Plane That Sniffs Out Drug Smugglers Nest in Tampa

Plane That Sniffs Out Drug Smugglers Nest in Tampa
Posted by FoM on December 19, 1999 at 10:12:12 PT
By George Coryell of The Tampa Tribune
Source: Tampa Tribune
They are the bird dogs of the air, the AWACS crews who search the airways for planes bringing cocaine and heroin to American shores, and direct authorities to their location. 
The Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System is unmistakable because of the enormous radar dome atop the 707 fuselage. Once a smuggler is located, the crew either contacts a U.S. Cus toms aircraft to trail the plane or alerts law enforcement teams in countries such as Colombia where they could land. ``Obviously, the U.S. military is not going into Colombia and Peru and shoot them up,'' said Canadian air force Maj. Jim ``Nigel'' Maunsell, who commands the 12th EAACS stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, and works for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami. The Canadian military involvement with AWACS is a continuation of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command. There are 33 planes in the fleet, one of which is used at the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center at Boeing in Seattle. Each plane costs more than $270 million, including research and development, parts, spares and equipment. At a cost of hundreds of millions more, the fleet is being upgraded for a tracking system that America has come to rely upon during war. First delivered to the Air Force in 1977, the planes are expected to be used until 2035. They are in demand worldwide. THE PLANE THAT FLIES from MacDill must sift through all the air traffic coming from South and Central America and detect those transporting cocaine, heroin and marijuana. When the crew succeeds, they often don't hear the details of the seizures because they are 30,000 feet above the action. ``We want to know what happened,'' Maunsell said. ``We end up with fifth-hand rumors and by the time it hits us, John Wayne was there.'' The crew of 23 usually fly for 10 to 12 hours, though, as in Desert Storm, they can be kept in the air for 24 hours, switching between teams of crew members. Similar to air traffic controllers, who take a break after every hour of work, the airmen who watch the radar screens switch out after two hours of trying to decipher the various trails they see 200 miles around them. Smugglers come up with ingenious ways to fool the trackers. In the mid-90s, some switched from small planes to 727s rigged so drugs could be kicked out the back at low altitudes. They emulated passenger traffic, staying in civilian airline lanes. The trick was discovered when one of the planes landed at an airport and a drug- sniffing dog was overpowered by sensory overload. The AWACS here expect to move to a staging area in Manta, Ecuador, by Oct. 1, 2001. Until then, the crews say they are happy here. ``One of the reasons we're here in Tampa is the safety aspects at MacDill,'' Maunsell said. Of the 730 metric tons of cocaine that passed through Colombia this year, about 350 metric tons comes to the United States, according to the Air Force. THE AWACS PARTICIPATED in 67 arrests or seizures this year, helping confiscate 65 metric tons of cocaine worth $3.2 billion and 6 metric tons of marijuana worth $71 million. Those efforts resulted in 193 arrests and 48 aircraft and vessels seized or destroyed, the Air Force said. The problem is that most of the cocaine arrives in freighters coming to American ports. Though the AWACS can detect and track ships and boats, it is hard to sift through the numerous freighters because they don't distinguish themselves the way the planes do by avoiding radio contact and tailing legitimate aircraft. ``The entire yearly shipment [350 metric tons] can come in one ship,'' Air Force Maj. Bill Tully said. The state-of-the-art plane is just one part of the American military anti-drug effort. The choppers and planes of the Coast Guard patrol vast stretches of the Caribbean, often spotting smugglers hugging the coastline of Cuba, where they have some protection from U.S. forces. Similarly, when the AWACS fly over countries such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, the crew must have someone from that country's military on board to direct troops to landing zones, labs or crash sites. More often, small planes drop cocaine shipments to waiting ``go-fast boats,'' which then ferry it to islands or to the United States. AIR STATION CLEARWATER, the largest air station in the Coast Guard, has a fleet of 13 H-60 helicopters and seven C-130 planes that patrol the Caribbean as part of the interdiction efforts. They are complemented by three Army Blackhawk helicopters based in Great Exuma in the Bahamas. The success of the AWACS has made them attractive to other countries. Because the technology has improved quickly, other nations are seeking alternatives to the 707, which is no longer being produced. Japan has taken delivery of their first plane using the radar ``rotodome'' in a 767, and Australia is interested in a 737 Boeing with a digital radar dorsal fin. Unless an outboard engine fails, the radar dome doesn't interfere with the feel of the plane. ``You can't even tell that it's there,'' Capt. Wayne Kodama said. George Coryell can be reached at (813) 259-7966Published: December 19, 1999 1999, The Tribune Co., Tampa, Florida
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on December 19, 1999 at 14:26:10 PT
My Feelings
It is good to have a mutual admiration society now and then! Just kidding. Seriously though I feel that the drug war and freedom are at issue here and if we lose this war we lose our freedom and it's all over. That's how strongly I feel about this whole big complicated drug war. I always wondered what was going to cause destruction within our own country and now I know. I only realized it when I got online and even then only after quite a long time. It didn't sink in. When it did a light went off in my head and I see it as clear as day. Too many people have reasons to exclude other drugs besides marijuana but if they searched deep within themselves they would have to admit that when they experimented with another drug what would have happened if they had gotten caught. I know I could care less about doing drugs but I haven't been that long on this earth that I forgot the things I did when I was young and curious about everything! I can only think how different my life would have been with a criminal record following me and I fear for young people that are no different then I was many years ago.I talked with a person recently about the quality of the posts in Cannabis News and he was amazed and so am I. No one is hammering us here and everyone seems to get along and that is the nicest thing to me about this site and I appreciate all those who contribute their thoughts in writing and those that just read. We do have good people here and it makes me very happy!Peace, FoM!
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on December 19, 1999 at 13:39:33 PT
The pleasure is all mine, I assure you.
Without this forum degenerating into a mutual admiration society, it's *I* who thanks *you* for posting all these informative - and invaluable - pieces of info that the corp-rat media doesn't print too often. Without these regular postings, I'd be in the dark- and so would a lot of us. And I'd like to thank the other enlightened souls such as the Good Doctor, Dank, m-o-g, and the many others who know that there's so much more riding on this than 'just' the right of sick people to use something that works.At the risk of sounding pedantic, few issues can embody freedom as this does. And few issues point out how much of our freedoms we have had stolen from us (all 'for our own good') as this one does. It is fair to say that this, albeit, small matter in the history of this nation will serve as a bellweather for our future as a country. That's why we all, reader and poster alike, have to get active. 
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on December 19, 1999 at 10:48:37 PT
kaptinemo I sure appreciate all your comments! I learn alot! I'm glad you hang around Cannabis News! Just had to say that!
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on December 19, 1999 at 10:37:17 PT
And yet they still can't stop it.
A few months ago, the DEA confessed that they were underestimating the numbers with regards to amounts of hard drugs entering the country. It seems that they should have increased the number by two or three times. At least...With all the fancy technology, they are beaten by 'mules'. With all the hi-tech jet planes and radar, they are beaten by the hordes of trucks passing through the Mex-US border everyday... courtesy of NAFTA. They are beaten by people who dig elaborate border-crossing tunnels under the desert surface. Beaten by people who've taken the lessons of capitalism to heart, and have gotten filthy rich off of something that would cost pennies to the dollar if it were legal.In short, even before the race is started, they've lost. And all because, in reality, they shot themselves in both feet with their stupid Drug War.It's been estimated that in the last 20 years, some 200 Billion dollars have been wasted in this farce. How many top-flight schools could we have built, equipped and staffed? We could have had universal health care, or saved it for Social Security.... but nooooo, we spend it on this idiocy.Makes you wonder who the real enemy is, doesn't it? 
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