Biden targets drug traffickers with new executive orders

President BidenJoe BidenFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Romney tests positive for coronavirus Pelosi sidesteps progressives' March 1 deadline for Build Back Better MORE on Wednesday signed two executive orders restructuring how the federal government coordinates transnational criminal investigations, and expanding the sanctions program to target narco-trafficking persons and organizations.

As part of the initiative the Biden administration also sanctioned 25 targets, including five Chinese nationals, engaged in trafficking or producing fentanyl for sale in the United States.

The revamp comes as the global drug trade has changed in a variety of ways, including how it conducts business, which drugs are most profitable, where precursors come from and how transnational criminal organizations work to avoid government interference.

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The drug trade over the past two decades has also shifted toward more dangerous synthetic opiates that have driven U.S. drug overdose deaths above 100,000 per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"In the last two decades, however, the nature of drug trafficking has changed dramatically. Illicit drugs more potent, addictive and deadly and able to kill in mass numbers," a senior administration official told reporters on a call about the actions.

"Nowhere is this more apparent than the skyrocketing death rate from synthetic opioids. Today's drug trade no longer relies on crops or requires vast acreage, but instead on synthetic materials and precursor chemicals," added the official.

Under the first order, Biden created the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime (USCTOC), which will converge cabinet-level representation from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, the Treasury, State, Defense, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The USCTOC will replace the U.S. Government’s Threat Mitigation Working Group, created in 2017 to coordinate efforts against the global drug trade.

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According to administration officials, the USCTOC will serve as a clearinghouse to coordinate different government agencies and collaborate with private and international actors to disrupt drug trafficking organizations.

"Now more than ever, the counter-transnational organized crime mission requires cooperation across the law enforcement, intelligence, military, diplomatic, and economic communities. Through the USCTOC, individual department and agency actions will be more strategically aligned and coordinated to overcome organizational barriers and support integrated action," a senior administration official told reporters.

Between the new coordinating structure and expanded sanctions authority, the Biden administration hopes to disrupt the supply chain and financial networks that fuel the international drug trade.

Historically, drug trafficking organizations have been quick to adapt to new law enforcement strategies, but targeted sanctions have had some success in deterring open financial engagement between large economic actors and those profiting from drug trafficking.

The new sanctions regime is also part of the Biden administration's pledge to combat corruption, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, where government corruption and migration patterns are closely related.