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

What the Biden administration can do

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

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How to resolve the continuous threat the illegal drug usage in the united States remains a persistent challenge. The activities of increasingly sophisticated transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) exacerbate that challenge for the entirety of the western Hemisphere. The just arrive Biden management should be particularly wary the the most likely inevitable development of fentanyl shipment through marine areas and the potential because that such establishments to use modern technology to engage in “gray zone”-like activities, which might make your trafficking to work even an ext effective. The new administration should likewise prioritize and bolster counter-TCO intelligence support, take into consideration advancing the use of U.S. Cyber tools, and also enhance the capabilities and also capacity the the U.S. Coast Guard to aid mitigate that threat.

Drug trafficking in the west Hemisphere

It is no mystery that the united States has a nearly unquenchable appetite because that illegal drugs. This appetite drives demand, which TCOs in the western Hemisphere happy meet. In law so over the years, these TCOs have come to be increasingly wealthy and an effective throughout the west Hemisphere — so much so that in some regions of Mexico and also elsewhere in Latin America, they compete (well) for primacy with governments.


In Latin America, the TCOs often resort to extraordinary violence to attend to challenges by rivals, compel actions of the local populace, and also resist attempts by the local government to examine their actions. This violence severely destabilizes the whole hemisphere. Closer to home, TCO violence is a far-ranging contributor to the out-migration that has actually driven the consistently big numbers the migrants arriving at the United says southern border. Indeed, native October to December 2020, U.S. Customs and also 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 north Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and also Honduras, back of late, relatively big numbers of mexican nationals are being interdicted do the efforts to cross the U.S. Border.

The illegal medicine trade provides a vast source of resources for the TCOs. This capital is augmented by illegal gains obtained from corruption, shiver downs, and “protection” rackets; person trafficking; and also the smuggling of other contraband such as illegal wildlife. But trafficking in illegal narcotics gives the bulk of funding. Leaving aside because that a minute the increased border regulate measures linked with the COVID-19 pandemic, this trafficking generally occurs across two key vectors: the soil border and also the naval border. That’s no to say that TCOs don’t connect in drug shipments via letter or v air corridors, advertisement or otherwise, however the bulk of drug trafficking task into the United says occurs throughout the soil border and from the sea.

Land border

CBP, principally that Office of field Operations, is the lead company for United states border security issues, both at and also between the port of entry. In fiscal Year 2020, CBP seized end 42,645 pounds of cocaine, 5,222 pounds of heroin, 324,973 pounds the marijuana, 156,901 pounds of methamphetamine, and also 3,967 pounds of fentanyl. The fentanyl seizures, if the smallest in total, are perhaps the most troubling given the deadly potential of that particular drug. Moreover, fentanyl seizures have actually consistently enhanced in dimension over the last five years, and also recent reports indicate substantial increases that fentanyl seized by mexican authorities on your side the the border.

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Most the CBP’s medicine seizures commonly occur in ~ ports that entry and are recognize by CBP assessors through the use of intelligence cueing, technical means, dogs, and sometimes simply through an excellent old-fashioned, well-honed observation and inquiry. TCOs ship their wares come the soil border hidden in tractor trailer trucks, cars, and in part cases, people. In enhancement to using these same method between harbor of entry, TCOs likewise breach present border barriers by making use of tunnels and also have significantly employed drones to move shipments that drugs into the unified States, among other purposes.

Maritime environment

Drug cartels and TCOs have actually a long background of using maritime means to effort to carry drugs into the unified States. They include:

The room of Defense (DoD) is the designated lead U.S. Government agency for marine counter-drug detection and monitoring. To execute this mission, it groups with a totality host of other departments and agencies, like the State Department; the department of Justice and its components, the drug Enforcement management and the federal Bureau that Investigation; CBP (and especially its Office the Air and Marine); Immigration and also Customs Enforcement/Homeland security Investigations; and also importantly, the U.S. Coast Guard. This coordination is mostly executed though the share Interagency Task pressure (JIATF) South and also JIATF West, overseen by the DoD’s southerly Command (SOUTHCOM) and also Indo-Pacific Command (PACOM), respectively.

The DoD’s partnership with the shore Guard is an especially important for several reasons. First, the coastline Guard is unique among federal agencies due to the fact that it is at all times both a military equipped force and law enforcement agency. This inherent, full time duality permits for preferably operational flexibility when conducting independent interdiction operations or using shore Guard deployable, devoted forces aboard DoD and partner country platforms. The coast Guard’s extr status as a member that the intelligence community — and a regulatory firm that provides oversight over any kind of vessel in i beg your pardon the unified States may exert jurisdiction, and any task that wake up in waters (including seaports) whereby the joined States might exert jurisdiction — make it a powerful tool come combat the maritime drug trafficking tasks of TCOs. Because that example, top top December 16, 2020, the coast Guard, working in concert with partner agencies and also the joined Kingdom, landed for damage or usage as evidence in criminal prosecutions an ext than 23,000 pounds that interdicted cocaine and practically 8,800 pounds of interdicted marijuana worth much more than $411.3 million. In fact, indigenous 2015 come 2019, “Coast security cutters and aircraft have removed much more than 871 metric lots of high-purity cocaine from in ~ sea, through a wholesale value of approximately $26 billion.” This is significantly an ext product than what is frequently intercepted in ~ the floor border, and also even more so considering that is regularly uncut product when interdicted at sea.

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Next, the coastline Guard has made highly reliable use that 34 bilateral agreements v partner countries throughout the region. This agreements vary in border of authority, but when taken together a whole, castle facilitate operations, interdictions, and also ultimately prosecutions both in the unified States and in partner nations against TCO activities across the entire maritime medicine transit zone. Indeed, the success of this network the bilateral agreements in spurring cooperation in between like-minded states to attend to drug traffickers in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific has noted a useful model in the western Pacific for countering China’s ever-growing malign local maritime ambitions, and globally to resolve the danger of illegal, unreported, and also unregulated fishing.