Order from ChaosThe wicked problem of medicine trafficking in the western Hemisphere

What the Biden management can do

Michael SinclairFriday, January 15, 2021
Editor's Note:This piece is part of a series titled "Nonstate armed actors and illicit economies: What the Biden management needs to know," native buzzpatterson.com"s initiative on Nonstate equipped Actors.

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How to deal with the recurring threat that illegal drug use in the joined States stays a persistent challenge. The tasks of increasingly innovative transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) exacerbate that difficulty for the entirety of the west Hemisphere. The just arrive Biden administration should be specifically wary that the likely inevitable development of fentanyl delivery through marine areas and the potential for such organizations to use modern technology to interact in “gray zone”-like activities, which can make your trafficking operations even much more effective. The new administration should likewise prioritize and bolster counter-TCO knowledge support, take into consideration advancing the use of U.S. Cyber tools, and also enhance the capabilities and capacity the the U.S. Coastline Guard to aid mitigate the threat.

Drug trafficking in the west Hemisphere

It is no secret that the joined States has actually a almost unquenchable appetite for illegal drugs. This appetite drives demand, i m sorry TCOs in the west Hemisphere happy meet. In doing so end the years, this TCOs have end up being increasingly well-off and an effective throughout the western Hemisphere — so lot so that in some areas of Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, they contend (well) for primacy with governments.


In Latin America, the TCOs often resort come extraordinary violence to attend to challenges by rivals, compel habits of the regional populace, and resist make the efforts by the local government to check their actions. This violence severely destabilizes the entire hemisphere. Closer to home, TCO violence is a far-reaching contributor come the out-migration that has driven the consistently huge numbers that migrants showing up at the United claims southern border. Indeed, from October to December 2020, U.S. Customs and Border security (CBP) and also its Border Patrol interdicted an typical of 72,233 migrants at the southwest border, which converts to 1.6 migrants every minute. Most come indigenous the northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, back of late, relatively large numbers of mexican nationals space being interdicted do the efforts to cross the U.S. Border.

The illegal medicine trade gives a vast source of funding for the TCOs. This funding is augmented by illicit gains derived from corruption, shower downs, and also “protection” rackets; human trafficking; and also the smuggling of various other contraband such together illegal wildlife. But trafficking in illegal narcotics gives the bulk of funding. Leaving aside for a minute the increased border regulate measures connected with the COVID-19 pandemic, this trafficking frequently occurs throughout two key vectors: the floor border and also the naval border. That’s no to say that TCOs don’t interact in medicine shipments via letter or v air corridors, advertisement or otherwise, however the bulk of drug trafficking activity into the United says occurs across the soil border and from the sea.

Land border

CBP, principally that is Office of ar Operations, is the lead agency for United states border defense issues, both at and between the ports of entry. In fiscal Year 2020, CBP seized over 42,645 pounds the cocaine, 5,222 pounds the heroin, 324,973 pounds of marijuana, 156,901 pounds that methamphetamine, and also 3,967 pounds that fentanyl. The fentanyl seizures, while the smallest in total, are maybe the most troubling provided the deadly potency of that particular drug. Moreover, fentanyl seizures have actually consistently boosted in size over the last 5 years, and also recent reports indicate substantial increases the fentanyl seized by mexico authorities on your side that the border.

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Most the CBP’s drug seizures commonly occur in ~ ports the entry and are detect by CBP examiners through the use of intelligence cueing, technological means, dogs, and also sometimes simply through good old-fashioned, well-honed observation and inquiry. TCOs ship their wares to the soil border covert in tractor trailer trucks, cars, and in part cases, people. In enhancement to making use of these same way between port of entry, TCOs also breach present border barriers by using tunnels and have progressively employed drones to relocate shipments of drugs right into the joined States, amongst other purposes.

Maritime environment

Drug cartels and TCOs have actually a long background of using maritime way to attempt to bring drugs right into the unified States. They include:

The department of Defense (DoD) is the designated command U.S. Government company for marine counter-drug detection and monitoring. Come execute this mission, it groups with a whole host of various other departments and also agencies, favor the State Department; the department of Justice and its components, the drug Enforcement administration and the federal Bureau that Investigation; CBP (and specifically its Office of Air and also Marine); Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland security Investigations; and importantly, the U.S. Coastline Guard. This coordination is greatly executed though the joint Interagency Task force (JIATF) South and also JIATF West, overseen by the DoD’s southerly Command (SOUTHCOM) and Indo-Pacific Command (PACOM), respectively.

The DoD’s partnership v the coastline Guard is particularly important for several reasons. First, the shore Guard is unique amongst federal agencies due to the fact that it is at all times both a military equipped force and also law enforcement agency. This inherent, full time duality permits for maximum operational flexibility when conducting independent interdiction work or using shore Guard deployable, devoted forces aboard DoD and partner country platforms. The shore Guard’s additional status as a member that the intelligence community — and a regulatory company that provides oversight over any type of vessel in i m sorry the unified States may exert jurisdiction, and also any activity that occurs in waters (including seaports) where the unified States may exert jurisdiction — do it a powerful tool come combat the maritime drug trafficking tasks of TCOs. Because that example, ~ above December 16, 2020, the coastline Guard, functioning in concert with companion agencies and the unified Kingdom, landed for destruction or use as evidence in criminal prosecutions much more than 23,000 pounds of interdicted cocaine and nearly 8,800 pounds of interdicted marijuana worth an ext than $411.3 million. In fact, from 2015 to 2019, “Coast safety cutters and also aircraft have actually removed an ext than 871 metric tons of high-purity cocaine from in ~ sea, with a wholesale value of around $26 billion.” This is significantly more product 보다 what is commonly intercepted at the floor border, and even much more so considering it is often uncut product as soon as interdicted at sea.

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Next, the shore Guard has made highly reliable use the 34 bilateral agreements through partner nations throughout the region. This agreements vary in limit of authority, yet when taken as a whole, they facilitate operations, interdictions, and also ultimately prosecutions both in the united States and also in partner nations against TCO activities across the whole maritime drug transit zone. Indeed, the success that this network that bilateral agreements in spurring cooperation between like-minded states to deal with drug traffickers in the Caribbean and also Eastern Pacific has listed a helpful model in the western Pacific because that countering China’s ever-growing malign local maritime ambitions, as well as globally to deal with the danger of illegal, unreported, and also unregulated fishing.