The Coast Guard's Role in Drug Interception--How Much Is Enough?

CED-79-40: Published: Feb 12, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 12, 1979.

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The Coast Guard has had some success as a maritime drug enforcement agency; in 1978 it seized 140 vessels and 3.2 million pounds of marijuana. This success is due to two factors: (1) Coast Guard cutters, aircraft, and electronics gear are superior to the equipment used by smugglers; and (2) the strategy of concentrating surveillance on certain routes through which smugglers must travel. Most drug smugglers approach the U.S. coastline from Colombia in "mother ships" which are met by smaller "contact" boats. Contraband is offloaded to these smaller boats, which then proceed to shore. Seizure of a mother ship generally results in the capture of large quantities of marijuana. The Coast Guard's strategy emphasizes the seizure of mother ships by patrolling the choke points between Colombia and the United States. It is estimated, however, that cutters are at these points only 35 percent of the time because not enough are available.

While the Coast Guard has established a general goal for its law enforcement mission, it does not have a specific drug enforcement goal. The Coast Guard lacks sufficient resources to patrol effectively on the principal choke points.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Commandant of the Coast Guard to establish long-range goals as to the amount of drugs the Coast Guard would like to intercept and identify alternative approaches, acceptable time frames, and various levels of resources necessary to achieve those goals. The goals should be based on and support the overall Federal strategy for controlling drugs. The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to take the necessary steps to: (1) acquire a common law enforcement frequency for communication among the Coast Guard, Customs, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and (2) adopt an interagency agreement for effective implementation of communication capability. The Secretary of Transportation should also direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to: (1) accelerate training efforts, in particular those provided at the Maritime Law Enforcement School; (2) consider establishing a specialized law enforcement job classification to provide the expert leadership needed in drug enforcement activities; and (3) establish a standard by which personnel may be considered qualified for boarding operations.

    Agency Affected:


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