Terrorism Forces Traffickers To Change Tactics

Terrorism Forces Traffickers To Change Tactics
Posted by FoM on November 21, 2001 at 07:55:18 PT
By Ken Guggenheim, The Associated Press
Source: Associated Press
The war on terrorists is forcing another American enemy to change tactics. Since Sept. 11, drug smugglers would rather drive than fly and are heading for the suburbs rather than New York City. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson said it appears smugglers are attempting to capitalize on America's preoccupation with terrorism, but it is too early to tell whether there will be a lasting uptick. 
In the month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the DEA saw a 25 percent increase in its trafficking investigations in the Caribbean over the same period in 2000. "My conclusion both from that fact and other information (is) they have seen it as a window of opportunity and they are testing us in that area," Hutchinson said in a recent interview. "The dust is still settling," Hutchinson said. "Everyone is making adjustments and we'll learn a little more as time goes along as to the final impact." There are a variety of factors at work. Security at border crossings and airports have been tightened since September, but drug patrols at sea are down markedly. Bob Brown, acting deputy director for supply at the White House drug policy office, said drug traffickers are reassessing their methods "and some of those assessments probably required new trafficking routes and methods." Traffickers who manage to get a load of drugs past the tougher border controls are now more likely to use cars instead of planes to transport it within the United States, Hutchinson said. That allows them to bypass stepped-up airport security. And with New York-bound traffic getting greater scrutiny since the World Trade Center was leveled, some traffickers apparently are keeping large loads out of New York City, sending them instead to suburbs in Connecticut, Hutchinson said. New York long has been the first destination for drug shipments entering the United States. Because of the terrorism fight, law enforcement and military personnel and equipment that had been used to spot international drug traffickers have been diverted to homeland defense and the campaign in Afghanistan. The Coast Guard has made some of the biggest adjustments. It is the main agency for maritime drug interdiction, its ships and planes patrolling 3.4 million square miles. But since Sept. 11, maritime drug patrols have been reduced by 75 percent and its planes have stopped drug missions altogether, said Cmdr Jim McPherson, a Coast Guard spokesman. The Coast Guard is focusing on protecting U.S. ports and performing other services closer to home. "We're basically guarding the goal line. We're not covering the field," McPherson said. To compensate for the scaled-back patrols, U.S. officials have requested and received help from ships from other nations. While traffickers may face less scrutiny on the high seas, they face tighter controls on the borders. In the first few weeks after the attacks, trafficking seemed to decrease along the Mexican border -- the main entry point for illegal drugs. Authorities said traffickers were wary of tighter U.S. security. Drug smuggling seemed to increase weeks later -- and seizures jumped as well, the U.S. Customs Service reported. They have since returned to about normal levels. For Customs, terrorism concerns meant more inspectors working long hours at borders and other ports of entry. The more searches they perform, the greater the likelihood of finding drugs and other smuggled items. "When we put out the net at our nations' border, if we catch terrorists, drug traffickers or other criminals, we'll take each and every one of them," Customs spokesman Dean Boyd said. The terrorism fight also could affect worldwide supplies of heroin, though not necessarily in the United States. Afghanistan has been the world's leading producer of opium, the raw material for heroin. But most of the heroin is destined for Europe and Asia and little reaches U.S. shores. Colombia and Mexico are the main sources of heroin sold in the United States. Complete Title: War on Terrorism Forces Traffickers, Police To Change Tactics On the Net: U.S. Coast Guard: U.S. Customs Service: Drug Enforcement Administration: Source: Associated PressAuthor: Ken Guggenheim, The Associated PressPublished: November 21, 2001Copyright: 2001 Associated PressRelated Articles:DEA Resources Are Stretched Thin Seizures Are Up At Border Crossings Borders Won't Stop Flow of Drugs
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