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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 6, 1996
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY
                       GENERAL BARRY MCCAFFREY                       

The Briefing Room

1:12 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. In my never-ending attempt to bring the newsmakers of the day, I'm delighted that General Barry McCaffrey can be with us today. As you all know, the President swore him in earlier today to be the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The President had some very warm words for General McCaffrey, and so do most people here at the White House who have enjoyed their association with him over the three years that we've come to know him well.

I thought, in addition to talking a little bit about the office and the Generals' plans, he could also give you a preview of tomorrow's White House Leadership Conference on Youth, Drug Use and Violence, in which the General will play a very important role, as will the President. He'll give you a little preview of that, talk a little bit about the office, about the swearing-in today.

And, General, it's a delight to have you here.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Thanks, Mike. This is actually my first official formation. We had a wonderful morning. You know, normally, you can never impress your wife, but it's good to try to impress your mother. So I had my mother and father and son into the Oval Office, and then in to be sworn in by the President of the United States. We were joined by most of the -- many of the senior officials of government who deal with the drug issues. Particularly, Attorney General Janet Reno was there. And Tom Constantine, an old friend, DEA Administrator, tremendous police officer, as many of you know. And Judge Freeh from the FBI, and a lot of the folks who have helped me set up some of these issues in the last couple weeks. Had Senator Biden there, Congressman Zeliff; Congressman Rangel came over to talk to me before the ceremony got going in an attempt to underscore the bipartisan nature of the issue. And then it was a great honor to have Justice Ginsburg swear me in, administer the oath. An appropriate start.

And what I would perhaps like to serve for your consideration is one of the things that came out of that ceremony was the President's announcement of $250 million that he has now charged me with sorting out over the next two weeks to decide how will we put additional resources out of the FY '96 budget into these issues. And so I'm going to have to go out, obviously, and consult with the people that understand the various aspects of treatment, of prevention, of education, of law enforcement, of interdiction, detection, monitoring, the various pieces of this puzzle, and decide what are we going to do. And then he also asked me, go look at the FY '97 budget and see whether in our collective judgment it's adequate to get at some of these challenges.

In addition, we noted the conference that will start tomorrow. A lot of people have been working on it. I've come in sort of late in the came and we'll try and capitalize on a lot of the energy and the organizational ability. But I very much hope that we'd have widespread coverage of our conference out at Eleanor Roosevelt High School tomorrow in Greenbelt, Maryland. It's the biggest high school in the state. It has some enormously effective programs on drug use and violence.

And we're going to go out there tomorrow with the President of the United States, the Vice President, seven Cabinet officers in what I think is a very skillfully designed series of encounters in which we will make some statements, but perhaps more importantly, we're going to listen, because the invitation list includes a better part of 300 people who are experts in their field. I'm talking educators and treatment folks and law enforcement officials and parents and youth from around the country and others, who come together and take part in this conference.

Now, a little bit of technology of interest to you, perhaps -- concurrent with that session, which will go out by satellite to about 100 other locations so others can listen, can monitor, there will be an interactive set-up in which an additional 23 concurrent sessions are going to go on around the country. And there will be some ability for those other participants not only to listen to what key figures are proposing, but also to ask their own questions and to get involved in the dialogue out at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.

And we're going to have a series of seminars in which those of us in the responsible positions in the government who try and face up to some of these issues will moderate what we're calling break-out sessions. So we've got Attorney General Janet Reno, for example, doing a "strengthening law enforcement response to juvenile crime." Secretary Richard Riley will be "making schools safe, orderly and drug free," and so on. Donna Shalala, Henry Cisneros, Carol Rasco, Federico Pena, Bob Rubin and Associate Attorney General John Schmidt -- and I will be able to moderate a panel on reducing drug use through treatment and prevention.

So, anyway, there's some expectations that this will be not be only, although it's meant to be, a demonstration of the concern of the officers of government, but an attempt to listen to those who know about solutions. And, more importantly, it underscores the conference theme, which I'd like to talk about very briefly, the conference theme being "standing together for America's youth."

Now, listen to me, let me give you a couple of assertions, if I may. And they're assertions that have to be tested by examining evidence. But where I come into this to begin with is a notion that the whole analogy of a war on drugs is probably inadequate to deal with what we're facing up to. You know, wars are sort of straightforward affairs in which law isn't important, perhaps, and violence is. There is a general, a campaign, an achievable end state of total victory, and I don't believe that's what the President of the United States asked me to try and coordinate.

The analogy many people have told me they find more useful is the notion of cancer. When a family has a threat like that, first of all, it's broad engagement by everyone. And it's something where you understand that you're not only trying to go after the root causes, but you're dealing with pain and the other manifestations of the illness. And you have to have a sense of optimism. And I think that's really what we're going to be up to, is viewing this enormous impact of drug abuse on our society as an illness, as a cancer, a cancer that -- you know, some of the aggregate figures are almost beyond belief -- that we say killed 100,000 people in the '90s, and we say cost $300 billion to the society. It seems to me they're exemplary in order of magnitude.

There's a lot of folks that no programs that work, and what we're going to have to do is go out and look at those programs. The biggest challenge I sense as I've made the rounds on the Hill and tried to listen to those who have a good grasp of it -- the biggest challenge is a sense on the part of some very smart, responsible people that it's all hopeless; that if you're trying to get at the supply function, there's a thousand people involved, and if you stamp on some, 20 will rise up to take their place. And when you're talking about the demand side of drug abuse that the relapse rate is so high that it's sort of you're going through the motions.

And I've got to tell you, I don't agree. I absolutely don't agree. And I offer the example of an institution that I do know a lot about, the United States Armed Forces, that went through the decade of the '70s with just an atrocious problem, and the impact of it on our discipline, our physical health, our spiritual health, our ability to be professionals was just devastating. It took us the better part of a decade to get it back on track. Now, that analogy doesn't work, I understand, for a free society. But what I would suggest to you, that the young men and women of the Armed Forces are the same beautiful young people that are out there in civilian life that we're trying to reach.

Now, there's a lot of room for optimism. You know, you look back in the last 15 years, 15 years ago there were 22 million people using illegal drugs. There's maybe 80 million or 90 million Americans, maybe a third of the country, that tried illegal drugs and then stopped mostly on their own. So in the grossest measures the problems has gotten a lot less threatening.

But there's two things that I know we've got to face up to. The first is the attitudes of our young people. I've got three grown, healthy adult children married to three spouses just like them, and thank God for that. And so when we look at numbers that tell you that the incidents of drug abuse among high school kids has doubled in the last three years, that's got to be a concern. We've got to look at a problem now of use of marijuana or other drugs that we know by models lead to more severe problems down the line and that are linked inextricably to things like violence. So that's the number one thing, it seems to me, we've got to take on.

Then the second one is the whole notion of the damage that these drugs does to our society -- crime, violence, spouse abuse, the destruction of children, the impact on our health care system. I mean, it leads everywhere. I had a couple of wonderful sessions, one of them up at Harvard -- Phil Heymann brought together the MIT-Harvard-Maryland crew and they talked about our requirement to get at the three million chronic addicts of whom 60 percent of them to 70 percent of them are in the criminal justice system at any given time. They're under arrest, they're in prison, they're on probation, et cetera. So we've got to go out and find those people that commit this incredible number of crimes -- property crimes, murder, rape, crimes of senseless violence -- and we've got to get at that problem.

And so one of the working hypothesis I have right now is if you don't like crime then you will like drug treatment of convicts prior to release in a follow-on program. And we're going to have to take those two problems on.

Anyway, if you will allow me those two points -- one, my gratitude to the President for making me a part of this team, and allowing me to help coordinate the program on defending the American people from drugs, and his announcement on the $250 million of new money for FY '96 that I'll go look at and try to recommend to him solutions. And secondly, I'd ask all of you to watch what happens tomorrow and watch us try and learn from it.

And on that note, Mike, if it's appropriate I'd respond to their own interests.

Q Do you think that the drug problem is more of a public health than a law enforcement problem?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, I think it's a -- one of our problems has been we've tried to talk about either-or propositions -- should we do operations to reduce the supply of coca leaf in the Chapare Valley, or should we look at treatment of convicts prior to release who have drug problems. And I don't think that's the case. We're going to have to take a systems approach to the problem of illegal drug abuse and alcohol abuse among young people. I don't think it's one thing or the other.

It clearly is a law enforcement problem. The contribution to law enforcement has been enormous, but that has created a society with a million people in jail at state and local level, and 100,000 in federal prisons. We will not arrest our way out of the drug challenge. So I think that's a vital component of it and I'm going to support the efforts of the Attorney General and Tom Constantine and Judge Freeh and others. Law enforcement officials of America are, hopefully, going to have our complete support. But there's got to be more than that.

So, anyway, the direct response is there's a lot involved in this.

Q General, it's been about eight years now since the DEA, saying what you're saying, set up its own demand reduction unit. And this was the most -- the greatest -- the cops, themselves saying we can't do this just by interdiction, we need to reduce the demand. What in your mind are the programs that have worked the best to do that? And what will you try and do to help those programs, to nurture those programs and get money for them?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, I think I've got to go listen to people pretty closely. I've got to go out and examine the evidence. One of the things that is a challenge to us is, right now it's clearly my own notion that some drug treatment programs don't work, absorb giant amounts of resources, $1,400 a day and don't produce results. And so we don't want to do that. But there are others costing as little as $24 a day in which groups of convicted released convicts come together, live together, spiritual communities that do work.

I find from listening to Congress a very healthy sense of skepticism that we're putting $14 billion of federal money into the program, $33 billion in total state, local, and federal funds, and they want to know, what are you doing with it. And that's a legitimate requirement. We've got to go out and examine the evidence and persuade the American people that some of these things pay off. And I think they do.

Q General, as head of the Southern Command, you were in Panama, very close to Colombia. First of all, do you agree with the fact that Colombia was decertified? And the second question is, what can Colombia do to get back in the good graces with the U.S.?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, I certainly agree. I was part of the President's senior team of advisors that came together to offer our own viewpoints. I thought it was a real courageous call on the part of the President to sort out these various options he had. And Colombia probably was the toughest one. The reason it was so tough is more than 500 Colombian police and military officials were killed or wounded last year. The Colombian Air Force, as I told the President, had more than 20 aircraft shot down or hit by gunfire. The Colombian people, as a whole, do not benefit -- they suffer -- from drug abuse.

I mean, the impact on Bogota and on Cali and Medellin, of these drugs, is just atrocious. The murder rate in Colombia is 77 per 100,000 per annum, compared to the U.S. murder rate, which is disgraceful, of 8 per 100,000 per annum. So the Colombian people paid a tremendous price in all this. And we know General Serrano, the police chief down there, is an honest, decent, courageous man. And the Attorney General, Valdi Vieso, is a patriot and a public servant.

But the Colombian people are going to have to sort out on their own how their government stands on the issue. That shouldn't be a North American question. That's for the Colombian people to decide in their own constitution. But they've got to face up to it, and that's why I admire the President's call on it.

Q May I follow up, sir? What does Colombia need to do to get back in the graces of the U.S.?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, I think, first of all, they have to decide on how they are going to deal with the drug cartels. Are they going to apply Colombian law, imprison these people after a -- when they are legally brought to trial, keep them there, take away the fruits of their gain? I think they don't -- I think that Colombian authorities don't need to look out for our people, they need to look out for their own interests. They've got to face up to this enormous, violent challenge. This is a challenge in Colombia not to their government, but to their institutions of democracy. It is more dangerous being a judge or prosecutor or police official in Colombia than being an infantry soldier in combat in the Gulf War. So they've just got to face up to it.

Q General, last night the Colombian police killed one of the leaders of the Cali Cartel. How does this death affect decertification status of Colombia?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, I think again it underscores that the Colombian police and their officials of public safety, an enormous number of them are committed to the struggle to preserve democracy in Colombia. We viewed it -- I viewed it -- Mr. Constantine called me this morning at 6:00 o'clock in the morning -- and we're very proud of the brave men and women of the Colombian police force and armed forces that carried out that operation.

Q General, virtually every one of your predecessors has taken the job and when they tried to coordinate policy, soon found that it was falling victim to competing interests within all the various groups that you're going to deal with. Do you have any assurances that you'll really be able to make any headway on that?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, I come into this job with one tiny advantage -- I taught American Government for three years and studied American Government in graduate school for a couple years, and I know that on purpose we designed a system where nobody is in charge, and we like it that way. So I understand that I'm part of a government of shared powers.

And it's -- I sort of like the term "czar," because I'm going to speak against it from now on; I'm going to make sure nobody gets it away from me and speak against it, because it seems to me I am going to be one of many who are going to close with this problem. I'm going to be a coordinator, an energizer, a manager, a watchdog. I'm going to be focused and serious about this.

Now, the second observation I'd give you is this problem isn't going to be solved by the federal government. The people that are going to pull this together are school teachers, are religious leaders, are families, are coaches, police officers -- that's who is going to do it. So it seems to me one of our responsibilities in this office I now head is to listen to those people and find out how to support their efforts.

Q General, I wasn't referring to competing interests of Congress versus the White House, I'm talking about DEA, FBI, you know, all the other agencies. Do you have any kind of assurances that they will, in fact, try to work together?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, I made the rounds of the -- I listened very carefully, first. I would not be here today if I did not believe that the government of the United States was deadly serious about this. The President told me that he would not accept a time-out on this issue for a year. I made the rounds, I've listened very carefully to Dr. Bill Perry, one of the finest public servants I have ever been associated with, who started off saying, "Barry, let me tell you why I wouldn't ask my best friend to accept this job, but why I did ask the President to offer it to you." (Laughter.) There's a message there that I haven't quite sorted out.

Q General, by telling you to beef up the staffing levels of your office, why should we not construe that the President feels he made a mistake in cutting those levels in the first place in his first year in office?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, I think you should. You know, I think the President came into office committed, correctly, to decreasing the size of government. So he's working at that enormously hard with all his officials. And when they came into office they were told, and there was some argument for it, that you're not going to solve this problem in ONDCP. The way to go about it is to give the officer in charge of the responsibility Cabinet status and make the departments do it. So I think there it was a very sensible, rational decision at the time.

Now there's a viewpoint that we need a slightly larger management team. So I -- you know, the President has told me, he said, I'll give you the resources that you think are sensible. By the way, I've got to go down and consult with Congress now. I've got to go down and see the people that count in these issues -- Senator Hatch and Biden, our House leadership and appropriations -- and offer them my own views on what ought to be done and ask them for their support.

So I think that's the deal.

Q General, what will you use as empirical evidence of your success? Or if the war on drugs isn't a proper analogy, is cancer a better one, because it's something we're going to have to live with?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, I think -- you know, again, let me just underscore sort of a closing remark. I bring a great sense of optimism to this whole notion. I do not believe in any way that it is impossible to make a deliberate attempt to more coherently address these problems. And I think there ought to be a report card -- in fact, there is, in the law. I think we ought to be held accountable for achieving results. That means the damage done to our society by drug abuse; it means whether it's measured in terms of wrecked families or criminal violence or whatever. I think we ought to look at the propensity of youths to use drugs and see where the numbers go. We ought to be held accountable for our actions. And so let's follow the issue and see how we do on it.

Q Does that mean, sir, then, given current statistics that everything heretofore has been a failure?

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Oh, no. I started off saying we're doing -- this is an unpopular message now -- we went from 1979, 22 million regular illegal drug users to around 12 million today. In the last three years cocaine use has dropped 30 percent. So there is some very good news in this equation.

Q But the violence is up, General.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, it depends on how you say it.

Q -- lives have worsened.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Look, let me just assert to you that violence in general is down. When you lock a million people up, when you spend $14 billion, you do get results. So what we do see is chronic addicts we haven't gotten at. And the violence that they engender we haven't gotten at. And now we're worried about our young people.

So, you're right, we've got problems, but by golly, a lot of the energy that's gone into this with President Reagan, Bush, and now President Clinton for the last three years has paid off. And so, again, my assertion is we can achieve even better results. And I'm going to work with these people in the government and Congress and the American people and see what we can do.

We welcome your participation. Mike, thanks for including me. Thank you.

END 1:42 P.M. EST