Raymond W. Kelly

Law and Order, Part I

VTR Date: March 9, 1999

Guest: Kelly, Raymond W.


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Raymond W. Kelly
Title: Law and Order
VTR: 3/9/99

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind.

My guest today is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War who retired from the United States Marine Corps as a Colonel; he holds law degrees from St. John’s and New York University; he was a cop for many, many years (indeed, was New York City’s “Top Cop”, its Police Commissioner, when he was last here on The Open Mind); and in recent years was ordered to Haiti by the President of the United States to direct its international police monitors, then served as Undersecretary for Enforcement of the United States Treasury Department, and in 1998 became Commissioner of the United States Customs Service.

In other words, Raymond W. Kelly has been very much around the track in the area of law and order; and it’s not only safe, but good to have him with us again here on The Open Mind. So, welcome, Commissioner.

KELLY: Good to be here, Dick.

HEFFNER: You know, when you were here as New York’s “Top Cop” I thought you had the toughest job in the United States. Now I think you have the toughest job in the United States … do you like going from the frying pan into the fire?

KELLY: [Laughter] I do. I think I like challenges and the Customs Service is a challenge. It’s a great organization, it is the oldest law enforcement agency in the United States. It has a very complex and demanding mission and I’m very happy to be a part of it. It has some challenges, we’re addressing those challenges, and I think we’re going to do a terrific job as we enter the next century.

HEFFNER: As I’ve read what you had to say recently, I gather technology is going to play a large part in what you’re going to do in the next decade or so.
KELLY: Technology is extremely important for the Customs Service. Let me give you a flavor of what comes across our borders. Last year we processed almost a trillion dollars worth of trade. That is the Customs Service … collected $22 billion dollars worth of revenue. Those commodities came across in 130 million cars and trucks, 4 ½ million sea containers, 300,000 railcars; hundreds of thousands … 750,000 flights that have come in from overseas. All of that has to be, in theory, examined by the Customs Service, to find contraband; to find drugs coming into the country. It is a very demanding mission, as I said. We also have a role in seeing to the facilitation of trade. There’s an explosion of trade throughout the world and Customs is kind of right in the middle of that explosion of trade, trying to pick out the kind of needle from a stack of drugs coming in, contraband that’s coming in. So, I enjoy being there, lots of good people, but as I say, very complex and demanding work.

HEFFNER: Well, how is technology going to play a role here?

KELLY: Okay, you see the size and scope of the problem. We need technology to help us do a much more effective job of sifting through, going through all of the traffic, all of the commodities that come into the United States. We’re in the process of setting up an array, deploying a comprehensive array of x-ray technology along the Southwest border, that will enable us to x-ray trucks, railroad cars, and in some cases, cars, for contraband coming into the United States. Now we have some of that in place. We have 24 major ports along the Southwest border. We have technology at virtually all of them, but nowhere near where we want to be. At three of our major ports we have huge x-ray machines that can x-ray trucks. We have portable x-ray equipment that we deploy at other ports that come from Mexico, or are on the border between Mexico and the United States. We just received $80 million dollars in a supplement budget that Congress gave us in October of 1999 to fully purchase a sophisticated array of x-rays for the entire border. It will take us till at least 2002 to get there. But I believe that … we’ve seen burgeoning technology, of course, in the last five years, 10 years. I think that if we project out to ten or fifteen years, that we will be able to detect virtually any substance coming across the border. Is it going to be expensive? Yes. But I think it’s something that we have to do. Our major problem, certainly a major social problem in this country is drugs. We have still great demand in the country for drugs. Interdiction … that’s our role. It plays a part in fighting the battle against drugs. It’s not the ultimate answer, by any means. But we have to do a more effective job of interdicting drugs. And I think technology that we have now that’s … that we’re going to purchase and that will be coming online in the next several years will enable us to stay up with the problem.

HEFFNER: “Staying up with the problem,” means what, though?

KELLY: Well, it means playing the role of the interdiction agency. The only way we’re going to, I think, reduce the problem in a major way is to reduce demand. And General McAffrey, the Director of Office of Drug Control Policy … I think has a sound, comprehensive plan to address demand. It’s not going to happen overnight. Really, he has a ten year plan. And it’s fairly sophisticated. But, in my mind, we still need interdiction. Interdiction will always play a role. We have to keep culling out drugs that are coming across our borders. About 60% of the drugs coming into the U.S., it’s estimated come across the U.S./Mexican border. And that’s where we are, on the front line, so that’s where the pressure lies for us. Technology is indispensable for us, now. But, as we see new technology coming down the pike, I think we’ll be doing an even more effective job.

HEFFNER: You feel that it’s a “win-able” battle?

KELLY: Mmmmm.

HEFFNER: The interdiction.

KELLY: No, interdiction is never going to win the battle. We’re never going to seize our way, or arrest our way out of the drug problem we have in this country. But along with treatment and education, interdiction plays a role. A necessary role. And I think the battle, you say, over the long term, is “win-able”. But the most important component is the demand-reduction component. That’s the one that is going to … if, if we’re going to win this battle, that’s going to be the linchpin, that’s going to be the key part of our strategy.

HEFFNER: Commissioner, from our earlier discussions and our relationship through the Police Foundation here in New York I know you feel that way. What does that do to your ability to feel that you can do the interdiction. That is work-able. To the extent that interdiction can be work-able, that it is.

KELLY: Well, we believe … we, that is, the people in the Custom Service, people in Treasury believe that if you didn’t have interdiction, I mean you’d just have vast amounts of supplies of drugs being stockpiled in the country. We are seizing and various estimates to what we seize, but we think we seize about a third of what comes into the United States.

HEFFNER: But that’s what I really meant to point to. The question is how much can you stop it from coming in? You say, “a third”.

KELLY: These are rough estimates. There is also some indication that demand in a mega-sense is going down in the U.S., and that the supply through various models that have been built by ONDCP, also seems to be going down. In 1992 they estimated that there were 600 metric tons of cocaine in this country. They now estimate in 1997, early 1998 that there are roughly 300 metric tons of drugs in this country. Now, we … part of that, of course, or most of that is a result of demand production. But interdiction is still critical, in my mind. It’s critical to be out there as a, as a stop sign or a caution sign to the drug cartels. We have the … interdiction raises the cost of their doing business. And that’s what … I think that’s one of the major benefits of it. I don’t think we could … we could have a viable program to address the problem of drugs unless we had a significant interdiction component. I know some people disagree with that, but …

HEFFNER: Now, the good guys use technology.

KELLY: The bad guys use technology.

HEFFNER: That’s what I was going to ask you.

KELLY: Absolutely. Very sophisticated technology because they have lots of money. They don’t have to go through the purchasing procedures and, you know all of the paper work we have to go through. No requisitions, no … you know, low bid approach, that sort of thing. They have moved extensively into encryption … encrypted telephones, difficult … very difficult for us to break. But, you know, there’s a lot of challenges. They have cars and trucks … if you see how they secret drugs in vehicles … it’s really fascinating how they can … just basically dismantle a truck, say a big truck … and put drugs in the I-beams of the truck and then hermetically seal them. And, you know, our Inspectors are expected to find all sorts of drugs and yet the, the flow of traffic and the pressure to bring traffic through into the United States is tremendous. You go to San Ysidro, which is in California. They have 27 lanes of traffic coming from Mexico into the United States. 24 hours a day those lanes are in operation. Bow Tie Mesa, which is next to San Ysidro, which is a truck entry point … I mean you just look and as far as the eye can see there are truck waiting to come into the United States. We have moved to, you know, “just in time” approaches to doing business. You have a mache a dora??? situation in Mexico and the United States where you have sister factories … one just on the other side of the border. Major electronics firms (?), for instance, you’ll see two factories in line of sight of each other. A lot of what those factories do depend on “just in time” shipments. Goods coming across the border and then being assembled quickly. Same thing on the Canadian border. The Big Three auto makers rely quite a bit on “just in time” inventory. In other words their inventory is minimal. So there is again a lot of pressure on the Customs Service to …

HEFFNER: Expedite …

KELLY: … expedite the flow …

HEFFNER: … right …

KELLY: … of traffic. And at the same time, find those … find drugs or find contraband in the, you know, in those vehicles.

HEFFNER: What about the other borders, because you talk about automobiles, you talk about … you must be talking about Canadian border …

KELLY: True.

HEFFNER: … you must be talking about our Coasts.

KELLY: True.

HEFFNER: So, it’s not just a matter of the border between the United States and Mexico.

KELLY: Absolutely, it isn’t. There is, obviously, a significant sea borne traffic that we’re concerned with. I just was down in Houston with the Coast Guard where they seized 10,000 pounds of cocaine on a ship that was on the high seas. So we have challenges all around us. The Northern and Southern border and the Pacific, Gulf and the Atlantic oceans. It’s a big country, and a big border. And it presents lots of challenges.

HEFFNER: More stuff coming in now, less stuff coming in now?

KELLY: Well, as I said, we saw that drop in metric tons of cocaine. There are indications that heroin shipments are up. Heroin never really went away. But what’s happening now is … let’s say ten years ago we got very little, if any heroin from Columbia. Now we’re getting a significant percentage, maybe as high as 30% of heroin coming from Columbia. It’s a very high grade in heroin, you can smoke it. You know, 20 years heroin addicts would be injecting themselves with needles, and some still do. But now the heroin is of such a high grade that you can, you can smoke it. So we think … in that general sense, cocaine shipments have gone down, heroin shipments have gone up. That there’s … a small amount of heroin will have a much larger street value than say a larger amount of cocaine. Heroin is, is a very valuable substance. Methamphetamine is coming in both as a finished product and also with precursors coming in by sea, and also coming across the border.

HEFFNER: In interdiction, to what extent are you stepping on my toes as a citizen?

KELLY: I don’t think we are stepping on people’s toes. It’s interesting though, there is another issue … passenger processing when people come into the airport.

HEFFNER: That’s what I mean.

KELLY: It is, again, a very demanding situation for the Customs Service. There are people who carry drugs into the country internally, in their bodies, and on their bodies. And we see that as kind of a growing phenomenon, not a new phenomenon, it kind of ebbs and flows. But, ten years ago it was much easier to spot the so-called “mules” than it is now. What’s happened is the drug cartel, again very sophisticated, have trained people, have given them covers, have given them some … for instance, documents that would make them out to be business men or engineers, in a case that I’m familiar with. So it becomes much harder for the Customs Service to identify these people. What has happened is that we have searched people, and ultimately x-rayed some people. But our, our success rate is only somewhere in the 25 to 30% …

HEFFNER: And the rest?

KELLY: The rest … 70% …

HEFFNER: That’s where you’re stamping on my toes.

KELLY: Well, okay … right, then. And it is a, it is a kind of a public relations nightmare for the Customs Service. Because 70% of the people that search out there are not particularly happy that we did that. We’re trying to address that in a series of initiatives. We’re trying to better inform people early on that this is a possibility. We’re re-designing the Declaration Statement … you know when you get on a plane …


KELLY: … and you’re filling out how much you purchased, that sort of thing. We’re putting a cover on that, making that simpler to fill out, too.

HEFFNER: Saying that Ray Kelly may x-ray you on the other side?

KELLY: [Laughter] … in a nice way, we’re saying that. But also, we have brought some technology to bear in this issue as well. A body scanner, which is not a full x-ray … we identify someone that we want to talk to … let me back up and say, we do that, by looking at advance passenger information. We have a manifest as to … pretty much most airlines participate in this … tell us who’s on a particular aircraft. We run that against a series of databases. So there are people that the Service wants to, wants to speak to, and they’ll engage people in conversation, ask them questions …where they’re coming from, that sort of thing. There may come a time where an individual … they may want to pat down an individual, which again is certainly authorized in the law. But we give people the option of … in New York and Miami now, of going in front of a body scanner that does not look through the body, but will look through the clothing. And we have female Inspectors working with female subjects, and male with the males. And we are trying to move in a direction … make it less onerous. We’ve done and are doing extensive training programs for our Inspectors, who are involved in these sorts of searches. They’re sensitized in cultural awareness … trying to refine their skills at identifying certain ????indesher of people who are smuggling. It is a difficult issue, but it’s something that I think has to be done. We’ve seen a 50% increase in the amount of drugs being brought into the country in the person and on the person of passengers coming into the United States. So it is a … again, another challenge for us. How do we make it less onerous? Nobody is going to be happy that they’ve been, they’ve been searched, but I think there is … there are ways of approaching this that make people feel a little better about what they have to go through.

HEFFNER: But as you’ve suggested already, that as you develop technologically speaking, better ways of doing that … the bad guys are developing, technologically, ways to trump your ace.

KELLY: Well, yeah, that’s, we … it’s a constant cat and mouse game in lots of different areas, so it is … it is a real challenge. But we have to keep pushing the envelope as far as technology is concerned.

HEFFNER: And what’s your assumption about the 21st century?

KELLY: Well, I believe that we’ll continue this explosion of trade and this kind of explosion of technological developments that will enable us to … in the not too distant future have pretty much a total information of what’s coming into the, into the United States. There are all sort of machines that are out there that people are talking about that are on the drawing board. Neutron analysis … now I’m not a scientist, by any means. But there are instruments now in the prototype stage that can do what they call neutron bombardment, where you can bombard a substance and then do an analysis of the molecules that are coming back and it will tell you, virtually, what any substance is … not just drugs or silk or whatever. But you can do it for any substance, depending on how you configured this machine. That sort of technology is going to be out there in the not too distant future. And for the Customs Service it will be a major help in protecting our borders against, against contraband.

HEFFNER: What happens at the points of entry in terms of people who obviously have nothing to do with drugs, but who, for some reason or other, are pinpointed by your agents as people who have to be examined further, whether with x-ray machines or non-intrusive machines, or whatever. What do you get from them? Are you able to explain sufficiently the problem you have to satisfy their angers? Because they must be angry as hell.

KELLY: Well, that’s an issue that we’re taking head on. Certainly in some … with probably most Inspectors in most airports we’re doing an adequate job of explaining the situation. We want to do the best possible job. We brought in a consultant of Booze Allen to tell us how we can better communicate with people, both before the process and during the process. We have a brochure that we give to people with an explanation now, as to why this happened … “Why me? Why was I selected?”, this is a very understandable and natural question that people ask. So, we are attempting to do the best possible job. Are we doing all that we want to do now? No. Can we do a better job? Yes. We have to communicate much more effectively than we have in the past. And there is an issue when you have … and I’ve seen it in policing … of course, you have a certain amount of power … sometimes you get rather cavalier in exercising it. We have to be much more sensitive to how we, we use this kind of extraordinary power. And that’s what we’re all about now … to sensitize our people and to communicate more effectively with the public as to why they’ve undergone this unpleasant process.

HEFFNER: Do you think we’re in for a time when increasingly our privacy is going to be imposed upon?


HEFFNER: By definition.

KELLY: Yes. I think with the … we’ve seen so much of it already. Files are everywhere and Internet … and Internet access and with hacking … yeah, I think it’s something that is … should be of concern to all of us. I could think of myself as someone who is concerned about privacy. And I think it’s an area that as technology grows, as the Internet grows, we’re going to have to pay attention to it as a society, as a country.

HEFFNER: And the … in area of dollars and of legitimating dollars of covering up their illegal sources, what’s your role in that?

KELLY: As far as money laundering is concerned?


KELLY: Well we play a major role. The Customs Services has about 2,500 … I think very good Investigators, who really are the lead Investigators in the area of money laundering. It’s a way of getting at drug dealers, it’s kind of their Achilles heel, if you take their money away from them. Probably still today most money laundering is done in bulk shipments. In other words trucked out of the country. We’re doing outbound operations to address some of that. We’ve just concluded … I say “just” in the last six months, probably the biggest money laundering case that any U.S. law enforcement agency who’d been involved in, that’s Operation Casablanca. In which some 168 people were arrested and warrants for many more people … three Mexican banks were indicted, 28 Mexican bankers who were arrested in Las Vegas in a sting operation. And so far about 100 million dollars has been confiscated and we’ll probably confiscate significantly more. It was a very well run operation, three and half years in the execution of this sophisticated investigation. But the Mexican government, of course, was not happy with some aspects of this case. They complained that they were not notified of the investigation. In fact in 1996, with the U.S. Ambassador and with the Deputy Attorney General of Mexico sitting in the room, Customs agents did brief them about this, about the case and the aspects of the case. Just, oh, maybe three weeks ago … so after, after the arrests took place, the Mexican government and the Mexican press were claiming that their laws were violated and that they would indict Customs agents and they would have to be extradited to Mexico. The Mexican government backed off from that just three weeks ago.

HEFFNER: It didn’t happen.

KELLY: It did not happen and won’t happen.

HEFFNER: Commissioner Kelly, I appreciate your examination of these issues that you face. We’ve come to the end of our time. You ought to come back ten, 15 years … assuming that I’m around … you will be … and see what’s happened with interdiction …

KELLY: Yeah.

HEFFNER: … versus the matter of demand.

KELLY. Right.

HEFFNER: Thank you for joining me today.

KELLY: Thank you, sir.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send four dollars in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, F.D.R. Station, New York, New York 10150

Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.