Senator Hassan Leads Manchester Field Hearing on Drug Trafficking; Calls for More Resources to Law Enforcement

MANCHESTER – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, chair of the Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight Subcommittee, led a field hearing today at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester to discuss ways to crack down on international drug trafficking and provide more resources to law enforcement to help stop the flow of illegal drugs into communities.

Senator Hassan was joined by Representatives Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas. The hearing witnesses included Matthew Millhollin, Special Agent in Charge for the Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Boston Field Office; Michael P. Manning, Assistant Director of Field Operations Border Security for Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Boston Field Office; Jon DeLena, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the New England Field Division for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Ellen M. Arcieri, Commander for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Drug Task Force; and Major Ebert, Commander of the Investigative Services Bureau for the New Hampshire State Police.

To watch the full field hearing, click here.

“Too often, the drugs flowing into New Hampshire originate outside our country – and cross into the United States at our southern border,” Senator Hassan said. “I’ve visited the southern border several times as senator, where law enforcement officials discussed with me how drug cartels smuggle drugs into the country. Those same drugs end up here in the Granite State – and that is one of many reasons why we must secure our southern border, making sure that our border security and law enforcement personnel have the resources and support that they need.”

Mexican Drug Trafficking

Senator Hassan questioned Matthew Millhollin, Special Agent in Charge for the HSI Boston Field Officeon what Congress can do to help support his agency’s work to address drug trafficking from Mexico.  

“We can’t interdict or seize our way out of this problem, we really have to attack those financial networks, take out the assets that these drug cartels have to really affect them,” Millhollin said. “So we do that through our vetted units in Mexico… One area that we could really maybe use a little bit of help in is being able to pay those vetted unit members a salary supplement… to incentivize them to come over to our agency to be able to recruit and retain the brightest folks from there would be very useful for us.”

Jon DeLena, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the New England Field Division for the DEA, also discussed the work that his agency is doing in Mexico to crack down on drug trafficking.

“It’s obvious that the work in Mexico is vital to everything that’s happening throughout the United States,” DeLena said. “It’s the goal of DEA always to try to map these networks and to take these investigations literally from Mexico to Main Street… What we’re doing now in all 11 offices throughout Mexico is trying to target the highest level violators within the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación) who ultimately are impacting the East Coast of the United States more than anybody, and right here in New Hampshire as well.”

Dark Web Drug Trafficking

Senator Hassan went on to highlight a bipartisan bill she recently introduced to crack down on drug trafficking through the dark web.

“Parts of the drug trade have migrated to the internet, both through social media and on the dark web,” said Senator Hassan. “I recently introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Cornyn, the Dark Web Interdiction Act, which aims to strengthen the ability to go after drug trafficking on the dark web and increase penalties for using the dark web to sell deadly drugs.”

Senator Hassan asked how various agencies are working to tackle this growing problem.

In response, Millhollin highlighted how the rise of cryptocurrency on the dark web, as well as its use in money laundering, has forced agencies like HSI to shift its hiring priorities in order to bring in technology experts who can work these kinds of investigations.

“To be able to recruit and retain the right people to work those types of investigations is a whole different applicant pool than we’ve ever looked into in the last 20 years. So being able to bring those people over has been tough,” said Millhollin.

DeLena echoed the same concerns and discussed the need to get better equipment to help enhance DEA’s cyber capabilities, “We also need the equipment to be able keep up with these billion dollar cartels who don’t have those challenges or those difficulties. They get the best equipment when the want it and in the government sometimes that can be a challenge.”

Major Ebert, Commander of the Investigative Services Bureau for the New Hampshire State Police, discussed partnering with federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspectors, to address drug trafficking on the dark web.

“Although the procedure in which drugs are purchased on the dark web is incredibly difficult to track down, those drugs have to make their way into our country in one mechanism or another, and we found that trying to interdict them at the shipping point can be successful,” said Major Ebert.

Combatting Counterfeit Pills

Senator Hassan also discussed the rise of dangerous counterfeit pills in New Hampshire and across the country, “Six months ago, I wrote a letter to DEA Administrator Milgram about the dangerous rise in counterfeit pills, which are often indistinguishable from legitimate medication but as you have pointed out can be laced with dangerous drugs like meth and fentanyl. People think they’re getting a legitimate prescription medication but they’re not.”

DeLena, who has been at the forefront of the DEA’s efforts to tackle this emerging threat, discussed the insidious nature of disguising prescription pills to look exactly like popular drugs such as Adderall to target young people.

“When I saw the amount of those pills that were crossing, throughout New England, but particularly here in New Hampshire, it troubled me more than anything I had seen or experienced in my entire career… It’s this relentless move toward widespread addiction and that’s exactly how these cartels are trying to achieve that,” said DeLena.

Drug Trafficking Through the Mail

In addition, Senator Hassan discussed the importance of effectively targeting and interdicting drugs trafficked through the mail.

Michael Manning, Assistant Director of Field Operations Border Security for CBP’s Boston Field Office, touted the importance of the STOP Act, which Senator Hassan helped pass into law, in CBP’s efforts to crack down on drug trafficking through the Postal Service.

“The STOP Act has helped us significantly,” Manning said. “We’ve seen fentanyl basically stop coming through the mail and its going down now to the southern border.”

Thanking Law Enforcement

Senator Hassan also thanked law enforcement for their work to protect communities.  

“You go into to just about any community in New Hampshire and right at the forefront of whatever community works needs to be done is a member of law enforcement just pitching in, whether its coaching a team or whether its helping at a food bank. We’re deeply, deeply appreciative of the work you do,” Senator Hassan said.