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Northwest HIDTA

General Information:
  Year of Designation:  1997
  Geographic Area of Responsibility:

Benton, Clark, Cowlitz, Franklin, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom, and Yakima counties

    Contact: Director Dave Rodriguez, telephone (206) 352-3600

Mission Statement:

The Northwest HIDTA mission is to measurably reduce large scale importation and local drug trafficking by intercepting shipments, disrupting local manufacturing and trafficking operations, and to reduce demand by supporting treatment and effective demand reduction programs. The Northwest HIDTA focuses on high-value trafficking targets and financial infrastructure.

Threat Abstract:

The Northwest HIDTA encompasses 14 counties extending south from the U.S.-Canada border, through the State Capital in Olympia to the Washington-Oregon border. It also extends east through the Yakima Valley to the Washington-Idaho border east of Spokane. Washington State's population of over 6 million is primarily concentrated in the west with most of the state's industry, whereas the eastern half is primarily agricultural.

Land Threat – Washington's highway system, specifically the I-5 corridor, remains the most commonly used drug smuggling route into and through the region. The National Forests and National Parks are another commonly used route for the movement of drugs and money. At the U.S.-Canada border, high potency marijuana or “BC Bud” travels south, while cocaine and illicit proceeds are smuggled north to Canada. It is estimated that 75 to 85 percent of the BC Bud grown in British Columbia is exported to the U.S. Statistics suggest the BC Bud has become one of the largest industries in Canada, with annual production valued at $6 billion (U.S.). The retail price of BC Bud crops is significantly higher in the United States. In Vancouver, British Columbia, BC Bud marijuana sells for $1,500 to $2,000 per pound, compared to $3,000 per pound in Washington and $6,000 in California. Washington State is a primary staging area for the smuggling of BC Bud into other states as far as Florida. Federal statistics indicate a dramatic increase in marijuana seizures in Washington State between 1999 and 2004, further illustrating this trend. Seizures of MDMA (Ecstasy) and methamphetamine precursors from Canada appear to be increasing. Mexican controlled drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) use the highway system to move black tar heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine to the state from California and Arizona. Since September 11, 2001, there has been a significant increase in security at the border ports of entry (POE). The potential exists for land routes between POEs to be used for increased drug smuggling. There appears to be a shift in smuggling to U.S.-Canada border areas east of the Cascade Mountains to Montana.

Maritime Threat – The Puget Sound contains numerous islands and an extensive internal shoreline. The combined ports of Seattle and Tacoma are the second largest load center in the United States with over
3.2 million TEUs, or 20-foot equivalent units (containers), received annually. The volume of maritime traffic and numerous pleasure craft and fishing boats that travel between British Columbia and the United States without being inspected, has made the state vulnerable to the use of maritime routes to transport drugs.

Air Threat – Washington State has 7 international airports, 138 public-landing sites, 100 heliports, and numerous private- landing sites. Smugglers in the movement of illicit cargoes via air transportation have increasingly exploited the “Open Skies Agreement” between the United States and Canada. There has also been an increase in the number of “air-drops” of contraband into Washington's National Forests and National Parks.

Domestic Threat – Washington was ranked sixth in 2003 in methamphetamine lab seizures, down from a rank of third in 2001 and 2002. There is a trend in precursors being imported and smuggled into the state versus being obtained locally. This suggests that new laws, enforcement, and public awareness measures are having effects in methamphetamine production and precursor accessibility. Local production of methamphetamine appears to be increasingly shifted to areas in the state with limited resources to combat this threat. In 2002 and 2003, the number of marijuana plants eradicated from outdoor operations surpassed that of indoor grow operations. Indoor marijuana grows also provide a substantial supply of locally grown high potency cannabis, which rivals BC Bud, for state residents. However, outdoor growing operations have increased.

Intelligence increasingly reflects Mexican DTOs are using the Yakima Valley area as a transshipment hub for methamphetamine, cocaine, and black tar heroin to northern mid-western states. Illegal proceeds are moved in bulk cash shipments and also through wire remitters and banks. The primary method Mexican DTOs use to move illegal drug proceeds back to Mexico is wire remitter services in the state.

Strategy Abstract:

The design and placement of Northwest HIDTA initiatives brings a unique blend of law enforcement and prevention programs together to respond to the drug threat in the Pacific Northwest. They incorporate both sparse rural and dense urban areas. The diverse geographic and demographic characteristics require that initiatives employ different strategies to meet the unique needs of each region. The unitized approach to countering illegal drug use includes five mutually supportive subsystems: Intelligence, Investigation, Interdiction, Prosecution, and Support (e.g., Prevention).

Northwest HIDTA initiatives leverage existing task forces and funding sources to create even stronger enforcement programs. Although each agency might have their individual drug enforcement strategy, the HIDTA program unites and combines resources for greater effectiveness against drug law violators. Initiatives stress the partnership, sharing, and co-location of multi-jurisdictional task forces throughout the HIDTA area. These enforcement groups concentrate efforts against the high-value drug trafficking organizations operating within the Northwest HIDTA counties and against the four most common drugs of abuse: methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. A Transportation Task Force concentrates on the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as well as other means of transshipping drugs and drug profits.

The Northwest HIDTA coordinates and synchronizes task force efforts by providing significant investigative case analysis and intelligence information to each of these task forces. Since smuggling on the U.S.-Canada border is commonplace, a tactical intelligence center is in place adjacent to the border. This Integrated Border Intelligence Team (IBIT) directly services border interdiction and enforcement teams while coordinating with the HIDTA Investigative Support Center (ISC). The IBIT accesses the Western States Information Network via the RISS.net to receive and share intelligence information. Border smugglers arrested with lesser drug quantities are charged in Washington State courts if prosecution is declined by the United States Attorney's Office. A HIDTA funded Whatcom County Deputy Prosecutor charges such individuals in state and county courts.

The Northwest HIDTA support initiatives include those efforts promoting drug education, drug courts, and building community coalitions with HIDTA funds.

Investigative Support Center:

The Northwest HIDTA ISC is comprised of several components including a Watch Center, Analytical Unit, and Administrative Unit with a Technical Equipment Program and an Information Technology (IT) component.

The Watch Center provides critical event deconfliction services to all law enforcement agencies throughout the state for officer safety. The Watch Center is a node to the Western States Information Network, which is a member of the national Regional Information Sharing System. The Watch Center coordinates critical drug intelligence information among local, state, and federal agencies. The unit prepares the Annual Report . In addition, the Watch Center augments the Analytical Unit in its investigative case analysis services and strategic research duties.

The Analytical Unit enhances investigative functions of law enforcement agencies through delivery of analytical services from investigation inception to trial. These services include communications analyses
(i.e., servicing DNRs and toll activity during Title IIIs, mapping cell site activity, linking targets); research using multiple agency and commercial databases; production of charts and graphs; post-seizure analysis of evidence; written analytical reports; and PowerPoint presentations. Written products, such as reports of investigation, are provided to the supported agencies for use in their reporting systems. Many of the investigations supported are designated Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) cases, have a money laundering element, or are complex and of long duration. The Analytical Unit additionally prepares strategic studies and the Annual Threat Assessment.

The Administrative Unit provides training opportunities, Information Technology support, and Technical Equipment expertise. The training function of the Administrative Unit provides a wide array of training opportunities to intelligence center staff and law enforcement officers. The Information Technology personnel design, install, and support all of the information processing systems in the ISC and augment the IT activities of the Northwest HIDTA Initiatives. The Technical Equipment program loans, services, and installs evidence gathering technical equipment needed in drug investigations by local, state, and federal agencies.

Participating Agencies:

Federal: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Yakama Tribal Police; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Federal Bureau of Investigation; Food and Drug Administration; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; U.S. Customs & Border Protection; U.S. Coast Guard, District 13, Seattle; U.S. Marshal's Service; and U.S. Postal Service.

State/Local: Washington State Patrol (WSP); Washington State Department of Corrections; Washington State Department of Health; Washington National Guard; Clark County, Cowlitz County, King County, Lewis County, Pierce County, Skamania County, Snohomish County, Thurston County, Whatcom County, and Yakima County Sheriff's Offices; Pierce County, Snohomish County, Spokane County, and Whatcom County Prosecutor's Offices; Bellingham, Blaine, Bonney Lake, Bothell, Centralia, Chehalis, Des Moines, Everett, Grandview, Granger, Lacey, Longview, Marysville, Olympia, Port of Seattle, Puyallup, Redmond (as part of the Eastside Narcotics Task Force), Seattle, Spokane, Sumner, Sunnyside (Yakima County), Tacoma, Toppenish, Tumwater, Union Gap, and Vancouver Police Departments; Cowlitz County Corrections Department.

Other: Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Canada Customs; Office of the Washington State Lieutenant Governor; Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO; Washington State Alcohol/Drug Clearinghouse; Educational Service District 105, Yakima; King County Department of Community and Human Services; Cowlitz County, Thurston County, Whatcom County, and Yakima County Superior Courts; King County Department of Judicial Administration; Pierce County Alliance; Pierce County Planning and Land Services; Skagit Recovery Center; North East Washington Treatment Alternatives, Spokane; Snohomish County Human Services Department; Kitsap County Human Services Department; Clark County Community Services Department; Skagit County Human Services Department; Seattle, Neighborhood Group; Pierce County Human Services Department; Thurston County TOGETHER!; Cowlitz County Substance Abuse Coalition; Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council; and the Tacoma- Pierce County Health Department.

Significant Achievements:

On May 24, 2004, over 130 law enforcement personnel from the Snohomish County Drug Task Force and DEA (with the assistance of police personnel from Skagit, Eastside, and South Snohomish County Narcotics Task Forces as well as personnel from Everett, Seattle, Marysville Police Departments, the WSP, ICE and the U.S. Marshal's Service) served search warrants at numerous residences and storage facilities in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties. Throughout the eight-month investigation, enforcement agents executed a total of 26 search warrants and arrested 23 suspects. Additionally, agents seized over 26 pounds of high quality “ice” methamphetamine, 7.5 pounds of cocaine, and 13.2 pounds of marijuana. The suspects called the methamphetamine “bomb-bomb” because it was over 90 percent pure. Additionally, agents seized over $229,000 in cash and $703,000 in stolen checks. Officers and agents seized 32 guns, 8 of which had been reported stolen.

On June 23, 2004, the DEA Tacoma Narcotics Task Force and members of the Gray's Harbor Drug Task Force and ICE completed a two-year investigation into a DTO operating in Gray's Harbor County. Agents and detectives arrested 16 defendants and executed 15 search warrants. This resulted in the seizure of one pound of methamphetamine, a dismantled methamphetamine lab, a 200 plant indoor grow, $4,000 in cash, and 14 vehicles. Over the course of this investigation, 5.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine was purchased from members of this organization that was allegedly responsible for the monthly distribution of 50 to 100 pounds of methamphetamine since 2001. The methamphetamine was transported to the Gray's Harbor area from California and the Yakima areas. All 16 defendants were illegal immigrants. An article from the Aberdeen Daily World called this enforcement activity the “largest drug bust in county history.”

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Last Updated: February 7, 2005

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