U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials told Congress they need more equipment, cutter fleets, and manpower to fight transnational drug cartels from Mexico, Central and South America, and Europe. Cartels have almost unlimited funds to traffic drugs into the country, they say.
These international cartels who include America in their target are very motivated and quite business savvy. They incorporate sophisticated technology to transport their illegal cargo, officials told a meeting of the House Border and Maritime Security subcommittee. Representatives heard testimony from security officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of State, and Department of Homeland Security.
Those working to assist in the fight against the drug influx asked Congress for more money this week. The Coast Guard says it needs $1.4 billion dollars for their budget next year (2017), reported Courthouse News. Investing in cutter fleets by itself could result in a 60 percent reduction in criminal drug trafficking. “These entities are capable, sophisticated smuggling organizations that start in the southern hemisphere and end up in New York City. They’ll do anything for a profit,” U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations Vice Admiral Charles Ray was reported to say.
Ray said that the U.S. had a historic amount of cocaine that was trafficked into the states from South America. Cocaine is the “predominant drug being trafficked via maritime routes, bringing with it shifts in smuggling tactics.”
“The change in flow of cocaine toward the U.S. from South America from 2015 to 2016 was the largest increase the service has observed to date. The rise of cocaine production is attributed to the largest single-year increase of coca cultivation in Colombia ever recorded (immediately following the second largest single-year increase in more than a decade),” he wrote in his written testimony to the subcommittee. He titled his report, “A Dangerous and Sophisticated Adversary: The Threat to the Homeland Posed by Cartel Operations.”
The vice admiral wrote drug traffickers use “go-fast vessels” and “purpose-built self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS),” to disperse loads onto more numerous and harder to detect conveyances.”
The Coast Guard, the U.S. Border Patrol, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) work together to stop the flow of drugs into the country.
“If you can buy it on the open market, they have the funds to buy it. They can communicate with satellites and their ingenuity, especially in the maritime sense, it’s impressive. They can build a craft in a ditch in a jungle in Ecuador capable of sailing the distance from Florida to Washington State carrying about 7,000 or 8,000 pounds of cocaine,” Admiral Ray was reported to say.
The permeable border on land was also discussed.
Chairwoman of the Border and Maritime Security subcommittee, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Arizona) asked Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Paul Beeson about barrier breachs in border fence gates. She relayed that she had personally seen a gate in a border fence where cartel members used welding equipment to penetrate it and use it repeatedly without detection from border patrol agents.
“Do you think this level of sophistication is the new normal for cartel operations? Are there additional tools or authorities we need to give you in order to detect and interdict these types of operations so they don’t go on for years before they are detected?” Rep. McSally asked.
“They are very sophisticated in their approach,” Chief Beeson answered. “They have the benefit of time. They have plenty of time to wait and seek the right opportunity to engage in their illegal opportunity. They use scouting networks. They utilize encrypted communications.”
Chief Beeson also relayed that continued collaboration with local law enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations units, and intelligence gatherers, was critical to combat drug trafficking by cartels. Officials said they also need lawmakers in Mexico and other countries to continue to cooperate with them in the drug war.
“Smuggling drugs and people is a billion dollar business and the individuals in charge have one goal in mind: make as much money as possible delivering illicit narcotics and people across the border and into the United States,” Rep. McSally said during the hearing. “As we increase our focus this Congress on securing the border, we have to be clear-eyed about the dangerous and sophisticated threat that we face from our adversaries on the other side.”