Thursday, April 30, 2009

The War on Drugs Goes Underwater

The New York Times Magazine published a fascinating article on the new face of Cocaine smuggling - semi-submersible submarines.

This kind of vessel — a self-propelled, semisubmersible made by hand in the jungles of Colombia — is no longer quite so mythic: four were intercepted in January alone. But because of their ability to elude radar systems, these subs are almost impossible to detect; only an estimated 14 percent of them are stopped. And perhaps as many as 70 of them will be made this year, up from 45 or so in 2007, according to a task-force spokesman. Made for as little as $500,000 each and assembled in fewer than 90 days, they are now thought to carry nearly 30 percent of Colombia’s total cocaine exports.

How they came up with that 14% figure must be an interesting story, but the point is clear. Submarine trafficking is here to stay. Given the government's difficulty in accurately reporting numbers, there must be hundreds, if not thousands of subs actively working. I would say this is another indication that the War on Drugs is a lost effort. The criminals are smarter than the cops, once again.

Naturally, the government's resources are not adequate to the job at hand.

Catching, let alone spotting, the drug subs is difficult. The Naval Intelligence officer compared it to patrolling the entire country as a sheriff with three cars. “So if there’s someone in Texas holding up a 7-Eleven, and somebody’s in Baltimore mugging somebody,” he said, “you have to move.”

The cocaine packed inside provides a built-in ballast, giving the boats, which are painted the color of the ocean, about a foot of freeboard above the surface. With little or no steel, the fiberglass-and-wood boats have a low radar signature. Some semisubs use lead pads to shield the hot engines from the military’s infrared sensors.

What do you think? Is the War on Drugs a waste of money and manpower? Is there something wrong with the basic idea of prohibiting certain drugs while allowing others, e.g. alcohol and tobacco? Why is it so difficult to even decriminalize substances like marijuana, let alone legalizing, and let along heavier drugs?

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.


  1. Oy. All this money just to fill up our justice system and make criminals out of ordinary people.

    If the federal government absolutely must overstep its authority and spend huge amounts of our money to involve itself in our personal decisions about what substances to use, it could at least put all the time and money into regulation and addiction treatment. We might _make_ money on it, we'd free up the courts and prisons overnight to effectively deal with the real criminals, and we'd break the backs of the drug cartels and gangs that infest the Americas. Isn't all that worth swallowing a little dose of pragmatism?

  2. If the war on drugs were merely a waste of money, that would be a vast improvement.

    If drugs were legal, smuggler's routes would not be nearly as well-developed. We could have much less intrusive border controls, while simultaneously maintaining stronger security against things that could really harm us.

    Instead, we've got a well-organized group constantly testing our security, and successfully finding ways around it I'm sure at least one of these groups can be hired by terrorists to bring more harmful things into America.