JIATF-South, ‘Gold Standard’ for Interagency Cooperation

Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South) is recognized as the “gold standard” for interagency cooperation and intelligence fusion among U.S. agencies.

Located at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, JIATF-South is one of three U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) task forces in support of national and partner nations’ security. Its director, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mark J. Fedor, spoke with Diálogo about their mission and efforts to counter transnational organized crime (TOC) networks.

Diálogo: You assumed the duties of director of JIATF-South in July 2022. What has been the focus of your efforts?

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mark J. Fedor, director of Joint Interagency Task Force South: We believe we are one of the more unique organizations in the federal government that is home to a diverse group of military, law enforcement, intelligence community, and partner nations to counter illicit narcotics smuggling and TOC networks. When I assumed command, the team developed five strategic pillars to guide our efforts. First, we want to continue enhancing our well-earned reputation as the Gold Standard for Interagency and International Cooperation. Second, in support of SOUTHCOM, we advance national security goals through the counternarcotics mission. Third, we need to innovate so we can elevate our success with the same level of resources. Fourth, we need to transform our workforce to ensure we have the right skill sets for the 21st century and our workplace through the construction of a new Command and Control facility in Key West. Finally, we’ll work through the process to right-size our authorities to meet the U.S. government’s needs in the 21st century.

Diálogo: JIATF-South conducts detection and monitoring operations to facilitate the interdiction of illicit trafficking in support of national and partner nations’ security. How are those operations coordinated?

Rear Adm. Fedor: We conduct our detection and monitoring (D&M) mission through collaboration and innovation. First, we fully leverage the diverse professional team we have here at JIATF-South. The command is comprised of five of the six Armed Services (only missing Space Force), 13 law enforcement and intelligence community members, and 24 foreign liaison officers (FLOs) from 20 different nations ranging from Mexico, Europe, Brazil, and Chile. I often say it’s a “coalition of the willing” on a good day, and like keeping “frogs in a wheelbarrow” on a challenging day. More often than not, it’s a good day where we bring our full team together to plan operations, innovate to increase effectiveness, execute with ruthless efficiency, and then learn from our experiences so we can apply it to the next evolution.

Diálogo: JIATF-South promotes interagency efforts across the Western Hemisphere and U.S. agencies. How is this accomplished?

Rear Adm. Fedor: We are proud of our strong relationships with the 20 different nations who are represented at JIATF-South. I truly value the personal relationships I’ve developed with our partner military leaders who are just as committed to this mission as we are. I believe we meet our partners where they are. Meaning, most of the nations in the Western Hemisphere view TOCs, and the ensuing narcotics smuggling and other illicit activities, as their top national security concern. We start the conversations at that point and express our commitment to work together as equal partners. We acknowledge their capabilities and authorities and then identify the “sweet spots” for areas we can collaborate. We want them to stretch their professional goals, but we’ll never ask them to do something they’re not capable of or authorized to do. Again, we want to find the “sweet spot” where we can leverage each other’s capabilities to attack our common problem set of illicit trafficking and TOCs.

Diálogo: How does JIATF-South further partnerships and operations to deny TCOs the ability to exploit shipment routes to move narcotics, chemical precursors, and cash, as well as traffic humans and weapons?

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mark J. Fedor, director, Joint Interagency Task Force South, addresses U.S. Coast Guard personnel on Cutter Thetis during an 8 Bells Ceremony. (Photo: Joint Interagency Task Force South)

Rear Adm. Fedor: We know illicit trafficking will continue as long as there is demand for the product. Our job is to deny our adversary, these TOC networks, freedom of movement to pursue any smuggling route they deem most profitable. In the past, we’ve suffered from the “water balloon effect,” meaning when we focused operations in one area, the TOCs were agile enough to shift to another geographic area. We haven’t been as nimble as they have, nor had the resources to cover every threat vector, so we’ve changed our operational model. To counter that, we focus more heavily on integrating our partner nations with our U.S. assets, innovating with new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), and fully leveraging “big data” along with need to share information rapidly.

At a strategic level, we need to utilize the lessons from the counterterrorism fight and apply them to the counternarcotics (CN) mission. Those lessons include building a diverse, interagency team and then systematically collecting, aggregating, and exploiting data so that it accelerates a targeting cycle faster than an adversary can maneuver. We can do this in the CN mission space too, but we must adapt to our unique environment. JIATF-South already exists as that Gold Standard of interagency and international cooperation, but we support our law enforcement partners which means, the end-goal is prosecution in a court of law which takes time. It took 10 years, and over 150 JIATF-South contributing maritime interdictions, to help indict El Chapo. My hope is that someday, through innovation and rapid info sharing, we can reduce that timeline down to three-five years as that would give our adversaries some pause and maybe make them consider another employment opportunity.

Diálogo: How many stakeholders does JIATF-South have from the Western Hemisphere? What do they bring to the table in terms of fighting criminal networks?

Rear Adm. Fedor: It’s important to acknowledge how damaging illicit narcotics flows are within the Western Hemisphere. TOC networks aren’t just delivering drugs, they are delivering violence, corruption, and instability throughout the region. This ultimately erodes the rule of law, diminishes democratic governance, enriches TOC networks to engage in other illicit activities ranging from fentanyl production, illegal fisheries to human trafficking, accelerates irregular migration throughout the region, and creates a permissive environment for malign state actors who exploit these seams for their own selfish purposes. The only way to counter this national security threat is to work collaboratively with our partner nations.

We currently have 24 FLOs from 20 different countries. At times, it feels like we’re hosting the World Cup but it’s truly an honor to have them attached to JIATF-South. These nations send their brightest officers to share their knowledge, professional experience, and to facilitate ongoing counternarcotics operations. In turn, they benefit from a truly joint experience with a U.S. military command and bring those lessons back to their home country. This continuous personnel exchange encourages interoperability between our armed forces, trusted relationships, and leads to stronger mil-to-mil partnerships.

Diálogo: Our partner nations are stopping illicit narcotrafficking more now than before. How do you see their capabilities and response in their effort to combat illicit trafficking?

Rear Adm. Fedor: The numbers are still being finalized but we expect that we will set a new narcotics disruption record in FY23. Of the 303 metric tons of cocaine and 170,000 pounds of marijuana that we’ve disrupted, our partner nations participated in nearly 80 percent of them. That’s astonishing especially when you consider that 10 years ago that number was closer to 20 percent.

Over the past two years, we’ve made a concerted effort to integrate our FLOs into our operational planning process in addition to the execution phase. To do that, we created a Partner Nation Coordination Center (PNCC) which allows our FLOs to not only bring their information to JIATF-South but to also share, as appropriate, with their fellow FLOs. This detailed information is used to augment our intelligence and targeting cycle leading us to be more efficient with our limited number of operational assets. In essence, we’re able to get “steel on target” with a limited number of assets trying to cover a maritime area equivalent to the United States.

The second way we’ve integrated our FLOs and partner nations is through the Ship Special Mission (SSM). This is a large, contracted vessel with a well deck so our partners can embark their interceptor boats and operate further offshore than they might be able to on their own. The SSM has a U.S. military command and control contingent onboard, but the partner nations operate under their own legal authority to make interdictions. This has been a true force multiplier and the SSM is in high demand by all our partner nations so we’re trying to seek the resources for a second one.

Diálogo: How are you shaping the JIATF-South force of today and of the future?

Rear Adm. Fedor: As we move forward, we want to continue building our operational relationship with our partner nations through the SSM but also in geographically focused operations. Building interoperability with our partner nations not only helps our mission set but builds their capabilities for other military and humanitarian operations. Our authorities direct us to conduct detection and monitoring, but we have an influential voice within the interagency, so we are encouraging broad information sharing across the USG with an eye toward helping our law enforcement partners dismantle TOC networks. Finally, we aim to leverage the lessons from the counterterrorism fight by continuing to build diverse team spanning the international and interagency spectrum and share information broadly so we can target the networks vice any specific illicit commodity on the water or in the air.

Diálogo: In recent years, JIATF-South has been seizing record amounts of cocaine on the high seas. However, the U.S. Coast Guard has said that it sees much more flowing toward the United States than it can catch. What are some of the challenges that JIATF-South faces?

Rear Adm. Fedor: Our biggest challenge is asset availability. JIATF-South is responsible for a Joint Operating Area spanning 42 million square miles, so we’ll never have enough resources to saturate the area. Thus, we must optimize our intelligence fusion, planning, and targeting cycle so that we are ruthlessly efficient at assigning assets to the highest priority targets. We do a fairly good job of that now, but we can always be better and that’s our goal.

This article was originally published by a dialogo-americas.com . Read the Original article here. .