Drug Smuggling:

Capabilities for Interdicting Private Aircraft Are Limited and Costly

GGD-89-93: Published: Jun 9, 1989. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the federal government's present and future air interdiction capabilities for controlling drug smuggling into the United States.

GAO found that: (1) 1989 legislation designated the Department of Defense (DOD), which had previously supported Customs Service and Coast Guard air interdiction efforts, as the single lead agency for detecting and monitoring aerial transit of drugs into the United States; (2) the air interdiction budget increased from $17.8 million for fiscal year (FY) 1982 to $204.2 million for FY 1989; (3) Customs and the Coast Guard used various radar systems to detect and track suspicious aircraft, with about 10 percent of FY 1987 and 1988 interdiction missions resulting in seizures of illegal drugs; (4) although 1986 and 1987 air interdiction efforts resulted in the seizure of substantial amounts of illegal drugs, they did not reduce the overall availability of illegal drugs to U.S. consumers; (5) the current air interdiction network had gaps in radar coverage due to smugglers' ability to exploit the various radar systems' inherent technical limitations; (6) planned deployments of additional radar systems should improve detection capabilities, although maintenance and weather factors would still preclude complete radar coverage; and (7) improvements in command, control, communications, and intelligence systems may also enhance the interdiction detection system's effectiveness. GAO believes that authorizing additional funds for the air interdiction programs may not be the most effective use of limited resources, since such programs do not address both the supply of and demand for illegal drugs.

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