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Drug Trafficking Activities Are Changing, and Interdiction Is Becoming More Difficult

Budget reductions for interdiction efforts in the entire transit zone have reduced the ability of the Department of Defense (DOD) and law enforcement agencies to identify, track, and intercept drug traffickers. Funding for drug interdiction declined from about $1 billion in fiscal year 1992 to $569 million in fiscal year 1995. DOD’s budget reductions resulted in fewer ship days, flight hours, and ground-based radars devoted to drug interdiction. Although a reduction in the interdiction effort was envisioned in the new cocaine strategy, the strategy also anticipated source country funding increases that never materialized. Cocaine seizures in the transit zone declined from a peak of about 70,000 kilograms in 1992 to about 37,000 kilograms in 1995.

The executive branch had not (1) developed a regional action plan to implement the cocaine strategy in the transit zone, (2) fully staffed interagency organizations with key roles in the interdiction program, or (3) fully resolved issues on intelligence sharing.

Puerto Rico has become a major entry point for cocaine moving through the Eastern Caribbean into the United States. U.S. drug officials believe that after 1993 traffickers moved some of their activities from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico because U.S. interdiction efforts in the Bahamas had increased the risk to traffickers. U.S. law enforcement officials have mixed opinions concerning whether drug trafficking activities are increasing throughout other islands in the Eastern Caribbean and into the southern United States. However, several U.S. law enforcement officials stated that cocaine smuggling activities are increasing in southern Florida.

DOD records showed that while the number of known drug trafficking aircraft events3 in the transit zone declined by 65 percent from 344 in 1992 to 125 in 1995, the number of known maritime events increased by 40 percent from 174 in 1993 to 249 in 1995. (See attach. 1.) Drug enforcement officials told us that drug traffickers are increasingly relying on noncommercial and commercial maritime vessels (such as go-fast boats, sailing and fishing vessels, and containerized cargo ships) to transport drugs. According to U.S. officials, the large number of noncommercial vessels traveling in the transit zone makes it difficult to detect or intercept many drug trafficking activities. In addition, interdiction efforts are hampered by the increasing use of technology by

3According to DOD, “known events” represent clear, firm information about a drug shipment, confirmed delivery, aborted mission, or apprehension.

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