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Drug Subs: David and Goliath on the High Seas

The Coast Guard's ongoing effort to hunt them has profound national security implications.

by
Annie Jacobsen

Bio

October 20, 2008 - 12:20 am
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During a period of five days last September the U.S. Coast Guard seized more than 14 tons of cocaine with a street value of approximately $400 million in two separate major maritime drug busts. The drugs were being transported by Colombian cocaine cartels in mini submarines.

It was David and Goliath on the high seas, with David being the bad guy in this story — the Colombian narcotraffickers who produce and supply the world with cocaine. In today’s version of the classic tale, the David character transports up to ten tons of cocaine in mini submarines: approximately 50 feet long, made of steel and fiberglass, with a crew of four — able to make it from Ecuador to San Diego in a straight shot without having to stop for food or fuel. The Goliath character, the U.S. Coast Guard, patrols millions upon millions of square miles in a behemoth of a ship, 378 feet long, carrying a crew of 170, at least one HH-65 Dolphin helicopter, a few cannons, and some other weapons, too.

It is asymmetric warfare at its zenith: a battle between two enemies whose relative military might differs radically. And like the war on terror, the war on drugs brings with it the fear that Goliath can’t win with military might alone.

In its press releases, the Coast Guard called September’s dual drug sub busts “historic” and “impressive.” In reality, they were but a drop in the ocean. In an interview with PJ Media, Coast Guard Cutter Midgett (i.e., Goliath) ombudsman Angela Keane confirmed that for as skillful as the back-to-back busts were, they are tempered by the fact that a third mini sub loaded with drugs got away as well. “There are always more vessels out there,” Keane said.

“The bad guys are moving faster than we’re moving,” Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Joint Interagency Task Force South, the group of federal agencies at the heart of U.S. interdiction efforts. “I worry a little bit about how we as a government are able to focus on this mission,” Mullen said.

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