This paper explores and serves as a reaction to involvement of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other homeland security efforts in relation to the United States’ “War on Drugs.” Some of the objectives of this paper will be to critically examine some of the methods of detecting illegal drug smugglers; and how these smugglers impact our homeland security. New initiatives are underway by DHS and other agencies that are responsible for protecting our borders and keeping illegal drugs and smugglers from entering the United States.
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The United States of America has been fighting a losing “War on Drugs” for decades. Illegal narcotics smuggling has been an issue in the U.S. for many years. There are numerous law enforcement agencies at every level of government that are dedicated to combating this epidemic, including the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The smuggling of illegal narcotics into the United States poses many threats to our national security aside from the mere presence of the narcotics themselves in U.S. DHS has implemented several new initiatives to combat drug smuggling to include: drones, U.S. Coast Guard tactics, HIDTA operations, and fusion centers. The illegal narcotics entering the U.S. are slowly destroying the country while continuing to fund criminal enterprises both international and domestic, including terrorist organizations.
There are several organizations that are responsible for protecting the nation’s borders. Their duties include keeping illegal drug smugglers from reaching the U.S. borders and beyond. These agencies include: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Bullock et al pg. 209). The Border Patrol maintains a marine patrol unit of over 109 vessels along the coast of the United States and Puerto Rico. CBP operations include an air and marine division of 1,200 federal agents, 280 sea vessels, and 270 aircraft which aim to prevent acts of smuggling. In 2010, CBP, “conducted approximately 160,000 flight and sea hours, contributed to the arrest of 1,975 drug smugglers, the seizure of 831,849 pounds of drugs and $55.3 million in currency, and the apprehension of 62,338 illegal aliens. This included: aircraft operations accounted for the disruption and seizure of over 148,000 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $1.8 billion, and intercepted three drug submarines (submersibles). Agents interdicted 155 pounds of methamphetamine and 10 pounds of cocaine off the coast of San Diego in August. Valued at more than $3 million, this was the largest methamphetamine seizure at sea by CBP (Bullock et al pg. 213).
Drug smugglers use many different methods to introduce their product into the country. This can be accomplished via aircraft, boat, automobile, shipping container, other delivery, or through a single human. Illegal drugs are also imported into the United States from all over the world including Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. A popular method of transportation for drug smugglers is watercraft. The United States Coast Guard is one of the five branches of the U.S. military which has 42,000 active duty members and consists of 11 different units, some of which whose sole responsibility is narcotics interdiction. The Coast Guard is the leading federal agency for drug interdiction at sea and shares lead responsibility for air interdiction with the U.S. Customs Service. The Coast Guard’s drug interdiction mission is, “To reduce the supply of drugs from the source by denying smugglers the use of air and maritime routes in the Transit Zone, a six-million square-mile area that includes the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Eastern Pacific. In meeting the challenge of patrolling this vast area, the Coast Guard coordinates closely with other federal agencies and countries within the region to disrupt and deter the flow of illegal drugs.” The Coast Guard’s drug interdiction operations comprise 52% of all U.S. government seizures of cocaine every year. The Coast Guard has been involved with drug interdiction the 19th century combating illegal opium shipments from China. “Since its first drug seizures in the early 1970s, the Coast Guard has seized well over 1 million pounds of cocaine and marijuana” (Bullock et al pg. 234).
The Border Patrol is also responsible for patrolling nearly 6,000 miles of Mexican and Canadian international land borders and over 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding the Florida Peninsula and the island of Puerto Rico. With this jurisdiction also comes the task of drug interdiction and anti-smuggling investigations (Bullock et al pg. 211). A recent article in Homeland Security Today, entitled, “Counter-narcotics, Terrorism & Intelligence Coast Guard Asks Boaters, Citizens in Northern California to be Alert to Smugglers,” explains some of the dangers of drug smugglers and solicits assistance from the public. The U.S. Coast Guard cannot be in all places as at all times. Therefore, the USCG is asking coastal residents, fishermen, and the rest of the maritime population to be on the lookout for drug smugglers. The USCG noted that drug smugglers are now traveling different waterways to avoid detection. One of the most recent trends is that smugglers are traveling further up the coast of California to deliver their shipments as many interdiction efforts are focused closer to the Mexican border. The USCG went on to note that keeping smugglers out of the U.S. should be a top priority as these narcotics not only destroy American lives, but the proceeds also fund various criminal organizations including terrorists. Smugglers also pose a risk to law enforcement and the public (HS Today staff, 2013).
This article marvelously portrays the importance of vigilance. Law enforcement cannot see everything. Therefore, they need “eyes and ears” out there to help with their mission. The U.S. Border Security Enforcement Team (BEST) which is made up of numerous domestic and international law enforcement agencies (including DHS, ICE, CBP) was able to initiate over 6,400 cases which netted: 5,200 criminal arrests 7,200 administrative arrests, 12,000 pounds of cocaine, 300 pounds of heroin, 300,000 pounds of marijuana, 2,800 pounds of ecstasy, 1,800 pounds of meth, 3,400 weapons, 455,000 rounds of ammunition, 1,500 vehicles, and $42.5 million in currency (Bullock et al pg. 231). However, for all of this contraband that is intercepted, smugglers still manage to get a large majority of their contraband passed the authorities. This is why any public assistance at all is so crucial to the overall mission of securing our nation.
DHS is also responding to this issue through the use of drones. The U.S. already has drones in use throughout the world to combat terrorism, illegal immigration, and now for drug traffickers. CBP air and marine operations already maintains several Predator B unmanned (drone) aircraft, “in support of law enforcement and homeland security missions at the nation’s borders. The CBP drone program focuses on operations that help to identify and intercept potential terrorists and illegal cross-border activity” (Bullock et al pg. 214). DHS has been testing the use of drones in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to monitor for drug smugglers. Since this is a high drug trafficking area, DHS has asked for additional funding to further the program. The drones will be useful in locating smugglers that operate at night, submarines, and other “fast-trip” smugglers. Today, maritime drug smuggling is a very significant problem, and smugglers are using new technologies to avoid capture (including submersible ships that are very difficult to detect). Drone usage has already had some impact on the Mexican border and has better detection capabilities. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection constantly monitors activity and trends of Transnational Criminal Organizations and works closely with other federal, state, local, tribal and international partners to combat smuggling in the source and transit zones,” however, the issue with the drones is that they will not be armed and will still have to alert either U.S. Navy or Coast Guard vessels to actually intercept the smugglers. The drones would simply serve to better locate smugglers rather than leaving them completely undetected (O’Reilly, 2012).
The federal government in conjunction with numerous agencies including DHS also funds fusion centers and HIDTA or high intensity drug trafficking area centers. “State and major urban area fusion centers (fusion centers) and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Investigative Support Centers (ISCs) play unique yet equally critical roles in securing the homeland. Fusion centers are owned and operated by state and local entities and are intended to empower front-line law enforcement, public safety, fire service, emergency response, public health, and private sector security personnel through the lawful gathering, analysis and sharing of threat-related information. HIDTA ISCs are sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and aim to support the disruption and dismantlement of drug-trafficking and money-laundering organizations through the prevention or mitigation of associated criminal activity.” The fusion centers help to aid DHS in many areas of situational awareness long with the HIDTA investigative support centers. They help maintain, collecting, analyzing, and relaying drug related information to a wide range of agencies and authorities. This information can then be used to create strategies to intercept and eliminate drug smugglers (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2013). DHS also initiated the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), Secure Freight Initiative (SFI), and Container Security Initiative (CSI) all to enhance border security which also includes the prevention of drug smuggling at our nation’s borders by air, land, and sea (Bullock et al pg. 214).
In conclusion, the issue of drug smuggling is one that greatly impacts the United States. The Department of Homeland Security and numerous other agencies work and create initiatives to combat this problem. However, there are still tons of illegal drugs that are smuggled into the U.S. every year. These illegal narcotics not only affect Americans, but they also have an impact on our economy, government, and homeland security. These narcotics often create proceeds that fuel various criminal enterprises including terrorist organizations. This is why the U.S. must not give up on what at many times seems like a losing war on drugs.
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