Failure to Fund Drug Interdiction

by Nathan Shapiro

Public debate regarding the issue of illegal drugs and the best way to combat drug addiction is often focused on local drug dealers and the drug users.  Local law enforcement is crucial to protecting communities from drug dealers, and social services are essential in helping people suffering from drug addiction.  However, these efforts do nothing to prevent the drugs from entering our communities.  The only way to truly prevent illegal drug use is to prevent the drugs from landing on US soil, but inadequate funding has hampered promising attempts to accomplish this.

Effective efforts are being made to interdict vessels carrying large amounts of cocaine, and an interagency task force, known as Joint Interagency Task Force South (JITFS), has been established for just that purpose.  The Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, plays what is perhaps the most significant role in carrying out the task force’s mission.  The Coast Guard uses the intelligence gathered by the task force to find and capture drug smugglers at sea.  To accomplish this, the Coast Guard has agreements with 45 nations.  These agreements allow the Coast Guard to interdict vessels within the national waters of many countries throughout the globe.

While the JITFS has been effective, challenges remain.  Drug smugglers have come up with new ways of eluding detection, most notably the use of primitive submarines to smuggle drugs.  The Department of Homeland Security maintains that a “layered approach” is required to combat smugglers, which involves the collaboration of varying government agencies and foreign countries.  The JITFS is the epitome of a layered approach, as it includes agencies such as the Department of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, in addition to the cooperation and resources of other countries.

The creation of the JITFS is only one step in the struggle to keep drugs from being smuggled into the country.  Its intelligence can often detect the whereabouts of drug smuggling vessels.  However, the Coast Guard lacks the resources to interdict all of these vessels.  According to Coast Guard Rear Admiral Charles Michel, the former the commander of JITFS, only one quarter of drug shipments identified by the task force are interdicted.

Unfortunately, the JITFS is faced with a problem familiar to many government agencies, the problem of insufficient funds.  It is now the responsibility of all agencies involved with the JITFS to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the task force.  The more agencies that lobby Congress, the harder it will be for Congress to ignore the problem.  In addition, different agencies will reach different Congressional committees, which will force the issue of drug smuggling to be viewed as more than simply a matter for law enforcement.  In order to obtain more funding for drug interdiction, it is important that the State Department stress the strains that drug smuggling is having on Latin American countries like Honduras and Colombia.  Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security should raise the possibility that submarines made for carrying drugs could also carry weapons of mass destruction.  Also, with end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense can shift its attention to drug interdiction.  In addition, the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control must be an active JITFS and work to secure necessary funding.

Inadequate funding for JITFS has severely limited its potential capability.  There is no doubt that the federal government is spending money on drug prevention.  The problem is that the funds are being misallocated.   For FY 2012, President Obama requested $26.2 billion to “reduce drug use and its consequences in the United States,” less than 15% of which was allocated for drug interdiction, as opposed to 36% for law enforcement.   This would be like the government having a smallpox prevention budget and spending 15% of the budget on vaccines and 36% on Band-Aids.   We have a successful vaccine against drug smuggling.  Let’s fully utilize it.


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