strategy in the region. And I thank the chair again for holding this hearing, and I look forward to the discussion.
And thanking Ranking Member Peters, thank you for those opening comments. Admiral Faller, we’ll go ahead and start with your opening statement, and then we will move into questioning, thank you.
Chairman Ernst, Ranking Member Peters, senators, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today, and for the steadfast support you provide the men and women of the United States Southern Command day in and day out. I’d like to introduce my Command Senior Enlisted, Sergeant Major Brian Zickefoose, my eyes and ears, who’s here with me today. He’s also unabashedly from the great State of Iowa. As I mentioned in my statement, my written statement, I’ve been in command of SOUTHCOM for seven months. In that time I’ve traveled extensively throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, to get a first-hand view of the opportunities and challenges that you both illuminated. These opportunities and challenges directly impact the security of this hemisphere, our neighborhood. Criminal organizations, narco-trafficking, illegal immigration, violent extremists, corruption, all enabled by weak governance are principal among those challenges. Most disturbing insight, the aha for me, however, has been the degree to which the external state actors, China, Russia, and Iran have expanded their access and influence right here in our neighborhood, or as General Neller put it, inside our interior lines. The National Defense Strategy makes clear, great power competition has reemerged as the number one security challenge facing our nation. China, Russia, and others want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models. They’re blurring the lines of what constitutes a military threat through economic coercion, the systematic stealing of technology, influence campaigns, and malicious cyber activity. They’re contesting our military advantage in all the traditional domains we fight around the globe, land, air, sea, space, cyber, and information, plus one more very important domain, values like democracy, sovereignty, the rule of law, and human rights. Competition is happening globally and right here in our neighborhood, the Western Hemisphere. We see this most acutely in Venezuela, where the security crisis created by Maduro has compounded every single security crisis we face in this hemisphere. Where Russia, in their own words, is protecting their loyal friend, to, quote, “By propping up the corrupt, “illegitimate Maduro regime “with loans and technical and military support.” Or China, as Venezuela’s largest single state creditor, saddled the Venezuelan people with more than 60 billion in debt and is exporting surveillance technology used to monitor and repress the Venezuelan people. Iran has restarted direct flights from Tehran to Caracas, and reinvigorated diplomatic ties. Along with Cuba, these actors engage in activities that are profoundly unhealthy for democracy and regional stability, and counter to U.S. interests. How do we counter the threats and seize the opportunities in this hemisphere? How do we counter the threats posed by external state actors in Venezuela and across the region? The best way to out-compete is by focusing our strengths. The strong enduring ties we have with our neighbors, and from a defense perspective, these strong Mil-to-Mil relations are grounded in shared professionalism. We work with each other from a foundation of mutual respect, human rights, and shared interests in regional cooperation and interoperability. We reinforce and build on this through training, education, intelligence, and information sharing, and exercises. Security cooperation is our best tool to continue building these strong partnerships and turn the challenges of our hemisphere into opportunities. Working together, training and exercising, shoulder to shoulder with American military professionals is our competitive edge, and no one can match our system. We also need the right, focused, and consistent military present day in and day out to go along with this training education. We cannot achieve positive results and influence outcomes without being on the playing field. I’ll point to two examples of the positive impact of our presence, this happening as I speak. Our Strategic Bomber Force and F-16 Fighter Aircraft from the South Carolina Air National Guard are training with the very capable Colombian Air Force. This mission takes place in conjunction with 100th anniversary of Colombia’s Air Force, and builds interoperability and readiness for the United States, and for our very capable Colombian partners, while also demonstrating our shared resolve in the face of regional and global challenges. Nearby, the United States Naval Ship Comfort is in Lima, Peru, to help our neighbors impacted by the man-made crisis in Venezuela. Comfort shows the very best of the United States of America, and the strong partnerships we have in the world. It’s part of our enduring promise to our neighbors in this hemisphere to be a steadfast, reliable, and trusted partner. We appreciate the continued support of Congress, this committee, in helping us fulfill that promise. The SOUTHCOM team, our military, and civilian members and our families appreciate the support of Congress, and we’ll continue to honor the trust you place in us, and our fellow citizens have placed in us. I look forward to your questions. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Admiral, and what we’ll do, I’ll go ahead and start with just a couple questions, and we’ll go back and forth in order of arrival. And with that, we’ll go ahead and get started. Feel free to take as much time as necessary, Admiral, to discuss the challenges and opportunities that you have in SOUTHCOM. And so just to start, sir, the National Defense Strategy clearly identifies great power competition between the United States, and of course, China and Russia, as the most pressing threat to national security. Giving their expanding presence in your AO, the NDS has particular relevance to your area of responsibility. So if you could, explain what is the role of the U.S. Military, as we’re competing with China and Russia in the Western Hemisphere, what more can we be doing?
Our focus is to build strong partnerships with very capable, 27 of 31 nations or democracies, so we focus on partnerships. And that’s the best way to out-compete China. Our partners want to work with us. They want the advantage of United States education, training exercises, and military equipment, it’s the best in the world. And so it’s up to us to deliver that in a way that’s relevant, and also provides a return on investment for American taxpayers. So that is our focus. Colombia and Brazil are two very good examples where we’ve spent a lot of time, we’ve traveled to Colombia on multiple occasions, we’ve been to Brazil, their Chiefs of Defense have been to see us. It begins with intelligence sharing and education, frankly, at a person-to-person level and a Mil-to-Mil level. We enhance each other’s situational awareness, strengthen our understanding of the opportunities and challenges, and work on education, both in their schools and in ours, and I’ve had the opportunity to go down and speak at their institutions. And so that’s the foundation that counters Russia and China best because, frankly, they can’t compete with our system. They’re trying, they’re in the area. Everywhere I go the Chiefs of Defense say the Chinese have come, they’ve offered us a free education, unlimited travel, opportunity to go to their schools, they’ve taken and replicated our model, they’ve stood up Spanish language training in Beijing. And the message I get from our capable partners is we don’t wanna train with them, we want to continue. So the best way is to be consistent, to offer the level of service and demand that the partners can meet. We operate at their speed. And then also ensure that there’s something that we give back. And when you meet a new chief of defense, for example, the new chief of defense in El Salvador, and the new minister of defense in El Salvador, both graduates of U.S. Service schools, in fact the chief of defense, I think, has been to five U.S. schools, and the minister of defense graduated of the Naval War College in Newport. And they’re committed to working with us, not with others, and that’s the way we move forward in a real meaningful way, Senator.
Thank you very much. And just to go a little bit further with that, I do firmly believe in those Mil-to-Mil opportunities, whether through training exercises or through educational opportunities. Now we have spoken, maybe you can expand a little bit on the lack of opportunity, maybe, that we have been able to extend to other military members in attending our military schools. If you could talk a little bit about what some of those challenges are, whether it’s funding or otherwise, it would be good to hear about that.
The opportunity to expand our offerings of education in our military schools, and training in our schools, and there is a difference, but, to get after technical skills and then some of the professional military is a single best investment we can make long term to our partnerships. Graduates of our school systems go back with an understanding of U.S. doctrine, U.S. tactics techniques, and really become lifelong friends. The chief of defense in Argentina, for example, is an honor grad of the Army War College, and very proud of it, and was just admitted into the Army War College Hall of Fame. And that fact is known by the political leadership in Argentina, and it’s valued. And I find him to be one of my best generals, he’s also one of my best strategic partners. Our levels of funding that have been provided, and principal source of funding for education comes from the International Military Education Training, IMET Account, it’s State Department funded. That’s basically been flatlined for as long back as I can do the math. So then your dollars, in current year dollars, a flat account’s getting us less school seats over time because the schools cost more, what we are able to contribute within the rules. So I’ve advocated and former defense secretaries have as well, that we would be well served to look at an increase in this. The overall account for the entire Department of Defense is somewhere just north of 100 million, and for SOUTHCOM it’s about 11 million. I think I could absorb 18 million, a modest increase. And when you look at the kinds of monies we’re spending in other areas, this is a low amount of money for a high dividend, high payoff. So I would advocate that scenario. We could expand. I’m glad we’re not like these others, and I won’t dignify by naming the names of the countries that come in and offer no strings attached training. I’m glad we have vetting, and emphasize human rights, it’s the right thing to do. It should be a high bar to go to our schools. We should get a return on investment from it. So I think we do the right things with the way we screen, and invest, and look at the long term, and return on investment for both our forces. That’s an area I think we’ve would do well to expand, Senator.
Very good, dollars well spent. Thank you very much, Admiral. Ranking Member Peters.
Thank you Madam Chair, and again Admiral Fallor. Thank you for being here, Admiral, we appreciate it. I think it’s clear from the discussion that we had earlier in my office, as well as in your testimony that you provided here at the opening, is that you agree that corruption, lack of economic opportunity, violence, and really the failure of democratic governance in the Northern Triangle is a significant cause for some of the mass migration that we’re seeing out of these countries, as well as the drug trade through these countries. Is that an accurate statement?
Senator, the connection between weak governance, corruption, transnational criminal organizations, and then even the opportunity for China and Russia, as you articulated, is significant, and I consider that the number one security threat that we face here in this hemisphere. Because that same corruption breeds criminal activity, could breed terror activity, and certainly breeds the kind of dirty deals that other external state actors come in and thrive on.
So in order to deal with that breakdown of governance, it probably makes sense to have a whole-of-government approach in dealing with it, and that means not just the military operations, that you’re engaged in, but also NGO activities that are working on civil society instructors. I know you’ve had experience working with some of the NGOs, particularly in the Northern Triangle. Are those, are they helpful? Do you think that’s part of the approach that we need to take in order to stabilize those countries?
The strong institutions and the strong defense institutions in these countries contribute to the whole government solution, and that’s where we focus. We have a program called Defense Institution Building, which gets after that through our Perry Center here in Washington, D.C. And so as that plays into a whole government strategy across what we call the DIME, diplomacy, information, military, and economics, that’s the best solution long-term, and when we play into that with the private sector and NGOs, that’s the best way to get the most lasting, resilient, long-term results, Senator.
So you’re saying, for the programs at USAID, State Department programs in those countries are critically important for us, and in our work to stabilize those areas, and hopefully prevent mass migration and some of the drug trafficking that comes out of those countries?
The integration of all elements of our powers keeps, I have a deputy, a civilian deputy, who’s a full ambassador from State Department, she has former USAID experience, Ambassador Yelday, and we have a senior executive from USAID that sits to my immediate left at every meeting as one of my most senior reps, so we can figure out how to best integrate it.
So the Trump Administration recently cut off all non-defense aid to the countries in the Northern Triangle, as I know you’re aware of, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Did the administration consult you as to whether or not that made sense?
The pressure that’s being applied to these governments, I would just, I would offer as good. And the decision to cut off is a policy decision, and I’m not normally part of policy decisions, Senator, but I’ve I advocated and articulated to the defense leadership, the important contributions that professional militaries from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have been made, particularly in the counter-narcotics fight, where their Special Forces are really getting after it in a way that is paying dividends for U.S. Security, and that’s why we were able to continue our Mil-to-Mil engagement, Senator.
Admiral, the Leahy Law bars assistance to security forces who’ve committed gross human rights violations, as you’re aware. Would it make sense to add corruption to the list that would cut off security assistance, particularly of corruption that enables drug and human trafficking?
Senator, I don’t know that I would have thought through enough how corruption might play into Leahy Law. I think Leahy Law is extremely effective. It’s demanding, rightly so, and it produces units that we can trust, and that we can look at and know are doing the right thing with respect to human rights.
Admiral Faller, in the Financial Times interview from June 26, 2019, President Putin said that, quote, “There are no Russian troops “in Venezuela” and characterized the personnel there as just specialists and instructors to train local forces. Yet multiple press outlets have reported that paramilitary forces linked to the Wagner Group deployed to Venezuela to provide security for President Maduro, these are the same forces, as I know you’re very aware, that conducted missions on behalf, on Kremlin’s behalf in Ukraine, Syria, and other countries across Africa. How would you characterize the actions of Kremlin and Kremlin-linked forces in Venezuela? Is it just regular training, as Mr. Putin alleges, or is it something more nefarious?
Senator, we’ve consistently seen the way Russia manipulates media around the world. At one point, in February, for my Full Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, about a week before the hearing, I was here doing pre-hearing office calls and I came out of Senator Rubio’s office to the news that Russian state TV was reporting my presence on the Colombian-Venezuela border, including a picture of someone who wasn’t me, and B-roll footage of tanks and planes poised to conduct an invasion. I think that sort of states Russia’s approach overall to accuracy. There are Russian troops, there are Russian defense contractors, their presence are in the hundreds in Venezuela. They are supporting the Maduro regime, they are keeping Russian gear operable, they are conducting a full range of activities you would expect a foreign power to do to prop up their puppet regime.
Thank You Admiral.
[Joni] Senator Hawley.
Admiral, thank you for being here, thank you for your leadership. Is it fair to say that one key Russian and Chinese objective in the region is to reduce United States influence and access?
Sir, I think it is. I would differentiate it slightly. I think for Russia, that would characterize as almost a wounded bear or wanting power. Their principal objective is to make the U.S. look bad at whatever turn they can do, and do anything that would blunt a U.S. advantage, even if that advantage is for the international good of the people, as it is in Venezuela. For China, they have legitimate economic interests around the world, and I know we’re working hard as a nation to figure out how those legitimate international interests can actually be played using the rule of law. So they have an economic interest primarily, but make no question that my research, my study, the 56 ports that they’re working on, the extensive IT infrastructure, the extensive work they’re doing cyber, the space access that they’re working on, all these that would be characterized, I think by Russia, or excuse me, Chinese state officials as soft power, they have hard aims. And as I said in earlier testimony this year, they’re setting the stage for future access and influence that would have clearly military dimension.
So, just on this last point there about China, with their ports, with their cyber, with their development, you see that as part of a larger strategic plan on China’s part to ramp up their influence in the region and also to diminish ours, is that fair to say?
China has global aims that extend beyond economic and I think we’ve got to continue to out-compete China globally, including in this neighborhood, this hemisphere.
What is, thank you for that answer, what does it, give us a sense of what you think, in your judgment, that looks like, what does it look like for us to out-compete them and what do we need to be doing to meet their, meet and turn back their strategic aims here?
There are a lot of security challenges around the world, as have been outlined. North Korea, Iran, Russia and the near abroad, China, South China Seas. We have to make sure that we look at those globally and we are as a department. We have to make sure that their resourced globally and resourced to a sufficient level so that China doesn’t come in and fill that vacuum when we’re not there. And so, at a point, you can’t do that just via a schoolhouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Newport, Rhode Island, or Montgomery, Alabama, at any one of our excellent war colleges, or at Western Hemisphere Institute for Security, Fort Benning, or here in the Perry Center in Washington. At a point, we’ve got to be in the region, be present, that means U.S. Navy ships, Coast Guard Cutters, Marine Special Purpose MAGTF forces, Special Operations forces, small numbers. We have, in some cases, adequate numbers now, but if we took reductions, and we might have to for the global fight, that would have a disproportionate impact, I think, in the long term ability to work with our partners.
Are there capability gaps that you have currently that you’re concerned about, that we should be doing something about?
I am concerned, the Littoral Combat Ship is an excellent platform the Navy’s bringing online. It’s had some growing pains. I’m confident we’re gonna come out of those. The Sergeant Major and I spent several hours on a Littoral Combat Ship in Mayport, Florida, recently. It’s a capability we need. We don’t have it, Navy’s committed to deploying one in October, in fact the U.S., won’t give the name, but a ship in October, and we look forward to that, so we don’t have a Navy combatant now. And so that’s a capability gap. Intelligence, Surveillance, reconnaissance assets are a challenge worldwide. We need those for monitoring the situation in Venezuela, also for the global counter-narcotic fight, the crisis this nation, that’s our number one asset to detect that flow. So we are short assets, yes, Senator.
Thank you for that, that’s very helpful. Let me ask you about our Mil-to-Mil contacts there, which you’ve already discussed some. They seem to be in your region, they’re relatively narrow focused, and at the small unit level. I’m just wondering do you feel that our training events with our partner nations are focused at the right level, and are they having the effects that you think they should should be?
We do focus at the unit level, and the basic blocking, tackling rightly starts there, but we also have some high-end exercise with our very capable partners. So we just completed UNITAS, which is the longest-serving maritime exercise that the United States has, 60 years, this was 60th year. Our very capable Chilean partners lead that and hosted it, and were in command of that exercise. 12 nations in that exercise from around the globe, observers from the UK and others, and ships from Ecuador, and very capable high-end exercise. At the same time we had our Forces Commando, so 19 special operations forces squads working together as a team in a competition, also in Chile, simultaneously operating. So we do have high-end exercises. I think there’s more we could do to increase the level and complexity of those and bring more partners in, and that’s one of the things we’re focused on if there’s additional resources for exercises.
Can I ask just one more question Madam Chair, last question, just on UNITAS, since you mentioned it, Admiral. Can you tell us if 1,700 personnel, I understand over 1,700 personnel participated, 12 nations, can you describe the degree of trust among the member nations, the participating nations, alignment of priorities, things you feel came out of this that you would report on to us?
I attended the opening ceremony, and had a chance to sit in to the pre-sail brief in the hanger of a Chilean frigate, and went down the line, met the lieutenant who was leading the diving salvage, and the aggressor force, 03 Lieutenant, who was leading the opposition force, the commander of the Chilean sub who was gonna go out and try to sink the high-end American destroyer that Michael Murphy named after one of our Medal of Honor winners. And you saw a band of brothers standing there on the flight deck, it would make any one of us proud, and that’s exercise money, train dollars, that’s well spent. And that exercise covered everything from HADR to response to a terrorist activity, and it was intense.
[Josh] Thank you, thank you Madam Chair.
[Joni] Thank you, Senator Shaheen.
Thank you Madam Chair, and thank you Admiral Faller for being here today. You mentioned the shortfall in the global counter-narcotics effort, and as I’m sure you’re aware, the opioid crisis in the U.S. was responsible for more than 47,000 deaths in 2017, and much of that, those substances come in through Mexico, heroin grown in South American countries, particularly Colombia, is trafficked to the U.S. by air and sea. And it has a real impact on the entire country, as you know. In New Hampshire we have the second highest opioid-related overdose deaths in the nation, So can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing to coordinate with state governments in the U.S. on this effort?
The drug crisis is a national security crisis, Senator, and it’s that easy to get drugs in and the other illicit commodities that can come along with those same networks. It’s a significant focus of ours, and as I mentioned in a previous question, there are insufficient resources dedicated to that. We’re working as hard as we can with the Coast Guard, it’s a premier agency, and they’re working hard. They’ve dedicated twice the number of Cutters to the effort than what they commit in their annual global plan, which shows the level of commitment, and our Navy stepped up to commit more. Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, as you know, is a premier center, and with about 1.5% of the budget gets about 90% of the drugs headed into the country, cocaine which is principally coming from Colombia. So we’re working as hard as we can with our partners across the U.S. interagency, principally in the Joint Interagency Task Force South, and in the committees here in Washington, D.C., to look at ways to be more effective, and to put more resources, and intelligence, and thought into the interdiction problem. It’s also a supply problem, and a demand problem. And in that regard, I’d have to say that Columbia has stepped up in a significant way. And while the statistics that you cite don’t reflect that, because of the time lag, what has been published and made public for 2018, since President Duque’s taken over, is a significant increase in eradication, manual eradication, a significant increase in Colombian partner interdiction, a significant increase in the Colombian forces contact with the narco-traffickers and the terrorist groups that deal in this. And so working with our partners, both in the U.S. Interagency and our other host nation partners, 40% of our interdictions right now are by these partner nations that we train and work with. Colombia, and I mentioned already the very capable forces of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. I would have to add in there Panama and Costa Rica have stepped up, but more can be done. And we are certainly dedicated to that because there is still way too much drugs that are getting through and getting to this country, Senator.
Well, thank you very much. I wanna switch subjects now. I’m looking at a contract award document from the Defense Logistics Agency for February of 2018. And one of the projects described here is for a contingency mass migration complex at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, and it’s a $23,164,000 fixed-price contract for construction of that mass migration complex. It includes site shaping for tents, concrete pads for camp headquarters. It goes on to talk about mass notification system, various infrastructure requirements. Are you aware of this contract, and do you, have you been part of any discussions about what that mass migration complex is gonna be used for? Is it gonna be used for movement of migrants from our southern border to Guantanamo Bay?
Senator, one of our missions is to be able to handle any kind of mass migration event, that’s a SOUTHCOM mission, and we have experienced that in the past with migrants from Cuba and Haiti. The part of the Naval Station, there’s a field, at part of the Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay that is an unimproved field that could be subject to any kind of weather conditions, mud. And so to get that field to a standard, so if we had a mass migration, as I mentioned, from Cuba or Haiti, we could keep the migrants on cement pads instead of in the mud, and have power and water for sanitation ready to go. We didn’t currently have adequate facilities for the numbers that we would estimate in those worst kind of migrations. So I’ve been down to look at the progress that was there at the start of the work. Work’s ongoing, we’re supervising it. We also run an annual training drill. We actually send our Army South soldiers there to walk through the command and control and the interagency coordination have been required, so I’m very much involved in the details. That is for a projected future mass migration event. There has been no discussion, or no order given to me to prepare that site for any kind of a southwest border flow.
Are you aware of any discussions that have been held that you may not have been given a direct order, but have you been part of, or do you know of any discussions that have been held to move southern border migrants there?
No, Senator, nobody’s had a discussion with me to that effect.
Thank you, thank you.
[Joni] Senator Hirono.
Thank you Madam Chair. I’d like to follow up on the questions that Senator Shaheen just asked. So she referred to a $23 million?
It’s over 23, it’s almost 24.
$24 million contract to house mass migration, people as a result of mass migration. So what is that money for? Is it just, what, to, I don’t understand. Doesn’t it, isn’t it gonna go to put some buildings up in this field that you’re talking about at Guantanamo Bay?
Senator, we currently have a migration operation for principally for Cuban migrants, and there are a small flow of migrants that come from Cuba.
This money is for mass migration. I don’t think we’re talking about Cuba or Haiti.
So the current facilities are inadequate to hold any more than a few hundred, and so the worst case plans, based on historical analysis, or some kind of future event, could be a weather-related event, would call for a larger infrastructure footprint that could hold into the tens of thousands. And so that’s what that’s based on. It’s based on electrical infrastructure, sewage, water, power, concrete pads, some sanitation buildings. It’s a very spartan camp though, Senator.
Admiral, are you saying that this money is not for the purposes of moving some of the migrants from the Northern Triangle countries to Guantanamo Bay?
That’s correct, Senator, not for.
So, in any news reports that say that there is a potential for housing these people at Guantanamo Bay would be mistaken?
I’ve seen the same news reports, Senator, but the program money, and the project we’re overseeing and the mission we have is for mass migration, not southwest border.
So you haven’t gotten any order, or well, there’s no direct order, no discussion about sending people from the Northern Triangle to Guantanamo Bay, but if such an event occurs, or such discussions occur, would you let this committee know?
Senator, I assure you I would, if there was a discussion, or an order that I had with that respect.
Okay, because, of course, you know with thousands and thousands of people coming from the Northern Triangle, our facilities are bursting at the seams, and there’s no question that there’s acknowledgement that the some of our defense assets might be put to use to house these people. So I think it’s a matter of great concern for us. Page one of your testimony, you talk about the impact of interstate competition with China and Russia, who are capitalizing on the instability within your AOR. So China, as you know, is a primary threat in the Indo-Pacific AOR, but they are, of course, increasingly turning to other countries, including, they spread a wide net. What impact has the China’s activities on Southern Command had with your relationships with partner nations? Because, you know China is very busy trying to insert themselves into having influence with our partner countries in that area, so is it making it harder for you to retain these important relationships with our partner countries?
Our partners still want and view us as a partner of choice. And our schools, education, and everything is preferred. I think the challenge comes in if we don’t have the speed, the quantity, or for some reason we’re not there to be able to provide the partnership. And so from that respect when a nation, I’ll give you one example, Senator. I’m sitting with, having my third cup of tea with one of the leaders from a capable Caribbean partner nation, and I don’t start out asking about China, I start asking about the things that are mutual threats, how they perceive ’em. I have a lot to learn in my tour. But we get to China, whether they bring it up, I’ll bring it up, and then I’ll be blunt and ask, “What’s China providing for you “in this particular?” Chief of defense said, “They gifted me $23 million “last year.” I said, “Well, what did what do with it?” “Just 23 million, here’s cash.” I looked at my my security cooperation card and I think my total sum of assistance was 1.5, which I thought was pretty adequate. And so we’re not gonna compete in volume, we have to compete in quality and speed of relevance. Sometimes that may be fast, sometimes slow based on what the partner needs. And so that does make it challenging though, that 23 million. And the chief of defense said, “Well I didn’t buy any IT “with that, Admiral.” I’m like, well, okay. But I mean there’s only so many uniforms you can buy for 23 million, so you did something with it, I get it. It’s hard to turn down cash. That’s the challenge that we’re competing with. And some of the partners are turning it down.
One asks, one wonders, for how long can they turn down what might be basically free money. And so is China and, are China and Russia also involved in the Northern Triangle countries?
So it’s different per country, and I try to always break ’em apart, and go country by country. Previous leadership in El Salvador had a little different view about China, and changed directions. I think the new leadership is much more pro U.S. and really wanting to partner, I mentioned their chief of defense and minister of defense, and that’s including both Russia and China. And I see the same in Honduras and Guatemala, and from a policy perspective, they stuck by Taiwan and the U.S., Guatemala and Honduras have. So I think it’s different, but Russia and China are in there, and they’re trying to make inroads, and they’ll take every opportunity to move in if we’re not.
So it sounds as though, with that kind of competition, your presence, whatever we can do to shore up our relationships is a constant thing for you, so keep doing it. Thank you Madam Chair.
Okay, Admiral, we will go ahead and do a second round of questioning. I think our members have additional questions they’d love to to hear your thoughts on. We talked to a little bit about Argentina during your office call, and some of the deep space tracking facilities that are there. If you could, in an unclassified setting, in this room, can you elaborate on the assess purpose of that facility and the threat that it is posing to our military and to other assets that we have here?
China’s working in space around the globe and across all elements of space. I think our focus on space is exactly right as we gotta stay ahead in this area. They’re looking for access points. They’ve found them in South America, and Argentina is principally one, and that’s the extent to what China is doing, and the degree of military activity at that site is extremely concerning to the security of the United States.
And can you expound on what is the impact to the United States, having them there.
China has the ability to have a more global view of all space activities, and that could run the gamut of offense and defense, so beyond that, we’d have to go to a different setting, Senator.
Okay, absolutely, thank you, I appreciate that. Outside of China and Russia, we’ve spent a lot of time visiting about them, but Iran and Iranian proxies do have a long history in South America and in the Western Hemisphere. There was the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Center in Argentina, and the presence of Hezbollah-affiliated fundraising activities across the region. And how would you characterize their presence in this hemisphere, and what are their primary objectives?
Iran continues to be the number one state sponsor of terror around the world, and their long arm of malfeasance is everywhere, and we see that recently in their attacks on tankers. And they have attributable to at least two attributable terror attacks here in this hemisphere, right here in Washington, D.C., where they attempted to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the United States within, you know really within blocks of where we’re sitting, and their state-sponsored terror attack in Argentina. And there are active connections between Iranian regime and Lebanese Hezbollah fundraising activities throughout the region. We watch these closely. There’s also a Iranian sponsorship of Islamic Centers with very dubious and questionable purposes throughout the hemisphere, that has considerable ties to known terror activities in Iran. And we keep our eye on this, and we work closely with our capable partners, such as Brazil and Argentina to share information about these threats. And in your estimation then, these elements that exist in this hemisphere, are they capable of hindering U.S. objectives?
We’ve seen what Iran is doing day in and day out, Senator, in the Arabian Gulf, in Yemen, in Saudi Arabia, in the UAE, what they’ve done here in the past, and so I don’t put much stock in their good intentions going forward, and so I think we’ve got our eye on this one as best we can with the resources we have.
Thank you Admiral, I’ll yield back my time, Senator Peters?
Thank you, thank you Madam Chair. I’m gonna pick up on a question the chair asked you about, the domains, you’ve talked about the space domain, but the other domain that we need to be focused on is cyber, in particular Chinese activities around the world in that area. Would you explain what the Chinese may or may not be doing in Latin America to expand their cyber capabilities?
Start with the crisis in Venezuela. So the Maduro made crisis there, which now pushed out over 4 million migrants, unfortunately, it’s affecting their region, is being aided, abetted by Russia, Cuba, and to a lesser extent, but a significant one, China. And the debt that I mentioned in my opening statement, China is also, and I mentioned this as well, involved in enabling cyber for the Maduro regime. We look broadly beyond that. The attractiveness of IT infrastructure and the Safe City, Smart City concept, where IT infrastructure can provide surveillance opportunities for security forces, is being actively pursued by a number of important partners in the region. We’ve been very actively involved with our interagency partners to explain the risks. And on a Mil-to-Mil, and security force level, the partners, they get it. And they’ve been able in some cases to articulate that to their leadership to slow or stop some projects. But they turn to us and say, “What’s our alternative?” They, just like was mentioned about the money, Senator Hirono mentioned, at some point, you do need resources. They all say, “Hey, we need IT infrastructure. “What’s the alternative that will come forward “that we can provide.” On a Mil-to-Mil level, we’re working on some important security cooperation packages with Cybercom, some of our first-ever security cooperation packages with partners that have asked, almost everywhere we go, the partners want to do more in this area. And we’ve made some visits to do some assessments, and with support of Congress, we’re gonna come forward with some 333 packages that will do training, education, and cyber infrastructure in a Mil-to-Mil realm. It’s the first ones ever we’re pushing with a couple of our very capable partners. And so that’s got to be our response, and that’s another reason why we need to, when I talk more broadly about being there and being consistent, that’s one of the areas we’re gonna look moving forward, and that will help both of us on cyber defense. But China is there in a big way, Senator.
And China uses cyber, not just to deal with security issues and surveillance issues to prevent a crime, but also to keep track of their population, and to, some would argue, to manipulate the population, and get them more compliant with the regime. Do you believe Latin American governments are also moving in that direction with the assistance of the Chinese?
Senator, when I talk to our partners about U.S. versus China, I said, “Look, I’m not here “to bash China, I’m not here to even ask you “to make a choice. “I’m here to talk about what’s important to you “and what’s important to us, “and I think I know where you come from, “where you honor and respect democracy, “rule of law, human rights, and sovereignty.” I just, I look at those sort of four representative variables, and I say, and I look at the competition that you might want to do business with, there’s other external state actors, and I know where we stand. We’re not perfect people, but we work really hard at being good in this country, particularly in our military. We make mistakes, but they’re usually stakes of, you know honest mistakes. I know where we stand on those four variables. I also know where the competition stands on those four variables. So when you buy into a product, are you prepared to buy in what might come with what kind of rule of law, what kind of respect for human rights. I don’t see currently an indication that people are buying into that in a way that’s corrupting them or causing them to stray from their commitment to us, and their commitment to professionalism, on a Mil-to-Mil level, I don’t. But it concerns me when you look long-term, when you leverage yourself and you look down that list, democracy, human rights, rule of law.
Thank you, Admiral.
[Joni] Senator Shaheen.
Thank you. Admiral, as I’m sure you’re aware, in 2017, President Trump signed into law the Women, Peace, and Security Act, which mandates that we prioritize the inclusion of women in conflict negotiations, and security structures, and in peace negotiations. Can you talk about how SOUTHCOM is implementing that law, and how you see it helping you to accomplish your mission?
Master Chief Stacy Arin Arin is my gender advisor, sort of the alter-ego to the Command Sergeant Major here. She was at our full Senate hearing. She’s out actually on a field trip working on this. So when we look at professionalism, what it takes to be a professional force, and I think that’s principally why people want to partner is we’re professional. Professional forces are legitimate. Professional forces respect human rights, rule of law. They also respect talent and allowing equal opportunity to come in and compete, irrespective of who you are, what you do, and whether you are a female or a male. And so that’s what our approach is and how we talk about it. So my commanders conferences that I have, we have a big one coming up in August in Brazil for all the South American countries, that’ll be a focus point of the discussion with our counterparts. And how they work that, and how we work with them, and we’ve actually had requests from some of our partners to say, how did you, United States, work through the integration, putting women on the team on combat ships at sea? And so that’s one of the projects we’re taking on with one of our partner nations right now. So they’re receptive to it. We appreciate the Act, because it came with resources that help us to sponsor training courses. We hosted the first course where we’re training the trainer, so we had all the combatant commands at SOUTHCOM, and I kicked the course off, so my, it was the afternoon of my first day in command actually, and we’re looking how to move this forward in practical ways that deliver combat capability, and I actually think it does, I know it does, delivers combat capability.
Well, I think it’s also important to point out that there is a growing body of evidence that shows what a difference it makes to have women at the table in conflict resolution and in peace negotiations, where we know if women are part of those negotiations, they are 30%, more than 30% likely to last for longer than 15 years. And so I think for all kinds of reasons, including the ones that you cite, it’s very important for us to see this law implemented. Thank you very much, thank you Madam Chair.
Thank You. Admiral, the Joint Interagency Task Force South helps detect, monitor, and stop drug trafficking, and last year only 6% of known drug movements were interdicted. Can you clarify for me, you mentioned in your response to one of the questions, that 40% of interdictions are by our partner countries. So that’s 40% of the 6% of the drugs that are interdicted? So when President Trump declared a national emergency to fund his border, while he announced he would pull 2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s Drug Interdiction Program, that’s the program that we’re talking about. So how are the funds in this drug interdiction program used to address drug trafficking, and if these funds are diverted to build a border wall, how would this impact your ability to complete your drug interdiction efforts?
Senator, the Joint Interagency Task Force South, as you mentioned, currently lead by a Coast Guard Two-Star is key to this effort and they’re doing a great job with about 1.5% of the overall counter-narcotics funds for the entire U.S. Government to get about 80, 90% of all the cocaine. Still it’s not enough, as you cite 6%. The policy decision on how the border security is done is not something that I’m involved in. We’ve not had any cut in our funding for the counter-narcotic fight. So however that money is flowed, we have received the money that we’ve needed and do need to fight the fight that we’re in. We do need more assets, that does cost money, but the principal problem that we face has not been a shortage of the counter-narcotics money. We appreciate Congress’s support in that, thank you.
Clarify for me that this 2.5 billion, you’re not gonna miss it if it goes away?
If it went away, if we lost the money from our counter-narcotics, we’d miss it.
Yes, it was 2.5 billion.
I guess it was, a long answer to we’ve not had a cut in our counter-narcotics funding.
Well, it may happen. The way things are going. So considering that, you know since the President is talking about diverting this money for a wall, which, by the way, that’s not gonna help, in terms of your drug interdiction efforts, because most of your drugs come through the regular ports of, points of entry, not where a wall will be. You noted in your testimony on page two, that this area, your AOR, is the largest source of illicit drugs and illegal migrants to the United States. And you note further on that you’re working with your partners to address shared challenges and threats in this area, including weak governance, corruption, transnational criminal organizations, and the flow of illicit drugs. And you say that you’re looking forward to discussing the nature of this activity in detail how you’re working with the partners to address these issues. So can you give me an example of how you are working with your partners to go after all of these, the weak governance, corruption, you know, all the litany of bad things.
It’s a team effort and it is a big list, Senator, as you point out. Our principal partner within the Department of Defense are NORTHCOM, and so General O’Shaughnessy and I are in constant communication about how we ensure there’s no seam between the Guatemalan Mexican border, and how we view and track these challenges. So at its heart, these are intelligence-driven challenges, so what are the drivers of the migration, what are the key criminal organizations that are involved in the illicit trafficking, whether it’s people, arms, drugs, that prey on the weak governance. And so sharing intelligence with our partners, building their capacity to understand their own environment, and then taking that intelligence and building it into packages that we pass to partner nation law enforcement, and our own law enforcement is key, because most of these challenges involve action by other government entities. Working very closely with Homeland Security to pass information that we know it, when we know it, about migrant caravans or illicit drugs.
And really, Admiral, to make an impact you have to have a long-term commitment to addressing these issues, corruption, as I said the entire litany, and it doesn’t help when you have 450 million that’s taken away from, particularly, the Northern Triangle countries. It does not help. I think you have to kind of acknowledge that. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you. I appreciate the subcommittee’s participation in today’s activities. Admiral Faller, thank you very much for being here and representing our men and women of SOUTHCOM so aptly. We truly do appreciate your service to our nation. Thank you Sergeant Major Zickefoose for being here as well. To you and your team, we appreciate the great input that you have provided for all of us. And with that, (gavel bangs) this hearing is closed.
[Woman] Gain a little history about U.S. and military intervention in North America.
[Woman] About democracy, foreign democracy, overthrown by enemy.
[Woman] There’s a coups in Honduras.